Monthly Archives: October 2015

Building a Bottomless Bucket List


This August I crossed one off the bucket list: swimming with dolphins.   Well, two actually, the second was riding a catamaran on the ocean.  I have wanted to sail again since I was eighteen, loving the exciting tipped on its side ride, tacking, and hearing the sound of the wind in the sails.  It was my cousin’s wooden sailboat at our local lake.  While the boat we were traveling on this day no longer sported the mast and white canvas, instead using engine power to traverse the surf, the excitement of negotiating the rolling waves was still there.  For snorkeling, I learned that big waves are not a big deal when you are in the deep water, as opposed to being beaten up with “the breakers” at the shoreline – on the water you just roll with it.  I did feel brave jumping into that water where big things live.  With flotation belt, mask, snorkel and fins, I was plenty well suited for braving this new world.

Our competent, ecologically respectful guide, Elizabeth, gave us thorough preparation and education about the dolphin’s feeding and rest cycles, and how they rest one side of their brain at a time, alternating between the sonar and analytical sides, as exhibited with closure of the opposing eye of the side of the brain which is asleep.  We learned how to visit in a low impact way and not chase or touch the docile and loving creatures.  A small group of three couples,  upon our first encounter we beheld about twenty dolphins as they played, rested, and lazily moved to and fro zigzagging the coast in their rhythmic movement, sometimes on the bottom, often on or near the top, in 40 to 100 feet of water.  We later noted in the car on the trip back to our hotel that each of us had been mesmerized by the Aurora Borealis-like shafts of light permeating down through the depths in glistening light patterns.  Adding to our pleasure were intensely warm water currents influenced by El Nino, followed by refreshing cool veins of sweet relief.  As an artist, I am looking more at how light reacts on objects, and the pieces of the shapes on those objects.   There was so much to see.

Hours later, I was still exhilarated with the excitement of it all, especially seeing the graceful dolphins in their home, and learning first hand about their loving, community nature.   As we moved from the snorkeling with dolphins site to the turtle site, the dolphins rode our bow, racing ahead as they are so adept at leading.  From the 2-week-old baby swimming against mom’s side, to the 4 teenagers “hanging loose” and swimming slowly, like teenagers do, we enjoyed every minute.  Others were exhibiting raucous, tail flapping fun, spinning, relaxing and mating.  It was nature at its best.  On the trip out we spotted sea turtles and flying fish.  On the way back to the dock, we stopped twice to swim with the turtles, getting good views of several adults together on the bottom coral.  I was at once surprised to be 5 feet away from a sea turtle as it emerged, so close I could smell its algae covered body or its breath; I’m not sure which.

Riding to and from the harbor was a great adventure on the high seas, better than a ride at Fair Park.  On the trampoline-like net across the front, I was holding on tight and getting splashed, rocking up, once airborne, and dropping back down again against the deep blue mountains of water as it splashed through the net.  It felt like we were at a rodeo.  I haven’t had that much fun in forever.

Extra special about this trip was getting to experience it with my soul mate, David, on our celebratory revisit, having married there on Oahu in 1985, one hour east and thirty years before that sun-filled day.

Next on the bucket list: getting up close to a humpback whale.  You will certainly hear about it as it happens.

Photo credit and company we explored with on Oahu:

About Renee Bates

Renee is an artist focused on growing a newfound ability to express herself through oil painting, recently leaving her role as executive director of the non-profit Greenways for Nashville to pursue art and product development.  Renee likes being in nature, hiking, birding, and working in the garden. Married to David Bates of Bates Nursery and Garden Center, a 3rd generation business begun in 1932. Renee admires the fact that it was begun by a savvy woman, Bessie Bates.  Renee’s art may be enjoyed from her website or followed on Facebook.

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The Other Side of the Couch – She Sits in My Office

Acceptance 2

She sits in my office, a woman in her 20s, carefully yet casually dressed, clearly anxious.  This is our first visit, and I don’t yet know what brings her to me.  A counseling session opens with informed consent, so we speak of confidentiality, of any exceptions to that sacred boundary (any situation in which harm to self, to others, and/or to minor children or elderly requires breaking confidentiality).  Then we come to the question – What brings you here today?

She tears up, and her words begin to pour out as she struggles with her answer.  “I am attracted to women.  I have fought this and fought this, and not wanted it, and tried to be different, but it is no use.  I have no response to men.  I have dated men, and I have known kind, good men.  I grew up with kind parents.  I had a good home.  I am a Christian, and I grew up in a loving church.  At least I thought I did.  But my church is against homosexuality, and sees it as a sin.  I am torn apart inside.  I don’t want to be a lesbian.  I don’t want to live my life outside society’s acceptance.  Can you help me?  Can you help me change how I feel inside about being attracted to women?”

My heart sinks as I hear this question, because I know that the answer is not what she will want to hear.  Reputable therapists don’t offer what used to be called “conversion therapy” to supposedly help someone redirect their attraction template.   This so-called therapy is actually illegal in four states and is considered unethical by the mental health professions.

This client and I have a long road ahead together, if she decides to follow through with counseling.  Helping a person come to terms with their own sexual orientation, when it is different from what is considered the norm, is a challenge.  Many same-sex oriented individuals have struggled for years before they seek any kind of help and have absorbed the many homophobic messages that surround these issues.

The educational process will involve looking at the biology of attraction, at the internalized messages that complicate self-acceptance, at the kind of relationship the client wants (often a stable, adult, long-term relationship sanctioned by both the state and his/her faith background).  It will also involve looking at what it means to live one’s life as a gay/lesbian person in one’s family, community, profession, church.  It will involve helping this client differentiate between such Biblical issues as temple prostitution and sexual slavery, clearly opposed by the Old Testament, and the experience of monogamous, same-sex unions, which were not even thought of in that culture and time.  It will involve the question of children – whether and how to become a parent.  Most of all, it will involve learning self-acceptance and self-compassion.

The United States has experienced a remarkable shift in attitude over the last two decades, culminating in the recent decision by the Supreme Court affirming the right to marriage for same-sex couples.  This does not mean, however, that the acceptance for same-sex couples is easy, especially in the context of some faith-based institutions.

My hope for this client is that I will be able to walk with her through her fears, through giving up the dream of a “regular” life, to the point of being able to lovingly accept her own being.

My hope for our country is that we will all be able to walk through our fears, recognize that difference is not dangerous, and reach the point of being able to lovingly accept our fellow citizens in all their infinite variety.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at

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