Don’t Ask Why

Last week was a hard one on Planet Earth. News came of 500 African refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. On the same newsfeed, I saw a report of the death by global warming of the Great Barrier Reef near Australia, the world’s largest living thing.

I grieved.  Who wouldn’t be saddened by such enormous losses? I stayed sad for days. I tend to such reactions, but there was more going on, and it might be valuable to look at the causes. 

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Five Things Not to Think About

“Name one thing that you can do better without thinking,” my science loving friend Parrish challenged.  It took me a while to call them to mind, but here are five such things.  It turns out a pretty important list.  If you think all the time, you will miss out on the best life has to offer and cause a lot of grief in the process.  Give your thinking brain some time off when you want to:

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Improv with God

Dev Rogers treated her cancer as a kind of liberation. Diagnosed when she was 70, she underwent a year of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation with all the misery and fear those treatments bring. Her response: she took up acting.

“Cancer gave me permission to act,” she says. “I was attracted to acting as a child, but it never translated. Now I thought, ‘Why not?’”  She took a class at her Neighborhood Playhouse, joined a theater company and has since played in several off-Broadway shows.

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Why Fear is Boss

Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux says “When we feel anxiety, fear, or depression, we cannot force our emotional brain to stop them.” No amount of thought can convince the emotional brain that things are all right. Because life was so dangerous for millions of years, brains evolved to put fear first, ahead of love, pleasure, and rationality. Fear bosses us around for a reason.

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The Metropolis Within

The single most mind-blowing factoid I ever heard – the human body produces about 2.4 million new red blood cells (RBCs) every…..second. Day and night, second after second, 2.4 million new life forms. There is more going on in your body at this very moment than in all of downtown Tokyo at rush hour.


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Addicted to Sad

Yesterday on Facebook, near the top of my newsfeed, I saw a post from a page called Disarm the Police in America. It started “The following families will have an empty chair at their Christmas dinner.” I clicked on it and found a long series of pictures of victims of police shootings. Under each one, page host Rick Hill had written: “Our family will keep your family in our prayers.” In the comments under each post, a woman named Patricia had typed “JUSTICE for (the person pictured.”) In some cases, family members of victims had commented things like “Thanks everyone for your support.” “Still fighting for justice,” “It still hurts.”

On and on for at least 30 people whose cases Disarm the Police are following. I was sobbing after the first three, but I couldn’t stop reading. I’m crying about it now, just thinking about it. But that brings up the question, why was I reading it? Why couldn’t I stop? It’s not like reading their stories was doing the families any good. I wasn’t learning anything new. These were just 30 cases out of thousands in the USA and thousands more worldwide.

All I was getting out of it was sadness. So why look?

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It All Starts with You

If you want to get anywhere or change anything, you have to start with yourself. My friend Sinead ignored that starting point, as so many of us do.

When Sinead got together with her man Connor, she was about 20, and he was brilliant but troubled. She got off her academic track and devoted most of her time to taking care of him, protecting him from the world and soothing his fears. She said it got to where, “There wasn’t much me left. I was so involved in making things OK for him.”

They did pretty well together for 15 years and made quite a bit of money in tech, but Connor didn’t learn to manage his fears. One day, they overflowed and he started beating Sinead brutally. After he knocked her to the floor and started kicking her, she says, “A wave of clarity came over me. I realized I had been trying to save him out of fear, and I decided, I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to act out of love. I stood up. I walked out.”

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You Are Loved

I think it’s fair to say my mother June was loved. With adoring children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, friends, lovers, and colleagues, it only took her 80 years to realize it. She started to pick up on others’ love only after my brother Daniel persuaded the whole family to tell her, “I love you” every chance we got. Even then it took years.

June at 87

June at 87

There’s nothing unusual about June’s slow uptake. If you’re like most people, you have no idea how much you are loved. But you are, and I can prove it.

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Life, Jazz, and Basketball

Aisha and I were at Yerba Buena Gardens listening to the Dafnis Prieto sextet, a fabulous Cuban jazz group. The concert was on the lawn; the day was sunny and cool, my favorite weather. The band featured a trumpet, sax and trombone along with keyboard, bass, and Prieto on a huge drum and percussion set. They make a lot of sound, polyrhythmic and soaring.

Dafnis Prieto

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Come Home to Your Body

“I feel lost,” Margaret told us. “My family acts like they don’t want to be bothered with me. It’s like I’m alone.” Her grief poured out in an increasing wave. She had started talking softly about her brother’s recent death, then others who had died. She looked at the floor; she talked faster and started to cry.

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