A Tale of Two Blankies

April L. Fritts

Delivered on July 16, 2017
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County

Both of our daughters, Lannon and Gracelynn, grew up loving their blankies. This is Lannon’s blankie, which was sage green with flowers some fifteen years ago. This is Gracelynn’s blankie, which was pink and white checked some fourteen years ago. These blankies have been everywhere our girls have been—Grandmom and Grandad’s, the beach, cruise ships, Europe, camping tents, Chicago, New York City, the emergency room, Dollywood, and Disney World. These blankies have slept on this church floor through many a sleepover and have probably been in the homes of numerous people here this morning.

My husband, Nelson, and I introduced the blankies into our girls’ lives on purpose. With two babies in the house, we were desperate for some measure of sleep and sanity. How do you get them to stop crying? How do you get them to sleep through the night? As a new parent, I read every book in the library on babies and had a subscription to every parenting magazine I could find. Everything I read said that little humans need to learn to self-sooth. I want to repeat that, as I’ll be coming back to it later—humans need to learn to self-sooth. So, then the question was: how do we teach them to self-sooth? How do you teach a 7-pound bundle of joy to calm herself? And thus, the blankies were introduced early on.

The blankies swaddled them as newborns, went to bed with them in their toddler beds, and were there for every bump, bruise, and scary moment. Fell down off the swing set? Grab blankie and snuggle with Mommy. Missing Daddy while he’s at work? Grab blankie and call him for a lunch chat. Tired and cranky from a long day of school? Grab blankie and watch a movie. In a foul mood? Grab blankie and go to sleep. Fast forward over ten years later and not much has changed… stressed about a test tomorrow? Grab blankie and read over the study guide. Annoyed with your teenaged friends? Grab blankie and get on YouTube. In a foul mood? Grab blankie and go to sleep.

To be clear, blankies are not their only means of smoothing the edges of their daily lives, but these blankies are certainly the most visible, portable, and memory-soaked articles of their growing years. These blankies also serve as a fabulous metaphor for our topic today: comfort. Comfort is that which brings us ease and the freedom from distress. That was the primary job of blankie—to ease and bring relief from stress. As life moves ahead and the blankies and stuffed animals of our lives no longer band-aid our sore spots, how do we find comfort at our most difficult moments? When your boss says something insensitive, how do you calm yourself? When your spouse isn’t seeing eye-to-eye with you on your vacation plans, how do you smooth the rough patches? When life has kicked you down to place where you feel you can’t get back up, what tools do you have in your arsenal to pull you out of the abyss? When we fall off the swing set, what will serve as our blankies?

I take us back to that parenting lesson I stumbled upon early on—humans need to learn to self-sooth.

So, what does that mean? What can we do in this time of societal upheaval to maintain our footing and continue on with our work of making the world a better place? How do we find comfort through it all?

As always, the answers lie within—our ability to self-sooth and serve as our own blankies…. Within each of us, we need to have a toolbox that is full of the items we can rely upon to ease us when our hearts hurt and our brains ache. My hope today is that when we all walk out those doors, that toolbox that is a little more full of that which brings us comfort. What I’d like to do today is to explore various topics with you and allow you a chance to delve into the comfort they can bring you during your difficult moments.

The first area of comfort I’d like us to explore together is nature. My childhood home in Rising Sun is totally surrounded by fields and forest. I grew up with the woods and the creek as my playground, spending whole days exploring them with my sister, Mandy. Those were the days when all I saw was what was in front of me—a swimming hole, a tree good for climbing, a pile of sticks I could turn into a fort. As children, we were all so alive in the moment… there was no fear of deer ticks, water moccasins, or poison ivy. However, as we grew into adults, our awareness of the world and the parts of it that can hurt us crept up into our line of vision and we lost that ability to be in nature without fear.

So, now, as grownups, how do we find that connection to nature that speaks to each of us and brings us comfort? I find that nature offers us comfort because she speaks to our five senses. Do you love the feel of the cold water or maybe the grass under your toes? Does the smell of the ocean speak to your heart? Do you find fulfillment in eating fruit and vegetables that you grew yourself or got from a local farmstand? Do you love the sounds of the birds chirping or perhaps seeing the beauty of the leaves turning in the fall? Nature touches us through our most basic human functions and thus, allows us to find the comfort we need in that moment, without over-thinking or taxing our brains.

In your Order of Service, you will find a tool you are going to use today to brainstorm about the things that can bring you comfort in your life- the ideas that can serve as your blankie. Take a moment to yourself and think about what in nature may bring you comfort during times of stress. Focus on how parts of nature come into your five senses and then write down anything that comes to mind.

Certainly one of the foremost ideas that comes to mind when I say the word comfort is food. We even have a category of food items that we call comfort food—macaroni and cheese, chili, stew, homemade bread… a gallon of ice cream with a spoon. Certainly there are plenty of psychologists out there that would condemn me for mentioning food as a way to comfort, but there is no getting around the fact that it’s a reality in our culture. The image of a person crying in the front of the TV with the gallon ice cream and a spoon shows up in commercials, novels, films, TV shows, and yes, even in reality. How though can we make food a spiritual practice that brings comfort in a more balanced way? Instead of using food to eat our feelings, how can we think of comfort food in a way that feeds our spirit? How about food that is associated with good memories? My husband has a treasure trove of food memories associated with his grandmother, Hester. We in turn, make some of her recipes regularly and have events with our own children centered around those same foods—holidays, birthdays, and even rough days, have a meal that goes with them and bring joy and comfort to us. It’s most often her baked mac and cheese recipe that soothes our souls. Even here at UUFHC, we rely on food as a way to comfort one another. We use food as a way to connect to each other as a community—through our monthly potluck and our events like the Chili Cook-Off. Eating Kit and Glenn Brown’s casserole or Pam Perdue’s cake every month is a joy for me and makes me feel at home here in our space. Sharing a meal together is the foundation of many religious rituals for good reason—it nourishes both our bodies and our hearts at the same time. Food is a way that we can care for one another and express our love and support.

So, let’s take a moment to brainstorm on our insert—what are the foods that bring you balanced comfort? Or, in what way can you use food to sooth your heart or comfort another person?

There are a number of comforting activities that fall into the category of movement. Though movement, like all of the areas we are discussing today, is not necessarily a means of comfort for everyone. However, there are a lot of people who find movement to be a way to center themselves and settle into the moment. When Rev. Lisa was with us, many of you know that she used to bike to church or swim at the Arena Club every day. This was not just a means of exercise for her, it was a means of prayer. Rev. Lisa used that time to pray, meditate, and repeat a daily mantra. Swimming and biking were her centering activities. Movement brings us into our bodies and draws our focus away from the crazy monkey that sometimes rattles the cage of our minds.

I have always found comfort in movement. Through the years I have relied on running, dance, yoga, and hiking as a way to get myself out of my head and into the moment. Movement for comfort does not have to be strenuous, it just needs to be a way to bring your focus inward. Even something as simple as a breathing meditation is a way to use movement to bring comfort to your soul. Yoga is a practice that people often think of as a just a form of exercise. However, those poses are just one of the eight limbs of yoga. One of the other limbs, pranayama, focuses on using breath work. I’d like to take a moment today to practice a bit of that breath work with all of you, in the hopes that when you need a way to comfort yourself and anchor your brain, this breath work can be one of your tools. We are going to try a breathing exercise called the Ujjayi Breath. The Ujjayi Breath is an audible breath, meaning that it makes sound. It is the focus on the sound that helps to settle our brains.

So, wiggle yourself into a comfortable seat and if you’d like, close your eyes. Notice your natural breath and listen to it for a beat or two. Then, if possible, with your mouth closed, go ahead and take 3 long inhales and exhales using the Ujjayi Breath. Once you have finished your three breaths, take a moment in the Movement box of your notes and think of the Movement you can do when you need a bit of calm.

One of my absolute favorite ways to calm myself is to get lost in a story. This story can be found through reading, watching a movie, listening to music, listening to a podcast, or writing. The process of getting out of my own life story and getting lost in someone else’s story is a gift to me. When I am over-the-top stressed, reading a book is one of the first things I do to ease my discomfort. As an example of this process, I’m going to tell you a story about myself that is just a bit embarrassing. I want to preface the story with saying that I hate reality TV- talent shows, Big Brother, Bachlorette- I can’t stand them. I like sitcoms, dramas, period pieces, superhero shows, and almost anything on PBS. I don’t like reality TV because it's lacking in artistic integrity. That’s my preface. As a member of our Ministerial Search Committee, I spent a significant amount of time this past spring with our other wonderful committee members and possible ministerial candidates. We spent an entire very intense weekend with each of those candidates in whom we were extremely interested. Those weekends went from after work on Friday until 2:00 on Sunday. They were lovely, but exhausting. After one such weekend, I came home to find my family watching a show on the Discovery Channel that none of us had ever heard of before—Naked and Afraid. This is a reality show in which two strangers are dropped in the middle of the jungle with no clothes on and almost no supplies and have to survive in the wild on their own for 21 days. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. It’s fascinating. That Sunday afternoon, brain-dead and exhausted, I plopped down on the couch at 3pm, started watching this preposterous show and I continued watching it, marathon-style, until 10:00 at night. That’s seven hours of Naked and Afraid. At 10:00, I thought, how did this happen? The answer is: I got lost in the story. As goofy as the stories were, I was so in need of that form of comfort, that I just allowed my brain to shut off, stop thinking, and just view someone else’s story. That is the power of a story. It takes us out of our own lives and allows us to find comfort in the lives of others—whether they are real or imagined. Once again, go to your notes, and take a moment to write down the different ways you can get lost in a story when you need comfort. Be specific.

As you can see on your notes, the next most prevalent area we can lean on for comfort is our hobbies. This one is fairly simple. You find a healthy thing that you like to do and you do it regularly. Here at UUFHC, we have a knitting circle. These folks knit during the sermon—not because they aren’t listening, but because they want so badly to be able to listen. The same is true with the folks who doodle during during the sermon. These are hobbies that allow our brains to calm down, stop with the To Do Lists and imaginary arguments, and focus on the moment. They are calming comfort activities based in passion and joy. Hobbies can range from gardening, to making music, to art, to boating, to painting your toes. Of course, the difficult part of using a hobby to bring comfort during times of stress is finding a hobby you actually enjoy enough to give you that comfort. For a change in pace, I’d like you to do your notes slightly different this time. I want you to take a minute to write down one or two hobbies you enjoy currently and then one hobby you’ve always been interested in, but haven’t tried. When you next need comfort, look to this list of hobbies as possible tool for self-soothing.

Finally, I’d like to talk about the area of comfort, the blankie, that is so vital to our mental health—using the folks we love for comfort. Now, I used the word folks, instead of people, as I felt that folks could also cover the animals of our life that we love. The Fritts family has 3 dogs, 4 cats, and 6 chickens. Both the humans and the animals that we love are capable of serving as our blankies in times of need. The ancient African proverb, It takes a village to raise a child. is also apropo to adults. We could change it to It takes a village to keep us happy, safe, and healthy. or It takes a village to keep me from losing my stuff on my kids in the morning. or It takes a village to heal my heart after a broken promise. Being a part of a community is a basic human need—science says that just after the needs of food, water, and shelter, comes the need to belong. That sense of knowing who your tribe is and connecting with them regularly, be they human or furry critters, is such deep comfort to the most intimate part of our beings. We need a place to lean into when the storms are a-stormin’. And when we can, we need to be that leaning place for others when they need us. Everyone in this sanctuary has the gift of being a part of the UUFHC community- whether you have been a member for 25 years or this is your first Sunday- you have a place to lean right now, in this moment. Being a part of UUFHC and the greater Unitarian Universalist faith gives us a chance to connect, to find our tribe, to be one with a greater whole. Connecting to others is one of the greatest blankies we have during our stressful times, it’s a need that we must all meet in order to thrive and be healthy. So please, one last time, look at your notes write down the ways in which you can find that connection to the folks you love—maybe a coffee date, a phone call, even texting a funny meme—they are all ways to ease our pain.

So, I’d like to introduce you all to Blankie #2. Yes, these are duplicates of our girls’ blankies that we purposefully bought in case we lost the originals. There have been times when Blankie was being washed or was misplaced and Blankie #2 had to step up to the plate. Clearly, they are not as well-loved, but they are vitally important to the comfort and well-being of our girls. I would like for your note-taking insert to serve as your Blankie #2. Within you, you have all of the tools you need to self-sooth—you are your own Blankie #1. However, when you have forgotten what you need or are so over-the-top discomforted that you need something concrete to hold onto, refer to your notes. Hang it on your fridge, tape it into your journal, take a picture of it and keep it in your phone. Explore the tools that bring you comfort and stability and use them to self-sooth. My prayer for all of you is that feel the power to find stability when you are in need and that each of you feels empowered to perhaps be that stability for someone else. May the blankies of your lives always wrap you in love, warmth, and comfort.

Copyright © 2017 April L. Fritts. All Rights Reserved.

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