Miz Barker, the dancer

Miz Barker, the dancer

Perhaps you’ve seen it. How can you not love it?

Personally, I loved it the minute Miss Barker told of always having her name misspelled.

“They always left out the ‘r’,” she said. As a Haymes (‘m’ not ‘n’) I can relate. But i loved this video for another reason.

More than a frail old lady

Unless we have known them for a very long time, we tend to judge people by the selves they put before us. Young or old or in-between. Accomplished or struggling. Weighed down by jobs or scattered by families.

We see the one hundred-year-old-and-some-change old woman in the bed. We don’t realize that we are also looking at a Harlem dancer who could pull off quite a shimmy and shake. Only as we listen do we see the little girl who ran away from bath time to dance, naked as a jaybird by the music of a neighborhood band, concerned only when the music stopped playing. And in our listening, she is no long the woman in room 105 but is a real live, unique person.

Knowing me. And you.

Even if our dancing days are long behind us, we never lose the people whom we have been. Inside us is still the little boy who played baseball until the dark chased him inside or the little girl who climbed trees with fierce abandon. Sometimes that’s a painful thing, like when a boss calls us on the carpet and suddenly we’re five years old inside, quaking before a critical parent whose love and approval could be never quite earned. Sometimes it’s a wonderful thing, like when we start building sandcastles with the kids and realize we are kids as well.

For joy or for struggle, we are inside all of the ages we’ve ever been.

I am. So are you. So are they.

Hearing their stories transforms them from a flat, two dimensional portrait to a being with all the shades of life. I may disagree with you and you with me, but if we know something of the stories that have shaped us we may understand each other.

The problem is, we don’t spend an awful lot of time listening to each other. Mostly we talk at each other. Even in churches, which ought to know better, there’s precious little time for us to share our stories with each other.

She was an old woman on my mom’s Meals on Wheels route. When my mom learned that she was going to be alone on Christmas Day she insisted that the woman join us. She was an old woman, but over the course of our lunch I also learned that she was a little girl who awoke one Christmas morning to find a pony tied to her bedpost.

We are all of the ages we ever have been and we are all of the stories we ever have lived. There is a richness inside all of us.

Sometimes we just need to take the time to see the dance.


sexual abuseHave you ordered your copy yet?

Here’s what pastoral therapist James Stillwell (Frankfurt, KY) had to say:

This book could well be required reading for therapists, even for those not consciously dealing with a victim of childhood sexual abuse. This is because there is a very good chance that if you see a lot of clients, you probably are dealing with some who are not even conscious of the source of their pain. Walking through Peggy’s journey has given me the confidence of “being there” which enables me to sit with empathy and compassion to others…

What makes Peggy’s book so incredibly readable is her sense of humor. Such a tough subject requires it. Her humor carries the book, even as it carries us all as we travel through this world. The mindset that sees the ironies of life. In reading Peggy’s book, you’ll smile and laugh with her almost as often as you have those intense moments of compassion for pain.

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Ferguson, boarding passes and race

In these last few days as the racial tensions in Ferguson, MO have made public the simmering tensions of our culture, I’ve been thinking about an episode of the TV show, “Airline.”

In the show cameras follow Southwest Airline employees as they evaluate whether or not a passenger is too drunk to fly, deal with bags infested with ants, juggle late arrivals and thunderstorms. In this episode the conflict centers around an African American man and his fiancee. The employees are debating whether or not to deny him boarding.

What happened was this: A white woman stepped in front of him in the boarding line. She had a boarding pass for the B group and the man was at the front of the C group. He didn’t understand this distinction, and immediately demanded to know why this woman was allowed to jump in line.

I felt like I was watching hundred years of history in just a few moments. For the man, a lifetime of being treated as less than rose to the surface. “It’s not right,” he demanded. “My money is just as good as hers.” As he got angry he got loud, and as a large, loud black man he now became a threat to bystanders. The gate agents reacted and denied boarding to the couple on this flight because he was “scaring the other passengers.”

The episode made me feel very sad because everyone walked away with their fears and prejudices confirmed. For the man, it was just more evidence as to why there is no justice for a person of color. For the gate agents (and at least some of the passengers) it was a reinforcement that loud, angry black men are to be feared.

I felt sad because it was all so unnecessary. All it would have taken is to listen to one another. All the gate agent had to do was to listen to why the man was upset instead of immediately trying to shut him down. All the man had to do was to understand the system and that in fact, the woman was simply acting within the boundaries of that system.

But no one explained that. All he needed was to be heard, but everyone was too busy trying to get him to be quiet.

pic - boy with black lab puppyI don’t know what really happened in Ferguson. I know that police officers live with knowing that the next driver they stop may pull a gun on them and end their lives. I know that many African Americans live in a world I cannot imagine, a world in which boys have to be taught how not to be scary simply because of the color of their skin.

My sadness is that the conversations that didn’t happen in the airport terminal still aren’t happening. No matter what the issue, we’ve seemed to have lost any desire to listen to people whose experience is different from ours. We aren’t interested in what their lives are like, only as to how our lives will be affected. The question as to whether or not this is best for the greater good has been replaced by the question of what it will mean for me. When that’s the only question we ask, we’re in trouble.

I don’t have the answers. but I know they will not come until we can begin to listen to one another.

And they lived happily ever after

Today I’m pleased to shre with you a guest blog written by my colleague and friend, Ann Pultz Kramer. Ann is a gifted couples therapist who writes well about the true nature of love, commitment and loving commitment.

And they lived happily every after

Marriage therapists these days hear a whole lot of sentences that sound something like this:  “I’ve fallen out of love with her”,   “I love him, but I’m not in love with him”, “I fell in love with someone else”.    This sounds as though love is some kind of an accident, a trip on a curb when you weren’t watching where you were going!!!   And perhaps, when we think of it like this, it is exactly that, we are not paying attention to where we are going.   It’s as if once we have the feeling of love, all else will take care of itself.  Sort of like buying a plant and never watering it.  That works for a silk plant, but not a living growing one. And love is a dynamic, growing, energy.

A good friend recently said when she wrote her wedding vows, she included her thoughts about how love is an action. She said that her uncle used to peel peaches for his wife because the skins gave her a rash.  Love is like this; full of many little deeds and expressions that sustain it to remain vital as it once was.  Sometimes it seems we have forgotten about the intentionality of love, and the day to day little efforts we make on love’s behalf in order to keep it vital.

When you think about it, none of us would have had a second date with our partner if we hadn’t both participated in a multitude of behaviors in which we conveyed our interest and encouraged the other.  We talked, we listened, we smiled, we complimented, we laughed, we agreed, we accommodated, and we took an interest in the other.   Of course, we were enjoying ourselves so we didn’t realize we were making an effort.   But effort it was, and that effort may have taken us all the way to a wedding ceremony.

Somehow we have come to believe that once we have reached that brass ring, the work is over.   So we neglect to talk, or take time to listen, and stop seeing our partner in positive light, let alone letting them know we see anything positive about them.   We become disagreeable, and belligerent.   And then, one day, all of a sudden, we aren’t “in love” any longer.   What a surprise!!!!   Where did we get the idea that the feeling wouldn’t require action to sustain it?

What disturbs me, however, isn’t even how we have come to believe these myths about the nature of love.  I read the fairy tales, I watched Disney, I’ve seen enough Meg Ryan movies to be mythologized by the happily ever after illusion.  What frustrates me is how we have come to think that somehow, when that feeling ends,  that we cannot revive it by being willing to give the same kind of effort as we once did to the relationship in the beginning.  If we have a plant that is wilting in the corner of the room, and there is a little green left in the stem, all it takes is the desire to bring it back to life by, once again, watering, feeding and nourishing it.  Simple acts such as listening, talking, smiling, complimenting, laughing, agreeing and accommodating, as we did in the beginning, are water and food to a loving relationship.

Maybe we don’t want to give it that effort.   Perhaps we are eyeing a prettier plant in the store window.   Or possibly we have filled our head with so many negative thoughts about our partner so we are now incapable of saying or seeing something positive.  If we tried to talk, did we talk from the heart or merely yell our dissatisfaction to one another? Throwing out a revivable philodendron is one thing, but discarding a relationship has repercussions the rest of our lives.

My 5 year old niece was watching a Disney film.  Cinderella and the Prince were wrapping it up, and I heard the narrator say: “And they lived happily ever after”.  I told her, “Well, now the real work begins!  Tomorrow they will have to begin talking together and making decisions: where to go for the honeymoon, how much to spend, how much time to take off from work, who does the laundry!  Now the struggle really begins.”  It may have been a bit much for my 5 year old niece to grasp, but, you get my point!