Dancing on the Edge of Comfort

Sunshine, blue skies, and mid-70s-breezes embraced me as I set off for home from the Horizons Unlimited Travellers meeting in Virginia last Sunday. Perfect riding weather belied that I’d be dancing on the edge of comfort before long.

I’d taken two days for the 1,110 km/620-mile trip down but wrestled with making the return trip in one day. It’s further than I like to ride at once but Monday’s forecast predicted rain and temps barely above freezing. Conditions didn’t improve for days.

Cold is manageable; cold and wet are miserable on a sliding scale matching temperature and rainfall.

Stopped for a picnic breakfast on a bench in front of a Court House in small town VA, I debated my choices. One long day would push my physical limits, but the alternative seemed much riskier and way more uncomfortable. I could always stop.

I planned for two and prepared for one, taking steps from the onset to fend off hypothermia and fatigue.

The air chilled as I headed north. By the time I crossed Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains, the cold, drizzle, and threatening skies had me thinking I’d have to call it a day. But the rain held off and the air warmed as I moved west to lower elevations. As conditions improved and Monday’s dismal forecast loomed, I decided to push all the way home.

My heated jacket helped keep my core warm. I’d taken the express rather than the scenic route and kept my speeds at the posted limit to minimize wind chill. My supply of high-fat goat cheese, avocados, and protein shakes provided extra calories to fuel the furnace.

Frequent breaks and staying hydrated by drinking from the two-liter water reservoir in my tank bag (which also ensured I stopped often) warmed me up and allowed me to monitor my temperature. The insidious onset of physical and mental clumsiness that accompanies hypothermia is hard to detect while riding but evident when you stop.

I may not have exceeded the speed limit but I pushed past the edge of my comfort zone. Time slowed to a crawl. It got COLD, the last few hours barely above freezing. I knew I had the physical, mental, and emotional resources to do it, yet many times I thought about packing it in. Tomorrow would be worse though.

My internal dialogue reminded me how people, including Oliver Solero who’d given a presentation about a trip to northern Manitoba in much colder temps, had persevered through hardship. My cold (or distance) didn’t even rank on Oliver’s scale. Others have dealt with far greater adversity.

Those paths, however, were not mine.

Growth happens when we overcome perceived barriers, whatever they are. The only one to calibrate against, and answer to, is ourselves. That also means basing decisions on internal guidance, not what we think others will think of us.

While we must consider our safety, we are called to not run from the discomfort and even fear of growth. What we find when we’re dancing on the edge of comfort is a more perfect understanding of ourselves.

I rolled into my driveway just before midnight. A friend had unlocked the door and turned on the lights. The blast of warm air that welcomed me felt like heaven. It sure was good to be home.

Photo on Visual Hunt.

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A recent social event included a few people I hadn’t met. “This is Liz Jansen,” said the host, introducing me to a woman sitting at the end of a sofa.

“Ah, Jansen,” she said. “Danish!”

“Right.”

Names tell us much about a person. Or do they?

Our parents name us at birth with expectations of how they see us and who we’ll become. It doesn’t take long before we pick up on that. Starting around age two, we perpetuate that image, tempered by our own sense of self. Names become a major influence in shaping who we are.

Names also conjure up images and stereotypes in others we interact with. Professor Liz Jansen (see below) pointed out there’s literature on professors’ grading biases based on names on exams. (Biased) Grading of Students’ Performance: Students’ Names, Performance Level, and Implicit Attitudes https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5954233/

Curious, I Googled my name. There are more than 100 Elizabeth Jansens on LinkedIn alone. That doesn’t include the sixth-grade student at Roxbury Central School named to the second-quarter honor roll.

We share a name, yet the answers to Who am I? and Why am I here? differ for each of us.

In the interests of brevity, and because you’re likely familiar with my story, I’ve linked to it here. I also haven’t included my grandmother Elizabeth Jansen, a.k.a. Liese. Read her story of courage and character in Crash Landing.

This post is dedicated to three other Elizabeth Jansens. We share a name and we’re all white women. (I’d love to meet an EJ from a different race.) Our lives are unique. My deep gratitude to each one for sharing their story.

PS: Not a Dane amongst us!

Elizabeth Jansen

Elizabeth and I met through LinkedIn at least a decade ago, attracted by our name and love of motorcycles.

Elizabeth Jansen

I live in Hubbard, Oregon, in a farming community, amongst hop and hazelnut orchards. It is a lovely spot to call our home.

I am married and have two daughters, one son, a son in law, a daughter in law, and three grandkids. We are very lucky. My brother, mom, and dad all live in Washington State and we love getting together as a family. My husband and I have been married for 2 1/2 years.

My parent immigrated from the Netherlands in 1960. My brother and I were born in the United States. We didn’t speak Dutch in our household so my brother and I did not learn the language, just enough to figure out what my parents were talking about around Christmas time!

I am a mortgage banker with a local credit union. I have been in banking most of my life and love what I do. I help our members achieve their goal of home ownership by putting together a financial plan, advising them on different loan programs, answering questions about their credit reports, and advising them when they are ready to make an offer on a home. My goal is to be their home loan banker for the rest of their lives. I am also there if they need to refinance to cover remodeling or college expenses. I have the honor of helping people make one of the most important purchases in their life.

I love music and play the guitar and some African Djembe drum. I am passionate about photography and love to take off on long weekend trips with my husband and our motorcycles. I also love art, reading, and taking long hikes in the beautiful Oregon scenery.

My core values are fun, freedom, and responsibility. That is why my job is so perfect for me. I love the freedom of being able to set my own schedule. It’s a bit like running my own business. I love the adventure of helping my customers put together their financial loan requests, which can be like putting together a complicated puzzle. And I love the responsibility of making sure the needs and deadlines of both customers and the bank are met.

And then, I love being able to take time off to have fun and adventures with my husband and family. We like to head out without reservations or a specific destination. We enjoy spending time meandering through the beautiful countryside, exploring new restaurants, and visiting old favorites.

Family is the most meaningful thing in my life. I cherish time spent with my college-age daughter. Watching her grow into an amazing human has been one of the most humbling and wonderful experiences. I love spending time walking through life with my husband. The way we have built our new life together has been wonderful. As we learn to live together as husband and wife, we are falling into a rhythm and making new memories. I like to call it the dance of marriage.

Links: Onpoint Employee Spotlight

Elizabeth (Liz) Jansen

A few times someone looking for Liz has contacted me and vice versa. A little homework would have prevented that, but then we wouldn’t have met!

I live just outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, and grew up in this area. With the exception of a year in Colorado, I have lived here all my life.

I am married and have three children in their late teens/early 20s. Watching my kids grow and become who they are is my greatest joy. I am of predominantly Irish heritage.

I am a college professor at Macalester College, a small liberal arts college in St Paul.

My PhD is in neuroscience and my research has focused on neural plasticity (the brain’s abilities to change in development and in response to experience and injury). My PhD is in neuroscience and my research has focused on neural plasticity (the brain’s abilities to change in development and in response to experience and injury)

I love to read, travel (have visited Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia), many outdoor activities (skiing, biking, hiking, rollerblading) and playing with my kids. I am a huge fan of folk music (especially Bob Dylan and John Prine) and love seeing live music (especially outdoors). What drives me? I feel privileged to teach at Macalester where the students come from around the country and around the world and are bright, interesting, and eager to learn.

I try and make the world a better place in a small way by trying to be a positive force, supporting young people, and teaching about the beautiful and amazing world of biology.

I have never driven a motorcycle but I love to ride on the back of them!

Links: Macalester College Faculty

Elizabeth Jansen

I found Elizabeth through my Google search and am humbled and inspired by her energy and resilience.

I grew up in New Canaan, CT, am of Scottish, British, German descent, and currently live and work in Boston, MA. I have a mom, dad, and an older brother, Robert, who is/was 2.5 years older than me. Unfortunately, he was killed in 2012 in a rockslide while climbing out in Colorado. I am also married to Kyle, my husband of 8 months.

My major in college was Chinese Studies, and I studied abroad in Shanghai during my college year, which is actually where I met my husband! (He was also studying abroad there). I love languages, especially Mandarin.

I am a Pre-K teacher and have been teaching for 6 years. My first year I worked in a 1st grade classroom and also taught middle school Mandarin. I then got a job teaching Pre-K and absolutely love the age! I also started my own running coaching business in summer 2018 called ‘Strongest Self’. I am an avid runner and am passionate about helping others become stronger runners and reach their goals.

My passion is running. When Robert was killed in August 2012, I was very sad and didn’t know how to process his death. I was already suffering from a Binge Eating Disorder and put all my attention on my school work (I was a senior in college). I would suppress my feelings with food and didn’t take care of myself. I started running and realized how much better I felt after a run. Slowly but surely, I began running and ended up losing 25 pounds and getting in the shape I’ve always wanted to be in. Now I am a 14x marathoner and run in Robert’s memory. (#Run4Rob). My dream is to qualify for the World Marathon Majors and qualify for the Olympic Trials.

The love I have for my brother, my family, running, and believing in myself drive me. I have proven to myself over and over again that I am so much stronger than I ever thought I was—physically, mentally, and emotionally. I am recovering from my eating disorder as well as PTSD. My goals for running are so big and they set my heart on fire.

My family and my health are most meaningful in my life. They mean everything to me and are my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. They also come to my races and cheer me on whether it’s sunny or raining. I am so happy I took control of my life and got healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally. I want to be running as long as I can and have it be a lifelong sport.

You can do anything you dream you can do. Not long ago, I couldn’t run over three miles and now I’m a 14x marathoner with dreams I never even knew I could reach. Be patient with yourself and with your goals, and don’t give up. Consistency and a little work every day will take you places. I am hoping to grow my run coaching business and make it my full-time job eventually.

Links:
Running for Robert Blog
Instagram

What stories do you have about your name? Leave them in the comments.

joyful living

Death has been on my mind a lot lately. Not because I sense mine is imminent, but it’s all around. And it’s teaching me about joyful living.

Last week I attended a celebration of life for friends’ thirty-five-year-old daughter. Earlier that week, one of my closest friend’s mother passed on. In March I honored the life of a 95-year-old man who served his country and everyone in it for his entire life. Most of that time he rode a motorcycle. An uncle passed in January. Last year I said good-bye to my best friend of fifty-five years, a cousin, and my and everyone’s favorite uncle. A few months earlier it was an aunt, my friend’s husband, and a month before that, my Dad.

It’s not so much about what happens to our physical body and spirit that captures my attention. I do think about it, but more importantly, death makes me think of life.

Cleaning out my parents’ apartment I looked around at what remained after ninety years. Although they embraced a simple lifestyle, I was amazed at how much stuff they packed in. It made me think about focusing even less on things and putting my energy into that which endures.

During one of my shamanic training exercises, we role played, imagining we were at the end of life. We reflected on how we’d lived and what we were leaving behind. We questioned ourselves about any unfinished business. The exercise was powerful and life-changing and helps us understand why in the shamanic tradition, we refer to death as an ally. It makes us view life through a different lens.

We have a finite number of days on earth. That’s no big secret but for some reason, it only sinks in as we age. The realization that there were more days behind me than ahead of me led to my quest in 2014. As a restless sixty-year-old, I felt I wasn’t living up to my potential. I wanted to make everything I did for my remaining days count. My soul was calling, pleading for my attention. To do that, I had to find myself under the layers of roles, expectations, and cultural conditioning I’d accumulated over my lifetime.

I was able to go back and examine the stories that had led me to what I considered a life of mediocrity, and almost stifled my spirit. By placing myself in the lives of my parents and grandparents, I could look back at the culture and community that had conditioned me and see it through new eyes.

Everything and nothing changed. Through what became an arduous but soul-enriching journey, I just changed my perception without altering the past. That enabled me to reconcile with my spiritual roots and deepen the connection with my family, while belonging to me first.

Death teaches us how to live and reminds us to use our time, gifts, and resources wisely. If we practice that every day, we get better at it. We have no idea when our time on earth will be over. Living our fullest every day means we’re less likely to face unfinished business or regrets when the time comes. We did our best.

Photo on VisualHunt

spring motorcycle hazards

Updated from: March 12, 2013

As eager as we are to get out for the first ride of the season, it’s important to prepare for unique spring motorcycle hazards.

Trudy and I went for our first ride last week. It was an early start but she needed routine maintenance beyond my repertoire. We’ve got travel plans for later this month so the work had to happen. We lucked out with a beautiful sunny day (sandwiched between two snow days) for the ninety-minute cross-country ride to my local Triumph dealer.

I wasn’t as ready as I would have preferred so I stayed away from traffic and rode more deliberately, aware of what I was dealing with.

10 Spring Motorcycle Hazards

  1. Automobile drivers. They haven’t had to share the road with motorcycles for four months. Add in their general inattentiveness and distractions and it’s a recipe for trouble. Give yourself plenty of space, watch other road users closely, and make yourself as visible as possible. Assume they don’t see you.
  2. Spring fever. Last week’s sunshine and above-freezing temps brought out many other riders eager to get out after a long winter. I hadn’t warmed up my skills (like I recommend) and I’m sure most of them hadn’t either. You have the whole season ahead of you. Take your time, take it easy, and get used to riding again.
  3. Sand, salt, grit. Road crews clean up as soon as possible but watch for sand, especially on corners and at intersections. You don’t want to discover it when you’re leaned over in a curve or trying to stop at an intersection.
  4. Rusty skills. You likely haven’t done much riding since late autumn. Muscle memory fades with inactivity and you may not have the same instinctual reactions, even if you’ve been riding for many years. Practice in a parking lot before heading out into traffic.
  5. Motorcycle. Make sure it’s ready to go. If you’ve done the proper winter maintenance, it should be in good shape. Before you take it out, check cables, fluid levels, tire condition, tire pressure, loose parts.
  6. Weather. Early spring can mean unpredictable weather that can change and cool significantly in a short time. Wear appropriate gear and layers. Stay alert to the effects of cold. Fatigue comes on insidiously, reducing your reaction time and ability to respond to unexpected situations.
  7. Frost heaves, potholes. Winter in northern climes is brutal on roads. Watch for heaves, holes, and crumbling edges of pavement.
  8. Physical fitness. As wonderful as it feels to be out in the wind, riding is taxing. Starting out rested and fit offers a more enjoyable and safer ride.
  9. Animals. They start moving in spring too and appear out of nowhere – often with young in tow. Watch the roadsides for signs of movement, especially in rural areas.
  10. Other motorcyclists. Whether they’re experienced or not, they too have spring fever, rusty skills and face the same hazards you do. This is even more important when you’re riding with a group – i.e. any more than one person.

Plan and book a skills refresher course under the guidance of experienced instructors. It’s wise to refresh your skills every year, whether it’s at an off-road course, at the track or at another recognized course. I t can save your life. And it’s fun!

What other hazards do you watch for? Leave them in the comments.

Read more: Valuable Motorcycle Resources
Photo credit: sniggie on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Dad always farmed, his life revolving around the seasons. Only in winter, when nature hibernated, did the frenzy ease. That’s when he pruned his orchards, removing what was necessary to keep fruit trees strong and bearing as much as possible. He had to be ready for spring when the landscape, and the work, kicked into high gear.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise when he paid a visit last weekend as I celebrated two rites of the season—Spring Open House at Clare’s Cycle and an equinox fire.

Without hesitation, I accepted Lisa Taché’s invitation to take part in Clare’s event. Clare’s, a family business founded in 1955, is a fixture in the community. They were the go-to shop in my early riding years and they’ve been tremendously supportive of my more recent work.

Setting up my book display, I reached into my brown leather jacket pocket for tissues. The jacket is one of my favorites but I hadn’t worn it for a while. As it turned out, not since Dad and I travelled out west together in August 2017 on a pilgrimage to the lands he’d lived on as a boy. What I at first thought were crumpled up sales receipts were the boarding passes from our trip home.

I looked up and smiled, sensing his presence.

Dad had always been supportive of my riding, as he and Mom were for all their children’s interests. He didn’t blink an eye when I began motoring around the farm at age sixteen. He loaned out his barn for maintenance workshops I hosted and Clare’s participated in. Whenever I’d visit, he’d have a parking spot cleared out in the barn for my bike. As far as I know he never rode but he loved to chinwag with my moto friends.

Of course he’d be at Clare’s spring open house but I didn’t expect him two days in a row.

On Sunday I gathered with a group of friends for a fire ceremony to honor the spring equinox. One of them is an aficionado and collector of old wooden wind instruments. I didn’t recognize the five-inch wooden slat he brought.

“It’s a bullroar,” he said. I thought I’d misunderstood.

“Pardon me. What did you call that?

“A bullroar. You attach it to a string, whirl it in the air, and it roars like a bull.”

Dad had a few derogatory Plautdietsch (Low German) terms in his repertoire but he didn’t use coarse English language in front of me or in public. Maybe in front of my brothers or other farmers. He used the term “bullroar” in place of “bullshit,” as in “That’s a pile of bullroar!”

Again I looked around and smiled. He was at the fire too, honoring the seasons and the Creator.

Wherever Dad is, I doubt there are seasons. Yet he recognizes and responds to times of awakening. Our relationship evolved enormously during our time together and is a significant part of my journey as told in Crash Landing. Even though he’s no longer here in human form, he’s around, supporting, celebrating, and ready to help me in my growth in any way he can.

Thank you, Dad!

Related post: Bookkeeping, Spring, and Signs of Awakening

Photo credit: Joe Cosentino on Visualhunt / CC BY-ND

signs of awakening

My journey described in Crash Landing did not end with the last chapter. It continues to unfold and if anything, the pace has picked up. Always, there are lessons, reminders, and events that initiate reorganization, rework, and refining of life priorities.

Winter is a time of darkness, hibernation, and cocooning. Trees, plants, and animals take a break to prepare for the next growing season. I like to do the same and use it as a time for revisiting priorities, preparing for the coming season, and nurturing body, mind, and spirit.

Part of my daily practice is a prayer asking Spirit to guide me to be of greatest service and fulfill my highest destiny for the greatest good of all, whatever that is. My newly updated soul contract is to live from a place of awe, curiosity, surrender, love, gratitude, and trust. If I can stick with that, I’m good.

It sounds dreamy but we’re also human and life has a way of keeping us grounded.

Since Crash Landing’s release, I’ve been preoccupied with helping it and its message get out into the world. It’s a big job.

First of all, it’s hard to switch modes from writing to marketing. It requires a different skill and mind set.

Second, it’s tough to decipher the best marketing strategy to compete with the thousands of books published daily worldwide. An unending stream of experts with compelling messages give all kinds of advice about how to be “successful.” It’s a steep learning curve while I also write for my clients and tend to a growing Energy Medicine practice. I love it all. (Note to all self-publishing authors: Carla King’s Self-Pub Book Camp Courses are life-savers.)

Plus, eighteen months ago, I committed to taking care of myself holistically so I can be of greatest service. That includes a daily spiritual practice, daily walks, yoga at least four times a week, and time with friends and family.

Then along comes year-end. My year-end books were due at my accountant’s on March 1st. Thinking it would only take a day or two to get them ready, I started reviewing them on March 6. I think this every year and it always takes much longer. This year it took seven days—a week out of my schedule away from “important” work! It almost drove me crazy, even when I’d call my updated soul contract to mind. My chaotic energy didn’t help get a job requiring accuracy and attention to detail done any sooner. It threw me off my game.

It wasn’t until the following week when I was grousing to my friend Alisa Clickenger that I saw the lesson. The week of disruption had taken me away from what was threatening to become another energy drain. I’d fallen into familiar patterns that I’ve worked to overcome—trying to be in control, multi-tasking, and losing focus. I didn’t think surrender to a greater purpose included bookkeeping but it was what I needed to recalibrate and focus!

All was well.

The books got done and submitted. More importantly, I was able to reassess and recalibrate my other activities. I felt refreshed and ready for whatever’s next.

Spring, with its signs of awakening, is here. Seeds that have germinated over the winter, when it looked like nature was sleeping, will soon appear.

I too am awakening. I await the new growth with great anticipation!

Photo on Visualhunt

better world

A balanced world is a better world. That’s the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day being commemorated today. The organizers ask us to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias, and take action for equality to “forge a more gender-balanced world.”

It’s a start. But it’s only part of the picture.

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights,” said activist Gloria Steinem.

Human rights are fundamental to every person on this planet, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other way we label people.

We all have feelings, aspirations, and families. We all feel the cold, heat, thirst, and hunger.

We all need love, compassion, and understanding.

Not everyone has the same access to education, wealth, or opportunities, but that doesn’t change that we are equal as beings on this planet.

Our inherent gifts, cultural backgrounds, and life experiences make us unique. Equality doesn’t mean we’re capable, or even interested, in the same pursuits, but we all have something to offer and to teach.

Ecosystems strive for balance. We become ill when our bodies are unable to maintain homeostasis. Is it any different for the world we live in?

Mitigate feelings of superiority or inferiority by putting yourself in another’s shoes. Imagine what it would be like to walk their path. Question the stories you tell yourself about their worth as a fellow human. Treat others with dignity, respect, and fairness. Extend that to the rest of nature.

That’s how we build a better world for all.

Photo on Visual hunt

book of answers

Have you ever wished you could drop by your local bookstore and pick up a Book of Answers?

Life can be challenging and solid solutions hard to come by. We get into situations we’ve never experienced and don’t know how to navigate through the tangle of possibilities.

We could be faced with choosing from several options, none of them ideal. Or maybe we’re trying to find the best choice from a field of many potentials. Circumstances feel overwhelming and we’re the only one who can choose our path forward.

I’ve felt that way from time to time in this early post-Crash-Landing-launch era. Marketing experts and experience tell me that writing and publishing a book is only about five percent of the effort needed to get it into the hands of readers.

Most of the rest is marketing.

There are more ways to market than ever, and more experts (and professed experts) willing to help. You get bombarded with advice you “must” follow to be “successful” and it’s hard to know where to start.

This is when that Book of Answers would help.

And then I remembered. I have the book!

The exact circumstances are different but I’ve been here before—when I was deciding about leaving my marriage and corporate career, when I was starting my business, and most profoundly, after my crash.

That brought me to my knees. I didn’t know which way to turn, not that I could do much moving anyway. I was SO sure Spirit had guided me to go on a quest. How could I have read the signs and my intuition so wrong?

The answers came during the ensuing time of stillness, introspection, and research. They were in me the whole time, buried beneath many layers but they were there. To find them, I needed to explore those dark spaces, pull back the protective layers, and let the light in.

While today’s marketing-evoked emotions and circumstances are very different, I can look back at the process I used to navigate through that time. I know the strategies that ultimately worked and can apply them to my current situation. And the next one that will come along.

One of my biggest lessons was learning to trust that all is well. Know my destination, but embrace the journey without being attached to how I’ll get there, or where I end up.

It’s all in the Book of Answers. Sometimes we need to make quiet time to read it.

Each of us has our own Book of Answers. It may be on a cluttered shelf in the recesses of our heart and we may need courage and help to uncover it. But it’s there, waiting to be read, updated, and put into practice.

Photo on Visual hunt

mennonite history and the holocaust
Children march in an October 1942 parade honoring the visit of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, in the Halbstadt Mennonite colony in southeastern Ukraine. Courtesy of the Mennonite Heritage Centre, Winnipeg, Alber Photograph Collection 151-71.

The Mennonite kindergarten in Einlage, southeastern Ukraine, was a Nazi showpiece. WWII Nazi occupiers had gone door-to-door, categorizing inhabitants according to “genealogical and racial biological” criteria. One hundred and twenty-nine of the 10,000 kindergarten children deemed to have “German blood” found themselves in this exclusive school.

At Christmas, soldiers handed out wooden toys. German carols, not sung openly since the Bolsheviks had seized power in 1917, rang through the hall. It was the first time many of the children had seen a Christmas tree.

My grandparents and two great-grandfathers had immigrated to Canada in the 1920s from this area of Ukraine, then part of Russia. Although they’d withstood atrocious times during the Bolshevik revolution and Civil War. However, worse times were ahead for many of their relatives. Those who survived the initial onslaught, faced further decades of terror, starvation, and deprivation under Joseph Stalin.

Journalists ascribed these terrors to ”Jewish-Bolshevik tyranny.” As Mennonites (and to a lesser extent, Lutherans and Catholics) were feted by the Nazis, Jewish property was seized and redistributed. Mennonites received “used clothing” through aid agencies such as the German Red Cross.

Individuals with the church participated in fascism and genocide. It was a chilling turn of events for a cultural group where nonresistance was a tenet of their faith; who were known as a peace church. They justified their position through stories that weren’t true.

Confronting darkness is hard to do when you’re already living in fear, hunger, and constant danger.

But how is it that even today, some Mennonites who grew up in Ukraine during this time express gratitude for their generous treatment by the Third Reich? Why are Nazi officials credited with returning a “semblance of normal life“ to Ukraine?

These stories of “rescue” are indelibly embedded into the collective psyche. They continue to operate from the subconscious of the survivors and descendants of that era.

I’ve never had to worry about a knock on our farmhouse door and hear my father taken away in the middle of the night. My plate and my closet have always been full. I’ve grown up in a land of opportunity and abundance. I can’t fathom life under a cruel totalitarian regime.

Yet, I, too, have grown up with stories that have shaped my world view and life choices. Stories are powerful and they stay with us, especially the stories we’re told as a child. Questioning them is what prompted me to set off on the quest narrated in Crash Landing.

We can’t alter the past, but we create the present and future. Let’s make sure we consider all sides before judging another. Practice curiosity rather than accepting a story at face value.

Change begins with us.

Resources:

belong to yourself
Photo on Visual hunt

For a micro-second after my crash I was stymied. By the time the dust had settled, I had a plan.

While the Good Samaritan I flagged down drove me ninety-minutes to a hospital, I emailed the only person I could think of in Calgary. I’d met him a week earlier at a gathering of adventure motorcycle travellers. If I could reach him, he’d help. His positive email response infused me with great relief and gratitude. I could focus on my medical treatment.

My friend’s kindness and generosity in the coming days and weeks were extraordinary, but not unusual. Riders who travel around the world recount amazing stories of kindness from ordinary people, but it’s not to the same degree as they’ll receive from within your riding community.

Humans are social beings and for millennia, our societal groups have provided the structure for us to survive. Communities arise from a common identity and shared values, whether it’s motorcycle riding, geographical location, or special interests. It’s within our communities that we find acceptance, support, and camaraderie. Membership can be involuntary, such as the one you’re born into, or voluntary.

In spite of the feelings of home and sense of belonging arising from being with your people, there are hazards to navigate.

Communities rely on structure, expectations, and unwritten codes. Conformity. This is particularly vital in times of hardship when events threaten the survival of the group, as my Mennonite ancestors experienced this during the Bolshevik Revolution, Civil War, and famine.

Your birth culture naturally tries to condition you according to its norms and beliefs. It becomes your identity. The biggest danger from a strong culture, whether it’s based on religion, motorcycles, or yoga, is that in keeping the peace you risk losing yourself.

We’ve all come from somewhere that’s molded us. Inner conflict arises when the group’s beliefs and ways of being don’t fit us. Then you need to figure out how to find resolution. Leaving isn’t necessary for everyone, but it was for me. Whether you step away or your nature pushes you away, viewing your culture from the outside helps you understand and value it better. Depending on the group’s significance in your life, it can be an arduous journey, and so worth it.

When we belong to ourselves first, we can explore the strengths and weaknesses of our heritage from a place of wonder and curiosity rather than hostility or judgment. Only then can we find our community and choose how we interact with it. Only then can we know the peace of mind and heart that comes from finding home.

Learn about my journey and how to map out your own in Crash Landing.