The Power of Hope- On Racism

Among those I admire most are people who are unafraid to have their voices heard; I’ve always longed for the courage to be one.

Recently a friend and I were talking about racism. Her parents were an interracial couple who married in the 70’s and lived in the Deep South, her mother Caucasian and her father African-American. It is difficult to imagine the prejudices they faced daily as they raised their four children. My friend’s parents shielded them from much of the hatred but they couldn’t escape it entirely as their mother was shunned by some of her family members. Their father’s family was completely accepting of them.

My friend and I each have a child, hers a teen-aged daughter and mine a son who will very soon turn 21 (yikes!) Our children have friends of different ethnicities and do not see “color” in the same way that we were shown through either direct teaching or observed behavior. They give us hope that one day racism may not exist. When my son was in high school and talked about new friends he’d made, I never knew what color their skin was until I met them, and I loved that.

As she and I talked that day, I said the words I’d never spoken out loud before: “My dad was a racist.”

Is it guilt, shame, or a sense of betraying my own father that makes those words so hard to say? He’s no longer here and cannot defend himself. I never asked him why he held the views he did and suspect that he just couldn’t move past what was taught to him. Hatred is a heavy anchor to be chained to and it drowns any happiness that comes along. I think Dad found peace near the end of his life and I’m so thankful.

Some of the negative reviews for Go Set A Watchman: A Novel are reflective of how we feel when someone we once looked up to lets us down: ‘I hated it!’ ‘Don’t read it! Read the other one instead!’ ‘How could Atticus act that way?’ ‘What an awful story!’ It’s not an awful book or even an awful story. Lee’s writing is descriptive and easy to read; the reader gets to know the characters and is able to visualize the settings, just like in To Kill A Mockingbird. All these years, Atticus Finch has been our hero- we loved him and loved Scout for being a part of him. In Watchman, we see the grown-up Jean Louise’s disappointment when she finds Atticus upholding laws that were in place even though they were wrong. Her hero is a human who has faults…that means she is too.

When I was a very young girl, Dad was overseas a lot working as a consultant for an oil company and was gone for weeks at a time. Mom and I often travelled to wherever he was working, but when I started school those trips were limited. When Dad would come home, there was no greater joy! I wanted to spend all my time with him…we went on walks and drives together, had our “cocktail hour” every night (his was bourbon and mine was coke), and he told me stories about when he was young while showing me the places he’d been on our lighted spinning world globe.

I was nine when I first became conscious of Dad’s saying the n-word and he said it often. Though I didn’t fully understand the implications of that word, I felt sad every time I heard it because it was uttered with such hatred. How could my dad hate anyone? Why did he hate people because their skin color was different than ours? I don’t know what else was going on in my dad’s life around that time, but I was definitely aware that my parents’ marriage was dissolving quickly. I wanted Dad to be happy and I felt like a failure because I couldn’t make that happen.

It was three years later when my parents divorced and my father quickly remarried. Two years after that, he had another daughter. By that time, my mom had remarried as well and was happier. Throughout my teen years, Dad and I stayed in touch and continued to spend time together, albeit rather sporadically and sometimes at my mother’s urging. I’d become someone he didn’t like very much who no longer sought his approval. He liked young women who were thin, pretty, and agreeable- I was none of those and he voiced his disappointment.

We still took trips together, mostly to my grandparents’ farm. It was during one of those trips that we had a heated argument about the Civil Rights movement; Dad always placed high value on education, and every time we were together he wanted to know what we were studying in school. He asked what I thought about it. I told him that the Ku Klux Klan was a group of cowardly monsters so afraid of showing their faces that they had to cover themselves with sheets, and that they were wrong to persecute and kill others. Dad had a completely different view and was furious over mine. He never asked for my opinion after that, nor did I ever ask for his. As years went by, he tried the best he could to maintain our relationship. My own effort wasn’t as strong as his- that’s something I have to live with.

There were some good times though. Dad had a dry sense of humor and could come up with the funniest one-liners. He loved to sketch cartoon characters with hilarious captions on paper napkins. He was an innovative thinker with a brilliant mind who was an avid reader; we shared the love of reading- many of the books I have in my home today were gifts from him.

Even as I was not the daughter he’d hoped I’d be, we attained a sort of reconciliation with each other during the last several years of his life. Secrets he had kept for most of his life were exposed, he got to know the son he had fathered years before, and he was relieved of the burden of living a lie. Joy, love, and acceptance began to seep into his heart leaving less room for bitterness and fear.

I was with Dad when he took his last breath and was blessed with the gift of time to be able to tell him that he was loved, to thank him for all he had done for me, and to let him know it was okay to go.

Throughout history, each generation has complained about the one that follows- “Kids today don’t know how good they have it. They don’t have any respect. They don’t know the value of hard work. They listen to devil music. They don’t know how to dress. In my day…”-blah, blah blah. Our parents complained about us, and their parents complained about them. Everyone has their faults. What I see with my son’s generation is hope. I see young people speaking out against bigotry. I see college athletes, knowing they are role models for young children, publicly giving glory to God. I see love. Will they make mistakes? Yes, plenty- haven’t we?

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

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Gratitude

bills

 

When I finished paying bills today, I cried. Undoubtedly, this was not the first time in history paying bills has made someone cry, but these were different tears. They were tears of joy and thanksgiving.

Years ago when my son was little, his father and I separated then divorced. Expenses that I had not incurred became ones that were my responsibility; I was fearful of not being able to provide for my son and too prideful and ashamed to tell anyone of my struggles. At the same time, though, I was so grateful holding that sweet baby in my arms, knowing how blessed I was to have that special love!

At first, things were a juggling act…making partial payments to utility companies, paying with one card to make a payment on another… all things many of us have faced at times. Gradually things became better, and I remember clearly the day I’d paid ALL the bills and saw I still had money in my account. It was five dollars, and I was so excited! That was THE day I knew we would be okay. Five dollars between paychecks became a little more every time, and about a year later, I bought a blue portable stereo/cassette player from K-mart. It was the first non-essential purchase I’d made in a long time, and I felt really guilty until I saw how much my toddler loved “dancing” to the music and hearing me sing to him… that was back when he enjoyed my singing, and those days were short-lived! Understandably. I really can’t sing… or rather shouldn’t

Though I’ll never be rich in the material sense and there probably will be times again that may not be easy, today my son and I have everything we need, I was able to pay bills and have a little money left over, I have a job I like, a car to drive, and a house to live in. Most importantly, I have a few close friends, family I love who love me back, and great coworkers- riches I certainly don’t deserve but do appreciate. I thank God for that every day.

The Point

(There really is one; I’m just always painfully slow getting to it whether the communication is written or verbal. My friends, family, and boss can attest to that. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by very patient people!)

For those who are struggling, and there are so many, please hang in there and persevere. We develop our strengths the most when we are at our weakest; tough times really don’t last forever.

What You Know

Fear grabbed her heart as tightly and quickly as the paws of a bear when it has finally caught its prey. Her chest hurt while her pulse raced and she struggled to catch her breath, knowing each one might be the last she took in this world. A cold sweat claimed her skin as its own and she struggled against the urge to scream. Thoughts of regret raced through her mind as she wished she had more time to make things right.
Sounds like the middle of a B-rated horror movie, but no. This was the trip to the grocery store yesterday. Instead of occurring in some dark wooded area with the audible heavy footsteps of a rapidly approaching, crazed, one-eyed killer with a chainsaw, this little pathetic scene took place in the produce section on an ordinary Tuesday. Like mushrooms in a garden after heavy rains, my ugly anxiety appears suddenly, without warning, and in the oddest and most mundane places.
As I forced myself to continue the shopping (mainly since I’d run out of cat food and my cat, who is temperamental under the best circumstances, gets really aggressive when he even thinks he is hungry), the anxiety continued. I kept trying to talk myself down- not aloud, just in my head, since I already felt crazy enough at the time- saying “Don’t be stupid, get a grip, you’re ridiculous,” and whatever other ‘soothing’ bits of wisdom I could drum up. Yes, simultaneously I could hear Dr. Phil in my head too, asking, “How’s that working for ya?” Obviously, not too freakin’ well, Dr. Phil, but in the midst of a full-blown panic attack, it’s a bit difficult to change strategies! It didn’t help that there were only two checkout lanes open after I’d somehow managed to get everything on my list (thank goodness for lists!)… or that the two lanes open were both for 20 items or less… or that there was an obnoxious woman with a cell phone glued to her ear, loudly arguing over each item the cashier scanned and demanding to see the manager once every minute when the item didn’t ring up ‘on sale’ despite the fact she had last week’s circular in her hand. I made it home, finally, without the world ending, where the panic attack at last stopped, the chest pain subsided, and my breathing returned to normal.
Tips for writers often including writing about what you know. Anxiety is what I know. It’s not pretty, it’s not fun, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s a real phenomenon that affects some of us. There are well-intentioned people who try to help by saying, “Calm down. Don’t be anxious.” We would if we were able. It’s more helpful just to be with the person. Sometimes these crazy attacks just need to run their course.

Murder of a Too-some

Too old, too fat, too slow, too stupid, too weak, too ugly, too boring- these are the words I say constantly when thinking of ways to stop myself from achieving what I want. Just typing this now, I see in black and white what an ugly word ‘too’ is, and realize it’s time to eliminate that word from the sometimes scary place I call my mind.
Two (haha, not too!) days ago, I started back with training rides on my bike. Having used my bike for commuting to and from work for the past six months, I’d gotten away from cycling on my days off and the lack of training shows. This time last year, going for a 25 mile ride was a fairly easy way to get the blood pumping and the muscles warmed up; now going for an hour ride is a HUGE workout.
A side note- the triple digit heat index may have a little to do with it. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway!
I’ve also allowed myself to get away from writing, but that’s stopping right now and within the year, I will be writing about my first century ride.
So Miss Too, you’ve taken up TOO much space in my heart and head for way TOO long. Off you go and you won’t be missed. I’m replacing you with One. One mile, one goal, one step, one smile, one word at a time…

The Cat’s in the Cradle

That darn song gets to me every time I hear it…

I’ve worked at my job for 23 years now; it would take less than two weeks to replace me. That’s pretty humbling.

As a lot of us do, I started out in my 20’s ready to become the best nurse ever and with haughty dreams of changing the world. My career was very important and I was ready to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible. In my early 30’s, I felt like I was the best nurse I could be, had ‘seen it all’, was valued and valuable, and was changing the world… or at least my little corner of it. Work was the highest priority.

In my mid- and late 30’s, time spent at the ball park with my son was way more important than work. Throwing a baseball, sweating profusely, the taste of stale hotdogs, and the smell of red dirt ranked much higher than starting IVs and performing endless physical assessments. Playing board games was priceless. Even as a teenager, my son still enjoys having a ‘family game night’ now and then. We have a close relationship, and I thank God for that every day.

As much as I invested in my son, I neglected spending time with extended family. Nieces, nephews, siblings, and parents were ignored by means of physical distance, emotional separation, and perceived lack of time. There were some visits but not often enough. Birthdays were missed, as were graduations, weddings, and many holidays. I grew apart from my family, always declining invitations then feeling sad when they were no longer offered and it seemed I was forgotten. It took a crisis several months ago to make me realize finally the importance of family.

Now in my 40’s, my job is something I do for three 12 hour shifts a week and the occasional meeting or conference. Though I work hard for my patients when I’m there, I don’t look to change the world of nursing and being a nurse no longer defines me. I’d rather define myself as a mom, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, and a friend. It’s challenging to make a re-entry into the family I put in last place for so long, and I wonder sometimes if it’s even possible or if it’s too late. I pray that God guides me so that I can continue to give love without coming on too strong (I have a history of doing that!) His way is so much better than ours.

Writing and Roles

I decided to write a short story. My head is filled with ideas, but I’m struggling to get it written. Writing gives us the opportunity to become the hero/heroine we’ve always longed to be in real life… will my character be seen as brave or will she be deemed a coward? Will she be likeable or will she be boring and lifeless? Will the reader pull for her to succeed? Will they care? And then there’s the writing itself…what if it’s awful? What if the whole thing is a dud? What happens then?

Thinking about family today, I wonder how our roles define us and when those roles become assigned. Are we assigned the roles when our individual personalities emerge or do our personalities develop into a predetermined role? (Is anyone else tiring of all the questions in this post?)

In a lot of families, there are the following roles played out: the smart one, the hard worker, the trouble maker, the funny one, the logical one, the brave one, the generous one, the sweet one, the good one… Not being top of my class or particularly driven toward success, I have at some points in my life fallen into the role of the “sweet” one- it could have been worse, though it seems to be terribly mistaken. Ask my coworkers! There may be a hint of sweetness there, but it’s mixed with a hefty dose of passive-aggressiveness, bluntness, and an awful stubborn streak.

Perhaps the character I’m developing in the story reflects the roles defined by my family or the roles I define for myself. Maybe the anxiety I feel about writing the story reflects my fears of people seeing the “real” me.

Typing all these questions has led me to the decision to just go for it (as my son would do) and see what happens. It’s time to be the “brave” one.

The Purge- Letting Light In

I had no intention of writing today; in fact my intention was NOT to write. There are many chores to be done around the house, and paperwork to catch up for my job. Sometimes, though, a Force greater than ourselves has Intentions of Its own and we are compelled to follow.

I threw books in the garbage today- into a big bag filled with dusty papers, used tissues, onion peels, coffee grinds, apple cores- and it was right where they belong. In the trash.

My love of reading started at an early age, thanks to my mother. She took me to the local library every week for story-time, and taught me to read before I even entered school. Curious George books were my favorite, with Clifford the Big Red Dog coming in as a close second. Just entering the library holding my mother’s hand caused what I now know to be an adrenaline rush in my five-year-old mind and body. I remember with fondness the old building, the creaky wood floor, the children’s section, and seeing the massive number of books from floor to ceiling. There was a ladder that moved around the room so the librarians could reach the books on the top shelves. How I longed for the day to be big enough to climb that ladder, knowing I would never be allowed to do so!

There are many books in my home; I designated this morning as the time to thoroughly clean the bookshelves. Since thorough cleaning doesn’t happen often enough in our house, I decided to take full advantage of this unusual burst of energy by taking down every single book to give it a good dusting. Whew, what a long overdue and much needed task! I found books I’d forgotten about, set aside the ones I haven’t read yet, and rediscovered some of my favorites. In the midst of those was a Bible belonging to my late father. It was such a comfort to open it to the last page Dad had book-marked. Leading a troubled life plagued by constant battles with depression, he came back near the end of his life to the faith he left decades before- I am so grateful for that.

Among the forgotten books on the shelf were copies of a novel my ex-boyfriend had written; those were the ones that didn’t bring forth nostalgic good feelings. A talented writer and artist, Ex could have been successful. He could have known the power of love and been enlightened by the goodness of our Father and inspired by that same good existing in our fellow man; instead he chose darkness and fear. What started out as a good premise for a successful novel about Adam and Eve became twisted and grotesque. Instead of teaching people by bringing them closer to God as he claimed he wanted to, he spent his days and nights watching and posting videos about end times. He would shout like a lunatic, declaring that we need to find a safe place to hide. He tried every scare tactic he could think of to get me to agree with him- calling me the Devil, threatening, cursing, shouting, waking me at 2am with his crazed ranting, blaring YouTube videos produced by fellow madmen as loudly as possible.  I was stupid and I let him. I was weak. Deep down, though, there was a shred of self-preservation lingering… I’ve not always been the best parent, but I don’t want my own child to live in constant fear. Our Father doesn’t intend that for His children either.

At last, the day came that Ex left- thank God.

The books that left my home today were his. Along with them went the reminders of hatred and fear. The Light is much better than the darkness.

pink clouds