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Deborah Straw

Seeing Life From a New Perspective
by Deborah Straw

The American Indian proverb, "Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins," speaks volumes to me at this middle point in my life. I try to treat everyone -- my college students, husband, elderly mother, our dog and cats -- as if I were them for a short while. I attempt to be fully present in the moment.

Ever since September 11, my students at a community college, overall, have been more anxious, more depressed, less light-hearted. Many are unemployed; several are single mothers. They do not feel a lot of hope about the future; they are afraid or don’t feel able to follow their hearts.

Why is Cancer Killing Our Pets? by Deborah Straw

We also have students with learning disabilities, non-native speakers and adults with emotional or mental disabilities. Because I have an affinity for special-needs students, I often work independently with them. During these sessions, I try to see what it’s like inside their heads, inside their daily lives. I recall how exciting and scary it was to be in college and to be young, with most of my life before me. Even though the world has changed considerably, for many students a hope for the original version of the American Dream still holds sway.

At home, I try to better understand my husband. We’ve been married for 20 years and, as with all committed relationships, we’ve been through many phases. A frustrated artist, he has genuine talent and is currently painting several large oil landscapes. Like so many others in this economy, he was laid off four months ago and can find no work. I am trying hard to fully realize that there are few available professional jobs in Vermont and that ageism is firmly at work in our small city.

It’s so demoralizing not to be valued in the workplace. So, I also try to get into his head and heart and encourage his painting enthusiasm. Visual inspiration, like literary inspiration, can be fleeting -- you have to take advantage of it when it strikes.

This is being as soulful and compassionate as I can be -- letting go of any preconceived traditional notions I have about the husband being the provider and allowing things to unfold as they will. I am learning to trust that economic times will improve and that creative solutions will emerge.

Now that my mother is living in senior housing a mile down the road, I have to let her (at a drastically slowed-down pace) re-learn her surroundings. I watch her stumble with new activities and try to make new friends. Seeing her frequently confused and frustrated is not easy -- it makes me sad and nervous -- but she is adjusting. Her life is becoming busier and I am becoming more attentive to who she really is at this stage. Clearly, it is not easy to leave your family home, give up your car, not be able to visit old friends easily, and slip into an entirely new community at 84. Mom is still a feisty, energetic woman who has just made a more major change than I have in several years, and I admire her strength and resilience.

Finally, I try to treat all animals, including our three companions, as if their needs mattered. What dog wants to be left alone all day, even if inside on the couch with the radio turned on? All of us need to walk more. What cat doesn’t want to play part of each day? What caged bird doesn’t want to be on your shoulder or flying around the room--to be able to see life from a new perspective? Non-human creatures communicate their needs quite clearly if we are willing to watch and listen. Wouldn’t I want these things if I were them? Of course, we benefit, too, by listening. Spending more time with animals always makes me feel better -- happier, calmer, more centered, even silly, sometimes.

The downside of all this nurturing is that I often worry about others. My relationships are quite complex. However, I believe the more fully we consider others’ souls, the more our capacity for understanding, forgiveness, and love grows -- and, despite aging and its losses, the more rewarding and full our lives become.

© Copyright 2002 Deborah Straw.  All Rights Reserved. 

Deborah Straw
Deborah Straw of Burlington, Vermont, has been a published writer for 25 years. Her first book, Natural Wonders of the Florida Keys, an ecotourism book, was published by Country Roads Press/NTC Contemporary Publishing Group in August 1999. Why is Cancer Killing Our Pets? How You Can Protect and Treat Your Animal Companion was published by Healing Arts Press (an imprint of Inner Traditions International) in November 2000. became the first Straw is also a widely published essayist and fiction writer, with work in several anthologies. Besides being a writer, she teaches writing and literature classes at Community College of Vermont, Burlington.



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