Archives for posts with tag: gratitude

Karen Sutherland is a dear woman whom I’ve not yet met in person. She is a cancer survivor in active treatment, a hospice nurse, a grandmother, a mother, and a recent widow. She recently spoke of a Pay it Forward day in honor of her husband, Hugh’s life on Marie Ennis O’Connor’s blog. Friday is to be “Pay it Forward Day” with the goal of encouraging others to partake in acts of kindness.

I pledged to Karen that I would honor the Pay it Forward Day. I have been thinking about what I might do. Today, it came to me. It came to me in the best way. It can to me in the way I have been bowled over by the positive consequences of small acts of kindness that I’ve directed toward others recently.

I am dedicating this week to conveying my appreciation to people in my life. I would like to start on my blog with an appreciation of Karen. Karen writes beautifully. Her words provide such comfort. It is as if her loving heart spills into each word. Karen comments on so many blogs and provides so much. Her presence in the world is a gift. Thank you, Karen! Please know that we are here for you, as well.

Peace and stay tuned,


I remember the thrill of discovery when I was in high school German class. There was a second person plural tense, “You all”.

I was raised in the northwest of the U.S. We are considered to have “no accent”, if that is such a thing. In any event, the closest we have to a plural second person is, “You guys.” As a feminist and inclusive person, that convention leaves much to be desired. But when I was learning tenses from Frau Johnson, my high school German teacher, I learned of the miracle of a second person plural tense. How cool was that?

When I moved to the South, I was inundated with this tense, “Y’all.” Again, how cool was that?. But as a person from Seattle, I really couldn’t pull off, “Y’all.” I just didn’t have the cred for that. Although I did acquire a Southern accent while I lived in North Carolina for six years and northern Florida for one year, I thought saying, “Y’all” was not genuine for me. I did not acquire my accent purposefully and it was not a full Southern accent. Throwing out the term, “Y’all” would classify as being a poser. (Yes, I could write “poseur” but since I do not know French, doing so would make me a “poser” twice over.) It was too different from my native dialect.

But I liked the tense. It appealed to my logic as well as my inclusive sensibilities. Consequently, I settled on, “You all.”

Yes, it is pretty nerdy but so am I. And I am not a real Southerner. But I can say, “you all.”

Time and time again I put my feelings and thoughts out on this blog. Sometimes, and rather recently, I have the fear that I am a big whiner. But I also know that many of us do not disclose our complaints, our fears, our anger, or our sadness because we fear that we are to “get over it” by now.

Yesterday, I posted about my anger and my anxiety. It is not overwhelming but it is unpredictable, bothersome, and sometimes scary. A number of you out there, people whom I’ve never met, responded with a great deal of emotional support.

My first response was regret that I had caused you worry. And then I remembered the many times during which I have been happy to offer another support when he/she was having hard times. I remembered that seeking support in each other is not just a part of life but it is also a beautiful part of life.

I have a lot of gratitude and I would like to say to you all. You all are sweet. Thank you. Thank you very much.

I had a weird dream last night. I went to a photography studio to get my picture taken. It was kind of a combination of high school senior photos and my wedding. Tom Colicchio a famous U.S. chef who can be seen on the show Top Chef was there. My former boss from the University of Washington was there. Once I got to the studio, I realized that I had left my shoes at home. I asked how much time there was left until it was my turn for Senior/wedding photos. I was told 30 minutes. I decided to go back home for the shoes. In an Elizabeth dream first, someone loaned me some sort of jet pack like device and I was able to fly all of the way home and most of the way back to the studio. (My daughter has lots of flying dreams. This was my first. I am growing as a person in my dreams.) Unfortunately, I ran out of fuel and had to run most of the way back. By the time I got to the studio, I realized that I’d again forgotten my shoes. I was also rather disheveled from running and had no make-up to freshen up. And for whatever reason, I was wearing a men’s sport coat over a white wedding dress. (Now that sounds more like a typical dream for me.) My old boss would be thrilled to hear that in my dream he helped me out by fixing my hair. The photographer was a sweet woman who let me borrow some shoes in my size as well as a tube of lipstick that she said was, “just my color.” Friends and strangers helped me out and put me back together again.

I think I am an imaginative person but I don’t fantasize a great deal. Well actually, I fantasize but my fantasies are usually pretty realistic. They are things that could really happen. I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy documentaries so much, especially those about every day people having meaningful experiences that are in the range of possibility for many. Last night, I saw the documentary, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago with my former Internet-only friend, Meredyth and her friend, Liz. We belong to a photography group on Facebook. The group includes a couple hundred people from all over the world. Meredyth and Liz live in nearby Vancouver, BC. They came down for the weekend and Meredyth invited me to the movie. We had the best time. There are a lot of lovely and interesting people in the world. Meredyth and Liz are both teachers and I can tell that they are very excellent teachers. It was nice to share our mutual love and commitment to children and their development. Liz, as it turns out, also belongs to the photo group but I have not seen her photos or interacted with her previously. Meredyth posted a photo to the group last night and awoke to a number of charming comments from group members about how happy they were that the three of us had met in “real” life. Most of the people in the group have never met one another in person. Meredyth and Liz were the first group members that I have encountered in the tangible world. I hope to meet more of my cyber friends in the future. It was a very special experience.

The documentary followed a group of people from all over the world, most of whom had never met previously. They were people who traveled to Spain to complete the Camino de Santiago, a long distance spiritual walk from one end of Spain to the other. Pilgrims have been making this walk for over 1000 years. The walk meant different things to each person followed for this documentary. Most of the pilgrims came alone. One set of pilgrims was a young mother, her brother, and her young son. They walked the entire trail, though the mountains, the plains, and the forests, pushing a stroller!

The pilgrims made new friends and were met with great kindness along the trail. People who fed them, housed them, and washed their feet. At one point, one of the pilgrims was so moved by the generosity of at stranger that she cried tears of joy and self-reflection. She was sure that she had never treated another person with the kindness that she had received. It was a beautiful moment because instead of beating herself up for not measuring up, she looked moved and inspired. The pilgrims also experienced ecstasy, times of great mindfulness of their surroundings, love, and lots and lots of struggle with their minds and the rest of their bodies.

A beauty of the film was that not only does the walk serve as a metaphor for life but the film also shows individuals having the day to day experience of transformation over the course of a month or so. I found myself thinking about how different pilgrims might integrate their transformation into the rest of their lives and for how long would they feel transformed and connected to something much larger than themselves or the small worries that consume us on a daily basis. I know that the answer to that question is different for every pilgrim and the answer changes over time.

I am still fighting the treadmill right now. I’m not going to lie to you. I am still feeling the sting of disappointment that my dream of taking my own pilgrimage to see all of my dear friends back East is just not going to happen any time soon due to responsibilities and financial realities. I also told my husband last night that it is unlikely that I will be able to contribute enough to our family income for us to save up for a big trip for our 25th wedding anniversary, which is in 13 months. I know this is a trip on which his heart was set. It was actually supposed to happen last summer so it’s already been postponed once.

Life is like walking the Camino, so is breast cancer. I have experienced both struggle and transformation. I have been the recipient of great kindness and generosity from both old and new loved ones in my life. These are the realities than inspire actual dreams of being unprepared for life and receiving help! (Although I believe I will be able to do my own hair and not need help from my former boss at U.W.)  I have learned the powerful and gentle gifts that come from walking outside. As one of the pilgrims in the film commented after having walked for hours through heavy rain (paraphrasing), “I saw the raindrops hanging from blades of grass. Painters paint this and I get to see it.”

I know why I like documentaries. I know why I steep myself in reality. I love life. Life is transformative, powerful, spiritual, inspiring, energizing, exhausting, loud, quiet, painful, scary, and at times very very boring. But life has everything.

Meredyth and me at the movies transforming cyber friendship to something more.

Meredyth and me at the movies transforming cyber friendship to something more.

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Like all professions, being a child clinical psychologist has its share of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Overall, the good greatly outweighs the rest. In the past week or two, this has been particularly true. As someone who primarily does psychological assessment, part of the news I deliver to parents is diagnostic. I give their children labels and sometimes multiple labels. Most of us don’t like hearing that there’s something wrong with our children.

Occasionally, parents get mad at me for this but more often than not, my message is greeted with GRATITUDE. Part of this has to do with what life has been like for the child at school and at home prior to the assessment. It has been hard or they would not be seeing me. Some of the kids I see have been kicked out of preschools and kindergartens. I saw a teen last week who’d been kicked out of daycare (as an INFANT), preschool, and ballet class, all before she started kindergarten. I see kids who work five hours a night on homework and their report cards are littered with teacher comments such as “needs to put in more effort”. I see parents who are so stressed out that they are barely able to hold back the tears in front of their children.

Sometimes, I receive gratitude from my patients, themselves. I don’t discuss diagnoses per se with my younger patients. They have to be old enough to understand it at a rudimentary level. They also have to be old enough to understand privacy and the risk of disclosing a diagnosis of ADHD or learning disability to others. Some people will be supportive, others will not. I do discuss testing results with older teens in detail and include diagnostic information. To teens who have been struggling for years with untreated ADHD and learning disability, been told that they are lazy, have told themselves that they are lazy and dumb, my giving them a different explanation of their challenges can be of great relief. As I have written in the past, it is a poignant moment when I tell a previously stoic looking teen boy that I know he is a hard worker, I know he’s not stupid, and the tears of relief roll freely down his cheeks.

But to define problems is not enough. People need a plan! I often say that the most important part of my assessment reports is the recommendations section. Out of a 6-9 page report, it is usually 3/4-1 page long. I have seen much shorter sections written by other psychologists and others that are so long and non-specific that they look like they’ve simply been pasted from another document without any editing according to the individual needs of the patient. I go over the report with parents and make sure that we discuss the recommendations. If I have a particularly high number, I make recommendations about prioritizing them and sequencing them over time. Finally, to make sure that parents leave with something concrete in addition to the report, I send them off with a packet of educational materials that I have selected just for them. And I put all of the materials in a pretty folder with my name on the front and my contact information on the back. This makes it less likely that the pieces get lost or that the nature of the contents of the folder is forgotten.

Last week I met with a mom of a delightful 7 year-old girl to go over testing results. Part of the results were plainly positive; this girl was a lot smarter than she seemed and much smarter than most. But I also gave multiple diagnoses. At the end of the session, the mom asked, “How many of these assessments do you do in a year?” I told her that I’m working part time this year but in the past that it was about 100-110. She said, “Think of all of those children you have helped! And you have helped my child already!” She left giving me a very big smile and a warm handshake.

At the beginning of this week, I received a payment in the mail from a parent of a teen I tested a number of months ago. It was a three session assessment including a parent/teen interview, five hours of testing, and a feedback session. In other words, it was a pretty time limited encounter that had occurred some time back. I could not remember the boy’s face. But his mother remembers me and put a note in with her check, “Thank you so much for your help with ____. You will never know how much it means to us.”

Today, I received the best note of all because it was from one of my patients, who I have seen for psychotherapy for some time now. It was a thank you card he sent me for attending his Bar Mitzvah during the summer. The main part of the message was very sweet but the postscript he added was the best, “P.S. Thanks for always being there for me. For everything.”

Thanks to all of you for your trust. Thank you for letting me into the most delicate and vulnerable places in your lives, your minds, and your hearts, in order to help when the only guarantee I can provide is that I will try my very best.

I told you it was a pretty folder!

I told you it was a pretty folder!

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


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