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Over the last three years, our son has gone from an urban homeschooler to fulfilling his dream as a Soldier. It's been a wild ride, and there is so much more awaiting him. As a mom, I keep tabs on what's going on in the world, what he may be going through, what he may endure and how it may affect the rest of us civilians. And as a Pagan, I also like to learn from others who are or have served to understand their perspectives, victories and struggles. From what I learn, I share with others and have been faithfully doing so every week.

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Do our beliefs call us to be unconditional?

Good morning everyone and welcome back! How are you handling the Mercury retrograde? It's been a total pain in the rear for me, so I won't be sad to see it completely dissipate, shadow and all, come Thanksgiving. During these times, we're not supposed to really start anything, but how is that feasible? And in my line of work, helping people find new apartments, which includes preparing and signing leases, there is no such thing as taking a couple months off several times a year. So, I do the best I can with what I have, which is all anyone can ever ask.

I at least find comfort in knowing I'm not the only one who's been going through ups and downs: Misery loves company, doncha know. But at the same time, I don't wish misery on anyone, and boy howdy has there been a lot of that going on. Millions of Americans, which includes the elderly, the disabled and military families, on top of the biggest recipients - children - have seen their monthly food stamp allotments go down by around 5%. The healthcare website still isn't functional to the point some are saying to shut the site down all together until it's fixed. And, on top of everything else, many trick or treaters were rained out last week. Won't somebody please think of the children! Oh and yeah, flu season is back, and I'm wondering if it's going to be a mild one or severe. So really, what can we do? Again, do the best with what you have.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm big on advocating for preparedness, but I'm not talking about the extreme measures the people on TV take. I follow prepper websites and find a wealth of information in the comments; first-hand experiences are great to learn from, especially "what not to do" examples. But unfortunately, I also find a lot of misinformation, paranoia and proselytization, and sadly too, intolerance, bigotry and outright hatred on those very site sites. For example, there is a lady out in Utah who I love for her tried and tested food preservation tips. She's a smart woman who, when it comes to food, truly does make the best of what she has - always outdoing herself. However, I can't stand her extreme black and white views and the way she unapologetically judges people. I see a lot of "those people" comments, and it can be downright infuriating. The way I see it, life isn't black and white: There is a lot of gray area involved on top of a rainbow of colors.

A year ago, many people I personally know struggled with Superstorm Sandy. When the first OMG! alerts went out, I contacted them, sending out lists on what needed to be done during hurricanes, written by Floridians who deal with that sort of thing a lot more frequently. The difference of course is the climate, so I added my own two cents from dealing with going without heat and light for extended periods. The combined included tips like getting all the laundry done ahead of time so they had clean clothes to wear in layers, buying a week's worth of groceries and gas before the panic buying started (not just the standard 72 hours) and using cleaned pop bottles and milk jugs, on top of filling up the bath tub, to store up tap water. One of my Pagan friends was posting from her cell phone a few days in how cold it was in her home. I had suggested she dig out their tent and camp out in the warmest room so they cold sleep more comfortably. I remember saying I know how silly it sounded to pitch a tent in your own home, but desperate times require desperate measures. She acknowledged afterward it did considerably help.

It felt good to know, even a thousand miles away, I was able to help people help themselves - some of whom I had never even met. I understood many of the people were reliant upon EBT and paycheck direct deposits occurring during the storm and therefore didn't have extra funds available to them to prepare. Unlike many of the prepper sites and comments, I didn't judge them for not preparing or for "being takers", and I did light candles that they'd fare as well as possible, with the help and kindness of friends and strangers alike, whether or not they believed in Higher Powers.

The way I see it, giving unconditionally is what being a good person is all about. It has nothing to do with our beliefs, though many Pagans I know have belief structures that behoove us to venture beyond our homes, covens and clans to make the world a little bit better. Once again, we do the best we can with what we have, but sometimes, the best we have simply isn't good enough and need help.

Yes, yes, there are the moochers and abusers out there, but by simply looking at someone for the first time, it's impossible to discern whether or not they're temporarily in a pinch or are out to game the system. They say if you feed a stray cat, it will just keep coming back for more, and that's how people should be treated as well. That's actually an interesting comparison, because the ASPCA makes the distinction between stray and feral cats and how to care for them. They point out stray cats are formerly peoples' pets who may act feral based on how long they've been on their own, but deep inside, they love people and want to be loved and cared for again. To refer back to the analogy, that's like comparing people who used to live "like the rest of us" and just need a helping hand so they can get back on their feet. These "stray people", if you will forgive the terminology for a moment, also need to be loved and cared for - without judgment. In other words, they're not all bums/deadbeats/losers/moochers/takers. They are us with bad experiences, and we can most certainly be them if something, or a series of somethings, occur.

Many of us believe Samhain signals the beginning of a new year, and with it comes new year's resolutions. And with Thanksgiving being just a few weeks away, we are asked to be thankful for what we have, no matter how meager. Perhaps this year, more of us will resolve to be a little less judgy with our fellow human beings, be they Pagan or otherwise. I know I have a lot of work to do on that, and I will publicly proclaim where I need to judge less, especially when things like Mercury retrograde get involved, taking points of view out of context:

- I resolve to consider every opinion before drawing a conclusion, even if that opinion is vastly different than my own.

- I resolve to collect my thoughts before replying to someone, be they in person or online.

- I resolve to put myself in someone else's shoes and try to understand where that person is coming from.

- I resolve to abstain from responding to someone whose opinions or comments truly upset me, even if that means I must walk away from that person all together.

- I resolve to give unconditionally, to the best of my ability, but without making repeated mistakes on my generosity. (Sometimes, a cat really is feral.)

Please feel free to share your thoughts, and many blessings to you and yours.

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Lori Dake is native Chicagoan, a wife and mother to one and works in real estate leasing apartments. Things she enjoys are heavy metal, being a foodie (mostly vegetarian), camping, writing and painting.


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