Tag Archives: Character

When did Compassion Become Political?


My dad called the other night to let me know that his oldest brother, an uncle I have not seen in several years, was taken by ambulance to the hospital. According to my dad, his oxygen levels are at 72% when resting and drop even lower when he gets up or tries to move or walk. They drained 1.5 liters of fluid off his lungs yet… they say he doesn’t have pneumonia, cirrhosis, kidney issues, heart issues, a blood clot or another discernible reason for the issues.

After the traditional and expected “I’m so sorry” and “Is there anything I can do” responses, I asked my dad if there was any family history of such events or if he had any suspicions about the cause.

My dad was silent for a minute before telling me he had asked the doctor if my uncle’s illness could be related to a small rodent problem he was experiencing. The doctor dismissed it as being unlikely. However, the way he delivered this information made me wonder so, I asked a follow up question.

“What kind of small rodent problem?”

My dad proceeded to explain that when my uncle had stopped farming, the price of corn had been low. He decided to winter it in the grain bins and sell it in the spring. But… he never did and the corn sat untouched.

And then, the rats came.

He said my uncle put out poison but instead of working the way he had intended, the poison was ingested by his horde of barn cats, leaving the rats unchecked.

Before long, they moved into his house and later into his car.

My dad and his siblings had been taking turns visiting him, bringing him food, helping him with basic housekeeping responsibilities. The scattered droppings behind the dishes each week gave his secret away but they just cleaned up it since my uncle never talked about it much.

When the scattered droppings turned into piles of droppings – even with weekly cleanings – my dad and his siblings started setting traps.  When rats began to make an appearance and scattered across the floor on a regular basis during their visits, my dad’s sister walked out and refused to step foot in the house again.

Apparently, that was more than three years ago. This is just the first time it has been mentioned to me.

When questioned further, my dad admitted that at this point, rats freely roam the house oblivious to human presence. He told me that my uncle’s stove is unusable as the rats have chewed all the insulation from it and have nests in the oven. They have also destroyed insulation in the walls of the house, chewed on cupboard doors, eaten through the sofa and shredded my uncle’s bed sheets and a few blankets. Apparently, they crawl on him while he sleeps and the whole house reeks with rat urine and feces.

According to my dad, my uncle says it doesn’t bother him that much. He doesn’t have a use for a lot of the stuff that was ruined and, if he takes out his hearing aids, he doesn’t even hear them.

Dad and his younger brother have been trying to get him to move out of the house into senior living but he is stubborn and refuses. So, they simply continue to take turns visiting him to bring him food, empty the traps and clean the best they can.

My dad said that they have not talked with his doctor or any other official about the conditions of the house because they don’t want to embarrass their big brother or cause trouble.

This is not an uncle I am close to but… he is a human being!

No one deserves to live like this. No one.

I encouraged my dad to be honest with my uncle’s doctors, to let them know the condition of the house and the extent of the rat problem. He is a vet. Between VA programs and social services, there has to be other people who can help convince him to take care of himself, to accept some help.

But my dad, relieved to not be carrying the secret any more, simply sighed and said, “My brother bought that house for my mom and dad when he left the navy. He has lived there his whole life and wants to die there. He doesn’t want to move anywhere else. We’ve taken him around to look and he is pretty adamant about it. He’s my big brother! I don’t want to make him upset or cause problems! What else am I supposed to do?”

Understanding that the Encephalitis my dad had in 2005 has left huge scarring of his brain tissue, I decided not to argue and to simply agree. My dad’s last neurological check indicated 92% of his left temporal lobe is gone as is 30% of his right temporal lobe. The rest of his brain is fine. This means he has all of his personality and if you met him on the street, you’d have no idea. However, my stoic, German father is now emotional and ‘huggy.’ He also cannot do math, write his own name, learn new card games etc. It is not fair to expect him to do the logically ‘right’ thing. It is somewhat miraculous – when you think about it – that he is able to help at all. Brains are funny and wondrous things.

My uncle needed some sort of intervention and he doesn’t have anyone in his life who – for various reasons – could do it. So, I did it. I called the Department of Public Health that serves his town. I reported the conditions of his house and asked what could be done.

Unfortunately, they told me that because his home is in a rural area, it is not subject to nuisance laws and, because there are no small children they cannot intervene or order a clean-up. He may qualify as a vulnerable adult but because he is neglecting himself and is not being abused by someone else, they may not be able to intervene. I am disappointed but I understand.

So, I will do my best to support my dad and his younger brother in trying to convince him to voluntarily clean-up and move. I can be there to help deal with the aftermath when he passes away or does decide to move.

What in the world will that house look like a year from now? Or five years from now? Ten years from now? I can’t even fathom… Will it be our – the family’s – responsibility to clean this up or has he willed it to someone else?

This is unfortunate but… as I understand it, not an unusual experience with an older family member who lives alone.

I was having coffee with long-time friends and shared this story. We do this, share things that have happened in our lives. It’s what friends do.

But… my friends did not commiserate. Instead, they responded to my concern about my uncle in a very different way.

“I can NOT believe you reported your uncle. You completed violated his property rights!”

“Of course! Call the government to fix it. Everyone and their uncle – literally in this case – feels entitled! Those are my tax dollars, honey!”

“Exactly. If he wants to live in a house infested with rats, who are you to judge him?”

“He is rural! He isn’t hurting anyone by living like this and you and your family just decide he is the drama of the month and try to take over? Un-believable!”

“If you don’t like how he chooses to live, just don’t go over there.”

“When I get older don’t come and bring me meals! I don’t need your judgment and harassment.”

I acknowledge that I have not been close with him over the years. There are reasons for that. But… he is still my uncle. He is still a human being.

There is still right and wrong.

Isn’t there?

Why is it wrong, judgmental and offensive to be concerned about someone’s health and safety, their well-being?

When did compassion become political?

Who are these women I had coffee with?

What happened to my long-time friends?















Yoga for Social Skills

Kelly Leonard The Second City

Yoga for Social Skills.

I did not coin the phrase. It was delivered by Kelly Leonard, Executive Vice President of The Second City. He said it in an interactive keynote speech at a conference I am attending. His bio says he has overseen productions featuring Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Jason Sudeikis, Keegan Michael Kay and more. And… as impressed as I was with who he has worked with, I was more impressed by what he had to say.

Over the years I have seen a lot of ‘Improv for Business’ type courses offered by a lot of organizations. Over the years I have always wanted to sign up for one. I mean… who doesn’t want to think faster on their feet and be funny!?

But… to be perfectly honest, I had a hard time justifying it. I had a hard time seeing a connection. Kelly Leonard and his colleague Robyn Scott put it out there.

“Improv is Yoga for social skills.”

“Improv is practice being unpracticed.”

And… they explained the science behind some of it.

Apparently, scientists have scanned the brains of people actively engaged in improv and… when we are improvising, activity is reduced in the part of the brain that regulates self-judgment and self-consciousness.

When our self-critical tendencies are reduced, we listen better. We engage more. We are less fearful of taking risks. We are more creative.

Who doesn’t want to think faster on their feet, be funny AND be a better listener who is more engaged, is more creative and isn’t afraid to take a necessary risk!?

THAT isn’t just for personal growth.

THAT has a business application.

They threw out some improv basics. I had heard them before.

My daughter has a degree in theatre and communication and often brought home improv as dinner games. Seriously. If you see me in a restaurant and eavesdrop on a conversation I am having with my son and daughter, you would likely be very confused. We play a lot of Garth. (Example: If Kelly Leonard was an un-bathed zoo animal, he would be Smelly Leopard. If Robyn Scott was a toilet paper thief, she would still be Robbin’ Scott. etc.)

We have conversations where every sentence has to start with the last word said by the other person. (Example: “I don’t know whether to choose the free-range duck burger or the chicken sandwich.” “Sand, which is used as filler in some foods, is not good to eat.” “Eat vegetables and meat and things that are good for you. Where did you here sand is used as filler?” “Filler article in The Onion. I’m sure it was a joke but it could be true even if it was printed in The Onion.” “Onion on the duck burger sounds lovely!”)

We have conversations where the first word of the first sentence in the conversation must start with the letter A. The second person to add to the conversation must start their sentence with the letter B and so on. (Example: “A Dodge SRT Challenger would be a really fun toy.” “Better than that would be a Dodge SRT Challenger Hellcat! They have 707 HP!” “Camaros look cooler.” “Dodge is a classic.” “Even though the insurance is astronomical, I want one, too!” “For sure!” etc.)

Anyway…. I have heard about and used the concept of “Yes… and” and other improv concepts / exercises. But I have not heard them explained like this and I have not used them as anything other than dinner entertainment.

Kelly Leonard and Robyn Scott explained that the concept of “Yes… and” is not just a way to keep a scene running. It is a way to say yes to a person – even if you ultimately have to say no to an idea.

When someone comes to you with an idea and you say no, you are holding up a giant stop sign. It feels frustrating – and personal – for the person who shared the idea. There is no interconnectivity in this type of exchange, no collaboration. The person with the idea has to do all the work and, after a while of having a stop sign shoved in their face, they are going to stop coming to you with ideas.

When someone comes to you with an idea and you respond with “Yes… but” it is a little passive aggressive. It seems like they are saying yes but then….. they smack you with a stop sign and hit you with a revision. It is frustrating, belittling and confusing.

When someone comes to you with an idea and you say “yes… and” they feel heard. You are acknowledging them and their idea and you are hitting the tennis ball back. You are offering a reflection, another idea, a concern but… you are interacting. You are saying yes to the person and interacting with the idea.

I love this. ❤

I also love the other sound bites – that are so much more than sound bites – that they offered.

“If it can’t be used for evil, it is not really a superpower.”

“Fight like you are right but listen like you are wrong.”

“A Team is NOT only as good as its weakest member. It is only as good as its ability to compensate for its weakest member.”

“We teach others how to treat us but you need to play the scene you are in – NOT the scene you want to be in.”

And of course, the best advice of all….

If you don’t take anything else home with you today, take these three things. 1. Listen 2. Say “Yes… and” and 3. Treat every person in your group as a member of your ensemble.

By the way, I was so impressed, I ordered Kelly Leonard’s book, “Yes… and: Lessons from the Second City.”






Mind Over Matter? Naaaaah…

“If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?”

On the surface, it sounds shallow to say that I would rather live to the age of 90 and retain the body of a 30 year but it is the truth.

When I was 30, I had a 4-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. My marriage had been tanking for years and my spouse was extremely distant. I was working two 30-hour a week jobs, going to school full-time and taking on all primary parent and housekeeping tasks. My spouse watched the kids one night a week for me to go to class but I had to hire a babysitter the other night. And it had to come out of my earnings. He was resentful of the kids. He kept a tally of the amount of time I spent with them and, instead of joining in parenting duties, he demanded an equal or greater amount of my time. Even if that meant I did not sleep or get my homework done. Not only did I survive, I maintained a 4.0 GPA.

I had a LOT of stamina in that 30-year-old body.

But… when I was 30, I got into two car accidents within six months of each other. Despite the lack of sleep, neither was my fault. I was hit head on when someone ran a stop sign while I was turning. I also got rear ended by someone who was talking on a cell phone while entering the freeway at 50 mph when traffic was at a dead standstill.  I really wrecked my back between the two of these events – ending up with herniated and bulging disks in my neck.

When I was recovering from these car accidents, my mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer and passed away within five weeks.

During physical therapy for the car accidents, they began realigning things and I began getting really sick. I struggled to keep food down and ended up getting diagnosed with malrotated bowel syndrome. Apparently, my entire digestive system was upside down and backwards.

They ended up doing two back-to-back surgeries to correct it. I was in the hospital for 21 days straight. Surgically, they rigged something together so I can eat but… they couldn’t fix what was causing me to be so ill. It turns out, I have an artery wrapped around my small intestine close to the stomach. As it is not operable, it is something I still live with.

During my recovery from the surgeries and other major life events that took place within an 18 month period, I found out my spouse had racked up extremely high phone bills using 900 lines. He also had joined a dating service.

When confronted, he told me that it was my fault.

Had I been more available to him and paid attention to his needs while I was recovering from car accidents and dealing with my mother’s illness and death, he would not have used the 900 lines. If I had thought to service him while I was in the hospital, he would not have needed to join a dating service.

I was devastated.

And weak.

And vulnerable.

And I believed him.

I believed it was my fault.

And, when he was caught window peeping a year later, I blamed myself.

I did not keep my husband interested in me.

I did not keep my husband home where he belonged.

I had failed him.

I failed my kids.

I failed all the neighbor women he violated.

I failed my family who made it plain they loved him more than me.

(“He is the first decent guy you’ve ever brought home. You are an idiot if you do not marry him and,  if you screw up and he leaves you, we’re keeping him.”

I couldn’t live with what my marriage (what he, what I) had become.

But… I had nowhere to live, no money and no way to take care of myself or my kids. I couldn’t leave him.

I became flat-on-my-back-can’t-get-out-of-bed-depressed. So depressed, that I am actually missing days, weeks of memories during that time.

Friends took me to a conference in Oregon to get me away from the situation. And, when we got home, they hauled me to a doctor who prescribed antidepressants. The meds worked and life went on.


As a 45-year-old woman who now recognizes that her spouse had a sexual addiction, I no longer blame myself for the failure of my marriage.

But…. that damage is still there.

I feel responsible for everything – whether or not I actually am.

I constantly analyze everything, trying to guess what might go wrong and determine how I can prevent it.

I blame myself for everything that happens – regardless of whether or not it is my fault.

I often feel inadequate and unlovable.



But, I am working hard to fix that.

(This 36-questions series is part of that.)

Luckily, my new/old friend understands this.

He is extremely patient and is willing (so far!) to stick with me while I try to fix this. He definitely does his part to remind me I am not responsible for everything.

He reminds me that I deserve the same treatment I give to other people.

He makes me feel beautiful.



But… if I were to  live until I was 90, there is no way I would want to be stuck with that 30-year-old mind again. That 30-year-old mind who didn’t know how to be an adult. That 30-year-old mind who inappropriately thought she could control the world. That 30-year-old mind who failed to love herself. That 30-year-old mind who failed to teach her kids what it meant to have self-respect and demand people treat you fairly.

I would far rather live with wisdom and experience.

Grace and mercy.


Forgiveness and fresh starts.

Which is what I really, really hope my 90-year-old mind will have accomplished.

And… as for the stamina of a 30-year-old body?

That would simply be fun.