“Where are my keys at?”
Today it was keys. Last week it was a hat. Tomorrow it could be a book, a calculator, a… anything. Those with us who have a homing device for lost items (called a uterus in some circles) are used to these types of questions. But… I had a secret weapon answer for just this occasion.
“Why don’t you look behind the “at”?
Groan. Personally, and prepositionally, speaking, I love questions like this because my answer reveals three things. First, it reveals an opportunity for one of my heirloom mom-puns, handed down, with love, from my mother. The question is simply “Where are my keys?” Second, it hands back responsibility for the lost item to the loser. Not a capital “L” Lay-who-zay-her, with a Jim Carrey smirk, but the loser who misplaced the item in the first place. Important things, deserve attention and mundane things, like keys, take on importance when mindlessly left behind. Third, and most importantly, it shows me a willingness to question by my offspring. Offspring who could be rich if they could place bets on this pre-programmed response from me but are instead enriched by their willingness to ask questions.
I was a question-asking child. I can remember my mother standing at our kitchen sink filling a pitcher with water to make iced tea and she said if I asked her “Why?” one more time she would pour the water on my head. Well… even after all these years, the logical thing to come from my mouth was, of course… “Why?”
But, somewhere along the way, I stopped questioning. I think, sometimes, it was because experience had answered a lot of them. I didn’t have to ask the question to know the answer. For the most part, in my marriage, especially, I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to have an answer to the disquiet in my soul. Wrapping words around something you fear and punctuating it with a question mark leaves you open to being hurt by the truth in a way that changes everything. Because you can’t un-know something. So, for a time, it was easier to just stay quiet…until the quiet became a question of its own.
The story of my middle daughter, now 24, has revolved around her unceasing and sometimes unanswerable questions. Like “What’s it feel like to be a dirty car?” or “Can I get a job where I just give away money?” At 5 or 6 years old, she was training her brain to value the questioning process, as an answer, in and of, itself. Because whether or not you get some version of a truth from someone else does not matter as much as the truth — your truth — that is framed in the question. The answer, then, becomes almost inconsequential. This same daughter once asked to do something that she knew was not allowed. I don’t even recall what it was but I remember scoffing at the gall she had to even ask it so I was not even going to dignify it with a response. She was upstairs in her room and I was standing at the bottom of the stairs so we were not eye to eye. She had no visual cues or anything non-verbal to base my lack of response on… yet, an answer came. The one, actually she had been looking for. The sweet young voice that had dared venture into unquestionable territory followed up with “I’ll take your silence to mean Y-ES”. The “yes” of my silence was so golden it had two syllables and a lovely sing-song lilt.
In the quiet of questions, unasked or unanswered, is an implicit “yes”. Yes, I agree with you. Yes, you may do that thing you know you’re not supposed to by the virtue of my not saying no. Yes, you may treat my lack of giving voice as a lack of having choice.
This country was designed around our right to question. In the press. In public. In courtrooms and corporate board rooms where the accused and accountable are supposed to answer. Whether they are the answers we are seeking and whether or not they are based in fact is secondary to the question itself. Because our freedom isn’t in question until we are unwilling to question ourselves. With our judgements and biases based on assumption you must assume that the answer you are given is a reflection of them. So, the power lies in the question, itself, because it is held in the act of asking.
To circle back to where we started… Where is the power at? It is most definitely behind the at. That question mark leaves us open, and yes, vulnerable, to hurt and to change but the reality never hurt me as deeply as the illusion… the illusion I created for myself. The right questions won’t lead you to answers as much as they will lead to a trust in the questioning process. A faith in the formulaic approach of solving for variables, rather like algebra, I’m afraid. Trusting other people and trusting their answers becomes as impersonal as asking someone to show their work on their math homework. Being able to work through the process proves the theorem and provides the framework for future questions. Mathematicians know that a reliable process will, time and again, produce reliable results.
Once I began focusing on the question, I stopped praying for answers. Because it came down to the simple, first question and it soaked into me like a pitcher of water. Why? Why do I feel this disquiet? Why is all of this happening? Not why me, but simply “why”? Because just like my daughter innocently testing her limits from a flight-of-stairs-distance away — something or someone is hiding in the silence. Holding their breath hoping you don’t know. Hoping you won’t go “there”. Hoping you won’t question. Hoping against hope that you will go against your nature and not ask the next question which has always been “why”. The courage to keep questioning sometimes becomes a line of questioning that opens a pandora’s box of such magnificently brilliant questions that fit together like the puzzle of all puzzles and an answer is revealed.
The truth exists, regardless of who holds it, molds it or tells it. The question that leads to it does not exist until it is asked. I knew I would have to look my children and answer their “why” and the silence that locked up the answers would lock down on their freedom and willingness for their own lives. The question was the key.
So….. on exasperated repeat… “Where are my keys?”
Smiling. Victorious in my reply. “The last time I used them I put them away.” Sigh. Another inherited response. My mother didn’t have all the answers, but some of them hit the mark…. And, yes, he found them. On his own. They were in the “key bowl”. Right where he had left them. He had the answer all along….
To all the women participating in today’s “World Without Women Day”, I thank you for all you are doing… or not doing… no, doing… to highlight the importance of women in the
workplace, in the marketplace, and on the battle front for equality. I appreciate what you… won’t be doing… today on my behalf.
I have been struggling with how to participate and so I guess I am following suit by… not participating. At least, in the same manner you are not participating. Because, well, my job is showing up and throwing my weight around in order to “topple” a system feels more like showing off.
It’s confusing, isn’t it? Making a statement of solidarity by not showing up is a risky move and I applaud your creativity but I am making a different choice today and since the point of all of this is that we are allowed to make our own choices I am hoping you’ll understand. Because today I will even show up for you.
I am like this one leaf. I took this photo during a really scary November several years ago because that one green leaf still struggling to stand out when every other leaf had fallen away was how I felt. I had been called to a battle that I was going to have to fight alone and I was searching for the courage to move ahead. I found this leaf, clinging to a spindly tree and it stood strong and undaunted. The 30′ oaks that surrounded it were bending and swaying in the breeze and I got it.
One leaf can stand. By focusing His breath on one leaf, God can create the movement that can lead to the fall of a forest. But it has to start with the decision by the leaf to hang on. For one more storm or one more day or one more moment and if all the other leaves have dropped it feels like the breeze is just blowing you around.
Because I understood when you couldn’t help me. When I marched into a principal’s office on behalf of an entire team who deserved better, I went alone. When I stood for my children within an abusive home because they deserved better, I stood alone. And when I speak for a child in need as a CASA, I am a single voice… except I’m not. I have the strength and resilience of all the people who showed up before me and showed me the way to be, because it wasn’t about rights, it was about doing the right thing.
The forest floor is covered in a seasonal system of stepping up and stepping off to generate the next generation. And that is what I show up best for.
My daughter came down today wearing this shirt. It says “Girls Never Quit”. She didn’t put it on as an example of women’s solidarity. She put it on because it’s a part of her everyday wardrobe. Because solid women are a part of her every day. For her, not showing up is not an option.
A few weeks ago her school principal walked past me and thanked me. I laughed and asked “What for?”. She said for showing up. I laughed again and said, “Well, that’s my super power!” Showing up, especially when you don’t want to, is a super power. Because it teaches those around you what that looks like. It reaches those around you with a message of worth because they are worth your presence.
Today, I will go to work at my daughter’s school and be the consistency they need. As a CASA, I will show up to advocate for my child in need and be the voice that he needs. I will fill the gaps and voids left by those who don’t show up because that is what I have always done. Not showing up is not a new thing, but calling attention to it and showing off because of it is. Because with or without you, need still shows up. Hunger still shows up. Trauma still shows up. When they take a day off, maybe, just maybe, I will, too.
For me, it’s not about marching for anyone’s rights but walking, alone if I have to, toward what is right. Putting one group down as a way to lift another lets down the very people we need to protect. Because I have daughters who will learn, by example, that they can do anything and be anyone and I have a son who knows he needs to do everything he can to treat everyone with respect.
I don’t want equality. I want better. I want to be better. Not than you but for you. All of you. If we strive for equal that simply means I have become them and that, I will never do. I won’t join them in the gutter and call myself a name that makes me shudder even if I get to wear a cute pink hat. Using their tactics and labeling myself with their words simply means I have joined them in their sixth grade playground politics. It’s become a giant game of “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” playing out in the backseat of our parents woody wagon. Pun intended. These strategies were designed by our parents and we are simply redesigning them to roll out over social media.
I want equity. Fairness. Justice, even. And that means adding right where wrong has been, not taking something away. Not showing up today is not fair to the children who count on me to be there. No excuses.
I support your effort because everyone needs to do something. I hope you are successful in making your point. That the world can’t go on without us. But, since the world does not revolve around us we can’t shut down tomorrow. So, after the numbers are in and the head count of absence (is that possible?) has made it’s statement, show me what you’re going to do… but you’re going to have to catch up to me because I’ll be out there walking alone. Ever onward. But there I go now, showing off.
“My favorite part of my body is my mouth. It helps me eat and smile when I’m happy, and frown when I am sad. It shows my expression, to let people know how I’m feeling.”
These are some of the words that were a part of an assignment for my 4th grader. They were to write about their favorite part of themselves and a teacher’s assistant took the photograph that accompanied it. It’s a cool exercise at this age… before they have internalized the messages from the media… before they’ve adjusted to the conformity of a middle school community… but in the midst of a moment that could be momentous. Because every moment that affirms “good” in your head, especially about your body, builds an immune system that will help keep the “bad” at bay.
My heart is as lit up as this smile because she is embracing her “imperfect” as “favorite”. In this moment, she feels good about this mouth full of permanent, prominent teeth, even though she knows she needs braces. In this smile and in these words, I see that she is already using an internal structure that will brace her for what could someday break her. In this world, in which, literally, we hold ourselves at arms length to fill a phone with selfies, shouldn’t we focus, instead, on holding close what we hold dear to fill our hearts with self ease?
“It shows my expression, to let people know how I’m feeling. It helps me laugh and smile for picture day. It helps me chew food when I am hungry.”
Easing into what we are comfortable with in ourselves, let alone choosing as favorite, is a solid foundational place to start for those of us on “this side” of growing up. Phrasing it, the way she has, in small descriptive form-and-function words, gives us a glimpse of big gratitude. She likes to eat and this mouth and these teeth are the vehicles for what, literally, keeps her going. It delivers fuel for her body, and in relishing that, she is delivering — for herself, fuel for her soul, because of what it does FOR her. It is the device that communicates the essence of herself. IT IS THE DEVICE FOR SELF EASE . It is her voice and it will affect her choice of how she uses the device in her hand.
Until recently, I had never taken a selfie. I did not want to document the lines on my face or the worry behind my eyes. I can remember trying, once, at the beginning of the “year of our unraveling”. I should have been at the height of happy because I was doing something I loved. I was helping friends with their wedding… decorating a barn, making things beautiful and bringing together dreams and hopes and plans and, yet, I could not make my face match the words that were coming out of my mouth. My best friend was helping me do this for and with other friends and when I tried to capture it all in a photo all I could think of when I looked at it was “when did I forget how to smile?” The selfie from the device in my hand held the message that I had tried to NOT focus on… that when life gets hard, we must strive to, at the very least, go easy on ourselves. Self forgiveness and self love and self compassion are words that float from self help books and therapists but having one more thing that seems hard to grasp does little to brace against the storm that is a device designed to break us. Divorce breaks us. In two. Into pieces. Pieces that have to function until they can find a new form.
“It helps me talk to let people know important information.”
This form, for me, has been about finding balance between what I allow in to my life, as fuel, and what I put out – knowing that it might be fuel for others – especially for my children. My dad was an accountant and one of those awful body function jokes that sticks out from my childhood was “What did the accountant do about his constipation problem?…. He worked it out with his pencil?” Every time I was stuck, throughout my life, I worked it out with my pencil. Writing. Even though no one would read it. Especially, if no one should read it. Embracing what is prominent and imperfect was the perfect place to start and what always stuck out for me was my words.
This morning I had the pleasure of attending the 4th grade poetry reading. I know what you’re thinking…. Yikes…. an entire class of voices rhyming and forced timing. But it was wonderful. Enlightening, even. I can see why there is not just ease, but confidence, in this young voice of my daughters. Because 16 children stood, individually, and read 2 pieces, each, from a BOOK of poetry they had, each, written. Their teacher had given them the structure for the poems – Haikus and acrostics and alliterations abounded – but then she just let them do it. She let them be. She let them be themselves through a device, that by it’s nature, communicates with feeling and profound precision what cannot be captured without words. They were verbal selfies. One young man was reciting his Alphabet Alliteration and when he got to the letter “V” he said “Vicious Vampires Vote” and the gathering of parents chuckled softly, as we sit in the midst of a political tsunami. But what came after the “W” and “X” answered the “Y” in why, for me…. He said “Young Yoda’s Yodeling”. A picture may be worth a thousand words but the combination of those 3 words paints a picture that I cannot wait to see.
These children are at the forefront of understanding their own wisdom and willing to cast their voices across the mountaintops and we, their audience, did the best thing a community can do, we not only listened to their words, we heard them. They have the capacity to ease us into the future by appeasing OUR fear with THEIR creativity. I applaud those present in the room for not doing anything to crush the fragile nature of the spirit expressed within the strength of that structure and I thank that teacher for building a classroom environment with “grow room”. More importantly, these children applauded each other. They thanked each other. They are building the structure-within-the-structure that will have to stand on its own when the exoskeleton scaffolding of systems come off. Our job, as parents and educators, is to make sure they have the confidence to stand and stay true when the braces come off.
The word “brace” is defined as “a device that clamps things tightly together or that gives support, in particular” and the systems that we have in place for our children should ensure that they are held together or held up, particularly, to foster growth. Be it a family structure or a school system, we must be vigilant that the device that we have put in place around them isn’t actually molding them into a shape that serves our egos but will not serve their future. Their future WILL be different than our ideas that are designed from innovations past. And so we must pass on phrases like “glass ceiling” that put a lid on a structure that hasn’t even been built to hold what they are going to be. And so, instead, we must pass along to them the listening skills for an inner voice that is, right now, coming easy to them. And so, perhaps, we need to stop and listen to what they already know before guiding them with what we think we know.
I know how easy it is to lose the sound of those young voices in the chaos around us. I know how hard it is to envision change. But I also know that the phone in my hand came from the evolution of innovations on systems that used to be as big as 7-Elevens. I hear those who blame the devices in-hand for the lack of connection and empathy that they believe exists in communities today, but I don’t buy it. Blame is a device for disconnection, not the phone. They are just devices for the voices. They are a world to escape into when the structure they find themselves in isn’t big enough so by virtue of virtuality, they can grow. Devices are the crack in the system pavement and selfies are the language for an SOS message we don’t want to hear and the cacophony of them is the auctioneering of individuality for societal self ease. Brace yourself for the solution, it may be as simple as giving yourself a break. Because the only change you can make is within you, to make, and for that, there are no words.
“I love that I have a mouth to smile.”
From the inside, out, to let the insight out. Hear, here.
Glad Wrap. There is nothing joyful about the annoying stuck-on-itself nature of this product, that, once started from its roll from a box that bites, is highly useful. IF you can keep it from reaching back and grabbing itself in mid air on its way to its role as the sealer of all things lidless. I once made the mistake of buying a box of red Glad Wrap at Christmas time. It lasted for at least 3 years as I avoided using it because I was annoyed by its deceptively cheerful-colored clinginess – until I was moving. And then it became so useful… I wrapped an artificial Christmas tree for transport, lights and ornaments and all, tucking in the ends of the branches and covering every inch of it until it resembled something from the body snatchers. I wrapped the back of the toilet in Glad Wrap to cover it while painting the bathroom. ( Note here… don’t cover the seat if it’s to be used during renovation, no matter how tempted you are to prank your son). I wrapped the brushes and paint tray in between coats of paint — it was a timesaver and made clean up easier. I even wrapped the wanton and wandering poles from my wire shelving units together to make them easier to carry. Glad was useful.
But, for me, glads have always been useful.
You see, on a farm in Southeastern Indiana sits 3 houses. One housed my great grandmother Grace and great grandfather, “Pop”. One that was “catty corner” and “down a ways” that housed my grandfather, “Papa” and Grandma June. And then, around the corner, was our house. We had a picture window in our kitchen that looked over the fields in back and it perfectly framed the horizon that glowed with the lights from my grandparents’ houses. One regular day in 1968, Pop laid down on his couch after lunch and just didn’t wake up — I think he was perfected to death by Grandma Grace, who lived to see 1990 produce a 5th generation in my first daughter. But in 1970, when I was 8, Grandma June went to the hospital for knee surgery and the only result was a lot of complications and a lot of tears. It was then that the intrigue of what lives on — and what dies — with the people we love, began for me.
I remember Pop in the gentle creak of a rocking chair but Grandma June — I remember her everywhere. She lives on in boiled potatoes with a little bit of salt and red fingernail polish applied as she’s going out the door for church. In rose-handled spoons and Avon lipstick, in those tiny samples. In a big voice, a bigger hug and a giant love. And in a spray of gladiolus, as well as a riot of weeds.
A large garden was part and parcel to farm life. We, along with the weeds, were gloriously healthy, due to the practicality and impartiality of the “organic matter” from the honey wagon that fertilized the soil and fragranced the air. Grandma June didn’t like to weed, I thought, so she planted gladiolus in the front row to hide the weeds behind. No one from the road could see the weeds. You couldn’t see them from the house. You could only see them if you walked out to the garden and ventured inside and if you were that energetic, go ahead and pull some weeds, while you’re there. How clever! What a beautiful way to escape the criticism that I am sure that she suffered from her next door neighbor and mother-in law, Grandma ironically-named-Grace?
But what if she wasn’t simply being clever? What if… in a stroke of priorital (yes, I know that’s not a real word – I like making them up) genius, she consciously chose the extra burden of planting the gladiolus in order to be a source of joy and inspiration in the midst of a predictably primordial battle. The flowers stood on strong singular stems like soldiers, peacefully watching good and evil jockey for position in the sunlight and the soil behind them. The battle, they knew, was not theirs and when it was over, the remains were tilled under to become fodder for the next round and the next season. Except for the glads. With Grandma June reverently on her broken knees, she dug the spent bulbs by hand — wiping away the dirt and packing them away to regenerate. Tending to what mattered below ground to lay the groundwork for another season of joy.
Going through a divorce, sifting through the emotional and material fodder of a 26 year marriage, and moving the mountain that was our house, forced me to separate the weeds from the “worth keeping”. As I went through the process, I stood back and marveled at where I had “planted glads” to hide the ugliness and pain that had become our everyday life. Any time I was asked by a friend if everything was ok, I smiled, planted a glad and said “fine”. Every time I iced a birthday cake and wrapped a gift, I planted a glad and sang “happy”. Every time I sent a Christmas card wishing a joy for someone else that I did not feel, I planted a glad. Every time I assured my children we were going to be ok and planted a kiss on their furrowed brow, I planted a glad. It didn’t feel clever. But it didn’t feel false either. It felt like faith. Faith that no matter how many years this winter of my life was going to last, it was feeding a coming bloom. Because looking back, I realized that Grandma June planted glads even when my uncle was in Vietnam. I realized that she planted glads when my little brother was gravely ill. I realized she planted glads – not to fool my controlling great grandmother – but to thwart pain with ridiculous, riotous statuesque joy. She was, dare I flirt with a pun, a gladiator… Slave, maybe, to circumstance but a warrior gladly fighting for her own stand of joy.
The other night I received a congratulatory message from a childhood friend who had seen my Facebook post about being sworn in as a CASA. I messaged back that it felt good to be heading into it knowing that I was adding “purpose to the pain”. That has become a go-to phrase of mine — as it makes the pain of these last years more bearable, more worthwhile — noble sounding, even. In the middle of the night I jolted awake wondering “did I type in that I added pain to the purpose? Had I reversed it? Please, don’t let me have said that. That is not what I meant! Who would say that? Who would wish that purpose would come with pain?” Fortunately, I had beaten myself over nothing – except that I realized it was time to cultivate something else. If I could choose to add purpose to pain, why couldn’t I choose to add joy to purpose? Why couldn’t I purposely plant some gladness, not to hide the ugly, but to bring joy to my view, again?
That’s a tall order, these days. Personal trials aside, social media and societal anxiety are fertilized every day with a crap slinging “honey wagon” of judgement and fear. It seems that nothing will curb the growth of the hate that is growing like weeds through party lines, headlines, across family ties and into every conversation. But then a wonderful thing happened — in an unpredictably positive explosion of pastel… Post-it notes appeared on every locker in a local high school, bearing uplifting messages. 1700 of them. A stand of ridiculous, unriotous, righteous planted glads. I see you Grandma June, because I see the spirit in those teenage gladiators, choosing to plant something right in front of us to lift eyes, hearts and hopes.
Gladness comes in gently… like a gentle summer rain that makes its way to the garden soil simply by following the nature of leaves. And then it lingers, it clings, even, like the paradox of a grandmother’s hug that is, at once, the softest and strongest force imaginable.
“And the angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I announce to you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people.” Luke 2:10
In this season, when we are being commanded to be “Merry and Bright” or to have a “Holly Jolly”, finding joy feels like pressure. So, I am going to simply start being glad. I am glad you are here. I am glad to be here, too. So… Glad Tidings, my friends. Bunches and bunches of them.
Bumper sticker bravado. I was alone in the car but laughed out loud at the spot-on spotlight for what was going through my head. I mean, who can take seriously “whirled peas” when world peace is at stake? But then again, if it got my attention, then who can’t take it seriously? But “Ain’t Scared?” Really? How do I lessen fear when the “less-than’s” in my life had become the “greater than”?
Fear was the loudest voice in my head. The most consistent message in my home. It was in my mirror and in my checkbook and in my advice to my children and in my future since it was so much a part of my past. At that moment I was wrestling a version of right and wrong in my heart that had my eyes on the road, my hands at 10 and 2 but my foot riding the brake. Following that bumper sticker on that gray, sleety February road felt appropriate when you’ve followed a path paved with fear your entire life.
My fear was the most confident thing about me. It was reflected in the stories I told myself and about myself. And it was nurtured in my most important relationship. Until it wasn’t anymore. Because of a wish I made for my children. I wished for them to be able to face their fears and move through them. To walk into a room even though you had been taunted there yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. To bake cookies for someone who questions whether you should be eating one, too. To drink from an offered cup and hope they are a friend and not a foe. I wished them to be something I was not. And in constellating my wishes for my children I was softening them into living with fear instead of hardening their lives to flee from it.
On a warm night on a softball field in the middle of the season this summer, I noticed a teammate of my youngest doing something with her grip prior to swinging the bat so I got closer. She stood there, all alone in the batters box, 6, maybe 7 years old. Listening to parents behind her and a coach in front of
her and her team chanting and dancing to the rhythm of her name and the game. She knew she hadn’t done it yet and with a little backyard practice and a lot of eyes on her, she made a wish. She didn’t get a hit that time, but she did the next. Because she was fierce, not fearless.
Accepting fears as an everyday part of life takes the edge off of them. And if you close your eyes and say the word and focus on softening the sounds and the edges…. fears becomes fierce. But fiercely believing you can wish something – or someone into being – is the first step in re-imagining yourself. Because a wish becomes a prayer and a prayer becomes an invitation to something greater-than. On the power of a wish, a batter becomes a hitter and the fearful become fierce. It doesn’t matter how many times she had made that wish to be better — she never lost the faith that courage could make it happen.
Whispering our fears with a flip turn to fierce turns the “less-thans” into lessons in courage. How many times do we get close to our wishes coming through and back off because we are afraid. I was oh-so-close that night in the car, so many years ago. Close enough to read the fine print on the bottom of that bumper sticker. There, below the declaration of “Ain’t Scared” were some words and numbers… 2 Tim 1:7. It just took a little time and a little hitter to bring it all home to me. Pretty fierce, huh?
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but one of power, love and self-discipline”.
2 Timothy 1:7
So… is JR dead, or not? I wanted, at first, to call for a script rewrite like it’s the 80’s again and the writers of Dallas knew they had made a mistake so they called it all a dream. And then I wanted coffee. And a moment to think. Not about the promises any one candidate has made, but the promises I have made. To myself. To my children. About how I am to be in the face of adversity, not about who is the face of this adversity. And then I wanted to reach out. And write.
Because face it, folks. We have been here and done this. We have addressed this over and over. Entire curriculums have been built around it and if we think about it, maybe the current situation is another gate we must pass through to “level up”. I know, life isn’t a video game but video games are heightened, glitzy, annoyingly soundtracked versions of life. We pass go and collect 200 dollars. Or push buttons to jump and grab floating jewels. Or Pokemans. The better we get, the bigger the challenge, right? Well, we must be getting pretty darn good at it because this challenge is of Goliath proportions. But we are the Davids — an entire mass of Davids.
Bullies are the stuff legends are made of — first in their own minds and then in our storylines. They are the subjects of our Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday morning sermons and way too many headlines. They are stereotypic and archetypal. They are fathers or mothers and teachers or bosses and teammates and playmates and principals and presidents. Sometimes, if we aren’t careful, they are us. But, here’s the thing, while we don’t want to become them, there’s nothing that says they can’t become us. We have to view this moment in time as a gift. One that we don’t need so we will most certainly regift. Let’s wrap it in beauty and offer it with love. Because its not about who they are. It’s about who we are. As my youngest has voiced, her favorite part is when the “Grinch gets nice”.
In the “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil”, M. Scott Peck, M.D. analyzes the nature of people who attack others instead of facing their own failings and outlines the havoc this creates in the lives of those around them. He recounts incidents within families and businesses, as well as within governments that have led to broken lives and breaking points. It is a hard book to read but a necessary one for anyone seeking a positive change, not just in themselves but in the world around them. He quotes research conducted in 1952 regarding events dating to the 1700’s, stating the following:
“Those who crusade not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptibly worse than it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself“
The glass ceiling may not have been shattered but the presidency is a fish bowl on a pedestal. Swimming within is a teaching moment for those inside who will now be held to the same rules that they hurled as accusations. In their service to the country, their servers will be scrutinized. They will legislate the very rules they have avoided. There is no bigger stage but there will also be no bigger microscope. Their movement grew like a weed but in legitimizing it, aren’t we now able to regulate and tax it? The image that comes to mind appears at the end of the animated Disney movie Aladdin when the evil Jafar wishes to be an “all powerful Genie”. He forgot what came with that. “Phenomenal cosmic power and itty bitty living space.” The shackles of civil servitude will, perhaps, serve a higher purpose.
This morning, my eldest posted the following on her Facebook…
“I am extremely grateful for the relatively privileged life that I live. Above all else, I am even more grateful I have the privilege to continue teaching our future generations love, respect, and understanding now when we need it more than ever”
She… takes my breath away as she is modeling beauty in the face of all the ugly. She knows she can handle what is before her because she is conditioned by the work that is behind her. This struggle is not new for anyone who lives or thinks outside of the “box” they check on the forms of our lives. But those boxes don’t define us so it must not define how we treat them. We should not give in to the desire to label the rock we are hoping they will crawl back under.
The sad truth is that the playing field will never be level and is littered with those rocks that will always trip us up. But where we stumble is where we will find our strength. I am not model beautiful — and most likely that would have been pointed out if I had stood at a town hall meeting — but I will model beautiful. I will model for my children how beautiful it is to stand in my own power — because I have withstood hate. I will model how beautiful the truth is and how it feels to know I have acted with integrity and honor. I will model beautiful courage — cultivated because I was willing to hike the treacherously unlevel playing field that is our life. I hiked it when I was tired. I hiked it when I was broken. I hiked it when I was afraid. I hiked it 21,000 steps worth in one night to move out of a house that I could not stay in. Like Ginger Rogers, I hiked it in high heels, knowing that dancing backwards was not a retreat. At the ugliest moments of my life, I will model beautiful. You can, too.
“This land is your land….”
This line, and the ones that follow it, have been rock and rolling through my head since Friday night. I attended a concert by the Avett Brothers — new favorites for the wit, wisdom and gut wrenching emotion played out on banjos and bass, in an amazing display of musicianship. I went with 2 of my 4 — the youngest, at 9 and the second oldest, now 24. The discussion in the car on our way there naturally turned to the election as the older one had voted that day. She thought my desire to vote on election day a bit antiquated but I defended my stance as it’s an emotional one. I feel uplifted at the notion where a nation rises up to make a choice in one day — a singular act within a mass of people. A movement that cannot happen without me. A mountain of result built upon the pebbles bound within. Because, well…
“This land is my land….”
This land is MINE. Toddler mine. And you can’t take it from me. My anthem over these last months has been an Avett Brother’s song entitled “Ain’t No Man” and it has NOTHING to do with my divorce (That one is better captured in a toe-tapper called Divorce Separation Blues). My favorite line is “There ain’t nobody here who can cause me pain or raise my fear cuz I got only love to share.” This election season has excelled at fear raising and pain inflicting and what has played out across our TV’s and devices, our prayers and our conversations has put me in that toddler frame of mind — or actually, “frame of mine.”
Everyone of us, having been a toddler at one time, can relate (ironically, the ones who still act like toddlers won’t get it). Raising a toddler in a house of teenagers added a new perspective, to say the least. It didn’t take long to realize that the teens were just larger versions. Tantrums, trade-offs and “traffic calming devices” like food, car rides and sleep worked the same no matter the size of the child. Those years gave me faith that it is all temporary — except for, well, election years. Because what has played out in family gatherings, community rallies and the process that has put the pomp in circumstance has been a tantrum of epic proportions over control of this land — but, just like in those terrible two’s that precede the terrible teen’s — are they ready for what they are going to get?
Let me explain. It was early spring when the youngest was not quite 2 and my oldest, at 19, was nearing the end of her first year in college. It had been a difficult year for her — far from home, on a swim scholarship and not quite living up to the high bar she had set for herself in high school. I kept trying to inject perspective — telling her that as she got older, victories weren’t just counted in an “A” or a 1st place finish. That as a first year student athlete, just being there was a win. Being willing to go back and do it again was a win. Settling in to a new community and making connections was a win. But that’s a hard sell for someone who has worked hard to get where she was. She had called and I was trying to talk her through a momentary meltdown at the prospect of her end-of-season meeting with her coach.
Cradling the phone on my shoulder, I was attempting to wrestle the little one with a loaded diaper on to the changing table. I was listening, as best I could, but I was focused more on my defensive moves that I had had to develop to counter the toddler’s latest offensive tactics. She had figured out how to remove her diaper, on her own, without removing her pants — like a magician’s table cloth trick. So, I had to be quicker on the drawers. But, I was distracted and slightly disabled with a phone in the crook of my neck and as I was removing her pants, she had the diaper tabs undone and had grabbed the front of the diaper with both hands and pulled. With a squeal of delight and a little lift of her hips, the diaper was freed. What a win. But in a moment that must be like figuring out where to put the goat that was behind Door Number 2, the diaper cleared the space between her bottom and pants, hung momentarily in the air above her like a victory flag, until the contents unfurled right on her chest.
Yep. You’re reading that right. Plop! Just like that, an almost adult sized pile of poo had landed square in the middle of her being, just below her chin, which was just below her nose. The hilarity of the moment was completely lost on both of them, the toddler and the teen. I could not catch my breath between the smell and the laughter — and it took a moment to gain control of my little one’s hands and respond to the older. Didn’t I know that her doom was imminent? She was in distress! Distress turned to dismay when I relayed what had just happened and how it perfectly summed up the moment. How could I have possibly connected those two dots, she wondered? Don’t you see? It’s life! Because no matter what the battle, even in victory we will have to deal with some shit.
It is a coaches job to point out how to improve, no matter what the results of the season are. It is a parent’s job to motivate our children into wanting to motivate themselves to be continually better. It is a nation’s job to highlight the magnitude of fear and failures in order to make a positive change. Like it or not, this display of tantrum and temperament in the current election is a win. It’s a developmental stage for a relatively young nation that we have to go through. Yes — it stinks and it is going to take more than a few wipes to clean it up but change is right under our noses, folks! All you have to do is vote.
Well, that’s not all. Because the real work starts tomorrow. Just like the older had to get back into the pool, we have to jump in and get to work. The real work of parenting isn’t in the diapers, it’s in who is wearing them and we have to remember that we have to model what it looks like to be grown up. No matter who wins, it is up to us to work together to make it work. In rural communities, group effort can raise a barn. In close knit communities, group grief can raise a spirit. In every community, even virtual ones, group energy can raise awareness. But today, just for today, a singular vote can raise a bar — for what we expect of ourselves and what we demand from our leaders.
I expected a great concert from the Avett Brothers but I was blown away by a simple song sung 2 hours into their 3 hour show. The other band members had left the stage leaving the 2 brothers sharing a single spot with just their voices and guitars. It took only a few notes for the crowd to recognize and join this love song to our nation and the entire crowd sang every word of every stanza. No one was too proud to sing. OK, maybe some people were a little drunk… but still, they sang along. It didn’t matter who the person next to them was voting for. It didn’t matter whether or not they knew what they were really doing. They were just one voice joined with others for one song on this one day. The time for shit slinging is over. Because, well…
“This land was made for you and me…”
Baseball has been the backstop for some “best of times” as well as the worst. I grew up barely in Indiana in a rural community on the Ohio state line that couldn’t help but get swept up by the Big Red Machine in the mid-70’s. We bestowed the greatest honor we could think of on Cincinnati players like Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan — we named our cows after them. Reporting the score to my dad, as I met him with a cold RC cola at the end of a field row on a hot summer day, was just what we did. Thinking we were in trouble when he ran up the stairs after we were in bed, pounding on the top step and hollering for us to come down when all he wanted to do was share the moment of a big win. Knowing we were in trouble when, 40 years later, the hollering and pounding was not about a victory, but about something bigger.
As the mother of a player, I have spent a lot of time around baseball fields. Little league and travel teams and high school seasons followed by summer leagues and college showcases — all in the hopes of playing on. For 14 years and counting, I have loaded the car and the cooler and tried every concoction, under the sun and on the internet, to get white baseball pants white again. Somewhere on those fields in Middle-of-Nowhere, Indiana and in stadiums across the country, I nearly lost my son. But then, he found his way home, again, all for the love of the game.
The “season of our unraveling” was a year bookmarked and pockmarked by scenes played out around baseball diamonds. Funny, I can see why they call it that — a diamond — because the power of the game would either crush or harden us — either way we would never be the same. I say “us” because even though I wasn’t the athlete, what happened around home plate was a reflection of what was happening in our home. As a player, my son’s joy got sucked out by coaches, fans and a father whose actions flew in the face of decency in their desire to raise their own flag. As his mother, my breath was taken away watching him get used up by giving his all and taking a beating. But during this unholiest of seasons, a rain would come and give us a rest. Lightening would flash and send us for shelter. A delay, usually dreaded, would buy us the blessing of time — to recover and recharge just enough to go on. Another day. Another game. Until another season was in the books.
This photo was taken during one of those many rain delays in that season. I sat in my camp chair against the fence, holding the camera that was my constant companion. Waiting for the rain to pass, I noticed that the view of field was encapsulated within a single droplet of rainwater. The water blurred and distorted the image, just enough — removing the imperfections in the way that time or distance smooths over wounds. I knew, intellectually, that what I was seeing was just a small reflection of a bigger world skewed by the wonder of science. I knew, intuitively, that the big reflection was of a bigger problem that could not be washed away by rain and it was time I really saw it. The lens of time may turn a broken play or a broken winning streak into a curse but that same lens turns a broken child into a tragedy.
During that year, “cursed” was the lens I used to view my world as it fractured into pieces. But that glimpse of the smallest of hopes, tiny enough to fit inside a raindrop, was enough to shore up my faith. For another day. Another game. Another season of life. I count my victories differently than most — and at that time, simply being willing to show up was a win. Last night, watching the World Series, listening to the live feed on Facebook of the hollering of the crowd outside Wrigley field over the pounding of my heart, brought it all home.
The Cubs have shown us that showing up, day after day, even for 108 years, can lead to something. Watching them be willing to try and fail and then try and fail, again – in the quest to fly that big and final “W”? Well…it feels personal. And profound. And predictably satisfying. Because we are allowed to get frustrated waiting it out. We are allowed to want good things to happen. We are allowed to work for positive outcomes. We are allowed to stop expecting a curse to creep up and steal the basis for a moment joy.
17 minutes. After 9 innings of the 7th game with the score tied at 6’s, that’s how long the rain delay lasted. Time enough for the Cubs to recharge after the Indians had coming charging back. Time enough to renew their commitment to seeing this through. Time enough for “rewriting history”, as one player said. A single drop of rain, like a single tear, doesn’t contain the whole story just like a single “W” doesn’t define a team. But don’t try to tell a Cubs fan that. For today, anyway.