A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Sunday, February 14, 2016

She’s a Miracle

Where there is great love, there are always miracles.
--Willa Cather

My teacher Theo leads our memoir writing class each Tuesday night until 9:30. That’s way past my bedtime, but I’m never sleepy during class, and I’m always wound up when I get into bed with Ann, who shakes herself from sleep in a style reminiscent of the mummies in The Halloween classic Night of the Living Dead. This is a weekly turn of roles, where she is sound asleep first: since surgery I have needed twelve hours of sleep a night (plus a three-hour nap in the afternoon), and I get started on a good night’s sleep as soon as I can, so often Ann’s joining me after I’ve already slept a bit. 

Because I worked in high schools for 27 years, first as a teacher and then as a literacy specialist, I attend to pedagogy and can be critical of my instructors. In the beginning, though, Theo’s name humbled me. I looked up translations, and my favorite is from the Urban Dictionary: “theo means god in greek; theos are usually gods themselves, or at least semi-gods. their powers are unlimited. the charm, the strength and the intelligence are their first assets in the day-to-day life.” Of course, the no-caps to begin sentences are the writer’s, t love’s, stylistic choice. I especially love her usage example:
"i'm gonna mess with theo"
"you shouldn't"

I’m not messin’ with Theo. Nor with the other students in the class, at least four of whom (we learned last week), graduated from fancy schools: two from MIT, one from Yale, another from Brown. (I didn’t mention that I had graduated from Davidson, where Stephen Curry played basketball: it seemed like bragging.) In this class, there will be no degree, and there are no grades. We just want to learn: the perfect scenario.

During class, Theo often guides us through the exploration of a concept by explicating a section from a memoir we’ve read. She also gives us writing prompts. Because I’m taking the class to get help revising my memoir, I usually use the prompts to work on something for my book, but one of this week’s exercises raised a theme I’ve been exploring throughout my adult life, so I just wrote without thinking about how I might use the writing for my book or this blog. In my responses, I’ve borrowed from previous things I’ve written and added to them. I continued the writing, and want to share it with Ann as my—unconventional, as always—Valentine’s Day gift.  Thanks for being my witness (kind of like reading Dante’s The Inferno for people who aren’t Beatrice…kind of.)

Prompt One: What was the story the world you grew up in told you that you should become? (By “world”! mean your environment, including your parents or whoever raised you, and the society, class, and culture in which you grew up. What was the message you got from them of who you should be?)

As a freckle-faced, auburn-haired tomboy growing up on a suburban cul-de-sac in North Carolina, my parents and I had an unspoken plan: I would be a good student and a decent athlete; for college, I would go to my father’s alma mater; I would become a doctor or a lawyer; and I would marry a well-pedigreed doctor or lawyer.

My husband and I would raise our 2.5 children on a suburban cul-de-sac, and these children would be honorable Southern Baptists, like their parents, their grandparents, and their great-grandparents before them. The children would love our golden retriever. They would be good students and decent athletes. They would attend colleges of their choice. They would be doctors and lawyers and would marry doctors and lawyers. Like Shakespeare’s MacBeth, my husband and I would look into a mirror and see the future: for MacBeth, Banquo’s decendants; for us, an infinite line of Southern Baptist doctors and lawyers, children and golden retrievers.

Though I did attend my father’s alma mater, when I was in college, my father and I both began to notice that I might not live this life. When Dad called one night, I was upset and told him that my boyfriend and I had been fighting about marriage. “What about?” he wanted to know.

“About getting married.”

“What’s there to argue about?”

“He wants to and I don’t.”

Dad paused like he does before he’s going to utter what Sister Jen called a “lecturous” proclamation. “Well Mary,” he said in his deepest baritone, “Sometimes in relationships we have to compromise.”

I was aghast. “Not about marriage!” This may have been my first moment of knowing that I would need to craft my own life, that though my father was well-intentioned, he would not be able to direct my life in a way that was true to who I was. After all, neither of us really knew who I was yet. So far, I was a child trying to live up to my parents’ vision of who I should be.

My well-meaning parents wanted me to marry this boyfriend. He was a great guy, kind and smart and funny, and his financial and respectability prospects looked good. I believed that, following our family’s plan from my childhood, I should marry him. I just couldn’t. Though my mind could see that he was an ideal match, my gut wrenched whenever I thought of marrying him. He wanted to be a senator, and I knew that he would probably live a more traditional life than I wanted. I suspected that we would make one another miserable, maybe bitter. And there was something beyond what I could name that just wouldn’t let me marry him. I don’t think it occurred to my conscious self that I was lesbian. So after years of breaking up and getting back together, we finally went our separate ways (though he was the one who finally had the courage to call it quits for real.) I felt relieved that we had parted ways and also terrified that I had missed my life’s calling.

Prompt two: What was the story of who you should become that you told yourself?

Though I now believed that my marriage needed to be on my own terms, I believed still that in order for me and my parents to be happy, I needed to find a suitable boy to marry. In my twenties, I married a man, a pediatrician like my father, and seemed to be on destiny’s path, but something was always amiss. At the breakfast before the wedding, I went down a buffet line, selecting scrambled eggs, grits, and sausage for my wedding breakfast. As I piled the eggs, more gooey than my ideal, onto my china, I began to sob. I did not know why I was crying, but I could not stop. My body trembled uncontrollably, and I sounded like a wild animal as I gulped for air. I tried to quiet myself when my mom’s friend said a lovely prayer for nuptial happiness, but I could not.

My husband-to-be said to a couple of bridesmaids standing by me, “You take care of this.” They did. I was trembling as I sobbed, so one helped me to my seat while another finished piling the morning’s food onto my plate and served me at my seat. I sobbed throughout the meal. After breakfast, my family took me home, and my sister tucked me into bed. I no longer sobbed, but I was exhausted and weak and slept until time to get ready for the wedding.

My husband and I never talked about these tears. After the wedding, we began our marriage by moving to the furthest corner of the contiguous United States from the place of my birth. We were bold. We left the South and moved to Seattle. This was a new place to begin a new life. I loved Seattle immediately, its liberal politics and mountains and waters, but I felt that something in me was lonely and dying.

After a journalism internship and getting a public school teaching certificate, I got a job in a suburban town east of Seattle. I joined a carpool of three other women driving between Seattle and this town, and the four of us spent over an hour in the car together each day as we drove to and from work. Our friendships deepened quickly. With this group, I tasted my first latte and received references for my first therapist. I cried each morning as I got in the car at 6:25, already grieving my dying marriage.

At home, I played and replayed Paul Simon’s “Graceland”:
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart.
Everybody sees you're blown apart.
Everybody feels the wind blow.

As my marriage failed, my vision of a future like my mother’s blurred. I would not be like my mother: I would not be a wife to a husband. I was becoming an adult. I was becoming myself. And this becoming was both painful and joyous.

Prompt two: What is the story life has told you of who you are?

I did not at first realize that I was falling in love with Ann, one of my carpool friends. She is a woman, after all, and twenty years my senior. I found it odd that I constantly felt compelled to tap her, or kick the bottom of her shoe as she walked, or jump out and holler in order to scare her as she rounded a blind corner. “Why do I do that?” I ask her. “I don’t hit my other friends.” I felt like an adolescent boy who doesn’t yet know how to flirt with a girl.

We were sitting on the brown couch in her home when I asked her this, and she said to me, “Sometimes when you’re a lesbian, you fall in love with your friends.” When I think of it now, I’m not sure if she was saying that she was in love or I was, but I knew at the time I was in trouble. I said a bad word and ran to my bicycle and rode hard home.

This brain tumor journey has not been my most difficult adventure. Coming out as a lesbian was harder. I have written about this coming out recently in this blog, but I’m copying it here in the unlikely case that you missed it:

I came out as a lesbian to myself when I was thirty years old and at the end of an unhappy marriage. It was a horrible time for me, much more difficult than my brain tumors. I had spent my whole life trying to please my parents, thinking their ways would lead to a fulfilling life, so coming out to myself challenged that idea and let me know that I hadn’t even let myself know who I was.

When I came out to some of my local friends, one who was already out as a lesbian responded, “Congratulations.” I thought the response to something that was making me so miserable was an odd one, (but now I think it’s the right one.)

In my journal during those first years, I wrote about the emotional pain of my divorce and coming out:

I was torn apart—or felt like it. I lost a significant amount of weight (30 pounds?) quickly—and not because I wasn’t eating but because my body was literally eating away at itself with the adrenaline of grief and anxiety. I slept little, had to limit my exercise (yoga twice a day, bicycling twice a day) because I knew that too much exercise was unhealthy.
I could hardly function at my sister’s wedding—seeing her go into a life that I had imagined for myself—and seeing clearly that it was right for her and had never been right for me.
I felt small and angry that I was being asked to be invisible when I felt I had been invisible for so long.
I felt like I was being punished but not sure what I had done wrong—married when I was gay? (but I didn’t know…), come out? (but that was the truth), not come out before? (but I didn’t know…), … let the world see my pain? (but how not to do that…). So what did I do wrong? Was I just born wrong?...
I feel like I’m holding my breath for something to happen, some enlightenment, some luck that will help me create my own meaning. But how do I get there? I just do not know. And I am so tired of the ache, like my lower ribs are being pulled together, my stomach and throat and chest taut.
And then there’s the everyday pain here in the fallen Eden…Oh God. Remind me that all of life is grace. Let me respond in gratitude.
“Strictly speaking, we do not make decisions. Decisions make us.” –Jose Saramago, All the Names, p. 29

Did I make these decisions, or did they make me? I suppose we look as best and as honestly as we can at the options and the likely way they will make us—and then at some point we make a decision, and that decision seldom makes us in the way we envisioned. And that’s just how it is….
I’m so tired. Ooff. Air out of a tire. Body as a heavy sack. Head like the clapper in a bell.
I wonder how much of my life I’m avoiding depression or weariness or being a disappointment and how much of my life I’m living joyfully. I think it’s time to live joyfully, not dutifully.
Sometimes I feel like I’m fading, turning invisible, see-through, like I need to concentrate to maintain my presence, my self. Where am I disappearing to?
“Pessimism is cowardice.” –Dubois
“There are no answers. Only choices.” –Solaris
If sadness could talk, what would it say? “I’m here because I’m always here, and I’m as old as time. I flow like a river, or rock like an old woman knitting in a chair, but whatever you do or feel I flow on. I rock on. I am the pain of human suffering, caused by human cruelty or the whims of weather and tide. I am a part of what it means to be.” … What does it mean to live—not die—by this river of sadness—to pitch a tent and notice the beauty.... What does it mean to come to peace with this sadness?
I have things to learn that will make this miserable journey worthwhile.

I came out to my family because truth and integrity are values we share, and I knew I wanted to have real relationships with them, which I couldn’t do if I were hiding who I was. When I came out, I wrote letters to my family one day, mailing them all at the same time. I didn’t want them to share their first reactions with me, so I figured letters would give them time to react in my presence when they were ready to.

Mom called immediately, saying she would always love me, and Dad wasn’t ready to talk to me yet. Mom came to visit soon thereafter and met Ann, who is still my partner (now wife, according to the state) twenty years later. My siblings also responded immediately, communicating love and support: a letter from my brother and an envelope from my sister with news reports of all the celebrities (like Ellen DeGeneres) coming out at the time. On the outside of the envelope was a brief note: “You’re in.”

Dad and I wrote letters back and forth for a year and a half but didn’t really talk, except for me to ask to speak to Mom when he answered the phone. (This was before caller identification.) The letters were generally angry and aired all of the grievances of my life. Though the communication was hard, it was honest and it kept us in relationship.

After my original letters to the family, the four of them and my brother’s best friend Ken went out for dinner. Ken told me that they avoided talking about me until Sister Jen started talking about African Americans and the Civil Rights Movement, code for talking about me. Mom said that she didn’t think Sister Jen was talking about the Civil Rights Movement, and they talked about me. I don’t know what they said, but Ken said there was lots of gnashing of teeth, and everyone but him cried. Apparently the wait staff was perplexed about what to do.

Neither Mom nor Dad wanted me to come out to my grandmothers, but both grandmothers let me know in Southern code that they understood the situation and loved me, perhaps even approved with more enthusiasm than my parents could understand.

After a year and a half, Dad and I started talking again.

I can’t remember what happened for a while. Maybe I went home without Ann for holidays or maybe I didn’t go home. As time progressed, my parents went out to dinner with Little Brother Matt, who told them that if they were going to have a relationship with me, they were going to have to invite Ann into their lives.

For years after that, Ann was welcomed to family events: weddings, holidays, and beach trips. My parents were courteous and welcoming, but it was clear that Ann was still an outsider, someone who had caused me to slip from my destiny.

Prompt Three: What is the story life has told you of who you are?

When I was diagnosed with my first brain tumor thirteen years later, I believe my reaction grew from having lived through the very difficult time of coming out. On that day, I wrote in my journal:

Today I learned I have a brain tumor…. The odd thing is that the primary emotion I’ve felt in response has been the great sense of how lucky I am: lucky to love and be loved by Ann, to have a warm comfortable home and health insurance, lucky to have loving friends and family, to have a job I love with students who are so charming and interesting, colleagues who are so dedicated and fun…lucky to get to see flowers bloom and to eat chocolate chip milkshakes.

It wasn’t until I had brain surgery when I was 43, and my parents saw Ann and me together as I recovered in the hospital, that my parents finally saw how real and loving Ann’s and my relationship is. Ann is now a genuine part of the family, and I believe the whole family loves her and sees her as one of us.

This was probably the greatest gift of my brain tumors. (Yes, there are others.)

Ann and I had talked about marrying before my brain surgery, but I couldn’t bear the thought that my parents might not come or see how genuine the marriage would be. After brain surgery, however, I had a visceral sense of my own mortality and of needing to claim my life as my own. Besides, I now believed that my parents understood our love. Ann and I planned a ceremony.

Family and friends flew to Seattle for what was in some ways a traditional ceremony. A dinner followed Friday night’s rehearsal. Out of town friends and family joined us for breakfast and a pool party Saturday morning.

Saturday at 5 pm, Ann and I went to the church. Our nephews, dressed in colorful khaki slacks, escorted guests to the pews. We walk down the aisle as music plays. Our minister conducted the ceremony and gave a talk about love.

Our young nieces Lucie and Gretchen were flower girls, and our older niece Isabella read from First Corinthians: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Ann and I exchanged rings and vows. The minister directed our community to support our relationship. Ann and I kissed. We took a lot of photos, and went to a reception to eat and dance. We exchanged the first bites of the four-tiered cake.

In some ways, our wedding was traditional. In other ways, of course, it wasn’t. No father walked us down the aisle. There were neither bridesmaids nor grooms. The minister did not invite anyone to speak up if they disapproved. We were both women.

At our rehearsal dinner, Lucie asked repeatedly, “Auntie Mary, who ARE all these people?” Each time, the question was more emphatic. I finally responded in a way that satisfied her: “They're our friends.” She seemed dismayed: “You mean they're all here for you?” I was thankful that she and all my nieces and nephews saw that gay couples, like straight couples, can have a community of support.
This was a night we celebrated so many gifts that Ann and I are grateful for: one another, our families and friends, our faith and community.

Our siblings toasted our love, and Little Brother Matt and Ann’s brother Gene both get choked up during their toasts. They hugged, one of my favorite moments of the night.
Ann and I danced the first dance to Exile’s “She’s a Miracle.” Everyone watched as we swung in slow motion.  Ann held me tight, and the music played:

She’s a miracle, a sight to see.
Ohhhh, the way she touches m!
Way down deep, in my soul,
Something’s got ahold, and it won’t let goooh.
If I stumble, if I fall,
She’s waiting right there to catch me.
Ohh, she’s a miracle, a miracle to me!

We had practiced for hours in our kitchen, so I didn’t stumble and I didn’t fall. We danced amid reminders of our Northwest home: totems, a carved canoe, a sunset over the sound. We danced amid reminders of how much we were loved and how much we loved one another.

Thirty years after the break up with my college boyfriend, my life is much different than it would have been had my college love and I married or had I remained committed to my husband. I am thankful that, despite my doubts, my first love and I didn’t marry. It’s taken one marriage to and divorce from another suitable boy, coming out, another marriage to the woman I love, two brain tumors, disabilities, hearing loss, a car wreck, the loss of my career, and so forth to fully embrace the life I choose to live, a life that has been my own and not the shadow of my parents’ lives.

On this Valentine’s Day, as every day, I celebrate again the miracle of Ann in my life.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Last week during the break in the middle of a three-hour policy class, the instructor from next door came in to introduce herself to me and to say that she'd heard I wasn't getting along with a student in the class. She told me to come next door for support any time. 

She intended to be kind--and had gone out of her way to support me, someone she doesn't know--but I felt talked about (and not in that good way), and I felt misunderstood. 

I'm not sure where the misunderstanding, if that's what it was, came from, so I'm sending this entry out to the world and sharing it with allies for disability justice at the school. 

I assume the student she was referring to was the student who was disconcertingly able-ist a couple of weeks ago (see last blog entry). However, this student had come to talk with me the next week, and I believe we came to respect and understand one another. 

I felt misunderstood because I thought that the offer of support was in order to ease a personal insult. Supporting me in this school doesn't mean giving me someone to talk to. It means providing an education so that people who get their MSWs recognize and challenge able-ism. 

I've been working with a team since June 2013 to establish that there currently is no education about people with disabilities in the UW SSW and to strategize for introducing this education. 

So much about the event in class that day and the follow-up the next week reinforced how urgent this work is. 

This is a policy class for people who plan to go into health or mental health social work. Yet as far as I could tell, only one other student recognized blatant able-ism about people with mental illness at the time, , one spoke about generally inadequate civil rights education in the school the next week, and two students asserted that next week that they hadn't thought the language was so bad. 

Even the instructor seemed to want to distance herself from challenging the offense. After the discussion, she looked straight at me and said, "Is that okay?" If it had been, she had just undermined its okayness by indicating that the problem was my personal problem and not a communal one.  

She tried her best. I suspect everyone involved did. But the problem is not an individual one. The problem is a school one: an environment and a curriculum that reinforces rather than challenges a paradigm that those of us with disabilities (physical, emotional, and mental) lead lives that are less meaningful than those who are temporarily-abled. 

Not only do I spend much of my time in a school that, to my great surprise, neither understands nor teaches disability justice, but I spend much of the rest of my time in an able-ist world. Most of the people I encounter are thoughtful and remarkably aware, but doctors and social workers and so forth have at times thought they understood what I needed in my life more than I did. Because they sometimes have power over me in our society's support structure, their able-ism does more than hurt my feelings: it impacts the power I have over my own life.

I'm privileged in a lot of ways and am generally able to advocate for my right to make decisions about my life, but it's a constant battle for me, and I wonder about those without so much privilege or support. 

These are the people that the UW's School of Social Work's Mission Statement purports to prioritize, as it proclaims on its website: "As members of the University of Washington School of Social Work, we commit ourselves to promoting social justice for poor and oppressed populations and enhancing the quality of life for all."  

These two days in class reinforced for me the urgency of addressing able-ism in this school. If the progressive, well-educated people who will be clinicians, directors, policy-makers and academicians don't even recognize the unjust culture that those of us with disabilities deal with every day, how will the world--or at even one little part of the world--change?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Two weeks ago in my Social Work class, a fellow student challenged my use of the word "incarceration" to describe the history of people with mental illness. I was surprised by his exception to my language because expose's like Geraldo Rivera's 1972 documentary about Willowbrook, a state school for people with mental disabilities in Staten Island, New York, established a clear history of such incarceration. More recently, in 2014, The Treatment Advocacy Center reported that 15 percent of people in jails and 20 percent of those in state prisons had a serious mental illness. At the time, that meant that 356,000 people in jails and prisons had mental illness. 

My classmate spoke from the point of view of a clinician who had had a frustrating day, when he followed a client with mental illness around trying to make sure the client didn't hurt himself or someone else. He told us that he had called the police and someone else, too. 

He was "challenging the narrative" that he said prevented us as a society from putting people in a place where they couldn't get out so that we could take of them. 

This classmate talked a lot about ways that people with mental illness are different than "we" are. I stopped talking once he started, but I typed a few things he said: “People with mental illness don’t see the world we see….They don’t see the world like we do." Another classmate pointed out the assumptions he was making about who was in the room and the danger of creating an "us" and "them." 

After class, a classmate a with mental illness diagnosis told me how painful this had been. I talked with the instructor and asked her to address the able-ism, something I have witnessed before in this school and have heard stories about but have never seen or heard about the able-ism being addressed. 

Before class the next week, the student who had divided us all into a camp that didn't include people with mental illnesses sought me out because he wanted to understand my thinking.  He asked about what had been so offensive. We had a good conversation, and I had a lot of respect for his initiative. He said that he would apologize to the class, and when we began class he did apologize. 

One student offered that he didn't think it was "that bad," and when it seemed that no one else would speak up, I offered that I had found it offensive. This group of students doesn't know me well enough to know that I am seldom offended. In fact, I don't think I've said the words, "I thought that was offensive" in this school before. But I now feel discounted as a person who is too sensitive. I don't know if that's true. That's just how I feel. 

Later in the conversation, another student said that he didn't think it was a big deal either, and he just wanted the class to stay on topic. (There aren't many guys in the class: maybe six and fifteen women, so it's interesting to me that mostly the guys were speaking up. I don't know what others felt, but I felt like we were choosing teams for pick-up basketball and no one wanted to be on my team.)

Because I'm taking classes at a different pace than most students, this group of students is new to me though they know each other. There's an odd vibe in the room, a simmering tension, that has some source I'm not aware of. 

The experience of what felt like others discounting a painful experience reaffirmed for me the importance of the work I've been doing the last few years to try to increase the teaching and understanding of people with disabilities in this school. It reminded me of the importance of language and of the way that language both reveals how we think and shapes how we think. 

Sunday, when Barb, a lay leader in our church, talked about language, her comments resonated with me. She made me think that I've been making assumptions about being unable to help people who are homeless because there are so many things I can't do since my surgery. Her talk made me think about things I might do, like lead discussion groups or writing groups that help form communities of support. After all, I did these groups for years with teenagers (the groups were called classes), and now I do groups with elders, most of them experiencing memory loss. 

Barb's talk gave me a framework for understanding my own experience and hope for new understanding--my own and others'. She spoke about language and compassion and being. 

Barb said that I could share her comments on this blog. I'll bet you'll find them brilliant and compelling like I did.

Suffering, Compassion, and the English Language by Barb
I teach English to a man twice a week, and about a year ago when I first started meeting with him I noticed he used the word “suffering” a lot.
For instance he said, “A woman at the park threw Frisbee and it hit my son. Accident. She kept saying ‘Oh, sorry, sorry’—she was really suffering.”
Once when I mentioned to him that I was really bad at some thingslike dancinghe nodded sympathetically and said, “Oh, yes, you suffer!”
After a while I figured out that he understood that “to suffer” means “to feel bad,” and because there are so many ways to feel bad, there were many ways to suffer.
I must say though, the whole thing made me feel differently about suffering—I suddenly saw that everyone suffers. I became aware of the many small aches we all carry around all the time: emotional and social pain, feelings of regret, meanness, sadness, inadequacy—we do all suffer. This idea made me feel more at one with my fellow suffering humans. Instead of a divide between those who don’t suffer and those who do, I felt that I was a part of a world of suffering souls, and each person’s individual suffering then becomes a matter of kind, and degree.
Now, some of us certainly suffer a lot. I stay overnight at a homeless shelter twice a month, and the guests at the shelter—they lack a home, yes, but also are sometimes hungry, wet, or cold, often have health problems, are estranged from their family, and they have little support or encouragement from friends. Not to mention all the other kinds of human pain that I mentioned before, that we all carry around. So, I want to be compassionate—and “compassion” means to “suffer with”—
so, how do I do that, exactly?
Well, teaching English without formal training as I am, I’ve had to teach myself about English grammar, and so I’ve been doing some reading. One interesting essay I read said that, “The English sentence demands a subject, even when there is none.” For instance, to describe the weather these past two months, the past continuous verb “was raining” would be perfectly clear to us all, but grammar demands we say, “It was raining.” It. Nothing happens in an English sentence without something, or someone, doing it. Every effect demands an agent, a cause—someone to blame.
The essay also said that doing is important in English. When we meet someone, we say “How do you do?” and then we ask, “What do you do?” On the altar, we say, “I do!” — And when we see a problem, we look for something to do about it. Our grammar compels us to act in a linear way: effect/cause, problem/solution. This framework can be useful, but it’s NOT a universal way of seeing the world—not even necessarily Christian (Jesus, after all, didn’t speak English) and the essay argues that the grammar of our English language reinforces linear thinking and actually changes the way we think and act.
So sitting at the homeless shelter on a morning, having coffee with a fellow suffering person, there’s that impulse to find the cause of the suffering. Who or what is to blame for this person’s situation? Likewise, there’s a temptation to search for a solution to their problems—suggest a fix, a better course of action. But these linear impulses are not the most compassionate acts.

A weary soul embarking on another hard day might just need a simple moment of safety, warmth, and comfort. So, I stifle my questions and suggestions. Instead I offer up an undemanding silence. Oh, stories bubble up within it sometimes; I might hear about hard times, big plans, small disappointments—but often, morning’s quiet instead.
The profound thing I have discovered is, that it is in this small quiet moment, that a space is made for the presence of Christ. Here we are, two people—two suffering souls—drinking coffee, remarking on the rain, and God sits with us! Jesus knew how to heal with a bit of bread, a touch to the eyes, by calling someone by their own name. And in that friendly threesome, I discover that Christ heals us both together, my own small sufferings also, and we both walk away changed and warmed by the moment. That’s compassion.
So, today my prayer for All-Of-Us-Who-Suffer is that we seek out compassionate moments with other suffering souls, and that we too may discover Christ sitting there with us.

Immanuel, Alleluia, Amen!
As Barb said, her understanding of the way that grammar frames the way we talk isn't necessarily a Christian understanding. Some of my best teachers in this arena are of other faiths or agnostic or atheist, but this vision does offer for me some understanding of the way I've always thought and the ways I'm learning to challenge those ways of thinking.
Once again, brain tumors have been my teachers, and my fellow students and Barb are my teachers, too. 
And once again, I feel lucky for new ways of seeing the world. I hope that's not irritating. 
Love to you.