What T-Shirt or Hat Do You Wear?

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After observing elderly veterans proudly wearing their military caps, retired firefighters wearing a fire department cap or t-shirt, and retired union or company members wearing a branded cap or jacket, I thought about a thought-provoking statement someone once made regarding our identity. He said something like, “If your identity is wrapped up in what you do, you can lose that identity when you can no longer do it, like a pro ball player becoming seriously injured. But if your identity is based on who you are, no one can take that away.”

Who are you?

I asked a few people what they considered their identity to be. I guess most people have never been asked that question or really even given it much thought, because most seemed mystified when asked. I tried to make it a bit less daunting and intimidating by asking, “What t-shirt or hat would you wear to tell people who you are?” Their expression went from overwhelmed to intrigued to confounded. Most adults do relate their identity to their profession, but as they think about it more deeply, they wouldn’t necessarily say it’s their identity. Many young people relate their identity either to what they are good at, like an artist or an athlete, or they mention their sexual orientation. Both adults and young people might also mention their passion, or the political, religious, racial or social group to which they belong. We all want a sense of belonging or feeling like our life matters—like we matter, and we will often wear the t-shirt that helps communicate or attract that.

Some people consciously or subconsciously allow their identity to be found in their disabilities rather than their abilities, or maybe their physical appearance, financial status, or their past. How many stories of athletes with disabilities have you heard? They did not allow their disability to keep them there. We will live out what we think or believe and allow that to be our identity. Even though we are who we are because our past has molded us, we should not allow our past to define us and keep us from growing into who we would like to be. A young friend once said:

“Someone’s past does not define who they are; it’s who they’ve chosen to be today.” —Keith Duane Soules, Jr.

The t-shirts in the photo are both mine and my husband’s. His daughter made the white t-shirt for him for Father’s Day when she was a little girl, and he still wears it every year for that occasion. He’s a good father. Although he wears the Mr. Incredible t-shirt given to him as a gift, he himself is too modest to claim the identity of Mr. Incredible, but he really is.

Who am I?

I am and have been many things. I used to be very religious and wore Christian t-shirts, not because I wanted people to think of me as good and religious, but because I was taught that our purpose was “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” and “to make Him known” so everyone could know and be loved by Him, too. Some of my beliefs, understandings and practices have changed since then, but that’s another topic. I’m a photographer—but then again, isn’t everyone now?  Ha ha! I do have a camera t-shirt, but I can often be seen wearing a fire department or first responder t-shirt or jacket. Even though I think I will always be a first responder at heart, a time will come—and I’m already beginning to feel it coming on with age—when I will no longer be able to perform all the tasks necessary to remain one.  I still have a few more years left in me!  I recently became a rehab tech, which also requires a certain level of strength and mobility, and I’m grateful that it’s a physical job and one that allows me to care for and assist others. Having wonderful therapists as co-workers is a bonus, because they have helped me overcome injuries, regain mobility, and learn better body mechanics. But when I think about who I am and who I want to be, what it really comes down to is simply this: a kind human-being growing in love. I delight in finding and photographing hearts, so if I could pick only one t-shirt or cap to proclaim my identity, it would have a heart or the word “L O V E” on it.

What t-shirt or cap would you wear?

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If Everyone Wore a Johnny

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This is Mary. I found her photo attached to an application for a job as a nursing assistant to a NH Director of Anesthesia. It was in an old filing cabinet I obtained through a thrift store. I found it interesting that a photo was required. Was that standard practice back in 1948? I wonder if she is still alive. According to other papers in the old filing cabinet, I don’t think she got the job. Did her appearance play a big part in the doctor’s decision?

Although I have been an EMT for over 3 years, becoming an in-patient rehabilitation technician last year has helped me see people through new eyes. Since every patient is wearing a johnny, aka a hospital gown, and have often recently come out of surgery, everyone is on a “level playing field”. Everyone is someone. Engaging them in conversation is the only way to find out who they are, and as for senior patients, who they were as well. I have been amazed by some of the life stories I’ve heard, and I have been so impressed with the hospital staff as they treat every patient with dignity and respect.

My mother once quoted a Japanese proverb that says, “Respect old people and be gentle with children, for you were once one and someday will be the other.”

Mary is elderly now, if she is still alive, and is probably in her 90’s. Did she become a nurse? At some point in her life, she probably wore a johnny herself, and if she had been a nurse, the staff would see just an old lady, until she told them she, too, had been a nurse.  Would that change the way they see her?

We all judge or assess people as a first impression. It’s human nature. It’s part of self-preservation. Although we can’t judge a book by its cover, there are some things that can clue us in as to who they are.

But…

…if everyone wore a johnny, maybe we’d be a little less judgmental, a little kinder, a little more humble, and a bit more real.


Because I’m a Girl

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I had a dream last night in which a child was screaming and crying in her father’s arms, saying she wanted her mommy.  The scene flashed to the saddened father sitting at a picnic table, and as I was talking to him, his daughter, now a teenager, walked up and yelled at him, and without apology ended with, “Because I’m a girl!”

I woke up and wondered, “What was that all about?”  It had nothing to do with the current #MeToo or #TimesUp movements, but I think it did have something to do with our culture.  Two things came to mind:  hormones and being a female firefighter.

The “Because I’m a girl” statement in my dream felt like it had something to do with hormones.  Although I’ve experienced some hormonal emotions, especially since hitting menopause, I’ve had only one really intense, nearly-out-of-control feeling.  I actually had to tell myself I was feeling the way I was because of hormones, and I was able to control myself—for the most part.  There was no other logical explanation.  Although hormones might give us a reason for behaving or reacting badly, they don’t give us the right.  Girls should never use hormones as an excuse for negative behavior, and should apologize if that behavior hurts someone.

As an older, petite female firefighter, the thought sometimes runs through my mind—not as an excuse, but as a reason—that I can’t do some of the things my firefighter brothers can or as well, “because I’m a girl”.  I try not to let it discourage or stop me, but I do try to work hard within my limitations and adapt, just as some male firefighters of short stature or older age have to.  I want to be an asset and not a liability, so I am tremendously grateful that the volunteer department I’m with recognizes my strengths along with my weaknesses.  My leaders know me and give me opportunities to serve and to become better.  They challenge me, and they aren’t afraid of offending me by assigning someone more capable of doing a particular job.  Neither do they take away my bunker gear because I’m older, or smaller, or because I’m a girl.

01/19/2018 Addition: A thought came to mind, and I realized I should have said that my limitations as a firefighter have less to do with being a girl and more to do with being older and smaller. Our Battalion Chief is a woman, and can keep up with the men. We also had a teen junior firefighter who beat out boys to be the state champion in SkillsUSA! So even though there are some biological differences between females and males, I need—we as a culture need to stop using the excuse or reason, “because I’m a girl”.

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Asians & Cameras, Whites & Trump, Klingons & War

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Last night, my husband and I watched NFL football players take a stand or a knee against police brutality and racial injustice during the National Anthem, we listened to a panel of West Michigan Trump and non-Trump voters have a discussion with Oprah on 60 Minutes, and we watched the first episode of the new Star Trek: Discovery. One statement, made by First Officer Burnham of the USS Shenzhou, really struck me. She said, “… it would be unwise to confuse race with culture.”

Although stereotypes are generalizations and not true in every instance, stereotypes exist because there is some truth to them. Not all Asians are paparazzis, but there was a time before cell phones when it was not uncommon to see Japanese people sporting cameras. My husband once lamented, while he was scraping doggie do from his shoe during a hike, that I take pictures of everything! I chuckled and said, “Well, I am Asian!”

Both negative and positive stereotypes or cultural characteristics exist. Cultures are not only restricted to nationalities. They can be regional, geographical and social. Police officers are not all white nor are they all brutal. The majority of police officers of various nationalities are compassionate peacekeepers and first responders. If your race or culture is carrying a certain negative label, doesn’t it make sense to be proactive and seek every opportunity to do the opposite and dispel the label, like some police officers are doing to connect with their communities and live in peace?

In most instances, the divisions we are experiencing in our country and in the world are not so much about race or even culture. Most of it stems from fear and a lack of understanding. Babies aren’t born prejudice and suspicious; they learn it. Whether it’s conservatives and liberals, blacks and cops, Christians and Muslims, or Mexicans and Trump, although our cultures and environments have shaped us into who we are, we are really all of one race—the human race—and we need to stop warring with each other. If we want to survive and experience satisfaction, it would be in our best interest to pursue peace by seeking to understand each other. As one of the West Michigan panel members expressed, we need to learn the art of discussion and compromise again, else I’ll take a stand, and you’ll take a stand, and neither of us will obtain what we want or need.

Instead of becoming defensive or offensive when ideas and cultures clash, maybe we should do what some Trump rally members did when a Black Lives Matter group showed up. Invite your ‘opponents’ to the stage to speak, too, start a dialog, gain some insight, and come to an understanding. I could even take a picture of you working together!


How Are You Gonna Handle It?

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“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”  —Epictetus

We’ve read or heard the inspirational stories of how people have overcome tragedy or being dealt a bad hand.  We can either follow their example, take ownership and believe in possibilities, or we can remain in a cycle of making excuses, blaming others, and playing the victim.  We can be either a victim or a victor.  Anything worth having is worth striving for.

“Don’t get tired of doing good, for you will eventually see results, if you don’t give up.”  —Paul in the letter to the Galatians

 


Breathe Life

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“To know even one life has breathed easier because you lived, this is to have succeeded.”  —Ralph Waldo Emerson


Leading With Purpose

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“Leadership is about encouraging people.  It’s about stimulating them.  It’s about enabling them to achieve what they can achieve—and to do that with purpose.”  —Christine Lagarde


How to Begin

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“Begin with the end in mind.”  —Stephen R. Covey
After you begin and before you reach the end, when things become difficult or discouraging, try to remember why you started in the first place.

 

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How we win. How we fight.

“We have to remember the real enemy…”

Anna Spindler Writes

This week has been heavy, friends. It started with my NPR app sending me horrifying texts in the middle of the night Sunday and grew as the death toll rose and our sense of safety was again rocked.

It continued with immediate culture wars. Fingers pointing. Angry words. Emotions preyed upon for political gains (all parties).

Guys. People have lost their lives.

I’ll never forget September 15, 1999. It was the night a crazed gun man waltzed into my friends’ church and killed 7 people, injuring 7 more. It was before we all had the internet or cell phones. I didn’t even have cable. I raced home to call my parents, “are they ok?” frantic into the phone.

“I saw Walter on tv, he’s ok.”

Even though my friends were ok, I spent the next few days walking around my Northern Iowa college campus in a haze that no…

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Pain

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Pain has a way of getting our attention, doesn’t it? Whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain, it has a way of grabbing us by the whatever hurts and reminding us of something… or someone.

“You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel.” —Unknown

The same can be true of a physical wound. You may not want to look at it, but that doesn’t stop it from hurting. I tried to ignore an injury yesterday. I couldn’t see it, because I had extrication gloves on. I had accidentally smooshed my hand between the hydraulic cutter and the passenger side seat during a practical fire class on vehicle extrication. It ached, but I finished what I had started. Part of me didn’t want to take my glove off and look at it, but I did, so I could assess the damages. It seemed to be simply bruised, so I iced it with some nearby snow. It’s still a little sore today, but the bruising is barely noticeable now.

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” —C.S. Lewis

While I think it’s true that God sometimes allows pain to come into our lives in order to get our attention, I have experienced times when I believe He has ‘whispered’ or ‘spoken’ in my pain to comfort and console me, especially when the pain was caused by something or someone beyond my control. I am grateful for the pain I experienced from the extrication training, because it serves as a reminder to be fully aware during rescue operations. It would cause me greater pain if I caused someone else to be injured, especially if it was avoidable.

A couple of other minor injuries have also gotten my attention recently. I’m not accident prone… usually. Earlier this week, I fell on the ice and bruised my elbow while ice skating with my granddaughter and trying to demonstrate to one of her little friends that I could, indeed, twirl like she could. We don’t realize how much we use something until we injure it or lose it, but you know what grabbed my attention more than the smooshed hand and bruised elbow? A tiny crack in my index finger! Every time I accidentally touched it, it felt like a needle being shoved inside! I know, I know, “then don’t touch it”, right?

Whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain, sometimes that’s easier said than done.

 

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