Category Archives: On My Mind

Year of the Sibling Travels

I’ve already received a message that my departure flight is delayed, but in a matter of hours (perhaps 7, but possibly 16, 24, or 40) I’ll be on my way to Europe to meet up with my brother who is studying in London for the semester. I haven’t seen him since July and can’t wait to give him a hug, buy him a good dark beer for a reasonable price, and hear all about his adventures. I’m also excited to travel with him because we haven’t done that before. My sister and I hadn’t traveled together, either, until she came to visit in December and we played tourist in Singapore, drank many a coffee in Hanoi, trekked in Sapa, and basked in the myriad vegetarian food options of Chiang Mai.

To their chagrin, my parents are fully responsible for the restless exploring of their children. We first went overseas as a family when I was fourteen and we haven’t looked back since. On the unfortunately rare occasions when all five of us are together, “Hey, remember that time when we . . . ” segues into a travel story more often than not.

Since we’re only two years apart, my sister and I mostly grew up together and shared many experiences and activities in similar ways. On the other hand, my brother is seven years younger than me and I left home for university when he was in middle school. I had returned home and started teaching when he was in high school, allowing me to watch him come into his own, play a lot of hockey, and begin to make decisions about who to spend time with and where to direct his interests. My brother and a couple of his friends helped me move into my first apartment (I paid them in gift cards to their favorite plate shop) and I’ve run around town with him to pick up essentials on his weekends home from camp or college. As we’ve both gotten older, we’ve had some pretty serious discussions on impromptu trips to the grocery store or when one of us volunteered chauffeur the other around town. He was awed and curious when I took him to dinner in Hell’s Kitchen when he visited me in New York City and excited to share his college life with me when I returned the visit to him just outside Washington, DC.

It’ll be great to be somewhere new to both of us and have a unique shared experience. It’s really important to me to keep my family close and this year has been particularly special for that.

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My brother, me, and my sister atop Carlton Hill in Edinburgh (July 2011)

Titanium: A Commentary

You shout it out
But I can’t hear a word you say
I’m talking loud not saying much
I’m criticized but all your bullets ricochet
You shoot me down, but I get up

We all know that words hurt. We all know that words can beat us down and tear us apart. We do children an injustice when we teach them,” Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” We’re lying and we know it.

Communication can be difficult because it requires us to step outside of ourselves and listen to what someone else is saying. We should only reply once we’ve truly heard them, but many of us do not take the time to listen.

I’m bulletproof nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium, I am titanium, I am titanium, I am titanium

We are often the target of words that are not meant for us and have nothing to do with us. Words often say more about someone else than they do about us. These are the words that should not hurt, but we know that they do. We have a tendency to fixate on criticism, angry tones, words that have caused us pain. We remember them.

But we also bask in words of comfort. We save messages, notes, and letters that are meaningful to us and cause a smile, even (and perhaps especially) years later. We replay these words over and over in our minds, memorizing the most important things our loved ones have said. They give us courage when we lose our way.

If you’re made of titanium, can you feel those things?

Cut me down
But it’s you who has further to fall
Ghost town, haunted love
Raise your voice, sticks and stones may break my bones
I’m talking loud not saying much

Silence can be as deafening as painful words.(And there are indeed things we should not hear, things we should not be forced to listen to.) We fill silence by looking for things to do, things to say. We block others out when we turn their words to noise, when we cease to give them meaning.

Sometimes, we should also listen to silence. It has layers and textures. Sometimes it crackles. Sometimes it’s cruelly cold. But other times, it’s safe and warm. What does the silence between our words say to us? What does it say about us?

I’m bulletproof nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium, I am titanium

I am not bulletproof. I have much to lose. If you shoot me, I’ll fall. I will hurt, I will break, I will mourn. I am human, only human.

I will fall but I will get up again. I’ll get up again because I have let myself feel, I have listened, and I have learned. I let you in knowing you might hurt me or that I might hurt you. I let you in knowing I might love you or you might love me.

Stone-hard, machine gun
Firing at the ones who run
Stone-hard, thus bulletproof glass

I no longer wrap myself in armour. I’d rather know and love than never know. Any authentic, meaningful connection with others requires vulnerability; we need to be and to feel.

You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
I am titanium

I might fall. I might be wounded. I might miss how we used to laugh or talk or spend time together.

But if I fall, I’ll stand up again. Because that’s living. It’s a journey through a landscape of hills, valleys, and mountains. We pass through wild forests and neat gardens. Sometimes we know what lies around the corner and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we find ourselves lost or confused. We lose our way.

Armour can be tempting when we’re afraid but if we are unwilling to shed the armour, who are we, really? There’s life and there’s living. We might have a life protecting ourselves, but the adventure is in living.

What I’ve Learned About Acceptance and Forgiveness

Misunderstood signals.

Confused feelings over a piece of writing.

An old friend knocking on the door.

Acknowledgement of a shared painful experience.

All of the above have occurred in the past two weeks, though not in that order, and I’ve been talking about these experiences with a few people. What has struck me is that I’ve actually learned something over the past year about acceptance and, from that, about forgiveness. What I’ve learned has profoundly impacted my reaction to and understanding of the situations above. The following attempts to explain.


Acceptance

I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be. – Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

People sometimes react to things we say or do in ways that are surprising, and such surprises may be unpleasant. I have learned, however, that an individual’s reactions say a lot more about that person than they do about anyone else.

It is very important not to internalize nastiness that might come your way. People can disagree and disagreements can be healthy, informative, and an opportunity for growth. But a negative response to something I have said or done is not because of me. If I do or say something you don’t like, consider why you don’t like it. Consider what bothers you and why. Consider why you reacted the way that you did. You know yourself better than I do and chances are, your reaction has more to do with you than it does with me. I might bring up emotions, feelings, memories, or areas of discomfort that you do not like – but your reaction is about you and not about me.

This does not mean that I should not consider your feelings and try to gauge how you might react in a given situation. This does not mean that I can do and say what I like with blatant disregard for the affect it might have on others. It does not mean that I can be intentionally or unintentionally cruel and walk away like nothing has happened. It simply means that as long as I am acting as a decent person and treating you with that dignity that you deserve as individual, I should feel neither guilt nor shame when you react in a way that I do not expect or understand.

People are surprising in positive and negative ways and that demonstrates that we should always give people a chance because they may be experiencing something we are unaware of or cannot imagine. This means that we cannot condemn others for behaviors that we don’t understand. Rather, we can meet others where they are and accept who they are with open hearts and open minds. Since we still may not like or agree with everything people do it is also vital to practice compassion in all of our interactions.

Forgiveness

It’s no use to go back to yesterday because I was a different person then. – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

When we practice compassion towards others and accept them simply because they, like us, are doing the best they can with the lives they lead, being angry with others is nonsensical. Ignorance causes suffering and suffering causes harm. People who harm are hurting and they need our love and support. Our anger only hurts ourselves.

I’ve read a lot about Buddhismmeditation, and how the brain is wired to help others. It has taken me a long time (and six months of chatting with a therapist – best decision I’ve ever made) to internalize what this means. It means that I can’t be angry with you if you hurt me because you’re hurting, too. And whatever you’ve done to me is reflective of whatever has happened to you. I don’t need to know what that is to forgive you for your actions.

When we find ourselves angry or hurt, it is helpful to consider why. Consider what it was that brought up negative feelings for us. Exploring those negative feelings is an opportunity for personal growth and development. When we find ourselves angry, we can stop. We can take a breath. Acknowledge and lean into our emotions. We can allow ourselves to feel.

And then we can return to the people who brought up these emotions and forgive them for causing us harm. Likely, that harm comes from their own suffering. Likely, they did not mean to hurt us.

When we forgive each other, we become different people. We become more knowledgeable about ourselves and others. We become more aware, more open-minded, and probably happier than we were. Even if we choose not to continue our relationships with people who have angered us, we are not allowing negative feelings to take over other aspects of our lives. It is far healthier to live without anger, either at ourselves or others.


It has taken me my entire life to learn these lessons. As someone who feels very deeply, I know that it’s very challenging to step away from emotions that arise without invitation and often claim our attention for longer than we’d like. Recently, I’ve noticed that I’m far calmer now in the face of adversity than I ever have been. I’m not driven to anger as readily and when I am hurt or upset, it’s much easier and less painful to find a quiet mind and state of equanimity again.

Mindful awareness of how I intuitively react and why I do so has been extremely helpful in developing a clearer mind, deeper understanding of others, and a renewed desire to be vulnerable in relationships with others. I no longer try to be right because it does not bother me as much when I’m wrong. I am much happier accepting people for who they are and forgiving them for what they do than I ever was when I constantly kept score or internalized what others said or did. I am not nearly as important in anyone’s rational or irrational decision-making as I used to think. Knowing this makes it much easier to respond with love when others are clearly hurting.

If I’ve hurt you, I apologize. I was likely suffering and certainly did not mean to cause you harm.

If you’ve hurt me, you’re forgiven. I love you, too.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. – Lewis B. Smedes