Reflections about Being Human

Carol A. Hand

Make the most of each moment while you are here

Observe life intently with an artist’s eye, listen deeply with a poet’s ear

Contemplate life with an empath’s heart, engage life with a compassionate mind

Live your life humbly, simply, remembering to be kind

***

Lake Superior Dreaming

Lake Superior Dreaming

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Speak your truth when you must

urged by an inner power you’ve learned to trust

sometimes gently with the voice of a singer in a choir

and other times, boldly, with a spirit on fire

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Forgive yourself for the moments you squander

when emotions or daydreams cause your focus to wander

It’s what often reminds you how human you are

***

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Morning Reflections

Carol A. Hand

Listening deeply as I greet morning in the city

The sounds of life are not those that ease my soul

Ringing in my ears from so many cables

thankfully muting the constant drone of rushing traffic

ever busy snowplows grinding and scraping ice

the rumble and whistle of a passing train

echoing off the western ridge

 ***

January 2017

January 2017

***

I realize to survive I must learn to listen deeper still

to hear the sound of silence and song within

In time such as these one can’t expect peace otherwise

***

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“More or Better?” – Revisited and Updated

Carol A. Hand

For the past month, my friend, Cynthia Donner, and I have been working on revising a class focused on social justice. It’s been a daunting process to frame and describe the purpose and create new assignments. And we’re facing our first class in less than a week, so please wish us luck.

We’ve decided to use trees as a metaphor, focusing on the importance of roots, landscapes, branching out, and nurturing supportive inclusive communities. With Cynthia’s permission, the draft purpose we developed is posted below. I’ve included both a text and photo version. Although I like the look of the photo, I’ve learned that it’s difficult to translate words on WordPress photo images into other languages, at least with my level of computer skills. As an educator, I believe innovations, even those in process, should be accessible as a foundation for dialogue.

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Spring 2017 Course Overview

Spring 2017 Course Overview

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The health of trees is also dependent on their environment, as is ours. This has changed over time for trees, as it has for people. Environments have become less and less healthy and nurturing in the name of progress. Policies have not always been developed with community well-being in mind, either for trees or people, with increasingly alarming consequences. It’s crucial to understand how things have changed from a broader historical perspective.

Social work has sometimes focused on helping individuals adapt to an unhealthy environment, rather than remembering their mission to serve as effective and visible advocates for equality and social justice. We can fertilize and trim individual trees, but their ultimate strength comes from standing together against the storms, supporting each other in times of drought and scarcity. This is a crucial lesson for social workers of the future.

It should be clear that we can’t expect governments to provide the types of social services that build on people’s strengths and reweave inclusive, supportive communities. The challenge before us now is to think critically about how we can support and help create informal mutual support systems that provide a sense of roots in a healthy landscape.

Our goal in this course is to engage in imagining what the world be like if we learned the lessons of trees, nurturing all, knowing that by standing together, we’ll be better able to weather storms.

Cynthia and I are both excited to see how this will work for students in the real world. But there’s a story about how our friendship and collaborative teaching partnership began. This morning, I revisited one of my earliest blog posts. It describes our first meeting and represents one of our initial collaborative projects.

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Carol A. Hand & Cynthia Donner
(Originally posted on December 15, 2013)

The following essay is written in the spirit of collaboration and reflects two voices, Carol A. Hand and Cynthia Donner, to describe our efforts to develop social justice curricula for undergraduate social work students.

************

Recently, I agreed to come out of retirement to teach for a private Catholic College with a satellite program offered on the campus of a tribal and community college. The decision came after a surprising lunch meeting. I reluctantly agreed to meet with Cynthia Donner, the coordinator of the satellite program, in order to explain face-to-face why I no longer wished to teach social work. Perhaps the easiest way to explain my reluctance is a graphic I use in my classes to illustrate the possible purposes of social work interventions and social welfare policy.

Carol A. Hand - PowerPoint Graphic

Carol A. Hand – PowerPoint Graphic

As a profession, social work has competing goals. It is rare for textbooks or professors to acknowledge which of the underlying goals influences their practice, research, and teaching. Sadly, the focus has often been on enhancing the status of the profession, and hence, the status of its practitioners as equals to those in the medical and legal realms. Increasingly, the focus of research and education has been on a narrow clinical focus that attempts to help individuals adapt to their circumstances more effectively. Just as family-based physicians have been replaced by a spectrum of medical specialists for every aspect of the human bio, case managers and specialized clinicians have replaced social workers who used to focus on creating change in systems and society.

Although the professional code of ethics espouses the importance of working toward social justice, I would argue that clinical practice is not the way to do this. Clinical work may reduce suffering, but it can better be described an effective means of social control. My critical stance toward contemporary clinical social work practice and education is grounded on my revulsion toward any practices that are reminiscent of the centuries of assimilation forced on Indigenous Peoples in the U.S. and world.

The western medical model is rooted in disease discourse and controlled by two industries of the neoliberal corporate elite, insurance and pharmaceutical. It drives most clinical social work practice today with diagnostic pathological criteria for treating and medicating a plethora of “disorders” and “disease” type conditions. Yet, how much anxiety and depression among people today can be attributed to histories of oppression associated with the colonization of nations, cultures, economies, and minds? Add the current daily struggles experienced by a growing majority associated with discrimination (from verbal attacks to outright violence in our schools, workplaces and communities), and with basic survival (as forces of neoliberal corporate control drive people and whole communities into desolate poverty and widen the gaps between the rich and poor, the politically powerful and powerless). Today more than ever, we need people trained for the goals and strategies that will lead to structural changes our world and humanity are depending on.

When I met with Cynthia, I shared my perspective honestly. I expected the typical response. “Thank you for your interest in our program. Unfortunately, we have chosen someone who is a better fit with our focus at this time.” Much to my surprise, she smiled broadly and animatedly began to share similar perspectives.

I sensed a common orientation as we shared our perspectives on social justice and our approach to education. Like Carol, I ask my students to consider historical truths about U.S. social welfare policy and pose the question, “are you satisfied with helping individual people manage their suffering within the context of oppressive forces, or do you want to work with people to help them find ways to liberate themselves from oppression and the suffering it imposes on their lives individually and collectively?”

Through a dialogue that spanned hours, we discovered that we shared experiences on the margins, Cynthia because of growing up in poverty, and me because of growing up culturally mixed. Rather than accept that we were inferior, both of us sought the education and positions that would allow us work with disadvantaged groups to challenge the structures of oppression. Cynthia, like me, had worked in “macro practice” settings focused on enhancing lives in addition to reducing suffering, confronting the forces causing oppression rather than helping people merely adapt and conform to those forces.

Toward the end of our conversation, I agreed to teach the course on social welfare policy. This was the beginning of a still-evolving experiment to find more effective, experientially-grounded ways to help students think critically about oppression and encourage them to consider careers that focus on policy and community practice. In the process of designing our latest lab focused on social justice, Cynthia discovered an amazing resource that we felt might help our undergraduate students envision how to create a “better” future. For me, it transforms “the change paradigm” by providing a clear goal to work toward rather than a problem to fight. We wrote this brief introduction as a way to share a resource that may be helpful to others. The video that focuses on solutions (posted below), created by author Annie Leonard, presents a feasible alternative to “fighting the system” and left me with a sense of hope that transformation is possible, even during these challenging times (and perhaps, even in social work education).

 

***

Life sometimes opens up possibilities we had never envisioned and presents us with interesting choices. I remain truly grateful to Cynthia for inspiring me to take the risk of starting over yet again. Who knows what my retirement years would have been like had I not met her and been greeted by her sparkling eyes and enthusiasm to challenge the status quo. Chi miigwetch, Cynthia, for being an inspiration and supportive friend.

***

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Gratitude – Chi Miigwetch, Dear Friend

Carol A. Hand

A gift of bigger yak trax and pecans
Gleaned from Birmingham streets
Kindness of a beloved friend
Warms a winter heart with thoughtful treats

***

Yak Trax and Pecans - A gift from a dear friend

Yak Trax and Pecans –
A gift from a dear friend

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Bringing back memories of treasured times past
Shared laughter and tears built a friendship to last
Despite changes and distances the love will endure
Gracing life with gifts from the heart – who could ask for more?

for Cheryl with gratitude

***

Cheryl, the Tennessee Years - February 2014

Cheryl, the Tennessee Years –
February 2014

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Note:Chi miigwetch” means “thank you very much” in Ojibwe.

***

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The Power of Music

Carol A. Hand

Do you ever awaken from a dream where you’re singing a song? That’s what happened to me this morning. It was a song that I see as a little silly in the context of what’s going on in the world today. But it’s a catchy tune that captures some of the troubles that produce such angst in our teens. Those years are long gone for me but not for my grandchildren who remind me what it’s like to be young.

Here Comes My Baby – Yusuf/Cat Stevens

Thankfully, finding the song on YouTube led to me to another song that echoes the yearning of my spirit in the unrelenting cold of this mini-repeat of the polar vortex we’ve been experiencing. It awakens hope by reminding me that even on a cold winter’s day, it’s a new morning filled with possibilities. Spring will come. There’s a different kind of beauty to the winter dawn.

Morning has broken – Yusuf/Cat Stevens

***

Wishing you all a blessed morning wherever you are.

***

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January Born

Carol A. Hand

On your eighteenth birthday, dear grandson, you’re in my thoughts
It’s a time to celebrate that miracle you are
not a time for dos and don’ts, shoulds and oughts
I just want you to know that you’ll always be my shining star

***

Beloved Grandson - 2002

Beloved Grandson – 2002

***

Gentle and strong, wiser than you’re often willing to show
I love you.
It’s such a precious gift to watch you grow.

***

A Thoughtful Young Man & Big Brother - 2016

A Thoughtful Young Man & Big Brother – 2016

***

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The Marks of Time

Carol A. Hand

Each moment that’s lived leaves its mark

Like the annual growth rings of trees

 Lean years and times of plenty

Recorded as part of our being

Times of joy and loss visible on our external frame

***

Maui - 1998

Maui – 1998

***

Layers of old cells and new, some dead, some living

Protect our inner life-giving center

Nurtured by roots invisible to the eye

Some deep, some shallow, some in fertile soil

And some with little life-giving nourishment to discover

Some growing in native lands surrounded by all their relations

Others transplanted in alien places, alone

***

Banyan Tree - Maui - 1998

Banyan Tree – Maui – 1998

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Transforming light into life as we reach toward the sun

Breathing deeply beneath moon and stars in sometimes gentle breezes

Subject to forces of wind and weather we can’t control

As storms rage around us and chainsaws whine

We still stand as resolute and steady as we can

Drawing nourishment and inner strength

Afforded to us in each moment as long as rains fall

As long as sun rises and continues to shine

Until it’s our time to return to the the earth

Providing nourishment for generations that follow

***

For more information about trees, here’s a link to a clear overview: http://www.kidzone.ws/plants/trees.htm

***

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Strategies for Surviving Frigid Winter Weather

Carol A. Hand

I love the fact that I was born on the cusp of two different astrological signs. It gives me two choices every morning. Yes, simple minds are easily entertained. I like today’s options.
Aquarians are given the following message today.

“By accepting the fact that you cannot fix the ails of society at large, you’re free to work on the problems that are nearer to home and closer to your heart. Think globally; act locally.” (Rick Levine, Huffington Post)

I’ve learned that whining won’t change the weather. The ice is here to stay for a while, making outside work risky. There is no question that my expensive winter work boots are a hazard on ice, even if it’s snow-dusted. But my Yak-Traxed tennis shoes do work. My toes don’t freeze as quickly as my nose and fingers when I do venture out in the below zero deep-freeze, so there’s little danger of frostbitten toes.

Although that means there’s not much I can do outside, I can still think, learn, and write. That’s where the message of Pisces comes in handy.

“Rumi wrote, ‘You were born with wings; Learn to use them and fly.'” (Rick Levine, Huffington Post)

Tennis shoes are not wings, but ideas and imagination can be. While working with my friend and colleague on a new social justice class, there’s a chance to try to find our wings using trees as a metaphor for people and communities. It’s already inspired me to learn more and I discovered an incredible resource, The Astonishing Science of What Trees Feel and How They Communicate, by Maria Popova.

Trees are incredible living beings. They live far longer than humans if we let them be, and they do so as supportive communities. Here’s an excerpt from Popova’s fascinating article about Peter Wohlleben’s new book, The hidden life of trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate.

“Wohlleben ponders this astonishing sociality of trees, abounding with wisdom about what makes strong human communities and societies:

“Why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make it easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer.

“Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way round, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance.

[…]

“A tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.

“One can’t help but wonder whether trees are so much better equipped at this mutual care than we are because of the different time-scales on which our respective existences play out. Is some of our inability to see this bigger picture of shared sustenance in human communities a function of our biological short-sightedness? Are organisms who live on different time scales better able to act in accordance with this grander scheme of things in a universe that is deeply interconnected?”

My colleague has inspired me to keep learning new things that make me aware of how many things I simply have not noticed. It helps inspire my imagination to take flight. I have always noticed the willow tree that graces my front yard with its imposing presence. I had to have its mate removed my first year here.

Willow - February 15, 2012

Willow – February 15, 2012

Perhaps you can see the decay that had spread through the center of the trunk of the tree on the left in the photo above. It was only a matter of time before it fell. Ever since then, I have had a tree service tend to the remaining tree to keep it healthy. The winds here on the southwestern tip of Lake Superior are often fierce.

willow-slide-4

I do worry about the lone survivor that must stand against the wind.

Wounded Willow - June 13, 2015

Wounded Willow – June 13, 2015

The willow did lose a huge branch in a summer storm, but it has survived.

willow-slide-1

willow-slide-2

willow-slide-3

 

 

It’s featured in many of my photos because I love it.

 

 

 

Thinking about trees as a metaphor for people and communities awakened my curiosity to know more about willow trees. I wondered if willow trees have “genders” and instinctively found myself wanting to refer to the remaining willow tree as “she.” Willows do indeed have distinct genders. I realize that I have never really looked closely at the flowers, or catkins, that bloom profusely in the spring.

 

Learning more about trees and willows has only made me realize how much more there is to know about these incredible living beings. Now, I have another reason for eagerly anticipating the spring thaw. I want to pay attention to the catkins when they bloom and learn more about one of the oldest residents in this neighborhood. The willow has witnessed so many changes and I am eager to do my best to make sure it lives through many more.

***

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Reflections about Creativity and Humility

Carol A. Hand

I’m really not a writer, but here is the thing
If I put ideas on paper and have the right opportunities
I can build programs or teach classes and make those words sing
With enough love for others and hope in my heart
I willing to work long hours doing homework, listening
building alliances and thinking through issues before I even start

Student Graduation Celebration - 2009

Student Graduation Celebration – 2009

But the magic ingredients for ideas to blossom
are people who come together to build shared dreams
What they create in solidarity is often truly awesome
then it’s time for me to celebrate their creations and quietly walk away
and take time to breathe, and time for rest, and maybe even play
knowing there’ll always be more worthy ideas to put on paper – another day

***

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Reflections and Blessings on New Year’s Day

Carol A. Hand

On this first day many celebrate as a new year, I find myself compelled to speak as honestly as I can. It’s true that my life has not been as easy or privileged as some would imagine. It’s also true that my life has been blessed in too many ways to count. Many may think me crazy or delusional for what I am about to share. Ancestors have appeared to me during waking times to protect and guide me through rough patches. Wise beings have visited me with messages in dreams. And strong intuitions have warned me of dangers and opportunities as well.

I’m deeply grateful for the presence of the ancestors and wise beings in my life. I’m not sure I would have survived without them. Of course, being willful and independent, I didn’t always listen. And of course there was always a hefty price to pay.

I also wish to acknowledge my gratitude for the old and new blogging friends who have enriched my life in so many ways. Thank you.

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Recent events have made me remember why I began blogging. There were stories and insights I felt compelled to share. You know, those messages that sometimes seem to flow through you and demand to be given voice. And then, as it happens, that purpose was compromised along the way. The appeal of attracting followers, writing posts that were “liked,” sometimes attenuated or muted my voice. But a funny thing happened when this blog achieved something I never envisioned in 2016, almost three years after it began. More than 1,000 followers, and almost 3,000 views one day. It was empty without meaningful dialogue and a sense of genuine connection.

Let me be honest and risk making people angry. A sizable number of my newer followers appear to only be interested in posting selfies to sell clothing and makeup and never like a post or leave a comment, thoughtful or otherwise. Or they’re new bloggers who seem to follow this blog, any blog, just to build their own following, again with no attempt to connect. Perhaps it’s foolish, but I do often follow them back because I honor their right to perspectives that differ from mine. I do learn a bit about worldviews that I might not encounter elsewhere. And the 3,000 views? Almost all were from Facebook, empty visits that, quite frankly, merely felt voyeuristic from a social medium that I am avoiding these days except to connect with my grandson.

As I responded to a comment from a dear friend yesterday,

Thank you so much, ***. I don’t have the words to tell you how much your kind and thoughtful comments mean to me. I am weary at the moment and feel powerless to change the world my grandchildren will inherit. They’re lovely gentle souls and like all people everywhere, they have a right to live in peace and be treated with kindness and dignity. I will continue to do what I can anyway because I love them and I care about the earth. But it’s hard to keep hope alive sometimes.”

….

Your kindness has given me a good reason to keep chipping away, ***. I’m deeply grateful. I had been contemplating whether to continue blogging or give it up. Posts and comments from friends like you make it well worth the effort.”

Weary or not, there’s work to do. After trying to clear ice from my car and driveway, I spent time playing a game with my soon-to-be-ten-year-old granddaughter, tell me a story (by eeboo corporation).

Perhaps the beginning of our story book, January 1, 2017

Perhaps the beginning of our story book,
January 1, 2017

Let’s play a game, Ava,” Ahma said.

Okay, but I don’t know the rules,” Ava replied.

Well, let’s read the directions.”

Hmm,” Ahma said after she skimmed the directions. “They don’t say much, so let’s make up our own. How about if I just deal out cards to each of us?”

Yeah, that would work.”

How many do you think we should each get? Four? Five? Seven?

Five would be good.”

Five it is, then Ava.”

And so we began weaving stories from the five picture cards before us, writing down each other’s stories as we went. First it was Ava’s turn to tell a story, and then, mine. (English is a hard language to learn how to spell!)

Ahma, You’re a better storyteller.”

It’s what I do, Ava. I’m a storyteller. I’ve had practice. I learned how to do it from others a long time ago. It’s something we learn how to do from someone else and this is my chance to help you learn how to tell your own stories.”

Just before Mom came, we packed the game away and created a special folder to hold our stories. We’ll keep adding new ones each time my granddaughter’s here. It’s such a small thing. But it’s something very special my granddaughter and i could do together on this first day of a new year to help build a better future.

As we embark on the journey of a new year, however we mark the beginning, I have a special wish. May we all breathe kinder stories into being for the next generations. Even when we’re weary.

***

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