Fat Woman Walking: Tolerate, Accept, or Celebrate?

11944_10152539331214179_8939924613319611522_nIt’s a good time to be plus size. At least the interwebs says it is. I have seen a plethora of stories about us larger ladies and all the amazing things we are doing these days like running marathons, modeling swimsuits, getting married, even making it to the cover of magazines. There is a big part of me (no pun intended) that thinks, “Finally!”  Finally, people are noticing that the heavy-set does all kinds of things you normal-set people do. Heck, we might even (gasp) be normal people.

But I have to confess I feel somewhat conflicted about the isn’t-it-great-to-be-fat movement online. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, so I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to live in the skin of the women featured in th1936572_148586549178_1190895_ne posts I referenced. Here’s the thing, I don’t want to be judged or ridiculed because of my body size. I don’t want my weight to be a measure of my intellect. And I think brides should feel beautiful, and sexy, and loved on their wedding day. If you want to wear a bikini in size 22, more power to you. And, as a runner myself, if you want to run ultra marathons at 250 pounds, I will be the first person to cheer you on. I want to be treated like a person.

However, I want to be treated like a whole person, and my weight is a piece of the puzzle that makes up who I am. I am an active person and generally in good health, but I could weigh less and be healthier. Losing weight would lower my risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer – or at least get rid of my chronic acid reflux… I don’t have a glandular problem, I don’t have some past trauma hanging over me. I simply eat too much. Some people smoke, or drink, or gamble. My personal challenge just happens to show on the outside more than other people’s problems.

I used to be very judgmental of people who smoked until I worked on a team filled with smokers. I watched them repeatedly try to quit. They would quit for their birthdays, make New Year’s resolutions to quit, quit on the Great American Smokeout day. They would make pacts to quit together. I saw smokers try Chantix or get nicotine patches, or gum, or e-cigarettes. I honestly never saw a group of folks try harder at anything over and over again. The experience was eye opening. Before, I thought they just didn’t want to stop that much, but I came to appreciate that the addiction of smoking is powerful and I was grateful I never happened to take it up in the first place.

10308561_10153849012884179_8913909433791108549_nThat’s how it is with me and my weight. I have done any number of things to end my unhealthy eating habits. I buy fruits and vegetables (that I don’t finish and go bad in my fridge). I find new and interesting recipes. I train for half marathons. News Flash: you can train to run 13.1 or 26.2 miles and gain weight doing it. I make pacts with myself to cut out sugar, or alcohol, or processed food. I am a member of Weight Watchers and think I may have a record going for most years on the program without losing any weight. Sometimes I lose a few pounds. Generally, those pounds come back and bring a few friends along for the party.  Maybe I don’t want it enough to make a lasting change, but please be rest assured I *try to lose weight* over and over again.

What do I want for my efforts? I sure don’t want to be tolerated. Tolerate means to “allow the existence.” I already exist and I don’t need anyone’s permission to keep on existing. Should I be celebrated? I love being the center of attention and who doesn’t love a good celebration. However, I don’t want to be celebrated for my plus-sizeness. Celebrate me for being smart, or a good friend, or maybe even (I hope) a good writer. That leaves acceptance. Accept me as a flawed human on this earth, just like all the other flawed humans – even the skinny ones.

Acceptance is not love. You love a person because he or she has lovable traits, but you accept everybody just because they’re alive and human. ~Albert Ellis

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The Kindness of Strangers

johnny_automatic_coffee_coupleTuesday morning will be my first day of a new job with a new company after 5 months of unemployment. I am both excited and nervous about what-comes-next and I’m sure it will be the stuff of future blog posts. As I anxiously await these new adventures, I have reflected a bit on what I learned during my “in-between” time.

My family and friends have been awesome, although I pretty much already knew that. They kept me sane, or at least kept me company, during my darker days. My husband, who knew better than to try and tell me ‘everything would be fine,’ showed me listings for studio apartments in Hawaii along with calculations on how we could sell everything, take the cat, and move to paradise. It was never the reality of moving to Hawaii, but the idea of it, that he knew I needed. My friends met me for lunch, coffee, or drinks and did tell me everything would be fine when they saw that that was what I needed. My family encouraged my search efforts by offering either to move in with me and pay me rent or for me to move in with them and pay them rent… Those ‘threats’ were in jest, but I was comforted by knowing that no matter what happened my family had my back.

This experience, and the support I received, showed me what a truly blessed life I live. I have much to be thankful for and any complaints I have are, at their worst, mere inconveniences.

The biggest surprise for me in all this was the help I received from total strangers. One of my strategies based on online networking techniques I learned in my time at LexBlog was to target companies that I was interested in, based on industry (e.g., technology, social media, online marketing) and use LinkedIn to research local contacts within those companies. Once I had a specific name, I looked to see if I had any connection to them through mutual friends or some other common interest. From there I sent out emails that included specific questions I had about their role or their company and asked if they would be willing to meet for coffee. Of course, some of these emails were ignored or my request was politely declined, but I was delighted to find others who accepted my invitations.

These coffee dates were a godsend to me. One of the challenges of job searching is the amount of rejection you have to endure and yet stay positive and hopeful. Applications go ignored, or you talk to a recruiter and then never hear from them again. Not to mention those times when you make it to the face to face interview stage only to have the company go another direction or select a more qualified candidate, or in the case of one interview that went sideways have them re-post the position you applied for the next day. Your self-confidence takes a beating and you start to wonder if you actually have some sort of anti-job cooties.

Unlike interviews, having coffee with someone is more about sharing ideas than evaluating each other. I loved learning about what the people I met were doing, why they did it, what they liked about it, or didn’t like about it. I also enjoyed talking about what was going on in their particular industry. I was able to offer my own observations and sometimes we agreed and sometimes we engaged in lively debate. All of this left me feeling like I actually had something to offer the world. I would come home from these encounters high on a much needed dose of confidence-building.

Aside from the time these people shared with me (and I view time as a precious commodity), I was time and time again taken aback by the generosity of spirit shown to me. I was encouraged, offered free advice, and connected with yet other contacts. None of these people knew me and had no reason to help me, and still they all said yes. There are lots of reasons to be disheartened by the state of the world these days, but I saw that given the chance there are plenty of people who will reach out to a total stranger and offer a helping hand. None of the people I met with asked for anything in exchange, except perhaps to pay it forward. I was humbled by their humankind-ness and I have made a promise to myself to do whatever I can to offer the same to others when the chance presents itself.

Let our New Year’s resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word. ~Goran Persson

Picking a Side

liftarn_DemonstrationDuck Dynasty. Eastside Catholic School. Frank Schaefer. Utah. The ‘homosexual debate’ in the media (social or otherwise) is inescapable these days. Everywhere you turn someone somewhere has something to say about it. It’s wrong. It’s love. It’s free speech. It’s freedom of religion. It’s a sin. It’s not a choice. I’m sure I don’t have anything to add to this discussion that hasn’t already been said and probably said better. So, why bother to add my meager two cents worth to the mile high pile of opinions, feelings, and beliefs?

Being a fan addict of Facebook, I have been watching much of the back and forth play out in my News Feed. I went to high school in The South, so not surprisingly many of my Facebook friends from that era are of a more conservative bent. I live in Seattle, so of equal no surprise many of my Facebook friends from this locale are much more liberal. A not un-small number of them are gay. I was raised by college professors, so it’s fair to say that I lean left in these matters. I suppose I could just go ahead and un-friend those right-wing folk who don’t share my views or my beliefs, but I don’t actually want to lose those connections.

There are loads of subjects on which I don’t agree with my lefty-liberal friends, but I’m keeping them too. If I had a dollar for every time I disagreed with my husband on religion, politics, or any other subject under the sun, I would be independently wealthy. Agreement is not a requirement for a relationship in my book. In fact, I will confess that I sometimes get frustrated with my more liberal friends for being so intolerant of other views and building a fortress of like-mindedness. I think it’s healthy to have our convictions challenged now and again. It either reinforces them or, heaven forbid, forces us to reconsider them. I try to be open to the possibility that I still have plenty to learn and how can I know where or how I might learn it if I close off anything that doesn’t fit nicely into my worldview?

So I keep my patchwork quilt of friends and am sometimes beyond amazed by what Facebook chooses to put next to each other in my feed. It’s like the developers have a twisted sense of irony and I kid you not I will see NRA posts next to a petition for gun control. Mostly, I stay out of the debate. I will “like” things I agree with, ignore those I don’t, and otherwise stick to sharing all things cat/internet related.

However, it has begun to trouble me to stay silent on the subject of homosexuality. Like many other subjects, I do have beliefs and opinions on this topic. You could probably piece two and two together based on what I share and like without too much effort, and I have not been totally silent on this, but that is not the same as taking a stand and speaking your mind and your heart.  After some internal debate about the best way to do that, this blog is where I share my thoughts and feelings and it represents no other views than my own, so it seemed to be the right place and the time is clearly now.

My one ‘rule’ for friending and un-friending in Facebook and in Life is that people treat each other with respect, regardless of how they feel about an issue, a topic, or anyone else’s lifestyle. So, with that respectfulness in mind for my family and friends who may feel differently, here is where I stand…

I believe that love is love and when two people come together in love, regardless of their gender, I believe God smiles on that love. I believe that the so-called gay lifestyle is pretty much the same as the hetero lifestyle. Hormones may drive our actions more when we’re younger, but eventually that is replaced by true relationships, family, and finding someone you can actually put up with for the rest of your life. I have been witness to two growing families in the past few weeks. In one case, a child was born in an unscheduled c-section after over two years of grappling with fertility issues. In another, a child was adopted from abroad and his welcome to this country was a surprise stay in the hospital for illnesses unknown. In both cases, parents cried tears of worry, tears of frustration, and finally tears of joy at these additions to their lives. I simply cannot believe that God looked any differently on either of these family units just because one was heterosexual and the other was homosexual. Love is love.

My position may cause me to lose friends, but if there wasn’t room for us to agree to disagree, it’s just as well that we part ways. My hope is that those who disagree with me on this will take this as an opportunity to thoughtfully challenge their own convictions and then follow their hearts, as I follow mine. For those who agree, I hope you will see the message behind the message that acceptance of others applies to you as well.

Let us not speak of tolerance. This negative word implies grudging concessions by smug consciences. Rather, let us speak of mutual understanding and mutual respect. ~Father Dominique Pire

 


In the Service of Others – Who’s Serving Who?

bobocal_Shaking_Hands“You dropped something.” I looked down, and not seeing anything, looked back at the person who made the comment. “You dropped your smile.” I immediately replied to his comment with the lost smile, the moment passed, and I moved on with what I was doing.

The church Brian and I joined, First Church (http://firstchurchseattle.org/), serves a hot breakfast to 250-300 hungry people every Sunday morning. We signed up to help and for the past few months have been volunteering one Sunday a month. Although I live and work in an urban setting, and encounter homeless men and women on a daily basis, there has not been much in the way of engagement in those encounters. I put on my “city face” and walk with purpose past those in need without pause.

The first time we were to volunteer, I will confess that I was anxious and nervous. Would the people be scary?  Should I worry about my safety? I’m not proud of these sentiments, but I was ignorant, and at least I was willing to show up anyway. Since we would be on our feet for two hours, serving food, and clearing tables, I dressed down in old jeans and sneakers. We were told to show up at the front entrance of the fellowship hall to be let in, and to further demonstrate my lack of experience, I wondered if we might be confused with those seeking a hot meal. Well, I should not have even bothered with that concern, as I quickly discovered that the chasm between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is deep and wide and hardly denoted by the clothes we wear. I suspect we all could have been wearing identical track suits and the differences would still have been obvious. I think there is something intrinsic in the way we carry ourselves when we know where our next meal will come from and where we will sleep at night, just as there is when we don’t.

My worries and expectations were turned upside down in the first moments we were there. The guests were gracious and thankful, and it was rewarding to be of service. If I had known how much I would have gotten out of the experience, I would have overcome my fears long ago. To be real, it’s not all fairy tales and unicorns. There are issues and challenges with working with those who are down on their luck, but my concerns were way overblown and the rewards much greater than expected.

It was my experience with the gentleman who encouraged me to smile that made me realize this experience is not a one-way street. When he prompted me to smile, he pulled me out of my head and my single-minded focus on the task at hand. He reminded me that smiling is important. In that moment, he helped me. I had hoped that serving at these shared breakfasts would be rewarding, but I had not realized that I myself would receive the service of those I thought I was serving. On the surface, it was a simple comment, but somehow he knew that at that moment I needed someone to ask me to smile.


Homeless and Mentally Ill

The infamous ‘they’ say the pendulum swings from conservative to liberal and back again over time; from social services to private services, from big government to little government. I have no interest in sparking a political debate on this matter, but I think it’s fair to say that humankind struggles to maintain balance in any given snap-shot in time.  In the 1960’s people were institutionalized in mental institutions for reasons such as being a rebellious teenager. And the conditions in those institutions were less than pleasant (think Nurse Ratched and electro-shock therapy from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest).  In the 80’s the pendulum swung the other way and any number of patients (in-mates?) were “de-institutionalized.” This is an extremely gross over-simplification, but it seems like the institutions were deplorable and wretched so the solution became to let everyone go, mentally ill and mentally sane alike. It has created a state of Koyaanisqatsi, the Hopi word for “life out of balance” (and, yes, an amazing film commentary on just how out of balance we are). Which brings me to what I witnessed today.

I was standing at my bus stop this morning and a clearly disturbed man was pacing back and forth and talking out loud to himself. There are a fair number of homeless living around Seattle Center, near where I live, so sadly this is not that uncommon of an occurrence. However, this young man was clearly very agitated, which was cause enough for those of us at the bus stop to take notice. For whatever reason he chose to speak directly to another, older, homeless man, who was quietly smoking a cigarette.

I should pause here to say I don’t really know if either of these men were homeless and I don’t know that one can tell “just by looking.” I am quite certain the younger man was not in his right mind, whether from drugs or mental illness I can’t say. The older man was a bit ‘bedraggled’ in appearance, but otherwise minding his own business.

Out of nowhere the younger man jumped on the older man and threw him to the ground and started choking him and demanding to know what he had done to some innocent young woman this younger man knew. The older man started screaming at him to get up, but otherwise did not honestly put up much of a struggle other than to try and get away. I had my smart phone in my hand and a bystander pointed at my phone and I suddenly realized I needed to call 911. As I was dialing, the young man finally started to run off in the other direction and by the time the dispatch came on, I told her two men had been fighting but it had broken up (the older man yelled out “I wasn’t fighting no one,” which was quite plainly true and he repeatedly said he didn’t know that young man or the mysterious woman he kept mentioning). She asked if there were any weapons (thank god, no) and if they had left the scene (crazy guy, yes) so she thanked me and hung up. The scene was so startling and disturbing that the bus driver at the stop got out of the bus to ask if the older man was okay and needed any medical help (seriously, I love the King County Metro bus drivers). No one was hurt, my bus came, and I went on my merry way.

Of course this left me with plenty to ponder on my bus ride in to work. Was there a reason this mentally challenged young man chose to pick on another homeless man?  Somewhere in his subconscious did he know it would be less objectionable to attack one of society’s undesirables, or could his hands just as easily been around my neck? These are questions that have no answers, but I was struck nonetheless about the plight of two men who clearly needed help. Maybe the older man was an alcoholic and had ruined his own life. Does that mean he gets to be the victim of physical violence? Perhaps the younger man was an addict in a drug-fueled haze, although I suspect mental illness was more likely the cause of his behavior. Does that mean it’s okay to leave him wandering freely around the streets assaulting people (whether they are homeless or not)? It’s possible both these men brought their fates upon themselves, but in that moment, watching it all unfold before me, I could only think society at large should have done more.

I don’t have answers, only sadness and more questions, but this experience taught me that sometimes we need to be reminded of the humanity of others (and ourselves) and I will carry that with me as I figure out how best I can do more to strive for Lomakatsi – life IN balance.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others? ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.


Great Customer Service Only a Bus Ride Away

Throughout my career, my work has always involved customer service in one way or another. The opportunity to help someone is the most rewarding aspect of every job I’ve held. In fact, I am sometimes stymied by how often customer service is so lacking when the real solution to most any company with service issues is to simply focus on helping people. I guess that is easier said than done, but I have found good service in some places where you might otherwise not expect it. Because I am so focused on the subject, and because it is my essentially my job to be a student of good service, I try to pay attention when I myself am the customer to learn what exactly “good” looks like.

Most days I ride the bus to work in Pioneer Square, south of downtown Seattle. The bus may be the last place to expect great customer service, but over and over again I blown away by the level of service I see there on a daily basis.

On one occasion I jumped off the bus and realized I had left my soda at home in the freezer. Not only did this leave me without my vital supply of morning caffeine, it also represented a huge mess in the freezer if left there for the rest of the day. As I crossed the street, a bus was pulling up to the stop going the other direction. I thought I could very easily hop on, go home, grab my soda and make it back to work in time. However, the bus I picked unfortunately made a right turn where I expected it to go straight and was obviously the wrong route. I walked up to the driver and asked where the next stop was and it was even more unfortunately WAY farther away than I expected to go. I asked if he would let me off on the street. This was a busy street and he said there was no way he was letting me off in the middle of traffic. Fair enough. I resigned myself to figuring out how to find my way back home, but he made another turn onto a slower street, pulled up to the curb (no bus stop in sight) and asked me if letting me off there would help and I was able to walk the rest of the way home. I was impressed that he said “no” when it wasn’t safe, but also took the initiative to offer me an alternate solution when he could. In fact, since being the recipient of that kindness, I have seen many a passenger be let on or off the bus outside of the regular stops when it is clear they have gotten themselves in a jam. I have also seen countless drivers tell a confused patron to jump on the bus and ride a few stops and have the driver give them detailed instructions about how to get where they are going, which includes not only which bus route to ride but also how to get there once they get off the bus.

Although Seattle has a high number of professional workers riding the bus, the buses going through downtown are all ride-free, so it has a fair number of homeless passengers as well. This last week I was on the way to work and a homeless gentleman in a wheel chair, along with several milk crates containing valued possessions got on the bus. This meant the driver had to lower the ramp to the curb, fold up the wheelchair accessible portion of the seats, and secure the passenger’s chair with two seat belts designed for this purpose. Not only does this take a considerable amount of time, but this particular passenger was in desperate need of a shower if not at the very least a toothbrush and some deodorant. The driver was extremely patient and before she took off the emergency brake and started the bus confirmed the rider was in fact secure.

You might think with all these lost and confused customers getting on the wrong bus or off at the wrong stop, combined with what most of us would consider less than savory clientele would put the drivers in a perpetually bad mood, but here again the opposite seems to be true. The drivers themselves get from stop to stop to switch drivers by riding the bus and they always seem extremely glad to see each other. In the few moments between transitioning between drivers I often seem them swapping stories and quickly catching up on the latest tidbits of gossip for the day. They also clearly get to know some of their regular customers and exchange friendly greetings when they see them entering the bus. I don’t know how it is in other cities, but the custom in Seattle is for riders to greet the driver with a “good morning” or “good afternoon” as they enter, and to leave them with a “thank you” as they depart, and I am always greeted with equal if not more enthusiastic responses in reply.

What can the rest of us learn from the King County Metro system?

  • Happy Employees provide better service
  • Empowered Employees will make better choices about how to best help your clients
  • Compassionate Employees not only help people but make your organization look good
  • Foster a culture of saying “thank you” which leads to more compassionate, empowered, and happier employees