Tag Archives: relationships


“Can I come in?” Gator asks me softly, after having knocked almost imperceptibly on our apartment door.

“Of course,” I answer, opening the door further to let him enter. “I’ll call Matthew.” Turning my face to call around the corner, I shout out, “Hey, Matthew, Gator is here.”

I hear the door to my son’s room open. Then, Matthew rounds the corner, entering the small living room to our modest, two-bedroom graduate-school apartment.


At this university, the housing units for graduate students, where we live, were built post-WWII to accommodate the students attending university on the GI Bill. Refurbished and updated at least twice since they were first erected, these apartments were meant to be temporary, yet they remain tiny spaces of retreat for graduate students, visiting faculty and their families.

Gator crosses the living area in five or six easy strides, coming to sit with Matthew at the table-level breakfast bar, which separates our galley kitchen from the sunny living area facing the lake. It was here, not long ago, that Gator underscored his preference for being referred to as “Gator” and not by his given name—a mark of burgeoning individuation and entry into a healthy adolescence.

Moving into the kitchen and past Gator and Matthew, I open the door on our refrigerator to find some peanut butter and apples to have with crackers.

Gator sits down wearily and begins to explain that he had to travel down the hill to visit us after walking out on a one-sided argument with his mother.

“She kept trying to get me to repeat this: ‘I will become a straight-A student. I want to be a straight-A student.’ At first, she was just saying it, and then she was right in my face with her voice raised. I told her calmly that I was not going to lie…

“I have never been a straight-A student. What makes her think that she is going to turn me into something that I am not—something I have never been? And, I won’t lie,” Gator shakes his head in quiet frustration as he finishes explaining his sudden appearance in our home.

Trying to sound nonchalant, I ask Gator, “Does your mom know you’re here?”

Gator continues the thread of his story, “Maybe she is all uptight about scholarships for college or something. But, I won’t lie like that. Don’t you think lying is worse than facing the truth?”

Gator’s question hangs in the air. Matthew is an exceptional listener, leaving Gator a lot of space to work through his conversational experience.

Then, Gator turns to answer my earlier question, “No. she doesn’t know where I am. She just knows that I went for a walk.”

My heart goes out to Gator. I feel gratitude for his presence and the feeling that he considers our home safe space. He is a “good kid”—a thoughtful kid.

“Hey, Gator, would you be alright with my calling your mom, to let her know that you are here?” I ask.

“Yeah, go ahead. She might be getting concerned, with the fight and all,” Gator responds.

As I dial, I think about the issue of conviction, as a trait, and how our own rigidity—in the areas of belief, desire and relationship—can lead us to breaking rather than carry us forward and over the bridge to the safety of compassion and release.

Why are we so hard on the people we love most?

Water Chestnuts

Water chestnuts, throughout most of the American Midwest, usually come in cans. They appear as one of the many “vegetable” items in certain Asian dishes and, to the untrained palate, seem to offer little more than extra crunch to any given entree.

I like crunch, thus I like water chestnuts. To my way of thinking and in the context of Asian cuisine, water chestnuts have always been relatively mild cousins to the likes of canned bamboo shoots—positively crunchy and fairly innocuous in terms of taste.

A friend of mine tells a story from his childhood, not about canned water chestnuts but about canned peas. At the home of a relative, the hostess was in the process of serving up a side of peas (another non-vegetable vegetable) for him when he declared quite diplomatically, “I am not a pea fan.”


This simple statement, from the perspective of a child, underscores the fact that canned peas are a distant and somewhat challenged cousin—in terms of flavor and texture—to both flash frozen peas or the Vanderbilt of legumes fresh peas.

Fresh, flash frozen or canned? My own relationship with water chestnuts changed radically one year, after our family moved to a Big-Ten-University town. This university’s extensive Asian population supported not one Asian specialty supermarket—but four large, dedicated Asian grocers, where water chestnuts were flown-in regularly and could be purchased fresh.

Fresh water chestnuts are a completely different animal, as the expression goes, when compared to their canned cousins. Fresh water chestnuts are incredibly nutty, with a delightful depth of flavor that is not replicated in any other “vegetable” I know. And, they are crisp and ungrainy—like some of the very best fall, apple varieties. I fell in love. Who knew that an issue of processing could so radically change the nature of a simple “vegetable”—water chestnut or pea?

In thinking about this issue of changed states with processing—whether meeting a food item for the first time or, in a cataclysmic mental leap, acquainting ourselves with the personality of an individual for the first time—I wonder about what we are actually experiencing when we encounter something or someone who is not in their most authentic state of Being—not fresh.

It could be that the person we are encountering for the first time has been flash frozen by life circumstances. Flash frozen is close to fresh, but it is not fresh. And, life processing is going to change the metaphorical flavor, texture, appearance and nutritive value of any sentient being.

Or, what if—after ten years of being “canned” in the pressure cooker of her parents’ home—the hardened child has had the natural vibrancy drained from her character and/or her contributory capacities compromised to the extent that she causes problems in a classroom?

I bring this up because, when we come to encounter that person on the street who makes us want to turn away, we must behave like we know that that person is relating to the world in a processed state. Each of us should be wondering or at least curious about what another person (or we) might be like, if he (we) were able to return to an unprocessed, fresh state.

A canned water chestnut or pea can never turn back into a fresh version of itself. And, yet, the miraculous thing about people is that there are opportunities in every one of our lives to do just that—to become fresh, authentic, true. But that journey of reverse processing, if you will, in order to return to one’s freshest state is sometimes a long, challenging or seemingly impossible.

So, we need to be here for one another—with patience, kindness, good listening skills and compassion. Each one of us is in possession of a depth and breadth and set of  gifts, our unique flavors, which would benefit us all, if only they could be tasted and shared.

Spiritual Scars

Our dog of two years, Alfred, has been with us since he was approximately ten weeks old. Alfred sees virtually every long-handled tool–brooms, mops, shovels, rakes, not to mention those mechanized beasts, vacuums–as a threat.


A broom can be resting, immobile in a corner on our deck and, if Alfred takes an interest in it, he will rush the static broom, nipping at its inactive bristles, until the long-handled tool finally comes crashing down.

All alone. By himself. Alfred has created an animated, demonic creature bent on getting him. And, sometimes, when he nips the bristles just right, the broom does smack him as it lands in a crash on the deck.

Before we had Alfred in our home, he spent two interim weeks in the home of a woman and her son, who were fostering him informally. They had collected Alfred from his birth home a few blocks away where, according to his foster mom’s report, Alfred was being abused. The children of that home/neighborhood were taking turns (politely) throwing Alfred (abusively) against an outdoor cement wall which ran along the edge of their yard.

Given Alfred’s singular relationship with long-handled tools, we postulate that this poor dog was most likely abused by an implement such as a broom or mop during his initial weeks on the planet. This is an experience held deep in his memory.

One reading of this narrative renders the mental image of a dog battling his inner demons by taking on an inanimate mop or broom almost comical; although, it is not comical. In reality, this is a profoundly heart-breaking story. As Alfred’s roommate, it is difficult to witness  Alfred’s continued struggles with the live ghost of a memory which is over two years old.

Yet, in a larger sense, this is a tale about the manner in which many of us live our daily lives, battling the demons and ghosts of memories long gone by. How we view and interact with the world is not only impacted by our basic disposition, but it is also filtered through our deep and multi-layered life experiences.

As adults, the most important work we can do is to ensure that our old injuries heal over. Then, once healed over, we have an obligation to massage the ropiness out of these deep tissue wounds. It is the only way to emerge from the fire of life intact and be able to release the desire to do damage to someone or something else as a result of the pain we carry inside.

Spirituality: The Search for the Self

At some level, each of us is looking for something of ourselves in someone else.  Socially, this is the way in which we build bridges.


There are spaces created in conversations where we check-in with one another to determine how we might be alike or what we might have in common–whether it be an experiential commonality, gender/race/life-stage similarity or a shared interest.

The curious thing about this phenomenon is that what we think we desire on a micro-level is actually a stand-in for what we most desire on the macro-level, which is a genuine or authentic communion with the Spirit.

Spirituality & Holding Space I

What happens when your spouse comes home to tell you she has purchased a motorcycle,  taken a six-month leave of absence from work and is planning to ride cross-country with a friend?  If you have not been part of the planning phase for these major decisions, you may be wondering, “What happened to the ‘we’ in the ‘to-have-and-to-hold’ and ‘until-death-do-us-part’ portions of the marriage vows?”  Yet, what remains unspoken, in more spiritually mature unions, is that as marriage participants we usually come together to assist one another in discovering who we are and what we want.

In the context of a spiritual friendship or a primary, committed relationship, this process may be referred to as holding space.


Marriage, as an institution, may be “about” many things:  the desire for a greater  sense of intimacy, domestic refuge, physical touch, having a reliable confessor, spiritual communion, fiscal support, emotional comfort, common interests, intellectual friendship, shared dreams or some combinations thereof.  Most of us enter a first marriage without necessarily knowing ourselves, let alone what we may “want” over a lifetime, except that we remain hopeful that life is and will become “better” if we are heard and, ideally, understood by someone other than ourselves.  And, on the threshold of a new marriage, travelling in tandem always seems like the better choice than going it alone.

In actuality, all of us are already travelling in tandem through life, whether or not we are in a committed, primary relationship. We are travelling in tandem–within ourselves–with the Self, our highest Light.

There is the aspect of each personality running our day-to-day affairs, such as calling the garage for an oil-change appointment, shuttling children to and from activities, getting us through the work day or otherwise “doing” life–almost on autopilot.  Another aspect of personality, which often lies buried beneath a pile of fall leaves, waiting to be unearthed at the first hint of a spring-like recognition, is in the inner sactum of the heart–the highest Light or the Self.

Sometimes the disparity between what our habituated self desires is quite different from what our highest Light would command or commend.

The habituated self has its eyes on entertainment, the Joneses, as well as practical, logisitical and material concerns.  The Self is more concerned with affirming the whole of life in the Big Picture, while working through issues of ethics with a trained, judicious eye on everyone and everything involved.

Thus, from this  perspective, there are atleast four distinct personalities in any given primary relationship of just two people.