I will not be terrorised

The world at the moment seems awfully scary and intimidating and violent. That violence appears utterly random at moments and widespread, even amongst those of us who live in relatively safe zones (e.g., not in places like Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, for a start).

After last week in Charlottesville, after Thursday in Barcelona and after yesterday evening’s knifing closer to me in Turku, the only thought I have is, ‘I will not be terrorised’.

Am I afraid?

For humanity, yes, indeed, I am. But, I refuse to cower in fear that something ‘might’ happen. That the boogeyman de jour will leap out from behind some imagined barrier wielding a weapon of choice. I refuse to look at another individual, different from me, and think, ‘Aha! That is the boogeyman we’ve been warned about’, and continue to eye her/him suspiciously.

Years ago, I had a business trip to Israel, where I spent a lot of time at Hebrew University and travelling to and fro on various buses for meetings with colleagues and to attend special events. It was an incredible trip really, and introduced me to a part of the world that is unimaginably beautiful in its stark, barren, brutal reality. In many ways, I fell in love with the country.

But, whenever our group was together, armed security guards accompanied us, in itself rather shocking to me. By armed, I mean, bulletproof vests and semi-automatic weapons as well as Glock-9s at their sides. Never mind their ammo belts. Several trips required traversing routes twice as long as the direct route, simply to ‘avoid’ certain areas perceived as particularly ripe for attacks from Palestinians.

Because this trip coincided with an uptick in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the early 2000s, my boss at the time, an Israeli from Jerusalem, mentioned that there was chatter and concern that ‘something’ might happen. And, several times during that two-week trip, every single mobile phone my fellow passengers carried on various buses rang seemingly simultaneously. I learned quickly that when that happened, there had been some tragedy elsewhere. In fact, three suicide bombs exploded during that trip, two of which rather near to and soon after we’d be in various spots. [Several weeks after that trip, a bomb exploded in the cafeteria at Hebrew University, a place I’d had more than one lunch at during that trip.]

Was it scary? Yes. But, more so, it was sad. It was profoundly and deeply troubling to see the affect it had on those who live that reality every single day. Suspicion and fear weighed heavily, and the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians seemed to become more prominent. Talking with various vendors along the edge of the Arab market in the Old Town in Jerusalem or colleagues and friends from various parts of Israel, everyone wanted the same thing: peace. To live in a world free from the random acts of violence that plague us all. To allow children to be children, and to know a world in which they needn’t fear or cower depending upon their own identities. To live in a world free from those learned identities.

That trip was difficult, but it was also one of the most amazing trips of my life.

What gave me hope then and continues to guide me on the darkest of days now is the knowledge that not everyone is a maniac hell-bent on destruction. Not everyone is so consumed with hate that they seethe with rage at the mere mention or glimpse of their imaged enemy. Not everyone sees diversity as a scourge that should be forever eliminated.

Not everyone is a terrorist. Not every Arab or Muslim. Not every black man. Not every left-wing liberal or so-called antifa. Not every conservative or Republican. And, not every white boy with a Southern drawl.

Yes, at the moment, I am scared. More so because we seem to be less-inclined to learn from or engage with on another and prefer to categorise those who are different as ‘the other’ and, therefore, evil or our enemy.

But, rather than be terrorised, I’m going to continue to live my life as if that fear did not exist at all. I will not assume that every act of violence is a terrorist attack.

Months ago, after yet another horrid incident, I hoped that we could figure this shit out. I’m still hoping and believing that we can. We. All of us. But, if we are to do so, we must stop being terrorised.
scaredsalman

Stolen moments

This ‘summer’ in Helsinki has not exactly gone to plan. It hasn’t been bad; just not entirely what I expected.

But, moments—collections of seemingly insignificant moments—have made this summer much more memorable and heaps lovelier, best intentions and expectations aside.

Whilst work has kept me crazy busy and completely disinclined towards boredom or sitting on the balcony to enjoy a bit of afternoon reading in the sunshine, Helsinki’s weather hasn’t brought the sunshine and warmth our balcony garden needs to flourish let alone temps comfortable enough to sit without multiple layers for any amount of time. My free time has also coincided with days utterly devoid of sunshine. Sod’s Law, naturally. Rather than chillaxin on the balcony admiring giant sunflowers in July and August, we only seem to find a few moments at a time to spend tending to our balcony garden / wildflower ‘patch’ or to fill up the bird feeders. We do finally have tiny little wildflowers just now opening up, which thankfully go largely ignored by our community of feathered friends.

It’s lovely enough out there even if we have not spent any amount of time truly enjoying it. Those tiny little flowers are gorgeous. They’re also a nice reminder to be patient and accepting—there simply isn’t a whole lot we can do if we don’t have just the right balance between across and elements.

It is what is, this Helsinki summer. So, we’re finding the bits that are lovely and focusing on those. I’ll focus on these lovely little bursts of purple for as long as they stick around.

From seed to flower

From seed to flower, from our balcony garden and ‘wildflower patch’

As I add miles to my weekly run tallies, it’s also been incredibly important to find time to bond and unwind with The Cuban. So, nearly every evening that we can, we go for a walk, no matter how short on time we are or how stressed we may be and, lately, regardless of weather conditions.

This last week, we’ve spent a bit of time on our jaunts sitting on a lovely little bench just at the water’s edge, enjoying the view and completely letting go of all that ails us.

A few days ago, we were treated to an incredible sunset and absolutely tranquil conditions.

sunset in munkkiniemi

An evening sunset in Munkkiniemi. 

Stolen moments these are. And, as my schedule intensifies for the autumn term and life gets busier and more chaotic, I’ll not only remember these precious moments, but also try to steal and enjoy a few more.

 

Right place, right time

Timing matters.

But, so does taking opportunities as they arise.

Yesterday when my husband and I were out for an evening stroll, we chanced upon three geese. Spying these geese wasn’t particularly unusual—loads of them live along the shore near our flat in Helsinki. But, as we approached the water’s edge, they took flight from their positions in that majestic and magical way that mimics the illusion of walking on water. I’d just taken my phone out to capture a pic and snapped one before they flew out of the frame.

One moment. One photo. One opportunity. This is what I captured.

geese_Fotor

I’ve come to look for those moments when I’m in the right place at just the right time. And, to take whatever opportunities may be on offer. In some ways, much of my life over the past 20 years has resulted from those chance opportunities and meetings. Taking advantage of such timing at any one moment to simply go for it and see what happens wasn’t always a simple choice.

Whilst some things haven’t gone quite so smoothly, some of those choices worked out amazingly well. And, it’s those which stand out now.

My husband, for instance. I cannot imagine a life without him had either one of us not decided to set fear and uncertainty aside and just see what happens once we realised we were falling in love. It’s not a happy ending quite yet (thankfully), but it’s worked out well enough thus far.

To add to this item at the top of my list, landing my current job and what appears to be a career I’d never envisioned came about when I had no real direction or plan. My move to Moscow in 1999 resulted from a chance dinner at a conference, and lead me to so many places and further opportunities (including my husband and current job) I’d never imagined. And, so many moments and choices in between.

The importance now is that each of these moments became opportunities only because of my choices in those moments. Being mentally in a place where I felt ready to face what came next, willing to take a gamble in some cases and able to take on new challenges and shifting sands were sometimes more important. Without knowing it, in each of those moments I was ready to bet on me.

I don’t necessarily lament opportunities lost or which passed me by. In truth, I’ve no idea how many of those have faded into the distance on days when my mental demons shouted down and drowned out the voice of reason.

What I do know is that I am incredibly grateful for those moments when not only someone else took a chance on me, but when I accepted those challenges and bet on me.

 

Milestones and markers

Change comes slowly, none more so than changing some rather embedded bad habits. It may come later in than life than I’d like, but there’s a certain joy and relief that accompanies working towards various milestones. And, succeeding. Bit by painfully slow bit.

One habit that has plagued me my entire life is my penchant for procrastination. I’ve told myself time and again that I do my best work when I wait until the last moment to tuck in as that deadline creeps inevitably nearer. This has not serve me well at various moments and has caused far too many sleepless nights. But, more so, the stress that accompanies that penchant for procrastination as any deadline approaches and as life becomes increasingly busy have taken their toll in unintended yet predictable ways. Coupled with an inability to say ‘no’ (another issue I’m working on), my schedule no longer allows me to both procrastinate and still meet whatever deadline exists. Never mind my inability to cope with the stress I’ve caused myself in the process. My work and mental health have suffered, and thus the vicious cycle continued.

As I  work towards feeling better mentally, I’m also recognising that I need to adjust how and when I work, and make some changes towards procrastinating less. Note: I’m not even considering eliminating my tendency towards ‘tomorrow’—I’m simply attempting to procrastinate less and, thus, diminish some of that mental anguish I cause myself.

Habits formed long ago and stuck. It doesn’t mean they must remain.

This week and last mark a milestone for me in multiple ways. I’ve not only made it beyond a running milestone that I’ve long wanted to shatter,  but I’ve sat at my desk and worked when I didn’t really need to. As much as I love my job, there are days when I just don’t want to work.

Sure, I could have taken off most of last week and this, and still made my two deadlines tomorrow. But, I did something weird and completely uncharacteristic for me: I made a plan of action (that is, working towards a goal each day), reached those targets, and then had the rest of my working days to do with what I wanted. Not only did I complete both tasks well ahead of schedule (one on Tuesday and one today), but I finished in the morning (after requiring a mere two half-days of work earlier this week), enjoyed a three-day weekend for the first time since our holiday in December and January, and managed to spend some quality time each day with my darling husband.

Who is this person? More importantly, can she stick around for a bit?

As I work on improving my physical stamina, I’m realising that much of the same mental battles I face running apply to habits in general across the rest of my life. Pushing through those moments when the temptation to twiddle my thumbs rather than work on my to-do list relies on the same determination I need to put one foot in front of the other. Naturally, I could take the easy route and quit. Or I can take one extra step and another and see how far I get. One small step may seem insignificant at any one moment; but, add them up together and they become a journey. Reaching one marker or goal allows me to place another a bit further along the path. Any path.

Change may come slowly. But, it comes. Eventually.

 

Snail's pace.jpg

Progress may appear slow. But, quitting halts it altogether.  

Our loss of compassion

This. This article hit home.

I’ve lost count of the number of people I know who have put up a GoFundMe or other fundraising effort to help subsidise their or their family member’s life-threatening illnesses. And, like many, I’m bloody tired of having endless discussions about the politics of fear and greed.

I’m beyond enraged that individuals who have dedicated their time to work for employers who tell them they need to go on disability (at which point they lose their benefits and income) because of a chronic condition. I’m beyond incredulous how an employer can simply fire individuals because they are sick—too sick—to work, thus eliminating their benefits entirely (in one case, whilst the woman, who worked for corporate giant Radio Shack for 30 years, was on life support fighting for her own life).

I am beyond enraged when ‘leaders’ like Speaker Paul Ryan say that these same people simply don’t want to buy insurance. Never mind these people whom I know and care about deeply made every effort to ensure they have the coverage they need. What does Speaker Ryan think my beloved mother-in-law, well into her 80s, should do? What about an individual with dementia? What about a child born with a congenital birth defect?

There’s an element of American society that I don’t remember after living abroad for nearly 20 years. Not everyone mind, but a healthy enough proportion of us have become unimaginably cruel. Unless and until it happens to them, certain individuals seem to delight in the pain and suffering and hardships faced by others. It’d be bad enough if we simply turned a blind eye to that suffering. But, even within political discussions these days, the level of delight in watching others fail or flounder astounds me. It’s sad—so incredibly sad. For all of us.

I don’t have my own children, but I want all children to have equitable access to quality education without putting themselves or their families in debt. Why? Because I want those children to grow up equipped to become productive and engaged members of society.

I am healthy and have (touch wood) never really experienced any dire or life-threatening issues. But, I also want universal healthcare for all of my fellow Americans because I understand that ill-health and unfortunate accidents can happen to anyone. Accessing treatment shouldn’t be a privilege for those fortunate enough to have money or a privileged position within society. Like it or not, we all get sick or can. And, no-one should be forced to choose between food or shelter or health care for their loved one. Everyone’s life is priceless to someone else.

People matter. Individuals matter. Any one individual may not matter to me personally, but that isn’t what’s important. Understanding that we all have some worth or merit or characteristic which makes us priceless to others is what drives my own compassion and empathy. And, understanding that my own happiness does not come from ignoring my compassion for others guides my support for particular policies and practices. I want others to be happy just as I want to be happy myself.

To me, sitting over here in my socialist, high-tax, high-quality life in Finland where kids are exceptionally educated and health care is available to all for pennies, the US looks a lot less compassionate than I remember.  As angry as I am, I am far, far sadder. And I suspect, I am far from alone in this sadness.

Compassion_FuneralCall

‘Just be where you are’

I’m not particularly co-ordinated. Anyone who has spent any time at all with me knows that I’m prone to trip over non-existent cracks in the sidewalk or crash into walls randomly (and repeatedly) or spill giant cups of coffee all over the place for no apparent reason much to my mortification. After first checking for broken bones, laughter typically ensues because I am just that talented clumsy.

Perhaps because of this awkwardness, I’ve never really enjoyed yoga. Until last autumn, that is. After a friend sang the praises of one particular yoga instructor offering Ashtanga in English at the university gym at a time that suited my schedule, I decided to give it a go. I loved it, immediately and rather unexpected, and went as often as my schedule would allow. As mortifying and humiliating as the course by highlighting just how much less flexible I’ve become in the last… several decades, I thoroughly enjoyed those 75 minutes of focusing on one thing—not falling over. Or falling over gracefully.

My schedule this year so far hasn’t allowed me to resume classes with this particular brilliant yogi, but her words ring in my ears at the most seemingly random and yet appropriate times. Rather than attempt to get an entire class of 40 individuals to do various poses exactly the same, she would say, ‘Be where you are’.

Just be where you are.

This unlikely spillover benefit and phrase is so eloquently simple and something I firmly believe I needed to hear. Perhaps that’s why it continues to pop into my mind from time to time all these months later. In so many ways, this phrase helped me obsess less over all sorts and just get on with the task or goal at hand. Those who know me well, know that this is not a simple task.

As a perfectionist in all things in life, I often put far, far too much pressure on myself to do better than my best. Better than I know I’m capable of just to push myself that bit further. I know it’s infuriated and exacerbated more than a few mentors, colleagues, friends and family members. And, I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has hinted that my mediocre far exceeds the expectations of most. I suspect know all too well that that drive to perform above and beyond what I expect of myself has lead to more than one bout of burn-out in my professional life. My perfectionism in all things has also lead to more than one work-in-progress remaining unfinished.

Just be where you are.

I continue to need this message. Perhaps I’ve adopted it as a personal mantra. Regardless, it appears to be helping. I am less stressed these days, even if I am absurdly busy. Oddly, my productivity seems to have exploded. I’m no longer concerned with always going faster as I build my running endurance; I’m just focused on building that endurance. I no longer care if I spill the occasional cup of coffee, as long as it doesn’t spoil my beloved Marimekko frocks.

I am content with being that work-in-progress that remains unfinished, although completing tasks to deadline even if less than perfect takes precedence over perfection. A quiet and calm focus has emerged recently, and those various to-do lists seem less burdensome and more manageable. Oddly, I look forward to those lists rather than dreading them.

This is where I am, and I rather like this place. And, hopefully, I’ll be back on the yoga matt with my favourite yogi before too long.

I love running

I love running. I do. I’m slow, and I have yet to go very far. But, I love running. And, I suspect it loves me. It’s at least good for me.

Last summer after years of stifling the little black dog that barks and growls and nips at my heels and mind from time to time, I made a series of slight adjustments in my behaviour and routines. I’d sunk so low that breathing hurt. Changes were necessary and long overdue.

One of those changes involved recommitting to running regularly. Whilst various forms of exercise obviously carry benefits to one’s mental and physical health, running has always helped me empty my head, meditate on whatever shit floats around up there. Somewhere during those runs, I let go of the garbage that wears me down, both real and imagined. As August turned into September, and September gave way to October and November, regardless of how busy I was or how much I felt unmotivated to lace up and hit the trails, I did. And, it helped. The fog that had clouded my everyday existence slowly dissipated and lifted entirely, and I felt infinitely better as the weeks and months passed.

Running wasn’t so much simply physically beneficial; it was a mental health necessity.

After injuring myself in January whilst running the Malecón in Havana, I was forced to take four painful months off. My ankle healed by late March / early April, but then the flu season hit and, then, I fell and hurt my knees, running to catch a bus of all things. Fast forward to May — four months after my initial injury — and I’m finally getting back into my routine. A few days shy of four weeks back into my running rituals and again the fog is lifting.

This. This is why I run. And, this is why I love running.

I don’t really care how fast I get through a particular route — each run feels like a battle won and conquered at this point. I don’t have any long-term ambitions other than to continue running three or four times a week for as long as my legs will hold up, and hopefully taking part in the Helsinki Midnight Run come September. I won’t win races, but I will stay in the ultimate race — that crazy race called life. Undoubtedly, depression and my little black dog will come barking again from time to time. Whatever I can do to tame him quickly and without too damage to myself or those who love me most, I’ll do. And, I firmly believe that as long as I continue to add miles to my running logs, those visits from the canine beast that haunts me will become fewer and further apart.

I read a story several years ago about an incredibly young 92-year-old woman finishing a marathon. Harriette Thompson, that same woman, just surpassed another milestone by becoming the oldest woman at 94 to complete a half marathon. I won’t break any records, other than those I set for myself. But, I will keep running. For me.

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