A Hand from: Mari

mari“A story shared with me by my very wise Gramps. It comes from Faith to Doubt by Steven Batchelor:

During my second month of nursing school, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. “Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello.'” I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy. 
 
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As for me, I spend much of my day with a pen in hand. 
Come to think of it, while I am the one holding the pen, I think the opportunity to put pen to paper–the writing process–has held me over the years.”

(Berkeley, California)
(Land of the Ohlone people)


Submit your own hand portrait with a piece of wisdom or care here: ToHoldAHand@gmail.com

Why hands? Click here for the story.

Follow on Instagram @AHand2Hold

 

A Hand from: Olive

IMG_1124There are a lot of things around us telling us that we’re not good enough and making us feel weak: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Sometimes it’s people around us or messages in media. But most of the time those feelings of weakness come from ourselves. Remember to recognize the things that make you wonderfully strong. They’re bountiful.

(Mount Cutler, Colorado Springs, Colorado)
(Revered by the Cheyenne and Arapaho people. Land of Southern Ute tribe)


Submit your own hand portrait with a piece of wisdom or story of care here: ToHoldAHand@gmail.com

Why hands? Click here for the story.

Follow on Instagram @AHand2Hold

 

Hands from: “Look for the helpers.”

IMG_1827Love has a way of pushing fear, motivation, the past, and pain to the side. It tells us to get up and reach out with care. This is why Love can seem scary, especially to those of us who are afraid to get too vulnerable or uncomfortable. For me, my ability to love can change with the season (even within the hour), but I am always looking to love and hope for guidance when caught at an impasse.

From Mr. Rogers’ mother, this piece of wisdom “look for the helpers” is a call to action. Love is an action.

  • Where are the people helping? Health care providers, parents, teachers, nurses, doctors, grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, etc.
  • How can we be part of the solution? Stay home! Wash your hands! Avoid touching your face!

Yesterday, it was holding my aunt’s bandage down as she wrapped her healing, post-surgery foot. And washing my hands. I’m not asking for a medal of honor here. Nor do I need any praise for doing the dishes after someone cooks me a meal. I do it because I love. When I look for the helpers, I think of the ways they are being a part of the solution, and I keep these things in mind:

  • How can I help in my own small ways at home, and in the world?
  • Who can I reach out to? Where can I put my money, my time, my love?

– Words from: Sophie L Thunberg

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” Fred Rogers.

Video of Fred Rogers here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LGHtc_D328

(Mountain Shadows, Colorado Springs, Colorado)
(Land of Southern Ute people)


Submit your own hand portrait with a piece of wisdom or story of care here: ToHoldAHand@gmail.com

Why hands? Click here for the story.

Follow on Instagram @AHand2Hold

A Hand from: An Old Friend

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  1. Who would you like to be holding hands with right now?Any child’s hand.
  2. What wisdom or perspective would you like to share with others that had been imparted to you during this strange time?Wendell Berry’s poem: “The Peace of Wild Things
  3. What “things” have held your hand over the years?Books. Memoirs, fiction and non-fiction. Children’s books.

“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

 

Click here for great children’s book ideas!

(Manitou Springs, Colorado)
(Land of Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Apache people)


Submit your own hand portrait with a piece of wisdom or story of care here: ToHoldAHand@gmail.com

Why hands? Click here for the story.

Follow on Instagram @AHand2Hold

Virtual Hand Holding During a Pandemic: Offerings of Wisdom and Care

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My grandmother and I do not share the same language. I barely speak any French and she has two or three words of English. I am 10 years old, holding hands with my mémé in a French marketplace. Nowhere else do I feel more held, loved, or understood than in these sacred walks to-and-from the marché with my mémé.

I am older now. And we share the common tongue of le français now. Sexy and alluring to many, complicated and colonizing to others, and a mix of memory, grief, freedom, and play to me.

My mémé died last summer. I was there to hold her hand as much as I could. When I speak in French now, I think of her, as well as my mother who has also passed. I think of all those moments we shared without language too.

In this strange and unsettling time of a global pandemic, I take time to reflect on the “why”: Why did I start this hand holding project with strangers in the first place?

Not from the lonely years, as I had previously thought, living and dating in the big city. No, this all started as the small seed of an idea. In that marketplace with my grandmother, in the act of  her offering of her hand as support when language could not be shared. As a sacred ritual, a sort of communion, a shared intimacy, we were able to bridge the linguistic barrier and hold each other, each day, without words.

And so here we are now: Fast forward to March 2020 at the height of the Coronavirus outbreak. Without a means of touch.

I look back and look around to see people starving for connection, for some wisdom and perspective during this strange and confusing time. I think of whose hand I would most like to be holding at this time. I think of all the hands left untouched. I see the hands of the elderly, which are the most vulnerable and least likely to be touched right now.

I take a deep breath. In fully. Out fully. And hold my own hand. I feel sweat, my fingers, heat. A settling sensation courses through my body as I look inward and am reminded that my grandmother’s teachings are still within me. That the mentors and second mothers who held my hand for all those tender years of my upbringing are still here inside.

The imprints of our hands–the offerings of hands to one another–this act of figuratively reaching out during this crisis bears witness to our common human struggle for connection.

We need each other. We are one. We are scared. We are brave. We have hands of wisdom to give.

We are in an unprecedented moment of global reflection in the face of an invisible virus. It is an incredibly confusing time in history. And so, I’d like to invite you to share your own pieces of knowledge or wisdom that has been imparted on you, to extend a hand to others.

Share and describe feelings of being held and any perspective that this experience may have offered you.

Questions in mind:

  • Whose hand would you like to be holding right now the most?
  • What pieces of wisdom, care, comfort, and perspective would your elders be telling you and the world right now?
  • What “things” have held your hand over the years?
  • When was the last time you felt truly held?

Submit your hand portrait or “hand selfie” (any medium: photo, video, drawing, ink, etc.) and a piece of wisdom you’d like to share: ToHoldAHand@gmail.com

I will be putting together a mural of hands together as a tapestry of support, and posting your hands to AHand2HoldProject.com.

Now is the time to reach out and offer a hand.

~ Sophie L Thunberg (SLT website)


For questions, stories, or comments on AH2H, contact: ToHoldAHand@gmail.com
Follow AH2H on social media: @AHand2Hold


©Sophie L Thunberg (Thinbeef, LLC)

 

 

 

Sitting with Horace

IMG_9064Horace is a Muslim. Horace is transgender. Horace is black. Horace’s identities fall at the intersection of some of the most marginalized groups in America. He is not backing down.

An uncanny sense of transparency, Horace dug in deep. Not even a minute into our walk, and we were already discussing the traditionally off limits dinner-table topics of sex, politics, and religion. From the basics: family dynamics and friend drama to the not-so-basics: cyber personas and telepathic vampires landing on Earth.

Chinese was easier for Horace to learn than German.  Horace’s eyes lit up when talking about Chinese, and his excitement for the subject was infectious.

Our walk, just as our talk, was quick-paced. After about the 5th or 10th time around the park, we decided it may be easier to sit . The concrete paths and circles seemed to escalate the conversation, and the last time I walked here with someone the walkways bred a similar dizzying tension. Finally deciding to plop down on the bench after our voluble stretch, we immediately fell into silence. We sat peacefully–hands held–watching people weave around the park. Our Washington Square Park walk on pause, we were able to wind down and take in our surroundings.

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Horace has this great presence about him. His voice is smooth and confident. His friendly face and disclosure are disarming, and quickly put me at ease. Horace’s family has roots in the small but diverse Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Many different cultures (incl. African, East Indian, French, and English) have left their mark on St. Lucia.  As a Francophone, I was curious about the delineations between Kwéyòl (the second most spoken language on the island), Creole, and French, but, alas, Horace’s linguistic heart and passion lied in Chinese.

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While Horace moved to NYC and went to an urban maritime high school, he and his family still maintain close ties to the island.  Every year at Christmas time, they send barrels full of food, gifts, and supplies to the remaining family members on the island. As Horace explained, due to the country’s dire economic status and high taxes on imported goods, this barrel tradition is often a question of survival.

In Saint Lucia, the two main political parties: United Workers Party (UWP) and the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) are as divided as the Montague and Capulet families. Support the wrong party and you may as well be declaring war against your family. Though Horace’s family has had a hard time accepting his transgender identity and newly declared religious practice, he does not let this compromise his love or view of them. Horace greatly admires how his father is devoted to his mother, and told me he is looking for a love half as good as what his mom and dad share. From barrels from overseas to unconditional love, family alliance comes first.

A short list of Horace’s family’s names that he agreed to share:

Mum – Mary/Wen Doon
Dad – Earl/Charlie
Little brother – Josh
Older brother – Gawain
Older sister – Lavignia
Grandmum – Theresa/Mum/Doon/Mefed/MeFediona

I enjoyed hearing stories of Wen Doon and her struggling to accept his transitions in identity; because behind all the confusion and anger, their love for one another will not be broken. “If it’s not life or death don’t let it hang on your neck,” Wen Doon would say.

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Many folks grow up with a fixed sense of the sexes and God. When I asked Horace about coming out to his family, he explained how there are different forms of acceptance.  While someone in his family may be okay with his transgender identity, being Muslim could be something much more difficult to process. It’s an important reminder to everyone that there are many stages in “coming out”, and that doing so does not always equate immediate acceptance or understanding of all parts of one’s identity. It takes time and patience.

There are many forms of “coming out” (as different than the status-quo) to your family: fights over dating people from different ethnic backgrounds; choosing a financially unsure career path; admitting you do not really like mom’s spaghetti; etc. While the ultimate understanding of one’s identity or “coming out” may never happen, it’s still a process, and not an immediate end-all, be-all moment. IMG_9112

People may view Horace as different, a threat to the norm. But at the end of the day, who is causing the most pain and suffering?  A young trans Muslim black man with great taste in gaudy jewelry and cyber personas; or those using social norms of racism and sexism as tools for violence…to villainize young black men and women…to leave people behind in poverty…to push kids to the edge of suicide?

Beautiful things happen when people reclaim their own identity, and take time to explore others’. I was afraid of writing this piece on Horace, because, as a white cis-gender woman, I found myself calculating my words more than I had in other posts. For me it was the question of race and colonial history (or erasure of that history) that made it difficult to write about Horace without acknowledging my own French ancestry in relation to Horace’s Caribbean roots. Once I let go of my own needs to absolve my “white guilt”, it became easier to see how Horace’s story is not representative of EVERY genderqueer black Muslim. Horace’s story is his own. He is not here to teach me or every white person what it’s like to be black, queer, and Muslim in this country.

Horace and I actually had a lot more in common that I could have imagined when first seeing him and learning about his identity. We are both nerds and both have big love for our families. Instead of rushing around the park or politics, it is good to take time to sit and soak in all the complexities. Listen to our truths and not let fear repress our sense of self or hamper our ability to reach out to others. Horace and I watched the sun set in silence, his ring shining in all its glory, our hands intertwined.  The intimacy we shared on the bench remains in the past, but Horace’s presence in my memory continues to shine, a pink-and-green studded glow.

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11/20/14. Washington Square Park.

Jenna: hummingbird, styrofoam, poetry

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Jenna loves coffee and only dates Jewish people. The walk was filled with many silent moments. After offering to get me some coffee before our walk, Jenna and I quickly slipped into the north entrance of the park.  With great awkwardness, I tried directing the discussion, but soon realized that she seemed fine with wandering quietly hand-in-hand.

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So I let up. Took some breaths and just let the talking come and go. It was easy-going. The air stung.

I was surprised to see that I did not take many pictures of Jenna. Maybe I was scared to ask. Her hand was very comforting to hold. But also almost inappropriate. The more she didn’t give me attention, the more I wanted it. Still, I felt calm around her. At first I wanted to impress her, make her see how cool and dateable us Gentile folk could be, but I let that go. I had to let that go. This walk was about Jenna, not me.

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“I don’t love myself yet.”
“It’s unfinished work,” she added without a beat.

Her pain was palpable. She did not smile often, but when she did, it was warm and bright. With Prospect Park’s winding paths, tunnels of trees, and secluded pockets, the walk felt long and faraway.

“I hate my dad…You have to hate to get past the pain.”

My mind wandered a lot and I felt a great sadness for Jenna that mixed in with my own grief. I loved her honesty and the way she was very deliberate in everything she said. Neither of us seemed willing to push the conversation forward. I’d think, “Should I ask her a question now or just let it sit?”

Do you believe in love?

“Yes,” she said, “in the moment.” But we cannot build it up because it is always there. We are immersed in it, she explained.

I imagined the endless amounts of love surrounding us. I filled my imaginary cup with all the different forms of love, between people, friends, family, nature…but it all seeped and sifted through. I still want to possess it. Declare Love from others and call it mine—more unfinished work.

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What do you hate?

“Styrofoam,” she replied.”I hate styrofoam. The sound, the carcinogens, [the fact] that it will live longer than me.”

Jenna works with children with Autism; she wears a ring from Israel that she cherishes; and if she could be any animal, it would be a hummingbird. Though she shared only a little about her life to me, each fact weighed heavy in sincerity.

We sat for a while on a bedrock-like tree stump, people watching.  The old tree’s roots wrapped around the edge of the path, lifting us above the scene below. I felt like a kid again with a hiding spot. Jenna told me she like to write too. Poetry.

I asked her to make a poem on the spot.

A walk in the park
A lovely hand to grab hold
It’s cold but so warm
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11/22/14. Prospect Park. 

Matthew hugs.

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Raised by a family of devout huggers, Matthew opened up to me about his hugging lifestyle. In Matt’s family, they hug goodbye, goodnight, and hello. He confessed how he found it strange the way other families barely touched or hugged one another. This reminded me of the bisous culture of my own family in France to greet friends, family or new acquaintances in a familiar way and punctuate the day.

It felt natural to walk with Matthew. I actually wanted to stop many times to face him. Matthew is my brain incarnate. It was a horrifyingly casual experience walking and holding hands with my brain. I got nervous because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to retain the details like I had in other walks. I saw a lot of my own personality traits in him, and (though I initially resisted the urge) quickly started making comparative notes.

The key difference: Matt communicates really well. He fills the space with ideas, stories, and questions, both big and small. Very similarly to me, Matt qualifies his thoughts and considers the way his words may impact the person he is speaking to. Most of all, he is incredibly sincere.

Matt and I share the view that 90% of people are not really listening to one another. The irony here is that I do not think I was really listening to what Matthew was saying during our walk. But what mattered was the way we connected, not really what we talked about.

Matthew explained to me that he was not very good at small talk and tended to jump right into the deep stuff. However, I disagree. He was an excellent conversationalist. We smoothly sailed over everything from social sports clubs and film to polyamory without any awkward pause or hesitation.

-When was the last time you were really listened to?

-The deli guy.

Funny.

This year, Matt traveled to the Netherlands to celebrate the Redhead Days festival with hundreds of other redheaded folks and their loved ones with both red and non-red manes. Why not? “It’s easy!” he exclaimed, “Everyone should travel more.” Though we debated about the actual break down in cost and expenses, and questions of privilege, he made a convincing argument for how you can travel in more affordable ways by not going out to eat, planning and saving up money months in advance. Matthew was not only optimistic, but also inquisitive.

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Matt longs for real moments. Being that person for someone, offering a shoulder one can lean on. And you can see this; he has a certain glow.

Matt’s clear radio-worthy voice was a soothing reminder for me to look on the brighter side of life. Matt had sensed my reluctance to re-embrace the city after my long stay back home in Colorado for knee surgery. My leg grew tired as we took a detour down and back up some wide stairs. The awkward kind that forces you to do a semi-lunge. But I didn’t want to admit my need for a pause. Not until we crossed the bridge and entered a heated discussion on polyamory.

Our talk was quick like our steps and I wanted to push forward. I began to kick a small metal marble along the path. We discussed nearly all the things that had been pressing my mind recently: avoiding negativity and negative folks, depression & anxiety in our generation, modern-day relationship structures, the NRA, the Broncos, Lions, Tigers, and Bears…

It was uncanny the way Matt would start up a topic I had been rambling about only the day before to a friend. Namely polyamory. We were suddenly discussing measurements of vulnerability and pain in various forms of romantic relationships & the importance of constant communication.

Subtopics ensued:

– Can straight men and women be just friends? Yes. Wait, maybe.

– Do you believe in love? Yes.

– Long distance relationships? No.

Matt said the trouble with long distance relationships (LDR’s) is that you don’t have time to figure out if the person you are dating “secretly loves automatic weapons or is racist.” Things that matter. I could relate to this, and enjoyed finding the common ground between us.
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At the very beginning of our walk, I asked Matt if he was happy. He seemed so positive and carefree. I wanted some dirt. It was way too easy to walk with him, so easy that I often forgot we were holding hands.

– Are you happy?

– I’m more happy than I give myself credit for.

I may as well been having a tête-à-tête with my own mind.

 

Matt has a very inviting and open presence. He  wanted to know my age, but didn’t need to know. He wanted to know my thoughts on polyamory, but, again, didn’t need to know. Even if he may have been curious to know, he accepted my request to move on.

Later on, I asked Matt what he thought of pigeons. He declared disgust and then laughed, stating that was such an odd question to ask. I explained to him that most folks have a very visceral reaction to them if they don’t like them. “Well they do have orange eyes,” he said. I had never noticed that before! Maybe they are a little evil after all…
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Our conversation ran a lot like the pigeon talk. Random, fun and easy. I had an odd desire to try to surprise him or see if he’d do something silly like standing up on the wall next to the dock while we continued holding hands. While yes, I’m a tad bit of a sadist, I think it’s most reflective of how open Matt is to the world. I knew he would go for it. And if he did not want to, then he would give me a clear reason why not. And that’s a refreshing quality to recognize in any stranger, colleague, partner or friend. Directness.

We followed the winding curves to the docks, making a very efficient tour of the soccer fields back to home base—Shake Shack under the bridge. It was difficult to say goodbye to Matt. I wish I had asked him what he was most proud of. And if he likes to dance. I bet he’d be a great dancer. There’s something about Matt that says there’s more to the story.

We sat on a bench at the end of our walk for a good amount of time, trying to tie up any loose ends. It felt like we were having a DTR (define the relationship) like a couple, only without any romance or history. It was weird to feel so connected with Matt in the moment while also being at peace with the idea of never seeing him in person again. I appreciated his kind gestures, such as letting me borrow one of his gloves to warm up as we sat with the sun sinking into the horizon.

At the end, I said, “Alright I want my Matt Breda hug.” His aforementioned hugging lifestyle would not be forgotten. It was a good cold weather hug, a clumsy jacket-to-jacket, glove-to-back friendly squeeze.

I can’t wait to see what Matt makes in the world. Good luck on your job interview Matt. They need you.IMG_0650

10/18/15. Brooklyn Bridge Park.