Monday, January 16, 2017

Collateral Damage: It’s When Tough Gets Even Tougher

“People at war with themselves will always cause collateral damage in the lives of those around them.”  - John Mark Green

I never saw a dog that I didn’t like, but I have met a few that didn’t like me. I have always loved animals and I think dogs have always been my favourite. I didn’t have a dog growing up though both of my parents grew up with dogs in their homes. Dad told the stories of his dog Bunny that used to be very protective of the family. If anyone teased her, she became upset, and almost like an elephant didn’t seem to forget while additionally keeping a bit of a grudge against such an individual. My Mom’s dog, Jack, seemed to be more of a typical rural dog, who loved people and I loved looking at pics of him and his replacement Jack 2. I am not sure of the breed of dog that Bunny was, but the Jacks seemed to be similar to Border Collies. I do remember one dog from my childhood quite vividly though.

It was a daily trip for me to go to the garage where my Dad had worked since returning from his overseas stint that ended in 1945. The owner of the business had a collie and we became quick friends. I struggle at this point to remember the name of the dog, but we spent many an hour together, while I waited for Dad to get off work for the day. On one particular occasion, when I entered the garage, Dad told me not to go visit the dog, as he had not been feeling well all morning and was holed up in the inner office. I asked for the reason not to go visit, and Dad just repeated, “Well, he is not feeling well, so you should stay away today!” My ability to reason the facts, and the capability for my mind to understand the repercussions of not listening to Dads suggestion didn’t kick in, in this case, and I went in to see my friend anyway after a while. When I reached out to pet the dog, he turned his head toward me and snapped out; his teeth cut my hand. Dad took me next door to the doctor’s office to get me fixed up and reminded me that he had said not to go near the dog… and it was for good reason. The dog had an abscess and just snapped at me out of instinct. I call it the sick dog syndrome. People like dogs can sometimes lash out in ways that don't reflect their true nature, all because of something that is going on in their lives.

We often fret over things that happen to us, or to those we love, and may often try to intervene by lending a comforting shoulder or a busy hand to help lighten the burden. There seems to be little accomplished when we are pushed away, having our interventions rejected, only to compound the pain that we may be feeling for those who seem to be struggling. In my youth there were so many occasions when a friend seemed down-trodden, at odds with the world, and I would try to say something that to me, made sense, yet to that person very little consolation seemed present. My inexperience in life, quite often did not allow me any better results at those early interventions than my reaching out to that poor dog at the garage. I most often got bitten for my efforts.

Yet, I was taught as a child that we have to be prepared for life; all the eventualities that may come upon us call for stamina and consideration. My mother was very ill when I was a child and I was taught how to do many of the things that have enabled me to take care of myself while travelling and at home. My grandmother used to read a story from a book  that I think was called, “Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories”. The story revolved around two characters. The first was a farmer, an older man, looking for a young man to help him during the busy summer season. The second was a young lad, looking for work on a farm for the summer. The perfect match right? Well, one would think so at first glance. The old farmer approached the young man at the local exhibition and asked if he was a good worker, as he had been watching him and his steady, strong work ethic all day.  The young man uncharacteristically answered, “I can sleep when the wind blows!” The old farmer, not liking the young lad’s answer asked again and for the second time received the same answer. Not able to get the boy out of his mind, and knowing that he could work steadily, with a good attitude, as evidenced during the day, he asked him to come to work for him. Yet his heart still held some indecision about the boys attitude, when being questioned about his work.

A few weeks into the boys employment on the old farmers land, a storm arose and the old farmer awoke in the middle of the night calling for the young lad to quickly get up. There was much work to be done to save the harvest and animals, as a storm seemed to worsen. The boy did not answer and slept on! The farmer rushed out to his barns, his paddock, and the fields, and all was secured, closed tight and the livestock bedded down. He finally understood the boys answer…. “I can sleep when the wind blows!” Had the old man just flown into a rage and challenged the boy right then and there, a catastrophe might have ensued.

We are not always as prepared in life as that young lad was. Sometime the storms of life blow in and wreak havoc with our best intentions, and mess up life being lived. We like the dog in the garage can become edgy, temperamental, and at times more than unpleasant to be around. Do those around us always understand? Of course they don’t. We often allow things to pile up, without realizing that the very nature of the accumulation is beginning to cause alarm bells to go off, even projecting into our personality. We tend to write off those things as annoyances that will go away, or be handled at a later date. But just like the potential mountain, awaiting the right conditions one day, it may find itself part of a landslide that can cause lots of collateral damage. Surrounding the beauty of a mountain can be found homes, highways, railways, not to mention the people and animals that never seem to be prepared for what might eventually take place. Things that affect us, affect those around us.

I try to understand why people build homes, towns and cities on and around flood plains. I wonder for instance, why daredevils walk out onto rock outcroppings, too close to raging waves that can tear them free from safety and drag them to their deaths. There are so many things in life that can separate us from family, friends, our comfort levels, and yes in fact, even our lives. It is in those moments that collateral damage is at its worst. Those who leave us suddenly in death, that could be avoided, leave behind so many who will never fully understand. They will mourn the moment when the realization that, what should have been, was passed over for something which needlessly took place, and has now left them not one iota of hope, that their strength, courage or love can change anything now.

I can remember stories in my childhood of one of the local hunters going out and shooting two deer with one bullet. He had taken aim at the quarry and when investigating the shot found that a second deer, a fawn, lay beside the one which he had sighted in on. I am not sure of the regulations then, but I often wondered about the feeling that went through the hunter’s mind on finding that one shot killed two deer. Is it is like that in human life? I think so to some extent. One bullet can destroy two or more lives. One death to homicide for instance, can tear the life from a parent, spouse or child even when answers are forthcoming to explain the circumstances.  It can destroy the life and relationship of parents as well as siblings. A child’s or friend’s senseless death brings a sense of death to part of the life of those left behind. Little in life makes sense when the needless happens.

Is it not just death, as I have already mentioned, that can bring with it collateral damage. It is brokenness of spirit, lethargy, raw depression, separation, or loss of job that can cause rifts in relationship. On and on it can go and the list seems endless when you consider the numbers of scenarios that could take place in a person’s life. Is it fair to be asked to consider others too, as we try to deal with life’s situations on a daily basis? Is there a measure by which we can examine the causal effect or the repercussions that our actions have on others? Can we fairly, and with focused emotions, evaluate properly those moments, and is it fair to say that everyone is uniformly capable of doing so, if it were even possible? The hazard is found in the judgment that all things are foundationally equal in life. Society’s strata, though we claim to have mostly conquered that in North America, is still woefully present. Socio-economic differences make the measurement of “norms” almost impossible. To define measurable norms within society’s individual pockets of social and economic strata, the base lines for measurement, can be strewn with bias and cultural bigotry, bound to register a faulty analysis.

Today, I believe more than ever before in my lifetime, that there is a greater need for humanity to take more time for one another. I know that we are socially more active, spend more time trying to make ends meet, and sadly spend more time communicating superficially, rather than on a deeper emotional level in person.  Collateral damage may seem minimal, but it is still there. In all ages people have moved apart, been left behind, and those who suffer, often suffer for the rest of their lives. Let’s remember that what we do, say and how we act, takes its toll on others. By being present, aware and motivated to care about others, we share our love and compassion for what is taking place in other’s lives.  Let’s not make the place that we visualize as being between a rock and a hard spot personally, into something far worse for those around us… those we love and who love us.

Friday, January 13, 2017

When It Just Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Ah… just to be a teenager again! I smile when I think of how many people I have heard say that down through the years. It seems that we are sometimes stuck in the dreams of what it was like and visualize things that we want to remember and it brings nostalgia to a peak. I am not sure that there is any one specific time in life when this takes place. Many might claim that this could be an indicator of the period named as middle age crisis. There may be other times though. One doesn’t have to be in crisis to become reflective. In times of celebration, there can be such moments with old friends, while rehearsing fonder moments, when a person might make such a statement. While it is possible that during those times, such a statement is a mere consideration of the joys of memory and not a true reflection of desire to return to that age.

Someone made that statement a few years back to me. I smiled and submitted that I preferred the age I was then; then well over the tribulations of youth. It might be easy to make such a statement, as some would, and have it mean a return to that age, with the wisdom and understanding of adulthood. But, when that ideal has met full scrutiny, it lacks a depth of consideration of the pitfalls that would surface if that were the case. In my case I struggled with acceptance by my peers. I was a Christian; I had standards and many times took a stand on what I believed to be right, moral and just.  Being a teenager can be tough and finding your center, a place where you maintain a level of peace with self, and a peace with the world around you, is not always easy.

As we become adults, things change. To think that life becomes easier as we mature, is as dangerous as hiding your head in the sand, and pretending that if we just look at the goodness of life and steer clear of the heartache and pain, all will be well. Most of us have heard that old descriptive “fickle friends”. It happens to most of us at different levels. Not everyone understands the need for one of the crowd to wander off into a new relationship. Finding a boy or girlfriend who meets the needs of maturity can change the landscape of what was a norm perhaps for years. During that transition between being a teenager and a young adult, lives can be affected and friendships be uprooted, as people grow apart, while individuals search for their place and space in life.

My best friend in high school once told me that life changed. He was searching, lost perhaps, alone for sure, and looking in many places to find himself. He saw me, now with a wife and family, as someone who no longer understood his plight in life’s changing environment. My focus was now on family and not his and my relationship as old buddies. This becomes the dilemma of many who grow apart from an individual within a peer group, and suddenly feel left behind in life. It happens in personal relationship as well; marriages and families can drift apart. Things happen in life that can change our feelings, our perception of what life’s realities are, especially during times of trauma or long stretches of disturbance in family. There can be so many causes in that scenario, so many triggers and directed blames that surface, and too often silence pervades the true reason for change, creating a festering sore, widening the gap between what was and that which could be.

Why do people drift from the original plan? Why do circumstances in life seem to defy both our sensibility and sensitivity to those around us? How are people to respond to silence and remoteness and not feel deserted and alone in relationship? Why do we hear a statement like, “It just doesn’t matter anymore!” There are not too many answers that make sense. It may seem a simple assumption to just conclude that everyone works on the same level. One can fall into a deep cavern of misunderstanding when reductionism directs our thoughts. There are circumstances in life, reflecting both environmental and physical trauma that have “causal effect” on people, which are not always understood by the “other” in relationship. We must be cautious in judging others, as there is ever possible a moment when suddenly life may take a turn, which could uproot all that is thought to be the stabilizing forces in our own lives.

It is hard to understand the mind of a person, whose mind is made up! I’ve heard that in the voice of people that have mattered to me, along with people that I have tried to work with down through the years. It is the voice of surrender. It is the voice of gloom and reticence; it’s a silence that pervades the heart of the heart once broken, and reflects broken lives that often have been vibrant and thriving. There is no sense that makes sense any more. Some will never know that feeling. Maybe their strong personality types have prepared them for handling what seems to be the worst, regardless of what the reality of the situation is. Some can handle disappointment after disappointment; even that which has been self-inflicted, seemingly unaffected by external forces or stimuli. These people are not the norm.

I’ve been there. I know the drill. Some say that those who have suffered themselves try to work with those who are in similar circumstances, in hopes that others will not suffer as they have. It is not an easy process and carries with it many pitfalls. You carry both the heartache and pain of others, along with the need to fine-tune your own psyche to allow personal adjustment within allowable tolerances, so that nothing will trigger a relapse in your own life. Most educators train students, preparing for counselling, to remain aloof, isolating themselves from interfacing too closely with the problem. They are taught to deal first with the emotions being projected, and then ascertain the means by which those emotions can be handled in recovery. It is a long road filled with hazards, and not all clients/patients present exactly the same. The worst cases are those who become quiet, seemly adjusting, making personal contacts again, while any presentation of anxiety, that had been previously severe, is suddenly silent. In these cases life seems to have returned to normal, a crisis averted. While this may seem a good thing, students are cautioned that this may be only an indicator of a deeper problem. 

I have been asked, “How then do we understand, identify and truly know when to deal with depression or in the worst case scenario, suicidal tendencies?” I wish that I could just snap my fingers and be capable of giving a universal blanket statement that would cover all the needs out there. It would be so simple, but for the complexities of life, relationship, and the human factors of embarrassment, defense of family image, along with the popularity of camouflage.  I am not speaking of the style of clothing worn by so many, but perhaps it does reflect societies corporate bent toward wanting to hide behind something that will disguise the reality of life being lived. The camouflage, of which I speak, is when families protect the image with a false front, a fa├žade of good, stable family conditions. Families struggle, people react to stimuli differently and sometimes they grow apart, not meaning to, or at other times being forced to by internal strife or indifference. We can’t hide from that, nor can we hide it form community… it is most often acted out in our personal lives.

Where do we look for answers, is another big question that arises. How we deal with problems in life, as mentioned already, is as varied as it is many. There are no easy answers, but here perhaps those methods in counsellor training, have some degree of meaning for all of us. We all need to discover what is causing the pain, how it is manifesting itself and this takes a true search of feelings we call introspection. It is too easy to deflect during this process, so it is necessary to take time to look inside from a distance, like another may see what is taking place. The second part of the plan is finding a way to manage, or halt the pain, of those emotions. How that is done can be stylized to the individual for sure. There can be mental exercises, medications and even a change of atmosphere, where we are removed from the stimuli causing the stress. How about this as an alternative; I prefer this as a first line of defense of course! Move toward one of the greatest reasons for living, that being love. We sometimes have to love ourselves first, before we can love others. That can be a fair statement in most minds. God says that unless we can love others we cannot truly love Him. Does it not stand true then that if we cannot truly love ourselves, at some basic level, we cannot love others or God fully. It is a hard place to be… standing alone in a puddle of life’s stench and feel self-hatred and lost. There can be nothing worse than that!

It is then that we stand on the edge. It may take great courage to begin to forgive yourself for being you, but that is what life is. It is a series of steps we take, or have taken, that lead to various places that are not always comfortable or tenable. It is then that mistakes are made, reality becomes distorted and discomfort creates within us a misery that isolates and judges our sensibilities wrongly. Here we must rely not on self, but on God. There is nothing that we can do, but surrender; not to stupidity, but to love.  It is God’s love, and His wisdom, that is necessary for healing of our hearts, lives and souls. I pray that if you, or someone you know is approaching a difficult time in life, is there, or has been there, do not allow them to feel alone. Talk to one another and most of all, talk to God… together. He is watching over you!