HIE THEE HOMEWARD

Walking home just now, I overheard two couples talking. I’m a brisk walker and was overtaking them. One was saying to the others, “They were very tender tonight.” Par for the course with me, I assumed they were talking about people. Tender people–it was such a warming thought. It turns out they were talking about scallops.

The environmentalist in me would like to send you directly to The New Yorker, the March 8 issue, to read about the disaster that is the worldwide fishing industry, devastating ecosystems and traditional fishing communities both. That’s not to mention the state of the waters themselves, the plastic, the chemicals. However, this bit of writing is about therapy.

A client’s boyfriend was depressed and using substances. She was afraid he might be suicidal, and his reassurance wasn’t much comfort–only because of her, he wouldn’t hurt himself. She asked him to see a therapist, and his response was that he didn’t want to pay someone to listen to him.

I feel sympathy for that sentiment. To me it says less about my profession than it does about the widespread and entirely comprehensible hunger people have for real intimacy and support. I do think there are some misconceptions in that statement, though, as well. Good therapy is about much more than just being “listened to” in some timed and compensated way. Among other things, it’s an opportunity to know and speak our truths more clearly, to shape our preferred narratives.

Many people in our lives–good, bad, or indifferent–lack the skills or insight to meet our needs, or their own needs conflict with ours in ways that don’t result in satisfactory compromise. We can walk through the world in a state of confusion, our powers of reason working overtime to sort through the cognitive dissonance: If we really deserved consideration, we would get it, so working backwards, the fact that we don’t get it must mean we don’t deserve it.

Good therapy holds open a sacred space, yes, but the goal is for clients ultimately not to need it because they’ve reached a point of getting what they need within their personal spheres–with family, with partners, at work, among friends. It’s a transformation I’ve been privileged to witness many times. I don’t mean that last statement to ring of false humility or passive enabling of change; I take an active role in my work. But transformation is something greater, irreducible to input and output, “evidence-based practices” notwithstanding.

I’m not talking about “evidence-based practices,” however well-studied they may be, however nicely their results can be graphed. I’m talking about corrective experiences, the back-filling of holes, the healing of wounds. I’m talking about tenderness, joy, logic, laughter. Present-moment learning. To quote Ted Lasso–any excuse!–“I’m talking about practice.”

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GROUNDS FOR CHANGE

It’s the time of year here when trees look picked over, gardens seem bereft and bedraggled, and skies are frequently gray. So as I was walking along recently, I found this color arresting. It promptly landed on my list of things to be thankful for, a list that has been especially abundant this year and includes family, friends, mentors old and new, and, still, the excellent consultation I had last September at Mass General, which gave me hope and ongoing reason to reinvest in my life. If you’ve ever wanted to hug a neurosurgeon while crying dazed and ecstatic tears, you might be vibing to my frequency. I’m thankful for the friend who drove me there and the receptionist who was kind and even the elevators, the hallways, the glass doors, the parking garage. I hate parking garages! But that one helped deliver me from hell back to life on earth. I’m grateful for a screenshot of my parents on Zoom, hugging while wearing the scarves that I made them, my father’s a decade old or so, lingonberry-red, my mother’s new and pinky-purple like a type of orchid. I’m thankful they’ve been untouched by COVID. I’m thankful for your reading this, which is why it’s short—time is valuable! I’m thankful for Nick Hornby, whose novels got me through the worst of election season. I’m thankful for income and inspiration—also for coffee on the daily, and my new favorite source: Grounds for Change. Take a moment and click that link to find out how truly wonderful they are. I have zero financial interest in the company; my only interest is in wanting to see them and every high-quality, deeply principled business continue their good work in the world—work that benefits the people (who, in this case, produce the beans) as well as the ecosystems they live and labor in. Sustainability for all—it doesn’t get better than that.

THUS SPAKE SPRING

 

I take long walks these days. It’s not because I have less I should be doing, it’s just that there’s only so much time a person can spend at a desk feeling overwhelmed. The synchronized left-right action of walking is one of the best things I know; each step is a gift. The impact of COVID-19 is so vast, it’s hard to comprehend. Sickness, death; overwork for some, unemployment for others. Separations and losses of all kinds. Economic collapse. I heard a story on NPR about a man in California living in his car who no longer has places to spend his days. In local news, calls to DCYF suddenly dropped by 50 percent or more because there are no non-household eyes on children now. Layer after layer of consequences to this. I won’t go on about how this is a sign that we’re all connected, though it is. We are. This is the network made visible. What I really need to say is that, in purely personal terms, I’m much better off now than I was a year ago, and that in itself is a strange fact. For most of 2019, health issues put me through a kind of private hell scarcely known to anyone but me. If I were to describe it, as I sometimes think of doing, it might sound invented, and I have no wish to subject myself to skepticism after having survived it. What I can share here is, Surrealism is hard, but like so many things, it’s better when it’s shared. Value your conversations now, even more than you usually do. Value your not-aloneness. Also, in this hemisphere, it’s spring! Enjoy it. Renewal is a beautiful thing.

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