On Travel and Getting One’s House in Order…

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On Travel and Getting One’s House in Order…

I’m heading to Eastern Europe this week. Somehow, though it doesn’t appear in my DNA, I am drawn to these countries. Their history, their sadness, their literature, their movies, resonate with me. It will be my fourth trip to this part of the world, although now I will see countries I haven’t been to before – Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, then to my favorites, Croatia and Hungary.

I must admit that traveling is getting harder for me. A long flight looms, and I’m hoping that I’ll not be too snockered by jetlag and currencies in countries that don’t use the Euro. I came upon a few Kuna in an envelope and was sure they would get me through my few days in Croatia. When I checked the conversion rates, I found that I had about $2.50. So, I will master Lecs, Leus, Dinars, and Forints. and hold my currency converter close, keep my phone programmed for calls home to make sure that family is surviving without me, and soak in any atmosphere of old Europe that I can find.

It’s a short trip, a lot of countries, I’ll get an overview at best. But at least it’s something, and I suspect that the area will once again touch my heart.

In the meantime, at home, I’m pruning bookcases, closets, whatever seems or feels out of place. When you’re in the mood, it is liberating. Books that I don’t love, books I know that I won’t get around to reading – out they go, with a wish that they will be found by a loving reader. It’s stewardship, really. At least that’s how I’m seeing it. Those cartons in my office, all filled with very important papers and remembrances, well, they’ll go upstairs to storage. Not exactly a minimalist stance, but at least my office will look efficient and well-ordered. A presence to come home to. And maybe one day, just maybe, I’ll tackle that storage area.

In the meantime, Eastern Europe, here I come!


Tolerance, Part II; It Is Complicated…

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Tolerance, Part II; It Is Complicated…

The ongoing saga of my experience with tolerance.

Last week I wrote that tolerance is hard. This week I found it to be complicated. It continues to involve my SHIIP client. (SHIIP volunteers work with people to help them with Medicare and related issues.) Last week I wrote about this gentleman, on disability, now eligible for Medicare coverage. His income is limited; he would most likely be eligible for special help. When I gently suggested this, he vociferously claimed that he would not, would not be one of those people, and proceeded to give me extreme examples of those people taking advantage of benefits offered. Perhaps they were accurate. I would say in my experience they were not.

I wrote about my journey to tolerance, my journey to continue to care about and respect someone whom I believed had both their facts and attitudes in the wrong place, I, of course, knowing just what and where that right place was. I was upbraided by one reader and placed in a category of his choosing as one of those people. I wasn’t sure what group he meant, but I don’t think it was intended as a compliment.

So my client returned this week, asking if I could help with his application for special help. He was chastened, I could tell that, and my heart went out to him. I’ve been humbled in my life, and it is not a feeling that I would wish on anyone. And after we completed the form, I turned to talk to him, to assure him that benefits are there for those who need it, that it is not a cause for shame, and that, actually, his acquaintances, his friends, need never know if he chooses not to tell them. I went out on a limb and said that if his buddies would look down on him, then he needed to find new friends, for they were not friends at all. I said that, certainly, if his best friend cared about him, he would understand and be supportive.

He was quiet, then looked at me and said, “I think that you might just be my best friend.”

How to respond to that? I shook his hand and wished him the best.  And I meant that from my heart. He may not have voted for my candidate; he may have a gun rack hitched on his truck. I won’t change that. But, for one day, at least, I think we both saw one another, beyond our politics and closely held beliefs. For one day, at least.



Tolerance is Hard…

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Tolerance is Hard…

I’ve heard it said that Liberals are tolerant of all groups except Conservatives. I’ll drink to that one and add in-your-face Evangelicals as a personal note. And I had my mettle tested this week in an interaction with a man who is both.

I’m a SHIIP volunteer, which means that I help people with their Medicare choices and problems. He was one of my clients. He arrived in high dudgeon because, after two years on Social Security Disability, he was now eligible for Medicare. For most people, this is greeted with open arms. Not so he. Because he had been covered by (subsidized) Obamacare for $24.50 a month because his income is quite low. Now, if he did not apply for some special benefits, his cost for Medicare would rise to $134, plus he would need a drug plan. Not fair, he decried. This is a rip off. All those immigrants living off the fat of the land and they want to take what money I have to pay for it.

I was quiet, let him speak, then gently suggested that he could apply for assistance to help defray some, or even all, of the costs of these medical plans. He, offended by my suggestion, immediately said no. He would not stoop to take welfare, he said, his voice shaking. I nodded my head and responded that I understood his feelings, asking him to keep an open mind as we reviewed what his costs would be without doing this.

And after more than an hour, of my mostly listening and attempting to interject a few factual statements, he began to listen. At least listen a bit. And just when I thought I was getting through, he brought up those people he saw using food stamps, buying beer and champagne, and the welfare family he knew who had five cars, Cadillacs, as I remember.

I sat, quiet, knowing that it was useless to counter, to talk about purchase restrictions for SNAP, like beer, wine, and certainly champagne. I didn’t add that I worked with many people getting assistance; I know of none who drive Cadillacs or have five cars. I realized that this wasn’t about facts. If it were, I might have pointed out that his disability payments, and his subsidies for health care may have counted toward those benefits that he was so quick to denigrate.

So I listened, and tried to help him trust that I was there to help. Finally, he agreed to allow me to work with him to apply for Extra Help for his medications, then asked what I could do to get him Medicaid. When I told him that that was something that I wasn’t able to do, that he would have to visit the Department of Social Services for that, he, bristling again, told me that there was no way that he would go and sit with those people.

I bristled inwardly. Here I was, faced with an opportunity to practice kindness, caring, for a bigot, a bigot who needed my help, but a bigot nonetheless. While I was considering my response, he stood, visibly shaken, thanked me, and said that he just couldn’t take it any longer. In spite of my personal feelings, I understood. We agreed to meet next week.

Perhaps by that time, he’ll look at things differently. Perhaps by next week he’ll see his personal situation differently. He really does need a hand. Perhaps by next week, he’ll understand that others do too, that we are all in this together. Perhaps by next week, he’ll be less of a Conservative. Perhaps.

And so I have been thinking about this experience, this opportunity to see the face of someone who looks at life differently from me, to see his pain, his need to feel that he is not like “those people,” even though he is. I think I grew from this encounter, and I am thankful for that. As I got into my car to leave that day, I realize that our meeting had left me drained, physically, mentally, emotionally. This seeing life from the other side is exhausting. No wonder we do it so seldom. But it is also life changing. And worth the effort. It’s my hope that by our next meeting, I’ll can bring more than facts, that I’ll be able to bring a kindness that comes not only as an act of discipline, but also one that comes from my heart. And, just possibly, he will understand himself and those people just a bit more.