DEAR READERS: Today is a day of remembrance. Because "war" seems to happen "over there" somewhere, many of us didn't connect to the visceral realities of war and tragedy in an immediate way until this day, 9/11, 18 years ago.
There is hate in the world, and it can devastate us right here at home. We reserve this moment to express our sorrow that thousands of people lost their lives on this fateful day. We honor them and their sacrifice as we also resolve to find ways to make our world safer.
One of the things that I have liked about this election cycle is hearing so many ideas about what can be done to make our country stronger. Though I am not espousing one candidate over another, I want to point out a great idea that motivational speaker and author Marianne Williamson has offered -- to create a federal Department of Peace. I love the idea of making a conscious effort to invoke peaceful action from the top down, and to create programming and other activities to promote the sharing of peace among us.
I learned long ago from my parents that whatever we focus our attention on is what we bring to bear in the world. What if we focused on peace? What would our actions be if we used that as our lens?
I have been practicing meditation for many years, and a principle that we follow is "see God in each other." Think about that: In most spiritual traditions, there is the belief that however you understand God, you must also believe that what invigorates you -- what makes you conscious and alive -- is that which God ignited within you. Consider that idea. If the life force inside you and me springs from God, then what if we look for that goodness in people when we engage them? Especially when we are facing friction, discomfort, strong emotions or anything negative, what if we choose to speak to God within those people rather than to grasp the worst in them and call that out?
I have tried this many times. It is not easy to practice looking for goodness in someone when you are angry or upset. It is much easier to have thoughts and feelings and sometimes express words that stoke negative reactions. But what if you choose not to let the bad thoughts in? What if you choose to search for goodness and peace? What if you practice forgiveness rather than holding onto negativity?
If this sounds way too theoretical to you, make it concrete. Think about a person or situation that upsets you. How have you addressed it in the past? Did you let your emotions get the best of you? Were you level-headed? What happened based on your behavior? What control did you engage or relinquish in that experience? Notice how you behaved and how you felt afterward. My experience is that when we do not fall into the depths of negativity, we create space for peace, love, forgiveness and possibility.
Even in the worst situations -- like the aftermath of 9/11 -- when we make space for love even when we experience pain, there is room for healing. We may never know why people had so much hatred for our country that they would choose to hurt us in this way. But maybe offering love even to those who want to hurt us may help to heal those wounds and neutralize that hate. We can make the choice to do what many church congregations do every Sunday -- pass the peace.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Several people in my neighborhood work for the government, and the stress of the shutdown is wearing on them. My husband and I are on Social Security, so we rely on the government, too. We are in a situation that feels like a sinking ship.
I think it might be smart for us to band together and cook some meals. Sometimes it costs less when you make more. I don't know. I hate seeing people suffer. Do you think it's a good idea to suggest a potluck kind of thing? Maybe it could boost people's spirits if we are all together? We have gotten together before over the years, but usually for happy reasons. -- Shutdown
DEAR SHUTDOWN: First, I want to say that I hope that by the time this is published, the government shutdown is over. It is already the longest in recorded history, which is nothing for us to feel good about. I have seen and read many stories of individuals and families who are struggling. This crisis has revealed that many Americans live from paycheck to paycheck. As we hear stories about the "booming" economy, I have consistently heard people complain that they don't know who is benefiting from this boom.
Your idea for a neighborhood potluck is excellent. It represents a way that everyone can break bread together more affordably as you offer support and good fellowship. Knowing that you are not alone at a time like this can be helpful. When you invite your neighbors, make it easy for them to participate by being a good organizer. State what you will make and ask what they can bring. Keep your tone upbeat so that they know this gathering is meant to inspire everyone to weather this economic storm.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I live in an apartment building with a lot of different people of various backgrounds. One elderly woman is kind and talkative. Whenever I see her, she wants to have a leisurely conversation about whatever is on her mind. It's sweet, and I want to be able to spend time with her, but usually I am dashing off to work or to an appointment. I see how frustrating it can be for her when she is ready to settle in for a chat and I have to run. I don't mean to hurt her feelings. How can I best address this situation? I know I can't make myself available every time I see her, but there's got to be something I can do to be more attentive to her. -- Time for Elders
DEAR TIME FOR ELDERS: Always greet your neighbor with a warm smile and hello. When you know you cannot stop, tell her you have to go, but you look forward to speaking with her at another time. Follow up with her, and ask if you can bring her tea or come to visit from time to time. If you do make a date, make sure you show up on time. Be prepared to stay awhile, but also manage expectations by letting her know how long you can stay and that you will return.
DEAR HARRIETTE: One of my mentees is getting married overseas, and she invited my husband and me to her wedding. I really want to go. I like her so much. She has given us a fair amount of time to get ourselves in order, too -- the wedding is more than a year away.
My husband does not have a passport and does not want to get one. He is happy staying in the United States and thinks it's frivolous to get on a plane to go overseas to a wedding. I disagree. This young woman is important to me, and I want to support her. I have traveled overseas before with my sister and some college friends. If I go, this would be the first time I would travel by myself. Do you think I should go anyway? -- Going to the Wedding
DEAR GOING TO THE WEDDING: Given that you have traveled successfully abroad already, it is clear that you know how to travel internationally. It's too bad that your husband chooses not to join you, but if he is dead set against it, then you are left to make an independent choice. Since you feel drawn to attend this wedding, do a bit more research. Find out from the bride who else is going and if there might be someone who could be your travel buddy. Flying with someone who is going to the same event could make your trip that much richer. But if that doesn't work out, just go!
Be sure not to needle your husband about his choice, though; you have to be OK with both of your decisions. That attitude might actually get him to reconsider broadening his horizons at some point.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a friend from my son's school who is active in the PTA, and so am I. We get along great, and he is one of the most engaged people on our team. I like working with him, except that he has really bad breath. I mean, it's horrible. He knows it, too. He often puts his hand over his mouth as he is talking, which can make it hard to understand his words but easier to stomach the smell. I try to position myself so that I'm not directly in line with his face so that it can be easier to talk to him. Besides that, is there anything I should do? I can't imagine that it would be smart for me to say anything to him about it directly. -- Bad Breath
DEAR BAD BREATH: This is a challenging situation to deal with. Unfortunately, it is both common and uncomfortable. For a variety of reasons, most people have had bad breath before. For someone with a chronic condition, foul breath is often a sign of a serious medical condition, not just halitosis. Still, it's not your place to inquire, especially since you know he is aware of it. This is a grin-and-bear-it situation.
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For anyone reading who may suffer from bad breath, you should make sure you are brushing and flossing regularly -- especially after meals to remove any food particles. Know that gum disease, diabetes or a sinus infection can cause halitosis. When in doubt, go to the doctor to find out.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My father died nearly 20 years ago, and I am only now dealing with the grief that I had bottled up over the years. I realize that I was angry with him for many years for things that happened when I was a child. Now that I am a parent myself, I see that he was doing the best he could. There are things that he messed up on, but when I look back on it, I think that he did way more good than bad. How can I forgive myself for not appreciating my father more when he was alive? I feel horrible. -- Needing Forgiveness
DEAR NEEDING FORGIVENESS: Grief is fascinating; it can rise up many years after a loved one's passing. It can feel raw and real, even more so than the early days. The good news is that you are able to see your father more compassionately and with greater perspective of what it means to be a parent and a provider. When you were younger, you did not have the skill set or understanding that you have today. You can forgive yourself for whatever naivete you had back then and for not having the capacity for compassion at the time. You can also forgive him for whatever he did that left you wanting.
You may want to see a therapist to help you explore your past and wrestle out of any emotional stranglehold that is trapping you. It may have taken all this time for you to be ready for a breakthrough.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I work from home, which is good -- for the most part. I have flexible hours, and I am pretty efficient. But lately, I have been feeling down and disconnected from other people. I don't go out much anymore. Now that it's cold, I often pass on invitations to go to events in the city or to meet up with friends. My world is narrowing, which isn't good, but I also can't seem to shake it. I make plans to go out, but then cancel. I order in food, and I even have my laundry picked up and delivered. How can I break out of this pattern? I don't feel happy or motivated at all. -- Self-Exiled
DEAR SELF-EXILED: You may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder, which is a real condition, a form of depression that affects many people as the seasons change. In the fall and winter, those suffering from this disorder often feel helpless and isolated. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the symptoms include: feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day; losing interest in activities you once enjoyed; having low energy; experiencing changes in your appetite or weight; feeling sluggish or agitated; having difficulty concentrating; feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty; or having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms in a consistent way, it is time to go to the doctor to get help. If your symptoms are mild, doctors say that light therapy can be helpful. Literally going outside when the sun is shining can brighten your spirits. Psychotherapy can also support you during this difficult time.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My high schooler went to a party this weekend with friends from school. Afterwards, I learned that a number of the kids were vaping e-cigarettes. I have seen ads for e-cigarettes, and I know that they are highly addictive. When I talked to my daughter about it, she blew me off and said that none of her friends are addicted and "it's no big deal."
Trying to keep my cool, I kept talking to my daughter. I want her to feel that she can talk to me about anything. I asked if she had ever tried vaping. She admitted that she had. I wish I could punish her in some way to get her to never do it again, but I know that won't work at this point. What can I do to protect her from possibly getting addicted to nicotine -- or anything else, for that matter? -- No Juul
DEAR NO JUUL: Part of the reason that the Food and Drug Administration, many parents and activists have protested against e-cigarettes is because they are addictive. In my research, I learned that one Juul e-cigarette has as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. What makes cigarettes addictive IS nicotine.
How can you relate the severity of e-cigarette use to your daughter? Tell her stories -- as many as you know. Make sure they're true stories. If you ever tried smoking cigarettes, tell her what happened. Talk to her about drug use and what the effects can be on her life. Go through the list of drugs and substances that teens use these days. Definitely talk to her about opioids, too, as they are highly addictive. Expose her to what's happening today and how dangerous peer pressure is. Give her examples whenever you can of how detrimental e-cigarettes and other substances can be to her future. Showing her rather than reprimanding her is the best way to open her eyes.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been on my job for less than a year. Recently, I was asked to apply for a position that came open. It stretches my abilities, but I was up for it. I have been doing OK for the most part, and I have received a lot of encouragement. There's one woman, though, who is constantly belittling me. She seems to go out of her way to find negative things to say about my job performance. She is never encouraging, and it's upsetting. Another one of the leaders in the company who is very supportive of me suggested that I speak to this woman and tell her to quit bullying me. I'm nervous to say anything. I would rather just not stay in this job than to have her always going out of her way to poke at me. What should I do? -- Anti-Bullying
DEAR ANTI-BULLYING: The tricky thing about walking away from certain conflicts without addressing them is that they often follow you. The business leader who told you to stand up for yourself was right. The next time your bully addresses you inappropriately, ask her directly what the problem is. Ask her why she is talking to you in that way. Tell her you want to figure out how to work with her effectively, but when she constantly berates you, it makes it difficult for you to work well.
You can also say the words directly: "Stop bullying me." You have to say it like you mean it. If she persists, go to HR. Do your best to speak up for yourself and sort it out directly first, though.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Last year, I had a series of medical tests that led to more and more tests. I was diagnosed with a couple of health issues that I need to deal with, but honestly, I can't afford to go to all of the doctors' appointments, let alone pay for all of the medications. And I have insurance! I work, too, but I can't keep up with all of the things needed to stay healthy. I feel like I am going to go broke trying to stay alive. I don't know what to do. -- Can't Afford Health Care
DEAR CAN'T AFFORD HEALTH CARE: I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. Sadly, you are not alone. A lot of Americans are facing the same reality -- they cannot afford the care they need to stay healthy, at least not at face value.
While I do not have any magic tricks to offer to you, I can tell you that some teaching hospitals offer free or low-cost health care for patients who are willing to allow students to learn from them. This has been true for schools of dentistry, surgery, mental health and more. Look around your city to see what teaching hospitals are there, and inquire as to whether they will accept you.
Beyond that, negotiate a payment plan with all of your medical creditors. Be proactive, and let them know your situation. Ask for mercy. Usually, this will help you to create a bridge that allows you to meet your goals.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106