Archive for the ‘Listening’ Category

Three little ducks.

January 8, 2012 1 comment

We laugh and tease

 like little kids,

but we know when it’s time to listen.


“It all comes together.”

December 9, 2011 2 comments

Right now, I am sitting in a ridiculously nice hotel room in Miami Beach feeling as calm as can be. A few hours, earlier, however, I was a wreck. I am in Miami for my cousin’s wedding and I’m one of the bridesmaids. I’d been feeling some guilt and anxiety about being in the wedding party since I felt like I haven’t really been pulling my weight as a bridesmaid. Sure, I live pretty far away, but I know being a grad student decreases my ability to act like a responsible adult significantly. I was feeling stressed out because I was going to miss the rehearsal, too. Of course, my cousin and his girlfriend said it was no big deal. Just meet up with us for the rehearsal dinner, they said. Take your time.

That sounded easy enough.

However, by the time my dad, his girlfriend, and I got to our hotel, I had 45 minutes before the rehearsal dinner started. I had the address of where to go, but I had no idea where it was in relationship to our hotel. I figured it couldn’t be that far. I asked the front desk to call me a cab.

Well, it turned out the rehearsal dinner was pretty far. The cab driver wasn’t quite sure where to go and his GPS was broken. He kept driving and driving and it got later and later. I quietly started to freak out. Then the cab driver said he was going to pull over and ask for directions. My internal freak out escalated as I realized I probably wouldn’t have enough cash by the time we actually arrived and the cab didn’t take cards. The cab driver came back from asking directions and was still confused. I called my cousin. “What? Why are you taking a cab? Where are you? I’ll come get you.” Five minutes later, my cousin and his mom, who is really like my auntie, pulled into the Walgreen’s parking lot where I was waiting. After a round of hugs, I began to relax.

When we got to the rehearsal dinner, which was a super informal gather at my cousin’s fiance’s childhood home, I realized that my internal freak out was for naught. Dinner hadn’t started. The bride wasn’t there yet. I don’t think any of my cousin’s groomsmen had made it to the rehearsal and still weren’t in town.

While my auntie and I chatted, the bride arrived and more people filed in. Cognac was poured. Teasing commenced. Little kids chased each other around. A feast of home-cooked Jamaican food was laid out. As I looked around at my family members and then at my cousin’s girlfriend’s mom, grandparents, cousins, and childhood friends, I realized that my family just got bigger. My world just got bigger.  I felt at peace.

Of course, the cognac and the oxtail stew didn’t hurt, either.

Categories: Family, Life, Listening, love

Real talk.

November 23, 2011 2 comments

(A co-worker and I are transporting some items from the residential facility to the daycare center across the street for a meeting.)

Co-worker: Where’s your coat?

Me: It’s in the building.

CW: Who do you think you are, Superwoman?

Me: I don’t feel cold now.

CW: You’re going to end up in the hospital.

Me: No, no. I already did that this year. I’m not doing that again.

CW: Then go put your coat on.

This was real life.

August 8, 2011 1 comment

As I’ve mentioned several times, I am currently pursuing a Master’s in Social Work. Specifically, I am focusing on clinical social work so that I can become a counselor. I have several areas of interest, including immigrants and preventative health care accessibility, families coping with substance abuse issues, and women coping with recent and past traumas.

In a previous post, I talked about the kind of responses I get when people ask me what I do. Well, over the weekend, I got response to my answer that totally threw me for a loop. I was out on Saturday night and talking with a girl a few years younger than I am. The conversation went a little something like this:

Girl: Oh, so you’re in school work social work? What do you want to do with that?

Me: Well, I want to be a counselor, and mainly I want to work with young women coping with trauma and are trying to get their life back on track.

Girl: Oh, like me!

This has never happened to me before. I didn’t know what to say at first. She went on to tell me a little about her past and the social program she went through so that she could go back to school and become a little more stable. We went on to talk  about the fact that we don’t all start out on an even playing field and how you have to work a little harder when you’ve never had good role models.

During the conversation, I felt a little uncomfortable. I am totally used to clients spilling their guts to me. I am comfortable with my friends spilling their guts to me. In fact, I have even had many strangers on SEPTA spill their guts to me, and I could roll with it. But at first, this girl didn’t seem that different from me. She was also sort of a friend of a friend, so I just really was not expecting her to reveal that she was one of the “underserved” that social workers devote their lives to. So I was super paranoid about being condescending or patronizing, or any of the other things you don’t want to be when a human being opens up to you. I started second guessing myself again when she was telling me about her career aspirations and I immediately began giving her ideas for resources to look into. I mean, really. Did I need to start counseling this girl in our free time on Saturday night? Is that OK?  I did really care about what this girl was saying, so in a way, I couldn’t help myself in trying to encourage to take her success farther. But I don’t even have a degree yet, let alone a license, so who am I to start throwing out a game plan to this girl?

In all my time working in social services, I never felt more aware of the difference in privilege than during this random conversation with this girl. I thought I had learned how deal with that gap already, and here I am, realizing once again that I still have so far to go.

Just plain lucky.

July 8, 2011 2 comments

I’ve had two conversations in the last two days that reminded me that I really do have it made. Not in terms of material wealth and stability, but regarding the number of tremendous people I have in my life.

As one can gather from my previous post, I had a pretty miserable judo week. I was extra miserable at last night’s practice and was not succeeding in hiding it. Our club’s sensei emeritus was in last night, and as many black belts have done for me in terrible practices past, he pulled me aside in the nick of time to do some work and distract me from my dismal frame of mind. After some solid work on the basics, he gently reminded me that judo is pretty rough on the body. Sometimes, we have to protect ourselves from judo even though we love it. He talked about his 44 year relationship with judo and how what he gives and what he gets from his practice has changed throughout the years.  He went on to tell me that he believed that I could be one of those people who will stay on the mat for the next 40 years. My sensei said some other incredible words of encouragement that make me feel a little weepy if I pause to think about them simply because of the sincerity with which they were said, so I won’t go into it. But I will say that our talk was just the thing I needed to clear my head and get me back on track. Judo requires so much self-motivation, but when things aren’t going right, it’s hard to push through. Talking with my sensei last night, I remembered that your club really can be as strong as your family and it’s likely we would not be as determined to be our best if we always had to be on our own.

Then today, I traveled by train up to Boston for my friends’ wedding. Right now I’m staying with friends that I haven’t seen in about three years.  That’s kind of a long time. My buddy picked me up from the train station, and within minutes of starting up the catch-up chit chat, we found ourselves diving into a conversation about human nature, self-reflection, education, and social welfare. I always love talking about these things, but what I loved in that moment was that my buddy and I could dive right in as though we saw each other everyday, but at the same time engaged in an exchange that we’ve never had before. It felt pretty amazing, and I couldn’t help but think that I have some pretty amazing friends.

I really don’t know how I got so lucky, but I know enough not question my good fortune.


Hero worship: Unabashed.

June 15, 2011 3 comments

Moving near campus has made me exponentially happier, mostly because it makes my life more convenient and I finally get to live alone in my own little cave. Beyond that, however, I discovered a bonus today while walking to the El. I ran into one of my faaaaaaaaaaaaaaavorite professors ever in the whole wide world. Actually, he stopped me (gasp!) to say hi and ask how my summer was going. After some friendly chit chat, we said goodbye and I practically skipped the rest of the way to the train.

I find it difficult to talk about him without sounding like a hyper-active 10 year-old, so I will attempt brevity: Throughout my semester with him, I was continuously surprised and reassured by my professor’s honesty, humility, passion, commitment, and his dual ability to command and offer respect. I’ll stop here before any eye-rolling commences from the nice, patient people reading this.

Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t stop there. Further explanation of my professor’s uncontainable awesomeness:

After each class with him this past Spring semester, I typically felt compelled to post something my professor said or did during class that I thought was particularly inspiring on Facebook. Yes, this is silly. But I would leave his class so pumped, truly believing that I and my classmates could change the world, that I felt like all my Facebook friends might like to feel the same way.

The two things he said to us that have stuck with me the most are:

1. “You will never do more for people than what you allow people to do for you.”

2. “It is more important for you to understand than to be understood.”

Now, I don’t know if these are Walter J. Palmer originals, but I don’t really care. What I care about is that I have thought long and hard about these two off-handed statements. The first statement I’ve though about in relation to my social work practice and the relationships I’ll build with my clients. If I never learn to be open, humble, and how to accept help, I can never truly be there with my clients. I won’t be able to fully appreciate how hard they work to take the help I’m offering to make the small and big steps they need to get on the right track. I have to understand give and take.

The second comment I’ve thought about over and over again in regards to my personal relationships, especially with my family. I have said about six billion times in my life, “He/She/They just don’t understand.” Now, if I find myself thinking that, I feel ridiculously childish. When I really look at why I feel that way, I realize that he/she/they don’t understand because I haven’t let them. If I can’t listen to someone else’s perspective and respect it as a valid point of view, they sure as hell can’t consider mine. To communicate and make a connection, I have to be ready to learn about the other person first and not expect them to put effort into me that I haven’t bothered to put into them.

OK, now back to brevity:

The main reason why I love Professor Palmer is because he made me feel as excited, naive, angry, and hopeful as I did when I was a teenager and just starting to really discover what drives me, but ultimately I think he helped me become a better adult.

Applying reason to passion.

On Wednesdays, my club has a rotating black belt instructor class. This gives the club a chance to learn from all of our black belts, who came up the ranks from different clubs and even different countries. I really like this concept, and unfortunately the class has been pretty lightly attended lately. So when I showed up last night, I was the only one there besides the instructor. This has happened before with me and this particular instructor. But he said would work with me since I took the time to show up. Something that I’ve loved about our club from the start is that the high ranks are really invested in the progression of the low ranks. This black belt has taken a lot of time with me to help me improve.

As I was about to get changed, he asked me how my hip was. “Well,” I said, “it doesn’t hurt all the time now, but I’m still limited. I can’t really fall yet, and there are some throws that I still shouldn’t do.” He looked at me with that perplexed, frustrated look that parents often reserve for their children. “Then why are you here?” he asked me. “You’re young. You take a week off. No judo for one week, then you come back a new-born person.” Of course, I didn’t really have a good answer to his question, so I think I just frowned and sighed.

Two more people did show up for class, and my instructor worked with me since he’s a little injured, too. He kept reminding me to STOP if I started hurting. So when this point arrived during the course of the class, he told me again that I needed to take a full week off. I started to protest. “But I keep thinking about when school starts again in the Fall and I’ll only be able to come to practice once or twice a week. I don’t want to take that much time off now.” I think I sounded whiny and desperate. So he broke it down for me.

“Lori, look, school starts and you make a schedule. I get up at 5 o’clock in the morning.  I have three kids. My wife works nights. I still come here.  I mean, sometimes you know I have to stay late for work and I can’t. Sometimes they call me up and there’s a problem, I have to fix it. When I’m injured, I can’t take too much time off because I’m old now. It takes me so long to get back into shape. But you’re young. Judo will be here. You take one week off, and you come back a new-born person.”

I sighed. He smiled.

“Look, I understand. When you have a passion, and I know I sound like a movie right now, you have a passion you make it work. You make a schedule. Take one week off. Judo will be here.”

While there is no crying in judo, I almost teared up while my instructor was talking to me. Just listening to him describe his day-to-day gave me a lot to think over. If he’s getting up at 5:00 in the morning and coming to practice, he’s not getting home until after 10:00 at night.  He also teaches the kids class on Saturday. He’s been practicing judo  for at least 30 years. You don’t casually stick with something three decades.

He and I definitely had this conversation before. We had it just two weeks ago. Previously, I’ve listened to him, but I didn’t really take it to heart. Something last night in his words made me have one of those moments where I realized I don’t know anything about anything. What do I know about sacrifice and commitment? What do I know about compromise? What do I know about patience? At this point in my life, not much.