On Tuesday, Bob and I spent the greater part of the day at OHSU (aka Oregon Health & Science University). OHSU also houses two hospitals, and my surgery will take place at one of them (OHSU Hospital) on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s schedule contained three appointments, each of which included questions and answers, tests and more tests, and an introduction to a research study I’m participating in. At the time, my head was swimming until we got a stretch near mid-day for lunch and taking a breath.
Everything went well. All of our questions were answered. We also received a detailed description of my surgeon’s plan. The end result came at the hands and compassion of medical staff at the Spine Center.
In the midst of all the negativity around us by the government, protesters, the news media, and more, it was a delight to meet people who were actually soothing souls. Not one negative attitude during the entire day. Not one person who came across as an ego-loaded jerk. Not one shrug or smirk at any of my questions.
These soothing souls provided me with the sense of calm and peace I’ve been seeking as I head into the most complex of the spine surgeries I’ve had to date. Prayers from friends and family helped me along. Coming home felt almost unbelievable when compared to how I’d felt that morning heading out.
Gratitude is lifted to God for the gift of these people committed to working in the field of medicine spreading calmness and peace.
There are days when I wonder if this world can continue to exist under the current load of hate and misunderstanding and evil, when I wonder if the hearts of all people can somehow find an antidote to racism and virulent nationalism and a concern only for ourselves. We are born to these things as sparks fly upward, I suppose. I know I am. My friendship with Mohammad has been both the diagnosis and the beginning of a cure within me.
In 2012, Mohammad fled his Syrian village along with his wife and four sons, escaping to Jordan through the wilderness. Four years later he sat across from Shawn Smucker in a small conference room in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Though neither of them knew it, Mohammad had arrived in Shawn’s life just in time.
This is the story of a friendship. It is the story of a middle-aged writer struggling to make a living and a Syrian refugee struggling to create a life for his family in a strange and sometimes hostile land. It’s the story of two fathers hoping for the best, two hearts seeking compassion, two lives changed forever. It’s the story of our moment in history and the opportunities it gives us to show love and hospitality to the sojourner in our midst.
Anyone who has felt torn between the desire for security and the desire to offer sanctuary to those fleeing war and violence will find Shawn Smucker a careful and loving guide on the road to mercy and unity.
Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me About Loving My Neighbor by Shawn Smucker Published by Revell Publishing Company (October 16, 2018) Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir Source: Publisher Format: Paperback, 208 pages
Disclosure: My thanks to Revell Publishing Company for providing a copy of Once We Were Strangers for my review. Opinions expressed here are mine.
I cannot remember a time when reading a book had the transformative effect upon my life that Shawn Smucker’s Once We Were Strangers has had. The first few pages unfold into a story that provides a perspective of two lives–cultivated by different cultures and traditions–coming together in a way I’ve never experienced.
Imagine yourself traveling from Syria to Lancaster, PA. That’s a distance of 5,792 miles by air. But parts of that mileage you have either walked or relied on buses or cabs, usually in the night. You have not traveled alone. Your wife and four sons, the youngest of whom is only a toddler. You are leaving behind everything you have known for most of your life. You are taking a risk in a war-torn hostile country. Yet, what other options do you have to protect your family?
In four years time, after this agonizing journey, Mohammad, his wife Moradi, and their four sons arrive in Lancaster, PA. Their journey has been difficult, risky, and long. They are supported by a local organization, and one day a local resident of Lancaster, Shawn Smucker, arrives to meet Mohammad for the first of many visits and gatherings. They are hopeful that this book I’m reviewing will reach a point of going out into the world to tell Mohammad’s story and what is inevitably a similar story to that of most refugees in a new land.
After Shawn’s cautionary statement that Mohammad shouldn’t get his hopes as nothing might come of this effort, Mohammad’s translator shares the following:
Mohammad says it is impossible for nothing to come of this. He is glad you are willing to hear his story, and no matter what happens you are friends now. That is all that matters. (Emphasis mine.)
Friends. Something we take for granted because most of us have a long history in our country. We may have moved from one city to another or perhaps one state to another. But we’ve not likely moved as many miles as Mohammad’s family did. Yet, Mohammad knows that friends are the foundation for his family’s success in a new land.
If friendships weren’t so important to all of us, where would all the social media outlets be? How clever of Facebook to use the phrase “Add Friend.” Friends bring us a sense of security, loving compassion, support, encouragement. As a refugee from another country, it seems refreshing that Mohammad was eager to find and make friends. This was something to which he was already accustomed.
A glimpse into the bridge-building, fear-silencing, life-affirming gift of cross-cultural friendship. This is an important and timely message.
–PETER GREER, president and CEO, HOPE International;
coauthor of Rooting for Rivals
There is so much I want to tell you about Mohammad and Shawn’s friendship building and about their families coming together as friends. To tell you too much robs you of the experience I had when I completed my reading of this short book. It takes away the element of transforming your existence in a country where many want to come to our country, and many have already done so. They too are people in search of friends, simple friendships, communities of support.
This need of something so simple touched me deeply when I realized how many friends I have–not on social media but in real life. It is incumbent on us to pass along those good gifts we’ve received. So, if I’m blessed with multiple friendships, it doesn’t hurt if I reach out and befriend another, and another, and another. In so doing, perhaps some of my friends will become friends too.
This story needs to be told–and then? It needs to be replicated in some way throughout all our communities.
— TSH OXENREIDER, author of At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe
The last two quotes contained in this review are from advance praise for Once We Were Strangers. I have included them because they are relevant to what I believe is the importance of Mohammad and Shawn’s story.
Lastly, a few words from Shawn about this book:
I feel like I should have a disclaimer on the cover: ‘No one was harmed in the creation of this book.” But something was harmed. Something happened.’
My belief that refugees have little to offer was crushed. My belief that they need my help more than they need my friendship was brought low. My deep-seated, hidden concern that every Muslim person might be inherently violent or dedicated to the destruction of the West was exposed and found to be false.
* * *
The help I was prepared to offer was help given at arm’s length, aid that would cost me perhaps a tiny bit of time and maybe a few dollars but not much than that.
But I, not Mohammad, needed more than that. Actually, it turns out we both needed the same thing. We both needed a friend.
My Recommendation: I can’t emphasize enough the life-changing impact of this story. Nothing appears in these pages that is from someone’s imagination nor that has been fictionalized. It is a true story recounted by Shawn Smucker’s indelible excellence in his writing style. His descriptive powers given to Mohammad’s story of leaving Syria are filled with reality. This is a book that leaders in all religions need to read, men and women in power in our governments (county, state, and country) should read. We need to read it and step out in faith and hope to make a difference and make a friend. I highly recommend Once We Were Strangers.
Meet Shawn Smucker
Shawn Smucker is the author of the young adult novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There, as well as the memoir Once We Were Strangers. He lives with his wife and six children in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him online at http://www.shawnsmucker.com.
In my post a few days ago, I focused on the topic of self-care. I shared the things I believe I did wrong in caring for myself during my working life and the last few years as a writer. Today I want to share what I’ve learned along the way (and ignored). And I’ll share some new things I have read recently about caring for yourself as you write.
TIPS FOR INCLUDING SELF-CARE IN YOUR DAY
This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list. These are tips that work for me IF I remember to use them. If there is something you feel should be in this list, I hope you’ll share it in a comment below.
Remember, self-care is not selfish. To meet the needs of family, friends, and others in our community, we must first care for ourselves.
A daily schedule which includes a start and stop time for work helps many working folks. When creating a schedule, build in time for exercise and at least 30 minutes for a lunch break.
Find a way to spend part of your day standing for certain tasks.
Becoming a Stand-Up Writer by Keith Cronin at Writer Unboxed shares two stand-up options. These won’t force you to break the bank. I own the first option, but purchased it during my recent problems and haven’t been able to stand up to use it. I set mine up on a sewing table which is countertop height and on the opposite wall from my computer desk. Instead of moving the desk option, I move my laptop.
Taking breaks from sitting to stretch and/or walk around a bit is a good idea. A good thing for both body and mind.
A recent article in the New York Times Morning Briefing offers a way to do this. The writer advises getting up every hour to walk five minutes. Using a timer, either an app on your computer or somewhere you have to get up and move to turn it off, is helpful. Be diligent as this is one of the things I ignored years ago while working as a legal secretary. It would not have changed the condition as diagnosed. But it would have provided flexibility in my joints and skeleton as a whole.
In leaving a comment on last week’s post, Joan Hall shared a link for Tomato Timer. I checked out Tomato Timer and found it is somewhat like the Pomodoro Technique®. The technique is based on working on a task for 25 minutes and then take a break, say for 10-15 minutes or so. After four sessions, take a longer break (20 minutes), etc.
NOTE: Neither of these tips may be workable for writers. A screenwriter commented on the NY Times article that he cannot leave his work in this way. Once he’s creating a scene and interacting with characters, he can’t maintain momentum if he takes a 15-minute break. Others mentioned the same on last week’s post here.
Take a few minutes to assess your own working environment, no matter how large or small. It may surprise you to learn what you do or don’t find. Then try one or more of the tips above and note any change in physical problems you’re experiencing.
If you have tips for work spaces and building better backs, I’d love to see them shared below in Comments.
If you’re willing, check back with me to let me know what this post changed for you and what the impact of the change was.
FYI, I have not yet begun employing all the tips I’ve shared above as I’m still in recovery mode. I’ll try to let you know when I do begin practicing what I preach!
The term “self-care” has been on the lips of many for some time, but not as often as since the election of 2016. In the days and months following, many were angry, frustrated, discouraged, depressed even. Self-care was the pathway for many to place those emotions on a shelf.
Putting the election aside, I want to look at self-care from a writer’s perspective. Based on my working and writing life experiences, I’ll share bad choices I made in caring for myself. Over the last 14 months have had time to ruminate over the past and how it played a part in my current situation.
BEFORE THE FALL OF 2016 (AND HERE FALL ISN’T AUTUMN)
Over the past year and almost three months, time on my hands left me rethinking poor choices. While I pondered the struggle I faced in recovering from a fall, I began to wonder just how this had happened to me.
Because of degenerative disc disease, I’ve faced big hurdles including two spinal fusions. There is a history in my family for this particular spinal condition. And it doesn’t help that I have slight scoliosis.
When I retired in 2006, I was ready to put aside the long, 10-hour days sitting behind a desk. I was ready to write my memoir and get on with a simple, stress-free life. What I’ve learned is habits are set in stone and can only be reversed if we take the first step on the pathway to change.
[tweetthis]Habits are set in stone and can only be reversed if we take the first step on the pathway to change.[/tweetthis]
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
As I thought back over my working life up until 2016, I realized I had severely overstressed my body. I had taken no thought of what long hours sitting at my desk continuously was creating.
Retired 11 years and writing nine of those, my work habits carried over into my writing life. And by then surgeries and scar tissue compounded the bad habits.
Let me explain:
From the start of each day, I sat all day except for restroom breaks and a stop for coffee on my way back to the desk.
Pre-retirement, opportunities to stand came my way. For example, copy projects requiring several minutes needed someone to babysit them. But, we had an in-house copy service. I usually opted for their help because of my heavy workload.
At noon, I rarely left my desk. I packed my lunch at home and ate it at my desk. During that lunch hour, I continued to work while eating.
Until the last five years of my working life, the height of my desk or computer wasn’t adjustable. Secretaries insisted on the ability to raise and lower a section of our desks to provide the option to stand up. Yet, the feature was rarely used. With the pressure of court and other deadlines, we didn’t have time to make the adjustments.
If required to work overtime, it included the dinner hour and on into the evening. This meant more hours of sitting in the same place, same position, and doing the same tasks. I’d already been doing this for the past eight hours.
I loved my job, and I admired and respected the attorney for whom I worked. Always wanting to please my superiors, I never changed my working style over a period of 35 plus years. (This is perhaps a carryover from my childhood attempts at pleasing an abusive mother.)
WHAT COULD I HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
A lot of things. My spine surgeons, my neurosurgeon, and physical therapists provided recommendations. The choice was mine, and I made the wrong choices. Yet, my spine surgeons also told me that what had failed in my back wasn’t my fault. It was the fault of a condition that was going to happen no matter what. And it did.
As I look back, I regret the damage I may have done to my back. Even though my surgeons directed the fault elsewhere, I still wonder what I might have done. There are certainly elements of self-care I wish I had taken the time to inject into my daily schedule.
On Thursday, March 22nd, I’ll share tips on caring for yourself at the desk and computer
Share your thoughts below on self-care, your own struggles with caring for yourself while writing, and bring any concerns you have to the discussion.