DANDELIONS

 

 

Near a local school, 12:30PM on this sunny Sunday, three little girls ran past me as I walked home from town. Two had hands full of dandelions; the third ran behind, calling to them—friends or sisters—to wait. It sounded like she was saying, “I don’t have any more!” Was she feeling left out? I remember that sensation all too well.

My next steps landed me in front of a perfect long-stemmed dandelion, recently plucked and then dropped on the sidewalk, so I picked it up and turned around, exclaiming, “Here’s one!” The girl stopped and did an about-face. “Here’s one that fell,” I elaborated. “Perhaps you’d like to have it.”

I held it out, and she approached. I extended my arm so she wouldn’t have to come too close to me; she reciprocated by reaching from a distance as well. She didn’t seem fearful, just wise and well-taught about strangers. Perhaps also surprised by my unexpected offer. Dandelion in hand, she turned and ran again, catching up.

Spending most of one’s time with traumatized children can make it, at times, almost startling to encounter other children in the world, children whose close and consistent care is evident. So it was for me this morning: a single glance took in the girls’ healthy complexions, tidy attire, and air of confidence.

I mused on the matter as I resumed my path. I had flashes of thought about the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) of the children I’ve come to know in my work: neglect, abandonment, victimization, exposure to violence and substances; and flashes of the little signs of growth and change that mean so much to me, like a moment of relaxation in a face that’s usually tense, a self-protective girl I know whose laughter sometimes breaks through her reserve with as much light as those fistfuls of sunshine I’d just seen.

Then suddenly there was another dandelion before me on the sidewalk—and then another, and then another, and then another, stretching from my feet toward the point near the library where, one June night, I once had a memorable second first kiss. The girls weren’t losing their flowers; they were dropping them purposefully! What grand design were they enacting, with weeds that aren’t weeds? Leaving a trail of happiness behind them, abundant as the marigolds in Monsoon Wedding.

Picking one more up, I held it to my nose and breathed it in. How had I never realized how fragrant dandelions can be? I walked home amid lilacs, flowering trees, tulips blown open, massive bumble bees. I wished the good luck of this world on everyone.

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Out of respect for client privacy, names are always changed or omitted. Text and image copyrights held by me. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it. To subscribe and receive future posts, please look to the upper right on your computer screen, or scroll to the bottom of the page on your mobile device. Thank you for reading.

CLEAR-EYED AND COURAGEOUS

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The end of any year, but especially this one, can feel elegiac to many. For me there is no better answer within reach, to the litany of sorrows I could name, than to offer tribute to those who’ve inspired me in the past twelve months—thankfully also a long list. Here are just two.

My first tribute is to a mother of my acquaintance. A little over a dozen years ago, she contrived an ingenious way to save some of her income from her abusive partner, so that she could escape to a women’s shelter with their infant daughter. In the process, she lost a best friend because the friend feared retaliation for any show of support to her. The experience of trauma persisted for a decade, as the man haunted her life, until at last he died of an overdose. Now, never having found time to care for herself, she makes the effort to support her daughter’s ongoing grief over losing her father, whom she had barely known, whose death meant something very different to her.

My second tribute is to a girl of my acquaintance. A daughter in a different family, she recognized her stepfather’s instability long before her mother did and looked up the signs and symptoms of abuse to educate her mother in what was happening to them. She persuaded her mother to divorce the man who would, before they left, harass and molest the girl whose clear vision saw the truth, whose courageous spirit spoke out to make change. This girl-becoming-a-woman now wants to study the brain, maybe work in child development or forensic psychology. She wants to understand things. She wants to make sense of the world.

Certainly there were dozens of men and boys this year who moved and delighted me (including one eight-year-old I know who stated recently that he is now “obsessed with Canada”; the liberal-minded among you can probably guess why). Then there are those (men, women, and algorithms) who miss the mortal glory that surrounds them, profoundly confused by marketed images: made up, airbrushed, photoshopped, contrived, assessed, judged, “had,” bought, and/or sold to the highest or nearest bidder. After the year the world has had, after the year my country has had, after the slurs we’ve all been suffered to hear uttered by persons of influence, I feel inclined to celebrate the real beauty of the women and girls whom I’m proud to have met: their strength and grace of character; their intelligence and the light they carry, kindling within every cell, every smile, every look of comprehension, every gesture of warm and real humanity.

To them and to you, Happy New Year.

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Out of respect for client privacy, names are always changed or omitted. Text and image copyrights held by me. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it. To subscribe and receive future posts, please look to the upper right on your computer screen, or scroll to the bottom of the page on your mobile device. Thank you for reading.

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW

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If Robert Frost were still of this world, could I persuade him to rethink his philosophy? Even as the ground is carpeted with evidence that “nothing gold can stay,” I hope this spring morning will light my way through the coming year. This moment of equipoise, when the chartreuse maple flowers that scatter the ground are equal to those still gracing the tree—I hope in darker moments to recall it.

Those moments do come—though they come less often, and I recognize them now for what they are. As above, so below; as within, so without. It’s as easy for people today to mistake their shadows, their trailing rainclouds, for something permanently, metaphysically wrong with them, as it was for people in times past to mistake epilepsy for demonic possession. I have learned, thankfully, to make connections between my physical and emotional states.

I know, if I wake in a seeming panic, to reflect on what I ate the day before. Too much sugar? Too much salt? I know, when I feel my steps grow heavy, that my body still struggles with wheat and dairy, that my system is still in rehabilitation.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, continues to be the holy grail of mental health interventions, but I feel it’s sorely lacking. In the “cognitive triangle,” thoughts evoke feelings that result in behaviors. Where is the body, in that model?

Research is now abundant, and still growing, about the effects of diet on anxiety and depression, the role of probiotics in emotional resilience, the fact that trauma gets stored in all our cells, not just in the brain. But in this market-driven culture, genuine wellness—bodily integrity, emotional stability—turns too little profit. For every news item about, say, the microbiome, there are thousands of ads for, as Michael Pollan put it, “edible foodlike substances.”

This is not to say that everything I feel emotionally is purely a function of my physical state, that I can live unperturbed so long as I avoid x, y, and z foods. For one thing, the picture is a little more complicated; making generally good choices may not, alone, correct for deficits present from birth or some exposure.

For another thing, we’re social beings; attachment is itself biological. Loss is still loss, grief is still grief—and hard as they are, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have no wish to be disaffected, to nod placidly to others as they come and go from my life. All I mean is that a kind of physical resilience helps steady me now, in a way it never did before. On stormy seas, I’m lashed to the mast of my health.