Use Your Signals: It Matters

A car stopped on the street in front of me yesterday. Then its hazard lights came on. I was so grateful, because then I knew what to expect and do! HALLELUJAH, THANK YOU!

Brake. Turn. Reverse. Hazard. High beam. Our cars are designed with signals to make our intentions and actions on the road efficiently and effectively communicable.

Car going straight goes before car turning at a stop sign. If both cars are going straight then the one on the right goes first. No changing lanes in an intersection. DO NOT ENTER AN INTERSECTION YOU CANNOT CLEAR. Our traffic laws are designed to make vehicular interactions uniform and safe.

And yet, much like passengers during air flight, drivers seem to disregard any and all conventions of safety and courtesy more and more every year. We disregard one another.

“Always make eye contact.”

The most important safety lesson I learned from the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer 3-day in 2002 was to always make eye contact with drivers at intersections, before crossing the street. I had never thought discreetly about it before, and suddenly it made total sense; I adopted the practice immediately and fully.

20+ years later now, I see this as yet another practice in relationship (of course!). It’s not just about safety, though that is the primary goal, for both pedestrian and driver. Nobody wants an accident. When we make eye contact, we see each other and negotiate our interaction–our relationship–if only nonverbally and in a second or two.

All of these practices–using car signals, following traffic law, and acknowledging one another while out and about–connect us as fellow humans. By offering other drivers and pedestrians the courtesy of a signal, a gesture of invitation to cross, or God forbid a wave and a smile of gratitude when someone lets us pass or merge, we make the world a little less cold, a little more personal, and a lot better, one small and significant interaction at a time.

Imagine if we all treated one another like someone we care about while out on the road? Imagine if we all actually cared for one another, just because we are all here, fellow humans, doing our best to get through this crazy, chaotic life with a little more dignity and a little less suffering?

Imagine if we all used our readily available, efficient, direct, and effective communication tools to signal our intentions, needs, and caring for one another off the road, too?

Wow, what an amazing world this might be.

New on HTC: The Bit Post; Choices

Captured from Facebook

Friends, every once in a while I have moments of relative wisdom and avid connection. Often it comes while responding to patient questions, sometimes on the phone, sometimes on email or portal messaging, and very often over text. So many posts on this blog started as these little, ‘bit’ insights. I marinate them, stir them around, turn them like a Rubik’s cube, until they’re so convoluted that it takes another, longer period to unravel them again to be ‘worthy’ to post.

So tonight I’m trying something new: the Bit Post. When moved, after brief and thoughtful enough consideration, I give myself permission to post these small notes, as is and with just enough background, just to share, in case they resonate with anyone. I feel an urge to engage here on the blog more frequently and lightheartedly, with less perfectionism and self-doubt. So we will see how this goes!

I sent the message below after a dear patient apologized for some behaviors that appear to have led to suboptimal blood test results. They made a self-judgmental comment about their life. I could feel their guilt and maybe some shame. So I replied honestly, as I wrestle with many of the same challenges. The example I give happened just last night.

So we go together, my patients and I. We are all here doing our best!!

Onward, my friends—ODOMOBaaT!

“Your life is what it is. Your choices are what they are, influenced by many circumstantial factors that vary day to day, moment to moment. No need to apologize to me—I’m not you!
“I have a rapidly evolving perspective recently on how I counsel people on habit and behavior change anymore.
“I’m here to inform and advise, not to judge. All of our choices are trade offs made in real time. I overeat tonight because I’m with friends and enjoying the food and that is more important to me in this moment than losing weight. I may regret it later and I’m not consistent at slowing down and asking myself when the weight later becomes equally important to me as dessert now. You see?
“We just have to own both our choices and their consequences.
“My goal is to have the fewest possible regrets when I die. I wish that for you too, but only you can know what choices will get you there.
“Makes sense?”

Anchoring One Another

All I really have to know/ Is that you are here/ And I am not alone” — “Anchor Me

My friends, I have a new obsession: The Tenors! I have listened to their covers of Lean on Me and Hallelujah for months on my Spotify ‘Liked’ playlist, and something made me explore the rest of their music this holiday season. Now I’m hooked!

Check out their YouTube channel for heartwarming videos not just of their music, but tributes to their moms and dads, baking adventures during lockdown, and a touching farewell to their longest leading member. They sing with passion and love, driven by the deeply held belief that music heals. I agree, and of course it makes me think about how we relate through music.

So many people are having a hard time now. One friend’s dad recently died; another faces a toxic divorce. A third prepares for major surgery, and yet another finds herself suddenly estranged from her close friends. And oh my gosh the pain all around us in the world, how are we getting through any of it? Sometimes only music and song can convey the depths of emotion and need. The Tenors’ song “Anchor Me” feels like both a lament and a prayer. I find it incredibly hopeful, and also convicting. The first verse is a beautiful expression of pain that we have all experienced:

Oh my soul is troubled
Oh my will is worn
Tired and discouraged
Trampled on and torn
Every breath a battle
Every step a war
My heart a broken vessel
This night an angry storm

The chorus:

When sadness crashes like an ocean
When fear is deeper than the sea
When I am swallowed by the darkness
Will you come and anchor me?

Verse two goes deeper, laying bare the powerlessness and vulnerability of grief, sadness, depression, and disconnection, and the courage it takes to ask for the help we need:

I cannot see through this
Can you be my eyes?
I’m completely hopeless
Can you shine a light?
I have no more strength left
Can you stand and fight?
I’m dying in this doubt
Can you be my faith tonight?

And the bridge brings it all together; this is what we all seek in these times:

Hold me still and hold me close
Until it all passes away
I beg you not to let go
All I really have to know
Is that you are here
And I am not alone

… Who anchors you? Whom do you imagine singing, or sending, this song to?

I think first about my tribe, my pit crew. I call on them first, every time. I could not get through much without them, and I show up for them, too. It’s a boisterous lovefest in joyful times, and a swaddle of steadfast strength and love in grief. But sometimes the hole is deeper yet, and I must call on something bigger than us all. Call it God, Providence, cosmic forces. I can get still and commune with my own deep faith in galactic nature, in the eternal. And I can find spaces where I feel that communion more tangibly–in my favorite chapel, in the mountains, by the lake.

Sometimes I feel I can anchor myself. Through the years my tribe has reflected my own strengths, values, and purpose back to me. They coach me, remind me Who and Why I am. So on my own, I can recall their reflections, feel their love, and that holds me up even when I cannot reach them directly. So maybe it’s not me at all, rather it’s the gift of tribe and belonging, of cosmic energy that ties me, anchors me, like a belay.

And what about strangers? Are we ever truly strangers? The most loving and inclusive aspects of our faith traditions all share a teaching of communion with all of humanity, no? And haven’t we all had the experience of random kindness, offered by a random other, while we flail in the throes of despair, throwing us a line and tugging us back to somewhere solid and light? Where do these angels come from? Perhaps the cosmos sends them? Whatever we believe about it, wouldn’t it make everything better if we each resolved to participate in the giving, to be that kind and anchoring stranger whenever we can, in whatever way we can?

It may seem trite and cliché, but just making eye contact and smiling at ‘strangers’ on the street makes a difference. To acknowledge another person, to mark them with your presence, to exchange a mutual nod of existence, this is anchoring. It proves that we are visible, that our being is noted. Imagine walking down the street, never once meeting anyone’s eyes, never catching anyone’s awareness. Research shows that this–to be ignored by people we don’t even know–affects us deeply; it feels incredibly lonely and isolating. Harm occurs when we do this to one another.

“Do not pass by a man in need, for you may be the hand of God to him.” Memes of this quote atrribute it to Proverbs 3:27, but I’m not sure that’s correct. Regardless, the expression is instructive.

All I really have to know/ Is that you are here/ And I am not alone.

This can be any one of us, for any one of us. Maybe we can all try a little harder to help one another feel less alone, ya? Whom can I anchor today? On whom will I call, and/or who might just appear, to anchor me tomorrow? Everything goes around and comes around. We can make it better, help one another suffer a little less.

We can hold one another steady.