A Story from North Carolina

As I visit with 80-year-old Gracie, the woman who was a “second mother” to my wife as a maid in my wife’s New York home in the 1960’s, I am getting a lesson in history.

I learn about how Gracie’s own mother died just 9 days after her birth which happened at home because her family could not afford a hospital.

 As a young adult, Gracie needed to leave North Carolina because she could not find work at a living wage in the late 1950’s.

By the way, Gracie is African-American and her family on her mother’s side carries the name White, the same name of U.S. Congressman George White during the late 1800’s who warned then President McKinley about the activities of the Ku Klux Klan and Red Shirts in North Carolina. This was before the violence and intimidation of voters led to what turned into what some refer to as the 1898 coup d’état in Wilmington, North Carolina* and systematic removal of Blacks and progressives from government service and gainful employment in many parts of the state. 

So today as I leave North Carolina, I feel very sad — sad because we are leaving Gracie and also because in my work as a family therapist, I know the impact of historical events, of discrimination, and of poverty on families of all colors. 

I also know the difference people can make in the lives of others.

Today, Gracie folds clothes on the graveyard shift at Walmart. She feels well treated there and has been on the job for 14 years. In another life with more advantages, she might have been a school principal or heading some other educational or service initiative. Yet she is a leader. Tall and regal in her bearing and speech, her co-workers smile and greet her as she passes on the cart she pushes in front of her, holding on because she has trouble keeping on her feet for so many hours.

They call her “Miss Gracie.”

 A few months ago, Gracie’s house –the same one that’s been in her family for two generations — was badly damaged in a fire. She was saved when some neighbors saw the fire, including a boy who threw a cinder block through her window to wake her up.

 Gracie’s colleagues at Walmart helped out by collecting money to assist with repairs. Local residents also contributed at two fundraising car washes, while additional donations were received from people, some known, and others unknown to Gracie.

 Gracie is someone people care about because she cares about them — a leader in life today as she was a leader years ago in my wife’s household, providing love and nurturance for what she calls “the white side of my family” while sending the money that came from her wages to her children who remained in North Carolina during the years she worked up North. 

 Gracie’s story as a proud Black woman has been influenced by the difficult legacy of slavery yet it is also a story of perseverance and the power of love. 

 Today, I learn about life from Miss Gracie whose love has pulled her through. 

 Note: This story was originally written in 2014. Gracie’s position was eliminated at Walmart in 2016.

*Another story related to North Carolina history at:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/19/a-buried-coup-detat-in-the-united-states?

– Neal H. Brodsky is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Connecticut and New York.

 

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Civil War in the Electoral Family

I am a family therapist raised during the McCarthy and Civil Rights eras. I saw people lose their jobs because of their beliefs and I grew up with the stories of others who went to prison, were hurt or even killed in the South when they stood up against segregation and hatred.

Today, I am thinking of my own family where a civil war of uncomfortable silence and sharp words is prevalent among certain members about this election. I am writing here because that silence has meant I do not speak about what is at stake this year with some. A cousin there, an in-law there — and it hurts to witness my own lack of courage. That is why I am making calls to mobilize volunteers in swing states to get out the vote. I have done this for past election cycles, but this time whenever an hour goes by and I am not reaching out, it eats at my heart. My initial idea was to make up for each family member I disagreed with but I have changed my goal as I listen to other potential volunteers.

A father who has spent decades working for social justice and cannot speak with his own daughter who says she will not vote because its just too scary to face her colleagues at work who are going the other way.

A grandfather in a rural town who told a canvasser at the door that his college-age grandson was looking for a movement and not finding one to suit him, was “turned off to politics.”

A mother who is torn between her evangelically inclined daughter going one way and her union member son going the other.

I feel their anguish and my goal has grown larger.

It is the silence that scares me. I want people to start talking.

What can I do as one person? Inspired by a fundraising email this summer from Elizabeth Warren which spoke of 9 women running for the U.S. Senate who could turn the balance of power, I invited 9 men to join me on a weekly group phone call to talk about the election and take positive action. One volunteered to register voters, another agreed to house a volunteer in his home, others made financial contributions and all courageously shared their viewpoints on social media, some who had not done so before.

And I decided to volunteer and get out the vote. From the past, I see the vision of Germany in 1932 when a fractured electorate resulted in a dictator coming to power. In my own country, I have seen a Supreme Court that passed landmark decisions resulting in desegregation and a woman’s right to choose, and more recent ones that that failed in 2010 to stop the flood of money in the electoral process and 10 years before that, embroiled itself in a recount where 537 votes separated the Presidential candidates in 2000 when that recount was stopped. We know and have lived the results.

This is a year in which some U.S. Senators refuse to even speak to Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland because of the President he was nominated by. This year, could communication…could talking between human beings plant the seeds of something better and dare we say, more durable? To that, I say – and first to myself – pick up the phone and let’s try.

–Neal Brodsky is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Connecticut and New York with extended family roots in Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

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Before the Crisis Hits

By Neal H. Brodsky, LMFT

September 5, 2016

You have heard the phrase: “If you see something, say something” related to doing something about potential acts of terrorism in public places. Yet there are secretive places in our own families. We don’t speak up to get help, often until it’s close to being too late. I know this place. I was such a parent. I learned to speak up, though, as a parent with my own child in trouble.

And now I am a family therapist who hears about kids in trouble all the time.

A girl who throws hard objects at teachers in school because she just can’t stand being there. Another who threatens to jump out her house window to the concrete driveway below when she knows a state standardized test is coming up. A college student who knows somewhere inside it’s not a good idea to associate with people who steal but just can’t help it. And the boys, many of them, who get so frustrated they try to put a fist through a hard wall or smash it into another boy’s face.

These young people are crying out for help. Will you as a parent look at your own situation? We live in a society where violence is openly condoned. Where hate speech is the norm. Where the sheer speed of life and our own emotions as parents with children who are not operating at the “normal range” we’d hoped for, confuse us.

The good news is that there is help out there.

Implementing this help will require time, patience, money, honesty and your deep, caring involvement as a parent. As a family therapist, working with and advocating for young people, I only accept clients whose parents are willing to speak with me in session (in-person or online) no less than once per month. The key ingredient in the healing of your child will be your collaboration with me as a professional. It is tough and from what I see as a parent with grown children, nearly impossible for parents with young people in trouble today to do this alone. The ingredients in the societal mix and the demands on young people today are just too complicated.

If there is one takeaway I would like you to have it is — Don’t wait. Better your child has an ally and outlet for the tough things in their life. Better that this happen sooner than later. You’ve got the instincts and the power to do something about what you are seeing. Reach out and say something before the crisis hits.

If you have a question — if what you are seeing seems significant, please don’t hesitate to contact me, and together we will see if something needs to be done.

www.nealbrodsky.com 203-644-3960

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“Finding the Lost Boys” – A Year Later

One year after the Newtown shootings the question “Could it happen again?” has been answered.  Twenty-five times, guns have been used to kill or maim in schools and colleges across the United States.

We wonder about the signs that might have warned of this violence.  We think about the fragile sense of one’s own being and body that could have a boy taking out a gun as an extension of his powerlessness and aiming it at another or pointing it at himself.

As a therapist, I work with teens and young adults. Each has individual brilliance and many have anxiety.

As a young person myself, I was something of a “TV addict.” I used the inner haze created by the TV as an electronic boundary to separate me from many things — anxiety over my mother’s depression, the pressure of being the eldest son in a family forced by violence against Jews to immigrate to the U.S, and the high expectation of my parents for achievement that would reflect well in the world.

A few weeks ago, I taught basic meditation and body awareness as part of a stress reduction day at a local high school. The quick 30-minute workshop (perhaps all the time that could be spared) was packed and I watched the discomfort as I told these students to turn off their cell phones. Yet once they were moving, stretching, reaching for the sky and getting grounded into breath and body, I could feel the humanity in the room. More important, these young people could probably feel themselves and some may have even sensed a connection to something greater.

But let’s not kid ourselves. This is a world where personal imbalance and violence may always exist.  It is also true that no parent, teacher, family member or healer can fully protect those we care for from harm.  Offering opportunities to interrupt self-perpetuating cycles of addictive activity in a world that is changing too fast and too hard for some will not save every young person we might hope.

Still, we, and our loved ones, following our example, can stop for a moment. We can take care of ourselves.

So I ask myself as you may, what is one action I can take today to promote healing, knowing that all we may have is this precious nugget of time?

The answer may be to reach inside for a second and ask for help. Most often that’s what we need to do, to know what to do.

 

Neal H. Brodsky is a holistic psychotherapist licensed in Marriage & Family Therapy who has offices in Fairfield County, Connecticut and Manhattan. He also supports young adults online via Skype and by phone through Core Energetics, a process where the focus is energizing the body, mind, spirit and emotions toward life-affirming goals that can be actualized in the world.

In addition, Neal serves couples and families as a co-therapist together with his wife Judy Gotlieb, LMFT. Contact him at 203-644-3960 or nealbro36@gmail.com

The original article to which this is the second yearly addendum, “Finding the Lost Boys” was published in the November 2012 edition of The East Coast Sandplay Journal. It can be found on Neal and Judy’s website at: http://www.lovelifecounseling.com/Articles.en.html

You can check out Neal’s website at http://www.nealbrodsky.com

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Using Your Powers

Master Core Energetics Practitioner Stuart Black once said to me “Spend Yourself, Neal!”

Over the years, these words have encouraged me to make decisions, take risks, and more fully embrace who I am. Willingness to shift perspective, to allow myself more deeply into my own heart — therein lies real power.

It takes only a moment to stop what you are doing. Breathe into this moment…look at the opportunities before you and choose to “spend yourself” on one. Remember, you can always take a break or change direction — and it’s so much easier to do when you remember that the Great Energy we are surrounded by, and an integral part of, is truly limitless.

Will you share your story of change with me and the readers of this blog by leaving your reply below?

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The Gift that is You

In family therapy practice, I’ve been struck lately by the genius of my clients in moving forward at just the right pace. Sometimes people will choose to make great quantum leaps, changing jobs, altering relationships, saying and doing things which are more supportive of the lives they intend to create moving forward. And sometimes we just need to rest, giving ourselves a break from all the doing, and enjoying what we have.

In addition to the ones who are dearest to us,  all of us have been blessed and entrusted with a great gift, the gift of ourselves. In this season of gift giving and of growing new light, may we all realize what has been truly given and come to increase our knowledge of what and how we may give back in return.

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When Disaster Overtakes Us

Many of the best things in my life have come from what seemed liked disaster. From divorce nearly two decades ago came recommitment to love and a career as a therapist. From a family member’s struggle with drugs came the gift of twelve step community. Using adversity as an opening to what may be next in your life is a skill that involves your own surrender to what is so in this moment. If you are experiencing difficult circumstances, ask yourself this question. Is there an opportunity in your life to open to change and creative possibilities that are being suggested by what you are experiencing?

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