Whether you follow me here or on my other social media channels, no doubt you noticed me talking about several deaths that happened in my world right on top of each other. On January 17th, I lost my dad, on January 21st, I lost my grandpa and on Feb. 2nd I lost a childhood friend. Three deaths in 16 days. Three people who made a difference in our world – two in law enforcement and one forensic psychologist, three people who influenced who I am today.
The death of my dad was the hardest and will continue to be the hardest. He was one of the people I trusted most in this world, one of the people who unconditionally believed in me, one who taught me how to make room for my feelings. As a family, we gathered over Zoom last weekend to say goodbye to my dad, to honor him in the ways we felt best.
And one of those ways, for me, is to honor him this way – to share my love for him and his love for me here. Because in all things my dad gave me safety, which is what is necessary for resilience to truly grow. Space, time & room to heal, grow and finally glow. This was his love language – giving us the freedom to be who we really are and as you’ll read, the gift he asked me to share is to help eliminate shame & guilt from our lives. That’s all I want, all I’ve ever wanted. So grateful to my dad for giving me the tools and wisdom to make that a reality in my world.
I love you and miss you, dad.
A tribute to my dad…
My dad and I shared a love of self-expression. We both could be wordy – which should be a giant hint of what to expect from me – but it was because we saw so much in the world that moved us deeply, so much that sparked imagination and even more that reflected the truth and irony of the real world.
We both spoke in languages that accentuated our ability to share love, allowing us to build a trust and comfort with vulnerability – one that sometimes allowed us to speak without words, to commiserate without details, to connect without expectation. We found a way to communicate even when words felt inadequate.
One of those languages was sci-fi. I mean, I was born the same year Star Wars debuted, so it was fate that I would be a geek. And how excited I was to see Return of the Jedi with him at the Chief theater in Pueblo, it was Star Trek that really became our own special love language.
And I think this quote from Gene Roddenberry summed up dad’s viewpoint so well.
Because the vision that Roddenberry created for this world fascinated dad and I so much, the allegories of our current problems giving us hope for better leadership in the future.
From ethics of the Prime Directive to the judgment of Q, we examined our potential as human beings. We’d have moral debates and relate the show back to our own lives. Both of us sought to live a life of service working for something bigger than ourselves, to make our lives as meaningful as possible.
I rewatch those episodes a lot, especially now when we all need hope for a better future. And in those moments where the show hits the right emotional and humanist chords, I can still feel his hand reaching over to embrace me, a tender grip on my shoulder pulling me to express the resonance of that moment, to share how deeply moved he was, to express a hope so impossibly grand, it almost hurt to speak it out loud.
He made me believe in that vision so much that I chose to make it my life’s work to get us one step closer to that hopeful future.
And so, social justice became our language also. We both needed to make sense of a world that too often was cruel to sensitive souls like him and I. He saw how easily wounded I was by the suffering of others and he gave me avenues to channel my empathy into meaningful change.
His words helped me to reframe my experience away from victimization and toward resilience.
While my mom’s fire and passion give me courage and a boundless drive to make a difference in the world, the type of difference I chose to make comes from the wisdom and guidance of my dad.
Even though Dad wasn’t religious, he heavily influenced how I describe my relationship to the Divine. He encouraged my faith and taught me how to balance it with emotional honesty, intellectual curiosity and cultural humility. He let me explore my spiritual world by providing me a solid framework of ethics and safety (a family business, literally). There were of course things I did that he disapproved of, but he rarely told me that, wanting me to be uninfluenced by his opinion, knowing I saw a truth in things that he couldn’t, just as he saw certain truths that I couldn’t.
More than anything, throughout my life my dad made me feel safe in the times where I felt the most threatened.
Like when I was 13, it was the language of his presence that mattered most to me. I had been plagued with nightly terrors of nightmares, screaming in the middle of the night. Those nights, he would lay beside my bed, holding my hand, talking me through a guided visualization of our annual hike through what we called “the Meadow” a stretch of land near our family’s cabin in the high country.
He would create this bubble of safety until I finally fell asleep. The imagery he used still permeates my meditations today – little yellow, pink and white flowers dotted across small grassy hills, the sounds of nature reminding me that I am supported.
From talking with my siblings, I know that they were no stranger to the language of his “lectures” especially when we did something wrong. It wasn’t that the mistake was highlighted as much as the motivation behind the mistake, the psychology of our choice.
But in some ways, I see how much those lectures were more like a Socratic inquiry of emotion itself, a philosophical exploration of the nexus between what we did and what we felt.
It was a way for him to understand himself through us. He’d ask his psychologist questions and I’d open my heart and spill out my insecurities over my relationships, my frustrations with injustice, or the fears of my personal failure. He helped me define my inner landscape, a skill that has become more valuable the older I get.
My dad hated the language of authoritarianism. While his education and position gave him authority over others, he was disgusted by those who flaunt and abuse their power, who unilaterally impose fear & suffering to solidify their control.
He tried, sometimes successfully, to escape hierarchies of rank and often examined his own privilege to rectify the passive injustice that he saw illuminated in our world.
And so, even though it might hurt his back to do so he’d meet me on my level, literally sitting on the floor with me to play, to listen, to understand, to equalize our conversations.
That was projected into his public self – he was universally known as friendly and generous, and my kids saw him as both Santa Claus and Gandalf, secretly calling him Gran-dolf, the very image of a wise, old wizard with a sparkle in his eye.
To understand my dad is to hear the wisdom expressed in the language of his wit.
He amused himself endlessly with his little quips & witticisms, a trait for wordplay and puns he got from his dad, Clarence – a gift of the Rose heritage, a talent for both learning & expression. He kept a shoebox full of these thoughts under his desk – even had a short comic he was writing. It will take the rest of my lifetime to go through them, but there was one that stood out that I wanted to share today.
Context: In late 1999 the plan had been to move to Denver to work for then Representative Abel Tapia for the legislative session, go to law school and then go out to change the world. But my dad had just been diagnosed with cancer and I was deeply reconsidering my plan so I could stay behind in Pueblo with him.
In the days before my birthday, he had been told he had a 20% chance to live just one year. I had already signed a lease on a new apartment in Denver.
My dad made it a point to tell me to go live my life. To live my purpose by working at the Capitol. He made me leave and he made my brother go with me to ensure I stayed. He visited me at the Capitol a few weeks later, just after he started chemo and was about to do his first radiation treatment. I remember how moved I was that he dressed up to visit me that day, in my little corner desk of a big room we shared with another representative and aide. He put his arm around me and told me how proud he was of me.
Of course, he beat those odds by a good twenty-plus years. At this point he would have said something sharply witty like:
It’s pretty impressive that I 100% beat the odds for 21 years in a row! OR Maybe they got it wrong – it was a 100% chance to live exactly 21 years!
Just a few days before he died, I was helping to organize his desk. He had written this back in 1999, when he thought he was going to die. He made several copies which he kept in his desk drawer, presumably so they would be ready to give to us when this day came.
Breaking cycles of insecurity
My dad was afraid to be a burden to everyone else which reveals yet another language that we shared – insecurity and guilt
For all that my dad believed in everyone around him, he held an undercurrent of anxiety regarding his own self-worth, his own contributions in life, feeling like he hadn’t done or given enough. He was quick to see fault in himself, rather than others, reinforcing old patterns of rejection and anxiety consolidating it into a knot of internalized judgment.
And because I share this trait, I understood the guilt he felt, the shame he punished himself with. I was so defensive of dad – ready to confront those who would trigger that private, internalized pain, ready to put myself on the line to alleviate that pain. That empathetic connection the deepest of our communications.
We talked about this on his last night with us. I had conveyed a message from Andrew Romanoff, who you heard from earlier. He didn’t believe that someone as important as Romanoff might care for him. Andrew responded in big, bold letters…. “WHAT?!?”
Which sort of conveys what we all feel, right?
When I showed him the texts he said, ” I have always felt unworthy, undeserving of the love and attention people give me.” I held his hand, tears mixed with laughter on my face, and reminded him, “I know dad, because I feel the same way about myself. And my son feels that way about himself. too” He looked at me right then, squeezing my hand tighter, his hands cold, but still so strong with life and said, “Well, then it ends tonight. It ends with me, right here. Promise me you’ll let this die here tonight.”
His green and gold hazel eyes locked onto me to confirm that that I had heard him. My head nodding with the rigorousness of my commitment, the words stuck in my throat, sobbing with both joy and sadness.
Joy that he was recognizing the harmful effects of our shared legacy of shame and guilt, but sadness that he suffered for so long with that shame. But, like we always do, we spoke wordlessly, with the love and honesty of our gaze, volumes of mutual respect, admiration and encouragement passing between us.
That night I held the phone as he facetimed with my brother and sister. I watched him tell them how much he was proud of them. He called our partners, Dan, John and Mike, “Good Men” – a phrase he felt unworthy of bearing no matter how many times I forced him to hear it.
He told me often that night that he had acceptance for this moment, that he had lived a good life – the proof of which is seen in his children, his five grandchildren (Brandon, Jennifer, Dylan, Gabe and Leslie). He saw our good deeds as artists, thinkers, and nurturers. And he whispered to me, “maybe by loving and raising you kids, I think I have already changed the world for the better.”
I can say with complete certainty that in the end, my dad did knew how loved he really was.
The only regret I have is that we couldn’t sit down to watch Star Trek: Picard together, my Christmas present that had been waiting for him at home.
I went home from the hospital planning to show up at hospice with the DVDs so we could watch it together, reliving the memories of our special Saturday night KWGN scifi ritual. To hold his hand, creating the same bubble of safety he created for me, allowing the moment to move us.
I wanted to say goodbye by sharing Picard’s journey in that show, as he deals with aging and bravely tries to right the wrongs of his past. That lesson would have reverberated strongly for my dad. I wanted him to see our favorite hero, Jean-Luc Picard, facing his own mortality, amidst a period of political turmoil and growing moral imperatives. I wanted to feel his reaction to this line:
“We have powerful tools: openness, optimism, and the spirit of curiosity. All they have is secrecy and fear. And fear is the great destroyer.”
The task he’s asked of me, of us really, is to release ourselves of the fear, the shame and especially the guilt of our past so we don’t starve the soul of the unconditional love it needs to thrive. He invites us today to live with a vulnerability of openness, a boundless optimism for our vision and with the imagination of curiosity, the true gifts of our humanity.
And so this becomes my sacred charge and in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard:
“Make it So”.
For more on grief…
I also made a video about how I’ve been processing this grief. See more here:
A little about who I am professionally
Since I started this blog in 2011 I’ve been mindful about how I connect this blog to my professional life. But I also know that in order to let go of some of the trauma issues that have held me back, I have to forge a much more integrated, far less compartmentalized version of myself. This includes connecting the dots between the woman who talks about polyamory and consent to the woman who engages with holistic systemic change, all wrapped up with the hopes of inclusivity and accessibility.
What will always be consistent about me is my sincere desire to serve humanity in every aspect of my life. My radar is always attuned to tracking the ebb and flow of interconnectedness between each of us, especially when we engage in spiritual or systemic dynamics. I see the beautiful, magnificent brilliance of light that shines from each of us and how that connects, enhances, and amplifies the light of others. Every single one of us matter.
It has been 20 years since I went to law school, since I sat for my first torts exam or used a 4-color pen to book brief a case. The process of learning speaks so deeply to me – I miss being in school, but I’m also impatient for that learning to lead….somewhere. I have always sought to be a woman of action, a woman of substance and since I was a kid, I only ever wanted to serve humanity through acts of love honed with the sharp sword of justice. My priority in all aspects of my life, but especially professionally has been to ensure that no one gets left behind, no one is treated as “less than” or “undeserving”, and to not add to the burdens that people are carrying in their lives.
All people really want is to be seen and heard for who they are
That love of learning took me to take a class on trauma informed care when I was a mediator in private practice back in 2012. It changed everything for me. It gave me a term for something that I intuitively knew was the right thing to do but didn’t have the brain science to explain why. Once I recognized that what I was feeling about myself and about how people treated me, the mediator, during sessions, I started to recognize the patterns of my own trauma that were playing out during sessions. It explained not just my clients’ reactions, but the ones that were playing out for me under the surface.
Once I learned how to be trauma informed the biggest thing I noticed is just how shitty we were, as a society, at meeting people where they are. We are constantly pushing people to “just get over it” or to deny the severity of how a comment, action or even policy made them feel. I was a successful mediator in that I got people to transform conflict into something more positive, but often I was working harder than they were to recognize that the constant fighting, hypervigilance, and avoidance were all trauma reactions.
It’s not an understatement to say that my life has intersected quite often with trauma, both my own and others’. Over the years I’ve been transparent with my story because I know others have been through something similar, might be struggling the same ways I have (or am), and need a glimmer of recognition that will help them not feel so alone. By making myself visible, even at this moment, I have a hope of helping others feel seen through my own reflection and storytelling.
One of the most valuable concepts I learned as a mediator is how critical it is for the human psyche to feel seen and heard, to be recognized, valued, and appreciated for the insight and experience we bring. And that is especially highlighted during conflict. The temptation is to win the fight, to shout down our opponent, to view everything as us vs. them. We often fail to truly see and hear see one another when our brain is too busy defending ourselves. And yet, most of the time, people have similar goals and objectives in mind, the same problem they want to solve, but each of them are only seeing a small piece of the puzzle, not the overall picture. And when you truly make space for someone to be authentic and real, you make room to find solutions together.
So why is trauma-informed care important?
How much different could our relationships be if, instead of nagging our partner until they snap at us, we recognized that there might be more to the behavior than the ulterior motives we ascribe and assume. How might we change our approach if we recognized that our words and behavior triggers something stored deeply in their bodies that they aren’t able to cope with at that moment? For example, maybe our partner snapped at us because their last partner used to throw things at them when they didn’t “obey” and they’re immediately defensive because our nagging triggered that embedded reaction for them?And what if they knew that by calling our normal request for help “nagging” they used a deeply stigmatized cultural description that likewise triggers shame reactions from our own childhood?
Is there a better way to relate that doesn’t leave us hostile and on edge?
While trauma-informed care isn’t a cure-all, it is a framework for how we can be more conscious of how we relate to one another. And with COVID increasing levels of trauma and toxic stress for everyone, it’s even more critical that we develop some skills so that we don’t inadvertently add to anyone’s trauma, least of all, our own. For us to have our best chance of truly beating COVID, we need to develop skills that allow us to increase our empathy. We are challenged to give people a soft place to land while we slowly reconstruct what “normal” looks like.
So why Trauma-Informed Social Change?
Trauma-Informed Change is a societal shift toward the empathetic recognition, respect, and reduction of the widespread impact of trauma on the world.
A trauma-informed society acts to mitigate retraumatization and avoids the addition of new traumas.
When we are trauma-informed, we are saying:
- I respect that you’ve been through some stuff….
- Because I’ve been through some stuff too and I recognize how that feels in myself…
- So, even if we can fix the things we’ve been through, we promise to…
- 1) to not needlessly reopen old wounds; and
- 2) at least not add new ones.
My professional website says:
My vision for humanity is a more compassionate, just & sustainable world created through trauma-informed, heart-centered leadership. By preventing and healing the toxic trauma and shame imposed by misaligned systems, organizational dysfunction, and interpersonal relationships, we create a meaningful & accessible experience of equality and justice for all.Janet Rose
And frankly, the most trauma informed thing I can for myself and for others in 2021 is to show people that resilience is possible. Like seeing Bruce Wayne and Batman in the same space, we need to be able to believe that we can get through this as integrated, whole people, instead of fractured, fragmented, and alone. We need to have the #RadiantResilience to not only recognize the vulnerability of the collective trauma we are experiencing right now, but the inherent strength it took for us to still be here, no matter how weak or exhausted we might feel.
I am here to share that not only is resilience possible, but that we can actually contribute directly to building it for a new world. As more structures that have enforced systemic trauma, like police violence and food insecurity, are challenged and dismantled, we need systems that are more responsive to the generations of trauma we are carrying in our bones. And at the very least, how amazing would it be if even just once in a day, we consciously chose not to add to another’s burden, not to add trauma or retraumatization to an already difficult day?
What might happen if each of us chose to simply not add trauma or retraumatization for even just one person each day? Below is one of the videos from my YouTube channel where I share my thoughts about how that might look.
I believe a more loving, just, and sustainable world is possible if we choose to show up and truly see people.
Even if all we do is nod to show “I respect what has happened to you and I’ll treat you with the dignity you deserve for that”, it would go a long way to demonstrating the love and sensitivity we want to see for our future.
Today’s hashtag is #NeverForget – tributes to 9/11 flood our feeds. So many Americans have shared what they were doing that day, what their reactions were, how it affected them, how it affected the world around them.
All I can remember is the shock. Pure, unfiltered shock.
My mom was in town to help me choose my wedding dress for my May 2002 wedding. I was babysitting my step-son-to-be (he’s now 23 as much my son as anyone could be!). My husband-to-be was driving back from Utah with his family after attending his grandfather’s funeral, a Pearl Harbor vet. I had just started my first class in my master’s program for public policy. I was excited, full of promise and happily planning out my new life.
The husband-to-be called me from the road early that morning waking me up. “Turn on the TV,” he said, “a plane has hit the World Trade Center.” The words didn’t make sense until I reached for the remote and saw the enormity of what he was trying to tell me.
I screamed to get my mom’s attention, my kid still asleep in his room. She turned on the TV in the living room and gasped. We just couldn’t comprehend what we were seeing. And then, right then the 2nd plane hit. The shock, the magnitude of what we just witnessed was too much to describe. Hearing about the Pentagon and Pennsylvania only added to the confusion and dismay.
I personally didn’t know anyone who died that day, but I know two people that fate chose to save that day. My cousin, who is like a brother to me, worked in that building (and fortunately was at the coast celebrating his son’s 1st birthday). My mother-in-law was supposed to have been there that weekend but she was called out to Utah with the family instead.
And then the waves of grief finally started after I saw people throwing themselves from the building, escaping the fatal onslaught of fire, smoke, and falling debris, my heart broke with a permanence I still can’t fully describe. Empathy for the loneliness and desperation fueled by primal fear and a haunting inevitability. Witnessing someone’s last moments like that over and over – too many to count – so many I will never know the names of. When the kid asked why they were jumping, the tears couldn’t stop. I stood in the shower for 30 minutes just crying, letting the sound of the shower drown out my wailing sobs.
We kept the dress appointment that day because as mom said, we needed something to look forward to in the midst of sorrow. Trying on wedding dresses that day, knowing I made the right choice for the modest wedding of my dreams sounds like the most selfish, self-absorbed thing to do. But it was the only thing that could replenish the outpouring of empathy that was drowning my spirit.
Little did I realize that as an American, my heart would continue to break over and over again in the years since.
9/11 exposed some of America’s deepest vulnerabilities
As Americans, we felt vulnerable, exposed, and indeed, traumatized. We went through a collective mourning period – classes were suspended, we were allowed to be human beings with feelings, at least for a little bit. There was a precious moment of recognition in one another’s eyes about the unspoken horrors we had just witnessed. At the gas station, at the grocery store. For a few days we honored that flicker of recognition in one another.
But our consciousness can only handle so much darkness and trauma before it starts seeping deeper into our system, a quiet code of disquietude flipping switches on a dime, sometimes to protect us, sometimes to manipulate us. It happens in our everyday lives all the time. We swallow the words of the bully until they’re embedded in our system, stopping us from speaking our truth, maneuvering levers to spoil our successes long after the bully is gone. Victimization giving rise of paranoia, distrust, and a new system of “normal”. Our deep underbelly, both in corporate America and in our mundane, empty lives was disrupted by the coordinated and deliberate hatred of others.
It wasn’t long before things started shifting, before we started looking at one another with suspicion. Many were manipulated by lies about weapons of mass destruction. How many of our soldiers carry trauma from this fabricated war? But our vengeance must be served, is the programming we’ve been taught.
The pre-existing rift between left and right began to grow both between and within parties. We saw a growing rise of hate crimes and targeted discrimination against those of Muslim faith and Middle Eastern descent. We allowed compromises to both civil liberties and human dignity in the name of national security. Terrorism added a new violent layer of fatalistic aplomb to our public discourse.
And it has been growing exponentially ever since. We have been fed a steady diet of gradually paranoid narratives, the inspiration porn of populist one-upmanship, tolerance for the most extreme interpretations of the truth. Constantly exposed to provocative images of fear, nefarious gaslighting narratives we soaked up the stories that personalities that justified the weaponized surety of our own private victimizations.
9/11 felt personal
9/11 felt more personal than many things we’ve gone through as a nation. Yes, the rest of the world witnessed it, but we were the victim of a crime so heinous in reality and symbolic in identity that I think we are still uncovering layers of it. Unlike a natural disaster, we were targeted, we were unexpectedly knocked in the gut, costing thousands of innocent lives. Not on the battlefield. We were ambushed at work, on a commute. A normal ordinary day of no true significance other than the date these men collaborated to choose. This wasn’t a distant declaration on foreign soil, this was here, this now, this was personal.
We grew to see shadows in every corner of someone else’s life but failed to expose our own to the light of day. We resisted looking at the ways in which we center ourselves on narratives of pain and struggle but fail to empathize with the pain and struggle of others. We both want our pain recognized and we want it protected. We want someone to witness it, but to do so would be to expose it to the light of our own attention, exposing the uncomfortable depths to which it has embedded itself into our daily world.
The memory of that exposure of our vulnerable underbelly still hurts after all this time in some big and small ways. And in so many ways as a nation, we are still guarding this wound, lashing out at anything, anyone that might threaten us again. We want assurances of our safety and have been willing to even sacrifice one another to have it.
No matter how much we might have progressed and emotionally healed since then, there is a festering wound at the core of our political and cultural life. We all have expressed a deep distrust in the collective will of our nation to move forward together, hypervigilant ideological stubborn wars waged against one another with alarmingly high consequences. Each side battling for control over unwieldy systems that are crumbling under the weight of inequality, failing to deliver on the promises of this nation, the chosen promise on the declaration of inalienable rights.
We think we’re playing at tug-of-war, when in fact, the rubber band holding our planet together is about to snap from the pressure of containing such fiercely repulsive polarities of our illusions of separateness. All to protect ourselves from confronting the collective compassion fatigue we have steadily been experiencing since 9/11. It’s not that we don’t care…it’s that we’ve been through so much unacknowledged, unhealed pain that our capacity to care is overwhelmed by the state of “way too much” always.
Vulnerability invites connection
Just like we went through a shared trauma on 9/11, we are experiencing one at this moment today with COVID. The sorrow, the frustration, the anger, the misdirected pain burrows under the surface, inflaming the festering pain we’ve been feeling for nearly 20 years now. Just like members of the Silent Generation were impacted by the traumas of poverty and lack, this ongoing generational trauma will likewise be passed along to our children
I want more than anything for us to we recognize that these vulnerabilities are easier to bear when shared and recognized in our connections with others. We don’t have to understand what someone else has gone through in order to extend empathy and understanding. Instead of adding doubt and denial, we can choose to accept and recognize a shared reality – that we have been through some shit together.
It’s critical, now, more than ever, for us to find and create places for community and connection. Not to gossip and hate on others, but to share lived realities in the comfort of those who get you. More than ever we’re invited to share our truth, to open old wounds, and heal ourselves to save the generations to come.
As we carry forth the memories of this day to the next year, may we find the strength to stand up for one another.
May our lungs be full of the breath of inspiration to speak our truth.
May our minds be clear enough to recognize the truth in one another.
May we each find a pathway to create a better reality than the polarized forces we’re sponsoring today.
May those we choose as leaders prioritize the healing recognition we need and actively choose not to add more trauma to our already overloaded lives.
The rubber band of our uneasy tolerance holding the country together will snap unless we show up with our full integrity, our full honesty, and our full humanity and demand the same from our leaders.
If we can do these things, we will have honored those who died this day, we will have recognized the pain and tears of every mother, father, husband, daughter, or best friend who lost their beautiful love that day. We will have honored the brave rescuers who saved lives and sacrificed themselves in pure selflessness and duty to humanity.
And we will have moved a step closer to bringing us into the resolute safety of truth…the foundation for rebuilding ourselves and our country.
Each of us shares our life with someone.
In all actuality, we share our lives with many someones.
Our orbits pass through one another, sometimes crashing through the orbits of others everyday. With every action, with every word, with every choice, we send ripples of significance. We each influence someone, several someones, in our day-to-day lives and in the memories reverberating in those we may never see again. And even the most obtusely selfish among us can serve as an inspiration to someone else. One ripple sends another and another.
We are all connected. Maybe positively, maybe negatively – no matter how brief, no matter how intense, the connections we share are inescapable. What happens to one of us reverberates through the rest of us.
Even in the darkest of my depressions, it is this truth that keeps me going. This truth has been the basis of my life and my calling. It is the guidebook for my decision-making, the tome I refer to when I feel I’m off my path. I gravitate toward connectedness with others, even if it means breaking faith with what the world would have me do with its rules and expectations.
It is the universality of our connectedness that gives me hope for our future but likewise makes me fear for our present.
We live in unprecedented times. When I was 15, I cared deeply about politics, but it didn’t rule my every thought or conversation. I worried about getting my homework done, navigating increasingly more adult decisions. I didn’t have to worry about my life or the lives of those around me. We didn’t know the earth was dying.
My son is now 15 with a keen mind for politics and history. He doesn’t want kids because “why bother when the earth will be uninhabitable by the time they’re 10”.
It breaks my heart that my son, my bright light of hope in this world, cannot see any hope in our future. He watched with panic and anxiety when Trump announced, foreseeing a time that brown people would be locked up. Fearing for my Mexican family, that election was so difficult to endure for us both. It became real to us – we were being collectively targeted and threatened.
Combined with the regularity of lock-outs, the proliferation of cyber bullying and the rapidly empty responses to climate change, he has nothing left to believe in. He watched his country, the adults and parents who should be watching out for his generation, elect the most unsophisticatedly inhumane of any candidate possible to usher his generation into adulthood. Environmental protections are dismantled, a sledgehammer has been taken to a woman’s right to choose, and racism, sexism and discrimination is sanctioned and protected.
We have a generation of children who have been force fed a steady diet of fear and impulsive intolerance. Even for the kids not directly in harm’s way today, the multitude of dangers they have to navigate put my youthful grievances into clearer perspective. The trauma, the low, constant hum of human suffering accumulated slowly over time.
Who would they be if we hadn’t done this to them?
We all belong to each other.
This isn’t about my kid vs your kid. This isn’t about comparing our suffering. It’s about recognizing that we share the burden of carrying that experience with and for each other. Without your experience, how can I possibly ever understand mine? We serve as mirrors for each other, reflecting both the pain and the resilience, the fear and the healing. By sharing those experiences, we give context to someone else’s.
People often tell me that I share too much online. And I do. I know better than most the consequences of sharing so much. But I also know that dee in my soul, I share my ideas and experiences so that others might find something that resonates with them. If my story can help even one other person, then I experience a transformative effect for the pain I’ve lived through. I reclaim more of who I really am and I experience a greater freedom in living my most authentic life.
So many of us have been through some horrible things, things that we’re only now starting to find a voice for. Many of us are grappling with the outcomes and consequences of shame, guilt or trauma. That realization has a ripple effect around us, even momentarily altering how we see ourselves and the world around us. And if, in this moment we can collectively mourn for the people we never became, if we can reconcile the betrayal we feel, we might recognize that we have more in common than we think.
In these moments of crisis, in these days of uncertainty, we have a choice whether to silo ourselves away in a tower of enforced misery, or whether we might deserve the strength of sincere companionship. We have a choice to model for our over stressed and over burdened children how to handle emotions like fear or distrust, how to maintain resolve when it looks like all is lost. We can show them leadership. We can show them another way.
Connecting with one another, making ourselves vulnerable to share in the burdens, collaborating on solutions together may be the only way we can ensure that our children will survive their futures.
We all belong to each other.
We all want to be loved, to be found worthy of our intended’s affection, to be worthy of our parents’ pride, to be deserving of close friendships and to bask in the joy of romantic passion. Only by realizing and engaging with that connection will we be able to create a world of abundance, security and peace for us all.
It has been a little over a year since I started this job. A job that makes me feel like a for-realsies attorney without the icky task of being a cold, walled off shark. I get to help people, real people with real problems every single day. People who are disabled, homeless, alone in the world. And I choose to do this job in the most connected ways possible. The dial on my empathy is turned all way up all throughout the week. By the time I get to Friday, my soul is weary, my body is weak, and my heart is wistful.
Law school doesn’t teach you how to deal with clients, how to deal with compassion fatigue (if it even acknowledges that there is such a thing as compassion in the practice of law) or how to balance empathy with the cold, hard logic of The Law. One of my goals in life is to create a model for attorneys, who much like myself, went into law to help people, change the world and approach the practice of law with empathy and compassion. I’m learning as I go–and I’d love to share one of things that has helped me along the way.
As my family will affirm, I spend many a long night at the office. The work I do is so detailed and there is a tremendous burden on my shoulders each day. It only took a few months of this work for me to realize that I needed to build myself an escape hatch–not just because I needed it but also because no one else would do it for me.
So here are some things that have worked for me:
- Having a flexible schedule. 9-5/ M-F doesn’t work for everyone and it certainly never has for me. I purposely look for opportunities where I can be trusted as a professional to get the job done in the time that is most appropriate for me and my family. So I work 9-6 M-Th and 8-12 on Fridays. I can also change around my schedule as I need to based on appointments, family needs and such.
- I seize opportunities for self-care. I still need to get better at setting aside time and space for it, but when an opportunity for downtime presents itself I jump on it. Whether it’s lunch with a friend or time for meditation, I allow myself to seize that chance before it withers away.
- I find courage to say NO when I need to. I remember one of my first law jobs was as a clerk was for a large law firm. One of the associates in litigation gave birth and she was back to work in 2 weeks. She became my touchstone for what I might become if I couldn’t find a way to say no to impossible demands. I never, ever wanted to be her.
- I meditate. I’m only now returning to this practice, but it’s important for me to be able to let go at some point during the week and this is the easiest, most effective way.
- I designate some time that is just for me. I take Friday afternoons off for a reason. It is the one time during the week that is mine and only mine. Wanna see a movie? Friday afternoon. Wanna sit on the porch with a smoke and a whisky? Friday afternoon. Wanna spend quality time with my kid or a friend? Friday afternoon it is. My family and colleagues have learned that Friday afternoons are untouchable. Friday’s are MY days.
- I create rituals to get me through the week. One of them is to take an hour lunch, go to a diner and read. It’s something I started at my last corporate job and something that I know energizes me and allows me to turn off my critical, stressed out brain for a bit. I always have at least one fiction and one non-fiction book to choose from depending on my mood that day.
- I wash my hands after a difficult case or client encounter. It seems so simple. But it’s another ritual I engage in to wash away the bad energy that just came through my door. It gives me permission to let go of that fight or that obstacle and to start fresh again.
- I go to therapy. There’s no replacing the value of talking things out in a confidential environment with someone looking out for your best interests. I only go once a month right now, but it gives me a safe space to put all of my frustrations and doubts and gain some perspective.
These are just some of the ways I choose to handle being a heart-centric attorney in a world that denies the impact of trauma and human hardship on the people who work the front lines–and a world that fails to recognize that attorneys, despite our logic and reason, are still, you know, mostly human.