Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Last weekend I did something I have never done. I finished a book in under 4 hours. While sitting at a wobbly table at the local skating rink while trying to block out Hannah Montana and The Jo Bros, no less.

I am the world's slowest reader. I love to read, but apparently am very easily distracted. A mountain of reading was assigned in graduate school, and I struggled daily to get through it all. I learned a few tricks, lost a lot of sleep, and persevered.

But last weekend I got Maya Angelou's Letter to My Daughter, and I couldn't put it down. She begins by writing, "I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish speaking, Native Americans and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all. Here is my offering to you."

The book is autobiographical in nature, filled with humor and pain in Angelou's personable tone. Like any good Southern Lady, she gently invites you in and welcomes you as if you are an old friend. And like any good Southern Lady, she tells just enough to make you feel connected and stops just short of making you squirm.

Her stories affirm that one's past does not have to dictate one's future. That vulgar treatment need not be answered with vulgar behavior. It gives me hope for myself, my loved ones, and my clients.

Hope was the theme for the weekend, for as soon as I bid Angelou adieu, I dove into The Brain that Changes Itself. Scientist, physician and rehabilitation expert Norman Doidge and his colleagues refute widely held beliefs that the brain is a machine in which different areas are assigned to specific functions and that damage to any of these areas results in permanent loss of those functions.

Through anecdotes and case studies, Dr Doidge demonstrates the neuroplasticity of the brain. By refusing to believe that individuals who have suffered catastrophic birth defects or injuries are doomed to remain "damaged," he and his colleagues set out to teach brains how to compensate for loss. The patients are diverse, and their recoveries are inspiring.

It will no doubt take me more than 4 hours to finish this book, as Dr Doidge is a wee bit more cautious about who he invites into his domain. But maybe if I am really quite and promise not to touch anything, he will allow me to peek in through the blinds and see what he is up to.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


My father is in the hospital. He is elderly and frail, and the pneumonia is kicking his ass. He is also tough and ornery and very much alive. He is making peace with his Maker, though, and the rest is in God's hands.

My father provided my first glimpses into humanity. Most of the lessons were hard, and differ significantly in their delivery from what most would consider appropriate, but they stuck. Here are a few of the things I learned:
  • A person can do wholly terrible, unspeakable things to another person and yet not be wholly bad. They can make choices that can negatively impact another individual for life and yet still have many redeeming qualities.
  • A child will love her parent, no matter how badly he hurts her. And she does not have to understand it or apologize for it or feel guilty about it.
  • Causing someone harm, even repeated harm, does not necessarily mean that you do not love them. It might mean you do not know how to love them the way they need to be loved.
  • No man lives in a vacuum. A person's actions ALWAYS have in impact on others, oftentimes in ways he would never anticipate. And the impact often reaches beyond the initial point of contact.
  • An apology is neither an eraser nor a pain reliever. The past cannot be changed, and saying "I'm sorry" cannot mend a broken heart.
  • A boy will learn what he lives. Conversely, he will not learn something if it is never taught to him.
  • A human need not be treated humanely in order to learn to treat others so.
  • A person who feels out of control might try to regain control by controlling those around him. And the people he tries to control might choose to submit. For awhile.
  • With enough hard work, a person can rise above his circumstances. A person can change, but is more likely to do so when the costs begin to outweigh the benefits of his ways.
  • It is possible to forgive even the most heinous acts. And forgiveness does not have to resemble love or devotion or affection. It doesn't even have to resemble respect. It is what it is.
  • Forgetting is harder than forgiving. Since it is virtually impossible for most people to forget traumatic events, perhaps the forgetting need be more about our own anger and hatred than the event itself.
  • Forgiving and forgetting is for the victim, not for the perpetrator.

I was always a good student. My father expected that of me. I pray that I will make the most of these lessons.