No job that pays

Tomorrow is the first Monday in forever I won’t have anywhere to go. Nowhere to be. Nothing to do for anyone higher up the pay scale.

Last week I was fired when the non-profit job-that-paid eliminated its entire communications/marketing department. Conveniently, they let me come into work Monday morning (45-minute commute) and work for a couple hours before they did it. My coworker and I were unceremoniously tossed out, putting the contents of our desks in whatever bag or box we could find. I felt like I’d did something wrong, and still do, in spite of the lovely letter swearing to the contrary in my severance packet.

I understand the business decision, and in fact believe it was probably the right one for the organization at this current moment. And I wasn’t in love with the job. After a career, it was just that– a job. I was grateful for it, however it didn’t scratch any itch for creativity or exploration. It is also the height of irony since I left newspapers because of the increasing risk of having my job disappear. Life is hi-lar-eee-ous.

So now I sit here on a Sunday night, not sure what to do with my planner, my to-do-lists and my time. I have at least a few weeks and then whatever or whenever something presents itself that pays the bills. I am fortunate in that we are financially stable because my husband is good at that kind of stuff. And we have health. That makes all the difference and has nothing to do with us.

At 2 a.m. the morning after I got fired, the SAR pager went off. I was out the door in five minutes and a few miles up the road when the disregard came through. But it was enough of a reminder that with The Job That Doesn’t Pay I am beyond blessed for meaning and raison d’être.

I’ll be fine. But it is weird. I expect the house will be cleaner than it has been in years, I’ll plague you a bit more here. Say a prayer for my coworker and dear friend who was marched out of the building with me. She has kids and pre-existing conditions and all of that. Things are scarier always with kids.

All ya’ll going off to punch the time-cards in the a.m., good luck, have a great week and I’ll be thinking of you. 2017-02-20 10.06.01.jpg

I’ll be looking around for a job for a professional badger because that’s what I am to my core.

And I need a new place for this kick-ass mouse pad.

Opposition Party

They are your friends. They are your eyes and ears, your voice. They are writing the first draft of history, sometimes in a tweet or in an instant.

It sure is a strange new world.

I teach journalism. For most of my entire adult life, I practiced journalism. I still write.

One of the first things I tell my students in my journalism classes is that, as societies transition from closed to open, from autocratic/oppressive to democratic/free, one of the first things to emerge is a free press. It might not be in the forms of printed newspapers  or broadcast television, but there will be a vibrant and growing movement to inform the populace and to keep an eye on the behavior of those in charge.

The converse is also true. When a society transitions from open to closed, from democratic/free to autocratic/oppressive, the first thing to feel the pressure and to be constrained is a free press. Autocracy needs isolation and secrecy. Dictators thrive on darkness like mushrooms in shit.

Never in my lifetime did I think I would see it apply here. But isn’t that always the case? We take what we have for granted, never imagining the house will catch fire and destroy the value.

For my entire professional life, I put my name on every word I wrote. Every investigation, every quote, every single solitary pixel or ink drop, was under my name. It was the same name with which I signed my checks, served on my parish council, and written on the mail in the mailbox.

Rebecca S. Green

With that name came two decades worth of skills honed interviewing, listening, watching, observing. I covered mass shootings, interviewed survivors in their hospital rooms, watched bodies pulled from wreckage, digested and explained hours of complicated court testimony in trials ranging from religious freedom cases to dead babies.

I lost sleep over mistakes I made. I called sources to apologize. I worried daily about whether I made the right calls to the right people, had the right information put together in the right way, and whether I had everything I needed.

I badgered prosecutors who were mishandling cases. I chased files through court hallways. I ran up and down stairs to find officials who were literally hiding from me. I shivered in the cold at scenes and took cover alongside police officers at standoffs. I waded through flood water to listen to victims to find out what needs they had. I didn’t vote for candidates whom I would be likely to cover to remove all question of impropriety or bias.

I did all that for the citizens of the communities I covered. I did this because the average citizen cannot drop everything to go sit in the county commissioners’ meeting, scheduled for the middle of the work day. The average person doesn’t know what questions to ask about why their tax bills are going up. And I was the one who told them their tax bills were going up.

I took calls from people accusing me of trying to ruin their lives. I took calls from people thanking me for changing them.

I was a journalist.

And I was not alone.

Everything I did, I did as part of a team, of men and women who did the same thing I did, with the same standards under which I functioned. We took it seriously. We sacrificed making more money in other jobs because we believed what we did was important to the health of our community and the safety of our democracy.

We were right.

So are the men and women who do this every day at the newspapers in the major cities, the television stations who provide you with your evening news.

Decades ago, we as a culture had a shared set of facts. You got your evening news from one of the major networks, and the flavor was in the accent of the anchor. Your newspaper was filled with the same wire services, and we all agreed on what was going on around us.

Corporate carnivores significantly weakened this model, and an obvious propaganda arms of one wing of our two-party system injected a virus (I’m looking at you FOXNews).

But true journalists persisted.journalist_mug

And they will.

They are not the opposition party. They are your friends. They are your eyes and ears, your voice. They are writing the first draft of history, sometimes in a tweet or in an instant.

Is it perfect? No. But it is made more complicated by an openly hostile government which refuses to answer questions, to return calls, and then misconstrues the very basic nature of the discussion. The government is telling you that water is not wet, that the sun comes up in the west, and that facts have an alternative.

Facts are facts. Water is wet in its liquid form, which it will eventually get to when it touches your skin. The sun will come up in the east every day.

Protect your journalists, for they are your right under the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

They will protect you.

 

I promise.

Here’s what I have. I ask you, my sisters and brothers, to hold me accountable, to add to this list, or to expand it in your own life where it applies.

Or ignore it completely. That always remains an option.

I want to go on record.

I promise to do my dead-level best to:

  • Love mercy
  • Do justly
  • Walk humbly with my God
  • Expand the Garden of peace beyond the borders of my own spiritual community whenever possible
  • Pray more
  • Love better
  • Do whatever I need to do to build stronger connections, maintain the bridges between us, and to repair the places that have eroded due to neglect and error.

I promise I will step in when I see injustice. I promise I will try to always stand on the side of the oppressed, the minority, the wounded, the suffering, and the wandering.

I promise I will help you find your words, perform your duty, carry your burden, and find rest.

I promise there is no such thing as alternate facts.

I promise you Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the people who voted for them, are icons, made in the image of God.

I promise I will always try my best to tell the truth, to call out falsehood when I see it, and to encourage others to do the same.

I promise to continue to mean what I say every liturgy “we pray for this country, its ruler, its people, civil authorities and armed forces.”

I promise to speak out against greed and injustice.

I promise to listen to your stories.

I promise to have “Lord, have mercy” on my lips as much as possible.cropped-mg_6828.jpg

 

Unpaid. Professional.

When volunteering is more than not being paid…

Last night, I spent about 90 minutes in a crowded town council meeting room, sitting next to my husband and his volunteer fire department. I was there for defense. (Or offense, depending on your perspective.)

Over the course of the past few months, the town’s all-volunteer fire department has been experiencing increasing tension with their town. The tension seems to be traceable to a 20-something town manager who does not appear to understand the difference between a town employee and a volunteer. He does not seem to grasp that the relationship rural communities have with their fire departments (and many police officers if they rely on reserves) is not contractual.

It is relational.

For reasons known but to him, the town manager escalated the situation by taking the matter to the local paper and involving the council after the fact. His statements cast doubt on their character (they have done nothing wrong) and it made a bad situation painful.

It was humbling to sit among these men and a few women, many with tears in their eyes as they spoke of the work they did, as well as the profound cost of that work which cannot be measured in tax dollars or hours.

In fairness to the child town official, I did not understand the difference between the contractual and the relational in public safety until I moved out here, in the middle of nowhere. I understood it even more when I too decided to don a uniform and carry a pager.

There are volunteer opportunities: delivering Meals on Wheels, tutoring children at a school a few hours a week, answering the phones at a social service agency. Those are valuable and those are necessary. They are, as all services, the rent we pay for life on this earth, to quote Muhammad Ali.

The VFD, EMS and SAR service is something entirely different. The level of training it requires is different. The level of commitment it requires is different. And the motivation is often much more complicated. It has to be to sustain it through the constant inconvenience and threat of injury; to get you to respond every time regardless of the weather, the time of day or what you are doing. The hours of training and studying and physical work put it in a different class: unpaid professional.

Much of America, geographically, is protected by volunteer fire departments, or hybrids of volunteer and professional departments. It is a red state thing, to use political language. When I lived in the city, we had fire stations all over the place and I largely viewed it as a service, the price paid by my tax dollars. I respected them for their work and training, but they were “civil servants.”

That is not why these men and women do what they do. (It’s not why the paid professionals do it either, but that is for a different time.)

By the time the meeting ended Thursday, many of the firefighters were struggling to contain their emotions, so fed up with the unnecessary and the ridiculous.

The work emergency services personnel perform, paid or unpaid, is wearing physically and emotionally. Tearing apart a piece of farm equipment to remove an injured man, tromping through cornfields for hours in the heat to look for the body of the missing, or performing chest compressions on an infant: these are not the typical volunteer opportunities of Americans. But they are the experiences of my loved ones and myself.

We were exhausted by the end of this week. I picked up a pizza on the way home and as we slid slices on our plates, his pager went off.

Twenty-four hours after the fight before the council, he found himself in the dark on a country road, cutting a driver out of a vehicle while his chief prepared a landing zone for the helicopter.

He spent over an hour in the cold alongside his crew and members of another department.

When he got home, and reheated his pizza, he had a smile on his face.

He said the timing of the run was perfect. It reminded him of why he did what he did: serving and helping others.

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A’s chair and dinner awaited his return.

Come to the table

The center of our family life is a tiger-oak table, nearly 200 years old and harder than concrete. Round and compact when it is without its six leaves, but when fully extended it can seat eight adults and five children. It has been in our family since it was built by the Hastings table company in southern Michigan.table

Growing up, stuff that went on around the table was not always happy. There were fights, and tears. But there were, in the midst of all that, Thanksgiving dinners with dozens from church. There were 40th birthday parties, and 10th birthday parties and graduation open houses. When my parents divorced in the mid-1990s, the judge decided the table stayed with my mom because that’s where the kids were. That’s where the family existed.

So the table, in my father’s family since the early 19th century, still lives with my mother because she became the keeper of the traditions. When she passes, the table will go to whichever one of us have a house big enough for the table and to host the family. This has already been decided. This is how It. Will. Be.

On Saturday, I sat at the table, my husband at my left and my godson/nephew Gabriel, age 4, on my right. As I sat down, he looped his little arm through mine.

“I love you, Aunt Beeks.”

“Love you too, buddy.”

There was squawking over whether sweet potatoes would be eaten, discussion over the emotional benefits of Uncle Scott’s gravy (it is wonderful), and the 93-year-old matriarch at one end and babies at the other. By the time we finished, the table cloth was a disaster, our bellies were full and our hearts overflowing.

There is something intrinsically human about tables, about coming together to break bread. I am not aware of this behavior anywhere else in the animal world, and in many cases, fights break out during feeding time.

But for humans, these creatures made in the image of the Triune God, the coming together is not a time for resource guarding. It is where we open up, where we connect, where we communicate and commune.

They are, in part, the altars of our private lives, of our families, of our homes.

On Saturday, at my family of origin’s Thanksgiving dinner, we shared of what we were thankful: new jobs, spouses that support in spite of our difficult natures, education, faith.

We knew each other. We knew love.

In Orthodoxy, we know God through communion with Him, gathering around His table and partaking of the Holy Eucharist. It is where we know His energies, a place we find grace.

It’s no less true, though different, at that oak table. We know each other through these shared meals. We know each other’s energies. We find grace.

 

 

Capturing the moments, and living there

 

There’s a very common saying in working dogs: Train the dog in front of you. Not the one you wish you had.

Everyone knows it. Every new handler hear it constantly from their training directors, from their fellow handlers.

It’s a real temptation, this “next dog.” The mystery K9 you will pluck from the pound, or drop $2,000 on from a well-known working line breeder, the dog that will achieve certification in like two months, never have a bad day, never take a dump in the middle of a search problem, and probably won’t even shed.

We dream of this dog. We see this dog elsewhere on our teams, handled by those who clearly don’t appreciate these magnificent animals as well as we would if we had them. We know that the next dog will be amazing.

Meanwhile, our hardworking K9 sits dutifully at our side, waiting for whatever command we are going to give them, hoping we get the timing better on this next reward and that we don’t miss their cues and leave them out there too long by our misdirection.

There’s another problem new handlers face, and that is that they are new handlers. This is also news to us, er, them. So as new handlers, our timing is always off. We don’t understand enough to really get the training done we need. We know this, deep down inside. And it makes us grumpy. We are anxious. We are angry. We misplace our frustration and put it where it doesn’t belong: our partners.

The only thing harder than taking a pet dog and turning it into a working K9 is taking an inexperienced pet dog owner and turning her into a working K9 handler, a person with confidence, patience, wisdom, strength and humility.

It’s hard to be that inexperienced pet dog owner. It’s harder to make the journey.

My first few years as a SAR K9 handler have been unbelievably difficult, a Sisyphean exercise on the hill of my own ego. We have failed more than we’ve succeeded, and much of our struggle has been because I am very, very slow on the uptake. Did you know that you have to let go of control to work a SAR dog? Yes. It’s true.

Ugh.

SAR and training a dog for SAR works for my salvation. I say this a lot, because it is true. All those things that make good handlers good handlers are good traits for humans, godly traits even.

I’m hopeful that we are getting there. I think the photos below are proof.

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We’re not quite sure…

The above photograph was taken on a cold day in March. I was really distracted and angry at where we found ourselves, progress-wise. Helo knew it. Even though he found what we were looking for, the look on his face tells me that he does not trust me, he does not know how I will react and he’s really not sure he wants to be there right now.

When I first saw this photograph, I was embarrassed. There it was, in living color, for me to see: my strained relationship with my partner, my ego in the way of our work, my desire to work another dog, any other dog, was clearly felt by him on this day.

It broke my heart.

So for the past couple months, I stopped worrying about Helo and nagging him about the work he was doing. All of our training sessions were spent working on me, my attitude, my focus, putting my heart in the right place. I needed to control my emotions, my passions, in order to give him the space to succeed.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Same place in the search problem, right before the final indication.

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I’ve got it!

Different dog. Different team. This picture brought tears to my eyes for completely different reasons.

For the past two years, I’ve been looking past the dog I had, and yet at the same time depending on his performance to validate me as a handler. How unfair is that to such a loyal, attentive and gifted creature!?

It has taken a lot of work. And like all journeys and trips worth taking, it’s going to take a lot more to get to where we need to be.

I share this tonight, a departure from my usual musings on the human condition, to share this bit of my condition. I ask for your continued prayers, your support as I work to be the handler Helo needs me to be, the wife my husband needs me to be, the human being that the world needs me to be.

For just like you shouldn’t look past your dog to the next one, we can’t look past the life we have right now to live the one we don’t have. This is our day. These are our choices, our moments. Live in them, fully.

Peering into the depths

We’re in an odd spot.

I saw the sunrise this morning.

That rarely happens on Tuesdays, when I get home around 11:45 p.m. from the late night police-reporter shift I work on Mondays.

But the big gray pickup truck picked me up at 05:45 so we could go back out on the water and try to find a guy.

We spent yesterday out there too, before I went to TJTP. I spent the midday with my hand marking waypoints on GPS screens so we could better triangulate the position of the missing man, hidden from us under more than 100 feet of water. Each time the dog barked, I marked.

Our job was made trickier Monday by the presence of other people on the lake, a big, heavily-populated recreation haven. As we tried to get our K9s in the best position to work, we had to dodge water skiers and inner-tubers, fishermen and pontoon boaters. They seemed oblivious to our presence, or couldn’t really care.

They knew, though, why we were there. Conservation officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters had been patrolling, diving, pinging with SONAR for days in an attempt to find the man. One game warden told me that it had been nearly impossible on Saturday and Sunday to get any work done with all the boats and the wakes and the people.

They couldn’t close the lake, though, because the people would be too mad.

Too mad.

Too concerned about what they wanted to do to let the family do what they needed to do: find their loved one and mourn.

This is where we are: pulling your kids across a grave site in a tube behind a speedboat on a sunny Monday is more important than a body recovery.

Our connections are so frayed anymore, I really don’t know how we hold together at all. We shoot police officers guarding protesters, we assume the worst about our neighbor, we are impatient, unkind, and concerned only with pleasure.

We play Pokemon Go in the Holocaust Museum.

I’d like to pretend I don’t know what’s wrong with us, but I do.

We have no framework anymore for our connection to each other. The individual has been all that mattered for so long, we don’t see anyone anymore.

We’re all invisible.

It’s time we wake up and take a look.