Why Good Community is Hard to Find

I was walking in our town one day recently and, with it being winter, there are fewer animals around right now. I was walking past some houses and saw something move out of the corner of my eye and looked to see a sizable hawk with some prey in its claws. The hawk was sitting on the railing of someone’s deck, holding down its small prey, carefully balancing itself against the wind, since it was a gusty day. I stood and watched the hawk eating because I was curious about what kind of animal it had managed to catch.

I thought it might be some small rodent, in fact I hoped it. We like to think that if something has to die, it might at well be something we consider as a pest. I was a few yards away, so things weren’t as clear as I wished, but I didn’t move closer for fear that the hawk would fly away and I wouldn’t get to see what it was eating. After a few minutes of it tearing at the small animal with its beak, I noticed that the hawk was pulling out the animal’s feathers to get to the meat. As the small light-colored feathers fell much like snow onto the ground, I felt surprised and a little sad that the hawk was eating another bird. One of its own kind. As I began to walk back home, I considered my sadness and wondered why I felt sad? This was just nature, right?

It made me think about community and how we crave it. We desire to meet up and spend time with like-minded people so we sacrifice our time and sometimes money to be a part of a group or organization. But many times within those groups, we end up, consciously or not, looking for ways to tear those other people down. Or trying to find ways to make ourselves look better than the other people in the group. Competition is a huge driving force in nature. Many times, communities break down and fail due to individuals being unwilling to set aside that primal thing called ego and work for the greater good. Of course, in nature there are the groups that are blood relatives that stick together and take actions based on what would be better for the survival of the group, but those in the group didn’t necessarily choose to be born into that group. I’m just considering groups of unrelated people, like social, religious, and groups related to specific interests.

The best kind of community, a truly loving, encouraging, lift-others-up and diverse kind is very hard to begin and maintain because it doesn’t exist in nature. And going against nature is a very challenging thing to do. Look at all the families who had a “surprise” baby. Look at all the people who don’t want children and have to deal with the challenges that come along with the hormone fluctuations every single month, not to mention pressures from other people in their lives. Look at churches and religious organizations that are struggling to maintain active membership. Look at all the groups and organizations that spend so much time, effort and money on outreach.

I don’t have any suggestions or thoughts right now on how to build and maintain communities. I don’t have anything else to offer at this moment other than this.

Good community is hard to find because it’s a bird eat bird world out here.

Family or Not?

Hello readers! I’m finally back. It took a pretty long time for me to settle in at my new job and find time again to write. I will write about my job, but today I want to talk about family.

The word “family” is one of those words that probably means a lot of different things to different people. I’m sure we Americans have a different idea of family than the average people in other countries, and vice versa. Practitioners of different religions probably also have definitions that include some families and exclude (many) others. But according to the definitions found on ye olde interwebs, there are certain criteria that must be met for some people to be found worthy of being labeled a family.

A family is:

  • The basic unit of a society
  • The primary institution for the socialization of children
  • Living in one household:
    • a parent/s and child/ren
    • more than one generation
    • a number of people greater than one
  •  Living together or apart:
    • individuals related by blood, marriage, or servitude
    • descendants of a common matriarch or patriarch

I’m not completely convinced that these criteria are an exhaustive or inclusive definition of family. I think I would add some criteria and maybe even take some out, but we’ll get there.

Here’s what got me thinking about “family”:

I work in the office at a luxury assisted living and memory care company. As I’ve been getting to know the ins and outs of dementia and other problems that come along with aging (even for the richest of the rich), I’ve met a number of residents and their families. One specific case is a lady who had early-onset dementia and her relationship with her extremely loving and loyal husband began to fall apart simply because her mind was. Her husband wrote a book about how they had been dealing with her dementia symptoms and their history as a couple. He devoted one portion of the book to the years right after their marriage where they spent time travelling the globe and how happy they were in those times. He praised the time they spent as a couple only. And then, he said, after all those years, they started their family. They had, I think, about three children over the course of the next few years.

It made me wonder what the heck they were before they started their family…

Another situation that I have faced many times since changing jobs is meeting new people and coworkers who ask the same old questions in order to try and get to know me.

  • Are you married?
  • How long have you been married?
  • How many kids do you have?
  • Why do you not have kids?
  • How can you not want kids?!
  • And then the kicker… Oh, you’ll change your mind. You just haven’t gotten there yet.

This has literally been the conversation I’ve been subjected to when I’ve met about 80% of the women at my new workplace. There were a couple who thought that as long as my husband and I feel the same way about it, that it’s fine. Like their approval of mine and husband’s lifestyle choices means something in the first place. There was one coworker who told me that she never wanted to be a mother, but she is. She conceded that she loves her child, but she might would not have had him if she could go back in time. Her revelation was strangely satisfying to me.

All of these instances meshed together over the last few months to make me wonder if my husband and I could be considered a real family, even though it is and will probably be just the two of us. We feel we are a family, but many definitions of family would disagree I suppose. As I thought more about the concept of family and which people can fit the mold, I will admit that I felt a little left out. I felt bitter that a term that means so much to me because I grew up in a very close traditional family, some may feel doesn’t apply to my relationship. How can the presence of a child be the determining factor as to if a couple is a family or not? Does a couple only reach “family status” when they procreate? Are friends only friends if they’ve exchanged friendship bracelets?

Then I thought about a friend of mine who is married but cannot have children. She and her husband desperately would like to “start a family” in the sense that my resident and her husband did, but she cannot. Does she and other couples who can’t have children feel left out, too? I imagine she does and it made me sad. My husband and I not having children is a choice for us, but a forced reality for her.

Then I considered LGBT couples who are fighting right now for the right to be family. It must hurt many of them deeply to not be recognized as a family unit like traditional couples.

I also must admit that, on a not-so-serious note, my husband and I have been watching season three of Orange is the New Black and on many occasions, the ladies who fall into the different groups within the prison all refer to their groups as families.

All of these thoughts make me feel the need to express what I think constitutes a family.

I believe that a family is two or more people who feel inexplicably bound together based on individual circumstances and events, who support each other financially and/or emotionally, and who would feel a profound sense of loss should something happen to one of the other individuals. They love each other and hold tight to each other through the mountains and valleys of life.

My husband and I are a family whether we have children or not. My mother-in-law and I are family, even if our communication hasn’t grown any better than it was when B and I first got married almost two years ago. My parents and my husband are family even if they don’t see eye to eye on religion. We are all trying to make it work and it will.

Now is the Time: A Reflection & A Challenge

I would say that “real life” started for me after I graduated from college and started working. Stepping back to notice a transformative season in your life takes a sense of awareness I don’t believe the majority of the population has. Realizing and acknowledging the fact you are in a season of change within your personal being is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating.

Terrifying because you realize that you don’t know anything! You start to understand that you have so many preconceived notions that are just plain wrong. You wonder where you got them from and why they are so deeply internalized. They sometimes seem to be a part of you that you wish you could just amputate and forget forever. Acknowledging this season of change is terrifying because you realize how fragile your preferred interpretation of reality really is. The most frightening part is that you can’t know the outcome of the season of change until you have pushed your way through it, if you ever do!

The flip side, though, is the exhilaration! Exhilaration because your life’s potential is, if only for this season, unlimited. The number of options truly becomes tangible in a way it had not before. It’s exhilarating when you can finally see some measurable progress in your deepest self. You realize that all the changes you are trying so hard to make are helping to propel you in a more appropriate trajectory for your personality and skills. Personal growth is not a bad thing! Sometimes the growth happens naturally, with no pain. But sometimes, only new things can grow when old things are pruned off.

I am truly feeling exhilarated, and also terrified, because I have no idea what is going to happen next for me. I am in a season of change right now, for sure. I am working hard and learning how to be a better daughter/sister/wife/lover/friend/worker/photographer/blogger/designer/person in general. I’m digging deeply and doggedly to allow my best self to shine.

All of this reflection stems from the fact that I turned 24 last month and my personal goal for this year forward is to be my best self. Those words are simple ones, but the idea is complex. I am growing and changing and figuring out my true priorities in life. I’m realizing that I am not required to allow my past to dictate my future and that I have the potential to be the person I want to be. I’m lucky to live in a place where there are many opportunities out there for me.

I’ve begun to take responsibility for my life. I no longer want to blame others for my misfortunes, my challenges, or my shortcomings. I am taking charge of my life and my self. Now is the time for me to be my best self and actively cultivate the human that I want to be. I want to focus on making better lifestyle choices, having better relationships with the people that matter to me, and managing my resources more effectively. Many of us have heard the saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Well, I’m trying to change the only thing I can; me.

My past means a lot to me. I grew up in a certain environment and in a certain way that helped make me who I am. But that doesn’t mean I should stop there. I think we sometimes (frequently) use our past to make excuses for our present. I know I do it (and my husband absolutely probably gets tired of it…). We like to use our past as an excuse to stay in our comfort zone and refuse to grow into the people we ought to be. My parents, my childhood experiences, my hometown definitely influenced who I am. But we shouldn’t allow them to dictate who we are for the rest of our lives. Those things we did not have a choice about.

I read somewhere recently that our parents/hometowns/early environments, basically the things we can’t control, determine the first stage of our personal development. The next stage, however, we determine consciously based on the parts of our psyche/personality that we choose to nurture. This concept resonated with me because I am very different from the average person from the town I grew up in. I’m not saying I’m better than people from my hometown, just simply that my goals and priorities in my life don’t necessarily reflect those of the people I grew up amongst. I confess that I used to (and still sometimes do) worry about what all these people think of me and my life choices so far, but now I’m trying very ardently to transition into being more concerned with what I (and God) think of me. This shift has helped take a load off of me that I never realized was there. When you grow up carrying a heavy load and it’s finally removed, you can finally realize your potential.

My challenge to myself (and to you!) in this stage in life is to be the best version of myself that I can be by being more mindful, more authentic, more clear, and more loving.

I started working on this post about a month ago, but since I’m posting it now… I think this is a very important challenge, especially here in the US during the holiday season. Be present when you are enjoying time with your family members and friends. When they are gone or they move further away, do you want to have these precious memories to look back on or do you want to live with the regret that you paid more attention to your social media accounts than you did to them?

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving from me and B!

(P.S. B has developed a pretty good turkey call, ask him about when you talk to him! 😉 )

Women Wear Suits of Armor: Part 2

Here’s Part Two of Women Wear Suits of Armor!

Quickly, here’s what I’m talking about in case you missed Part 1:

A suit of armor can be worn literally or figuratively. In this case, I am obviously talking about the figurative sense… Recently I have been thinking about women and their similarities/differences from culture to culture. I am of the opinion that women in many cultures are very very similar. I think the inner nature of women is relatively universal but the way this inner nature presents itself outwardly is what varies from house to house, city to city, state to state, country to country, etc.  Much like a vanilla flavored cake is still a vanilla flavored cake whether the frosting is red or blue, thin or thick, simple or fancy.

Example 3: Muslim Women and Hijab

This may be a controversial topic to some, but not to me. There are many different/opposing/negative views floating around the interwebs today about Islam, especially here in the US,  but I am not getting into that. The Muslim women who are my friends wear hijab because they are convicted by their beliefs to do so.  They believe in only sharing their beauty with their husbands and families instead of with the entire outside world. They believe in being modest when it comes to how much of their bodies should be shown in public.  My point about the hijab being similar to a suit of armor is that the women who wear hijab feel it protects them from outside forces, whatever they may be. A Muslim lady who wears hijab puts on her armor every day to protect herself from being ogled by random men, to protect her dignity and honor, and to boldly live her religion.

Honestly, I admire the people who choose to boldly live out their beliefs openly, no matter the religion they practice (providing they aren’t harming anyone else). Here in the “Bible Belt” where church culture seems to sometimes be more prevalent than living out real Christianity, it is becoming more and more rare to come across people who talk the talk and walk the walk to back it up. There are a tremendously large number of “Christian” people I know who say they believe in something but do not boldly live their lives as a reflection of it.

Over the last few months, I’ve been inspired to dress more modestly. I’ve been inspired by, yes, some of my Muslim women friends, and by other cultures where modesty is more important than it seems to be to girls and women here these days. I cringed many times when I saw that crop tops were coming into style again this Spring and Summer and that shorts and dresses are getting even shorter. My modesty resolution is that I am not wearing short shorts or dresses unless I’m wearing leggings underneath, I’m not wearing anything that is tight-fitting, and I am covering my shoulders and cleavage. I want to keep the attention on me and my ideas instead of my body. I’m focusing on dressing for respect instead of for attention, and I’m hoping more young girls and women here start to do the same.

Example 4: Overweight Women + New Moms and Dark, Baggy Clothes

Sorry to all overweight women (or even just women with body image issues) and new moms, I’m going to call you/us out! Those of us who are not happy with our bodies, and that is a lot of us unfortunately, like to hide our bodies in dark, baggy clothing. If you are a woman reading this, you are thinking,”Yeah, duh… Why are you telling our secrets to the world?”. If you are a man, this may be news to you!

I’m not looking to offend anyone by grouping overweight women with new moms, I’m just trying to show that both of these groups of women tend to have a high level of insecurity when it comes to body image. Overweight ladies tend to be insecure about their weight, their proportionality, and various other things that deal with appearance and health. New moms tend to be insecure about the changes in their bodies along with other things as well. The most common way of dealing with an insecurity is to hide it. Here, I’ve always been told that black is the most slimming color. I’m not sure if any other cultures have a color that magically slims you down, but women who wish to appear thinner here wear black. Apparently black is the magical, hide-all-the-bad-things-you-don’t-want-people-to-notice color. Black, baggy clothes are a great substitute for a suit of armor because they hide the flaws you don’t want your enemies to see.

I will admit that I have this slightly long black cardigan I throw on when I’m not feeling good about my stomach/hip area on any given day. It does hide that area from onlookers and makes me feel that I don’t have to worry about a stranger judging me for not having a flat tummy and slimmer hips. I’m not saying that this type of hiding inside armor is good or bad. It can be good when you need a boost in confidence and putting on your black cardigan gives that to you. It can be bad when you are so accustomed to hiding behind your black cardigan that you forget to make healthier choices for yourself.

Final Thoughts

All this about armor and insecurities just brings up more questions for me. I expected that by writing about how different women wear different suits of armor I would feel more closure of the topic, but I don’t. Usually writing about a topic helps me process my thoughts more clearly and helps me decide what parts of an idea are most important and relative to me. Writing about this topic though has made me think that maybe there will be no closure because women and people are always going to need some armor to protect themselves. One question I still have is “Is there a relationship between the amount/intensity of insecurities and the amount of armor one wears?” If a person has few insecurities, does she wear less armor? Do women who have many insecurities wear armor so often that it becomes a kind of permanent skin/second nature? Do men wear armor in the same ways that women do? I don’t know. We’ll see I guess.

Thanks for reading this two-part post! If you want to provide any answers to my remaining questions, please comment.

India was My “Fernweh”

I recently saw a page on Buzzfeed that resonated with me called “23 Charming Illustrations of Untranslatable Words from Other Languages.” I clicked on the link to the page because, being a visual person, I enjoy illustrations and, seeing as how I am married to a man whose first language/mother tongue is different from my own, word/expression meanings in different languages have recently become relevant to me.

The first word illustrated was “fernweh” which comes from German and means “feeling homesick for a place you have never been to” (according to the illustrator, I hope she was correct!). The list goes on and some of the illustrations are quite nice. If you didn’t click the link to the page, you should check it out. You might find a word that speaks to you like I did.

Back to why “fernweh” stood out to me… When I read the translation of what it means, I recognized that I had felt this exact feeling in my life many times. I can’t tell you where it came from, why it came, or anything other than I know without a doubt I felt this homesickness for India long before I ever had any Indian friends or even knew any Indian people. Maybe it manifested itself because I was always an avid reader in my childhood. Maybe it came because I read something about India or its people at a young age. Unfortunately I have no idea what this could have been or if it was anything like this in the first place.

What I do know is that in my elementary school, I learned to read a little earlier than most other children, I used reading as a means to escape reality (don’t take this the wrong way, my reality was quite good, I promise) and “travel” to many different places, and that I had a very vivid imagination. I enjoyed reading so much that in fifth grade, I read so many A.R. books and got so many points that I was the Top Reader and won $100. That’s a pretty big accomplishment for a 10-year-old! What I’m trying to get at is that it makes total sense to me that I could have learned about India while reading one of the many books I read during my early “travels”.

My earliest memory of being interested in India was when I was young, maybe 10-12 years old, and spending some time at my paternal grandmother’s house. This story requires a little background information, so hang on! My grandmother was one of my favorite people in the whole world, especially when I was young. She and her dog lived in a three bedroom brick house about fifteen minutes from my parents house. I would often spend Friday nights with her and we would do many crafty things together during these times. We would draw, color pictures, make jewelry, do embroidery, etc. because she enjoyed being creative and making things herself. I think (and my husband thinks) I got some of my character traits from her. She made one heck of a grandmother. I still get teary-eyed when I think about her and she has been gone for more than 7 years…

One thing she would do with me was take me to fabric stores and let me choose a fabric to make something out of when we got back home. She sewed various things for my brother and I growing up, like pillows, embroidered blankets, bags, you name it. She had a fancy embroidery machine that you could create your design on the computer and the machine would transfer it onto your fabric. I guess this was pretty fancy for the time, now that I think about it… Because she was always sewing and embroidering various projects, she always had some interesting fabric scraps. One of my favorite things to do when I was at her house was to play in the fabric. Literally. I would take out her neatly folded and organized fabrics, throw them around for who knows what reason, wrap myself up in them pretending to be somebody different, or wrap up her dog or my brother in them turning them into whatever characters suited my fancy that day. This is where my earliest memory of being interested in India came from.

One day I told my grandmother that I wanted to wear a sari. I don’t even know how much I knew about them or how in the world I came to know about them, but I knew that they were beautiful pieces of fabric beautiful ladies were wrapped up in, and I wanted one. Spending the whole day dressed in a pretty fabric sounded perfect to me. And in my grandmother’s quest to be the best grandmother she could be, she made it happen. (Perhaps I was a spoiled child…) She found (I don’t know where) a print-out of how to wrap a sari and how much fabric one needed to do all the wrapping and pleating. She also calculated that since I was a child, I would need less yardage than a full-grown woman. We came to the decision that we would go to the fabric store and find four yards of the fabric for my sari. I still can picture the blue fabric in my head to this day. It was a polyester, flowing blue fabric with sky, royal, and navy shades and a large paisley block-style print. When we made it back to her house, we followed the directions as best we could, and I was happily in our version of a sari. That’s all I remember about it.

As time went by, I learned more about the world, not just India. It was on my radar just like any other country halfway across the globe would be to a girl born in 1990 in the U.S. When I would come across products imported from India, I was drawn to them because of the various colors and patterns that were different than the norm here. Other than that, I didn’t really have any tangible reason to be interested in a country that was so foreign to me. Fleeting thoughts here and there told me I wanted to go there, but I had no reason to believe it would actually happen! This was my “fernweh” kicking in.

I met my first Indian friends in college. I liked so many things about these people: their food (of course!), their clothes (surprise…), their friendliness to guests, and the way they were excited to share their culture with a white American Southerner who despite all the stereotypes surrounding her, was not, in fact, as closed-minded as she thought she was. And as those of you who already know us know, one thing led to another, and through mutual friends, I met the Indian man who became my husband.

Almost five months after our wedding, we traveled to India to meet B’s parents. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that it was a big deal for me especially because this trip was full of firsts. My first plane ride, my first time out of the U.S., my first time traveling with B for more than a small trip, my first time meeting his family face-to-face, my first time finding out what I am really made of! To read more about this trip, click here or here. I experienced so many things on this trip. I won’t list them here because it’s just too much.

December 2013 and January 2014 was the time my “fernweh” was satiated. Now when I feel homesick for India, Nabagram, B’s Mom’s cooking, Bengali mishti, etc., it’s just plain old longing instead of the fancy word “fernweh” because I’ve been there now. The bottom line is that I knew I felt something, but was never able to describe it in words. While I don’t know that all (or even half) of the things on Buzzfeed are worth the time it takes to skim them, this page was worth it because it made me connect things in my life I hadn’t connected yet.

Do you have a place that you feel “fernweh” for? If so, try and make it there someday! I bet you won’t regret it.