April 28, 2014

Sterling's Like My Mole

"What's that, mom?" Georgia asked as she pointed at my forearm.

It was a bump, a little mole that appeared when I was carrying her and has lived there since. Thinking about how my body changed during those nine months brought a smile to my face and I explained that it was a "present" she gave me before she even got here.

A year or two later, someone else asked about it and I told the story. Concerned, the person asked if it had gotten bigger, or if it hurt. They suggested it might be worth having a doctor look at just to be sure it wasn't cancerous.

Geez. I hadn't thought of melanoma. The doc checked it out and it was the harmless present as I first suspected. Even so, I began to play it safe and religiously slathered on sunscreen from that day forward.

Now enter Donald Sterling - He of bazillions of dollars who flaunts a girlfriend while married and airs bigoted, heartfelt rhetoric, He who has been sued for housing discrimination - is like my mole.

Just stick with me here...

There's been enough shock, indignation, condemnation and fist-shaking done, and I'm not about to pile on too, partially because I wonder what the endgame of all the shock, indignation, condemnation and fist-shaking is.

What is it all supposed to accomplish?

Rescind Team Ownership Because He's a Bigot? Bigots have rights too.
I don't agree with bigots, in fact a good portion of my ancestors were first enslaved, and then others were lynched by bigots. So I don't like bigots. But as long as they aren't enslaving and/or lynching and/or discriminating -- you know, illegal stuff (which would in fact, make them racists), stupidity like Donald's is just stupid. You can't take someone's stuff away for being stupid.

Make Bigots Feel Bad? Bigots don't feel bad.
Not about how they feel anyway. You'd have to pry their cold dead hands from their convictions. Twisted convictions guide them and help bigots make sense of their place in this world. Be as angry and outraged as you want, bigots will sleep peacefully knowing they are in the right even as your rage bubbles over.

Shame Bigots Into Hiding Underground? Because we certainly can't change their bigoted hearts.
Despite all the strides made in race relations and civil rights, there are still people who don't like -- even hate -- people of ethnicities, religions, races or any combination of the above that are unlike themselves.

I think we forget that sometimes.

Such bigotry is carried close to the vest and usually held in check...until some affluent, high-profile public figure has an outburst of bigoted spillage. And then we remember that, oh yeah, there's still some people lurking around in the shadows thinking those thoughts.

...and here's where the mole comes in.
Remember my harmless mole? I needed to know whether it was cancerous or benign. Now I keep an eye on it and slather on glop that'll give me added protection against something bigger happening. I'm not freaked out about it. Just highly aware of its existence.

Bigots like Donald are the moles on society's hind end. A kind of ugly reminder that that type of stupidity is alive and well. It forces uncomfortable conversations and most of all reminds us how truly twisted bigoted thinking can be.

Shocked and indignant over bigoted sentiments? Don't be. That stuff goes on in words and hearts alike.
Take away property over bigoted thinking? No. Bigotry's stupid thinking, and there aren't any laws against stupid people owning things.
Shame the bigots? They have no shame.

Drive them underground? Please don't.
Give them a megaphone. Let 'em shout what they think from the highest hill. I want to know where and who the bigots are because I want to be aware of where bigotry's ugliness lives and in whom it is living.

I want to know not because I can change bigotry in people, or even so that I can protect my family and myself from them or it, but to also reassure myself that there in fact, are more people who aren't bigoted than who are.

And in of itself, that's kind of a nice little present. Just like my mole.

April 18, 2014

The Dumbest Question of Them All

A little over one year ago for the kid barely in his twenties.

A month ago for the forty-nine year old rock star’s girlfriend.

Barely a week ago for the twenty-two year-old entrepreneur.

Come July, it’ll be seven months for the thirty-some year old mom of little ones not yet in their teens.

Sometimes death by suicide makes headlines. Sometimes, the loved ones drowning in its wake are the only ones who know about it.

When it’s a headline, count on news anchors to assume a pseudo-sad tone as they report the tragedy with heads cocked to one side, staring through the camera’s lens and into the eyes of whoever is on the other side, and asking


…and then moving on to the next news bite for popular consumption.

"There are such things as dumb questions,
and in suicide’s shadow,
Why is the dumbest of question of them all."

Answers to Why are never productive. They don’t restart the heart, cause oxygenated blood to course through the body to the brain and restore the chooser of death to life again.

Answers to Why are never justifiable. What justifiable answer is there for parents who find themselves suddenly childless, or for little ones who will never get another kiss to make a boo-boo all better? Are there any answers to Why that makes anyone say Ah, yes, now it makes sense. Death over living is a wise choice indeed. 

Of course there aren’t.

So I don’t ask. My gut’s ache doesn’t leave room for asking Why because it’s too busy churning at the thought of personal demons chasing someone to the end of a rope, bottom of a prescription drug bottle or gun barrel’s end.

It aches, not because of the senseless, tragic nature of death by suicide, and not even because it is the ugliest possible side of life, but because I’ve seen suicide up close and personal…and I remember.

What I Know
I know what it’s like to circle the drain and end up in a puddle of gooey despair and have it completely envelope me.

I know what it’s like when utter darkness blinds and deafens all senses into believing that not existing is the most logical option. I know the EMT’s expressions after checking your vitals and realizing there’s a hair’s space of time between your existence ceasing and you opening your eyes to another day.

Post-partum depression? Nope. It happened years before my husband and daughter. At a time when, even if Rochelle of the future could’ve come back and shown me a glimpse of how wonderful life would be in a few years, I wouldn’t have believed her.

But you’re a Christian. You betcha. I am now and was then. Just lean in a little closer and I’ll tell you a secret: Christians get tired, hopeless and lost sometimes too.

But you seem so strong and happy. Here’s another secret: Strong is overrated. Oh, I understand that Strong is a compliment of resilience and never-give-upped-ness. But sometimes admitting weakness can be another kind of strength. And Happiness? Meh…Peace trumps happiness every time.

And now you’re probably confused like I would be if I was reading this. And you’re probably asking yourself: Why?

Photo Credit John Young, cutcaster.com
Why Ask
Don’t feel badly. It’s easy to end up at Why. If I’m being forgetful and removed from where I’ve been and what I know, I’d be asking the same thing.

But then I’d get quiet and honest with myself and remember that Why’s answers are never satisfactory, and they certainly won’t resurrect anyone. I’d remember and feel in my gut where Why – mine and yours — lives.

It’s a twisted place where I remember dying being a reasonable option to living. A dark place where the deaths by suicides of people around me still sting, and whispers...

How far away from that choice is my co-worker, my spouse… my child?

Who else is shouldering invisible burdens?

The Not So Dumb Questions
Why lives in these dark places and begs for other, not-so-dumb questions whose answers...

...examine the relation between suicide and mental disorders like depression versus its relation to money, relationships, happiness and spirituality.

...make people aware of suicide’s signs and symptoms.

...draw attention to larger issues of undiagnosed mental illness; or, depression occurring more often in women than men; or, that a lifetime of struggling with depression can begin as early as nine-years-old.

Who knows? The right questions could yield answers that might prevent the next Newtown or Fort Hood, or the next childless parents, or the next motherless kids.

Between what I know from that long ago time and seeing what survivors of people lost to suicide go through each day, I think those are the kinds of answers we’re really searching for.

But we can never get to those answers if we keep asking the dumbest question of them all.

April 4, 2014

Less Buts. More Ands.

But. It’s the lovechild of Truth and Denial, second cousin to Nevertheless.

A simple three letter word that takes up less than a half-inch of nine point Arial font. Easily read and pronounced unlike the billion dollar, multisyllabic words. And so we use it a lot. Maybe the sheer convenience of But is why we default to it so often. At the same time, And - another short, easily recognizable word - is used sparingly.

I can’t help but think the world would be a better place with less Buts and more Ands.

With But, everything is a mutually exclusive event, and everything is an either/or proposition.
This pot roast is good, BUT it needs a little seasoning.
Can’t you just see crotchety Aunt Sally (or whoever is notorious for critiquing your meals) grimacing as her words mask her intent to say your pot roast is barely palatable and far beyond the help of a little seasoning?

And, on the other hand, is a connector. In the land of And, things happen in tandem and mutually exclusive events don’t exist.
This pot roast is good AND it needs a little seasoning.
Just reading that, I can practically smell the rich, earthy comfort food aroma of gravy and beef, and see a cozily lit kitchen with windows fogged from the oven’s warmth. I hear my husband anointing his blessing on this comfort food, salt shaker in hand, and I feel good about the many hours that I…um, I mean, the slow cooker put in to make it.

Now that’s just dinner and a little salt.

Other times an And instead of a But could make the difference in self-esteem, the way parents and children relate and lessen heartbreak’s blow.

I think of the insecure teen.
You’re so smart, pretty and funny, BUT you need to lose about twenty pounds.
All she heard was that she’s fat. But erased the compliment that preceded it. All of it.
And might have helped her fully accept all the good and soak it in. And maybe that would help her believe in herself enough to work on losing twenty pounds. Or maybe to like herself just the way she is.

I think of the worn out parent.
I love you, BUT I’m really mad at you right now.
Hey mom, all Emma heard is that you’re mad at her. She didn’t hear the love part, and she thinks she needs to be the perfect kid so you won’t be mad anymore…and so you’ll love her.
And might’ve helped her understand that being upset doesn’t mean you stop loving.

I think of jilted lovers.
I’ll always love you and we’ll always be friends BUT right now I want to see other people.
Guess what? The whole part that came after the BUT, that’s all you really wanted to say...isn't it? Well, believe me, your soon-to-be ex heard it loud and clear because everything in your pre-BUT speech sounded like every adult in every Charlie Brown special: wahmp-wahm- wahm-wahm-wahm-wahmp.

But. A tiny word, so simple and unassuming, yet so potentially dangerous.
We use it without thinking of the power it holds as an eraser of the positive.
We add it into conversation as causally as we would a pinch of salt in boiling water, without considering its impact on feelings or relationships.
We use it as a lubricant to casually slide in our real message when we don’t have the guts to come out and speak our truth.

Just using And more often instead of But would force us to choose our words carefully, AND make us think about the real message we want to send AND be truthful enough to say it, even when the truth hurts AND if that happened, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

I think so.