By Joni L. Miller, Ph.D.
This blog was originally posted September 25, 2014 on my blogging website BarkIfYouWantMore.com. I wrote this in 2014, before the increased tension and tribalism of today, I thought it was a good reminder to give grace to the people with whom we interact. At our cores, we each have similar wants and needs: to feel safe, to be loved, to be heard and acknowledged. While we can't and shouldn't ignore differences, if you start every conversation and every interaction from a place of commonality, the differences will be easier to discuss and resolve.
I crossed another item off of my Michigan bucket-list this summer, climbing to the top of Castle Rock with my nephew. Castle Rock is off of I-75 and, at the top, there are sweeping vistas of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. For many years, the sign advertising the attraction said, “Stop and Climb, it’s still a dime.” The price is up to a dollar now.
Looking over the guardrail at the top, there was the inevitable, unfortunate trash, but there were also many, many coins dropped by visitors. I didn’t understand that, thinking that it was a shame that people had to desecrate the scenery during their visit.
Then Robin Williams committed suicide. The Facebook talk turned to depression and loneliness., the fact that we often don’t know what is going on with the person sitting next to us on the subway or across from us at our family dinner table. Articles were written, famous people were disclosing personal history with mental illness. My thoughts started changing.
I thought that maybe the coins dropped over the side on Castle Rock were not intended to be a desecration, but that each person could mark “I was here.”
I am here. I exist. I matter.
Oh, I know that the intent of the throw-er may have been to see how close to the edge he or she could toss it, especially while in an alcohol-induced haze. Or because it was somehow cool to do what others in your group were doing. But, even then, the act of tossing the coin is a statement: “I matter.” I have the ability to toss my quarter onto the rock. I matter. I am part of a group of friends. I matter.
Two other times this summer, there were groups of people, usually in their 20s, who spent more time taking pictures of each other than the scenery, sometimes climbing to a dangerous spot at the edge of a cliff to do so. Before my epiphany I saw this as annoying, especially when we were on a boat tour of Pictured Rocks on the Lake Superior shoreline (also knocked off my Michigan bucket list this summer). For 15-20 minutes, the brother sitting behind us with his girlfriend kept handing the camera to his sister who was sitting in front of us with her friends so that each could take pictures of the other. Hello? Breathtaking natural beauty on the starboard side. Would you please take a moment and look at that? Or at least have some compassion for everyone else trying to enjoy the views. Eventually the cool wind off Lake Superior got the better of them and the whole party went below deck to warm up. We old people who dressed sensibly with jackets stayed out in the wind enjoying the sights … and the peace and quiet.
Then, a few weeks later and post epiphany, I was sitting on a beautiful mountaintop in Maryland and my perspective on the picture-takers changed. It was there that I saw the person climb on rocks a little too close to the edge for my fear-of-heights heart to handle so that her friend could take her picture. I realized in that moment that the picture taking is similar to the coin dropping. Take my picture as a sign that I am here, I exist, and I matter.
After all, isn’t that what we all want? To matter? To have someone acknowledge us? To have someone really listen to our concerns? To be seen for who we are … who we really are? To be accepted and loved in all our fragile beauty?
A few days from now will mark the one-year anniversary of barkifyouwantmore.com and the start of this blog. Perhaps that is what I wanted or needed, as well, and so I seek that through words rather than coins or pictures. I am here. I exist. I matter. Maybe I need to be less judgmental of the coin-tossers of the world. And of the picture-takers, even the annoying ones who keep flinging a heavy camera with a telephoto lens within inches of my head. We all are, in our own way, trying to make the same statement: I am here. I exist. I matter.
So “stop and climb” becomes an invitation to us all. The price is free. Stop and listen to each other. Take a moment to walk beside someone, or to climb up steep stairs and look out at the view together. Maybe through our actions we can reinforce these concepts: we are here in this moment. We do exist. And, yes, every one of us matters.
By Joni Miller, Ph.D. © 2014
Originally posted September 25, 2014 and published on BarkIfYouWantMore.com