Thursday, August 31, 2006

The depths of Dr. M.K.

photo by grassroots msw
Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare Ireland

"Only the man who has raised his strings
among the dark ghosts also
should feel his way toward the endless praise.

Only he who has eaten poppy
with the dead, from their poppy,
will never lose even
his most delicate sound.

Even though images in the pool
seem so blurry:
grasp the main thing.

Only in the double kingdom, there
alone, will voices become
undying and tender."

Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Robert Bly)

Dr. K.,

You will recognize this quote. You have opened our team to the value and worth behind and within the words of this quotation. You have honored our team with your skills, erudition, insight, purpose, and fortitude. Hold this quote with you on your time off.

May your time away bring serenity, new reflections, and more of your gifted depth wisdom. We can't wait. We are sponges waiting to absorb!

With greatest sincerity we cheer you and thank you.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


photo by grassrootsmsw

One of his students asked Buddha, "Are you the messiah?"
"No,” said Buddha.

"Then are you a healer?"
"No", Buddha replied.

"Then are you a teacher?" the student persisted.
"No, I am not a teacher."

"Then what are you?" asked the student, exasperated.
"I am awake", Buddha replied.

"I am awake." How beautifully simple...yet, complex.

I am so aware that the essential work at the end of life is to accompany a patient and their family, side by side, on a journey with no clear destination. This intimate voyage creates an environment filled with many emotions...for the patient, the family, and the professional caregivers. Trust and openness to the unknown...being awake and present in every moment...fully...this is where the simple and complex transforms and heals.

Each of us in this work needs this reminder every now and then. Most of our work doesn't produce tangible outcomes. We need to acknowledge and accept that our "awake" presence to those we care for is actually the vehicle that creates the openings for truth and resolution. Let's stay awake...AWAKE...AWAKE...AWAKE.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Keeping the laughter

photo by grassrootsmsw

"A paradoxical thing is that in making comedy, the tragic is precisely that which

arouses the funny…we have to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of

natural forces and (in order) not to go crazy."

Charlie Chaplin

This week at work was so intensely busy and full with complicated cases and situations. Additionally, we had limited staff this week which served to increase the intensity and demands. For those of us working, one could see the burning rubber on the soles of our shoes as we ran from floor to floor, patient to patient. We triaged like a NYC emergency room, all the while providing good interdisciplinary team care to our patients and families. We also juggled and managed the needs of the many personalities and politics that are inevitable in a large hospital. To my surprise, this fast paced week seemed easier than others because the team used laughter and light heartedness as a coping mechanism. Our daily team meetings were filled with deep belly laughs...we even performed some great disco moves to the theme of 'Stayin Alive' by the BEEGEES.

Laughing at ourselves is an unlikely but extraordinary way of bonding and building team strength. To keep the humor "alive," I add the following top ten list I found on the web...Enjoy!

Top Ten Signs You Are Approaching Burn-Out
For social workers and mental health workers.
by Storm A. King

10) You think of the peaceful park you like as “your private therapeutic milieu.”

9) You realize that your floridly psychotic patient, who is picking invisible flowers out of mid air, is probably having more fun in life than you are.

8) A grateful client, who thinks you walk on water, brings you a small gift and you end up having to debrief your feelings of unworthiness with a colleague.

7) You are watching a re-run of the “Wizard of Oz” and you start to categorize the types of delusions that Dorothy had.

6) Your best friend comes to you with severe relationship troubles, and you start trying to remember which cognitive behavioral technique has the most empirical validly for treating this problem.

5) You realize you actually have no friends, they have all become just one big case load.

4) A co-worker asks how you are doing and you reply that you are a bit “internally preoccupied” and “not able to interact with peers” today.

3) Your spouse asks you to set the table and you tell them that it would be “countertherapeutic to your current goals” to do that.

2) You tell your teenage daughter she is not going to start dating boys because she is “in denial”, ”lacks insight.” and her “emotions are not congruent with her chronological age.”

And, the number one reason you may be burning out....

1) You are packing for a trip to a large family holiday reunion and you take the DSM-IV with you “just in case.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Diplomacy: The business of handling a porcupine without disturbing the quills. ~Author Unknown

When working within a large medical institution, one becomes adept and proficient at fine tuning their diplomacy skills. Within the medical labyrinth, there are so many players, so many egos, and so many implicit rules. One never knows when they will hit a land mine, and when they do, it awakens and kindles the most primitive forms of human behavior.

Each day I am learning how to do my social work well, while at the same time, not threatening a structure that customarily understands how to function when the rules and regulations are adhered to. It's challenging and often frustrating, but it encourages me to be creative and prolific in my work.

Upon reflection, I also have a sense of empathy and consideration for those who only know how to work within the safety and vacuum of order. In this vein of thought and feeling, I am aware of my need to be diplomatic and flexible like a "Gumby" when I hope to accomplish support for my patients, as well as the many medical professionals I work with.

While the world of medical physicians are laudable for their focus of healing and curing illness and disease , they still have a learning curve when it comes to treating the needs of the "whole person." This is where gentle diplomacy comes into play. As a member of a palliative care team, I am aware of how frequently we must remind other medical professionals that the patient isn't just the disease they are diagnosed with. In each of these situations, we must address and approach this concept with subtlety and a strategic finesse.

I believe that all professionals working in the field of health and human services are based in altruism. Their goals of care may be different, but their intention to heal and care is collective. So when I am confronted with scenarios which require diplomacy, I find I am able to do this with a foundation of compassion. One can only engage in true diplomacy when they are willing to listen first. Listen and recognize where another is coming from. When someone feels respectfully heard, they are much more acquiescent and accesible. Through diplomacy, we can create openings and avenues for new alliances. Maybe, our best social work isn't just meant for our patients and families.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Going to the roots

photo by grassrootsmsw

"The only reason we don't open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don't feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else's eyes."
Pema Chodron

I was recently introduced to the writing and thoughts of Pema Chodron by a dear friend and collegue (thank you M.G.). Chodron's insights and teachings reach out and connect with me in many ways...personally and professionally.

In her book, "When Things Fall Apart," Chodron encourages her readers to move towards suffering and painful situations with openness and inquisitiveness...inviting readers to "relax into their groundlessness." This ultimately requires self presence to the naked and unmasked parts of ourselves. Going below the surface and wading through often muddy, deep waters. Seeking and accepting what is found, with self "loving kindness."

In my social work, I am often confronted with situations that challenge my compassion and activate something inside of me that shouts, "No...this doesn't feel right...I am repulsed...I don't want to be here...I want to escape from this moment." When these fear feelings come up, I realize I must listen very carefully to my reactions and try to step back and check in with myself. What part of my historical roots are bringing up negative prompts?

To be fully present for another, I think we must understand the complexities and origins of our own truths and the realities connected to them. As professional caregivers, I believe we can only encounter a patient or client fully and authentically when we bring a faithfulness and openness to their experience as well as our own.

I also recognize that a true therapeutic relationship should be open to the presence of transcendence....a sense of surprise, wonder, and the not knowing. Being in the moment with someone and allowing a relationship to unfold and develop it's own story...without any set agenda or preconceived notions.

Awareness of self and what lies within allows for a serene openness to even the most difficult situations. Recognizing that which pushes our buttons, also opens us to seeing and hearing ourselves and our patients more sincerely. We can't create a holding environment of compassion and sit with another's physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering if we don't understand our own.

There are many opportunities when being invited into someone else's story. Although on different paths, with different experiences, we can move forth together on an expedition of exploring, reflecting, and healing. I imagine that we, as professional caregivers, do our best work when we have faced our own uncertainties and fears through self reflection. This process then allows us to travel with our patient's on a path that can reveal the deeper mysteries of life.

The mysteries and the unknown; explored, with no determined outcome...letting go without feeling lost. Having toleration for not knowing, but believing in the transformation as a result. This is the real work. What a freedom and liberation...onwards and inwards! Let's go!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Their story...

“We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.”

William Butler Yeats

I see the tag on the back of his sweater sticking out, and notice the wrinkled collar on his shirt underneath…if his wife wasn’t in the hospital with a terminal illness, she may have tucked the sweater tag in before he left the house… she may have made sure his shirt had been ironed before he took it from the closet this morning. None of these minor details matter to him, as he rushes into the hospital to make sure he is with his wife when the doctor comes to deliver the latest update on her health.

I watch him enter his wife’s hospital room; smiling, hiding his feelings of fear and anticipated loss…he makes every effort to keep the energy in the room positive. He yearns to bring healing, even if there are no options for physical healing. Although his wife is emaciated and grey with color from her illness, he can only see the woman he married 30 years ago. She reaches her hand out to him, and he takes it, and then he gently kisses her brow. They are both silently, but painfully aware of the unexplored emotional territory they currently face. There is an unknown destined landscape of grief, loss, and longing before them. Their vow of, “until death do us part,” enters the picture; asking for the ultimate and final promise. A promise, that no one is ever ready to make.

This married couple have individual and collective histories that I have yet to learn. As their social worker, I recognize a supportive and loving relationship, but I have yet to discover and ascertain the checks and balances that brought them to where they are now. My role is to be present and gain trust…gently…allowing a safe place for sharing, reflecting, and discovery.

Every person and family I encounter in my work is unique. My skills as a social worker require flexibility, empathy, compassion, insight and presence. Presence for moments that reveal and expose deep truths. I need to be in tune to those I care for, constantly, and without reserve or judgment. I need to be aware of all that I carry with me to these experiences.

It is my responsibility to be open to hearing anger, resentment, and fear. I must recognize that these difficult emotions are not just about the terminal illness afflicting the person and family. The entire context and meaning in life is altered for the family facing a terminal illness. Who they are and who they have been in life has shifted. They confront role changes, and the loss of family integrity. They must adapt and modify the intricate emotional balance within their family. Unresolved issues from the present and past surface. There is a profusion of complex emotions churning and waiting to be manifested.

As a social worker, I cannot medicate a patient’s pain, or offer appropriate spiritual healing rituals. My role is to see a patient as part of a family system with a past, present, and future, within their own cultural context. My primary goal is to promote and advocate for the patient and family’s self determination. While I respectfully absorb and listen to my interdisciplinary team member’s assessments and input, above all else, my duty is to ensure that the patient and family I work with are authoring their own story.

The Social work value of self-determination comes from the concept of autonomy. “Autonomy” is defined as “the exercise of your sense of values, independence, personal history, life, principles of behavior-who you are and how you exercise your sense of values, independence, personal history, life, principles of behavior-who you are and how you live.” (Dubler and Nimmons, 1992).

Advocacy and allegiance to the integrity of each individual’s choices and decisions…this is the work we, as social workers, are gifted in pursuing and sharing in every day. It’s about honoring a truth that is outside of ourselves, but one which propagates authenticity for those we care for.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


photo by grassrootsmsw

"Let us be patient with one another,
And even patient with ourselves.
We have a long, long way to go.
So let us hasten along the road,
The road of human tenderness and generosity.
Groping, we may find one another's hands in the dark."

Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961),
Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 1946

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Guardians of our own profession

photo by grassrootsmsw

“The good social worker doesn’t go on helping people out of a ditch. Pretty soon, he or she begins to find out what ought to be done to get rid of the ditch.”

-Mary Richmond-

“Getting rid of the ditch…” We, as professional social workers, are skilled at doing this on behalf of our clients and patients, but we are challenged when it comes to applying this to our own profession. Other professionals and most in the public still do not understand the unique roles of social work and the critical services we bring to our work.

When studying the history of social work, I am in awe of the first crusaders: Jane Addams, Mary Richmond, Lillian Wald, Florence Kelly, Julia Lathrop, Charlotte Towle, Frances Perkins, Whitney Young, Dame Cicely Saunders, Dorothy Height, Ida Maude Cannon…just to name a few. While their work was based in doing the real day to day work with their clients, they never lost sight of the larger picture. Their end goals being social reform, social equality, and social justice. Throughout all of their careers, they challenged the status quo of societal ills and pressed forth in their honoring of social work as a realized and proven “profession.”

I believe today’s generation of social workers will need to continue crusading for the value and worth of our profession. This is most especially true for those of us working in medical institutions. With the advent of managed care and changes in reimbursement tactics, hospitals are focused on cost effective/ bottom line economies, ultimately resulting in the decentralization of social work departments. We need to continue defining and articulating our roles and functions as social workers and consistently educating and addressing the misunderstanding, or misperception of our work.

I am especially motivated when I look back to 1905 when the first social worker was hired by a physician to work in a hospital. Dr. Richard Cabot, a senior physician at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), hired Ida Maude Cannon to jointly organize the nation’s first hospital based social work program. In 1914 Ms. Cannon was named Chief of the MGH Social Service Department. This was significant, as only two other Chiefs functioned in the hospital at that time (Chief of Medicine and Chief of Surgery). Both Ms. Cannon and Dr. Cabot worked together to apply systems that measured social work interventions and outcomes and then recorded the differences made. During her tenure (1905-1945), Ms. Cannon stated publicly, “The medical social service movement recognized that there should be within the hospital, someone definitely assigned to represent the patient’s point of view…And to work out with the physician, an adaptation of the medical treatment in the light of the patient’s social condition.” To implement this goal, interdisciplinary rounds, with social workers, began.

Social workers have a rich history that needs to be promoted and guarded. We need to be leaders within the larger systems, always upholding the values and mission of social work, and not giving up or in to the bureaucracy. We are often just seen as the “friendly visitor,” with the compassionate kind heart at the bed side. Most don’t realize the 2 years of master’s level study required of social workers. We need to stand up for our roles and be clear with those who kind heartedly blur their professional roles…believing they too can do “social work.”

My current boss always asks, “How did you make a difference this week?’ Every social worker should ask themselves that question, daily, and then record it. We tend to be so hurried in our work due to the sheer volume, but we must stop, and acknowledge the differences made. We are effecting and affecting human lives in subtle and often significant ways. There is a ripple effect in our work that shifts and changes broader issues and circumstances. We need to stand by that and enable greater understanding of that which we have affected through our skills as professional social workers. Let’s get rid of the ditch…carry the torch…and continue with our core mission.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A niche of literary gems

photo by grassrootsmsw

"I am still learning."

If I have one goal in life, it is to keep my mind open to learning and exploring new ideas, thoughts, philosophies, and information. I regularly seek out new literature, and often return and re-visit some old favorites.

I share the following "cream of the crop" list, in hopes that others will also find appreciation and
new insight.

  • Mortally Wounded By Dr. Michael Kearney
  • Life Lessons by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler
  • Final Gifts by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley
  • Spiritual Diversity in Social Work Practice by Leola Furman and Edward Canda
  • Multicultural Issues in Social Work by Patricia Ewalt, Edith Freeman, Stuart Kirk, and Dennis Poole
  • Art Therapy in Palliative Care: The Creative Response by Dame Cicely Saunders, Michele Wood, and Mandy Pratt
  • Psychodynamic Social Work Jerrold R. Brandell
  • International Social Work:Professional Action in an Interdependent World by Lynne M. Healy
  • The Practice of Macro Social Work by William G. Brueggemann
  • Common Human Needs by Charlotte Towle
  • From Charity to Social Work: Mary E. Richmond and the Shaping of an American Profession by Elizabeth N. Agnew
  • Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams
  • Living with Dying by Joan Berzoff and Phyllis R. Silverman

Please share your libraries and favorites as well!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Blooming resources

Photo by grassrootsmsw

"If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it."

Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)

There are so many inspired web sites...the key word being, "many!" I have done some filtering, and found some worth sharing:

The Webcast coverage of the XVI International Aids Conference/Aug 13-18. This is now directly available from THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER's Web site. Go to: 2006 Webcast Coverage/
(This has some good laughs!)
( fellow social worker and great resourcer!)

I will continue to research and report helpful web findings. If any of you have found some interesting sites, please share!

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Copyright Elliot Erwit
NYC 1974

"And it was to this city, whenever I went home, that I always knew I must return, for it was mistress of one’s wildest hopes, protector of one’s deepest privacies. It was half insane with its noise, violence, and decay, but it gave one the tender security of fulfillment. Despite its difficulties, which become more obvious all the time, one was constantly put to the test by this city, which finally came down to its people; no other place in America had quite such people and they would not allow you to go stale; in the end they were its triumph and its reward."

Willie Morris

The above image by Elliot Erwitt is one of my favorites. Although the photo was taken in 1974, this captured moment could be found any time, any year, in NYC's Central Park. The inhabitants of this sinful city are the greatest and most eccentric dog lovers I have ever had the pleasure to observe. In a city that ebbs and flows, constantly, the solidity and consistency of coming home to a beloved pet is grounding.

I have missed this remarkable city over this past year. I have returned many times since living there...always finding healing, energy, and reconnection to my roots as a social worker. NYC is a social worker's observation fantasy! Whether walking the city streets, waiting for the subway, or jogging through Central Park, characters jump out at you...begging for the social worker's mind to assess and analyze. The world opens up in the most beautiful and paradoxical way. The faces of drama, sadness, happiness, and every emotion imagined, are right there. There is a raw, alive veracity that emanates from New Yorkers. They call it like they see it, and see it as they call it. It is refreshing and exhilirating...New Yorkers don't hide or mask reality...they ask you to accept it and challenge what you will do with it.

What I miss most about NYC is the strong presence and understanding of the core values of social work. It was never about just doing your job or work, it was about going to Albany and advocating for changes on bigger levels. If a "rule" needed to be bent so that a client/patient could receive the best care, it was done and supported. The creativity of a social worker's care plan was encouraged and understood. Being unconventional was celebrated.

I am fortunate in my social work in California, because I work for an agency that embraces the NYC attitude. Sadly though, we are surrounded by other agencies and entities that don't. So many find safety and comfort in rules and regulations...they prefer to follow guidelines set by the larger bureaucracy and soldier on in that straight, but very insipid line. I have always believed that a good social worker is resourceful and creative, continually pushing against the prosaic or facile mindset... a standard I look forward to practicing and upholding in my daily work. You can take the girl out of New York, but you can't take the New Yorker out of the girl...Amen!

"I was in love with New York. I do not mean "love" in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again." - Joan Didion

Friday, August 11, 2006


“We have made death into a technological and management issue,

robbing it of its holy significance and dignity, which

diminishes us all. This program is offering a new possibility.”

Rachel Naomi Remen M.D., Alaya Faculty, UCSF Medical School

Check out their website:


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Choose humanity

Photo by grassrootsmsw

From "Elder's Meditation of the Day" (White Bison)

The Wisdom:
We forget so we consider ourselves superior. But we are, after all, a mere part of the creation and we must consider to understand where we are and we stand somewhere between the mountain and the Ant. Somewhere and only there is a part and parcel of the creation.

--Chief Oren Lyons, ONONDAGA--

The Explanation:
Every human being gathers information from the center of a circle. If we are not careful, we soon think we are the center of all things. Therefore, it is easy to become self centered. Once we become self centered we start to think we are above all things and therefore superior. But we are really only one part of a great whole. The universe is all connected. Each part is here to do something special and according to its design. We are here to honor and respect the job of each part. We are neither above nor below anything. We need not be ruler over anything, we need only to live in honor and harmony with the system.

The Meditation:
My Creator, help me to view and conduct myself in a manner of respect, dignity and honor to all creation. Let me see You in all things.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ode to my Female Tribe

photo by grassrootsmsw

“Female friendships that work are relationships

in which women help each other belong to themselves.”

Louise Bernikow

In these past few weeks, I have been blessed and showered with the radiance of female connection. I have shared in person, by telephone and by e-mail. My heart fills with a sense of unity and abundance.

The safety and loyalty experienced with the women in my life allows for the finding of unexpected truths. Spaces are opened…there is no judgment or conclusion between us. The truest and most authentic parts of ourselves are present in the moment…we are heard, accepted and embraced. There is a nurturing presence within us all…a deep understanding of what it is to be a woman.

Whether we have birthed children or not, our nature is rooted in nurturing at a ‘mother’ level. We own the tears and share in the laughter we witness in others and ourselves. We honor all the joy and pain that comes with loving openly and without reserve. The pain has made us wiser; the joy has made us go back for more. We believe in love. We feel it in our bones and want to share and experience in it. We believe, we believe…

I am filled with joy for my female friends and family who have found their true loves and are outward bound on passages and journeys that see the world through four eyes. I am also deeply sad about the females in my life who have given their all for love, and were left with damaged dreams and hopes.

What amazes me is the female’s continued resilience and ability to still believe in love. Like abandoned animals at a shelter…regardless of past losses, we willingly give back trust, in hopes of belonging to a home of real love. We silently don’t understand why we haven’t been seen and realized for our goodness and allowed our complications. We process, we ponder, we question, we dive deep…we question ourselves and think, “Why? Why? Why?”

I believe that sometimes we encounter and share with someone, and our gifts aren’t able to be received. Maybe, the gifts we bestow are given to someone who needs them more than we do. We provide offerings that may be foreign to the receiver, but they are exceedingly true. So often, we women act as the bandage to wounds that can’t be healed. We fill voids that were never created by us. We want to be the glue that holds our loved ones together. Then one day, we realize that we have lost our own authenticity and self belonging.

So, we begin again. We start from scratch, with pain that brings us insight and a higher level of understanding. We still hope and dream. Our healing comes from the unconditional love and acceptance of our nearest and dearest friends…they believe in us…they see ALL of us…and they still honor us and hold the space for our grief.

The power of female friendship is beyond words. We are able to go lengths for one another, even when we can barely go a length for ourselves. There is a priority and unspoken rule in the world of female friendships. We always recognize those who are part of that “club” and we hold it as a code of honor. We share, we love, we cry, we laugh, we respect…ceaselessly.

My awe and thanks go out to my female tribe: M.L./ E.S./ M.S./ G.R./ H.P.J./ L.N-U./ L.R./S.G./ D.R./ A.I./J.T./A.K./T.O./S.S./A.D.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Minding the path to self-care

Photo by grassrootsmsw

"We, in this work, are somehow missing an outer layer of skin
and must take care to renew ourselves."
Dame Cicely Saunders

Being present at the bedside of the dying and attending to the needs of their loved ones is life altering work. It requires giving and sharing at the most intimate and vulnerable levels. How do we as caregivers continue to face the pain of loss on a daily basis and not succumb to 'burnout' or 'compassion fatigue?' How do we tend to our own self-care?

Recently, I have felt the cumulative effects of loss based on the many complicated patients and families I have shared with. While bringing compassion, empathy, and presence to the bedside, I also need to find some in reserve for myself.

What has helped me over the last few weeks is my incredible interdisciplinary team members, collegues, and mentors. Speaking aloud and acknowledging the heaviness of grief with those I respect, seems a communal form of healing. There is an unspoken understanding between and amongst those of us who do this work. We are able to acknowledge suffering and woundedness, yet also believe in the healing and compassion that can emerge from that. We are also understanding of the need to step away from the work and encourage one another to take the spaces needed to replenish.

We all need daily reminders to honor the internal compass that may tell us to take that walk on the beach, garden, meditate, or more importantly, just play! Play without reserve or a focused intention. We need to keep a healthy balance between work and home...find creative and life fulfilling activities that complete the other parts within us. Sometimes, life should just be fun...let's dive in.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Beyond the keyhole

Photo by grassrootsmsw

The greatest achievement is selflessness.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
The greatest precept is continual awareness.
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
The greatest action is not conforming with the worlds ways.
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A light and easy vibe

“There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other’s cooking & say it was good."

-Brian Andreas-

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Thank you

Many thanks to all of you who have responded to my blog via e-mail. I so appreciate the positive input and thoughts.

I hope to make this blog a better site for information and connection to community and nation wide resources. I am attempting to learn how to build a "links" page so that this can be shared and regularly updated. Be patient...I'll get there!

I am open to any and all input, so don't hesitate to put your suggestions and comments in the "comments" section of the blog. Your e-mail address is protected, so you won't receive unwanted pop-ups or advertising as a result of publishing your comments.

Making differences in this world...however small...let's keep on, keeping on!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Oma G.J.S

Photo Copyright J. A.S.

My Oma G…she always believed in me, even when she didn’t understand me. While she was soft spoken, politely considered in her thoughts and actions, and always gracious, she seemed to take quiet pride in a granddaughter who was just the opposite.

In my early years, I would receive the etiquette books of ‘Emily Post’ as birthday gifts from Oma. She had lived in a world that accepted and embraced women of manner and good form. What a surprise for her to receive a granddaughter who challenged authority and rules, but still managed to use the correct fork when eating her salad. While I always respected her guidance and advice with manners, I never quite understood her constant ability to suppress her own beliefs or ideas for the sake of gentility.

I can still hear Oma saying, “Darling, you mustn’t be too vocal with your political beliefs or opinions.” All the while, I sensed an underlying wistfulness on her part. If she had lived in my generation she may have relished in challenging others in intellectual debate. She was an educated and traveled woman, but some how believed in Mrs. Post’s advice to, “Try to do and say those things only which will be agreeable to others…and…never let amiable discussion turn into contradiction or argument.”

When she wanted a new dress or piece of jewelry, she gently slipped a magazine clip underneath my grandfather’s place setting at the dining table. When I wanted something, I just announced it, without grace or a hidden agenda. Clearly, Oma had the right technique, as she managed to collect the most desirable designer wardrobe ever, and all I have in my closet is a hodge podge of mixed clothing; ranging from ex-hippie tye dyes, to semi-converted city girl wares.

When I first told Oma that I had decided to focus on social work in college, she presented me with her supportive smile, but eyes filled with fear. In her mind, and lack of experience, she imagined social workers as those people who handed out welfare checks; only seeing the darker sides of life. Unpleasantness, in any way, just did not fit in with Oma or Mrs. Post’s ideals.

I am proud to say, that through my persistence and Oma’s willingness to always support, she became the greatest advocate of my career. She came to visit me in NYC in 1994 and met some of the homebound clients I worked with. She became fascinated, in the same way I had, with my client’s rich and varied stories. She understood my curiosity and respect for witnessing human survival, courage, resilience, and integrity, even in the most difficult circumstances. Most of the clients’ I worked with in NYC were survivors, eccentrics, immigrants and loners, most of whom were also isolated, prideful and forgotten. Oma recognized the incredible life gifts and lessons that were exchanged on both sides. Although in her early 80’s, she thanked me for opening new doors of perspective, compassion, and insight.

After Oma’s visit to NYC, our relationship and connection went to deeper, unspoken levels. Two women, raised in different generations, but bound together by reverence and a deep understanding of the other’s life goals and purposes. We acknowledged and accepted one another and reveled in the completeness of that.

While I aimed to challenge Oma’s perspective and views on the disenfranchised, I never really needed to. Sometimes, someone just needs to experience and see things they never have before. I believe that when one chooses to step outside of their safe and sheltered environment, they are able to receive irreplaceable experiences…not always pleasing to the mind, but always gateways to new knowledge.