So fellow travelers, one day last week I had some time to enjoy a rare morning walk in the little Upstate NY village I live near.
The trees have been a bit shy about changing into their autumn colors this year. September was so hot and dry it seems most leaves simply curled up and dropped. It’s as if they were saying “We give up. We’re just too tired to get through the change this year.” My lawn crunches as if I am walking on broken glass, dark green rafts float across my pond, trees rattle like old bones in the afternoon breeze. As much as I love summer for all the adventures it brings, Autumn is my favorite season. Finding a pop of color by the bridge in the village gave my heavy heart a much needed lift.
Just as I lifted my phone to capture the image, gulls burst into flight over the river. I stopped to take in their raucous energy as they swirled in wild circles, laughing cries echoing over the water. Gratefully I let their apparent joy, ease the heartache of current events. So much sorrow, so much loss, so much violence and anger, so much judgement and blame and most of all, not enough listening.
Those feelings weighed heavily on me as I drove to an even smaller village further “up”state to spend a weekend with several good friends. We met originally in an on-line creative group which eventually began gathering at several annual events giving people who attended a chance to meet and get to know each other. The experiences generated both wonderful connections and, as often happens when communities grow larger, some challenging dynamics. Some of those dynamics seem to resurface once in a while in ways many of us find confusing. Our gathering of friends pondered some of these challenges during our time together this weekend.
When people are hurt, shamed, excluded or ridiculed by others the pain leaves a wound which can linger for years. When we are hurt by someone we trust, we yearn for the violators to acknowledge the pain they have caused, we want to hear them accept responsibility, offer a sincere apology and even promise not to hurt others.
Occasionally this does happen, though only in circumstances where the hurt is a result of a genuine misunderstanding, Most of the time the cycle of betrayal and hurt result from actions of people whose behaviors reflect internal issues they are either unaware of or are unwilling to resolve. So most people are left trying to deal with unresolved pain. “Walk away, move on,” people are told over and over without being offered an answer as to how one does that.
Art with a message found in a little garden
The topic of bullying and toxic relationships comes up frequently when you work at a high school and being on a special ed teaching team it’s something we encounter all the time. At a workshop during one of the professional development sessions our school district holds each year, one of the facilitators presented the empowering work of author Kari Kampakis. Kari teaches young people that everyone in our life serves a purpose and has something to teach us. When it comes to the way we are treated by others, some people teach us about the kind of people we want to be and others show us who we do not want to be.
We tend to create bridges connecting us to the people in the first category and build walls to protect us from the latter people, but Kari talks about “leaning into” the feelings from hurtful experiences. By this she means being aware of what they did to make us feel the way we did; was it their words, the tone of voice, their actions and what specific actions affected us? Then, take what we know and promise we will learn from their mistakes. “Make specific pledges,” she encourages kids, “Say ‘I will make sure others feel included,’ ‘I will listen when other’s are struggling and comfort but not try to fix them,’ ‘I will not expect more acceptance than I myself can give.’ “
Walls protect but they also confine and we can easily become trapped. When we allow the hurtful actions of others to teach us specific ways of how we can treat others with more kindness and compassion, we reclaim control over our experience because chances are the perpetrator is unlikely to change and the apology we seek will never come. Instead of constantly reliving the hurt, we draw strength from healing pain, take responsibility for our feelings and turn anger into positive action. Consciously choosing to judge less and learn more empowers us to walk away, move forward and get on with our own journey. Bridges, not walls aid that journey.
Here’s to walking bridges over no longer troubled waters
Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.