Thursday, January 19, 2017

#WhyIMarch, part 2 - for my sons

A note to my sons on the night before the Women's March

Hi, guys. I've been thinking a lot about this march, as you know, this week...and last week...and the week before...and as the day gets closer, I'm feeling pretty anxious about leaving you and traveling to Washington. I know you will be safe with Dad (winter camping! how awesome), and I'm going to do everything I can to keep myself and your Aunties safe in Washington. I've been reading and preparing and talking to everyone I know who's ever been involved in a protest march, so at least I'm ready mentally. 

I wrote that long post yesterday, full of all the high-minded reasons that I'm marching. As I thought about it last night, I felt uncomfortable with that post. Like it was a re-hash of all the things other people have written. Even more, I feel like a phony-baloney. You know I'm not really an activist, or at least I haven't been. For example, I cried and cheered when the Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality for gays -- I was so happy for people I love who finally had the same rights as me! -- but the truth is, I didn't do anything to bring about that change. Others did. Other people fought really hard and gave up time with family and friends and spent lots of money and had horrible things said and done to them in order to gain those rights. And that's the way it's been through time. People like me stand and cheer for the ones who really sacrifice. But we don't get into the mix.

Change is coming. Likely really big change, social and economic, and some of it will be painful to witness. Freedoms will be taken away from some people in order to make others feel better. The truth is, though, it's unlikely our family will be directly affected by the changes that this new government wants to make. This is our privilege. Our family is white, middle class, college educated, and heterosexual. We have many options. 

But here's the thing that's changed in me over the last couple of years: I have realized the responsibility that comes with privilege. I know that even if I'm not personally adversely affected by a law that's overturned or enacted, or even if I enjoy some benefit from that change, someone else will suffer. And I'm not okay with that. I believe, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said often, that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We need to take care of one another. And I need to get into the mix.

You know how I read a lot of WW2 and dystopian books, right? I think I'm so fascinated with these books because I always wonder if I have what it takes to stand up for other people, knowing that it could mean punishment, suffering, or death for me. Would I be able to harbor a Jew in my basement in Nazi Germany like the family in The Book Thief? Could I be strong enough to keep my family alive through starvation times, like the sister in The Nightingale? Or, like the other sister in The Nightingale, would I be brave enough to lead strangers through the dark and cold to safety? Would I even be smart enough to know how to help families flee to safety, as in Number the Stars?

I don't know. And I hope I never have to learn. What's in my heart, though, is love and peace, and I'm going to do all I can to let love and peace guide my actions in the coming years. I have lived long enough to realize that love and peace don't just happen by accident. Remember Monday when we talked about Martin Luther King, Jr.? You both told me you'd seen his "I Have a Dream Speech," and your teachers talked about how he worked for peace. Do you remember what I told you? Martin Luther King, Jr., worked against injustice. He was hated by many people, feared by those in power, because he threatened their comfort and way of life. He did not sit around patiently singing hymns and waiting for justice, though; he wasn't the pacifist "can't we all just get along" man that's been portrayed in recent history. He actively spoke and risked and ultimately died opposing laws and beliefs that he knew were wrong. 

I'm not going to Washington to yell about Donald Trump. I've told you that more than once. I'm going to stand up for justice for all people. One of the tenets of MLK's nonviolent protest is this: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. This is a really important concept that we have to keep reminding ourselves throughout the next few years. I might need you to help me remember this, too, because sometimes I just get so angry! It's really easy to get mad at people, though, without realizing all the forces at work around those people. So let's remember this together: Fight the forces of evil, not the people who do evil. Think about what happened to Anakin Skywalker, right? He was a regular person who became fearful and angry and turned toward hatred for power. Darth Vader was definitely a bad dude. But ultimately, he was just a dude. And even he realized, in the end, that he'd been on the wrong side of history.

In our country right now, the forces of evil -- fear, hatred, anger -- are motivating a lot of people and making them feel powerful, starting with our new President and trickling right down through our neighborhoods. And those forces are acting on people like me, too, who consider ourselves liberal and progressive and on the right side of history. I am afraid, no question, and I am angry. But we're all just people, no matter who we voted for our what we believe to be right. We need to do all we can to resist those forces of evil and to remind all people that love is so much stronger. Love is much easier to bear in the long run, too. 

Love and peace, when activated, will spark justice. And tens of thousands of people resisting the forces of evil will show anyone who's paying attention that we mean it. That's why I'm going to Washington. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Zippy and I hiked in the woods the other day, following the icy trails around Evergreen Cemetery. The cold air stung our eyes but the sun shone warm and bright, and it felt great to breathe fresh air. As he skipped and hopped and twirled beside, in front, and around me, I felt peaceful, happy, content. Until I realized the Womens' March is in a few days, I am going, and I don't know what to expect. I've never done anything like this, except for a few years ago at Occupy Philly, which was nothing compared to the numbers they're anticipating this weekend. The Women's March will be a peaceful protest, yes, but 200,000 is an awful lot of people in highly charged city during turbulent times. I felt anxiety creeping into my chest.

"So you know I'm going away this weekend, right? To Washington, D.C. For just two sleeps. Do you know why I'm going?" I asked Zippy.

"Because you don't like Donald Trump and he's going to be the President."

"Well, that's true, but it's not really why I'm going," I tried to clarify. I explained that I don't hate Donald Trump, but I don't believe in the things he stands for. I didn't go into great detail, but I wanted my son to know that I'm marching because I love him and I love our family and I care a lot about protecting the progress that has been made for civil rights of all people. I told him I'm marching to stand up for what I believe in.

"Do you understand what I mean, babe?" I asked.

"Yeah, momma, of course. Hate has no home here." 

I caught my breath, wiped my eyes. Hate has no home here. Words from my 6-year-old son, who doesn't blink at having friends with two moms or a genderqueer teacher, a child who has only ever known a black president. His little-kid world is open and welcoming, free of judgment. Yet this is the same child who asked about World War 3 the day after the election, who worries that his immigrant friends will be sent away. Hate has no home here. 

Suddenly the anxiety I felt over the march melted away, replaced with a renewed sense of purpose: I'm marching on Saturday not to protest Donald Trump -- I have no more control over him than I do over hurricanes or the flu -- but because I reject all that he stands for. I reject racism, sexism, chauvinism, homophobia. I reject Islamophobia and isolationism. I reject bullying. I reject cronyism and nepotism and the 2% getting richer at our expense. I reject endless war. I reject stripping the land of natural resources. I reject legislating women's bodies -- anyone's bodies. I reject the notion that any human is illegal. 

Of course I want jobs and prosperity for people in rural America; of course I want safety and security here and abroad. But not at the expense of civil rights and common decency. 

I'm marching because I'm raising white, middle-class boys who will grow up to be white, middle-class men. They will come of age in an era in which the elected leader of their country is a mean-spirited, short-tempered, ignorant, bully. He's demonstrated overt racism throughout his lifetime. He stirred up significant hate during his campaign and legitimized violence. And he is  a sexual predator, let's not forget. He has shown every indication that he intends to rule as a despot. The people he's chosen to surround him during his campaign, his transition, and his Cabinet have shown they accept and embrace all of this, as have the folks who now lead the House and Senate. Will my children grow up thinking that in order to be a leader, you have to intimidate, strong-arm, and harass? Will they grow up thinking that the only opinion that matters is yours, that facts are not necessary, or that science doesn't count? Will they grow up thinking the only way to get ahead is at the expense of women, people of color, and poor people? No. No. No. Not while I'm standing.

I'm marching because I want my sons to know that when you're afraid of something, you don't pretend it's not really there. You gather your courage, you hold on to what you know is right, and you stand up.

I'm marching for respect and rights for all people, regardless of skin color, class, gender, or sexuality. I'm marching for fair wages and for women who have to make hard decisions about childcare and work. I'm marching for strong public education and teachers who work hard for our kids. I'm marching for my friends and family who rely on the ACA for health care. I'm marching to make it clear that a woman's choice over what to do with her body remains her choice. I'm marching because our earth, air, and water need protection from humans. I'm marching because I believe in peace, empathy, and care. 

In my search for pithy sayings to write on a sign (which I've actually given up on -- only a pink pussy hat for this girl), I came across a quote attributed to Angela Davis, the civil rights activist. As I've mentioned here before, I'm no freedom fighter. I don't know that I'd go so far as to call myself an activist, either. But these words hit the mark:

“I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change…I’m changing the things I cannot accept.”

I'm no longer able to sit still.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas snow and solstice simmerings

Has this fall been darker than previous years? Maybe. But probably not. Fall is fall, after all. You know by now, just by reading my last few posts, it's not been an easy year.I've been sad.  I've been scared. I've been angry. The world doesn't make much sense to me when I consider what's outside the walls of my own home, and sometimes even things inside my home don't make much sense. And every time someone asks, "So, you ready for Christmas?" as if they're looking for me to fall apart into a pile of frazzled nerves and broken promises, I feel my shoulders creeping closer to my ears. What the heck does that mean, really, to be ready for Christmas?

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, our kids, our loved ones, don't we, around this time of year? I've felt an acute aversion in 2016 to the barrage of ads on television, to the glut of promotional emails in my inbox, to the manic holiday songs in every public space. I pushed back against my dad's daily texts asking about gift ideas for my husband and kids. I felt panicky watching the pile of gifts grow taller and taller as Honey wrapped them. Why so much focus on stuff? Where do we stash all of it, once the packaging comes off? How does any of this frantic, forced holiday frenzy push out the darkness? 

It doesn't. 

Something happened this past weekend, though, that I feel I need to share: Early on Saturday -- the Saturday before Christmas, the day that the marketers tell us is our Last Chance, hurry to the stores now before time runs out and Christmas is ruined! --  I found peace in a snow storm. There was a distinct moment in which I felt something move, like a switch flipped inside me, and I actually felt Christmasy. I think it was joy.

The snow was that perfectly beautiful, magical, fluffy kind: small flakes that whisper as they fall to earth, then breeze away with the movement of your hand. I could almost make out each individual pattern on each individual flake, like they each their own message to whisper.The whole world outside seemed clean, quiet, still. I sipped my coffee and simply watched the snow fall. Later, in the morning, I noticed people giggling and smiling at one another in the grocery market parking lot, even while clearing snow off their cars. Smiling in a snow storm, can you imagine? Then I dropped Zippy off for a play date and his excitement to be with a friend nearly moved me to tears - oh, to be 6 in a Christmas snow!

When we came home, the boys played outside until their cheeks turned red-purple and they collapsed on the living room floor in layers of scarves and hats and sweaty silliness. We sipped cocoa and giggled over silly iMovies that Happy made. We mixed salt dough for a craft project, and our friends came over in the afternoon. We played with Hess trucks, cut out salt dough ornaments, listened to my personal holiday playlist (the John Denver and the Muppets album "A Christmas Together" is everything), and simply hunkered down as the snow fell outside. So warm. So safe. So simple.

I remembered that joy is a deep-down thing; happiness and sadness come and go, but joy remains intact. Even in darkness! Joy can bubble up. Joy can be an unexpected gift. If you're open to receiving it. 

Tomorrow is winter solstice. It will be darker than all the days before. But... inch by inch, minute by minute, the light will increase through the next six months. Light comes back. It always does. Each and every morning. In every season, no matter how dark.

This morning I talked with the boys about ways to welcome the solstice together. They looked confused at my mention of darkness and candles and sunrises. Until I reminded them of our own beliefs around Jesus as the light of the world: "The people walking in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine upon them." There's a reason we celebrate the birth of Christ during the darkest time of the year. We light candles on Christmas Eve to remind us of His light, to make space for it. We put twinkle lights on our Christmas tree as a reminder of happiness and joy. Heck, even the tree itself is a symbol of the cycle of life, the evergreen promise. 

On this winter solstice night, we will light candles while we bake cookies and watch a favorite Christmas show. Then we'll bundle up before bedtime and walk into our deep, dark backyard, where we will look up at Orion cartwheeling through the heavens. I will think of my sister, who celebrates earth and sky and soul and magic, and who first taught me these things when she was just a wee one in our own backyard on solstice a quarter-century ago. And I will let go of the darkness that has been in my heart for the past few months. I will make space for light and joy.

And tomorrow, as I walk to work, I'll say good morning to those amazing, enduring ducks who don't seem to notice how cold it is on Back Cove. They keep swimming as they always do, season to season, year to year. Then I'll put my face to the sunrise and I'll sing. I don't know what song yet, but I'm sure some tune will come.

I'll be ready for Christmas, too. In case you ask. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What now?

“Mommy, where will we move to after Donald Trump drops the big atomic bomb to start World War 3? I don’t want to have to move again. And when will Zahir be sent back to Somalia? I don’t want him to go because he just got here and he gives really good hugs.”

These are the words Zippy spoke on Wednesday evening, after spending post-election day in school with a bunch of other 6-year-olds who have huge, scary questions on their minds. Their teacher, whom I adore, shut down all the post-election conversation. I wish she hadn’t done that. I wish she’d taken the opportunity to tell those kids the simple truth: You are safe here, our country is strong and the Constitution will hold, we adults will protect you.

But maybe Zippy’s teacher, like me, doesn’t truly feel that way right now. Maybe she is uncertain about our safety - or our ability to keep our loved ones safe. And maybe she, too, wonders if our country, this great American experiment, truly is strong enough to weather the monsoon of ugliness rained on us throughout the election season. Maybe she is struggling, as I am, with her own scary questions: What will happen to my healthcare? Will they really throw out the Paris Accord? Will the next Supreme Court nominee overturn and negate my rights to make decisions about my own body? Does half of our country honestly believe that banning - or removing - immigrants will solve any problems? Are there people walking by me every day who harbor violent feelings toward gays, people of color, Muslims, Jews, and even women? Even worse, are there people I love who believe in the ideology of supremacy and hatred that has driven DJT’s campaign? And have I been complicit in this outcome?

I started writing a couple weeks ago, in an attempt to get ahead of the election, about the soul searching I’ve been doing over the last year. I ditched all of those writing efforts because some of it has been too painful to even articulate. What I’ve discovered this year about myself and about our country is that neither of us are what I thought we were. Until recently, I have been relatively content with status quo, as long as it didn’t affect me negatively. I have walked blithely through life unaware that some of my friends don’t feel safe because of the color of their skin or because of their sexuality or gender identity. I have never contemplated what it must feel like to live in a poor, rural area in which the one and only industry has closed down, where I see no other options; I have never thought what it must feel like to not only see no real future for myself or my children because I’ve been left on the sidelines by my school, my community, and my government. I have not acknowledged the many layers of institutional racism that exist because those layers didn't harm me or my children. When I witnessed bigotry, even though I felt shock and horror, I wrote it off as "that one time" or "that one person." I have been confident that I can do anything I set my mind to, and in times that I have been financially stressed, I have always known that there were people around me who could help. I have always had health insurance, and dental insurance, and a refrigerator full of food. This is my privilege as a white, heterosexual, cisgender, middle class woman in America. And I have wrestled with this word, this concept of privilege, for months. (I’m embarrassed to admit that, too, that it’s only been months, not years or decades of wrestling.)

On Wednesday morning, when I realized that DJT had been elected, I sat on the edge of my bed and wept. I didn’t know how to tell my children that this vulgar, hate-filled man had been elected by our friends and neighbors to be the leader of our country. And I took this election outcome personally: We elected a misogynist, an accused sexual predator, to be President of the United States over a wildly qualified, intelligent woman. I walked through the entire day feeling numb and empty, eyes leaking without warning. I felt deep, hollow grief. And I felt fear. What comes next?

I realized today that most of these tears may be a release of the emotional stress of this awful campaign. I know now, as well, that sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option. One thing a year of self-reflection and despicable rhetoric will do is force you to discover what you truly value and what you truly will stand for - or against. So this is what I told Zippy last night when he asked me about World War 3 and the possibility of his young friend being tossed out of the country. “My number one job is to keep you safe, and I will do everything I can, every single day, to protect you. We are not going anywhere because we love our home, we love our country. And I will not let anyone send Zahir away.”

These promises are true and absolute. There’s a problem, though: I’m not an activist. At least not in a stand-up-with-a-megaphone or tie-myself-to-a-tank sense. As my dear friend wrote in a text message yesterday, “I’m not really a freedom fighter and I’m afraid I’ll let the whole team down.” So many of us feel that way this week.

What I am, or at least what I aspire to be, is an active agent of peace. I have spent all day today thinking about what that means, what that could look like, how that feels, and I’ve come up with some ideas that I believe can work for me. I’ll list them below, in no specific order, and I ask that you share any additional ideas you have, too. (I am sure I won’t be able to do all of these things, and neither will you, but we have to think big and bold and stretchy right now, because we don’t really know what’s coming.)

  • I can donate money to organizations that are under threat, such as Planned Parenthood, or any number of environmental groups.
  • I can find out what’s happening in my community, stay connected to local activists and politics.
  • I can show up to peace rallies and solidarity events to share loving energy.
  • I can volunteer with youth organizations, especially those that provide support for new Mainers.
  • I can write for websites or publications that support activist organizations.
  • I can write emails and make phone calls to my state Representatives and Senators.
  • I can phone bank or canvass for initiatives I believe in.
  • I can actively seek people of color to write books in my 9-to-5 job.
  • I can volunteer as an escort at Planned Parenthood.
  • I can offer the spare room in my house to anyone who feels they need safe shelter.
  • I can offer meals at my table to anyone who needs to rest while they’re out canvassing or doing things I’m not bold enough to attempt.
  • I can stay vigilant and step up for people who are taunted or bullied on the street.
  • I can support nonprofits that work in rural schools.
  • I can work in my ed-publishing world to put good PD in the hands of teachers in rural schools.
  • I can encourage smart, kind, progressive people I know to run for public office - then support them along the way.
  • I can have face-to-face conversations with people who have opposing political views, and work hard on my listening skills.
  • I can ask “how can I help?” more often.
  • I can mediate between people who don’t see eye to eye.
  • I can do more research on an issue before popping off an alarmist blog or article on social media. And on the flip side, I can share responsible journalism at every opportunity.
  • I can pray for our new President and elected representatives.
  • I can raise emotionally intelligent, kind, feminist boys - and invite their friends into our home, too.

This week - this year - has been painful, no doubt. And I have every confidence that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I am not going to use words like reconciliation or unity right now because those are code for complacency. Yet I know, regardless of who we voted for this week, we all have talents and passions and convictions, and we can be freedom fighters or activists or agents of peace or whatever we need to be for our children, our friends, our country. Most important, let’s be love. Let’s be courage. Let's be strength. Let’s be hope. Let’s turn our privilege into active participation in this big old messy democracy, and let’s fix it.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Home for Aged Women

Evergreen Cemetery glows orange, gold, magenta. He’s brought me here because he knows I hate to be stuck inside on this gift of a day. Pristine blue sky, the hint of chill that whispers winter in your ear, the slight whiff of earthy decay from the blanket of leaves on the path. I’ve been sick. A painful rash broke across my right leg last week -- shingles, my body’s loud-and-clear response to months of unusually high stress. Relax, she tells me, sleep, recover.  But my husband knows my longing for outside air, so he bundled me and the boys into the car and drove me here to witness nature’s show. He’s been taking care of me -- and them -- for three days and I sense his fatigue; he’s not used to bearing the brunt of our day-to-day routine. What happens if I ever get truly ill? I push it from my mind. This gesture, helping me experience a perfect day, is pure love and I’ll cherish it.

We’ve arrived at my favorite memorial and I shuffle out of the car to pay my respects. A woman stands alone under a bright yellow tree. She’s gazing at the two-and-a-half neat rows of gravestones; names with dates as far back in history as 1887. A simple granite obelisk stands in its midst displaying the words Home for Aged Women, In Memoriam. I approach silently yet feel I should speak softly before I startle her. “This spot strikes me every time,” I whisper. “And hard.”

She nods. Still silent. Wipes at her eye, sniffles. Instinctively, I reach out my hand. Comfort. She accepts my hand in hers without looking at my face. Condolence. We don’t really need to see one another any more than we already have. Care.

A few moments pass without sound, only breath and touch. Two strangers paying respect to 48 other strangers. Women like us - sisters, mothers, friends, neighbors - who died in an indigents’ home. They each paid $50 to live out their last days in the Home for Aged Women, and the Home buried them in these simple graves. Only the names and dates of death mark most of the grave stones. No birth dates noted. No “wife of” nor family buried nearby. Did someone bring them lemon tea when they were weak or feverish? Did church parishioners check in on Sundays? Were they friends to one another, playing Scrabble or finishing the daily crossword together? Did someone hold their hands and simply breathe like this at the end? I hope so.

“Who takes care of them now?” the woman asks, pointing to the manicured perennials beside each stone. Hostas, black-eyed susans, mums. Small pebbles have been placed atop a handful of gravestones. A few even have cut flowers browning on them. Someone cares even now, yes. Good. Someone cares.

The stranger lets go of my hand, smiles sheepishly, walks on, but her question still hangs in the air. I linger and check over my shoulder. My beautiful young family waits in the car. He brings me tea when I’m chilly, rubs my feet when I’m tired. I don’t ever have to ask. Surely he’ll hold my hand at the end. Surely.

I’m tired. Just this small bit of activity has worn out my healing body. But the late-day October sun feels so good on my face. I run my hand along the edge of a headstone, trace the lichen clinging to the indent of the name: Martha Fernald, died July 10, 1887, age 79 yrs. Anna Webster. Flora M. Baker. Mabel L. Wilson. Bertha G. Owen. Ada V. Burt. Jane B. Skillings. On and on. So many women resting here with me. I long to know their stories. I lie down and whisper mine into the mossy earth, then roll on my back to gaze up a

t the colossal great-grandmother pine tree. She reaches her embracing limbs over us all. Her branches sway and sing, remember me remember you remember me remember you remember me.

[First published in The Turns of the Wheel zines Samhain issue, October 2016]