The Common Good

Last night, I had book club; a group of nine of us who’ve been meeting for, like, 14 years. This month we read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a national Book Award finalist. It is magical and disturbing; and although it is fiction it seems undeniably true. For that, I am so sorry.

Last year teaching Seventh Grade Social Studies, our class discussed the underground railroad. And it is a common misunderstanding for Middle Schoolers to think the slave path towards freedom is actually a railroad. We celebrated Sojourner Truth in that class. And we talked about what made her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” so good – the repetition, the asking questions of the audience, the passion.

I’m grateful for my book club for all the times we’ve read and discussed books. We never run out of things to say. And there’s always another great book out there. The previous month we’d read Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove. And next month we’re reading Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife.

Great friends and good books are keys to happiness. Joy is found in our everyday blessings.

Have a reservoir 

I took this picture at noon today near the reservoir in Central Park. I love working in a place where I can step outside and be surrounded by beauty in an instant.

I sat on a bench for 15 minutes. I set aside my smartphone and looked around.

Beside me, there was a young woman, an older woman in a wheelchair, and a middle aged woman. The middle aged woman had a Caribbean accent and she kept telling the woman in the wheelchair, “Your granddaughter is here. She came to see you.”

And the two, the caregiver and the granddaughter, both stroked the older woman’s hair. The woman in the wheelchair was unresponsive. But the two were undaunted. They were loving. They kept talking to the grandmother, caressing her.

Noticing their affection feeds my soul, makes me realize that people are basically good. And ultimately, love wins.

The reservoir in Central Park is a popular tourist spot. It is so vast. And seems, almost an anomaly. Maybe even obsolete. But the reservoir in the middle of a city park is necessary — a place to rest or glance across.

A place for ordinary kindness. So needed. So natural. So true.

 

Change is good

It’s bittersweet. The General Board of Global Ministries, (a.k.a. The Board, Global Ministries, and GBGM) closed its New York doors on Friday. When I started working there — at the Women’s Division, which was then conjoined with GBGM, I could not believe my good luck — a beautiful office space, amazing intellectual and faith-based women leaders, and wonderful multilingual coworkers.

I was going through a divorce and this job was a happy distraction from my loss. I threw myself into my work.

My position lasted six months and then I was let go. See, at the time, the staff association prevented any temp from staying longer than half a year. But I came back a few months later, as a consultant, supporting the United Methodist Women by helping write a handbook, policies, and international reports.

When the web was being developed, I became the part-time reporter for GBGM, writing about the agency’s national work . When my daughters were three years old, I started back full time at the Women’s Division. And then within a few years, I was staff writer on the communications team for GBGM.

I was there until 2012 but I never really left. Since I first set foot at 475 Riverside Drive in something like 1991, I have always loved the vibe — the internationalism, the celebration of diversity, the empowerment of women, the concern for the marginalized.

While the office is closed, some staff continue — having moved to a smaller space in Atlanta. United Methodist Women will remain in the New York space. But almost everyone in my beloved Communications team of GBGM has been let go.

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The empty 14th floor at 475 Riverside Drive

It’s sad. I will not be able to stop by and share coffee or tea with colleagues whom I’ve known and loved for decades.

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the view from my old office.

I don’t want to idealize my experience. It was not always sunshine and roses. Like in any job, there were some tough times — when I felt I was not paid as well or respected as much as my male colleagues. I was bypassed for promotion.

But, all in all, I learned a lot. I grew a lot. And it seems like a lifetime ago that I went to GBGM for the first time — I had taken the 2 or 3 train, instead of the 1 train to the wrong stop, arriving all sweaty and out of breath to report to Sister Mary Louise Head, the office manager at the Women’s Division.

I’m proud of my work at GBGM. And now, over these few years, I’m amazed I’ve been able to reinvent myself as a teacher, also work I am challenged by and love. It’s meaningful. I like making a positive difference.

There is no substitute to good, purposeful work in contributing to a sense of happiness. I’ve been blessed and continue to be blessed with good work. This makes me happy.

change

Have a Hobby

Happiness is doing something for which there is really no good reason.

I took a photography class today with Charles Chessler. We are friends from drama school way back when. I love his enthusiasm for life.

We met at the High Line to learn what makes a good portrait shot. We tried out various ways of lighting our model, the wonderful A.B. Lugo.

Here are a few unedited shots I took on my phone. The workshop inspired me to play around with my good camera. I want to capture some nice profile pics for people. I’m a good photographer, always getting better.

It was a beautiful day — a perfect antidote to the disquieting political revelations this week. It’s good to know there are good men, fun things to learn, and a beautiful city to explore.

 

Wonder Women

wonder-womanThis year the United Nations celebrates Wonder Woman’s 75th birthday by making her an honorary ambassador for empowering women and girls. In 1998, Winnie the Pooh was an icon for the year of friendship.

Women need friendships like Pooh and Piglet’s. We need to rely on our superpowers — especially during this election season. There is so much vitriol from the Republican camp; it sickens my soul and my heart.

We need to uplift one another. We need to tell our stories. The writer Kelly Oxford launched the hashtag #notokay on Twitter for women to share their stories of inappropriate touch, harassment, abuse. Tens of millions of women are adding their stories. The flood of women’s reports shows that we are hungry to be heard. We have rights. And the women who tell their stories — especially those women who report having been assaulted by the Republican nominee — are courageous and exemplary women.

One of Wonder Woman’s driving force is her search for truth. We need Wonder Women like that.

We also need Pooh.

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As much as the message, I have always loved the artwork of the Pooh stories.

Your style may be slow, sweet, and gentle like Pooh or righteous, authentic, and athletic like Wonder Woman. But be you. Use your personal style for good. Know that you do not have to be passive about the political scene. Participate. Tell your story.

For my part, I have made some calls, attended some events, and donated some cash for Hillary. I am looking forward to celebrating my Wonder Women and Hillary after the election. I celebrate all who tell their true stories.

In my recent quest for happiness, I came upon a blog that said usefulness is intrinsic to happiness. Agreed. Be useful. It will make you happy.

I’m Sorry

Yesterday, on my way to work at about 7:30 am, after a bad night’s sleep, I was Citibiking on the Central Park bike path loop. I felt like a failure (for some parenting issues I’d rather not go into*.) Behind me, the Parks Department truck honked. I was slow. And now I was mad and frustrated. I was struggling to pedal up a hill — that one where the runners pass me on my bike — and this dude is honking! Really?!

Any way, I rode to the left side of the road and the Parks Department truck pulled up next to me. The driver leaned out of his window, “Hey, sorry. I was not honking at you. I saw my crew in the field and I was honking at them.” Then he drove off.

I began to cry. Because the dude did not have to apologize or explain but he did. And because — even after some perceived parenting failings — it’s not always about me. And that Park’s Department worker’s one random act of kindness, of apologizing, flipped my day.

So remember this — the next time a person honks at you, don’t curse yourself. Or pile on the self-pity or frustration. The driver may not be trying to get you out of the way; they may be simply saying hello to a friend in a different lane.

on my morning commute

*I know that when a writer says ‘I don’t want to go into it,’ it makes the story more interesting. For a hint as to my parenting transgression, you might get the idea if you watch my Listen to Your Mother story, Taking out the Trash on YouTube. See, I had lost my patience with one of my darlings And I wished that I didn’t. 

Getting Organized

Spent the morning flipping my wardrobe from spring to fall. Feels great to declutter.

Also, my friend Joanna suggested a closet organizing app so I downloaded Wardrobe to organize my closet’s work choices. With a new job this year on the Uppers East Side I’m trying to up my preppy game.

Rolling and putting away my spring-time clothes.

I tried to follow the guidance of the life-changing magic of tidying up by Maria Kondo.

Then in the afternoon I visited my doctor for my annual physical. Today is my doc’s birthday and she is 71. I noticed this on her desk.

This summer my doctor competed in three triathlons. She said it’s easy at her age to win first place. (So few entrants.) It is just good to be in the race. I love my doctor. When I’m 70, I’m going to do three triathlons too.

I got my flu shot. My arm is sore.

My health is great but I have to get my every five-year colonoscopy, go for my annual mammogram, visit the dermatologist and the ob-gyn. I can’t really complain that I have a few aches and pains — it is all part of the aging package. And you know, consider the alternative.

It makes me happy to take care of business. Feel good? You look good too.