You don’t have to agree with me for us to be friends

I was 19 and terrified to realize that my supervisor for the summer was an openly gay man. It was the late 1980s, and I was from a sheltered community where “such people” were rare. Realizing that me, Molly Mormon, would have to interact with Flamboyant Paul made me think I’d made a mistake in taking that mall job on the east coast.

My suspicions were confirmed when I met my coworkers who immediately jumped in with predictable knocks on my religion when they heard I was from Utah. The fact that I didn’t join in on their drinking party as we unloaded the new freight didn’t help much. I was an easy target. My work environment was initially very uncomfortable, but since it was for only three months, I decided to grit my teeth and bear it.

I frequently noticed Paul watching me, and only much later did I realize that he must have understood what it felt like to be the object of scorn. One afternoon, when the store was quiet and I was dutifully putting away stock while Paul sat at the register with paperwork, he suddenly blurted, “Dogs!”

I looked up, surprised.

“Do you like dogs?” Paul asked.

Confused by the random question, I said, “I grew up with a small, white mutt named Fluffy.”

“Tell me about it.”

“We had him since I was a toddler. When I moved away to college, he’d grown very old and smelly and was going blind. He wandered off shortly after I left. My mom was devastated and my parents searched everywhere, but no one ever saw him again. As if when I left, he knew he should die.”

When I saw how aghast Paul was, I wondered why I’d chosen to relate such a depressing story.

But then Paul burst out with, “That is the SADDEST dog story I’ve ever heard! But I LOVE IT! I love sad dog stories! Ok, I’ve got one—listen to this!” And he went on to relate an even sadder dog story. I have no idea what it was anymore, but I found myself smiling and sniffling at the same time.

I realized Paul had been looking for something to talk about with the quiet, awkward Mormon girl who worked in his store, and finally we connected on dogs.

He told me all about the Great Dane puppy he and his boyfriend were raising, and we spent the whole afternoon talking dogs.

The next day I hesitantly mentioned, “Right now, I have a fish tank.”

Paul clapped his hands and said, “And WE want to get a fish tank! Tell me all about yours!”

For the rest of the summer we chatted every day, and when I left, I hugged Paul with genuine tears in my eyes while Paul sobbed, because we had become friends.

Paul demonstrated that I can still be friends with someone even if I don’t agree with their beliefs or behavior. Our relationship was based on what we had in common, and after three months, that was quite a lot.

About ten years later I was teaching a college writing class where the main project was a 15-page persuasive research paper. I had a very cocky and confident student who I’ll call Doug. I brought articles to class to analyze different points of view, and Doug made it point to quiz me on what leanings I had toward the issues, then launched in to argue against me. While I found him rather boorish, he certainly did liven up the class.

Soon he was meeting with me after class to dig deeper into a certain issue which I suspected was for his paper. He even took notes about my position. Sure enough, when he turned in the project, the little stinker had taken a position the polar opposite of mine. In fact, he argued against me, point-by-point.

When I handed back the papers a few weeks later, cocky Doug appeared worried, for once. He hastily thumbed to the last page, looked at his grade, and gasped.

His peers, who had been reading through his drafts—and warning him, too, about not directly writing against me—leaned over to see his grade. They, too, gasped, and one of them said, because Doug was speechless, “You gave him a 98%? But he argued against you!” (He had a few grammar issues, after all, to warrant losing a few points.)

“I know,” I said, “and marvelously, too. He almost persuaded me to his line of thinking.”

When Doug finally looked up at me, he was grinning. “I thought you’d hate it!”

“I did,” I told him, grinning back. “Because you made such darned good arguments.”

When the semester ended a couple days later, he gave me a quick hug as thanks, and we parted as friends with mutual respect. We didn’t have to agree with each other to appreciate each other.

Over the years I’ve discovered different kinds of people who I appreciate. For example, I’d never become Amish, but I wholly admire the life they live and how they remain mostly untouched by the outside world. I don’t want to convert to Judaism, but I deeply respect their culture, tenacity, and temerity. While I’ll never be a Muslim, I’ve gained greater understanding for them, primarily through chatting with a sweet Muslim family at a university dinner, and discovering how much we had in common.

I have many friends who, while not of my faith, still show support for what we do. On occasion I post pictures and stories about my children who are serving as LDS missionaries, and among those who comment kindly and like the posts are Lutherans, Baptists, and even a “recuperating atheist.” None of them are likely to join my church, but they’re happy to see the experiences of my children, as I am to see the successes of theirs.

We call this kind of appreciation and behavior “civility.” 

And despite what the news and social media would have us believe, it’s still a widely-held virtue, at least among many people I am blessed to associate with.

I have acquaintances who put up with my quirks and ideas without agreeing with them. One friend, who knows I’m trying to go vegetarian, delights in telling me how much meat she consumed that week. It’s friendly teasing, and I barb her back because we know we are safe with each other; we respect each other’s differences.

If I insisted that the only friends I’d have would be those who believed as I do in every last thing, I’d have no friends. I wouldn’t even be married, because there are number of issues on which my husband and I will never agree. Still, we manage around those, as we have for twenty-eight years, roll our eyes at each on occasion, then simply move on to one of many other things wherein we do agree.

No one in my family has precisely the same views on politics, music, literature, food, or education as I do. Yet still I love and appreciate all of them.

Indeed, if we all believed the same about everything, we’d be instantly bored with each other.

We need each other’s differences to challenge us, open us, expand us, and make us take second and third looks at what we thought we knew. We really don’t want homogeneity; we really need variety!

I’ve noticed that people tend to get fixated on rightness and wrongness. It’s been my experience that for a few key issues, usually dealing with life and death and personal agency, there are clear rights and wrongs.

But for the millions of other things we can bicker about, it really doesn’t matter. (I’ve heard people argue vehemently if cookies should be crunchy or chewy, of all stupid things.)*

Many dissimilar approaches can all be “right.” For example, what the “right” dress or music or meal may be for my adult daughters will not be the “right” one for me.

And I think there are times when all of us may be “wrong,” so what does “rightness” matter except to make more enemies in an argument where no winners can exist?

Civility doesn’t worry about who’s right. Civility chooses to exist despite its surroundings.

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My gay friend Paul never approached the topic of religion, nor did I approach the nature of his sexuality, except to ask where he found such a gorgeous man who could have been cast as Superman. We avoided the topics we knew might cause a rift, because we wanted to be friends.

Friendships can form even between people who spent an entire semester debating opposites sides, because of mutual respect for the other’s opinions. It’s been nearly 20 years, but I still think fondly of Doug.

I refuse to believe these incidents, or that civility itself, are from a past era, because I still see civility occurring among thoughtful, intelligent people all around me. Civility does not ...mean the mere outward gentleness of speech cultivated for the occasion, but an inborn gentleness and desire to do the opponent good. - Mahatma Gandhi

I see acts of kindness despite idiosyncrasies, and patience with others’ peculiarities. I frequently witness joy in differences. And if you want to be my friend even though I’ve got some strange ideas, I’d love to be friends with you, as long as you promise to keep me on my toes.

Let’s make civility fashionable again.

*Chewy.

“When people govern themselves honestly, there’s little need for mediation. ”
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Book 6 Teaser–The one thing those in power fear

 

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I’ve been trying to find examples where this isn’t the case lately, but . . . nope.

Perhaps the biggest threat to institutions are those folks who actually spend five minutes thinking about the issues. Most people just deliver a knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on the “jerk”) concerning any issue–racing to protest, to complain, to throw a fit–without actually analyzing why they are.

In my inconsequential opinion, every political side has become extremist and sensational, leaving what (I hope) is the majority of us watching the swirling all around us, waiting for a break in the action so we can make a collective run for it.

It’s those who ponder and think, who don’t jump to conclusions or accept the scandal of the day as doctrine, who will (hopefully) eventually change the world.

Or escape it.

Book 6 Teaser: Marriage can be the scariest endeavor . . .

There’s the story about a young woman saying happily to her parents on her wedding day, “Now I’m at the end of all my worries!”

Her parents glanced at each other said, “True, but she doesn’t know which end.”

That’s not to discourage anyone from marriage, but to point out that there’s no greater adventure, no bigger challenge, and no more rewarding endeavor than figuring out how to leave peaceably with a stranger, and then welcoming more of them, in miniature, into your home.

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Traveling abroad to some remote locale, like climbing Mt. Everest or backpacking through Australia, is generally considered among the greatest adventures, but nothing compares to raising a family at home.

And you don’t even need a passport or a bottomless bank account for this fantastic, exasperating, thrilling, terrifying endeavor.  In fact, not having those, and knowing you can’t escape, only adds to the intensity.

Savor it.

Title of Book 6, and it’s coming May 2017!

Here’s my Valentine’s treat: the title of Book 6:

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The current plan is to release in May (thus the nebulous “spring”–gives me some wiggle room).

This is the back cover of the book; the front is still in production (ooh, and it’s gonna be good!), but a note on this image: if you’ve read book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, you’ll recall that Perrin and Peto create a tree-slashing method for marking paths to the ancient temple ruin.

I wanted to make sure this strategy would actually work. So about two and a half years ago, when I was first drafting the series, I went out to my little aspen forest in my front yard and slashed a tree with a knife.

(One of my kids saw me doing it, and he was aghast. “For research,” I explained, and because I sometimes do odd things in the name of research [such as pushing down a dead tree in a burned out forest to see if I could; I could, and it’ll be in book 7] he didn’t ask anything else.)

The slashes on the aspen healed into beautiful, dark lines, as you can see by the photo.

Now, if you should visit my house and can’t find your way to my massive blue fifteen-passenger van in the driveway, just consult the aspen and it will tell how many paces in tens, and in what direction, you need to go. (Or get your eyes examined because, seriously, that’s a huge vehicle.)

Teaser lines from Book 6 will be coming at you every week now, and the countdown’s on!

How to stop hating the opposition in 7 short steps

You despise that person (you know the one), and all that they stand for. Their face is on everything and everywhere, and why they’re famous or even admired baffles you to nausea. If they would just die (and everyone else in their little groups) the world would be a better place.

But that’s not going to happen, nor is wishing someone to die a mature attitude that anyone over the age of nine should still possess. Our rhetoric about people and public figures has degenerated to level of grade school recess fights, and it’s time to reverse that. Not just to teach the rising generation how to handle those who they don’t like, but for us adults to have some peace of mind, and some peace in heart.

As I’ve tried to find ways to get along in my mind with those people whose very existence rankle my ire, I’ve devised this list:

  1. Acknowledge that every person—EVERY person—has some good qualities. No one is ever wholly “evil” or “bad,” no matter what the memes say about them.
  2. Find that good quality. Identify it, and not in a sarcastic manner. Recognize that even the “worst” politician, athlete, Hollywood type, or even next-door neighbor has some worthy ability. Maybe they’re very tenacious, or are devoted to their kids, or aren’t fazed by criticism, or have a unique way of looking at the world.
  3. Next, grab hold of that quality, and admire Yes, you heard me right: admire that ability to do whatever, and isolate it in your mind as their redeeming factor.
  4. Do NOT add a “Yes, but,” after that, the words which negate that admirable quality you just identified. There is no room for “Yes, buts.” At least, not at this step.
  5. Now, whenever you see or read something about that person, and you feel your blood pressure rising with rancor, recall that quality, and say to yourself (and here’s where the “Yes, but” comes into play), “Yes, but she seems very skilled in applying eyeliner.” (See, it doesn’t have to be an exceptionally noble trait, but something you can admire.) “Yes, but he genuinely seems to like his current wife,” might be another. Or, if you’ve got nothing else, you could think, “Yes, but I’ve never heard of that person sending rabid gorillas to the international space station.” Repeat this line in your head about the person, over and over if necessary.
  6. And move on. Do NOT continue to read or listen to or watch that person who you so despise. Change the channel, turn off the device, click past them, and find something more settling for your ulcer.
  7. Finally, repeat to yourself: “I do NOT have to get angry about someone. I do not have to spout off in social media, or repost that snarky meme, or comment below the article about why that person should die. I can MOVE ON” (remember step 6?).

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Repeat as necessary, and revel in your new-found peace.

You have very little time in life; don’t waste any of it being angry at a public figure who will never care what you think, and will never know.

Go pour some love on someone instead. Valentine’s Day is coming, after all.

 

Mahrree rarely thought about the twenty-three Administrators who now ruled, and likewise those Administrators thought nothing of her at the northern edge of the world.

~Book 1, The Forest at the Edge of the World

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The Best Spot in the world may not be where you think it is

There isn’t One Best Place in the world.

That came to me Tuesday as perfectly clear blue skies tempted me outside, despite 19 degree temperatures. My winter brain desperately needed the sunshine.

Besides, I got the impression that Maine was trying very hard to win me over during my last hours.

(Which was a smart play on Maine’s part, since my flight that day was canceled because of mechanical issues, and as I typed this the next day at the airport hotel, I watched in dread as the snow came down; another flight delay.)

I arrived seven days earlier to get to know coastal Maine, where my husband already lives and works, and where we’re planning to move in June.

Everyone has been gushing, “Ooh,  Maine! It’s so pretty there!” But in the dead of winter, I don’t believe there’s any place in the northern hemisphere that rates as “pretty.” Everything appears as the equivalent of, “Ugh, morning hair, forgot the makeup, frumpy clothes—just be grateful I showed up today.” Such places shine and glow in the summer, but everything seems to frown and snarl in the winter.

Snow is pretty only for the first hour; after that, misery.

Except for Tuesday when the blue skies waved its big hand at me and said, “Come on! We look decent right now—take a look!” So I bundled up, headed out of the school grounds where my husband lives and works, and soon found myself on an old track deep in the forest.

And this was a true forest, with old growth and ground thick with hundreds of years of plant matter, making parts of it spongy and springy where the ground wasn’t frozen. Despite the cold, a little spring insisted on trickling, and a squirrel next to it gave me the eye, as if wondering why I was there.

And this forest won me over:

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Darn it.

I was suddenly in Edge, in the forests above it which I originally patterned after Yellowstone (hence the hot pots and sulfur vents). But these forests were a very close, very nearly perfect, The Next Spot.

You know “The Spots,” right? The places you envision yourself being—the Dream House Spot, the Best Vacation Spot, The Cruise Spot, The Job Spot . . . The Spot.

I have been living in THE Spot for the past eight years, close to family, universities, shopping, and mountains. After having moved a dozen times in our marriage, I was sure we were set to stay.

Only, THE Spot doesn’t seem to be The Final Spot. Maine may not be The Final Spot either. However, for decades my husband has imagined Maine to be THE Spot, so when he was offered a job last year, seemingly out of the blue, he couldn’t resist.

I came for the week, trying to see this as THE Spot, and as I wandered in that forest I realized that there are many Good Spots. Millions of them, actually.

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(Just the regular run of the mill view as I ambled on a walking path . . . ho-hum.)

Do you ever wonder why people live in such diverse places, and in such varying ways?

Because there is not One Way To Live.

There is not, nor has there ever been, an Ideal Spot, a Perfect Home Town.

Some folks struggle with the idea that there isn’t a “ONE and ONLY TRUE WAY TO LIVE.” To them, Home Town is THE best Spot in the world; one can ONLY cheer for (fill in the name) university’s football team; vacations MEANS sitting at the beach; and pizza should have ONLY pepperoni and sausage toppings. Don’t even bring up pineapple.

They’re astonished to learn that others don’t want to move to their town, they don’t even follow football, vacations are some place different every year, and they prefer calzones. No, people aren’t ill-informed or plain stupid for not wanting to be exactly like everyone else, living in exactly the same way and place.

Because oh, what problems we’d have if everyone wanted the same things! It’s vital that different places, customs, and notions of “ideal” are wide and varied, in scope and depth, or seven billion of us would all be sitting on top of each other in one tiny Spot! (Which, I’ve learned from an acquaintance, people who live in New York City already think is happening.)

What a marvelous miracle of Intelligent Planning that all of us are different! That means there’s plenty of space and options for everyone.

Some of us live in the same town for generations; others may pick up and settle in another part of the world, never to return. History is full of stories of families sailing far away for a new life, a Different Spot. All of us in America, aside from the Native Americans, originally had family from “Some Other Spot.” It’s fine to find Other Spots. Sometimes God forces us to Another Spot, which looks like a Wretched Spot but later becomes a Most Beloved Spot.

There are millions–even billions–of Good Spots.

My current house hasn’t been my favorite, but it has grown on me—even the too-small kitchen—and I find myself melancholy about listing it for sale soon. I’ve always thought this was the best view I could hope for. As I type I frequently gaze out the windows to These Spots, and sigh in delight.

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But Those Spots will soon be memory, replaced by Spots Like These, the new paths I get to explore:

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And I had to admit Tuesday, that’s not so bad a Spot.

Some year, it might even become my new Best Spot.

It was that realization that the world was so vast, yet only a tiny fraction of it was populated and fought over, that struck the Shins as so tragic. None of the violence in the world had to happen. There was plenty for everyone. But no one wanted to leave what they knew.

~Book 6, coming Spring 2017

On book 6, planes, and the best friends you don’t remember at the airport

Random thoughts, in no particular order:

#1: Book 6 went out to my beta readers last week, which means it’s well on track to be revised and released by (hopefully) May 2017!

#2: I’m going on a plane Wednesday morning for the first time since 2003, when I had a genuine panic attack upon take-off. So if you hear on the news of anyone melting down on a flight on to Philadelphia, just roll your eyes and say, “Lemme guess . . .”

#3: I sat for six hours at the airport yesterday morning, (I’ve been going there a lot lately) thanks to the inefficiency of the US army, and was fascinated to think of how many people passed by me for the first time, and the only time, on this earth. A man from India repacked his bag next to us and chatted with my son about serving in the military. Some folks on the other side of us were in town from Chicago for the Sundance Film Festival. A snowboard team waited forever to check their boards.

As I watched people parade by–some looking as disoriented as I usually do in the airport, some appearing to be well-traveled experts–I was almost struck with the notion of touching each person (except there were too many TSA agents around), wondering just how far those folks would go, and if our paths might ever cross again.

The lady with the high heel boots and the Yorkie tucked under her arm.
The mom with three kids who each hefted their own bags and followed her obediently.
The grandpa walking arm-in-arm with his teenage grandson who was flying for the first time.
The lady in the bathroom who called her friend in a panic because the car rental agency didn’t want to give her a Ford Mustang because she would be driving through snowy mountain passes, but told her she’d be better off in a Jeep Cherokee, and only after her friend assured her that was an excellent idea did she relent.

Where do they all come from, and where will they all go? Will I ever see any of them again in this life?

I believe that before we were born, we all knew each other intimately. We had hung around together for at least thousands of year, if not eons.

But birth is, as Wordsworth reminds us, “but a sleep and a forgetting,” and every time I’m in such a crowd, I wonder that if we were all allowed to remember what we meant to each other once before, if we wouldn’t stare in astonishment and embrace in excitement. 

I can’t help imagine that we wouldn’t hurry past each other, or grow impatient with someone slower ahead who is clearly inept (my apologies already to my fellow travelers on Wednesday), but that we would shriek for joy that finally–FINALLY!–we found each other again.

Occasionally I’ve experienced, when I first meet someone, a flare of recognition, a heart-leap of, “There you are!” I know that person, already, and am getting the opportunity to know them again on earth. But that’s happened for me only a handful of times.

The rest of the time, we barely make eye contact as we hurry from one place to another, engaged with one important task or another. Maybe we exchange a friendly smile as we negotiate a line, and we’ll sit next to each other on the plane oblivious to the notion that perhaps this was once one of our greatest friends, and will be once again after we “wake up and remember.”

And that’s the best part: I’m confident that in the next life we all will recognize each other again, and trade notes about where we were and when in our mortal experiences, and discover that once, our paths did cross in a busy airport on a bleak day in January.

But something burned in Perrin’s heart. It caught him so much by surprise that he almost gasped. He took the boy’s face in his hands, because something was so familiar about that moment, about that face . . . He had seen this before.

~Book 6, to be released in late spring 2017

The chapter may be ending, but the book keeps going

Since last summer, I’ve felt I’ve been dying a slow death. We’re in the long process of moving cross country in June, but not until some major events in our family occur: a granddaughter born, a daughter off to college and back again, a son marrying, another son returning home.

I find myself looking at every day, every activity, and morbidly thinking, “This may be the last time that we ever . . .”

Miserable.

However, God isn’t pleased when I mope, and I’ve discovered Him slipping ideas into my head, such as, “Yes, but you’ve done that so many times, don’t you want to do something new?”

As I get book 6 ready to send out to my beta readers this week (yes, that means it’ll be revised and released in late spring!) I’m realizing that life is a number of chapters, but still all one book. I’ve had many chapters which could be called Childhood, High School, College, Husband and College, Small Children and More College, The Riverton House, The Maryland Year, The Virginia Years, The South Carolina Months, The Idaho Falls Months, The Hyrum House.

I rather expected that The Hyrum House chapter would take another 20 years. The house isn’t my favorite that we’ve owned, but the neighborhood, the views, and the rural location with access to big cities certainly is.

Everything was nearly perfect. Which, naturally, meant that God said, “Time to shake things up a bit.”

That shaking is making everything fall apart. Our family will be scattered, and we’ll be too far away from our adult kids and grandchildren to see them on a regular basis. Since we actually enjoy each other’s company, that’s a bit of a heartache.

That’s when I scowl at this chapter ending and think, “I’m starting to hate this book.”

Because surely the next chapter can’t fix anything, right? We’ve had a few chapters that I really didn’t like, and the photo albums from those years are never touched. I was grateful to slam the book on those pages when they were over.

(By the way, fair warning to my beta readers: there’s a chapter in Book 6 that you will hate. Maybe two. Ok, likely three. Three chapters you will want to slam the book on. But remember–the story’s not over yet.)

But other chapters, I let my mind revisit and enjoy them, but also find something odd happening: I don’t want to necessarily relive them. I was happy for that time, but there’s no going back, thank goodness.

I’ve never understood people who miss high school, even into their older years, wishing vainly they could go back to those glory days. Sure, there were good times, but aren’t there good ones coming, too?

It’s those little thoughts, that prodding from Above, that remind me it’s ok to bring this chapter of my life to a close. God knows that I get restless with stagnancy. That once I’ve worked on a project for a few months or years, I begin to look around for something new. When a job no longer is a challenge, I need a new one. (This book series has been the longest I’ve ever spent on a project, because it continues to challenge me every day.)

While I crave stability, I have to confess to myself, and my husband, that I don’t exactly mind that he changes jobs every few years, that my mind begins to feel claustrophobic in the same place, and while my anxiety disorder causes me to clench in fear at change, that trapped part of my head is screaming, “Lemme out!”

(Brains are messy places.)

It’s when I’ve memorized the street signs, the aisles at the grocery store, how long it takes to get to the pizza place, that I find myself simultaneously thinking, “How nice that I know that so well. That makes me feel secure. Now I’m bored. What’s new?”

So it’s with equal parts of excitement and dread that I watch the last few months of our Hyrum Chapter play out, that I remind myself that it’s still part of my book, that it’s shaped our characters in unforgettable ways, and that we take it with us wherever we go.

And I try to remind myself that the next chapter will also be interesting in unexpected ways, and that I very well may look back years from now upon our new Maine Years chapter, think, “Oh, but that was the best one yet!”

(I just barely looked at the date–which I haven’t done in days–and realized that yesterday was the anniversary of my mom’s death, three years ago. And yet, even her story still continues . . .)

Perrin quietly shut the door behind him and ran his hand along it. As soon as he let go of it, that would be the end—

He felt Mahrree squeeze his other hand, and she reached back and touched the door as well. “I’m sure they have oak where we’re going,” she whispered, and let her hand slide down the door.

And Perrin removed his, clasping it into a fist. He gripped her hand tightly as he whispered in her ear, “Come Mrs. Terryp. Let’s find our new world.”

And neither of them looked back.

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti