I am very excited to share this with you: See Through Stories
You see, I’ve had several life ties to Alzheimer’s disease: personal (my grandma was diagnosed), professional (I worked as a CNA on an dementia unit), and academic (this was my research topic for my dissertation). In grad school I had this idea to start a story-telling project with people diagnosed early onset and well… I ACTUALLY MADE THE IDEA HAPPEN. Or got it started, anyway. And that’s the hardest part, right?
This has been slowly growing over the last few months and today I am officially launching the website for See Through Stories. There are only two features so far, but I’m hoping that all of you will help me spread the word so I can make connections to more people interested in taking part. I think if there can be anything beautiful about having dementia, it might be that it forces people to live fully present in the moment. I think we could all learn a little from that.
I don’t know if this will last one year or 50 years. I don’t know if this will stay a project or become and organization. I don’t know if this will just feature people where I live or if I’ll be fortunate enough to hear the stories of people with dementia all over the globe. I don’t know if I’ll work solo or if I’ll be lucky enough to form a dream team. There’s a lot I don’t know.
It’s new. It’s figuring itself out. I’m going to be patient and present with it. No matter what it becomes or doesn’t become, I’m proud of myself for at least seeing the idea through. And I expect that I’ll enjoy every bit of the work immensely because it has me all like: damn, people are beautiful.
Extra special thanks to:
The Alzheimer’s Association in Des Moines for connecting me to the wonderful people I’ve interviewed so far // My family, for literally everything // Ryan, who helped get this off the ground from every technical standpoint and was my brainstorming partner// Sarah, Rachel, and Lewis for consistently insisting I must do this, from the very beginning // Andrew, for being my sounding board.
One. Lambing season is starting and this is basically who I aspire to be:
I have always had a thing for sheep. I don’t know what it is about them. I had a plush lamb toy named Cuddles that I slept with as a child. I also had this polaroid of a sheep running down a hill with it’s mouth open (it was hilarious, trust me) that my grandfather took and I kept it pinned up on my bulletin board for a really long time. I see so many of them in fields whenever I take the train, but I have yet to give one my affection. I want to so baaaaa-d. Word on the street is that I may even be able to assist in the birth of some. Now there’s something to add to my resume.
Two. This week’s feels:
Three. When I tell people that I’m working at a cafe in North Berwick, they give me really strange looks and ask why I’m working all the way out there. Well, mostly because out of twenty-some places I applied to, they were the only ones to call me back and give me a job. But I think it was a fate thing. You know when you meet people and you know right away, Yep. I’m going to adore you. You just fit. Some of us who work together, we’re all kind of in the same place, working through some of the same what is my life right now?! stuff. Work shifts often turn into therapy sessions. I know I haven’t been there very long, but the two days a week I spend working have been full of life-giving cups of coffee, a lot of laughing, and some incredibly lovely people. This picture is blurry, but I love it anyway. Here are some of the Steampunk girls at the 65th birthday party for one of our regulars, Graham. Champagne. Stovies. Dancing to oldies. A night to remember, for sure.
Four. Like most people, I listen to music when I go get my sweat on at the gym. But lately I’ve been obsessed with listening to stories instead. I become so engaged in them, I forget that I’m running. Plus I like to think I look less like I’m dying if one makes me break out in a smile or slightly audible laughter. Here are a couple favorites from The Moth:
For Cynthia’s full story, you can listen here
Five. Speaking of stories…Today is International Women’s Day! Some of the most inspiring and courageous women I have ever known, I met through ChildVoice International in Uganda. To honor the young women they have worked with, ChildVoice is doing a Kickstarter campaign to fund and publish a collection of their stories.
“Lifted from the rich traditions of storytelling in Uganda, this book seeks to capture the true stories of war, heartache, faith and forgiveness in one community…With experiences and emotions that transcend time and place, this book delivers a journey from darkness to light as told by those who experienced it most closely.
…Brought together by the work of one organization, ChildVoice, to restore the voices of children silenced by war, Grace and other survivors share their stories as part of their journeys toward healing and spiritual transformation.
…Through these stories, readers may find strength for personal journeys toward healing, and the courage to face their obstacles. Powerful, provoking, and educational, Enduring the Night invites the reader to join the conversation and be a part of something greater, for in doing so, one cannot helped but be moved to action in support of women worldwide.”
I have never been so confident in an organsation to #MakeItHappen for women in their community. Please consider supporting their cause!
Mama Cecelia telling me some of her story. She is truly the fiercest woman I’ve ever met. She also has my favourite voice to imitate and shared our love for baby bunny Brenda, sheltering her with protection (which is really saying something because Ugandans eat rabbits rather than use them as house pets).
Six. Every person/place/thing is adapting to new technology and figuring out ways to utilise it. I get that. This is where the world is going. As I start to see more and more art museums adopting digital mindsets, a part of me recoils because I suppose there is a tiny voice in my head saying, Nooooo! Please can this please just be one place that doesn’t look like a Buffalo Wild Wings in terms of screen coverage? Can’t we just put down the digital tools and sit on this nice little bench and LOOK at the art. Take it in. Let our imaginations go wild or give it critical thought. So, when I read about all the ways technology is helping visitors engage and learn more I feel torn and see valid points from all sides. But I completely give in when I read how it can be used for experiences like this.
Seven. This was just one of those weeks, you know? When all the bad news comes at once and you can’t do anything about it except have painful conversations that lead to nowhere. By the end of the week my heart felt like someone had been using it as a stress ball. Here’s to setting an intention for a new week full of great potential to at least be better than the last: Be patient and present (and go on more dates with the sea because honestly…so good for the soul):
I discovered at some point as a teenager that people feel comfortable confiding in me about their problems. Sometimes people I barely knew would message me to hash out whatever happened to be troubling them. And still today, whenever someone tells me, “I haven’t told anyone that before” I feel slightly astonished that suddenly I’ve been picked to be on the receiving end of such intimate knowledge. I sat next to a lady on an airplane who told me about how she’s felt alone her entire life. My friend and I were checking out at a gas station really late at night and the cashier just started telling us about her failing marriage. I was reading alone on a park bench once and someone I had gone to school with came up and went on to tell me a really messed up life story that I won’t repeat here. I can’t tell you why this happens. A friend once said, “You just have one of those faces that makes people feel like they can word vomit on you, and you’ll still be smiling.”
Don’t get me wrong. I will still smile if you vomit on me, metaphorically…or literally for that matter. I do genuinely care about people…even random flight buddies and gas station strangers. I do genuinely enjoy listening. I’m happy that my face potentially has some sort of invitation stamped on it. BUT this also means that from time to time I hear information that I didn’t want or need to know. There are no precautionary measures I can take. Words get said and then they’re out there. There’s no going back. They just float in word space for a few moments before they make themselves at home in my brain. And this is what happens every time: I keep cool as a cucumber in the moment. But after a few minutes/hours/days of trying to be really okay, mature, handling it like a champ, etc…I.freak.out.
This sort of happened recently. I called my sister. This conversation ensued:
Me: “X was telling me about Z and I thought I was fine. I really did. But then it just totally threw me off my game and I’ve been in a funk lately. I can’t figure out why! I don’t want to do anything with anyone. I sleep all the time. I slept for thirteen hours yesterday. THIRTEEN. I want it to be fine. It’s so annoying. Gaaaahhhhh.”
Sister: “What do you mean you can’t figure out why? It’s because you’re a human with feelings. You’re not a rock.”
Right. She’s such a cheeky little voice of reason.
So, for anyone else out there who finds themselves in the same place: HEY. Shit happens. It’s going to affect you. Let it. But then maybe you can think of some things that make you feel fierce and do them. Here’s my list:
One. Stress cleaning! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this) Clean out the fridge. Refold everything in your dresser. Organize that drawer you put everything that doesn’t have a home in.
Two. Cook. Ordering take out when you’re bumming is oh-so-tempting. But cooking forces you to focus on what’s in front of you. Whip up a favourite or try something new. Take some satisfaction in making something with your own hands. Plus, call me crazy, but I find chopping vegetables kind of therapeutic.
Three. Get some fresh air and a change of scenery. Hike. Bike. Walk. Run. Swim. Downward dog. Just go stand and breathe somewhere else.
Four. Feel the rhythm of the night. One night last week I was walking to a friend’s flat, had my headphones in, and was listening to a song that pretty much demanded dance moves. So, as I approached this street lined with empty bars, I unashamedly danced past the bouncers, who were thoroughly entertained by my mad skills. I also rediscovered this gem thanks to Spotify, which took me back to 2009 when I drove around in a giant metallic blue pick up truck and practiced my Lil Jon voice. Its just so unnecessarily aggressive. I die of giggles every time.
Five. Pray. Praying tends to stop the me, me, me and I start meditating on something far greater. I focus on people I love or causes I care about. And I listen, but it’s the kind of listening that doesn’t deplete me in any way.
Six. Do one thing you’re passionate about. I hadn’t painted in forever. I couldn’t bring my paints with me. I don’t have money to buy new ones. But I was talking about this to an invigilator at the City Art Centre and he told me there’s an art room that’s technically for children, but I could use it any time I wanted. So, I did! And it felt sooooo good.
Seven. Force yourself to do something social. I think pretty much everything we look for in life can be found in knowing and loving other people. In a world that shouts at us about being independent, the reality is that we need community. I’m all for taking time to be alone. Sometimes I need it to reenergise. But when I get stuck in a rut, I find that ususally all it takes to shake it off is being in good company.
PS- on a completely pointless and unrelated note…did you guys know that Brad Pitt’s brother looks exactly like the lovechild of Zach Braff and John Travolta?
That’s pretty intense stuff. As with the parable of the tax collector, Jesus consistently and intently made it evident that God looks at each individual’s heart posture. Only he knows, only he can make judgements. The rest of us are commanded to love.
Three. Jesus understands suffering. I take comfort in knowing this. That when I grieve something or someone, he’s doing it, too. I won’t even begin to compare any of my suffering to what he experienced. But he knew the pain of being betrayed by close friends. He knew the gut-wretchingness of seeing insane injustices all around him. He knew hunger. He knew accusation. He knew the pain of giving up family. He knew the pain of death. He experienced all the emotions I experience. I love worshipping a God who’s response to human suffering was to enter into it- to endure it with me and for me.
Four. Jesus was grace. The crucifixion story amazes me because I see just how jaw-droppingly full of grace God is, even in torture, awaiting an unjust death. His first words on the cross are to ask God to actually forgive the people who are killing him (Luke 23:34). Then, the criminal who hung on the cross next to Jesus, acknowledging Christ’s innocence, asks to be remembered when Jesus enters his kingdom. He doesn’t start confessing his sins or asking how to ‘get saved’, he simply asks to be a part of the kingdom. In his last seconds of life, hanging in excruciating pain on the cross, Jesus assures him they’ll be in paradise together that day (Luke 23:43). And then his last words on the cross moments before he dies are, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Five. Jesus was a “come to the table” guy. He was known disapprovingly as a friend to prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and a whole assortment of social outcasts. Jesus chose to wine and dine this crew. Even the disciples were a bunch of kids who hadn’t made the cut. Jesus seemed to do a lot of his ministry during mealtimes. Jesus’ first miracle (while full of symbolism) was turning tons of water into the best wine to save a bride humiliation and keep the reception dinner party going. During dinner one night, Jesus exemplfies the servanthood of leadership by washing his students’ feet. Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast. Then, most infamously at the last supper he first offers himself as the Eucharist using bread and wine.
Six. Jesus was a story-teller. Who doesn’t love a great storyteller? The endless parables used to get on my nerves a little. If Jesus was worried about making everything clear and not leaving much up for interpretation, I don’t feel like he did that. He was a man of symbolism. I’ve come to hold a deep appreciation for that and what I assume his reasonings are for teaching this way. Parables, or stories that parallel a principle with an easily understood illustration are for one, memorable. They also allowed him to teach controversial lessons without getting in trouble with religious authorities for heresy. They indicate people’s spiritual condition, being lost on those who are resistant to instruction, while piercing the hearts that are open. And ultimately, I think it was because Jesus wanted to show us God, not lecture us about his principles. Jesus illustrates that he wanted us to understand how good God’s kingdom is and what it means for us as broken, fallen people. Jesus was constantly confronted with ways in which God’s intention had been perverted by human brokenness. God’s way had become all about religion and rules, not about humility and love.
Seven. Jesus meets you where you’re at and has faith in you. Obviously, there are a lot of stories where Jesus is talking to a large group of people, but I’m always most amazed by his one-on-one interactions. He didn’t use a system or have a method when it came to healing and drawing people into relationship with him. He used various methods of speaking commands, asking questions, being touched or touching, forgiveness, compassion, to convey God in the way that specific person needed to receive it. He knew where each person’s faith was at, and he got on that level to call them into restoration. To call them to follow. I love this (paraphrased) part of Rob Bell’s “Dust” sermon…
If you are a disciple, you have committed your entire life to being like your rabbi. If you see your rabbi walk on water, what do you immediately want to do? Walk on water. So this disciple gets out on the water and he starts to sink, so he yells, “Jesus save me!” And Jesus says, “You of little faith, why do you doubt?” Who does Peter lose faith in? Not Jesus; Jesus is doing fine. Peter loses faith in himself. Peter loses faith that he can do what the rabbi is doing. If the rabbi calls you to be his disciple, then he believes you can actually be like him. As we read the stories of Jesus’ life with his disciples, what do we find that frustrates him to no end? When his disciples lose faith in themselves. He doesn’t get frustrated with them because they are incapable, but because of how capable they are.
So Jesus, at the end of his time, tells the disciples to go make more disciples. Then he leaves. He dies. He promises to send his Spirit to guide and direct them, but the future of the movement is in their hands. He doesn’t stick around to make sure they don’t screw it up. He’s gone. He actually trusts that they can do it. God has an incredibly high view of people. God believes people are capable of amazing things. I’ve been told that I need to believe in Jesus, which is a good thing. But what I’m learning is that Jesus believes in me.