20. I’m thankful for this beautiful place we live. We’ve traveled a lot and especially love road trips here in the states. We’ve seen a lot of the country and we’re always amazed by it. It seems no matter where we go it’s beautiful and unique and pretty fantastic. We’re lucky to live in the U.S. and we know it.
19. I’m thankful for the kids. I never had my own children. Never really wanted to, until I met K. By then we were old enough that we decided having them wouldn’t work. Lucky for me K already had children. They were grown, but she had them. It meant, and means, that I get to be a step-parent to some great kids. When I met K her daughter was in college. She visited in the summers and we went to visit at various times of the year. In the years since she graduated, met her husband, moved to England with him, started having babies, and moved back to the states. K’s son graduated from college and moved to Japan, lived there for several years, and is now back in the states. We live near K’s daughter, her husband (who I also feel is a kid to us), and the grand boys, and we get to see K’s son when we visit Portland or he visits here. I’m lucky. Before K there was just me, my family, and my friends. It was a good life, I enjoyed it. But now, wow. My life is so much richer, so much more full and lovely because I get to spend time with the kids and the grandsons. We enjoy them, have fun spending time with them, have had big adventures with them, and we love them tremendously.
18. I’m thankful for our basement. I admit it, I’m freaked out about tornadoes. The thought of one scares me. I’m from Oregon, land of earthquakes and volcanos, not tornadoes. I’m just not used to living in a place where tornadoes can and do happen. So when we moved to east central Illinois we agreed we would get a house with a basement. It’s a peace of mind thing. When a tornado warning happens we head down, with the dogs of course, to the media room to watch what’s happening on the television and to peruse the ongoing situation on our iPad and laptop. We both feel better knowing we have that place to go. Again, it’s a peace of mind thing and I’m so thankful for it.
17. I’m thankful for laughter. The way my honey laughs with her whole body, how my brother slaps his knee when it’s a real good one, the grandsons giddy sounds, my friends smiling eyes when they laugh, strangers passing by who are cracking up, my family’s sounds of laughter at a family function, and my laugh when I’m crying because something is just so wonderful. Laughter is the music of the soul. It’s joy out loud. I’m greedy for it, in myself and in others. Nothing beats a good laugh.
16. I’m thankful for our furnace and air conditioning. It’s cold in Illinois in the winter. Cold. It’s also hot in the summer. Humid and hot. We live in a place of extremes and I’m so very grateful for the warmth and coziness of the heat on those cold winter mornings (like today) and for the cool refreshing air conditioning on those hottest of hot summer days. They both make our lives so much nicer, so much easier. And it’s not lost on me that other people in other places don’t have either, which makes me appreciate both all the more. I’m so thankful for the heat every time the temps get down to 17 and the windchill brings that down even further. So grateful for the coolness of the air every time humidity is 88 percent and it’s already 100 outside. For these things I’m thankful, everyday.
Halfway through. I can’t believe this little exercise is going so fast, let alone how the month of November seems to be speeding by.
15. I’m thankful for photography. It is a vehicle for the passionate drive I have to create and allows me to see the world in ways I didn’t, before I picked up a camera, know were possible. It brings me joy and helps to fuel my awe for the wonder and magic all around us. Whether it’s snapping a picture with my iPhone or capturing an image with one of my Canons, I’m lucky to have found it and so very thankful I did.
I just really listened to the lyrics of this song and it made me cry. Crying is not unusual for me, I’m emotional. It’s just that this basic message is one I want to shout from the rooftops — we are all people, all living our lives. So be kind, don’t judge, and love your fellow human for being just that, your fellow human. The end.
14. I’m thankful for the water around me. Whether it’s clean drinking water, a warm shower, snow, a lake to kayak in, a pool to swim in, ice for my drink, a river to fish in, rain, or an ocean to be amazed at I am so grateful and thankful for all it’s lovely forms. I’m a water girl. I learned to swim at a young age and have spent many hours near or on the water creating memories with family and friends. It’s a gift and a blessing I appreciate whole heartedly and don’t take for granted. I’m lucky, and thankful, it’s so readily available to me. I know others don’t have it so lucky.
13. I’m thankful for the music in my life. I was fortunate to grow up around people who love, listen to, and play all types of music. It instilled in me a love for all types of amazing sound. Nothing fills the soul more than a fantastic piece of music. My tastes are eclectic and varied, which was also a gift from a myriad of people, and thankfully I have music in and around my life every day.
12. I’m thankful for my friends, near and far, who are the best people I could hope to know. Each of you has brought such depth and joy and fun and meaning to my life. I’m blessed, honored, lucky, and humbled beyond measure by the quality of my friendships. I have so much love for you and am so thankful for the love you’ve always given me.
So much of how we see ourselves is based on how our peers, our friends, our family, and our community sees us. Yes, if you are a person with good self-esteem you can be in the world as a more confident, relaxed, grounded individual. But even the most secure person struggles, at times, with how they think other people see them. We are constantly being influenced by what our friends, family, and society think of us. Whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, whether we admit it or not. We carry those opinions, thoughts, comments, with us throughout the course of our lives. Little voices of disapproval or questions about our actions, our look, and our direction pop up occasionally as annoying ghosts in our minds. It happens to me.
I’m a pretty relaxed confident person in that I don’t care much what others think of me. OK, more accurately, I may care a bit, but I don’t let that influence the decisions I make and the way I am in my every day life. Most of the time. Keyword — most. It’s strange how those little voices come up at the strangest of times. How those negative experiences, comments, criticisms, stay with us over time, no matter how hard we try to exorcise them from our heads and our lives.
When I was a kid I spent a significant amount of time with my paternal grandmother. She loved me so much, treated me so well. She was not a nice person. As I grew I realized she didn’t treat my brother as well as she treated me. She called him names, excluded him from activities, made comments about him. When I realized this I slowly stopped spending time with her. I loved her, but she wasn’t good to him and I loved him. It was my little way of standing up to her, and my not wanting to be around that sort of behavior and negativity. Even as a kid I felt that stuff profoundly. Negative emotion, action, etc. I can’t stomach it. No matter how many toys you buy me. My aunt, who was this same grandmother’s daughter and my dad’s sister, didn’t get along that great with her own mother because of this playing favorites type of mentality. Yet, she was her. Maybe it was to make up for how my grandmother was, but my aunt, who treated my brother like a little prince, was not nice. She was not nice to me. She called me names, excluded me from activities, and made comments about me. Once, when my brother and I were at her house we were eating a meal. She looked at me and said, “you eat like such a pig”. Bam. There it was. That moment changed me a little bit forever.
For years, and even still once in a while, that little line pops into my head. Because of that line when I was a teen and a young adult I never liked eating in front of people. I was so self-conscious, always afraid people would see the pig in me. The pig that she’d noticed and pointed out. The pig that in reality didn’t exist, but existed after her comment so much in my head and my heart.
I grew, and grew out of those feelings. My self-esteem took a long time (for not just this reason of course) to grow and blossom, but it did. I realized it was her problem and that I had never been a pig, but it informed so much of how I was in the world for so long. Perceptions. Judgements. Those ideas other people have of us and those we have of ourselves can be cruel and are often wrong. I saw myself as a pig because she’d seen me that way.
We tell ourselves internal stories. Stories about ourselves, about our world, about the people we see all around us — friends, family, strangers. We do this all the time. It’s how we explain things, people, interactions, relationships, to ourselves. These stories, told as a constant monologue in our heads, are our way of explaining our world to ourselves. This is what that means, this is what that looks like, this is how this or that person must be, and on and on. They are really just our stories, even if they are about other people, because they are based solely on our own thoughts and experiences. Our experience of ourselves, our histories, the path we’ve been on. Our experiences inform our stories. Always.
We can never, and I repeat, NEVER, know another person’s story. Not really. We think we do, we assume things and place expectations on every other person we know, see, and meet, based on what’s happened in our own lives, based on what we’ve been told, and based on what we’ve been through ourselves. But these stories and assumptions and ideas about people are false truths. We get arrogant and judgmental and place unfair expectations on others based on what we think we know of them, what we think we see, or what we think we would do in their place. Instead of really knowing what we’re talking about we often fill in the blank with our own ideas of a person or a situation. These ideas coming from, again, what our own thoughts and experiences have told us must be true. We, as humans, do this all the time. I do it all the time. I try not to. I fail.
To look at another person and automatically assume you know what they should do, how they are as a person, or how they should act, is arrogant. To hear about another person, another group, and assume things about them without having any real interaction with them is wrong and it’s sad. It’s harmful to them, to ourselves, and harmful to the world. It automatically separates us from each other instead of connecting us. Any time judgement seeps into a thought, a conversation, an opinion, we’ve lost a bit of ourselves. We’ve lost a bit of humanity.
This is not a particularly flattering story to tell on myself, but here I go none the less. Years ago I worked at a prison for kids. This particular one was called a youth correctional facility, but it was a prison. I’d just turned 23, and a few months earlier had graduated from college with a degree in psychology. I fancied myself as liberal, open, and non-judgmental. Part of the orientation were these little tours of the different units at the facility. One of those units, a place called the Secure Intensive Treatment Program, was on the tour. This particular unit, which I would end up working at three years later, after a lot more experience, was where the kids who’d committed murder and attempted murder were housed. Basically it was what would be called maximum security in an adult prison. I walked in there with expectation, pre-conceived notions, and prejudices I wasn’t even aware I had. When I walked in I thought I didn’t have any prejudice, any judgement of others. By the time I walked out I knew I was sadly and shockingly wrong about myself.
Part of the tour of this particular unit, other than a staff member telling me about what they did there, was a tour of the unit by a kid who lived there. I heard this from the staff and immediately started looking around at the kids in the unit. There were all sorts of kids there, pretty much all races and ethnic backgrounds represented. In my mind I zeroed in on this one particular kid. I’m not sure why. He was big, and gruff looking, and African-American. I was instantly afraid of him. There were other kids there that pretty much fit his same description, but I kept saying in my head, please don’t let my tour guide be that kid. Any other kid, but not him. Fate has a sense of humor. The staff couldn’t read my mind, but sure enough, he ended up being the kid the staff picked out to show me around. I introduced myself, he introduced himself, and off we went to the various parts of the program. He was soft-spoken, thoughtful, and explained the ins and outs of the place with wonderful perspective and detail. I liked him instantly.
My experience, which was non-existent with criminals, very limited with African-Americans, on the fringe with people who were gruff looking, and nil with teen felons, filled in a story about this kid. Before I even started talking to him I thought, I assumed, I knew who he was and because of those perceptions and assumptions I was afraid of him. I was sure he would be dismissive and sarcastic and intimidating. Sure of it. I knew he would be scary to talk to and deal with. I couldn’t have been more wrong and I learned a big lesson that day. A lesson about myself and about how we see our fellow humans without even knowing them. How we judge without having any real experience, the experience which then lets us know someone and understand them. Let’s us see them honestly, and in a real way.
These are the traps, the stories, and the falsehoods we find ourselves in. We go there all the time. Intentionally or unintentionally. I know I do. I don’t mean to. I try to be my better self, but I know I don’t always succeed.
The homeless are many in Portland, where I used to live. When I was a kid visiting Portland for various activities at various times they were called bums (which speaks a lot to our judgmental nature as people). Later on, when I was an adult living in Portland there’d be the every so often news story about the homeless problem. I used to avoid them at all costs, try not to look them in the eye, and generally sort of pretend they didn’t exist. I assumed I understood them, knew things about them, without knowing them at all. Harsh, but true. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. On the other hand I was always sensitive to kids who lived on the street. I worked with teens and had (still have) a soft spot for them. I don’t know why but I’ve always loved that at risk youth population. They are tough and vulnerable and resilient and sensitive. Many are just downright amazing. I had experience with homeless teens so when I saw a homeless kid on the street I often gave them some change, said hello, acknowledged them in some way. I looked them in the eye and I saw them. Adults living on the street — that was different for me. I had no experience with them, other than what the media portrayed and what I’d heard other people say, so I’d avoid eye contact and walk quickly past to avoid any sort of interaction that might happen. I didn’t really see them at all. Where’s the humanity in that?
Things changed, my perceptions were altered, when on my second date with K we met a homeless woman. We were sitting outside at a café having coffee. The date had been going on for a while. We were having great conversation, enjoying each other. I saw this homeless woman half a block away, heading our direction. She hadn’t noticed me yet so I did what I always did, I avoided her gaze, I looked away. But as fate would have it, she approached us anyway and asked for money for coffee. I didn’t know what to say, hemming and hawing, looking around, being generally uncomfortable. But K — she rocked it out. She looked at the woman, in the eyes, and said that she wouldn’t give her money but she’d buy her a coffee. The woman said she didn’t like the coffee from the place we were sitting in front of and wanted the money so she could buy it elsewhere. K offered to walk down the street with her to buy her coffee at another place. The woman still refused and again asked for money. K then offered up her own cup of coffee to the woman, who again refused and then walked away. The point of this is I learned a great lesson that day, one of many from the woman who is now my wife. Compassion, interaction, and most importantly — acknowledgement. K saw that woman. She interacted with her. She didn’t avoid or dismiss or shun. She engaged and talked in a meaningful and genuine way. I loved her all the more for that. And I learned something from her. Now, when I see a homeless person, I see them. I look them in the eye, I say hello. I now, because of real experience, see the homeless as people. People whose stories I don’t really know. People whose experiences, the experiences that led to their homelessness in the first place, I have no way of knowing and definitely no right to judge.
I was perusing the internet the other day and came across a video of a homeless veteran who had agreed to do a little exercise with a crew of people from a ministry who have made it their mission to work with, help, and try to enrich the lives of homeless veterans. They did a time-lapse video of the exercise. In it they cut and colored his hair, trimmed his beard, and put a new set of clothes on him. He couldn’t see himself until after the transformation has happened. Finally, when they were done they brought out a huge mirror and showed him to himself. He was stunned, mouthing the word wow before he got up and hugged a member of the team.
Seeing this video started me thinking, which led to this blog post. This guy, who in the beginning looked exactly like what you’d expect a homeless person to look like, looked like a CEO of a company when they were done with him. A haircut and a change of clothes is all that really happened, but it changed the perception of him. Ours and his own.
We carry what others think of us, say about us, and the judgements they make of us around inside of ourselves. Those thoughts and judgements always end up incorporating themselves into our lives, into the framework that makes up who we think we are. It happens to each of us and when it does it makes us uncomfortable, chiseling away at our foundations, even though we try to keep those judgements at bay. Yet, we turn around and do it to others. We see people, groups, other humans and we think we know them, without knowing them. We make up stories about them without hearing their stories. We judge, without knowing anything about their real experiences.
We should know better. We obviously don’t know better. We should strive to do better.
Maybe if we think the best of the people around us, they will think the best of themselves. Maybe if we work hard at being interested and connected with people they will be interested and connected. Maybe if we treat each other with kindness and compassion instead of judgement and accusation they will be more kind and compassionate. Maybe, just maybe, if we treat people as human beings, they will be more human. And maybe just the act of being more connected, and compassionate, and kind, and human gives us each a bit more humanity. Maybe if we listen more and judge less the stories we tell ourselves will contain more fact than fiction.
11. I’m thankful for the sacrifices the men and women in the armed forces give us every day. My family has a long history of serving and I’m so proud of that history. Without our veterans we would not enjoy all the freedoms we do today. I’m thankful for what they’ve done, and for what they continue to do.
The photo is of my grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and my mom as a baby.
Here we are, a third of the way through, and I feel like I’m just getting started. This is good for the soul. This little affirmation every day of things to be thankful and grateful for. It’s sending positive energy out into the world. I feel that from others. I feel that for myself.
10. I’m thankful for coffee, in all it’s forms — lattes, au laits, drip, french press, espresso, iced, hot, and a lovely thing called a Bibero I once had in Spain. Not only does it help me to wake in the morning, I enjoy it. I love the warmth in the morning and sometimes the cold in the afternoon. I love the flavor of a flavored drink or the simplicity of a really good cup o’ joe. I enjoy trying new cafes and stands and diners. I’m a fan, and thankful I get to drink the stuff. It brings me joy.
9. I’m thankful for the visual world. I am made breathless every day by something I see. It seems everywhere I look there’s beauty and magnificence. It constantly amazes, enlightens, and nourishes my soul. Leaves blowing from trees, blue sky, rain drops falling just so, structures made by man, light in all it’s forms. Everything has history and a story to tell. All of it inspires awe and is magical.
Here we are, day eight.
8. I’m thankful for my second family. When K and I got together I didn’t realize at the time that I’d be gaining a whole new set of people to call my own. People who in turn would call me their own. People who made me a part of the family and have accepted and loved me ever since. They are amazing and I’m so fortunate to have them in my life.
Day seven and these feelings of being thankful are still going strong.
7. I’m thankful for my brother, Kevin. We’ve been through so much together. No two people have the same experiences he and I share. But more than that, he’s a fantastic brother, and a gentle soul. He’s also famously the best hugger in the family. In fact, when someone gives someone else a big hug they call it giving a Kevin. Funny, but true. He’s my partner in dorkiness and has one of the best belly laughs I’ve ever heard.
I’m actually sitting here at a loss for words. Shocking. Yesterday I was jumping up and down, crying, pumping my fists in the air, and trying to mouth the words, “it passed!” to K who was on the phone in a meeting for work. It was a comedy of sorts. She involved in her meeting, me jumping and crying and trying to shout without saying a word. She mouthed the words, “what’s up?” and I just kept whispering that it passed. We had a mini failure to communicate until she just asked the person on the phone to wait a second, held her hand over the headset mic, and said, “what’s going on?”. I could then finally answer aloud. ”It passed! It passed!” She got excited, had to tell the person she was on the phone with what I’d just said. Finally, we could semi celebrate together. When she got off the phone we hugged each other. I was still crying.
I spent over two hours yesterday with headphones on, computer tabbed to the state house feed, listening and watching the debate about the Illinois marriage bill. It was infuriating, enlightening, glorious, encouraging, a tad scary at times, and ultimately wonderful. Whether people said things I agreed with, or not, it was fascinating to watch and listen to the process. When the vote finally came it happened so fast it was almost anticlimactic. They vote electronically so it took less than 10 seconds. Bam. Done.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on this. After all, there are many people, who for religious reasons, feel my right to marry who I love is wrong. And, oh well. I don’t expect people to agree. It’s a divisive issue. Always has been. I see it as the civil rights issue of our time, and others see it as a religious issue. I could argue that, as I have in the past on this blog, but today I won’t. Today I guess maybe I want to write about love.
I am in love. Since April of 2003, and if I really admit it to myself it was probably a couple of months earlier, I’ve been in love. In the beginning I was scared as hell. Me being in love with a woman was not something my family would expect and at that point didn’t know anything about. So I was scared. In love, but scared. Would they accept her, would they cast me out, would they turn their backs or talk behind mine? One of the reasons I kept being gay a secret for so long was because I didn’t want to go from being Tam to being gay Tam. Because whether people mean to or not, that’s exactly what happens. You suddenly become something different from what you were to other people. Not always in a bad way, but different none the less. I didn’t want that first perceived difference, until I met her, and then I didn’t want to keep it a secret or hide her from everyone in my life. I wanted her to be a part of my family. I wanted to live a whole and authentic life and to do that I had to tell my truth. So I did. And yes, I became gay Tam. But then — then I was just Tam again.
A lot happened right after the coming out thing, as you can imagine, but what mostly happened was a whole bunch of acceptance and love. Love. I have friends who are pretty religious people, but they still loved me. One of them, a super spiritual Christian guy, came to see me in person and ended up telling me he loved me, no matter what, and that it wasn’t his job to judge or condemn me. You know, the judge not lest ye be judged thing. I love him for that. I respect him for that. And I respect his beliefs. We differ, but that’s OK. My grandmother, who my mom elected to tell (with my permission of course) said, and I quote, it was about time I came out. ha ha ha! That still makes me smile and laugh. She’d suspected, she kind of already knew, she was OK with it, and had been impatient for me to just say it already.
I think I was surprised at how well people just sort of accepted K into our family, into our lives. Friends I’d had forever accepted her as well. People treated us as if we were just like every other couple. Because, you know, we were. We are. We’re the same — mortgage, dogs, making dinner, working, pulling weeds in the garden, going for walks, taking vacations, watching dumb television shows, having the occasional argument, babysitting the grand boys, grocery shopping. Same. We love. We are loved.
I’m lucky. I know this. When I say it’s not every day people find the kind of relationship we have, I mean anyone. Gay, straight, somewhere in the middle. People strive for this, this thing we have. This absolute certainty that we are. We are more than just meant for each other or made for each other or any of that. We are. Simple. When I met her it was as if everything snapped into place, an audible click. Home. I still feel that way. Lucky.
Yes, alright — we argue and somehow she puts up with me when I get too emotional. I put up with her need to do a million things at once which sometimes leads to her not listening as well as I’d like. We do struggle at times. Of course we do. We aren’t perfect. What’s great is that no matter how much we struggle or how angry we get or how hard things sometimes feel there’s never a feeling of wanting to end it, or go, or take a break, or any of that. The tough stuff always makes us stronger as a couple if we let it. We let it. We can’t imagine our lives without each other in them.
We’ve already been married twice. To each other. This makes me smile. The first time we got married we were alone on a beach in Hawaii. We’d purchased rings and found our spot and did it ourselves. Words spoken, rings exchanged, happy tears shed, poetry, and a sand ceremony she’d surprised me with. We still have that bottle of sand. We’ve considered ourselves married since then. I think, really, we’ve considered ourselves married since that first date. I know I was. It’s why we count our anniversaries from then. But the ceremony in Hawaii was a real marriage for us. Maybe not sanctified or certified or papered in any way, but real none the less. The second time we got married Oregon had just passed a domestic partnership law. I worked for a county in Oregon at the time so during a break I walked down to the proper desk, paid the fee, we filled out the paperwork, and a week later there it was, our certificate of domestic partnership. Not really a marriage, but a legal thing, even if it seemed slightly empty in a way. We laughed, but at least that, combined with the $1600 in paperwork we’d done with an attorney, sort of protected us as a couple. Sort of. I say this because later, when at different times we were each hospitalized, we had to give the hospital with our powers of attorney, etc. so that we could make decisions for each other. It added a stress regular couples don’t have to deal with. Nothing like worrying if you’ll be kicked out of your wife’s room because she isn’t legally your wife. Luckily those strangers were kind and gentle and accepting. So much so one of the nurses mentioned to us how fantastic our relationship was and that she rarely saw a couple so devoted. It was a compliment. It was a commentary. It spoke directly to the we that is us.
We’ve never had an actual ceremony in front of people. A ceremony the kids and my mom and my brothers and sisters and K’s brother and sister and parents and our friends, etc., etc., could attend. As a young woman I never thought I’d be able to have a wedding. It was so far out of the consciousness I literally never even imagined it. Later, K and I vowed not to do it until/unless it became federally legal. Our paperwork and our own private marriage were what we’ve had. And on one hand they’ve been enough. The hand that says we don’t need anyone telling us our relationship is valid and important and real. We know it is. We live it and feel it every day. On the other hand not being able to legally wed has denied us many rights other couples who can get married enjoy and take for granted every day. Some of those rights legal, like getting the same rights for the taxes we pay, and some human, like being recognized in the same way as all other couples who love each other and last are when they are married.
And again, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything here. I’m just speaking to my own personal experience. Yesterday, when marriage happened for us in Illinois, I cried. I cried because it’s another step toward being culturally real. Toward begin a part of something bigger than just us. It’s being looked at, from the outside, as legit and meaningful in the same ways as other couples who are devoted to each other, who have taken that step. It means my mom can be at my wedding, the kids can be there, our family and friends can be there. It means we can celebrate and rejoice and affirm the love we have and have had for each other for over 10 years and our families and friends can hug us and share in that moment. I means all the same protections and privileges will then apply to us. It means inclusion, not exclusion. And it means so much more than I can even put into words. Which, as I said in the beginning of this, sometimes fail me.
There is nothing more important in this life than the people we love and who love us. Period, the end. Love is beautiful and special and precious and real. Man, woman, gay or straight. Ours is. Our love for each other and our love for the people in our lives. This latest happening in Illinois is a victory for love. It’s very existence has advanced us, as a species. It’s propelled us a bit closer toward a place and time when all people will be loved and accepted and celebrated for who they are. A time and a place that’s hopefully not too far off in the future. Love always wins. Eventually. Love of our spouses, our children, our families, our friends, our fellow man and woman. I believe this.
I believe in love.
Every once in awhile a song comes along and just grabs – at my heart, my head, my soul. This is one of those songs. So powerful. Besides which, I’m a sucker for strings in a pop song.