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Pink Moscato

Pink Moscato

I’ve been wanting to write for a while, but I found myself getting caught up in that well-known downward spiral of perfectionism… I wanted to write but it had been long enough that I wanted what I wrote to be significant and amazing, so I stalled…and on and on the cycle went…only each time I wanted to write, the content had to be exponentially more amazing than the previous time.  So one day, at a relative low, I cracked open a bottle of pink moscato and just wrote. 

Let me recap: I had a baby – an actual, real life BABY!  He grew inside of me and after a painful and (I can proudly say) a drugless 5-hour labor, he somehow made it out into the world. I kept looking at him in awe thinking, “Whoa – he’s really a real REAL baby – like a BABY baby.” Even as I was being wheeled out of the hospital (turns out, you’re not allowed to walk out – hospital policy), I kept thinking, “So wait, they’re just going to let me leave with this baby? That’s IT? I can just HAVE him?” I guess when you wait until you’re 36 to have your first baby, the whole process seems much more unnatural and strange. As it was, I felt like I was downright stealing a baby.  Even after I felt every moment of searing pain to get him out of me, he still didn’t feel like mine.  He’s been with me for 12 weeks now and I often wake up to see him next to me in bed and think, “Who are you and how did you just suddenly get here in my life?” It’s not an angry thought – it’s purely a curious thought. How the heck did those 10 increasingly fatter months lead to this ever-growing little life? 

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As far as babies go, I think I got lucky. He’s what the nurses called an early smiler, and he smiles pretty much any time I or anyone smiles at him…which is pretty darn cool and awesome and funny and great.  To have this little face smiling at me – even if it’s 3am – is soul-filling.  I’m pretty sure someone could live longer if they were deprived of food but had baby smiles every day…pretty sure.  So Jack was born on his actual due date – which Google claims is only 4% of babies – making him the top 4% of punctual people on the planet. Other than that, I try very very hard not to be the mom who compares her baby to everyone else while insisting that he is smarter and more alert and more developed than average (which I’m convinced he is).  It must have been the negative stereotypes, but the Baby Einstein moms who play nonstop foreign language and Mozart to ensure their baby’s superiority completely turns me off and gives me the heebie jeebies. I sing and dance with Jack, but I’ve decided that he’ll let me know when he’s ready to learn things and I will TRY not compare him to anyone else.  That said, in these last 12 weeks, I have only come into contact with 3 other newborns. The first seemed super chubby and I was glad Jack wasn’t, the second had a humungous head and I was glad Jack didn’t, and the third was a super cute girl (his cousin) and even then I was glad I had a boy…so I’m 0 for 3 on comparing. Even the doctor’s office seems to encourage comparison – they printed stats about Jack saying that he is in the 90th percentile for length, the 20th percentile for his head (explaining why the big headed baby seemed so big-headed), and the 40th percentile for weight…so I can’t help but compare right away – average weight but super long body with a smaller-than-average head.

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What a crazy journey it’s been up to this point.  I sometimes think about writing a book about surviving the Army.  I can look at the last 10 years and see a clear love/hate relationship with the U.S. Army.  It tore my marriage apart; it supported me; it gave; it took; it took back; it gave again. In the end, it’s been like most circumstances in this world – it’s not so much about the institution itself so much as how I responded to it and what I chose to do with it.  When I felt and acted like a victim, I was most certainly its rag doll puppet.  When I rose up and took control and used it to my benefit, I found myself abundantly satisfied.

Though there were times I never ever thought I’d be a mom in this life, I look at my little man (who really is quite long), and find myself amazed at this crazy life.  All the turns and speed bumps and dead ends and detours I’ve taken, my path seems less-than-straight.  I’ve messed up, made mistakes, started over, apologized, forgiven (myself and others), started over again, and found myself lost on countless occasions.  And yet, I have a healthy, handsome, smiling baby boy. It’s quite a thing, this life. I’ve stopped trying to second guess it, and have started accepting with open hands the gifts I’m given.  I’ve been given friends from all over the world, a body which seems to heal from just about anything, a heart which has proven resilient beyond expectation, and a little life that has been trusted to me. Wow. Life is certainly unexpected and fickle and inexplicable…and wonderful. 

OH – I forgot to explain my “relative low” that got me to crack open the pink moscato. I’m chalking it up to the standard adjustment a new mom goes through…that of shedding her old life view and everything that goes along with it.  I stopped and looked at myself in a public mirror today, and saw nursing bra straps hanging out, frizzy hair sticking out from under my hat above each ear, 18 or so extra pounds, and an overall unkept appearance. It’s that frumpy, frazzled, and fatigued self – the triple F-word threat – that takes some getting used to and patience. I think my immediate future holds squats, lunges, situps, some naps, and most definitely more moscato!  

Waking to Shaking

Waking to Shaking

Getting jarred out of sleep in the darkness of early morning is disorienting, especially when it’s with a bang and a shaking bed. In those first few seconds, your mind sluggishly runs through the brainstorm of what it was…was that a knock on the door? No, I felt shaking. Was it an earthquake? No, I heard a bang. Did my roommate fall out of bed? Maybe that’s it. But then a few seconds go by and your mind has woken up a little more and the thought hits you, “No. That was an explosion.” I poked my head outside my door to see a bunch of other heads poking out of their rooms as we all witnessed a giant plume of black smoke rising up into the air from what looked like the other side of base. Then the sounds of gunfire from the same direction woke us up entirely. A firefight was happening between insurgents and whoever was trying to protect the base. We found out later it was less than a mile away but on another, smaller base…which housed all civilian contractors and local gate guards who died in the firefight.


I stayed in my office for the first part of the day because it’s a hardened shelter that would protect from any follow-on attacks, and the only information I could find was from a local internet news site. I made calls to other bases, but the scene was in such confusion that no one knew much of anything in those first couple hours.

All told, more than 15 people died in that attack yesterday morning…including at least 1 American and 1 Brit. As of the time I’m writing this, they are still digging bodies from the rubble, so there’s no final death count yet. A slew of injured civilians made their way over to my base throughout the day for temporary housing and medical assistance. One of the medics told me that a building 150 ft from the detonation caved in on a couple people, and they were able to survive by crawling through the debris and out of the wreckage. Pictures showing the 60m-deep and 140m-wide crater at the blast site with mangled metal and body parts made it clear how those guys who crawled out could be considered a miracle. The doc on my base who helps with my calluses from working out (yes, makes me feel pretty insignificant to say that) spent most the day saving those who could be saved, and writing death certificates for those who couldn’t. This morning he told me good heartedly that it gave him a chance to practice his French because France would not repatriate the French bodies without proper autopsies and embalming done, so he had to get on the phone with France and figure out just what they needed.

By late afternoon, I made my way over to coach my Crossfit class to discover that our gym space was being occupied with the civilians who had come over from base that got attacked for temporary living. They looked haggard and drained and in no mood for my questions as to who they were and what the heck was going on. The guy who initially snapped at me when I first came in and snorted “Crossfit isn’t here today,” eventually warmed up when I explained I was the coach and we’d be happy to move our workout outside if he didn’t mind me taking a white board and marker. It was a no brainer – again – I felt pretty insignificant even coming there for Crossfit after the day they’d just endured.

At the end of the day, there was no consolation to take, no lessons learned, no takeaway that I could offer to my classes of athletes, myself, or my friends and family who read my blog. Nothing. I can only hope that on days like tomorrow, the 4th of July, we can come together and celebrate the birth and strength and freedoms of our own wonderful country, and share in the festivities with all the foreign soldiers here next to us. I hear there’s going to be a dunk tank. …which has me wondering…did they build something like that over here?…or stranger yet, did someone pack one up and send it over? Either way, I’m going to go check out a general hopefully get dunked, and laugh and start again.

On the lookout for acts of humanity…

On the lookout for acts of humanity…

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ~Aesop

Afghanistan is an environment where it’s easy to harden your sense of humanity into very black-and-white molds of “good guys” and “bad guys.” I’m on the “good guy” team obviously. I listen to the soldiers around me sometimes talk about “vaporizing” the “bad guys” (ok I’m simplifying and PG-ing the “bad guys” terms…many more bad words mixed in there) like it’s just a normal part of life…which it actually is here. But you work in and around the concept of killing the bad guys long enough, and somewhere along the way, the bad guys’ evil traits spread in the minds of the soldiers to extend to all Afghans. I can see how easy it is to happen because of how many innocent lives are lost as a result of the bad guys on a daily basis…it sours all sense of hope for saving anything here. You see little boys running around in the street playing with a ball, and you can’t help but find yourself starting to hate the evil men some of them will become…yet they’re just children.

So I made a decision that for one day, I was going to stay on alert for “acts of humanity” here on the base I’m on. I would go around and do the things I normally do – but take note of anything that reflected goodness and heart and soul.

Results:

  • I saw a girl drop something (too far away to see what), and another girl passing immediately bent down, picked up the dropped object, gave to back to the girl with a smile, patted her on the shoulder and kept walking. – I went to a church service where the chaplain leading the service had us all bow our heads and pray for our friends and families back home…that’s something I don’t think most people back home realize…as they’re praying for the guys out here, they’re praying right back for the loved ones back home.
  • I witnessed a US soldier (my coworker) and a young Afghan man who works in the dining hall talking and laughing and getting to know one another. The Afghan talked about how he goes to college classes in the morning, then works the evening shift at the dining hall, and how his dad is a schoolmaster in town and makes sure his 2 daughters get an education by walking them personally to school every day. Here, the middle of war, two men brought together from completely different worlds and backgrounds getting to know one another and smiling and laughing.
  • In the gym on the evening of my “day of looking out for acts of humanity,” I stood there and took in the scene. There were Candians, Romanians, Americans, French, Croatians and Hungarians…everyone was working out together, talking and laughing, and even cheering one another on at the end of the crazy difficult workout. Here, again, the realization hit – here were soldiers from all over the world who have voluntarily signed up to do this job – they’ve all been transported to a distant desert country that is corrupt and filled with men who want nothing more than to kill them – and yet there they stood smiling, cheering, and working with one another.

It goes without saying that I was humbled by what I witnessed on that one day of observation. I’ll let the US soldier who let the dining hall door slam on me with a full tray of food in my hands off the hook because maybe he didn’t see me (though I’m pretty sure he did) – but the GOOD far far outweighed the BAD. …and I can sum up my whole experience here so far with that same outlook. The humanity and the goodness far outweighs the evil and bad here. It is in the eyes and smiles and determination in every soldier from around the world, every government employee and contractor (like me) who work alongside the military, and all of the local citizens who help make living here possible.

…about time!…

…about time!…

It’s been months since I last posted anything on my blog, and it’s one of those situations where enough time has gone by that you feel like you need to make the next post a real WINNER of a post – one that will explain all the time lapse and still inspire anyone who reads it to go lead bigger and better lives. Yeah, so that’s not going to be this post. I’m humbly entering back into my writing mode with a bit of a tail between my legs for not having kept up with my writing. I owed it to myself more than anyone. In my own defense, I have been in Afghanistan this year and I’m in a warzone. HA – see I can use that excuse for anything. The reality is there is no excuse.

I’d like to re-enter my writing mode by announcing that I did recently manage to tick off one of my bucket list items. I FINALLY went on leave – I went to Hong Kong and then Lombok (the island next to Bali in Indonesia) and on my way back into the country, I had to fly from one base down to another, and I was put – FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER – on a helicopter. Yep, that was one of my bucket list items – ride in a helicopter. I think it actually may have been “ride in and learn how to fly a helicopter.” Either way, I get a full or at least a part of my bucket list checked off.

So let me give a quick catch-up. Since I last wrote, I have actually lived on two additional bases in Afghanistan. After Julien I went to Eggers, and now I’m on Phoenix. …and no, I’m not giving anything away that could be compromising. In my time here in these past nine months (9!!! CRAZY TO SAY THAT!) I’ve had the opportunity learn about the world around me as well as the world within me. …both have proven expansive, inspiring, and full of unexpected gifts. I’ve met people from all over the world, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve fallen in and out of love, I’ve even somehow found a space of quiet peace in my heart in the midst of an earthquake, a few bombings, several terrorist threats, and deaths of soldiers and civilians I worked close to. I will endeavor to fill in with stories and cherished memories in the posts to come.

Relationally Challenged

Relationally Challenged

I’m back to blogging – it feels like having coffee with a long-lost friend…who’s never really all that long-lost if they’re a true friend…you just pick up where you left off.

My biggest challenge here so far in this country (aside from the month-long sinus infection and now a staph infection diagnosed today – are you kidding me?!) has been my gender. The simple fact that I have a V and not a P has proved to be quite a troubling issue…and it’s not even because I’m in a country where women are looked down upon and expected to rarely seen and never heard. It’s being a woman here on base among the majority of male soldiers and contractors. Let’s tackle this one challenge at a time.

First is the gossip. As a woman, I stick out. There aren’t that many of us here, and as such, we’re noticed for every single move we make. For example, I had made a friend with a contractor here on base – let’s call him Jack – and asked if he’d like to grab coffee one day at the chapel (because the chapel has two Keurig machines available for a nice cup of joe at all times). We sat out on the small chapel porch out front in the sun and “talked story” (Hawaiian term for shared stories, laughed and forgot about work) for a little bit. I had such a nice time, I kept asking if he’d join me for coffee and it became a daily routine. I asked the guys in my office if they’d like to join for 10am coffee, and sometimes some would. Either way, I knew at 10am I got a mini break while refueling on some caffeine. This past week, I ate lunch with a Croatian soldier, and afterwards he was warned by some other person on this base to be careful where I was concerned because I was Jack’s. Hold up there, I’m whose?? If I play ping pong with someone, if I play pool with someone, if I go running with someone, it’s noticed and talked about in gossip form.

Second are the wives and girlfriends back home. Because their boyfriends and husbands have a female coworker (that would be me), they’re suspicious of any and all interaction I have with them. If I post a funny comment on one of their Facebook (because they all post funny comments to each other’s Facebooks), they immediately get the third degree…”Who’s this AMY chick posting stuff on your page?! What’s she like? Why is she posting to your page?” There was one dramatic instance where one of the guys was having a bit of a struggle with his girlfriend and I suggested he stop writing passive aggressive things to her and for a whole week just write nothing but nice and loving emails and see how she responded. He said he didn’t have any ideas, so I wrote him an email with suggestions on loving things he could write to her. WELL, his girlfriend hacked his email account a few days later and what did she find but my email with all my suggestions. She spent the next two days yelling at him over phone calls about confiding in the AMY GIRL, and since then (about a week ago) he no longer talks to me anymore. I can eat with these guys, work out with them, and work with them for over twelve hours each and every day, but there’s a subtle and constant reminder – I’ll never really be one of the guys here.

Third is lack of women. I really have come to value female friendship over the course of my life…it’s one of those essential elements we as women need for a healthy life. You can try to argue with me that you are happier with men as friends, but I can argue right back with you because I used to be one of those girls, and I can tell you that life is richer and deeper and brighter with strong female friendships. I have one growing friendship with a female Croatian soldier named Vlasta – we work out together and eat meals together sometimes – but she can get pretty busy with missions at times, and sometimes I only see her once a week. In my hyper-awareness of gossip about my every action here, I set out to establish more female friendships. Last night as the work day was wrapping up around 9pm or so, I noticed the only two other girls in my office were leaving to go back to their rooms. I jumped out of my seat and went out the door with them. Once outside I said, “Hey girls, I know you hang out together sometimes, but would you ever be interested in going to grab a bite to eat together or just have some girl time like once a week or so?” Simple enough, right? Here’s me like the girl on the kindergarten playground outright asking the other girls if they will be her friend. One of the girls looked straight at me and without expression said, “No, not really.” SLAM…that was the feeling my heart felt as it was squarely rejected. I forced myself to bounce back and said as lightly as I could, “Oh ok, no problem, have a good night.” I turned and walked away and felt embarrassed and hurt – like the little schoolgirl who was just told she couldn’t be in the cool club. Ouch! I thought when we’re such a minority that us gals were supposed to stick together! What the HECK (I really would like to replace that word with something much worse) was that about? Doesn’t she know I’m cool and fun and funny and loyal and all that other great stuff that comes with a female friendship?? Ok so those two are out – the awkward part is I have to work next to them still. I will continue to be on the lookout for any new women who come to this base – they won’t even know what hit them – I won’t even ask them, I’ll just make them my friend! …poor things don’t know what’s about to hit them.

This has proven to be a difficult struggle for me. I’m a relational person stuck in a strange social test of an environment – like I’m in a glass cage for everyone to observe how I will respond to a life of no relationships or companionship. I think I’m failing the test. …or maybe I’m passing…this is the normal response of a healthy woman…getting to the point where I want to cry out, “WILL SOMEONE PLEASE BE MY FRIEND?!” I can be friends with plenty of men here, it’s just I have to not care, and accept the consequence that I’ll be talked about as if I’m sneaking behind dirty connex boxes having sex with all of them. I might have quite the tarnished reputation on this base by the time I leave – all for no effort at all! Grandpa, if you’re reading this, I apologize for my lewd imagery…I blame the Navy! :)

I love that there are life lessons to be gleaned from anywhere we go in life. In the throes of war in Afghanistan, I am learning that I am more of a relational person than I realized, and that not only do I like being in friendships and relationships with other people, but I need it, I crave engaging with others. I think we all do – well, maybe not some of my geeky coworkers who just go back to their rooms and play video games every night (and I’m not talking behind their backs – they openly admit they’d rather be alone) – but I concur with the many wise sages before this time that humans NEED community and relationships and other humans. Lesson learned, Afghanistan, now what’s next?! (This should be good!)

Back in the Saddle…

Back in the Saddle…

Ok so it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I could point to a couple reasons for this. The first is my schedule here. My contract says I’m to work seven days a week, twelve hours a day. I’m two months into it, and I think I’m only now starting to get the hang of this nutso schedule. The second is that I was sick for about six weeks STRAIGHT. At first I thought it was a cold. I kept working the long days and dosing up with Nyquil every night (couldn’t sleep because of a stuffed nose) and finally after five weeks I had to admit that it might possibly be more than a cold. The doctor here on my base scolded me for waiting so long to come in, and told me I had a nasty sinus infection – sounds so sexy, right? After about a week of being on antibiotics, I finally began to join the land of the living and felt somewhat close to normal again. I’ve only been feeling better for about a week now, and I can tell you, despite the dirt and grime and dust in the air everywhere (which could potentially be another reason for my sickness), I am a new woman. The local workers don’t know what to do with me because I’m pretty sure women are supposed to be seen and not heard, but as I pass them on base I smile and say hello and good morning to all of them (in Dari – I’m slowly learning little phrases!). I will say, though, that my favorite moment here so far was on my birthday. I put an all-Facebook alert out that I’d like gluten-free cake mix sent to me so I could enjoy a birthday cake. I ended up getting 4 boxes from wonderful friends, and on the day of my birthday, took two down to the Afghan restaurant on this base and the men let me back into their kitchen and together with two Afghan men who didn’t know a single word of English, I made my birthday cake. The most difficult part was figuring out the word for butter…masca…I’ll never forget it now! And the cake was SO great – I savored every bite knowing it came from people who loved and supported me, and was facilitated by foreign men who let me into their world (not common at all).

I decided to go around and take some pictures I think are entertaining on my base. Wal-Mart and Starbucks on a base the size of a postage-stamp – who would have guessed?!

The Croatian soldiers gave me this ISAF patch which I promptly put on a hat given to me by Canadian soldiers…it’s just inappropriate enough to feel like a rebel when I wear it – it says ISAF girl, ISAF is International Security Assistance Force, which we all fall under here, but it’s a Playboy logo. I’m going with the asking forgiveness instead of permission approach on this one.

This is what I get to read each and every time I use the bathroom here…ahhh…going to miss this sign someday. Note the bullet about the stool consistency!

Quite possibly the best part of the base – just a teaser of what we’re NOT getting here! I think the Afghans need a lesson on what “super center” means!

I REMEMBER.

I REMEMBER.


It’s September 11th. It’s both an honor and a reality check that I find myself on my second day here “in country,” as they say. Looking around, you would have no idea that today is different from any other day here on base. Soldiers get up, eat breakfast, and head to work. I hear sirens in the distance as I write this, but from what I’m starting to understand, that’s a pretty normal thing around here.

Yesterday I found some shade to escape the HOT HOT sun and was drinking an iced coffee smiling to myself at the two songs that played through nearby speakers – “Walking on Sunshine,” then, “Come On Baby Light My Fire.” Haha, real funny, I thought. Suddenly an all-base alarm went off and all the soldiers around me calmly but without hesitation laid down on the ground. I’m learning to follow the crowd in learning the ways of life here, so I followed suit. Though I knew it in my head factually, it struck my heart for the first time that I was in a war zone and that this was no drill. Somewhere on the base there was some sort of incoming fire from a distinct enemy outside the base. We all laid there quietly and upon some cue I missed, they got up all at once and walked calmly to the nearest bunker. I must have looked confused because a couple of them directed me with them. We sat there baking for a while in the concrete bunker – me thankful for my rapidly melting iced coffee – until the “all safe” announcement blared throughout the base.

Today of all days I’m reminded of this decade long face-off we’ve had with this enemy, and the fight in which we find ourselves to help make this world a safer place by not succumbing to the enemy. As I look around me in the chow hall (aka cafeteria), the majority of soldiers I see are very young…so young, in fact, that 9/11 was probably not a big moment in their young lives when it happened. There are guys as young as 19 and 20 here, which means they were 7 or 8 years old on 9/11…hardly a life-changing moment for them…yet here they are serving their country far away from home trusting that there is reason behind their work. I believe there is, or else I wouldn’t be here out of my own volition.

Last night I had the honor of laughing and letting loose with some of the soldiers. Every Monday night here is karaoke night. There is no alcohol allowed here, and cause I generally like to have a little liquid courage to belt out my very bad singing voice, I snuck in and sat in the back to watch the brave souls getting up on stage. Some were bad, some were good, but none of that mattered because everyone was smiling and having good time. My favorite songs were a young, skinny white kid belting out “Baby Got Back” complete with dance moves, and another guy singing the entire “Come Sail Away” song in an Eric Cartman voice. I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks.

It’s a great privilege to wake up in Afghanistan on September 11th and to look around first-hand with appreciation at the work being done. To see these men and women serious when they need to be as during the alarm, and then laugh when they can while belting out “Livin’ On a Prayer” in unison.

I’m proud to be here on this day, proud to serve my country, proud to be surrounded by soldiers doing the same thing, and honor all the innocent lives lost 11 years ago today. May their deaths, and those of the people who have died in this fight since that day not be in vain. I send out a warm prayer of love and peace to all the families of those lost in this war.

God Bless.

Stop. Be Still.

Stop. Be Still.

An inability to stay quiet is one of the most conspicuous failings of mankind. ~Walter Bagehot

Nowadays most men lead lives of noisy desperation. ~James Thurber

Do you know what the most common reaction to monks who first go into secluded meditation? Schizophrenia. Look it up! We aren’t used to complete containment and silence. I find myself with the same reaction, only not quite so full-blown. I sit to watch waves, or admire the wind through trees and what happens? My brain forgets its mission and continues going 100 mph down whatever distracted train of thought it chooses – like a child getting more and more lost in a crowd without even realizing that stopping is the best way to find his parents. My brain is all over the map…what job should I take? Why do I feel so confused in life? What do I have a right to feel and not to feel right now? Is there even such a thing as not having a right to a feeling? Should I have said something different? Do I live too much by what I should do? And around and around in a spiral my thoughts go. This can’t be true silence. The wind whispers, the waves hush up onto the shore, but my brain is screaming loudly and impatiently the whole time.

Stillness presupposes no worry, no what-ifs, no second thoughts and self-doubt. Stillness means the rambling thoughts are silenced for just a moment and are not given the free meandering range they’re used to, but instead lowered below the level of truth I have granted them. My thoughts are not truth, nor should I believe each and every one of them as if they were. Just stop and be.

I know it’s cheesy but Grey’s Anatomy on Hulu Plus has me hooked recently. There was one episode I saw this week where Sandra Oh’s character experiences a trauma, checks out of life, and quits her job. In trying to help her, Patrick Dempsey’s character takes her out fishing in the middle of a lake. After only a little bit, she grows impatient and suggests they go to another spot where the fish are, and maybe they should try another bait, and maybe change positions in the boat. Dempsey calmly says that if she keeps talking then no matter where they go, the fish will scare away, and that they will stay right there. Her reply is that she doesn’t agree and makes all her arguments again, only more loudly and impatiently. Dempsey stays calm and tells her plainly that the secret to fishing is not to overthink it, and just to turn your brain off and do nothing, to which Christina (Sandra Oh) yelled in response, “I can’t turn it off!!” That’s when my tears came – yes, I cried watching Grey’s Anatomy. That was me – I can’t turn my brain off and just sit and fish…metaphorically…well probably actually too.

As I researched it, I learned that not only is silence good for the soul, it’s physically healthy for the body too. Over time of exposure to everyday noises like buzzes, music, traffic and tv, not to mention louder noises like concerts, yelling crowds, and construction, studies show that we develop hearing loss, elevated heart rate and blood pressure and a steady release of stress hormones like cortisol. I’ve learned a lot about cortisol recently because it’s the hormone that takes its toll on PTSD brains. So it follows that the relief of noise and the gravitation toward silence, even if just a few minutes each day, replenishes our bodies and our systems. Author on silence and noise trauma, George Prochnik states, “Silence not only calms and soothes us, but also allows us to better focus. Neuroscientists find that people who do short silent retreats find that their capacity for concentration is greatly enhanced.” He goes on to urge, “Make an effort to spend time and be still. Give your ears, and physiology a rest.” A psychiatric neuroimaging study showed that, “People who meditated about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had changes in gray-matter density in the part of the brain associated with empathy, stress, memory and sense of self.”

The truth is that silence is terrifying to most people, but so are plenty of other wonderful things – rock climbing, public speaking, dancing or singing in public, travelling to foreign places – yet all are liberating in the same way silence is healing. Yeah yeah, I talk the good talk, but now it’s time for me to try to walk the silent walk. I used to be able to sit on a big boulder in the heart of a canyon and just be…it’s time to try and get back to that place…metaphorically of course. :) I’ll update on how the pursuit of silence goes.

Shhhhhh!

For more resources:

  • Is Silence and Solitude Good for You?
  • How Noise is Really Killing Us
  • The Power of Silence
  • Quotes about Silence
  • No Shame in Stillness
  • Pain is Not a Bad Thing

    Pain is Not a Bad Thing

    I’ve heard a lot of people say, “How could there be a loving God when there is so much pain in the world?” This statement automatically places pain on the opposite side of love and goodness, and instead confines it to a purely bad element. But what if it’s not bad? What if it’s necessary, and maybe even has rays of goodness woven into it?

    A child burns his hands on a hot stove, and the pain hurts, but the lesson is immediate, and not likely to be repeated. Through pain we learn about our own physical limits and understand our mortality. An athlete begins to strain his legs through overtraining and feels shin splints. Through his pain he learns that he either needs to cross-train in ways to ease up on his legs, or maybe even that his shoes are too worn for proper support anymore and he needs new gear. A woman feels pain at the slap or yelling from her husband, and she uses her internal pain to give her the strength she has lacked to pack up and start a new life without him. Our country was unified on the pain brought about by 9-11. There are equally as many illogical painful situations…one of the biggest being a child dies, and a parent is left with confusion and pain at why such a thing could happen.

    I could make a list of examples of pain for days and never finish because pain is a part of this world; it’s a part of our daily lives. When did we as a society get the notion that such an everyday aspect of life is bad? Just look at our commercials. You feel a headache? Take a pill to make the pain go away. You feel depressed? Take a pill to dull the pain. You feel lady cramps? Take a pill to keep living “normally” (which I generally have zero problem doing…taking pills, that is, not living normally). If you feel any pain whatsoever, take a pill and do something to immediately get rid of the pain. Yes, pain in our society has become synonymous with bad and wrong.

    But what if we paused for a second to look at pain objectively. Pain can be a powerful indicator that something needs to be changed or adjusted…like the abused woman or the injured athlete. It can serve as an alert that our bodies need to be evaluated – like an indicator to a cancer or disease that needs attention. It can also be humbling and keep us grateful for what we have. I am experiencing cramps not because God hates me each and every month, but because I have in me the ability to create and nourish a new life. Once emotion can be separated from the pain, it’s easier to step back and see it as a byproduct of the natural world we live in. This is obviously easiest to do with physical pain. I have often told myself during triathlons, “Ok, Amy, the pain and strain you feel right now is just your new norm, and it’s going to be like this for the next 1-2 hours. Just accept that this is your new level of normal, and think about other things other than the pain itself.” One of my favorite movies from my college days, G.I. Jane (I used to want to be her!) quotes this, “Pain is your friend, your ally, it will tell you when you are seriously injured, it will keep you awake and angry, and remind you to finish the job and get the hell home. But you know the best thing about pain? It lets you know you’re not dead yet!”

    So if we can’t avoid pain, and shouldn’t just try to cover it up with pills to ignore or get rid of it, then what do we do with it? We can see it not as a symptom to be treated and eliminated, but rather a natural life element. It is not evil, not wrong, it is as natural as a baby’s laugh, or a tree swaying in the wind. It would be impossible to have the world we live in without pain – if our hearts could feel no heartbreak, they could also feel no love and joy. If our bodies could feel no physical pain, we would surely die of neglect and abuse beyond what our bodies can sustain. We would not know when we are thirsty and hungry, or when we need medical attention. Horrific things happen which cause pain, but that is not God or any other intelligent Mind dabbling its fingers for sadistic pleasure. It is instead a byproduct of our natural world. Death comes randomly and without specific choice because we are mortal beings susceptible to injury and disease.

    “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” –C.S. Lewis