May 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” Robert Kennedy
I’ve been watching documentaries for the last two weeks to get me through the wee hours of the night. This week, Ethel, a documentary about Robert Kennedy’s wife was one of them. It was inspiring, moving, challenging, & humbling all at one time. She mothered 11 extraordinary children, and she once had a seal that lived in their swimming pool! What a woman…
However, on this day that we stop and appreciate those who labor tirelessly on behalf of their children, it can be very, very difficult for those whom it does not fall so neatly within the lines.
At my stage of life, it is most easy to think about the women in my life that have lost children, or babies, or simply been unable to conceive them – whether it is their first child or their third. I think of the mother’s who have young children, and motherhood is not the Hallmark commercial we are often sold. This can happen for a number of reasons; Rett Syndrome, post-partum, strong-willed children, divorce, loss of a parent, depression…
I think of friends who have lost their mothers or mothers-in-law who were so very dear, one friend in particular who really grew up without her mother, and I wake up every Mother’s Day with her on my mind… I am thankful that she has a house full of children, and an incredible family – but that does not bring her mother back. I think of my friends Todd & Kelly who lost their mom more recently and how their families have grown since – they have much to celebrate, but their mother was a wonderful and dynamic woman, this day must be for them, not the same…
For many, many more this day comes with such dynamic emotion. Mother. This word doesn’t bring feelings of warmth and memory for me. It’s a perplexing word. It’s a word that is loaded with fuzzy memories, where if I dwell too long…
Sadly for my mother I think it is likely the same way. She wakes up thinking of what all the mothers are doing, getting, reading, hearing, and I am sure it is a day of great disappointment for her.
I will say this, my relationship with my mother is the best it’s probably ever been, as good as it will likely ever get, and that – in itself – makes me deeply empathetic.
There are 200,000 women incarcerated and over 1 million on probation - 85 to 90% of those women have been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused (statistics from 2011 Department of Justice – Women in Prison report.) I think of the complicated relationship these women have with their children, and the fact that so many of them are motivated by the idea of coming home and being ‘better mothers.’ (This program in Harlem has some incredible stories on their website about it.) What must this day be like for them? For their children? And the cycles of abuse that exist. Complicated – when stated in the most simple terms. Mother’s Day is probable a difficult day for the mothers & children in this demographic.
Naturally it’s not all so profound. Some people are simply in relationships with their mothers where they don’t feel accepted or loved as they are, for whom they are, or there is some other estrangement or - even an impasse of the heart. On days like these, there is a resounding reinforcement of that relationship that is so much less that you hoped and dreamed.
There are simply women for whom life looked really different than they thought. They are single when they thought they would be married, they are gay and they thought they would be straight, they are divorced and they never imagined they would be, they woke up one day and they were 50 and they didn’t have children… On this day when the entire world communicates to you that life begins with parenthood, value comes in procreation alone, that selfishness disappears and fulfillment comes in the moment you become a parent – let me, a childless woman, say to you – you are of immeasurable value to this world and you have not failed, you are not “less than”, you are not letting anyone down, you are not innately more selfish because you are not a parent (though you certainly may be because you have chosen to be ), and there are many, many great and significant leaders who never had children. In most religious traditions those who are called to truly live lives of devotion and change are asked to forsake having children…
I often think that AM&UK may not have considered taking me if they had had children. I am so thankful that they did.
I have something brewing in my heart, about taking in ones that are not your own… Especially older ones. But I will save it so that I can study for finals.
To anyone whose heart is breaking today, I have spent many a Mother’s Day believing that it would always hurt ‘that’ much…
Yes, my relationship with AM has filled a deep, deep void in my life – but I am very aware that I have a relationship with my mother that is complicated beyond measure, and in that there is no peace – and yet, my heart is not full of pain today as it once was.
I feel deeply grateful for the incredible Mothers I have in the women from the Hole in the Wall Gang, and the women from Justin’s family that I was blessed with by marriage, for my precious niece who brings us all deep joy. It is not the way that I expected it would be, but it is not as painful as it once was, and for that I am deeply grateful.
For those of you who are simply not there yet, let yourself cry, don’t go to places where you have to watch Mother’s Day brunches of what you think are happy families… Or taunt yourself with pictures of a life that you think you want. Make a plan of action that is best for you, and know, tomorrow there will be sun.
It’s Mother’s Day, and for many people it’s incredibly happy – and that’s OK too.
April 24, 2013 § 2 Comments
When I was 19 I went on a trip to China, Mongolia and Uzbekistan. A group of people were going to drive 17 hours into the countryside and live off the land for a long amount of time – I was not chosen to be a part of them. I went to the director of my organization and explained that I’d really like to go and asked if he’d reconsider. He went to the head of the Mongolian arm, and that guy said, “Anyone who has that much passion will be valuable – so sure.” What in the world was I thinking? The zeal and the passion of our youth. I read a great piece about passion as a driving force today. When you are young you have the energy to let your passions rule you, but as you get older, you need a more balanced and holistic life, or you inevitably burn out.
After that stint countryside, we trekked on over to Tashkent where my group stayed in one part of town and I stayed with a friend I knew from growing up in another part of town. I had some incredible adventures over there. Outside of my morning alarm – which was the goat milk lady yelling, “MALAKWA” every morning at the crack of dawn, there was the time I was walking to the market and I caught the cab driver singing Man in the Mirror like he meant it, to himself in his side view mirror in a dirt alley… Awkward. The rest of my group returned to Texas and I stayed to work with my friend. It ended up being a really hard working environment for a number of reasons – I mean – outside of the fact that we were working in Uzbekistan. I left pretty mad at one of my dearest friends. I thought about this as I read Liz’s blog today.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely relate to what Liz wrote about being gripped by the fear of failure. I fight it every day – and through the night. It saturates the Columbia experience, and as a woman one gets a heightened sense of pressure. However, I have failed plenty, so I expect to get it wrong, and live in a steady tension of fear and expectation. What I mean is that people often fail us. Terribly. Because we are all imperfect. People lose their passions. They write blog posts in their humanity. They tweet in their weak moments. They speak from a place of insecurity or pride. And then I: get hurt, angry, judge them, withdraw, am disappointed, remove trust, betray them by exposing their failure to a friend – or worse someone who doesn’t know their character at all, hold on to unforgiveness, or just decide they aren’t worth my time all together – because I am clearly better than them.
So many of my friends have children. I have spent so much time looking at pictures of these ‘clean slates’, these brand new pure souls. I feel so vigilante to guard them from this world’s cruelty, its cynicism, the now normal mean girl snark and rhetoric. What do you wish for the next generation? Better, brighter, kinder, greener, and gentler. I wish they would not have awkward Jr High years. I wish they would not need a counseling fund. We’re not going to like everyone – believe me – I’m an acquired taste. If we’ve learned anything in the last week it is that we need less crazy passions and more balanced lives. We need less judgement and harbored resentment, and more communication and forgiveness. We need to spend less time pushing people to the edges and more time just being kind because WHAT DOES IT COST? Insincerity is not the goal – getting over ourselves and our own pettiness so that we can do less picking at the specks in other people’s eyes.
It’s easy to live in a world where everyone is like us. Looks like us. Dresses like us. Thinks like us. Views things from our perspective. Listens to our music. Prefers us. Speaks our language, in the tones of our choosing. Ideally they would communicate with us in a way that creates understanding. The most peaceful societies, the most generous societies, are the most homogeneous societies. People like people that are like them. This is actually empirically verifiable fact. It is easy to love those who love you… might be extended to it is easy to like those whom you choose, that are safe… aren’t annoying, have never hurt you, don’t confuse you, don’t elicit sarcastic responses in your head upon impact… (not that I’m speaking from experience.) I’ve made a list of some forgiving, some gentle-ing, some kind-ing, some loving that I can implement. Let’s unleash a little love on this world.
I have some solid work to do, but I think that aspiring to a more balanced, kinder world wouldn’t be the worst thing.
In the words of the great Patty Griffin, “It’s hard to give, it’s hard to get – but everybody needs a little forgiveness.”
April 21, 2013 § 6 Comments
I much too recently wrote that when I started at CU AM told me that I would have to miss many important life events, living far away and the demands of school simply wouldn’t afford us the trips home for life’s celebrations and goodbyes that we would wish. So we are deeply grateful to Instagram for keeping us posted on weddings, and the sweet children and special and even mundane occasions of our friends and families lives. This blog has had a much more personal tone over the last few posts than I would prefer, and it won’t likely stay that way, partially because finals start in 10 days so I am climbing into a hole and I am now a week behind…
But we are missing another goodbye this week. I have to admit that I haven’t quite mastered the art of goodbye from a distance. I think ceremonies of closure are a passage for the remaining, and so forgive me for using the space of my blog to help me do that. But there are a good portion of you that know my Uncle Phil, and I hope you will join me in celebrating him. Again, I know this is a relatively personal post, and I recognize that – but he was a public man and I think a public tribute isn’t altogether unfitting.
My Uncle Phil. The Reverend Monsignor Philip Johnson.
There are stories that his siblings could tell that might have brought about the reconsideration of his robing as a priest, I would be remiss not to mention that one of his first posts – if not his first post (?) was as the priest at St. Maria Goretti School, where his younger siblings attended… Isn’t there some sort of nepotism clause protecting younger siblings from that? Torturous.
He took vows of chastity, vows of poverty… But the thing that I know more than anything is that his life was not his own. Growing up I remember arriving to my Grandmothers and arranging our weekend meal plans around my Uncle Phil’s weekend mass schedule – whether it was 7 Christmas or Easter services, weddings, funerals, visitations, confessions, board meetings, or some other form of service or commitment.
I don’t remember ever being told that it was our pleasure to make our plans this way, but I remember always knowing that it was never an inconvenience and always a source of great joy for us. I also tried to recall today, as an adult if I ever heard my uncle speak about being tired, or overwhelmed. Perhaps he did, as I am sure that he was, and I would have been an unlikely confidante, but I don’t remember it. And I don’t remember anyone ever talking about it as such.
I know that today as I thought of all the funny stories my friends have to tell about my Uncle Phil teasing them at family events they spent with us, stories I have about his faithfulness to his nieces and nephews, or how I loved to text with him… His parishioners, traveling groups, Board members turned friends, and ‘people met along the way’ have as many stories to tell. Because his life was not ours – it was the church’s – and as I read the posts beginning to build up on Legacy’s website I am so moved by their words.
We loved the same things. He was our family’s gold standard also. There was no other parish priest that measured up, and that was hard, because we were unfairly biased. He was funny, down to earth, real, uncannily able to make the most difficult situation more bearable, he was fully who he was – unapologetically – and yet all were safe, he believed in a Gospel lived – not a bible beaten (and he raised his eyebrow to me more than once on this issue), he believed in civic duty, he was not afraid to stand up for what was right – even if it meant standing up to Rome, he said difficult things and expected you to understand that telling you what you wanted to hear would result in weak character and low values, he expected thick skin and a sense of humor from all he loved – it was required for survival in our family – and is required for survival in a difficult world, he had a beautiful singing voice, he loved to christen babies, and one was really often left with the sense that he up to something – more often than not, he was.
He would never answer me directly when I asked why he became a priest, but I can tell you this – he was good at it. He was a man of integrity and honor. While prophets, priests, and kings across the world have been called to question for a sundry of things, my Uncle Phil was not a perfect man, he was an incredible pastor. He had thriving churches, alive with community, passionate about the purposes of the Kingdom, and careful about each other.
He was named a Monsignor in 2008, an honor that had not been bestowed upon priests in the Diocese of Dallas for over 30 years. What is so funny about it, is that my Uncle celebrated these monumental things in his life with very little ‘pomp and circumstance.’ For example at the ceremony ordaining him Monsignor, after he was vested, whether due to the color of the vestment or – ahem – the way that it draped over his figure at the time – he compared himself to a Christmas tree.
The thing is, he was our Uncle, my Dad and Aunts & Uncle’s brother, AND our priest… My wedding was in an oak grove at an old beautiful home in Austin, and Reverend Monsignors cannot perform official duties outside of the four walls of the church. Rather than deny my request to participate in my wedding in some significant way – he read a Cherokee blessing… He didn’t condemn me for being married by an Episcopal priest in an oak grove, he met me where I was, as he was, without compromising who he was.
I told Justin that for 36 years my family has really been one very specific way. 6 siblings (their spouses), their children (my generation & their spouses & children) – and the people we bring with us that we call family… And I don’t know how to think about the world any differently. The truth is – it’s really quite selfish because just as my Uncle Phil had walked so many others through this process toward death – he prepared himself and those around him for what was coming. He told us on what terms he wanted to live, and on what terms he would like to move on, and it helped us – in theory – to let go.
And yet, I feel terribly sorry for myself, and for all of us. He was not just a wonderful Priest, or Monsignor or Pastor… He wasn’t just a terrific Uncle or great Uncle, brother, or friend… He was a wonderful man, a great person, and a compelling presence that truly made a significant difference in the lives of the people that he touched. I will miss his texts, I will miss his laugh, his voice singing kyrie eleison, I will miss his perspective, and his humor… I will miss him. We will all miss him terribly.
April 18, 2013 § 3 Comments
If you know me, you know that I am nothing if not one that JUMPS in to the boat with people. If sympathy is to have feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune and empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – I am sometimes so empathetic that I need an intervention.
I think I may have shared before that in my younger years I was so disassociated with my own emotion I would hijack other people’s trauma. As an (ahem) adult I remain deeply empathetic- in part because of who I am, in part because of my upbringing, and in part because I don’t want people to feel alone. I would rather someone have to say “back up” than “I felt alone.”
I also know that a heart cannot harden itself particularly. Your heart is soft or it is not- you can’t foster unkindness and foster love – one corrupts the other, hopefully love wins. Since Monday I just keep asking myself how do I respond to this pain? How do I help those I know in pain?
Some of you may remember that I ran the Boston Marathon last year with Team in Training in honor of Marla and over 100 Fighters, Survivors,& Taken. I’ve run a lot of marathons & 1/2 Marathons. Austin, San Antonio, Dallas,all over New England, Berlin, Lisbon, Marrakech, Madrid… You get the picture.
I’ve never run a race like Boston.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times – the Boston fans are the greatest fans in the world.
They know what you need before you do. They come early & stay late, cheering is a sport, they love the charity runners as much as the olympic runners, they LOVE that YOU love their marathon, Wellesley & BC & BU have marathon cheering traditions – it is a right of passage as a marathoner to experience them. You mark your progress in the marathon by these things.
In the final mile of the marathon you pass the Citgo sign, run under the Mass Ave bridge, and up the final and most brutal (smallest) hill of the marathon. You run onto Comm Ave. which leads you to Hereford, and as every Boston Marathoner knows, it’s “right on Hereford, left on Boylston” to the finish.
Fans line either side of Boylston – their cheers echoing back and forth off the Brownstones and high-rises – lifting you toward Copley Plaza and the FINISH painted permanently, but freshly, on the road.
To say that you NEED those cheers, those people, that energy is an understatement – to run that street with anything less than superbowl level enthusiasm would be next to impossible. 47% of Boston Marathon runners finish between 3:50 and 4:10 hour marathons. I am so hurt that 5000 people didn’t get to finish their race. I am so devastated that someone would injure the greatest fans in the world.
I was sitting in a discussion section for my American Politics class on Monday when I got the text that two explosions had occurred at the 4 hour mark of race. Sarad, my coach from last year and dear friend, called from Heartbreak Hill where he was coaching… I left class to take his call. He couldn’t get calls through to anyone on the team.
My cousin was at the Red Sox game with her girlfriend. Were they safe?
My ears were ringing. I thought I was going to throw up. I was shaking violently.
We know so many people that finish in those moments. My family and friends were sitting there at that moment last year.
I was not just empathizing, I had jumped in the boat and set sail.
In the end – some of the news was good and some hard, as we knew inevitably it would be. Boston is a small community, TNT is strong and tight knit.
People who ran last year and were there to cheer were injured – there is permanent damage.
People we know we know were finishing as or immediately behind each of the explosions – you can imagine the things they have seen.
Someone we know used to run for BU, some friends came to watch him, one did not make it.
It is very, very sad.
I dreamt for two nights that I was running through the finish – I could see Justin & my friends & family & coaches but I was protected by an invisible shield as they were bombed – and the marathon officials made me finish and pick up my medal.
As I began to regain my focus yesterday, by sheer will, I saw that an explosion had occurred in West. Home of the spicy hot chubby with cheese.
West is north of Waco. It is where I bought my Saturn and sold my ’69 Bronco (a true sign of either adult responsibility or stupidity) – the most generous and forgiving boss I’ve ever had in my life lives there with her husband and daughter Paige. After some frantic texts I found out they are fine.
The devastation began to unfold and familiar triage stations were set up and ambulances lined up to carry away the injured as another city I formerly called home prepared to care for the people of West.
I felt all out of tears, as I watched the tiny town of 2000 burn.
Twitter raced to try to get news, and wrap their mind around the devastation. I was reminded of when I thought 12 had died in Boston… I gently assured them that only time can provide accurate information, despite our desperate desire to know it’s going to be O.K.
My friend Annie has three children and said that when Sandy Hook happened they turned off the TV had family game nights and explained to their children, as they attained information about the tragedy from the internet, that mommy and daddy were sad because something terrible had happened. On Monday they did the same thing, but she wondered how much more they would be able to absorb…
The impact of what happened in West to a community of 2000 will be felt by every member of that community many times over for years and years to come, it was a horrific accident, but it will not take long for people to begin to look for someone to blame… someone to sue… someone to hold responsible.
In Boston, there is a person who sought to injure, harm, and terrorize the most incredible people in the world – the fans of the Boston Marathon.
Immediately there were calls to ‘fry’ the person, and all sorts of other terribly horrific things.
When they get to the bottom of who is responsible for these explosions and we’re going to hold their feet to the fire and… and… and… And then?
I probably asked Justin why 20 times on Monday… Why charity runners? Why 4:10? Why? Why? Why?
As if knowing why would make what happened or the consequences any easier.
Nor will being angry.
So much irrational violence in this country starts with roots of anger. Anger at a government, anger at being marginalized, anger at perceived injustice or inaction on the part of some authority… Domestic terrorism rests in seeds of this kind of anger that was fostered through years and irrationality into rage.
I turned off my Facebook account as people began to argue about the marathon bombing and gun rights… it was not civil, it was angry, and my heart was too broken to bear the anger. I feel sad that we’ve lost our capacity for civil discourse. No wonder we’re stuck in political gridlock, we can’t even respond to tragedy without arguing and accusing in anger.
I often think of the Katherine Switzer (one of the first females to run the Boston Marathon) quote, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” Running marathons has always been the place I’ve gone to cleanse my lenses of the grit of of cynicism about humanity…
It’s the same reason I told people my motive for working in humanitarian aid was selfish, you really see the most giving- selfless part of community.
My friend Liz just texted me from the blast site in West where she and her son are sitting with survivors to comfort them as various painful, but minor, medical procedures are being performed – she told me, “People from towns I’ve never even heard of drove in last night and started helping.”
S0 the answer: how do I respond to this pain? How do I help those I know in pain?
We’re going to be angry. It’s a natural stage of grief.
I’m no person to tell anyone else how to grieve, how to cope – what’s the best way. I only know there’s no way around but through. Each person will have to travel their own journey.
As for helping those in pain I keep thinking that grief and trauma are a lot like a marathon and less like a sprint. Moreover, like the Red Cross while all donations are appreciated, there will be a continued need next week and next month – because a marathon is a long race .
Right now there are presidents, governors, and lasagna for 300. There are interviews, news coverage, front pages & tweets.
Next week there will be soreness, quietness, and a nation that has moved on to the next crisis and a gaping opportunity for sorrow to take hold and anger to root deep.
Physical and emotional wounds are not altogether different, if not tended to carefully they can cause longterm, irrevocable damage.
How can we help? As the world moves on, we can stay fast, like the fans on Boylston in 93 degree heat 5 hours into the marathon still yelling as if it were the Superbowl. When we need a little help comforting we can use handy tools like this one , or just send a little note reminding those who suffered that we’re still thinking of them. If words are not your thing, then serve. If you can’t serve then give, if you can’t give – make a sign . I assure you. We all have some love to offer.
I have been reminding myself that this is a crazy world, filled with evil, that can only be fought with Love & Truth. When anger rises, I remind myself that answers to the whys and vindication won’t heal the deep wounds… But Love. Love covers a multitude of wrongs.
I’ve also been humming one of my favorite Rich Mullins songs, “I know that this thirst will not last long, that it will soon drown in this song not sung in vain. I hear the thunder in the sky, I see the sky about to rain, and with the prairies I am calling out your name…”
April 1, 2013 § 5 Comments
It’s been a hell of a week for the people in our lives. Heartbreak. Difficulties. Cancer. Surgeries. ICU. Lost babies. Death. Late nights. International trials. Bad grades… And I haven’t gotten much sleep.
I’ve written three posts that I haven’t published.
There is not much in this life that is certain.
Mother Teresa has another quote that I really love that says, “I have found the truth that if you love until it hurts, that there is no more hurt, only more love.”
That’s really the point though isn’t it?
Loving people IS easy – it’s a bit of an obligation – “hate the sin, love the sinner”, my grandmother used to say that all the time.
I think I am more in the game of I love you and I like you.
Yeah – you do some really shitty stuff – it’s offensive… It’s likely that you’ll find some of what I do offensive as well, I hope that you’ll be a big enough person to like me anyway.
On the absolute certain occasion that I screw up, fail, hurt you, step out of line – or any number of other equally terrible offenses – please choose to love me despite me. I will do the same.
None of us deserve it, but my stars, aren’t we all desperate for a little reprieve from the unfailing difficulty of this life? Let’s find it in our most precious relationships! If we don’t, perhaps it’s a sign that it’s time to move on.
Recently I’ve been returning to some of my old favorite music.
I think mostly because so many people around me are suffering, and I feel so inadequate to comfort them.
Rather than words, I send music.
Perhaps I think if it comforted me, it will comfort them.
This Patty Song has been in my heart a lot lately:
For some reason I think about what this line means a lot, “your best intentions may not be enough.”
I can only type it with a deep sigh. As one with the best of intentions – that often fall far short of the original vision – the line offers voice to what my emotion finds ineffable.
Patty sings, “Someone will say what’s been said before, it’s only love that we’re looking for…”
This week as the emails, texts, and phone calls have come – As my own sense of inadequacy has come in waves… I am reminded that “it’s only love that we’re looking for.” It’s only love that I can even offer. (thank goodness – Lord knows I don’t have time or energy.)
In our most unreasonable moments – it is not reason or calm that we need – but love.
When our motive or intent is questioned – or when we are faced with one whom we are not sure of we can trust; there is one right answer – risk love.
When we are jealous of other’s happiness or they of ours – we should lean back hard into the truth that happiness is not a point of arrival, but a state of being – and decide for ourselves.
When we feel forgotten, our good deeds unseen, or as if there is an injustice we must defend – we must breathe deeply – it is the good done in secret that is our greatest treasure. May we seek to love and do good in ever increasing measure, and to decreasing accolade. I am no believer of altruism, but that we are able to discipline our motive and love is best given freely.
We do not live to answer to the fickle opinion of man, whose mood and opinion changes as quickly as our very own – whose intention is as fallible and weak as ours. When it feels as if the world has failed us, we might take refuge in the reality that it is simply composed of people like us, and when we feel that we have failed the world, we can rest assured – they will (or seemingly should) understand… And if not – (in the words of a great book) shake the dust off your feet and move along to the next house.
For me, when I lay my head down at night I answer to One. I am not always proud of that account, but I am thankful for the safe place, the abundant grace, and the new day.
I can tell you this, after this week of day after day of hearing difficult news and heart ache from the ones that I love (and the consistent struggle of my academic life) – I have never been more sure that if there is any love in my heart to give it is exigent that it be given.
Love is a risk.
There is no risk-free love, people are often even more difficult to like – but this life is hard and we need each other.
Any little thing we have to give – A kind word, help along the way, a shoulder to cry on, a cheerful visit, a loaf of bread, a shared meal, prayer, smiles, gentleness, forgiveness, believing the best… It means the most “when it don’t come easy.”
Patty and Mother Teresa – An unlikely pair, but this Easter Sunday they have been water to my soul. There’s nothing like beautiful music and the inspired word.
March 12, 2013 § 1 Comment
This is one of my favorite kids in the world.
Her mom is incredible. Today she left EV alone and she came back and EV had written her name at the top of the chalk board.
What’s awesome is that EV has her mom to send me this email.
I am lucky because I have you guys to boost my ego…
We all need someone to say – “HEY! What they did was awesome! STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND LOOK!”
I think that my friend ALM is an incredible Mom, Sister, Friend, Wife, and Learner. She is fun, funny, creative, and she made the kid that writes her name on chalk boards before she even started school - How ’bout them apples?
I figure ALM will be none too pleased with me for the public forum whereby I chose to muse over her awesomeness – but she didn’t give EV a choice – and I give her no choice. I am really proud that she’s my friend and proud that the child in this picture is a product of her love, sacrifice, sense of humor, and ability to not take herself too seriously. ALM defs deserves a public cheer!
Who do you know that could use a little, “You’re the sh#$!” reminder today?
March 5, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This week two friends have lost their fathers, our friends lost their brother in an especially tragic way, and a friend had a second miscarriage in months (our second friend to grapple incredibly recently with the complexity of grieving the loss of a child while caring for the one in their arms – so complex.)
There was also the awesome news today that my Aunt Lauren went home after a difficult kidney transplant! Hurray!
But in thinking about our friends this week I was reminded of the Swans on Dalinor Lake.
When I was a brave young thing I spent some time in Inner Mongolia.
True Story – My Grandmother, the entirety of her life, referred to it as Inner Magnolia. Oh that it were.
It was a twenty hour bus ride from Ulan-Bataar, broken up over two days. We ended up in a tiny village where we bathed in a river every morning. There was a small village outhouse. And we slept in the home of the village elder with the Mongolians we were working with from Ulan-Bataar.
We brought all of our food with us from the city. Naturally it was all pre-packaged. The people that we travelled with brought their canned horse meat, what they didn’t finish they would leave in the window over night… The canned food was fascinating to the locals who grew or killed all their food. I didn’t tell the local villagers what the food in the window was, but I shared anything I had in my cans with them. Food in small circular containers were fascinating.
I brought a ‘discman’ (kids – I’ll explain more later) – and little speakers, I would play music in the afternoons. The kids would pick up the speakers and try to figure up how the tiny people fit inside the speakers. Not that they knew what the speakers were… Or the music… Their reflection on the back of the CDs was another matter of pure entertainment.
Needless to say, in matters of cultural polarity, I am not sure if I will ever experience anything of the kind again. It was humbling, funny, beautiful, fascinating, wonderful, scary, and marvelous all at once.
We were there on the 4th of July, which was particularly cold in inner Magnolia that year (maybe every year – I don’t know.) As we met together in a roofless barn, surrounded by a cow and her calf it began to snow. I suddenly thought,
“WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE? IF I DIED HERE NO ONE COULD GET TO ME. IF WE WERE KIDNAPPED THEY COULD NEVER FIND US! WE ARE CRAZY! THIS IS TERRIBLE! I’VE GOT TO GET BACK TO ULAN-BATAAR!”
(Oh place of safety, where the finest hotel in town was the Genghis Khan…)
I didn’t actually tell anyone I was freaking out. I maintained total outer calm. We went and visited a sick man at a nearby village and ate some delicious sun dried goat fat. On our way back to the village where we were staying as my anxiety level was nearing internal melt-down, our guide told us about a famous lake where there were, “1000 Swans.”
It was near sunset, and we assumed we had lost something in translation – like it was 10 or 100 Sawn Lake – but no less, Some Swan Lake at Sunset would be pretty.
And then we got there. In the middle of these two villages, in inner Magnolia, is Dalinor Lake. I did not count them but it seemed like there were 1000 Swans there. It was one of the most unexpected, beautiful, and breathtaking things I’ve ever seen in my life.
I knew that I couldn’t stay. And that i wouldn’t be back. I knew that the beauty of this moment did not solve my anxiety from earlier that day. I also knew it didn’t solve the fact that I was a 20 hour bus ride from the closest ‘safe’ place. But I can tell you this, I’ve been some incredible places, and few have matched the majesty of the Swans on Dalinor Lake at sunset in inner Magnolia.
I have no words of comfort, no great wisdom, no help or quick fix for my friends – but I wish for them in the inner Magnolias of their grief – that they might encounter the Swans on Dalinor Lake. I have found in the dark nights of the soul, even the most brief moments of reprieve, bring life and hope.
March 3, 2013 § 2 Comments
My family got in a Facebook fight today. True. Story. As a disclaimer my family HATES when I blog about them, which is fair. However, this is a pretty contemporaneous topic, and having occurred over Facebook, it’s already public.
The fight centered on a post with this text, “Why Democrats evolved from Monkeys and Republicans from God. We share 90% of their DNA discoveries reveal how we can be alike – and yet so different.” And then the kicker, underneath, I missed it initially, “Liberals are highly evolved monkeys without souls… A highly communicable disease spread by genetically inferior, idiot humans.”
This caused some tension. My Dad’s family is evenly divided between Republican & Democratic voters.
My Mom’s family is entirely Republican. I am convinced that anything I post on FB breaks their heart. Particularly one Aunt and one cousin who are incredibly Godly people, much more politically conservative, and also happen to be the majority of the reason that I have any faith.
It’s why I so strongly dislike Facebook, it’s such a hotbed for misunderstanding/misinterpretation. Since we moved to NY I admittedly remained on Facebook for the sole purpose of getting reminders about meetings for two clubs I am a member of at school, otherwise I would have closed my account.
I threatened recently to explain why I am a liberal democrat and I feel like now is a pretty solid time.
Let me start by saying that Justin and I are Christians.
I learned when I was younger that it’s dangerous to tell people you are a Christian because it’s interpreted through their lens of Christianity.
Let me assure you, my affiliation to this belief system does not in anyway make me morally superior; it also has not helped me be exemplary morally. That is my own failing, not Christ’s.
I am a solid representation of imperfection, that includes my faith. Sadly, humanity is an imperfect breed. But I guess that’s the whole shtick isn’t it?
For the most part I couldn’t even explain to you WHY I believe what I believe, I just know that I do. I know that in the darkest moments of life, my soul inclines toward prayer. When I think of hope, it’s almost always in the form of faith.
I work out my faith with fear and trembling knowing that God assured His people that His ways are higher than our ways. The bible says that we see and understand God, DIMLY, as if through a mirror. That’s basically how I understand Him.
Consequently you will likely find me not to be overly assertive about WHOM and HOW God is – the bible has assured me that I know and see in part. (I was not always like this, lessons learned hard are often well learned.)
You may wonder why I am going into all of this in explaining why we are democrats, but it is actually very important, because I vote based on my values. In recent years it seems to have become assumed that people that are Christians vote a certain way.
I used to be a Republican because I was a Christian. I went to a non-denominational, evangelical church. How to vote was never preached from the front, but during elections Focus on the Family had flyers explaining where each politician stood on the issues of abortion, homosexuality etc.
The change came when I was in South Africa – an Anti-Apartheid leader asked if it was true that most Christians voted for our then Republican, self-professed born again believer, President. She asked because she was confused by the incongruence she perceived between a party “that spent so many years resisting integration” and Christian values.
Well it was the entire south actually. Including the democrats, and the church, really.
But yes, LBJ, a southern democrat is actually who pushed the Civil Rights legislation over the edge. Finally enforcing what Brown vs. The Board of Education had attempted to do 14 years earlier.
In the ensuing years, it has been the Democratic Party that has advocated more consistently and on behalf of civil rights (Lilly Ledbetter, Violence Against Women, Civil Rights, Voting Rights, etc.). I find equality and defending the underrepresented to be one of the most consistent themes of scripture, so this falls heavily under voting my values.
As far as equality and voting democratic – I’ll start with a famous quote from Roger Wilkins, “Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.”
We live in a nation that is far from equal. Today, Detroit the schools are MORE segregated than they were before integration. 70% of black children DO NOT attend integrated schools. (Russell, “Economics, Bureaucracy, and Race)
I do not consider the issue of race inequality a partisan issue. However, according to the NAACP there is one black republican in the legislature affiliated with the Republican party – a Senator (the 1st since 2003.) There is also only 1 black democratic Senator. More strikingly, currently, in the House (according to the NAACP) among the listed Black Representatives in the house – not one was affiliated with the Republican party (37 Democrats – making black Representatives a mere .08% of the House.) It seems that one of the most underrepresented segments of the American population has a pretty solid idea of which party represents their interests, this very much impacts how I vote.
The topic of underrepresentation leads to the issue of welfare.
The American values that we are infused with from birth instill in us the idea that welfare is a hand-up not a handout. Got on and get off. It’s not so that you can collect, have babies and not work.
I hear a lot of people say that caring for the poor is the job of the church.
I have also heard that people want less money taken out of their check so that they have the LIBERTY to give to the poor instead of being FORCED to give to the poor.
I think these are incredibly valid statements. They are rooted in the idea that “All mean are created equal… with certain unalienable rights… life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
They require the belief that our government has an adequate welfare system, and that Americans are in fact all being given equal access to the American dream.
Sadly, the same document that promised that equality contains the 3/5 Enumeration. A hard fought compromise of the representative (in the House of Representatives) and distributive value (Federal Taxes) of a slave.
As a nation, there is a historical gap in our stated values and our lived values, which continues today.
Statistically, babies in poor neighborhoods die at a rate of 4 to 1 over babies born in middle class neighborhoods (U.S. Census Statistics – CDC)
IF that child lives, the likelihood of early childhood education is 87% less likely than that of a child in a lower-middle class demographic. The poor are entering school at a severe disadvantage.
52% of black males who entered high school in 2007 graduated in 2012, versus 81% of white males. Black men represent 8% of the population in America, and only 2.8% of the undergraduate population at public, flagship Universities, with a graduation rate of 33% (U.S. Department of Education.) There is not equal access to education for all races.
In 1972, after Civil Rights legislation was enacted black males made only 82% of what white males made doing the exact same job. Today, black males make 65% of what white males make for doing the exact same job. That’s 3/5. (Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004. Unites States Census Bureau. pp 60-229)
In voting my values I feel it is imperative to vote with the party giving the greatest priority and attention to eradicating racial inequality and income disparity – based on that inequality and other infrastructural biases. We cannot change people’s intolerance or lack of compassion for the poor, but we can eliminate the legal perpetuation of inequality by voting down the systems that allow it.
Lastly on the topic of voting, I wholly support the separation of church and state, it was a BIG deal to our Founding Fathers for a litany of VERY good reasons.
Despite a widely held belief on the part of many Americans, America was not founded as a Christian nation, and our earliest documents state this in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS.
Treaty of Tripoli (ratified 1797,) “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”
As further proof, American does not have a national church. What it does have is an abundance of churches with an inordinate amount of opinions (even varying within their own denomination and parishes) on birth control, gay marriage, the reformation, and every other matter concerning moral conviction, family planning, and even drinking alcohol.
The Founding Fathers were from VASTLY different religious backgrounds and denominations. They held a conviction that it was difficult enough for government to come to consensus about the principles of government – to add matters of religion, where men were less ‘rational’, would lead to corruption of power (and likely civil war.) It also would place the nation directly on a path to the type of ‘incestuous’ relationship between government and Church from which they had just escaped. (Madison)
The irony is that the Founders were ultimately trying to protect the church – not the government. In their view, a church with influence in government at a policy making level was susceptible to the same kind of power influences that they were having to create the most complex system of checks and balances Constitutionally to offset in the Federal Government. James Madison wrote, “We are teaching the world the great truth that Governments do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Government.”
The inability of the Republican party to eradicate religion from the tone of the party, particularly the more right wing of the party whose dogmatic tone in NO way represents the faith that I participate in – leaves me wholly unable, as a Christian, to affiliate with the party in any way. According to my values.
Am I saying that people who vote Republican are racist hypocrites who don’t value the poor, equality, or have authentic faith? Absolutely not.
What I am saying is that there are values based voters in any party, I think it is unfair to assume that every Republican voter is a hate filled, dogmatic, Joel Osteen loving, rich, entitlement hating male in the same way that it’s unfair to assume that all Democrats are faith-less, value-less, selfish DINKS who abort babies for fun so that they can continue living their childless existence trying to force communism on America. This is absurd!
57% of America voted in the last Presidential election. Obama was elected by 51% of the popular vote. Meaning 30% of the population voted for Obama, and 26% of the population voted for Romney. All clear? This is what we’re willing to hurl relationship-altering insults about?
America wrote & ratified a constitution that said blacks were 3/5 the men that white men were. Today we continue to say to black men we value them precisely 3/5 the amount we do white men.
We are allowing babies born into poverty – at no fault of their own – to die 4 times more than middle class children. If they live, we then blame them for not being cunning enough to get out of it.
We are morally failing each other and our children.
We’ve been doing it for 300+ years – all the while applauding our Christian ethic & progressive ways, and leaning increasingly into partisan bickering and cultural hate.
Because it’s easier to spend our time blaming political parties, the church, each other, or being misunderstood than it is to take a long hard look at our own lives and ask why we’ve allowed it.
Believe me, these numbers aren’t new to the oppressed. If we are ignorant it is because we choose to be.
I am as guilty as anyone, and consider this my letter of resignation.
I will no longer participate in partisan bickering, it is meant to distract me from the real work to be done.
I will no longer participate in categorization of the church with a party, that energy will be turned to loving the unloved.
I am relegating the energy formerly spent defending myself & my beliefs and reacting to perceived slights and offenses or what I felt was a misunderstanding of myself or my views in any of the aforementioned things – to defending those without a voice, or to yelling for those who have grown hoarse from the long fight.
I will work to leave the person I was behind, with all the regrets therein.
This life is too short for blame shifting, grudge holding, imaginary offenses, and pettiness.
I will fail, I will fall, I will give you so many reasons to call me names. I hope I will be too busy fighting the good fight, keeping the faith, humming Sam Cooke, hugging the children in my life that I adore, enjoying long meals with people I love, laughing until my sides hurt, listening to jazz, running on the Hudson, reading Mamdani, Kant, or Elliot, singing Prosch until I cry, or some other form of living life deeply and well to hear any mean-spirited criticism. Obviously, those living life intimately with me will always have voice to call me to account – we all need correction of direction and intention from time to time.
But I am checking into political rehab. No more Political Mean Girls. I want my expressions to be informative and for the purpose of change or to remain unsaid.
I am also checking into the desire to be understood rehab…
I cannot continually worry about how someone is going to take something, interpret it, or judge me for it – particularly what is written here. There are many of you that loved me once that love me no more based on words written on social media and this blog alone. I wholly and completely respect that.
There are some days I am not that into me either, and I deal with me in person. The truth is that we all grow and change, and if I am tempering myself based on what I think an invisible reading audience might think of what I write, then I will never write anything.
I am sure I will fall off the wagon on all of these things, but this is my public declaration that the last 6 months have grieved me, and I am going to do my part to be a part of the solution, and stop perpetuating the problem.
My favorite Christian author is Brennan Manning. He was a Catholic Priest, but a terrible alcoholic. Then he got married. He’s had a couple of severe relapses into alcoholism. What I love about him is that he is sure that the #1 thing we all need to know is that we are loved, he also really believes that we are all really just doing the best we can.
I think he’s right. If we see someone who we think isn’t really doing the best that they can, they probably need a little more love – not finger pointing, blame, or to be reminded of all the ways they have previously failed. I’m reminded of my post after the Boston Marathon – I am making a “You’re the Shit” sign and heading out to cheer.
Thanks to each of you that read to the end. This is about 10 blog posts that have been rolling around in my head for the last year. Today gave good reason to go ahead and get it out there. I have three midterms in the next two weeks, so it’s really the last thing I should have been working on today, but it seemed exigent in light of the sequestration – the recent cases before the Supreme Court – the anniversary of Trayvon Martin. Here’s to less fighting about what doesn’t matter and fighting the fights that do.