Wedding season and grief

We’re entering into wedding season, a time of joy, excitement, and even frustration for some. But it’s also a time of grief.
 
I was talking to one of my friends about transitions in his life. In the past two years, some of his closest friends have gotten married. He’s very happy for them, of course, but he’s also grappling with how their marriages have changed his life. He can’t call them to spontaneously hang out anymore. He can’t just show up to their apartments out of the blue, because they may have plans with their wives. He is still very close with his friends, but he’s learning how to let go of the previous stage of their friendship and enter the next.
 
Grief, after all, is learning to let go of that which you cannot have. And grief isn’t a bad thing or a good thing; it’s a way to respond to changes in life. If he did not grieve, he may still be trying to hold onto that old stage, which could lead to bitterness and resentment. My friend cherishes the relationship he had with his friends when they were single. And it’s not like he’s expecting them to not get married just for his sake. I told him that it’s healthy to process his feelings regarding the change with other people, and maybe even talk about it with his friends. They can plan out how to maintain their friendship in a new season.

My body

I know what it feels like to be embarrassed about my body.
 
In the past, I would worry about my acne. I would worry about my height, that I was too short. I would worry about my hair, that I was going bald.
 
But most of all, I worried about my fat. Growing up, I was a bit of a chubby kid. I remember in middle school, one of my classmates would taunt me and call me a “big fat baby”. That really hurt. I hated going swimming, since I didn’t want to take off my shirt and expose myself.
 
I’m not sure what exactly I was worried about. Was I worried that with my acne, short height, balding hair, and fat body, that no girl would ever like me, that I would never get married? That’s certainly a worry that was presented to me again and again.
 
I guess I just felt embarrassed to be me.
 
Some things have changed since then. I’ve lost weight and gotten more fit. My acne is gone. I haven’t managed to grow much taller or have thicker hair, but that’s OK.
 
What’s changed the most, though, is my perspective. I’ve come to realize that those things aren’t really that important. I look to the heroes in my life, the people who model the qualities that I most admire: compassion, faithfulness, diligence. They may not be embodiments of physical beauty, but they radiate a deeper beauty of love, of honor, of spirit.
 
People talk about the ideal body, about muscles and flexing and GAINS. But what did Jesus say? “This is my body, which is broken for you.” Jesus gave up his body, so that others may live. His body was not for his own glory, but as a vehicle to love others. Because the crucial questions for me will not be “How much can you bench?” or “Did you have a six pack?”, but rather “How well did you love?”
 
Yes, exercise is important. Good eating habits are important. Sleep is important (Lord, yes). Self-care is important. But it’s not the only, or the most, important thing.
 
To be honest, I still feel insecure at times. I see other guys who are taller or fitter or have lusher hair, and I feel a twinge of pity for myself. But I turn my attention away from those thoughts, and turn them to God’s acceptance for me, and His question: “How well do you love?”

Affirming the person in front of you

A client came to the legal clinic recently. She wanted some help with her adult son’s disability benefits. She wanted information to help prepare her son in applying for the benefits. She told the volunteer attorneys about her son’s various mental impairments, and how life is really hard for him.
 
The attorneys did a good job in giving her the information that she needed and walking her through what she needed to say. But I could tell that something was missing. She seemed overwhelmed by all the details. I’m a praying man, so I asked God if there’s something else that needs to be said. I got the sense that I should affirm her love for her son.
 
I went over to the table where she was meeting with the attorneys. I said, “I just want to say that I can tell that you really love your son. I can see how much you’re trying to advocate for him, and how much you care about him. I know that it’s hard and can feel overwhelming, but you can do this.” She got teary-eyed, and said, “Thank you. It is hard. Thank you for helping me.”
 
After she left, the attorneys thanked me for stepping in. I told them, “As attorneys, we’re trained to look for the legal issue, which is good. But sometimes, we need to think about the person that’s sitting in front of us and what they need to hear. Simply listening and affirming someone who is going through a hard time can be powerful.”

Finding a steady job

Talking to Milton Wu today helped me realize: I have never held a secure job.
 
Since I graduated from college in 2009, most of my jobs have been contract or temporary positions (one year contract with Google, one year temporary position with my church, a temp gig with a conference management company). My first job out of college, at a special education school, wasn’t a temporary job, but it didn’t provide much financial security, especially with my student loans. While I was in law school, I was constantly job hunting, both for summer jobs and for after graduation.
 
So for the last eight years, I have either been actively job searching or preparing for an upcoming job search. Job searching is a significant source of stress, even if I didn’t experience that time as stressful. It’s also made it hard to make plans for the future; one reason I didn’t date much after college was because I didn’t know where I would end up in the future.
 
I wonder what it will feel like to have a job that pays me a secure wage and that isn’t a temporary gig. I don’t know if I’ll be able to reach that level of stability anytime soon, as the career trajectory of a public interest lawyer can be volatile. Still, I am thankful for the opportunities I have had so far.

Vice President Mike Pence and professional boundaries

Recently, Vice President Mike Pence has been the center of discussion following a Washington Post article profiling his wife, Second Lady Karen Pence.
 
To quote the article: “In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”
 
Many have criticized Pence, claiming that his decision limits the ability for women to develop professional relationships with Pence as a mentor, a peer, or a political supporter. Pence’s decision allows him to develop robust professional relationships with men on a one-on-one basis, but not with women.
 
I want to share my take on this issue, in case it proves useful. It’s my personal take, and I’m not expecting anyone to agree with it completely.
 
1) Does anyone have the actual words that Pence said to the Hill in 2002? I tried searching for it online (even on the Internet Archive), but couldn’t find it. I would like to get his actual words in context. From the WP article, it seems like his decision to not dine alone with a woman other than his wife is based on his religious convictions, but I would appreciate more clarity.
 
2) Having grown up in a conservative Evangelical church, I can understand Pence’s decision. I grew up in a community that had norms to keep people far away from possible immoral behavior. I grew up in a community that said people shouldn’t date in college, out of concern that dating would interfere with their religious life. I heard that phrase often, “I can’t date right now because I need to focus on my relationship with God.”
 
In some cases, the norms got pretty extreme. One of my friends was in charge of coordinating rides after church service on Sunday to get college students back home. It was a hassle, because he had to make sure that no guys and girls were sitting next to each other in the back seat of the car. I think that was a bit much. But I understood that the heart behind these norms was to protect people from potential danger.
 
At this point, I don’t adhere to these strict norms. I believe that rather than shielding people from these potential problems, we are better served in teaching them how to navigate thorny areas with care. But I appreciate that the heart behind the norms was one of care and protection (even as I recognize that they may have resulted in real pain for people).
 
3) I sincerely doubt that Pence would refuse to dine with his female diplomatic counterpart from a foreign country. If he met with VP Inonge Wina of Zambia, or VP Leni Robredo of the Philippines, or VP Gabriela Michetti of Argentina, I imagine that he would dine with them. But I also wonder whether these diplomatic dinners are truly solo affairs, without the typical gaggle of aides and attendants.
 
4) What Pence does in his private life is his prerogative. I hope that everyone, even those who disagree with his choices, would agree that he has the freedom to make that choice.
 
5) Pence’s critics point out that his personal choices may have consequences for women who find their professional opportunities stymied by a lack of mentorship opportunities. The conversation regarding Pence’s choices fits in a broader context of how women are not able to access the same professional opportunities as men. This is an important conversation for all of us. I know that this is an issue that my female colleagues face, and I for one want to be attentive, hear their stories, and support them.
 
6) The broader question is how do we reconcile personal choices with the systemic effects of those choices. If all men were to act the same way as Pence, we would see at least some effects for women’s professional opportunities. To what extent should that matter to Pence? And what would be the loving, gracious, and even-handed response from Pence, given that he is likely not going to change his ground rules.
 
7) It’s easy to make this about Mike and Karen Pence, to praise or pillory them. But I want to turn this to myself. What lessons can I learn from this whole story?
 
First, I admire Pence’s initiative to lay out ground rules for his work and family relationships. I don’t know if I would lay out the same ground rules myself, as I’m not in a relationship now, but I appreciate that he put them in place. I hope that even those who vehemently disagree with his choices could at least recognize that he has put careful thought into the boundaries he puts in his life. I would endeavor to have my own boundaries, such as in not answering work email after work hours.
 
Second, I am reminded to continue to support my female colleagues as they face professional obstacles. I’m not here to rescue them, or speak for them, or tell them what to do. But I want to work with them to ensure that we have a work culture in which all people are valued, respected, and given equal opportunities.
 
There’s so much about sexism in the workplace that I still don’t know. I recognize that I have blind spots, and I am open to hearing from others about how I can grow and learn.

Water

On the BART today, I saw a glimpse of shared humanity.
 
I saw a young guy, maybe in his mid-20s. He was well-built, with prominent tattoos on his forearms. He was wearing a Warcraft shirt (the Blizzard logo was on the back), and was carrying an Arrowhead gallon-sized water jug. On the jug was written in marker “DO IT FOR YOURSELF, BECAUSE IT’S YOUR SWEAT, YOUR BLOOD, YOUR GAINS”. He took a swig of water from the jug and stepped toward the train door.
 
Next to him was a young woman, also likely in her 20s. She was wearing a chic black coat, with gold zippers and buttons. She had a simple black canvas backpack. She put down the backpack, unzipped it, and pulled out a large blue plastic bottle, kind of like the ones you see at office water coolers, only smaller and with a built-in handle. She took a great gulp of water.
 
These two individuals looked pretty different. They likely have different hobbies and different visions for their lives. Yet in watching them both drink deeply of the water in their possession reminded me of something: We are all sentient sacks of water, nourished by the same resources and the same nutrients. We may have our different political views and values and choices, but we share this essential truth: dehydration really sucks.
 
So stay hydrated, drink lots of water, and treat the sentient sack of water next to you with humanity and respect.

From special ed to lawyering

My experience in special education helped prepare me to be a lawyer.
 
I often work directly with clients. Many of my clients are homeless and are suffering from mental health issues. All of them come to me in difficulty and stress; none of them are happy to see me. I have had clients yell at me, accuse me of not wanting to help them, even storm out in anger. In all these circumstances, I am grateful for how my special ed experience helped me to stay calm and lower the temperature. Plus, any day in which nobody bites me is a good day.
 
If someone bites you, your first instinct would be to pull away, but the biter would end up taking a piece of flesh with them. Instead, grab the biter’s head and pull them towards you. The goal is to disengage their jaws (such as when you take too big a bite of an apple and can’t chew properly), then quickly remove yourself from their mouth. Take a breather and sanitize the bite spot, since you don’t want to get infected. In working in special ed, I’ve been bitten twice (by the same student), and these tactics have helped me.

Clothing as choice

People often comment on the way I dress. I dress more formally than most, especially compared to other people in the Bay Area. Partly it’s because I’m a lawyer, although public interest lawyers generally have a more relaxed dress code. But it’s also because that’s how I like to dress. I like slacks, button ups, and blazers. I like how versatile they are, and I feel comfortable in them. My choice of clothing reflects how I choose to present myself to the world.
 
People also ask whether I judge or look down on people who “don’t dress as nice as you do”. I guess they assume that because of the way I dress, I would sneer at the vulgar masses with their cargo shorts and t-shirts.
 
But that’s wrong. Clothing is part of how people choose to present themselves. And each person is entitled to make their own choices. I know that other people hold different values. I know that some prefer physical comfort, or flashiness, or subtlety. I know that some will go for the Adidas basketball shorts, or the Superdry jacket, or the pink feather boa. Their choice of clothing reflects how they choose to present themselves to the world. And it’s not for me to decide how they should dress, because I don’t dictate their values.
 
Now, if someone asked for my opinion, or would like advice on how to dress a certain way, I’m certainly open to share. I know that the world of men’s clothing (particularly on the formal side) can be daunting. I’ve had people ask me “what kind of suit should I buy?”, and I’m happy to answer those questions.
 
I also understand that not everyone has as much choice as I do.
 
One of my clients came to the GLIDE legal clinic in the Tenderloin. He was wearing a worn out sweatshirt and jeans, and was carrying multiple bags. His first words were, “I’m sorry for how I look. I’m homeless.” Think about that. His poverty put him in a position in which he had little choice in what to wear, and he was apologizing that he was too poor to regularly wash his clothes. In effect, he was apologizing for being poor, which is absurd. I told him, “No apology needed. I’m here for you. How can I help?” Yet I reflected on why he felt the need to apologize. How many times has he been in places in which his presence was considered offensive to others, just because he’s homeless and doesn’t have a place to take showers regularly or to do his laundry? How many people saw him and saw a nuisance, a stench, an eyesore, rather than a person?
 
So no, I don’t judge people based on what they wear. Because each person is free to make their own choice. And some people don’t have much choice at all.
 
That said, if you ask, I can tell you why cargo shorts don’t look good for most people and would gladly provide alternative recommendations.