Sunday, January 29, 2017

For the First Time in My Life, I am Called to Fight

Whenever I would ask my grandmother whom she voted for she would tell me Dean Martin. My mother would back her by reminding me there are two things you never talk about, religion and politics. I’ve never been very good at keeping my religious beliefs to myself but, until now, I’ve not been much one to discuss political issues.

To me, though, they really are both the same. Love and kindness are my bottom line. Doing unto others. The Golden Rule. Putting myself in another’s shoes. I believe the entire world could operate a little better if we all just joined hands, offered each other a smile, and said, “I may not know what you’re going through, but I am here. I am here.”

My sisters and I had a childhood fraught with chaos. My parents yelled at each other, yelled at us, and frequently could put a hole through a wall with a fist. We moved constantly, had very little to eat, and more often than not went to bed with tears on our pillow.

But my parents were giving people. They did for others things that would never be found out, were first to mobilize when a family was in stress, lent a shoulder to kids from our school that weren’t even in our circle of friends, kids we didn’t know. I remember my mother at one of my sister’s softball games, arm around some girl’s shoulder. I had seen this girl in the halls. Her father had committed suicide. Sat in his car. Never opened the garage. My dad would leave food in the alley behind the house. Clothes. Shoes. Soap. The homeless guys knew these items were meant for them. They never let on, chatted up my dad like he was one of their friends. He was. He became that. That’s how it works. We are meant for each other. We are meant for love.

I’ve been called naive. Been told it doesn’t work like that. There is evil in this world. There are people who want to do mean things. Some of my friends have seen that evil. I may have seen it, as well. But just because that evil exists, just because it is there, does not mean that I cannot love. I will not fight anger with fists. I will not call names because that is what those around me do. I was taught better than that. I was taught to stand for my brother, to stand for the poor, to stand for those in need.

My mother used to tell me, “Never start a fight but never back away from one either.” I neither wanted to start fights nor remain in one. I would be the first to back away. At heart and in my dreams, I am the love child of Mother Teresa and Gandhi. For the first time in my life, however, I am called to fight. I am called to fight for my brother, to fight for the poor, to fight for those in need. I am called. I am called to fight, to fight for love.

Join me.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Yes, He is My President

Yes, he is my president, because that’s how this works. But I refuse to choose to follow a man who I feel is not a kind person and who does not have either my best interest or the best interests of those I love at heart. I do not feel protected by him. I do not feel supported by him. I do not feel inspired by him. I am embarrassed to have this man represent me.

Many people I know and love voted for this man. I want to tell them they voted against themselves. I know individuals who are women, who are lesbians, who are economically challenged, who are single parents doing their best to make it through who voted for this man. I know individuals battling chronic illness, individuals struggling to launch their young adult children, individuals making their way through college on government funds who voted for this man. I want to tell them they voted against themselves.

But that’s irrelevant now.

What is not irrelevant is the fire inside my heart, the fire that is fueled by the Holy Spirit. The question, “What Would Jesus Do?” lives constantly inside my head. And so I ask, “What would Jesus do?”

Jesus would take to the streets. He would feed. He would love. He would nurture. He would empower and hold and warm.

And so I stand.

I stand with the student living in her car, the student working full time to pay for class, doing her best to create some semblance of a life, sleeping on campus in a Chevy. Doing this to avoid sexual molestation at home. I will support her in her decision, when impregnated by her father, to not carry that baby to term. I will tell her she is beautiful and worthy and has much to offer this world. I will support her. I will encourage her. I will stand.

I stand by the single mom working full-time days, putting in the hours, making crap for pay. She is behind in the bills, doing her best, never gives up, and wears the smile that says I am tired, I am alone, I am lost, I have no choice but to move forward through the bedtimes and baths and permission slips and practice, but please, help me God, help me somebody, because I am falling but my love for my children will not let me stop.

I stand.

I stand for the man in the park, the one living on the bench. With the help of many friends, I offered him food. I offered food to all of those living in this particular park. When I passed him later to ask if he had received, he held out his sandwich and asked if I was in need. No thank you, I said. But thank you for thinking of me. I thanked him for thinking of me.

I stand for the young man, Muslim if we’re labeling, born in this country, raised in this country, educated in this country, citizen of this country, contributing economically to this country. I support him. I stand.

I stand.

I stand for my friend, my white friend who is married to a black man. I stand for their love, the beauty of it, the connection that is stronger than so many I have seen.

I stand for all those individuals I know – family, friends, colleagues – that choose to love in a way that is not accepted or respected by others because it seems different and wrong, because it is misunderstood, because it is not what some would choose.

I stand. I stand for love and acceptance and respect and courtesy and dignity. I stand for human worth, for a helping hand, for understanding that not everyone will think and act and speak and look like I, that not everyone will have experienced what I have experienced and may have experienced what I have not. I stand for an arm around a shoulder, for a kind word, for a simple, "I am here. I may not understand, but I love you, and I am here."

Yes, he is my president. But I refuse to choose to follow a man who does not have the best interests of those I know and love at heart. I am fueled by the Holy Spirit. I am a child of God. And, so I ask myself, “What would Jesus do?”

Jesus would stand.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Meet Me at the Flagpole

She wanted to meet me at the flagpole after school. The flagpole was the spot where second graders at Parkview Elementary went to have it out while the circle of children gathered around them yelled, “Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!!” I had a sick feeling in my stomach all day. If I told the teacher, Felicia and her buddies would come after me anyway, a lunch tray knocked out of my hands, an inconspicuous trip in the hall, taunting on the playground. I don’t even remember what I did. I didn’t know this girl, yet somehow she had chosen me as her target for the day.

Do you know how difficult it is to focus on things like reading and math when you know at the end of the day you are going to have the living daylights beaten out of you just because you exist? Even if I wanted, there was nothing I could do to appease this girl. She hated me. She hated me because I was there. I was an easy target. I was quiet, minded my own business, and did not have the confidence or chutzpah to think her a ridiculous bully who needed to be put in her place. I was a lover, not a fighter.

This is what it’s like to live in the shadow of a bully. I encountered Felicia and her flagpole order first thing in the morning as we walked into school. There were no buses at Parkview. You either walked or, if you lived farther away, your parents drove you. After being accosted, I stepped faster into school to get away from Felicia and closer to the safety of my teacher and my class. Felicia was older, bigger, in a different grade. I felt like I needed to throw up. I tried to listen to the teacher but I couldn’t. I thought about what would happen later. I thought about the ways I might be hurt. I thought about how people hated me when I was just a regular little girl going about my day. I thought about Felicia’s buddies who would support her and cheer her on. I couldn’t eat my lunch. I couldn’t tell anyone for fear of people calling me silly or telling me to fight her back. I didn’t want to fight. I just wanted to go home and tell my mother about my day and play school with my sisters.

The flagpole was at the front of the school. You had to pass it to leave at the end of the day. You had to. It was right there. There was no other way. Most days, that is, there was no other way. Most days you didn’t think about the other ways. The flagpole was in charge. It said this is the way, this is how you have to do it. But there were other ways. There were side doors and back doors and doors that people usually didn’t even notice. And even though your mother parked on the street and you had to end your walk out front did not mean you couldn’t leave through one of those side doors and wind yourself back to her parked car.

Looking back, I am not proud I didn’t stand up to this sad girl. I am glad, however, that I didn’t allow her efforts to prove herself powerful to destroy even further what little esteem I carried at that point in my life. I thank her, now, for teaching me that it is far more important I stand tall and think for myself than to mindlessly follow orders of someone just because she is in charge. I thank her, too, for teaching me to look for all those little side doors, those ways of doing things no one else thinks can be done.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Help! I Need a GPS for My Life

I feel lost and directionless. I feel this, perhaps, for the first time since birth. Life has always been a piece of directional cake for me. You know those people who just seem to know what they want and move forward to get it? They plow ahead despite the obstacles. They plot their course and, come hell or high water, they make their way through that course to the desired port. Storms, pirate ships, holes in the hull, lack of knowledge on how to sail the damn boat, nothing will stop them from delivering the goods they know they are here to share. That’s been my life. That’s been me. Only now, my compass is broken and my ship’s a mess.

This is the current theme of my life. You know this. I have written on it.

I find myself standing, now, in one of those alien movies. I look around and recognize nothing from where I stand. This seems to be my life but I have no idea where I am, where to go, or who is with me and who is not. People I thought were on my side now have distorted faces and snake-like hands. Their speech is muddled and foreign. I cannot hear. I look around, search for the familiar, the friendly, the ally. I’m just not sure. I’m not sure who is true and who will turn. And I cannot, for the life of me, figure out which way to go. I stand frozen and confused, still in my tracks, unable to lift my feet, unable to turn my head.

Cue the fairy godmother. Where the hell is my fairy godmother? Every movie has one of those.

Friends tell me to be content in just being. Please. I haven’t just been since I was in the womb. Even then, I am certain I caused a good degree of rib damage and heartburn. I mean, I’m down with all that deep breathing, sending out groovy vibes, and manifesting hullabaloo but where in the metaphysical journal are the directions for how to send out intentions when you don’t know what intentions you are supposed to be sending out?

Just be. Just allow. Okay, fine. But what do I do while I am allowing? My ship can’t just sit out in the middle of the water twiddling its thumbs waiting on the universe to push it this way or that. It can’t sit out there thinking how much it would like to go someplace but just waiting for a good strong wind to take it there.

And where would it go anyway? So many paths, so many directions, no sight of land. It’s a beautiful sky and a beautiful ground. I’ll give it that. Patience with me, please, as I do my best to sail this ship without actually touching the wheel. Patience as I let go and allow a greater force than mine to lead the way.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Why I Don’t Make Resolutions, Keep a Television, or Own a Scale

I used to weigh myself every day. Naked, first thing in the morning, and always before I had eaten. The number that popped up on the scale would determine my worth for the day. If it were up even half a pound from the morning before, I would berate myself for the brownie I enjoyed after the last night’s dinner. I was pathetic, frumpy, and not worth a second look. If the number was down, I was a beautiful, sexy, sassy woman full of life and love and worthy of turning heads. This may sound extreme. But I know I am not alone in this.

About a year ago, I moved from my old home into my new home. As part of the process of separating from my then-husband, I determined what furniture I would take and which I would leave. I sat in each room and asked myself, “What would I be sad to never see again?” I was moving into a much smaller home, a significantly smaller home. I took only those things that were necessities or that had deep sentimental value. I am not the sentimental sort and am a minimalist by nature, so I took very little. When I came to the bedroom and master bath, I gave a good hard look at that scale.

This is why I also don’t set resolutions or own a television. I am prone to judging myself against unrealistic expectations. Again, I know I am not alone in this. Set resolutions in January, break them the next month. Decide you are a fat loser and doomed to be a failure. Can’t you follow through with anything? What’s the matter with you? Other people can do this. Your coworker dropped sugar from her diet, started working out at the gym, and gets eight hours of sleep every night. Your best friend wakes at five o’clock every morning to go for a run. Your neighbor no longer touches any food containing wheat or any other grain. You, on the other hand, binge on cupcakes, would rather shoot yourself in the foot than spend an hour looking at a wall while walking on a treadmill, and couldn’t wake up at five o’clock if you tried.

But look at you. You love long walks in the woods with your dog, turning your face to the sunshine to soak in the abundant goodness of the universe. You spend afternoons dancing around the kitchen while whipping up beautiful, delicious, nutritious meals you later will post to social media sites to share with your friends. You sleep until you feel rested and rise to welcome the day with hopefulness in your head and gratitude in your heart. You laugh and love and do things every day that make your heart sing. And cupcakes? Yeah, you enjoy a cupcake now and then but it’s a treat, something you partake in with touch and sight as much as taste, a sensual delight set aside for a special time. You have no need to measure up to any other standards. You are your own beautiful, whacky, adorable self. And that’s okay.

I have been thinner, much thinner. I didn’t like it. My face was drawn, I had no shape, I lost my curves. Look. I’m a short woman with plenty of backend and very little up front. Too much weight and I can hardly move myself around. Too little and I lose my boobs. I like an in-between. I like to feel I have plenty of energy to do the things I love. I like to not have to breathe heavy when I climb a set of stairs. On the other hand, I like a little cush in the breasts to fill out that push up bra, a little jiggle in the rear to give the boys something to look at as I walk on by. It’s who I am. It’s who I like to be. That may not suit the Photoshop-crazy media. It may not sell a lot of diet books or any for that matter. But it makes me happy. And being happy is better than any feeling I ever got from any number on that scale.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Resolutions? Sure. Okay.

I just released all my shit. I did it in a very ceremonial kind of way. And in church no less. I go to one of those new age-ish, metaphysically oriented churches that others tell me isn’t really Christian. But that’s a different essay and not relevant to my story. Just know that on the first day of the year, we hold a ceremony called Burning Bowl.

There’s a giant bowl up front with rocks in it and candles round it. Everybody gets a tiny sheet of white paper that’s super thin and burns really fast. You write on that paper everything you need to release, people you need to forgive, stuff you need to let go, thoughts and beliefs that no longer serve. You write it all down on that little square. Then everybody walks up the aisle and all dramatic like touches their paper to the flame of the candle and tosses their paper into the bowl. It’s a very quiet, solemn thing, reflective and intense.

We sang all kinds of songs, then, about how I’m letting go, and I’m free, and I’m letting God. We smiled a lot. We held hands, prayed, and hugged. We felt the joy of release and communal love.

Then this is where things got real.

Now that there was space from releasing all the crap we’ve been holding onto, we were to write a letter to ourselves that will be mailed to us later in the year. We were to write a letter to ourselves, a letter of love and hope and renewal. Right there in church. You know, because we’re free, and we’re letting go, and we’re letting God, in his expansiveness, lead our way instead of relying on our tiny human brains to rule our lives.

“Think big,” we were told. “Dream big. There are no limits.” I needed this. I am at a transition in my life. You know this. I have written on it. But, for the life of me, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t think of a single concrete thing I want to materialize. Generalities, sure. But not one concrete wish or goal.

The letting go part was easy. I am ready for that. I named a few names, dropped a few deeds, and took a super close look at the god-ugly way I talk to myself. Forgiveness of others, of situations, of myself. Got it. I have been holing up in my new little home now for the past year. I have been in hiding. Kind of. As much as an attention-loving, stage-owning, pixie dust-flinging extrovert can hide. I have been in hiding in order to focus on self and to heal. I have done a good job of it. I’m feeling pretty patched up and ready to emerge from my nine hundred-square-foot, three-bedroom cocoon. I took that little square of super thin paper and said, “Thank you, God, for bringing these lessons into my life. I am ready now to let go.”

What now?

Think big. Dream big. There are no limits. Bigness? Well, sure. Who doesn’t want that? And since I threw my paper into the burning bowl, I am no longer Queen of Playing Small. I made that declaration. But what is this bigness? What does it look like in my life?

I had flashbacks right there in the pew to all the negative words I have flung at myself, all the feelings of pathetic self worth, all the days spent chastising my actions or lack thereof, all the years spent thinking that bigness was for someone else. I sat in this thought, in this space, and could conjure only one thing.

In my letter, I reminded myself how far I have come. I expressed pride and love for the person I have remained through challenge after challenge in my life. I gave myself a verbal high five and a super huge paper hug. Then, and here is my one and only resolution for this year, I reminded myself that I am of God, that I am a beautiful, healing light, and that I was not brought here to hide that light, to extinguish it, or to make it small. I made myself promise right there in my letter to keep shining the light that I came here to share, to keep sharing my smile and my love with those who surround me. I feel the bigness will come. It will come from that tiny act, from remembering who I am and whose I am, and from knowing I have the power to bring warmth to cold places, light to the dark, and love to the lost. Just as do we all.

Rock on, 2017! And watch out. I’m ‘bout to shine this goddamned light!!