Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

Live first, worry later


Netherlands (Photo credit: didkovskaya)

I am tired. I am so tired, my eyes don’t focus. I see everything blurry and double. My body is losing control , I start bumping into things. When I am at home, I force myself to work. List my workshop, write a blog, do the dishes.

My husband comes home. Happy to see me. I slash out. Out of the blue. My words blurt out my mouth like a tsunami of anger, discontent, resentment, blame. He empathizes, he guesses my needs, he asks how he can support me. It is of no avail. Empathy doesn’t help when you need sleep.

Why didn’t I go to bed as soon as I came home? Why didn’t I postpone my chores till the next day? Why didn’t I take care of myself? The question puzzles me.

I see this pattern of forcing myself to finish my plans, and train myself in endurance, perseverance, discipline. To be prepared for worst case scenarios. To survive war, hunger, torture.

Dying in the Netherlands
Last October I told my friend I was moving back to the Netherlands. She was surprised. Why? I told her I wanted to die among my family and friends, and be buried in Dutch soil. She laughed wholeheartedly. I was surprised. I didn’t get her. What was so funny about that? “Elly, you have at least 40 years between now and your death! And you’re giving up the life you love just in case? Why don’t you live first? And worry about death later?”

Go with the flow
Live first, worry later? Hum… That’s a radical reversal of my habitual thinking patterns. I like it. Hum. Yummy. Go with the flow. Enjoy my breath, the birds, my friends. Do what brings me joy and energy. Give life my all. Trust that that’s enough. That I am enough. That I do enough. That I have enough. Right here, right now.

Thanksgiving with Paul

Have you ever met Paul Bussell? I hadn’t. I had never even heard of him. Till Thanksgiving 2012.

in 2009 I moved from the Netherlands to Austin. I had never celebrated Thanksgiving and wanted to start a tradition. I bought a vegan turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie. I was excited about sharing appreciation and a meal with my husband. He wasn’t. He fasts. That’s his tradition.

I decide to find someone else to share my meal with. Maybe a homeless person. Stuart! I’m always happy to see him, I enjoy our conversations and his big smile. This is the perfect opportunity to celebrate our unfolding friendship.

I spend 30 minutes driving around. No trace of Stuart. No trace of anyone else on the street, either. I give up.

On my way home, I see a homeless man pushing a shopping cart! I push down my brakes, run up to him and ask him if he wants to share my pumpkin pie. He looks at me, unperturbed by my offer. “No, thanks. I just ate.” He points at two Styrofoam boxes in his cart. “It’s amazing how much food people throw away. I’ll eat it in the morning. I first need to drink. Do you have beer?” I shake my head. “Do you want tea?” He doesn’t want tea. “Do you have a dollar, so I can buy some beer?” I’m in doubt, I don’t like to sponsor addiction.

He is willing to sit with me on the curb, while I eat my pie. Two minutes after we settle in, another car stops by. A girl jumps out, pushes a cup of orange juice and a food tray in his hand, and yells “Happy Thanksgiving!” as she runs back to her car. He puts the food in his cart. He gives me the juice. “I don’t drink that.”

He starts talking. About his imprisonment for stealing some Frankfurters, some buns, and five cans of beers. About living outside walls. About his ex-wives, who wanted him to give up drinking. About his blood. How he is O-negative and has a protein percentage that’s only found in 12% of the people. He tells about his family, his sister, the suicides of relatives. He tells about a French friend who used to bring him food. “I said ‘motherfucker’ in Spanish. I didn’t expect her to understand. But she did. She never wanted to see me again. I was angry, you know. Not at her. Just angry.” His favorite quote is from W.C. Fields “A man who loves whiskey, and hates kids, can’t be all that bad.”

After 45 minutes he wants to leave. He doesn’t trust the guy walking up and down the street, watching us. Paul doesn’t want me to get mugged. I give him $5. For beer. I wait till I see him walk into the petrol station shop. I’ve never seen him again. Will you say ‘hi’ if you do? He has the brightest blue eyes you can imagine.