November 17, 2017

Grace and the Things That Happen

5:00pm seems so late in the couple weeks after Daylight Saving Time. It's around that time my daughter and I were heading home after an after-school volunteer meeting.

I understood Daylight Saving Time, but I knew our dog didn't. His life runs by the clock: walk at 5:43am; nap until we get home at 4:00pm; walk and then poop at 4:30pm. In that order. We were an hour late. I knew it, I knew he knew it and I hoped he could wait.

It was in that spirit that we burst into the house, screaming Okay Charley, let's go for walk! But Charley was nowhere to be found. I breathed a sigh of relief thinking my husband had beaten us home to help Charley stay on task with his personal schedule.

But something was out of place.

Our makeshift doggie gate that bars Charley's entrance to the rest of the house was still up.The basement door was slightly ajar; and its cold green hallway light cast an eerie sliver of light through the kitchen. 

The leash was still in its place from that morning. But Charley needs a leash to walk.

My brain scrambled to add up the missing pieces as my daughter headed downstairs, thinking my husband and the dog were downstairs together...Dad! DAAAAD! I went to our bedroom to look out the window, expecting to see the dog and my husband.

Why is the bedroom light on? Dad!! DAAAAD! My daughter's voice seemed to fade and narrow in my ears as I looked at the dresser: All the drawers were open, and the top of the dresser looked like...oh dear lord.

We had been broken into. Robbed.

That happened about this time last year; and I said nothing on social media about it because I didn't want sympathy.
* * * * * * * *

As more sexual abuse allegations toward the powerful roll in, I reflect on this time last year knowing that my silence wasn't so much about not wanting sympathy as it was about me buying into Anti-grace.

Whereas grace says everything we have is a gift -- whether it's getting that dream job, or car, or stable housing or food or good friends or good health or "good" kids. Grace says its all a gift. Unearned and unmerited. A gift.

On the other hand, Anti-grace says we earn everything. Everything. Cancer in remission? We Livestrong and beat it because we're fighters.

Poverty? We choose to not work hard, or we excel in laziness, or we majored in lack of motivation, or we like our bootstraps just loose enough to not pull ourselves up. We earn that poverty.

Divorce or Breakup? We choose the wrong guy/girl, or we work on not being the marrying type, or we lean into pushing him/her away. We bootstrap our way to singlehood.

Robbery? We choose to live in the wrong neighborhood because everyone knows this stuff never happens in the suburbs. We definitely deserved it.

Some guy said something to us, stalked us, or we had to fight him off? We wore something, said something, or flipped our hair flirtatiously to earn it.

Anti-grace is a megaphone of our good fortune and a silencer of our ills.

* * * * * * * *

All the fingerprinting dust left by the detectives is long gone. We've replaced the compromised door jambs and mourned appropriately over stolen sentimental treasures now living in a pawnshop or in a back alley.

It is only by grace that we recovered our sense of safety. It is only by grace that I can even talk about the robbery now, because like the people who are coming forward with sexual abuse allegations, I know what happened to us -- and what happened to them -- is nothing we earned.

It just happened.

September 11, 2017

That Day, Them and Me

That Day

A group of friends and acquaintances has gathered; and, for the first time, the conversation isn’t centered on who’s paying for the next shot, or who’s “on deck” for a round of bar darts. 

We are shocked, stunned and uncomfortably vulnerable after that afternoon’s horror show, now seemingly on a forever loop of planes crashing, buildings crumbling and people covered in ash.

It is September 11.

I’ll never trust Them. Never.

The words fall on my ears like lead. They are heartburn eating up my chest, and I am disappointed. This acquaintance is bright, funny…and kind.

But, but…I stammered through the shock and vulnerability, almost pleading, Hold on here. I mean, did we mistrust all white guys after Timothy McVeigh…did we?

The Next Day

It’s my best friend’s birthday, but the smoke, sadness a fear has wiped away any thoughts of celebration texts or calls.

I make my way to my one-bedroom apartment down the busy thoroughfare that’s dotted with fast food restaurants and strip malls on either side. I espy the tiny gas station that lies about forty-five degrees off the thoroughfare and maneuver the car to make a quick exit to get there.

I want a newspaper. Not because I need the newsprint and pictures and stories to remember, but because if I ever had kids, I’d want them to know that I lived through it.

The place is thick with the aroma of car freshener and incense, and a little left of the girly magazine display are the dailies. The television’s on, replaying on loop what we all already know.

I grab a paper and the one thousand point font headline screams TERRORIST ATTACK and the full-size graphic below confirms it is, indeed, time to panic. I take the paper to the bullet-proof cashier’s window, and realize the cashier is brown. Browner than me.

Probably Middle-Eastern.

Kindredship happens in that split second. It isn’t a kindredship in the whole I’m colorblind, we’re just humans who are hurting, frightened and vulnerable. No, it definitely isn’t that. I’ll never trust Them is still stuck and gunking up my innards.

It is kindredship based on remembrance of all the times I, and my brothers, my sister, my parents and some friends had been pegged as Them.

Even though you are but one, you are All. You are Them.

Being Them is shameful, embarrassing and sometimes frightening. You have to answer on behalf of an entire group of people for the stupidity or hatred of a singular person within the group. You have to develop a duck’s back to repel all incremental and incidental insults slung when you least expect.

I feel for the guy; and, now I’m hypersensitive that I only know of middle-eastern people, but don't actually know any. Nope. So I reach out in the way most comfortable to me: I make small talk…and giggle…and smile wide and friendly.

It’s embarrassing, really.

I’m now the equivalent of the white person who strikes up a conversation with me to tell me about their black friend, or ask me how to cook greens (fyi – I don’t know, my mom never cooked greens) or ask me if I know this one other black person within the entire city or doing everything to say but not just coming out and saying I’M OKAY WITH YOUR PEOPLE.

Geez, this guy isn’t Moses. He doesn’t have any people, to let go or otherwise. I pay for the paper, hop back in the car and head home, all the while kicking myself for being too giggly and smiley and friendly and…just unnecessarily Extra.

The Years After

Now, The Thems and the feelings around The Thems are uglier and seemingly sometimes state-sanctioned.

And there are many more Thems now – Jewish, Hispanic/Latino, LGBTQ, whatever side of the political spectrum with which one happens to disagree, Black Folks (a continuing role) and still, sadly middle-eastern and/or people who other people with ill-intent determine to be The Ultimate Them: Muslims.

Hate crimes against all The Thems have climbed exponentially since November of 2016.

I wonder about The Thems I pass everyday who are dealing with slights, insults, stupid questions and dirty looks. I wonder who is dealing with a hate crime but too frightened to say anything. I wonder what to do. I’m not a protester or a marcher and God’s the only One who knows about my conversations with Him.

The scene is a different gas station – this one blocks away from home. I see this brown guy almost weekly, and we talk about the weather, how my car drives in the winter or why they don’t carry the brand of cigarettes I like.

On this particular day, another awful thing has happened to the Them and it’s on national news and it’s eating me up inside. I grab a newspaper and a bottle of water. He asks how my day is, and I gulp and choke out

Are you doing okay? I mean…it can get weird around here…you know?

I look him in the eye while saying this because I want him to know that I am here, that I care. That I see him as a person – not a Them. I blink back tears that threaten to appear in the short time I asked that short question.

He doesn’t break eye contact. I know that he sees me – he sees me -- and says

Yes. We are fine.

Yeah…I guess we are fine. I hope we are fine.

August 14, 2017

Still Standing

It seems I’m always late, always a half-click behind, and I hurriedly keyed in the code to pick up my then 3 year-old from childcare. Her teacher greets me and says There was a little bit of problem today.

I gulp hard: it seems my little girl came to the rescue of a classmate who was being teased, and evidently, she was pretty upset but the teacher calmed her down.

I could get on board with that type of problem. 

We talked about it on the way home. Her tiny voice strained as she choked back tears Mom, they just kept calling her [her classmate] a baby…and, made me SO mad I just started screaming STOP, LEAVE HER ALONE!

To this day I can’t remember teaching her to do specifically that – to step in for kids who are being bullied. But in that moment, I just thanked God for sending her to us with that kind of heart and prayed she’d always carry that softness for others within her.

Over ten some-odd years later, she has.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The chaos, horror and hatred of Charlottesville is a thick sticky blanket of shadowy darkness that's still lingering over me.
I’ve been trying to dissect what I’ve known for some time now: that hate and racism still pulsate throughout systems, media, songs – and people. I know this, and yet seeing it march down a street torches blazing, distorting faces with its ugly pride, send a chill down my spine.
I was tempted to break from the coverage when my now teen daughter walked in the room, but I left it on. She was appropriately disgusted and then nonchalantly said Oh yeah, that reminds me… and proceeded to tell me about how she and her uncle had vile words hurled at them earlier in the week.

Gravity pulled on my shoulders and a new level of exhaustion set in. I knew this day would come, had talked to her about it long before, but…dammit. Just dammit.
She was no worse for the wear and shrugged it off. Maybe our previous talks had worked a little too well.

Even as I kept my mama bear instinct at bay, I couldn't help but think If people knew this kind of stuff actually happens to people they know who walk a path different from theirs, they’d be outraged. Certainly, if they knew my daughter -- this sweet, funny and kind kid -- they’d want to stick up for her.
Like she stood up for her classmate all those years ago.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Hours later, a 32-year-old woman who was a counter protester was killed in a terrorist attack spurred by the day’s rally.
My stomach twisted at the thought of that woman’s mother and the nightmare she was going through at that moment.

Was she remembering seeing the spark of her kid being a fighter for other kids? Was she thinking of her own nervousness when her daughter told her that she was headed to Charlottesville to stand up for what’s right?
We tell our kids to do the right thing, but I don’t know if we consider what the cost might be. I definitely didn’t all those years ago when I was thanking God for my daughter’s heart and asking Him to preserve it.
And I don’t know where we go from here, but maybe a start would be standing up for each other.

Not just for the sweet, funny and kind people we know, but also for the people we don't know who are exhausted daily simply from living because others who don't like their skin, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation make their life hard.
Chances are, those same people would stand up for us.


April 25, 2017

It's a Really Short Season

The powder blue rental bikes are soldiers lined up in formation under a clear, spring sky waiting for twenty-something singles, newlyweds, families with kids who have long ago ditched training wheels, empty-nesters, and those with broken marriages, broken homes and broken dreams.

They wait to be used for a slowed down exploration of the life that, up until now, had been under the grips of a long, dormant, cold season. They seem to understand that the cycle of sun, warmth and rain has brought to fruition blooming and reawakening.

For a minute, I think I hear them say:
Push one pedal, push another and feel your knees do what they were created to do with each revolution. No one is behind you honking and in a hurry to pass on to the next thing. Go ahead, squeeze the brakes. Stop. Now look – and actually see – what you’ve been missing while driving.
This season is shorter than you think.
For many years, my car was being wife, mother, clocking in, clocking out and trying to create a reasonably perfect marriage, childhood for our daughter and household for our family.

I was whizzing by genuine memories when I was en route to perfect, manufactured memories. Driving with windows up, I never felt harsh weather, but I didn’t feel warm spring breezes or breathe in the signature smells of April showers.

I had almost stopped exploring -- much less even looking -- because I believed there was no new ground to be covered. Each day had its destinations, time of arrival and time of departure. Good conversations, belly laughs and just being were infrequent detours.

Days fused into weeks, weeks into months and months into years.

Seasons passed.

I was changing my daughter’s diapers one day and having “the talk” about periods and puberty the next. One week my husband and I were planning an impromptu vacation detour and the next week we were talking retirement options.

One minute, I realized I’d have to begin having annual mammograms in ten years. I blinked and in the next minute, I was in a doctor’s office waiting…wondering if everything was normal. The nurse told me I’d either get a phone call if something was “off” or, a postcard if there were no abnormalities.

I had never wanted to receive a postcard as much as I did that day.

In the in between time of waiting, I thought about missed seasons and the incidental moments of goofy-ness that seemed like roadblocks. The heart-to-heart girlfriend conversations cut short because of the itinerary’s pull. There were more missed opportunities for exploring than I could – or wanted to – recount.

And then just like that, the postcard arrived.