Thursday, February 11, 2010

Guilt or Gratitude?

It’s a surreal experience, sitting in an aluminum tube looking out the window from 30,000+ feet to witness only vast expanses of water while knowing this morning I left my Seattle home where it was dark and rainy and by late afternoon, I will be feeling the warmth of the Hawaiian sun. My husband sits beside me listening to an i-pod and reading his Kindle. My daughter and her friend behind us with their manicured nails fiddling on assorted gadgetry to keep them busy. We indeed live a privileged life and at this very moment I am trying to feel gratitude instead of guilt.

My own reading topic of the moment is a book called Trauma Stewardship by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky, and it is what prompted this post.

“I went shopping last week for a pair of shoes, and I thought to myself, “What kind of person would go shopping for a pair of shoes right now?” Community activist, New Orleans, nine months after Hurricane Katrina

As I read the above quote, I was filled with flashbacks of the last few weeks. As I mentioned in this post, I have spent lots of time working with individuals (myself included) who struggle with “good fortune” and “privilege” particularly in light of the recent devastation in Haiti. A few days ago, I had virtually the same thought: How can I be going to Maui when people are buried under rubble in Haiti? Never mind that the trip was planned months before the recent earthquake. Our thoughts don’t always make sense do they?

Lipsky says it is a common experience of caregivers to feel guilt over the disparity between our lives and the lives of those we serve. I felt a twinge of this same guilt yesterday as my co-facilitator and I finished up our weekly session of Deepening Spirituality through SoulCollage® at the Recovery CafĂ©. Our class represents a variety of participants, many who live on the margins of poverty. So when my friend prompted me to tell the participants that I would be absent next week, I felt a slight twinge of guilt. I announced my absence and they quickly replied with “Where are you going??!?!” I hesitated a beat, breathed in and exhaled, “Maui.” “Maui?!? Are you kidding? Lucky you! We hate you. No fair. Teachers aren’t supposed to play hooky!” The good-natured barrage continued until I finally laughed, “Hey, sorry guys, I’m going and I’ll see you when I get back.” They responded playfully and I realized we were having an authentic encounter that brought us closer than ever in our humanity. It turned into a magically sweet moment and my resolve to not downplay my trip, but to send them a postcard and let them know I really was thinking of them.

Lipsky goes onto say when we downplay our own good fortune, we distance ourselves from others by not being genuine, and ultimately begin “to experience our own life with less abundance and joy than we truly feel.”

All of these moments fit into my primary pondering category of self-care leading to good care of others. My husband and I both declared a night or two ago that we are really tired. It’s been a stressful few months and we need to recharge. Yes, we are fortunate and can afford a plane ticket and a week in a nice condo – but in my heart I take along those with whom I work and know that I will be a better caregiver for this respite.

So, I’m curious – do you ever find yourself downplaying your good fortune? What is the impact for you? Do you feel better or worse? Does it bring you closer to others or increase the distance? And what of ‘authentic encounter’? How has it expanded your view of humanity?

Well, this may be the deepest (or only) thought you get out of me for a few days. Who knows? I’m off to recharge and setting aside my guilt for the time being. ☺

Aloha!

rainbow over honolulu © lucy 2.11.10

first glimpse of maui © lucy 2.11.10

12 comments:

Maureen said...

We human beings are graced with the ability to empathize. That's something unique to us. And out of that comes acknowledgment that our well-being necessarily is connected to others' well-being and that we have the means, if we look for it, to help those unlike us find some measure of well-being, and they in turn do the same. We are none of us perfect and we all have gifts to share. When we give and give those gifts without renewal we become dry wells. Even priests take sabbaticals.

I choose not to see my good fortune through a film of guilt. It's self-defeating. It robs me of precious energy to cross thresholds into those spaces where others unlike me are found, into places where I can offer my gifts in love and gratitude and see them multiply.

God loves us as we are, and so we must love ourselves to do God's work. Whether we have more or less than another is not what's important. What's important is what we do with what we have. And that we do it with passion.

Karen said...

Absolutely! I have friends who are going through some rough patches, and I often hold back on the goodness that's happening to me. It just doesn't seem right--when I being told about lost jobs and debt and all that, to go on about my own good fortune. I always find myself focusing on them, talking about what's going on in their lives--and then a small part of me feels a bit resentful because I do feel compelled to hide...crazy, yes.

In any case, have a fantastic time in Hawaii!

Barbara said...

Lent is coming, so I will try to rein in the envy! Have a wonderful time restoring yourself. We all share vicariously in your Maui.

SUNRISE SISTER said...

Oh Lucy,

Surprise, surprise we would have similar thoughts. You echo mine well in this post. I've even felt guilty saying to those who ask about our length of stay that we are staying for a month.

I've ways to deflect my guilt e.g. pledging to the little church we attend here on Maui, sending an extra donation to Episcopal Relief and Development - all easy financial ways to salve my conscience.

I think the best way for me though is to give thanksgiving over and over and over each day for the joy of this rest and restoration for the joy and gift of life.

Thank you for your post:) xoxo

drw@bainbridge.net said...

Thanks so much for verbalizing what so many of us feel. I, too, have a tendency to downplay my good fortune. But I'm not convinced the guilt is a bad thing; I think it ensures we maintain a healthy awareness of the disparity, and encourages us to make appropriate attempts to balance things out a bit by sharing what we can -- even if, as in your case, it's a promise that we will do our best to share the sunshine!

Enjoy your time in Maui; may it replenish your spirits for the work ahead!

Anonymous said...

Kayce! I read recently that when we don't objectively look at what we need to stay healthy, to be replenished, to promote wellness and wholeness, that we are in fact participating in some form of violence against ourselves. Big right? And who are we to reject God's gifts, God's blessings? This time on Maui is that for you and your family. Receive it. Take a walk on McKenna beach for me. I would recommend Brunch and the Old Plantation Store Resterant. The Volcano Crator at Sunrise and Sunset is another God offerring. Enjoy. Embrace. Safe Journeys. Love, Pamela

lucy said...

oh my dear, maureen, how serious and enlightened you are... i agree with much of what you say and hope you don't see me carrying a big bag of guilt around on my vacation. as someone who posted boatloads about haiti, i can't imagine that you haven't had those twinges of "why am i so fortunate... and other people are dying?" i, too, choose not to see my "good fortune through a film of guilt." alas, sometimes my humanity sneaks through and i find it quite cathartic to spit those crazy thoughts right on out :-)

hope you're staying warm in snow-covered DC... believe me when i say, i'm not the least bit guilty to be in the only state in the US with no snow right now :-)

lucy said...

karen - isn't it wild when we feel like we have to hold back our good fortune from our friends? i would so much rather have someone share an authentic experience with me than sidestep their good fortune even if i'm having a rough time... but it can be really hard to judge when to share and when to wait a bit, huh? resentment, however, proves to be one of my ugliest attributes, so i try to avoid it at all costs!!

barbara - envy ranks right up there with resentment in my book. glad you're reigning it in :-) wishing you the best as lent arrives. i'm looking forward to being "ashed" in maui :-)

SS - oh, i love the attitude of gratitude. i find it's hard to get too upset over much of anything here... wet cameras, lost glasses, rainy walks... LOTS of gratitude for waking up each day with the added bonus of paradise, surrounded by fabulous family!!! xoxoxo

lucy said...

drw - yes, a little "guilt" does help me remember my good fortune and remind me that i don't want to keep a tight grasp just for myself. sharing a little sunshine (in whatever form) is a great gift for both giver and receiver. thanks for stopping by!!

pamela - ugh - "violence against ourselves" only leads to violence against others!!! i am a HUGE proponent of the self-care thing... i learned a long time ago that i am definitely not indispensable in what i do and a well-rested, happy me is much more pleasant and productive than an exhausted cranky one!!! btw--we are loving the island!!! xoxoxo

kigen said...

Lucy, the guilt might just be connected to your desire to relate to others who suffer guilt of privilege in your practice. So you're out there doing research using your own experience as material to draw from, instead of a case book, maybe?

thymekeeper said...

Well said Lucy! I just returned from 11 lovely days in Florida. I know that it did my body and soul a world of good, I'm healthier and happier for it, and my gratitude for the opportunity is immense. May you find the same joy! Blessings on your time away!

lucy said...

kigen - nice to see you! "research" it is!! a fabulous perspective you have.

thymekeeper - ah... so fabulous to hear of your florida adventures. restoration of the body and soul is a necessary gift for all!!! thank you for our wonderful blessings.