Six Degrees of Immigration

The year I don’t know, but in the early days of the 20th Century a young man from a small village outside Kiev boarded a ship in Frankfort, Germany, crossed the Atlantic and, passing through Ellis Island, an anonymous agent recorded him under the Anglicized name, Bernard Gross. He married a fellow immigrant, a girl from the old country named Rachel. They became American citizens, owned and operated a laundry, and raised four children: Betty, Mildred, Harry, and finally, surprise! the baby upon whom everyone doted, Jack, “Jacky” to the family.

Jack played High school football and after WWII he followed his older brother west, tending bar and managing restaurants, eventually settling down with a pretty cocktail waitress, a single mother with a little girl. He didn’t live an extraordinary life, but worked hard for his living, bought houses, paid taxes, and raised another man’s child through fevers, stitches, accolades, accidents, and late-night ER visits, adopting her as his own and teaching her what is meant by unconditional love. His own father, Bernard, adopted her, too, with the less formal but equally binding ties of grandfatherly love.

That little girl was me. Only one degree of separation, a straight line linking a little girl growing up with a loving father and America opening it’s arms to a Russian Jew fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe.

There is no way to estimate what my closest associations with immigrants have meant to my life. Surely, I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t sat in a doting Papa’s lap during holidays and family gatherings.

My country was built by immigrants, but as a country we have a habit of being pretty ugly to the most recent wave of them. Recent events conjure shameful memories from High School in Southern California, when Vietnamese refugees were settled in our area. Then, I witnessed a subtler, nonetheless savage, form of welcome by my fellow students in the form of whispers and snickers in the hallways and a pointed distancing. When the locker rooms became infested with scabies, the blame was laid firmly at the feet of the Vietnamese students, and the rampant but previously quiet racism of the school’s corridors turned vocally and disgustingly scurrilous towards them. It all sounds so petty and small, but it was relentless. I was never savage, oh no, I was worse:  I saw it all and remained silent. Which is why I can’t this time, I can’t be silent and honor those immigrants who, in six degrees of separation or less, have shaped, loved, guided, educated, delighted, and enriched my life beyond measure.

Children Waving to Statue of LibertyIt bears remembering that most people don’t want to leave their home countries, their relatives, their places of worship, their familiar foods and surroundings. When one’s choice is leave or die, it’s an easy choice to make, and there in New York harbor stands a statue inviting “the poor, the tired, the huddled masses” to our shores. America has long been the beacon of safety, of hope, the promise of God’s grace for whoever named God and even those who don’t.  How do I wrap my head around even the consideration of not living into that promise? If we aspire to being the “shining city upon a hill”, deserving that honorific demands no less than offering shelter and succor to all people seeking refuge, the least, the last, and the lost.

We cannot be both Christian and Isolationist. God’s grace flows first not to particular borders but rather, into the human heart open and ready to receive it. Then we hold it but a little while, passing it on to the next in need while being ourselves replenished in the giving. In this way we are constantly renewed while repaying the debt owed to our immigrant ancestors, who paved the way for us.

In this way we live into the promise of being the “shining city upon the hill”.

The Purpose-Driven Jogger

Waiting for the signal to exit my suburban neighborhood, I wasn’t really looking forward to going out “among them English” as Paul and I quote to one another. I dislike shopping just anyway but Christmas shopping I loathe with frosting on it. However, yesterday as I stared into space at the light at Eldorado Parkway, someone jogged into my line of sight and changed up everything.

Unbeknownst to me, he’s a bit of a local celebrity. He wasn’t tall, or particularly good-looking; he was a fairly average, fit, pleasant looking African American man, jogging down Eldorado in athletic gear appropriate to the cool temperatures. But he bore a beatific smile and was waving at cars as they sped past, asking via a brightly colored sign he carried, “What is YOUR Purpose?”

He turned that dazzling smile on me as he jogged past and I couldn’t help smiling back and he jogged over, free hand outstretched and I took it, and we blessed each other and smiled and then he continued his philosophical jog down Eldorado. I waved again at him when my light changed and I pulled out onto Eldorado myself and waved once again, lots farther down the road, on my return trip. He was still smiling, still brandishing the sign and cupping his free hand around an ear to hear the answers.

He was just so full of light and yes, purpose. My Election Funk has lingered, but he reminded me we all have purpose and it’s a fair bet mine is not wallowing in bewildered outrage forever.

crystal-snowflakeIt’s the end of one year and we have a shiny new one ready for launch. For me and my fellow Christians it is Advent, a time of expectation and preparation, an excellent time to think of my jogging friend and consider for the new year, What is YOUR Purpose? My first reaction was: to Love, as in approach my fellow man from a place of Love, always. This is a lot harder than it sounds – I’ve been trying to master this for years and yet the Snark persists. I fail a lot, but I keep trying at what St. Francis put best:

Lord, make me an instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Is that my purpose? I have no idea, but I’ve always thought St. Francis’ prayer a fine place to start, despite my continual failures. It’s a reminder to live intentionally, purposefully, something my tyranny of schedules and lists can give the illusion of doing while falling well wide of the mark.

When I got home I goggled joggers on Eldorado Parkway and found my guy, Mr. Jimmy Lee Robinson; he’s been part of the Frisco/Little Elm scene for a couple years now, with a variety of signs, making people smile and think. God Bless you, Mr. Robinson, and I’ll be looking out for you along Eldorado, wondering what other good advice you have for me in the new year.

Weekend Coffee Share: Election Edition

If we were having coffee, I tell you that looking back over my many years and several election cycles, I cannot remember one where my heart has been so heavy, about which I felt such dread, quadrupled on Friday when FBI Director Comey injected himself, once more against all policy and procedure, into the mess.

On the one hand we see a capable woman with a ton of baggage, sadly a lot of that baggage is more her husband’s than her own. Unfortunately as full of hubris as her husband, she is not a particularly likable candidate. But she is smart and capable, measurably more honest than she is created for being, and I don’t think she will run the country off a cliff. I do believe she can continue the incremental changes we need to make our American society a fairer one, where folks of every color and creed have a shot at success.

On the other hand we have a spray-tanned narcissist who has campaigned as a friend of the common man, despite abundant evidence to his status as the ultimate insider (the privileged upbringing; “small” million dollar starter loan from his wealthy father; the unpaid contractors; the multiple adulteries; his continually availing himself of US bankruptcy law; the thinly-veiled racism;  misogyny; the gross advisers; the bromance with Vladimir Putin of all people, St. Ronnie preserve us). It is easy to poke fun at his supporters, casting them as fools in his likeness, but I think that is both unfair and largely incorrect. True, the guy shouting “JEW-S-A” while making KKK hand gestures is not his best representative; however, Trump has tapped into some very real unrest and anger among decent folks for whom the economic recovery has not worked. Their jobs went overseas and they’re not coming back, and the jobs they took to make ends meet don’t allow them to provide for their families in the manner they were accustomed, and to which we Americans feel entitled. So we cannot dismiss them.

But I really do fear what a Trump presidency would do to Women’s and Minority rights, not only from Trump himself but from the Alt-Right who surround him, notably Mike Pence. Pence’s record in his home state of Indiana and during his 12 years in Congress sought to turn back the clock on women’s rights 50 years at least.

What really drags at my heart is this: there is a surging undercurrent of anger in our country. Some is from women, and it’s about damn time that we collectively stood up and said we’re done, so very done taking 3/4 of our due. But the other portion of that anger lives among our minority brothers and sisters and it is absolutely equal in righteousness and long overdue. If we don’t do something to correct the areas that very much still exist, holding them back from equal citizenship, it is going to turn violent. It’s going to run up against that violent undercurrent at Trump rallies and bring out the worst in all involved. People will die and nothing will improve.

Through all of this ick I keep praying, knowing God hears me. I know I am not alone, I know so many people who are praying for Love to win the day, and I try to remain open to it being in some completely unexpected manner. Holy Spirit is nothing if not unpredictable, and so much wiser than I ken.

I feel helpless and I hate it. So I walk about the world trying to be loving to all those I encounter, making eye contact, being sincere rather than reflexive in the usual exchanges of “How are you?” “Fine, thanks.” I’m paying compliments, letting folks go ahead of me at the store, and tipping well. Does any of that make a whit of difference? I don’t know, but aside from supporting my candidate and voting in a thoughtful, prayerful manner, I just don’t know what to do.

This I can  do: I appeal to women, and all my brothers and sisters of color to be of good cheer and VOTE. Our system works when we work it, when we get off our butts and to the poling place certainly now during the election year but also and especially during the off-years, the congressional and senatorial elections where the real governance is done. Let us band together in vigilance, sending a clear and unmistakable message that representatives who do not represent us will be voted out. Every. Single. Time.

Together, we can make a difference. I will be praying for you, for us and please say a prayer for me, too, because I think without our votes there is a flood coming, or maybe it’s a fire, and I fear there are not enough of us acting out of love to weave a fabric stout enough to stop it.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I just can’t wait for it all to be over.

#weekendcoffeeshare

(Be the) Candle

img_5389-2My daughter earned her degrees from the great University of Texas, Austin and one is a Bachelors in Women’s and Gender Studies. I love our conversations, even when her clear-headed feminism dispels my own long and closely-held bullshit. Maybe especially when she dispels my culturally ingrained, but ultimately diminishing, bullshit.

I was raised to expect praise, get validation for being pretty, skinny, funny, and amenable. Don’t make waves. Don’t call attention to myself. Don’t be a tattletale. Don’t be a party-pooper. Go along to get along. Don’t take abuse, but understand that if I dressed too provocatively, or was in the wrong place, abuse might find me and it would be my own damn fault.

My daughter and some years of counseling have been as candles illuminating the unintentionally sick thinking my mother instilled. I don’t blame my mother and have long since forgiven her, for how can one blame another for being a creation of his or her culture? How can I blame her for dying young and never having an opportunity to understand the myriad ways we institutionally blame women for the sins of a male-dominated society?

Now a harsh candle shines brightly on one of the most odious men to walk the planet, a man so entitled and privileged he claims his wealth and celebrity enable him to do anything without permission to any woman he deems attractive. I’ve listened, stomach churning, to the bile generated throughout this caustic campaign cycle but along with the far more eloquent Michelle Obama, something the Republican nominee for President said yesterday shook me to the core. It was when Donald Trump said of People Magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff, who in company with several other women has accused him of sexual assault or at the very least, unwanted sexual advances, “Look at her. Look at her words. I don’t think so.” No woman could mistake his inference.

It was all in the tone, and I think most women have known that guy. The guy who flirts with you constantly but never in public, never out in the open, because you’re just not fine enough for him, for who he believes he is: better than you, cooler than you, more popular than you. He wants you, but is almost embarrassed by the wanting, because you’re less-than. This usually happens in Middle or High school. The vast majority of men outgrow it; the ones who don’t become predators.

My first was in Middle school. He was tall and blonde, one of the popular boys. While pretty, I was unmistakably Uncool. But he flirted with me all the time when no one else was around and one day, when we’d stayed after school to work on a theater set, he shoved me up against a wall where no one could see and without my consent, felt me up. And of course I never said anything because who would believe me? Who would believe the handsome Lothario of Stacy Junior High School would want to be with plump and terminally uncool me? And what was she doing alone with him between buildings anyway?

The second happened on a Friday night during High school, at a party I should not have attended. A guy who held me down tickling and groping me until I screamed, until I managed to plant my feet in his chest and hurl him against a wall. And everyone laughed. “Oh look, she’s maaaaad!” Like it was funny. Like it was ok for a male to continue touching a female who has said, in no uncertain terms, STOP. I couldn’t count on my sister females to support me any more than I could tell him to go fuck himself for doing that to me, lest they as well as I be forever consigned to the Mortally Uncool. Because the most important thing was being seen by Male Dominance Culture as Cool, no matter how skeevy it made you feel, no matter how much in that moment you desperately need a brain-bleaching. You see, this is where it starts, this is the foundation of women keeping their mouths shut because to Say Something might ruin their chances of promotion, of being able to support themselves or their families. This is the start of culturally gaslighting women, perpetuating the sickness and imbalance of power in male-female relationships of all kinds.

 

Donald Trump is simply rich male privilege writ large. This stuff has been happening forever, and women haven’t spoken out about it in the decades since they gained the right to vote because we worked too hard to gain a foothold in the workplace and in the voting booths to risk it by calling out men on their bullshit. (And yes, I know it’s not all men, not even most, but it is still a too-large proportion.)

What kind of bullshit? The bullshit that results in light sentences for male athletes when they assault incapacitated women behind dumpsters after frat house parties. The bullshit that silences young women on our college campuses, giving male athletes a free pass to use them for their own gratification. The bullshit that a male celebrity can portray himself as America’s Daddy while drugging and raping women. The bullshit that says “She was asking for it” because she wore a short skirt. The bullshit of school dress codes that send girls home from school for wearing tank tops and somehow makes them responsible for the thoughts of boys. The bullshit that confers upon women the moral responsibility for society while constraining their rights of control over their own reproductive systems, and charges them more for maintaining their health.

So this is my rallying cry: Sister Women, the bullshit stops now. Let us be candles for each other, casting our flames upon the slime wherever and whenever we see it, making it shrivel, dry up, and blow away. Let us compete with each other less and bond with each other more. Let us be the reflector of each other’s candlelight. Let us be each other’s safe place in the train car or sidewalk to and from work, in the workplace, at the clubs. Let us teach our daughters and sons to respect women as equal human beings. Let us sing the praises of the legions of parents, male and female, who have raised respectful men who call out the lie of “locker room talk”. Above all, let us speak up, speak out and let our candlelight shine on the bullshit wherever we find it.

I am here for you. I have your back, and I’m counting on you to have mine and most especially our daughter’s and granddaughter’s backs. The bullshit stops here, replaced by the warm glow of our collective candlelight shining on a more just world where all God’s children may flourish, where no girl or woman need stay silent out of fear of reprisal in all it’s nasty, diminishing, bullshit ways.

Women, we are the candles. If we won’t light the way, who will? Stand up, speak out, and shine, shine, shine!

Truth and Reconciliation

Three days after my 18th birthday, my father attempted suicide. His business had failed, he felt he had failed, and he waited until I was old enough to take charge of my, and my mother’s, life. He did not succeed, thank God, but it was in the aftermath the real madness began. Unable to deal with the shame of a suicide attempt (not his first, we learned), my mother spun a tale of “exhaustion” to tell the neighbors and family. As soon as he was stabilized she was lobbying the hospital to release him. California law stipulates a suicide attempt results in three days mandatory commitment to a mental health facility, but my mother was an insistent person and they buckled before her as everyone always did.

I was furious. What the fuck do we do now, I asked, hide the steak knives? We aren’t qualified to deal with this. He might get help if we let him stay the three days. We need to know why this seemed like the answer for him. All my arguments fell on deaf ears and I seethed, knowing we were merely pasting a band-aid over a gaping, festering wound, allowing it to scab back over and it only become worse. How long until it blew open?

This story is not related here to engender sympathy for myself – I don’t feel bad about it anymore. I learned a lot from it, I still learn from it, and long ago I forgave all parties, even myself. It’s a story of an American girl that bears some resemblance to America itself. In the wake of murdered Black civilians and murdered Police Officers, I find myself thinking our collective wound will never heal until we face the systemic causes. Here are a few which haunt me:

Institutionalized Racism:  Death upon death upon death in our streets. Nearly every day I hear the news of another young, Black man shot by police. Next comes the grieving and the posturing, the devastated family on one side, those who would paint the deceased a thug, a miscreant, a criminal on the other, and the line remains firmly drawn between the races. In the wake of a tragedy both sides want easy answers, fast, and so we yell and shout and stamp our feet, pointing fingers at each other. But there are no easy answers because it’s deeper, it’s systemic, and we’re refusing to look honestly at the institutionalized racism which will be awkward at best, excruciatingly painful at worst, to reveal and heal. But this is what we must do, I feel certain of it.

Legacy of Slavery:  We must stop denying the painful legacy of Slavery in this country. I’m white and I don’t have the education to say exactly what that legacy entails, but I imagine it is fiercely complicated. In my gut I know that treating human beings as property, abusing an entire race and breaking up families over generations – casting human beings adrift – has to wreak havoc and cause all manner of mayhem, with ugly ripples flowing out over time and generations. It didn’t disappear with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. A phrase used by my beloved friend, Freda Marie, an Episcopal priest and wise-woman of color, “Generational Depression” has stuck in my head for a few years now; I think we all need an understanding of what that is. We white folks need to acknowledge such things exist. I can relate this to my mother’s hatred for the English and love of the IRA, though she was 300 years and 10 generations removed from Ireland. Hate gets passed down with the recipe for potato salad, it is one of those ripples transcending time and space until we make a conscious, vigilant choice to stop it.

How We Police the Citizenry:  Let’s review training of our police forces, make sure they have the tools and training to de-escalate situations, handle the mentally ill – ironically, Dallas Police Chief David Brown has been doing exactly that, with excellent results, making the shooting in Dallas even more tragic (at least for me). Let’s take a good look at funding community policing or “beat” cops, who walk neighborhoods and know the residents, each able to see the other as unique human beings and potential allies, rather than immediate foes. Cops in cars with no connection to the neighborhoods they serve fosters an Us Vs. Them mentality on both sides.

Failure of the Educational System: We’ve created a pipeline-to-prison in our Educational system, and no one can tell me this isn’t true because I’ve seen it, up close and personal; I know it exists. When I see dead Black teenagers, I see kids I loved on my campuses and it cuts me to the core. I live in fear of hearing a familiar name on the news. One size does not fit all and so we must address failing schools one by one, neighborhood to neighborhood, providing for those in need and overhauling the education system – and let’s listen to the Teachers when we do. Testing is not the answer. Creating a safe space populated with dedicated Teachers, a place where open discourse is encouraged, and everything is fueled with quality nutrition would be a good start. This will cost money or, as I prefer to look at it, an investment in our collective future. No matter what color they are today’s children will be making decisions that affect all of us when my generation are drooling on ourselves in Assisted Living facilities. I want them to have educations which enable good decision making.

Speaking of Prisons:  It is distinctly unhealthy to have a privately-held, for-profit prison system, it destroys the humanity of those on both sides of the bars. There is no incentive to feed them properly, still less to institute any kind of rehabilitative programs. Considering the United States holds the dubious distinction of having the most incarcerated citizens of any NATO country, we need to a) review sentencing guidelines for non-violent crimes, especially the ridiculously harsh ones engendered during the ill-advised and failed “War on Drugs; and b) consider that failing to give an inmate hope for his or her future through quality rehabilitation efforts is to doom them to recidivism.

This is of course not an all-encompassing list. I could go on into housing, health care, mental health care. Each subject thoroughly explored will turn up more issues. But eventually we’ll hit the end, if only we’re strong enough to start digging.

My dad never faced or was encouraged to face his internal demons, and I find it not at all coincidental he died of a massive heart attack 18 months after his failed suicide attempt. What I see in our society is an infection I fear is coming to a critical and perhaps irreversible state due to our collective failure to examine the causes of it. We slap band-aids on the wound, but never do the thorough and hard work of diagnosing the actual causes. To do so will require bravery, and a sharp lancet. It requires we start telling and listening to Truth, even when it hurts. To reject the Truth is to allow our country, this grand experiment founded on the bravest and noblest ideals, to commit suicide.

In South Africa (and other places, too), Truth and Reconciliation Commissions were established, permitting those on all sides of injustice to tell their stories free of reprisal, in order that all could heal and move forward together. I believe our country must look squarely at our old, festering wounds: the legacy of slavery; religious intolerance;  xenophobia; misogyny; and horrible, blatant racism in our justice system. We must hear the stories so we may drain away the poison and take away it’s power to hurt. Then, we may begin to heal. Only in this way, I believe, can we move forward together and realize the greatness I believe exists in the collective American consciousness. We have, in the wonderful diversity of our population, fertile ground to grow a truly great society, but it will take incredible courage. We will get this courage from each other, Black, Brown, Yellow, White, and every wonderful shade in between.

black and white unitedI am prepared to face uncomfortable truths in the hope it propels me and us forward, to a greater peace and understanding. I hope, ask, and pray you will join me.

 

 

 

 

Rape Culture

My blood is boiling. Brock Turner, a young man with a promising future, assaults a young woman, is caught in the act, brought to trial, and is let off with a ridiculously lenient sentence because in the judge’s, Aaron Persky’s, assessment to render justice would have a “severe impact” on his future. This is Rape Culture giving a pass to wealth and privilege. This is Rape Culture conferring higher value on men’s lives than women’s.

The rapist’s father laments his son will rightly have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, no longer enjoys his favorite foods, and isn’t his “happy go lucky” self. He thinks it’s all a bit much for “twenty minutes of action”. Well boo-fucking-hoo. Suddenly, it becomes very clear to me why this young man didn’t grow up with a moral compass that would tell him an unconscious woman isn’t a consenting woman. This is Rape Culture saying, “boys will be boys”.

Make no mistake, Brock Turner’s lost bright future isn’t the result of something that happened to him. What happened was he threw it away with both hands the instant he chose to victimize another human being. He was the agent of change here, he was what happened to this young woman. This is Rape Culture blaming the victim for the consequences that rightly befall the perpetrator.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women will be raped in her lifetime and in eight out of ten cases, by someone she knows/an intimate partner rather than a stranger in drag lurking in a public restroom. But by all means, let’s carry on fuming about who uses which bathroom. This is Rape Culture disguised as morality.

If you haven’t read it, or heard it when Ashley Banfield  (Brava! Ms. Banfield) used twenty precious minutes of her airtime on CNN yesterday to read it aloud, here is the impact statement from the victim. This is what she will live with for the rest of her life. This is the product of Rape Culture.

If you haven’t watched it yet, please go immediately to Netflix or CNN and watch The Hunting Ground, especially if you have a daughter you’re sending to college. This is Rape Culture on campus, and our daughters need to be forewarned and forearmed.

What has my blood at boiling point is that we are still seeing this crap. For all the strides women have made, our society is still more concerned with the “impact” of the consequences upon men for their revolting and illegal actions than  the lifetime nightmare visited upon on their female victims by those actions, most especially if he is white, wealthy, and an athlete. Every time a case like this bubbles up through the muck it gives the lie of Equal Rights. Women are not equal. People of color are not equal (though athletes come close). This is Rape Culture and it sickens me.

When does it stop? When do we end Rape Culture? When will women be valued for their humanity, gifts, and accomplishments rather than objectified? When will we render justice to rapists and stop trying the victims? How long? How long O Lord?

 

I Sing a Song of Secretaries

It’s great we have a day to recognize “Administrative Professionals” or, as they used to be known, Secretaries, and I always appreciated the efforts made to acknowledge my contributions as one. But just as one “aw shit” eradicates a thousand “atta girls”, I will never forget how much it hurt the couple of times those I supported “forgot” or worse, the year I was told, “You’re an Office Manager; we didn’t want to insult you by calling you a Secretary”. Oh, OK, I’ll stop answering your phones then. But I didn’t say that, because I needed the job. Instead I cried in the bathroom, then dried my tears and went back to work, like all good secretaries do.

secretaryAdministrative Professionals Day is one of the more Hallmarky of the Hallmark Occasions, but for me (who is admittedly rather close to it) it’s an important one, because those stalwarts bearing the title, well, they hold up the work-a-day Universe.

Think of the secretaries you know: the ones who do exactly their job, no more, no less, they answer phones, do their clerical stuff, and nothing else. They don’t last long, do they? But the other ones…. the ones who do a great job and always have an aspirin or Tylenol when you need it; the ones with a band-aid, mending kit, tissue, or snack when your head hurts, your body hurts, you lost a button, or your blood sugar is low – they’re the ones we depend on. They are the ones who remember the customer’s birthday, children’s names, whether the customer is going through a divorce, or just bought a new car and what color it is. They remember where the client used to work and for whom, and whose name you might invoke at just the right time. Do I have to even go into secretaries being the first one to bear the brunt of a customer or parent’s rage when things go badly? No, no I don’t, because if you have a secretary, you already know you get the blunted edge of that particular knife.

We depend on their skill, efficiency, memories, attention to detail, loyalty and reliability. We depend on their ability to juggle metaphorical balls and bricks and flaming torches, something not taught in college, without ever breaking a sweat.

And most of the time they do it all so quietly and calmly, you never notice. They are easy to take for granted, because they’re always so remarkable you become accustomed to their remarkableness. Until that terrible day they get sick, too sick to work or worse, they leave you and go somewhere where they will be appreciated. Then comes the lesson, too late.

If you haven’t bought him or her flowers yet, or lunch, or gotten a nice gift you still have time. Better yet, maybe make a point of getting out of your own head once in awhile (say maybe, monthly?) to notice all the things they do and remind them how much you appreciate them. Maybe even let them go home early. Or better, give them an unplanned day off with pay – I will guarantee they have busy home lives demanding the balance of energy you’re not sucking out of them, and they could use the break as much as your recognition but, if you can do only one, choose recognition, and choose it more than once per year.

To all my former secretarial colleagues, I wish you a happy Administrative Professionals Day, and I hope your bosses bought you lunch and flowers and told you how awesome you are. You’re the ones who taught, supported, listened to me and kept me sane when I was about to break, because we know a thing or two about trench warfare and being brothers/sisters in arms, don’t we? I hope I did the same for you. I send you my love and deepest respect.

 

Star Fruit and Shopping Carts

We had a nice Christmas, able to fly Charlotte out from Chicago, give each other a couple of nice gifts, send some cash out to the kids and grand-kids in Texas. But like about everyone I know, come January we’re feeling the pinch.

So I was comparison shopping with greater care and squelching the impulsive buying that generally typifies any expedition to the grocery store.

With the whole week to go grocery shopping, Heaven only knows why I procrastinated until Saturday. Kroger’s was packed, from the line I waited in to buy my Powerball tickets to every single grocery aisle. It was hard to pass through without waiting for clearance and everyone seemed in a bad mood. Maybe they’re all broke, too. But even amidst all the grumpiness, one woman stood out: a young mother with two children and a sour, dissatisfied expression on her face. She just looked angry, and no matter what aisle I was on, they were, too.

The elder of the two kids, a girl, looked about 12 and she pushed the grocery cart while mom snapped at little brother to stay with them and scanned the grocery shelves. “They sure don’t seem to carry a lot of family-sized things here,” she opined, scowling.

Encountering them again on the pasta aisle where they impeded all progress, she was filling one of the half-empty cardboard boxes holding ramen noodle packages, making a full case. They were on sale for $.20 ea. I waited to move past them, thinking judgy thoughts. “Give me five more,” she commanded her daughter, who swiftly complied. Letting my inner Judge run wild I thought, bet they don’t gainsay Momma if they know what’s good for them.

With other shoppers behind me I had nowhere else to go and something about her furrowed brow, the dark eyes counting plastic packages of noodles and darting about her shopping cart, made me look closer at its contents: several 1-pound chubs of the cheapest hamburger; family-sized boxes of cereal; cans of beans and bags of rice; store-brand loaves of bread; boxes of macaroni and cheese and all those ramen noodles. And my inner Judge shut up and slunk back to the darker recesses of my brain as I realized where her seemingly churlish attitude came from.

From the look of the cart, she was doing a monthly stocking-up shopping, the kind one does when one squeezes every penny earned. She wasn’t intentionally scowling, she was worried, the deep-seated, gnawing-at-the-bones worry of a mother wondering if somehow, she could make it all stretch until the end of the month. I will go out on a limb and say she didn’t spend $5 on Powerball tickets.

What is her life like? A delicate web of multiple jobs, or one, not-great-paying job that barely covers the bills? God forbid the car blows a tire, or needs a new battery; any unanticipated expense might throw her whole carefully budgeted world into disarray.

Never in my life have I wanted to buy someone’s groceries as much as I did right then.

I couldn’t do that, but I did the one thing I could,  went back to the pasta aisle and bought four cans of ready-to-eat Spaghetti O’s, which were on sale 4 for $5, for the Snack-Pack ministry at my parish. We provide take-home snacks for local schools to distribute, confidentially, to children facing “food insecurity”, the latest politically correct way of saying, “hunger”.

All weekend I’ve thought about the woman’s grocery cart, piled high with packaged, boxed, highly-processed, cheap food. Virtually no fresh fruits or vegetables, which are perishable and can be expensive. I thought about how when Charlotte was elementary-school aged and we were at the store together, I’d let her find the weirdest looking or most exotic fruit or vegetable in the produce section and we’d try it. Star fruit, Ugly fruit, kumquats, Asian pears, and parsnips were some of the oddities that made it into our shopping cart and onto the table, a few of them becoming regular players in our diet. I never counted the cost because I was more interested in her growing up to be an adventurous eater, open to trying new things and you know, it worked. But now I realize what a luxury such thinking can be, here in the richest country in the world.

And I just think that being able to try star fruit shouldn’t be a luxury.

“Food insecurity, [ … ] is a situation of “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways”, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).” – From Wikipedia.org

Going Viral: Bad Cops Vs. Everyday Miracles

My adoptive state of South Carolina is making the news again, and it hurts my heart.

spring valley high schoolI’m sick over the video all over the internet and news channels this morning, of the teenage girl knocked to the ground while still in her desk, then thrown across the room and cuffed by a Sheriff’s Deputy/School Resource Officer (SRO). It hurts on so many levels:

  • A seated, not-terribly-large girl essentially assaulted by a much larger, armed man;
  • All the kids who witnessed it sitting stunned and/or recording it (thank God they recorded it);
  • A teacher and an Assistant Principal (AP), standing by and doing nothing;
  • I’m sick that she is black and he is white, which I don’t think had much to do with it maybe, but which circumstance will fuel the fire in our country about injustices past and still very much present against African-Americans, making it harder to talk to one another and find a way forward, together;
  • Most disheartening of all to me is that this will be played again and again, drilled into the national consciousness and it’s one incident, albeit a horrific one in Public Education, where every day I worked in schools I saw miracles, large and small.

It is alleged by both students and school personnel the girl was disruptive of the classroom and non-compliant; how profoundly I wish she had simply complied with instructions! Bitter experience has shown me how it wears one down, the disrespect, defiance, and especially the heartbreaking self-sabotage of the unruly student; I have totally wanted to slam a kid into the wall on occasion. But no matter how many of them there are, no matter how weary one is, it is the charge of the adults in the room to remain adult. I will also hypothesize that clearing the room of students and the teacher, calling in another AP to join the SRO and AP present (to ensure safety of both the student and each other as well as veracity of the incident) and then calling her parents to come deal with her might have prevented the whole awful outcome.

I pray she was not injured, because it was a horrific fall.

What breaks my heart is that most educational professionals do remain calm and focused, day after month after year, school staff of every station maintain their cool while being sworn at, physically assaulted, and generally treated with contempt by students, parents, and sometimes even their own Central Administration, who assures them they can be replaced by someone cheaper, just waiting in line for their job.

But here are some of the everyday miracles I’ve seen:

  • Teachers who paid student’s electric bills, bought groceries, tutored them on their own time, fought for them, prayed for them, cried with and for them. Teachers who refused to let them fail, when failure was the only thing they had ever known;
  • Custodians who worked with athletes on their own time, interpreted for them in a mother tongue, gave them clothes or food at their own expense;
  • Secretaries who fed students, mothered them, held them as they cried, stood up for them, protected and loved them like their own when no one else would;
  • Principals/Assistant Principals who cleaved more to what was best for a particular student, given all his or her issues and circumstances, than what was strictly policy. APs who were creative, compassionate, and just in disciplining troublesome students; and,
  • School Resource Officers who took problem students under their wings, got to know their families, showed tough young people with checkered pasts another, better way to live.

These things are going on in every school in every city in every state in this fractious country,  unseen by any except for those of us in it. It is not done to garner thanks or appreciation, but out of love, out of dedication to our fellow human beings, out of a determination to make the world a better place, one student at a time. This dedication is colorblind and regardless of social class. It is quietly heroic, every day. These are the things I wish would go viral, would make the five o’clock news, rather than one bad apple cop and one perhaps troubled young lady both having the worst possible bad day.

Can We Have Honest Conversations about Guns on Campus? Please?

In the aftermath of yet another school shooting, we’re being inundated with the shouting: more guns on campus! Let those with a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) carry on campus! Good guys with guns will take out the shooters!

I held a CHL for the last three years I lived in Texas. I am a good shot, on the range or in the country shooting coffee cans, with a rifle or a handgun, anywhere I can take my stance, steady my breathing, and carefully squeeze off a shot. But I have never had to confront a moving target that might turn around and fire back at me.

A perk of working in an office on a campus was getting to know three different School Resource Officers (SRO), as well as a few of the various city cops who filled in from time to time for them. On my first campus our SRO was a huge, African-American man, 6′ 5″ and 300-lbs of mixed-martial arts, highly trained, intimidating scariness. Well, until you got to know him and saw when he was dressing down a student, the dimples in his cheeks start to play, completely beyond his control and betraying his good nature. Before becoming an SRO, he worked Dallas SWAT, Federal prisoner transport, and finally city police. He was required to take extensive weapons training. The police department had regular training sessions informing their officers on recent terror threats and gang activities, what to look for, what tactics worked. My second campus had officers with different backgrounds, but they were also highly trained, calm, intelligent officers. All were required to hone their skills and stay up to date on current trends in gang activities, terrorist situations, and responding to an active-shooter.

These professionals are the only folks I want on any campus I work on, to have and use a weapon because while I am a good shot on the range, I have no earthly idea how I, or any other untrained person, will react when it gets real and you hear gunfire down the hall. I am good under pressure, especially an emergency situation where I go into a glacial calm that melts only when the ordeal is over, but nothing I’ve faced so far has involved an active shooter.

Every teacher who has lasted in public education five years and stayed, is by definition handling a great deal of pressure every day and surviving. But the very fact they’ve lasted tells me that they love, tremendously and unconditionally, and I don’t know that even a skilled marksman could shoot a student of his or her campus, and they have a responsibility to take care of the students in their classrooms, first. I might, you might, he might, she might become a quivering mass of jello in the face of an active shooter, whether we are armed or not. Our SROs, however, have trained and drilled and in the case of the 1st one I knew, actually been under fire. They will be calm, rational, and wearing bullet-proof vests. The best thing I could do is secure my office, protect my kids within, and stay the hell out of it. Let the professionals do their jobs, as the officers in Oregon did so bravely and well.

Lots of guns mean lots of bullets, and here is something I took greatly to heart, and which gives me pause every single time a shooting happens: I was taking a college class some years ago and one of my fellow students was an Iraq War veteran, about 30 years old and using his GI Bill to finish his college degree. One day, in the wake of a school shooting the conversation turned to arming people on campus. There was much youthful pontificating as our instructor looked on, amused by the grandstanding and furiously defended positions. However, our combat veteran remained quiet and I wondered what he was thinking. In a conversational lull I asked him, You’ve seen combat, I wonder what you think of allowing folks to carry on campus? Do you think that would help?

He took a breath and a long, careful look around the classroom. “This room… it’s like a concrete box. This whole campus is like concrete boxes within concrete boxes. In a fire-fight, that causes a lot of ricochet. Multiple weapons, multiple people firing…. You don’t want guns in here.”

Concrete within concrete = ricochet/collateral damage.
Concrete within concrete = ricochet/collateral damage.

I don’t want guns on campus, except in the hands of the SROs. I want honest conversations about:  disaffected teenage boys who view going out in a blaze of ricocheting bullets as their only way to get noticed; mental health care in our country; better training for all school staff on what to do in an active-shooter scenario; background checks and waiting periods, without lobbyists and political action groups involved. I want real statistics and facts and science and police and combat veterans talking and all the rest of us listening with open ears, minds, and hearts.

I hit what I aim at on the range or in the country shooting coffee cans but, I have no such confidence in my marksmanship when terrified and confronted with an active shooter who desires maximum casualties. I don’t want that responsibility.  And I really, really don’t want fire-fights with bullets ricocheting in our concrete boxes of classrooms and hallways.