Friday, May 26, 2017

Left Behind

Growing up a military brat, you are trained to leave. Trained to adapt, to set down surface roots that are easily transplanted. You blend in, make friends to sit at the lunch table with, but you keep your roots close to home. You don't dig too deep. Your settlement is always with the next launch in the back of your mind. Should you paint that wall? How easy will it be to paint over if you need to? Should you plant that tree? Will it grow enough for you to really enjoy it? These are all inherent in your decisions, and completely logical.

For me, leaving is easy. It isn't but with a lifetime of practice, it is like any other hard thing you've had to do a million times.

Getting left behind? That's another story completely.

The first time I felt like I feel right now was when my best friend, Tasha, moved away. Her Dad was military too, so we should have known better. We knew that the odds were against both of us to stay in the same place for a long time. But in one short year we found ourselves spending all the time we could together. She was one of my first authentic "best friends" - the kind that I allowed my roots to dig in a little deeper. She was a soul sister. Then came the day that we had ignored would come. She was moving.

When she moved I cried. I had lost a piece of what made the place home. She was no longer a part of my everyday life and I had nothing new to distract me from her absence. I remember asking my Dad, bewildered, why her move had been so hard for me when I had moved so many times myself. I had never experienced these emotions, because I had never really been left behind by someone I cared this much about.

He said "it's easier to leave than to be left behind." It is. For me anyway.

The next time I felt like that was actually twice by the same person: when my sister moved to college, and when she moved away from the college that we both attended. Her first move to college was hard on me because for an entire summer- we were each other's only friend. We moved before my senior year of High School and she was home for the summer after traveling for a year with Up With People. She always had a group of friends, so it was a rarity that she chose my companionship. In this situation we both had no other option. We dug in with each other and made our summer enjoyable. When she left, I cried when I saw her red hair in the hairbrush she left behind. I felt ridiculous about it. Three years later, my second year of college, her last- she left for an internship which would be the last thing she did before her graduation. I cried. We had been each other's back up plan for everything for two years. My back-up was leaving me.

I've learned. I don't put my roots down. I don't dig in. Often I'm the first to move.

Now another friend is leaving me before I have the chance to leave her first. She's moving clear across the country, and even though I'm an adult and we have more means of communication, it feels again like those times. I had set roots down. I dug in. When she left this morning, I cried.

I'm not terrible at goodbyes, I'm terrible at being left behind. When you take my roots with you. Am I supposed to regrow them?

I want my kids to experience what it's like to stay in one place and develop long-lasting friendships and relationships, but I am hurting with the pain of being left behind. I feel the urge to move. To leave. To be in charge of where the roots go. To settle lightly somewhere. To keep everyone at a safe arms-length.

My heart actually hurts, and it's like exercising a muscle that I didn't know existed. I'm not used to letting this place hurt. I want to skip over it. I also wish I knew how to be left behind. I wish it was one of the hard things that I've been doing so many times that it didn't hurt so much. I don't really know what to do with this unfamiliar feeling. It's so uncomfortable. It hurts and I hate it.

When my friend left this morning, I cried. But then I stopped myself. I gathered my remaining roots and whispered to them: "stay close."

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Graduate to Grace or Die

I'm not feeling optimistic these days. I have not found much light for the darkness. I have a small candle, but it feels vulnerable.

I saw a powerful prayer by a woman who named the current darkness not to be of the tomb but of the womb, to give birth to a new light, a new life, a new age. I cried it was so beautiful.

I want to believe her. But I'm not convinced we are the light that gets to be born. We might be a tightening contraction, running a circle of pain around the womb of creation, to fight for birth, but  ours may not be final stretch, and the condition may not be pregnancy. Throughout history creation has groaned with each new birth of so-called progress. Pain, war, famine, injustice have squeezed progressively harder at an increasingly focused humanity. The rest between has felt like light, has felt like progress, has felt like evolution. But we have not yet been born. We have not arrived. The Kingdom is not actually here, Nirvana is still out of reach, heaven is not a place on earth. It makes me wonder if there will ever be a birth.

I do a lot of work researching for a book that talks about a story that happens during the second world war. This work has opened my eyes to my ignorance about the history of civilization. Even something that we still have eye-witnesses to- we are already forgetting, we haven't learned, we don't know. I thought about this idea of new birth and thought about the world wars. Two great contractions, one right after the other. Pain and darkness that should have potentially moved us into new birth. But we didn't arrive. We just prepared ourselves for the next tightening. The world is tightening all around. My western and euro-centric view doesn't even account for the tightening in Asia, in Africa, in the Middle-east. Tightening. Pain and violence, famine, flood, the end of times sort of thing. Or is it for the beginning of time?

Then I decided to question the frame of this story: Pain produces birth.

What kind of sick sadist requires the pain and darkness to be that dark for new birth? I'm going to tell you childbirth was a challenge, but it wasn't dark night of the soul stuff. Also, we have evolved. Childbirth isn't quite the fatal risk it used to be. Of course there is still risk and fatality is still a very real possibility - but the odds have shifted. The pain has dulled. The process has become more about the birth and less about the pain. Let's also remind ourselves that our legend in Christianity about birth is that the pain was a result of a curse. I won't get into the problems behind women being cursed literally for wanting knowledge (why have I never noticed that before?!)- but I just want to say that in that narrative, the pain is not something that was original to the plan of creation. Right? Can we agree on that? So maybe we shouldn't fall so easily into this pain = new birth mantra. Maybe we should tell a new story. Maybe we should try another approach in this analogy. If this pain of the world produces no life to be born, then the pain and darkness might be a tightening for death. Maybe pain can only ultimately bring death.

All the religions of the world ask us to hope for the new life. All the religions of the world ask us to believe in redemption. I don't think atheists really believe there is no God, they just believe there is no redemption. Without redemption, there is no God worthy of the title. For me redemption is the triumph over pain, death, darkness. So it seems that we're in a cycle. The redemption is not final. Many Christians (and other faiths) see this and talk about the constant working out of their salvation, or reincarnation, rebirth, again and again the light must pierce the darkness.

Maybe this is our big problem: the great myth of pain leading us to new birth. This idea PERMEATES our lives, our society, our psyche. No Pain No Gain. No Work No Food. No Shoes No Service. (I just wanted to slide that in). It's the human condition, that without struggle and pain we are worthless and have no value. All of our lessons about life rest on this foundational wisdom. Without darkness you can't see the stars. Without pain, you have no muscles. Without struggle, you don't have appreciation and gratitude. I literally don't know if it is possible to escape this primary concept. SO therefore, we are stuck in this vicious cycle. We will be in painful childbirth forever and it will result in a temporal birth of new life that will eventually die, it will result in death, or it will be a hamster wheel of pain.

We're so screwed.

I remind myself that I am a Christian. It's hard to remember sometimes. Because being a Christian really means to have a RIDICULOUS hope in redemption. Redemption with finality. The kind that gets us out of the cycle. And sometimes it is difficult to hold on to that hope. But dammit if hope doesn't poke in places. Redemption keeps manifesting itself all over the place. This makes despair a bit hard to keep up. I wish redemption didn't feel like a stupid weak candle and would feel more like a giant floodlight shining a bat signal. However, even a candle light is enough for me to recognize that the light exists. And then there is Jesus. He's hard for me to ignore. He also didn't buy into the whole no pain-no gain bullshit. He did not do boot camp with his disciples. He did not ask people who wanted healing or food to perform some task to deserve it. He just did it. Free and all. Then when he had all the pain and all of the suffering- he died. Just straight up died. It ended his ministry as a human on earth. Christians believe that he came back to life three days later. Guess what he didn't do? (Let's assume you believe that Jesus did come back to life- and I hear how crazy it sounds to people who didn't grow up with this story.) He didn't get revenge. Like- literally zero of his energy went into correcting his wrongful death. Zero. There is no revenge. No retaliation. No zombie curse said. No hexes. No "I hate those people." Actually- AS he was dying- he forgives the people. THIS IS RIDICULOUS. It's also one of the reasons (of which I can find a zillion) why anti-semitism by Christians because Jesus was killed by the Jews- is ridiculous. I can't even begin to count the ways that that whole argument breaks down (Jesus was a Jew, the Romans killed Jesus, etc etc etc). But think about that- Jesus forgives his murderers as they are murdering and mocking him- then when he comes back to life- he spends NO time looking for justice. Why didn't everyone else follow suit? Oh right, because Jesus had evolved out of the pain cycle and we hadn't.

And that's my next leap. I'm going to be weird and say that I think Jesus was not about justice.

I think Jesus was asking us to taking a flying evolutionary leap and move beyond justice. I'm about to throw out a churchy word: grace. Often we hear the word grace in reference to justice. "God loves me despite the fact that I'm a shitty person." = Grace. We think of grace as being given a second chance when we screw up. We think of grace as this idea that someone else is willing to sacrifice themselves or the law for the love of another person. Grace - in this equation- always requires sacrifice. And usually the thing that gets sacrificed is justice (or Jesus- for people who are into the whole sacrificial analogy).

What if what Jesus really meant to do when he died and didn't do shit about it- was to communicate that his Grace was above and beyond justice. That we didn't even need to think about Grace as a sacrifice- but a way of being, of life, of love. That Grace didn't need to be in conversation with justice at ALL.

Let's swim in that idea. What does this look like? Take the parable that Jesus told of the workers. You know- the one where everyone works for different amounts of times and all get paid the same? EVERYONE HATES THAT PARABLE. (Maybe not- but certainly business people hate it). Here's the thing- people can't stand it because it implies that your sacrifice and work isn't worth anything. And we simply CANNOT handle that. CANNOT. That not handling thing is based on this idea that resources are scarce or at the very least limited- so for someone to work and not get their due (whether they get more or less than they deserve)- woah- we can't live like that. We can't live with the insecurity of knowing that we might not be able to earn our slot on the earth. When people start talking about how some people actually work really hard and still don't get ahead, or how a lot of people just get lucky and land in a pot of gold- we don't know what to do with that. We still need things to work according to justice- that's our foundation. But I mean, if I found a gold pot I'm not going to turn it down.

Here's the thing. Maybe the tree of knowledge was actually the tree of Fake News. That tree told Adam and Eve that there are limited resources, that people deserved or didn't deserve things. Then everything became a competition, everything became a scarcity problem. Everything needed sacrifice and blood, sweat, and tears in order to obtain it. (Seriously- will we ever escape this pain narrative?!) And of course we only recognize our own sacrifice, so we feel we deserve all the goods.

But God, Jesus, Buddha, and pretty much all the spiritually evolved beings who have tried to speak truth- have all said this thing: treat others as you want to be treated. Love one another. God may be a little exasperated by a set of people who look at an earth crawling with millions of different species of bugs and myriad varieties of flowers and diverse ecosystems that just dance- and say "it's not enough." What the hell people? I deserve this iced mocha because I paid for it. Lord Jesus and everything holy wants me to get over myself and my justice. Graduate to Grace.

That's nirvana, heaven, etc etc. And I am trying REALLY hard to believe it is possible. But I'm struggling. This pain is not new birth, it's a cycle that we seem to be doomed to repeat until we evolve. And I'm not sure humanity is willing or able to evolve. Perhaps we're not the pinnacle of creation. Maybe the beetles will be the ones to rule the world.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Belonging

This week there was a new headline about a woman claiming an ancestry that isn't genetically hers. I am not going to talk about that specifically, but it made me think of something broader. Lots of people are asking why (like really why) someone would sacrifice an identity full of privilege for something that is at the very least- a disadvantage.

I thought about this and I'm going to be thinking about it even more after I write this. Belonging. My guess is the foundational reason is that this person wants to belong somewhere. There are some serious ethical questions about a white person trying to find belonging in a group that has been historically oppressed by white people. 

But let's leave that story behind and think about other scenarios. Belonging. When I was in High School, I went on some sort of church camp where there were other churches from other areas convening. I distinctly remember these girls from another camp who were getting a lot of attention from the boys in our group. And it wasn't because they were sort of "perfectly pretty" in a mean girls way. They were weird and dressed differently. But it worked for them. They had short punky hair and tight tank tops with long, wide, baggy pants. They were unique. They were like the underdogs who don't care what other people think, which made them cool. I suddenly felt weird in my boot cut jeans and loose fitting t-shirts. My long hair tied back in a safe ponytail didn't feel exciting, and now I suddenly had the nerve to stand out, if it meant I could belong. My general rule of thumb for dressing was to blend in, which meant that I had a chance to belong in most groups. But these girls were cool, they stood out and had a sort of special, smaller group that they belonged to.

I didn't cut my hair (then) or start wearing tight tanks and baggy pants, but I remember that feeling. Wanting to belong to a group for the very purpose of standing out, if standing out was accepted, or if at least I could be proud to be weird with stalwart friends. Being a part of a group of underdogs who aren't mainstream can give you a sense of superiority for not bowing down to the expectations of culture. And you get to share that pride with other people. For white people who were born acceptable under society's standards, this is a choice. To chose not to be acceptable makes you feel daring and cool. It makes you feel like you belong to something bigger and more sacred. It makes you feel like you have purpose, something to fight for.

I listened to a podcast a while ago by Rob Bell where he reminds his listeners that the Bible - especially the Old Testament, needs to be read in the context that the original audience and protagonists are the underdog. When you read about victory and triumph, it wasn't a story of easy wins by the obvious powerhouse. The bible is written by a group of people who come from a line of culturally and historically oppressed people (or at the least, not the big guns on the world stage). Keeping this in mind, it feels inappropriate when someone who has never really struggled quotes scripture about triumph when all they had to do was just keep being oppressive. So when American Christians talk about being persecuted, they are appropriating a story that quite honestly, is not their own. They insert themselves into the role of underdog, when really they should be allowing themselves to be humbled by their striking similarities to the Romans and Pharisees. It makes sense that sometimes the words of an oppressed people might feel usurped when used by a powerful and oppressive force. I think it's obvious in many ways why we like to see ourselves in the role of hero and underdog. We want to belong to the righteous, the cool, the purposeful, the triumphant over evil.

Those in great power who don't care about belonging abuse this desire in the folks who think they don't have power. They prey on our desire to belong, and tell us why we should fear, why we are actually quite vulnerable, why we belong to the group of victims and oppressed. That way we ignore our conscience. We ignore the signs that we are the oppressor. We remain blind to our backpacks full of privilege. Because we belong to the least of these- and blessed are they. Because if we don't belong to the oppressed, the alternative is too much to bear and our identity is wrecked. We will no longer belong.

I think that is part of the reason why Christians in America, who are the powerhouse, not the oppressed, feel the need to emphasize their martyrdom or their sacrifices or whatever it is that allows them to feel persecuted and oppressed. Because then they can read the scriptures and feel victorious and that their small side will win. But the reality is that they are actually more like the Romans, or on a smaller scale, the powerful Pharisees within the religious community. If they identified correctly, if they realized that they belong to the powerful group- then they would have to face their sins and humble themselves. So they make the decision to try to be the underdog, because everyone wants the underdog to win. What they choose to ignore is that they have already won, and their need to belong to the group of the oppressed, only forces the actual oppressed to continue to suffocate under their weight. 

Belonging is a human need. It might be one of the most powerful. It's linked with our needs for relationship and love. Belonging is a little different though. You can feel like you belong without as much effort into relationship and love. You can join up in a group without really investing too much- and you get much of the same side effects. Belonging means that you are not alone, you are valuable, and there are people who agree with you. Belonging in this way also means that you do not need to change.

If you don't need to change, then belonging has given you the gift of safety and security. 

That gift might not be the gift you needed.

I think that everyone should have the blessing of belonging. But the problem is that we often settle for this shallow belonging, the kind that allows us to stay unchanged, and keeps others outside. The kind that allows us to stay in fear and be a self-perceived underdog. The shallow belonging is the kind that needs an "us and them" to create a sense that we belong, only because we are not like them. That belonging is not helpful, creative, or ultimately safe. It churns danger, just like a stick inside a wheel completely halts the ability of a bike to move forward. We have to belong- ALL belong- in a way that allows us to be uniquely us and also able to move and change. 

Belong, but not because you have drawn a fence around yourself. Belong, but to an idea or vision of hope, not an isolation or feeling of power. Belong, in such a way that allows for everything to belong. Because there is room for all of us to belong. ALL of us. Scarcity of value is not real. Scarcity of worth is a lie. Scarcity of beauty is ridiculous (have you seen our universe?!). Your belonging does not need to be at the expense of someone else. You don't have to be fake-oppressed to belong. You don't have to have power to belong. You belong.

If you see someone settling for a shallow belonging, create space for them to belong with you. That's going to be my first step.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Make Good Choices

A certain Representative was quoted as saying that Americans need to make good choices and perhaps choose to invest in their own health care and not a new iPhone. He later clarified his comment by saying the exact same thing but not mentioning iPhones.

See here the quotes: "Americans have choices, and they've got to make a choice. So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care."

Clarification about what he really meant: "What we're trying to say - and maybe I didn't say it as smoothly as I possibly could- but people need to make a conscious choice and I believe in self-reliance, and they're going to have to make those decisions."

OK now that we're clear, I want to introduce this person, and what I'm learning to be a SIGNIFICANT amount of people in power to what the world ACTUALLY looks like. While there may be just buckets of choices for this man and his friends, those choices look very different for others.

First: what can we agree on? Making good choices. 100% agreed. I definitely think that there are things that are far more worthy of our investment than others. I think that there are choices that most folks would agree to be universally wise, and others to be universally unwise. 

What do we maybe have agreement, but some caveats about? Americans have choices. OK- in a way, I agree. Americans do have choices. But I think that a lot of Americans at the top of the food chain don't realize something, when you go down the economic ladder, your choices become narrow to nearly obsolete, or at the very least ridiculous. "Food or healthcare?" "Shelter or healthcare?" "Job or healthcare?" These are real choices that many lower income families have had to make. I think, in part, that this was the complaint of many folks with very low income (but not medicaid qualifying) about the ACA- the affordable health care still wasn't affordable, and they were penalized for not having it. I can see the frustration. It isn't a perfect plan, and I would be really happy if we could work on it to make it truly affordable for everyone (or come up with a new system all together). I also had friends who I knew to be quite stable financially complaining about their raised health care prices. I understood their frustrations, but was far less sympathetic to them. If my added contribution to the whole means that millions more get healthcare (and indeed lives were literally saved)- then it is a sacrifice I am willing to make. I understand that the more comfortable complainers may not have voted for the legislation, and therefore the sacrifice was not willing. I get it- but I'm still not convinced that your burden is unlivable. Not every painful thing is wrong. 

Back to the choices that Americans have.... in an ideal world I could choose to have zero assets (so I can pay for healthcare), live in a low-cost-of living area (which incidentally also has a high job rate and high quality mass transportation so I can have a job but not need to own a car- a luxurious thing). If this was possible, I think many Americans would go for it. But this life is almost imaginary. I don't think that choice is very likely- or if it is I better be single and gifted in a very specific job field (to be announced once I find that magical place). The trouble is- where the good jobs are- often- so are the expensive houses. Funny how that works.

So when we say that Americans have choices, we mean different things. You think that Americans have a lump sum that they choose to spend on extravagant things (like an iPhone) when they should be investing in their health care. I think that you have no idea that many, many Americans do not have lump sums. In fact, many are in terrible debt. They could not get that phone (which might be their only phone, and likely was purchased second hand because if you're poor- you know about these things)- but it wouldn't make a dent. If you don't buy a TV or phone, that does not free up your finances for a lifetime of health insurance. SO you may as well be happy and entertained while you are dying. 

It's hard for me to argue with this ideology (that people just need to manage their money better) because it is based on a false premise: all people have money to invest. If your argument is based on something that isn't true, it renders the rest of your argument as null and void. Additionally, if anyone thinks that health care coverage is simply about investing the right amount then they have shown their privilege card. It shines a spotlight on your ignorance of the plight of the poor. If everyone had enough money to invest (even when pinching pennies) in order to have quality healthcare- then we wouldn't be having this conversation. I think that the folks that Trump whipped into a frenzy about repealing Obamacare truly thought that they would get better health insurance that didn't cost as much. And those that were rich knew exactly what the Republicans meant and knew that maybe they wouldn't have to subsidize their employees' healthcare plans, or at the very least they could go back to providing the bare minimum. Helping the poor will always mean that those who have more money might have to fork out more money. Rich people don't like to look stingy or uncaring, so they hide behind platitudes like "self-reliant" that make poor people who don't need a doctor or government help feel like they are some kind of heroes. But it doesn't help ANYONE. Equating ability to acquire wealth with the ability to be self-reliant is a dangerous and terrible equivalency. The ONLY people who can afford to pay for their own healthcare at cost are the extremely wealthy. The REST of us HAVE to have health insurance or face bankruptcy. A wealthy person purchases health insurance because it is a better fiscal deal. A middle-class person purchases health insurance because it is a fiscal death sentence if anything happens (and as we know- shit happens to everyone). A poor person "chooses" not to have health insurance because they need to pay rent and feed themselves.

I have a friend who is in that scary space between health care and rent money. She doesn't qualify for medicaid but also doesn't have employee based health insurance. She chose rent money. The penalty is less than healthcare coverage. She shares an apartment with I think five other people. She is getting married in a year and is holding her breath until then. I found myself suggesting she elope just for the sake of getting on her husband's health plan. No one has to know you're married, I said. Isn't that a romantic story? I'm praying nothing happens before she gets married. 

Health care is expensive. Too expensive. That is an issue that I believe has bipartisan agreement. The disagreement is about how to lower those costs. Unfortunately no one has figured out a way to make everyone happy. Which I get is nearly impossible. Republicans seem to be aiming to please business owners who don't want to subsidize their employee's health care, and the super elite who want a fatter paycheck at the end of the day, damn the poor. They tell the poor that they will somehow get them better health care for less money, and I'm really curious how that's gonna work out while also being this new brand of Republican that is hell-bent on "self-reliance."

I get it- we don't want to hand out silver platters, but last I checked- most people just want to be healthy and not have to go bankrupt getting there. I am not even asking for hearing aid coverage. It would be nice- but I've lowered my expectations, it's called compromise. I'll pay for my own damn hearing aids if you will not close the only nursing home that has medicaid beds. Because when I worked for hospice- that was hard to find. We had to chase dead people to get our patients into available beds that would take medicaid payment. By the way- the baby boomer generation is aging, and they're living longer, and a lot of them lost their savings when the hosing market crashed, so we're about to face a shit-storm. But back to the point. 

Something that seems to be getting lost in the process of making everyone happy is all these people who can't go to the doctor or do go into crippling debt or DIE because of the INHIBITIVE cost of quality healthcare. 

I was born with a spinal condition that required (as of today) three surgeries. All covered by insurance with some out of pocket expenses that were paid either by my parents or myself (two of the surgeries were while I was still under their healthcare plan). Because I am squarely in the middle class and lucked out with quality health care- I am not bankrupt, nor are my parents. Oh, I was also born hearing impaired which necessitates hearing aids. Those aren't covered by insurance, so I save a little money in order to pay for my inevitable new set of hearing aids every 5-10 years depending on the quality and luck of the set I bought. Some (few) insurance plans cover hearing aids, but as my only option for affordable insurance is under my husband's plan which is not one of the few, I accept that I am responsible for saving up for these important things myself. I cannot do life without them.

Last year a man who was under the influence of drugs hit my minivan with me and my kids in it. It was his fault, he was ticketed, and his insurance paid the bill and gave us a little extra for any health issues (which none of us had luckily). My van was older and paid for. I now have a monthly payment I did not expect because my paid-for vehicle was totaled, but as it was older, it wasn't worth as much as the newer model I now drive. I have the best car insurance, but I didn't get money for a brand new car because that's not how car insurance works. It gives you the value of your vehicle, and while my vehicle had plenty of life left in it- its greatest value was that I didn't owe anything on it. That monthly payment was not something I made a plan for because my old van still had a lot of miles left on it, so I wasn't paying myself huge payments to prepare for the next vehicle (which is what I've been trained to do after I pay off a vehicle). I had only been putting away about $150 a month towards the next vehicle because I knew I had longer to prepare for a new vehicle, and I had other payments (like the hearing aids) that I expected would come first. So I didn't have much other than the insurance to put down on the van, and now here I am with a monthly payment I didn't expect. But that's life- and that's why I have an emergency savings, because even when we weren't making a huge amount of money, we had enough to put away in small amounts. 

So this is just a tiny little example of someone who is making really good choices but still had some set backs. I'm hoping that my hearing aids last a little longer than usual so that I can afford to buy the replacements without taking on debt (or dipping into emergency savings). I'm hopeful that my other, older car (that was supposed to "go" first) lasts a lot longer than I expected. Because if any other financial catastrophe happened, I may have to choose between hearing aids and a car. Which I can do- because of my current life situation. 

My story is about as boring and privileged as I thought you could get. Because ultimately, I know I can make sacrifices if I need to. I have a few safety nets. Obviously my hearing aids are important, so if we have to make it work to become a single-car family, we'll figure it out. I can get a job because I have a skill set that is marketable in a field that pays more than minimum wage. But guess what- I am actually not as privileged as they get, and I think that rich people think I'm poor. The kind of poor who can choose not to have a iPhone so they can have health care. But I'm not. I'm pretty comfortable. Which makes me realize that they have NOOOOO idea what it's like to live on less than $50K a year. The medium household income for folks in the United States of America is (to round up) $52k. That's the number that takes out the outliers of crazy wealth and crazy poverty, and it is household- meaning all the people in the house. 

Literally one hospital visit without insurance can put you back $52k. How do you save for that? I guess what the Republican was saying was that you save for the health insurance. Ok. Gotcha. Health insurance (the way this new plan has it) for people who desperately need it (pre-existing conditions, maternal, cancer, etc.)- is going to be hella expensive. So expensive that you might wonder if it is worth it. Or if you should just stay in pain, go off the depression and anxiety pills, stop physical therapy, not get the surgery, not have the baby or not get prenatal care and hope for the best. What does that give us? A society with sick people. Last I checked, sick people aren't very productive. And as much as I hate it- our society spins on productivity.

I live in an affluent area (not by choice, my husband is a pastor and we live in the church owned parsonage). I feel very lucky to live in such a beautiful community with amazing schools. Our last church was in a more blue-collar area and we loved it there too. I'm part of an online community with folks in this area and recently someone asked what the average tuition was that folks were paying for private school. My mind was absolutely blown. BLOWN. First, we live in one of the BEST public school districts there is. Second- people paid around $30k for each child to attend these schools. The discussion was so blasé I realized that this was normal to them. They actually had an extra $60k to spend on their kids' schooling- EACH YEAR. I'm not going to get into the whole public vs private school debate here because that's a completely different blog. However, this conversation made very clear to me just how oblivious some of these folks were to the rest of the world. One talked about struggling to make it work, and I thought- no- struggling to send your kid to private school when you have high quality schools down the street- that's not the same kind of struggle that the regular American suffers. It just opened my eyes to the wide chasm that is between the "haves" and "have nots." 

So when someone says that we should just not buy an iPhone in order to invest in healthcare... I just get really, really angry. Because I realize that here is a man who honestly thinks that most of America can have quality healthcare if they just save enough money. So either this man has absolutely never met a poor person, an elderly person, a disabled person, a person with a chronic illness, or a hard working person working minimum wage, or a couple with masters degrees with a premature baby, or grandparents who saved for two and now have two grandkids because the parents died, or LITERALLY 98% OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Either he hasn't ever met them, which means he lives in a bubble and should be revoked the right to represent if he represents a fraction. OR he doesn't give a shit. And both of those scenarios are reprehensible. 

But you know, make good choices. Be born wealthy or have your hard work and luck be one of the success stories, and forget everyone who helped you get there. Because you are self-reliant. You never had teachers, friends, parents, loans, roads, nutrition, or anything. You did it all your damn self. 

Make good choices. Get off the TV and go meet some Americans.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lead Blanket

I've written about depression before. I've written about the descent into the black hole that is numbness and blah. But now I want to write about the lead blanket. This is what I might call slight remission. It's the feeling when you can do life, but with a good amount of extra effort.

One day you might do all the laundry and make all the beds and even work productively for a good amount of time and make a social plan. You feel good about that because it took every thing you had to do it. Then you realize that normal people do this every day and call it normal. They aren't self-congratulating or eating peppermint patties to reward themselves. They don't feel proud because that is silly.

I literally just stopped this blog and stared at things for 45 minutes. For no reason. Something inside me is telling my brain to sllllooooowww doooowwwwnnnn ssssttttoooppppppp. And then it's fuzz for a bit. I notice that I started something and go back to it, feeling weird about being so easily distracted from it, but also feeling guilty that I haven't finished it or anything else. Right now I am forcing myself to write each and every single letter and something inside me is asking me to please stop writing. Please stop focusing. Please stop doing anything and stare back at the trees or screen or cars or dogs or candy or anything else. Stop writing words. I had to fight really hard to write three sentences. You read it in five seconds, I reread it and didn't understand why it was so damn hard to write. But it was. Below is what happens when I sort of gave in to the lead blanket and wrote through the experience...

It's like having a toddler at the control station. But not a lively, happy toddler. A toddler who is having a bored temper tantrum in his sleep. Green leaves. White basketball court, silver car. What are you writing about again? Oh yeah, the fact that your pseudo depression makes you lazy and it's hard for you to focus and you can't do anything without the most effort. No one will believe you or care. Why do you care to communicate it? The sun is so warm. I wonder if I will get a sunburn. Part of me hopes I will. Remember that woman who died of skin cancer? That's the weirdest thing to remember right now. Siren. Bugs. blue car.

Siren continues.

Mother getting her kids in the car.

Dirty grill. My dog is barking. Birds chirping.

Depression is that lead blanket that makes your feet so painfully difficult to get out of your bed and onto the floor. Depression on the good days means that you made the effort to make meals. Congratulations. The only one who feels a little bit good about this is you (and now you don't anymore).

Do I need medicine? Can we afford it? I don't want the side effects. I feel fine most of the time. If I can just sit in the sun enough. The vitamins will fix me. The sun smells like my childhood. I spent a lot of time swinging under the sun as a child. No wonder I've always wanted to be able to fly. I wish I wasn't afraid of heights, a new fear to go with adulthood. Not that humans can fly anyway- the way I want to - with wings.

Children are exhausting because they move so fast, without the lead blankets. They don't understand why it is so hard for you to keep up.

Fix me sun. Fix me. Paralyzed. Slow. Low blood pressure and slow heart beat. Health? Or death?

The sun is so nice and warm. Finally.

I'm tired of writing this. Those who understand understand. Those who don't just don't. I will always be lazy. I will always have to work harder just to be normal. What I wouldn't give to feel light again.

Should I post this? Or will people start asking me too many questions or making too many suggestions or caring too much and adding so much more weight to the lead blanket?

Why do I sound so dramatic? Get over yourself.

The sun is so wonderfully warm.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Dear Friend

Dear Friend,

We have known each other since we were kids, competing for best attendance in our 4th grade Sunday School classroom. I think we tied. I still have my t-shirt I won as an award, it nicely quotes one of the bible's most beautiful words to offer about love: patient, kind, keeps no record of wrong, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. That is the foundation of our bond- the kind of friendship that has kept us connected despite our different backgrounds, different beliefs, different lives now. I know your heart is gold and that you seek goodness and grace and love in all you do. That's why you asked me these questions. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

You asked me two questions from the bottom of your heart in sincerity. These were: 

1) What rights do women not have in this country that they should and that men already have? 

2) What rights has Trump been directly involved in removing from women as president?

Your questions come from witnessing one of the most amazing number of people (mostly women) who marched in protest, in statement, in solidarity on one day, literally around the world. You speak specifically of Donald Trump and America, and while Donald Trump and the political climate in the United States was an effective catalyst for this march, it is only a small part of this larger movement. I think that was made evident by the marches that occurred on (I'm almost certain because some women even marched on Antarctica) every continent of the planet. You may not have seen the pictures from around the world because you probably aren't on the same social networks, but this event was so so so big. I sat at my computer looking at the millions of faces and cried and cried. I felt hope.

I am going to answer your questions the best I can, but I want to be sure to point out that this is not a final, comprehensive answer. This is a dialogue that has been happening in public or behind curtains for a very long time. The specifics change but the foundational inequality have persisted in most cultures. I also want you to know I am speaking from my own experience. I do not speak for everyone. I can only tell you my experiences, and then point to the experiences of my friends and loved ones. I also want you to know that while the march may have begun in the US and had a distinctly anti-Trump feeling (and full-disclosure: I do NOT trust Trump), that the march and the voices were so much bigger than just our country.

But you specifically asked about me, here in the US, and so I will address that. And I'm going to address it like Jesus, by asking you questions and telling you stories.

Have you ever been told that you couldn't do something because you were a man? Not shouldn't, but specifically CANNOT. I have. My story: I was called to ministry and I had people tell me that I can NOT do that. Or that I should marry a minister because that was what I was being called to (because surely God would never ask ME to be a minister). By irony of ironies, I would marry a minister, but that was not what God was talking about that night in my Freshman dorm room when I heard "be a minister." I even had a family member tell me they didn't think women should be pastors. Later, and with so much love and grace (and a surprise to me) that family member apologized. I was in shock, and honestly had been told I can't do something so much that I didn't even realize what a healing thing it would be to hear someone retract their statement.

Women do not have the right to a role model in every prestigious career.

Have you ever wondered if you were being paid less than your coworkers because you were female? I naively thought that I was excluded from this statistic (and it is a researched and clear statistic). I was hired as a hospice chaplain by women administrators, so of course my salary would be on par with my male counterparts. The other chaplain was a male, but he had been there for nearly ten years, so I didn't expect to be paid as much as he was, and I do not know his salary, but I hope he was paid more. I did, however, run into a sheet of paper that my predecessor had accidentally left in the files. He was hired in August, fired less than three months later, and I was hired to replace him for the same exact job and hours. The piece of paper that I found had his salary listed on it. His salary was $7,000 a year more than mine. We had been hired literally three months apart. I never said a word. I was just glad for a job. I stayed in that job and received rave reviews during my evaluations until I left the job because of a geographical move. $7,000 less out the gate, if I had remained in that job, that difference would have been compounded in my deficit over the years, as percentage raises would never close the gap.

Women do not have the right to equal pay in the United States.

Have you ever been in a situation where you thought you could be raped? I don't think that this is completely a male/female divide as there are definitely men and boys who have endured sexual assault. However, I doubt that you spent many walks with your cell-phone in your hand, ready to dial 911, just in case. I have. Every night-time walk from an event to my dorm on college campus, I had my phone in hand or a friend on the phone. If I saw a man walking near me, the anxiety quadrupled and I would even pretend to talk to someone on the phone as an extra barrier if I couldn't find someone. I'm not making this up, most women do this and have a scenario played out in their head of how they will get out of a bad situation. The difference, speaking specifically of the American experience, is that women are at risk for rape and sexual assault at exponentially higher rates. The reason why that is a fact is not important to this discussion. It's an interesting enough fact that your gender alone decides whether or not you will be at significant risk. The current statistic is that 1 in 5 women on college campuses are raped. That's horrendous. It's not acceptable. I don't know about you, but I can name several people off the top of my head that I know who have been raped or sexually assaulted. Two of my dearest friends were raped by family members. I feel like I am "lucky" that I have never been raped. LUCKY?! Do your guy friends share those statistics?

Women do not have the right or freedom from fear of sexual assault.

On that same topic. How many of your male friends have abusive wives? Again, it is not completely unheard of, but the statistics are still significantly stacked for women to be in abusive relationships. Not only that, but women are significantly more likely to be killed by their partner and/or spouse. I personally know a family who was affected by such a tragedy. I have another friend whose husband shot at her and was never jailed or penalized. He stalked her by straddling the line of the law just well enough that he could never be arrested. I also know women who suffer under mentally abusive husbands. Many don't even realize just how bad it is because they were taught to be congenial and accommodating. I have seen that accommodation completely shift a person's life into a nightmare. Also- while on the topic of uneven relationships, were you ever told to submit to your spouse? That your spouse should make all of the decisions? Have you ever been told that your role in life is to help your spouse? Not with the idea that you work together, but with the idea that your spouse's needs, wishes, and wants must come first in order for your family to function properly. The church we grew up in taught me that. I didn't listen, thank God.

Women do not have the right to be free from fear of domestic abuse or submission.

Has your physical appearance been the primary topic of conversation for anyone on a daily basis? As a child, a girl growing up cannot go one single day without a comment on her appearance. Hell, I even find myself compelled to tell little girls they look pretty, it's so ingrained in me. Even if it is a compliment, the focus is on how we made ourselves pleasant to look at. I'm not saying that compliments are bad, I'm saying that a lifetime of being told how my appearance affects someone does some damage to how I feel when I look in the mirror.

Women do not have the right to have their appearances be a non-issue.

Have you ever had the risk of having a baby suddenly take residence inside your body? This is fair. The task and risk and price of reproduction are shouldered primarily and predominantly by women. Men can actually choose to exit left and there would not be a single physical consequence, and very often not a financial or moral consequence either. I can't even list all of the ways women bear the burden, but I will list the ones that I struggled with, even with full consent and spousal support. When a woman gets pregnant: people feel compelled to touch them and comment on their bodies with no respect to whether or not they know the person. This is not welcomed by every woman. Healthcare for pregnancy is not guaranteed, especially if the ACA is repealed and replaced without the conditions that made women's health better protected. That starts to answer your second question, but Congress didn't need Trump to get started on that. I had/have access to birth control, which enabled me to have safe pregnancies and control the number of children that I had so that I was financially, mentally, and physically able to handle the load. I have a supportive husband who was willing to have a vasectomy so that I didn't have to remain on birth control until menopause. This has enabled me to get off of a hormonal medicine that affected my ability to fight off depression, made me gain weight, and lowered my sex drive. My life without the negative effects of birth control (or possibilities of negative effects) and without the worry of getting pregnant is a freedom that I wish on all my women counterparts all over the world who want it. When I had my first son, I took all the paid leave, sick leave, and some unpaid leave so that I didn't have to go back to work until three months after the birth. I had a successful vaginal birth with no major complications. My baby was healthy and my emotional health was average. Three months was barely enough time to recover and be ready. I worked for a church at the time, and my supervisor was put-off by my time off. My process of producing and nurturing a newborn human was inconvenient to a person who was not bleeding, leaking milk, sleeping in 1.5 hour stints, and not in control of the surge of hormones that rushed through my body as the natural part of prenatal and postpartum human pregnancy. My body was not in its regular state for nearly two years, from conception to weaning. I would not give that experience away, but I sure as hell don't think women get the support and care they need for their balance of the work they (voluntarily or not) play in the human reproductive cycle. 

Specifically: women do not have access to paid maternity leave in America. This is a third-world characteristic and atrocious. All American women do not have affordable access to birth control, pre-natal, and postpartum care. If you (out of your control) have a complicated pregnancy and are under-insured, you are financially fucked. Sorry for the profanity.

Let's move to a question that is slightly less intense. When you were growing up, did you have a shortage of male role models who were strong, in control, and respected? As a girl, most media portrayals of women were couched in terms of appearance, attractiveness or accessory to a male in a love/adventure/hero/fairy tale story. Strong women who were not attractive were displayed negatively: bitchy, or at best as "butch." Have you ever heard of the Bechdel test? Here it is, in order to "pass" the test, a movie or show has to have (1) at least two women in it, (2) who talk to each other (3) about something besides a man. Seems really silly easy, right? Start applying this test to tv shows and movies that you have watched and enjoyed. It's a little crazy how many don't pass. So the top 10 grossing movies when we were growing up- let's just narrow it to the 90s: 

Titanic (1997) - one main woman, focused on the man- fails the test.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) - two women, they never interact.

Jurassic Park - only one woman

Forrest Gump (1994) - two women, but they never interact

The Lion King (1994) (tie) two women (one a child), but they never interact

Independence Day (1996) - barely passes. One conversation occurs between two women.

The Sixth Sense (1999) - two female characters, never interact. 

Home Alone (1990) - debated, but not passed. Only conversation between two females is a woman and child about a head count of kids on the van, otherwise- no interaction between two women.

So only one of the top ten grossing movies of the 1990s passed the most ridiculously easy test, and by an approximately 30 second conversation. This is astounding to me. I think it should be to you as well. (I did this test for the 80s and 2000s- nearly identical results- the best pass was for an animated film about fish). The consequence of this under-protrayal of women in conversation about something other than men is more than I can write about here, but this is just the start of the conversation. Obviously the Bechdel test is not a test of the quality of the film, but it certainly says something about the quality of female roles in film-making.

Have you ever had to pay more money to exist? Reflecting back to the healthcare and family leave issues I mentioned before, there are also weird things like personal care items being more expensive and or taxed more for female items than male. It's been called the "pink tax" - and you can see it in stores where a few pink razors cost about the same as 5 blue ones (I'm not really simplifying- this is a thing). I stopped buying gendered products a while ago because it's fiscally irresponsible. It's a small thing- but one more small thing to put on the pile.

I started writing this nearly two weeks ago and it's sadly old news now. Old news because women aren't the only ones losing their rights or afraid for their future in this country.

But finally- what rights did Trump take away? The right to feel like the United States was on our side, or safe. Because when a man says this:
I did try and fuck her. She was married. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn't get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she's now got the big phony tits and everything. She's totally changed her look. I've gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful - I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything... Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.
it should be a game changer. It should be an automatic disqualifier. It should be over the line of acceptability. It should not be acceptable or justifiable. It should be a FULL STOP. But it wasn't. People decided that it was OK. It was something we could handle and accept if we could just have the other things we want.

That my friend, was the most frightening thing for me. I have time and again wondered how I had so much faith and hope in the American people. How was I so naive? That is why the women marched. The blinders of optimism fell off. They realized- it is THAT bad. It's THAT bad that we can live in a place where that statement is dismissible for someone running for the Presidency. That's when I realized that I had rose-colored glasses on when it came to women's rights. I was leaning too hard on natural evolution and progress. I forgot that power does not get relinquished willingly, and Trump showed me that the power was NOT equal or fair.

My friends who were sexually assaulted- they have had to start therapy again, or more frequently, or they've had trouble getting out of bed. The safety they had started to feel was ripped to shreds. They were re-traumatized. I fight for them, for my nieces, for the women who thought this was OK and would rather me not fight for them.

I thank you for asking, I wish I could write more, but I have to stop somewhere and I have to keep going forward.

I ask you to keep asking. Keep wondering. Just because you don't understand or experience something, does not mean it does not exist. I know you know that. I was confronted with my own privilege the other day when some folks encouraged people to wear a hijab in solidarity with their muslim friends. I was afraid to do it. That right there and then told me something.

In God's love, with all the grace and hope I can muster:

your female friend,

Sarah



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ground Zero: Be Nice!

I don't care who you are, where you came from, what you believe, how you feel about anything, or what your IQ or class or color or anything is. Here's the common denominator: we're human. Period. If your life matters- then so does every other human. Period. Let's start there. Let's not leave it.

Right now I need you to understand two things: 1) You are human. 2) You are capable of being awful.
(In all the "you's" I include myself.)

When you see some horrible person who did horrible things get arrested and you write in the comment section: "I hope they burn in hell!" or "they deserve to be tortured!" Then you're wrong, bad, and not helping. I'm not sorry. I mean it. I'm tired of it. If you want some horrible person to be ripped into shreds- then you are just as capable as they are to do horrible things and therefore you can't separate yourself from them as better. Done, full stop. So stop. You don't get to feel superior, you don't get to put yourself higher.

If you see someone suffering and decide that your comfort is more important, you are wrong, bad, and not helping. You do not get to use an ethics calculator to configure something where someone is less important than you are. What you have in your hand is not an ethics calculator but a selfish justification machine that is focused on you.

We all draw a line around ourselves and our family and say: first these guys. I get it. I do it, we all do it, that's how it is to be human. However, all of the major religions and moral mandates on earth right now basically ask humans to evolve and expand that line, or at the very least don't hurt people outside the line. Jesus told some dude to leave the burying of his father to someone else and follow him. Because they're all our fathers. Jesus also kept calling everyone sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters. That is one confusing family tree. Jesus is my prophet that helps me as I evolve, who is yours? Pick one. Even if it is a rainbow unicorn, as long as you've got the golden rule in there somewhere- I really don't care. It's a start and we'll work out the logistics later.

Here's the thing: boundaries matter. I'm not letting Creepy Joe sleep on the floor in my kids room. I get it. I'm also not asking Creepy Joe to sleep outside in the freezing rain. If go back to our common denominator: we're human - then my first and last priority is that Creepy Joe gets the same basic human rights as my kids. Creepy Joe should be able to survive. We can honestly just stop at that basic level for me to argue my point. I do not know why this is difficult.

If you want to beat people, burn them, torture them, leave them to their own demise, etc etc- then YOU ARE CAPABLE OF EVIL. SO let's stop feeling so damned special about ourselves, shall we?

It is not complicated, if you see a human who is hurting and say "Meh" then you are not always a nice person and fully arrived. ALL OF US HAVE DONE THIS. I have seen a homeless dude and let myself not worry about it. I have seen crying babies on the TV and changed the channel. It's overwhelming all the hurt and awful that is out there and knocking folks down left and right. It's overwhelming all the ways a person can make crappy choices and find themselves in a really bad place. It's overwhelming how sometimes you can just be born in the wrong fucking place and that means that poof- your life is misery.

What am I trying to say? That the ONLY thing we should be trying to do is be better. BE BETTER. Start somewhere! Don't call for someone to be tortured. Don't ask someone to shove it up their ass. BE A NICE HUMAN. When you see someone being a mean human- say NO. When you can actually do something to help- HELP. When you need a boundary, make sure that boundary doesn't kill someone or keep someone from being as human as you are. When you see someone else helping other people, at least get out of the way if you aren't going to join in. If you need time before you can see a human as a human- actually work on it by TALKING to them.

Just BE NICE PEOPLE!

Do you know what will change the world and make it a shiny happy place if we don't annihilate ourselves? Relationships. Broadening the circle. Seriously. I could sit outside and poop facts on my lawn all day and it won't make a single difference. Facts are ammunition, but the weapon is people. I can talk words all day until I am blue in the face but it won't make a difference. Words are magic, but the wizard is people. People are pains in the asses and fun and terrifying and the only way that we will have a CIVILization is to... wait for it... be civil with each other.  We cannot coexist if we ignore that others exist. It's that simple.

So let's get off our high or low horses and go meet people. No excuses. I'm an introvert and I hate crowds and I hate cooking. But I have invited people over for dinner because it matters. (If I've invited you to dinner, I don't hate cooking THAT much and a family isn't a crowd to me.)

It's important for you to find a safe place to learn and grow and be with people like you so that you have a space to be able to let all those muscles relax. It is also EQUALLY important that you go places where you don't feel safe or comfortable and people are not like you so that you can learn how to relax when it isn't easy.

I cannot emphasize this enough: the solution is RELATIONSHIPS! Because here is what I suspect will happen: when you talk and mingle and eat and sit next to people who are not like you, you will discover at least ONE thing: that person is a human. That discovery in your soul will shift you. You may not like it at first, but dammit you will maybe actually start to change your mind about something. I have experienced this first hand. And you know what? I thank GOD every day that I sat next down to that gay pagan guy. I thank GOD every day that I sat down next to that straight-laced Christian girl. I thank GOD every day I sat down next to that ex-convict. I thank GOD every day that I sat down next to that homeless guy. The list goes on.

In my time as a hospice chaplain I was given this insane invitation to walk into people's homes and sit with them while they were dying. DYING. I have NO idea why people would let a stranger into such a sacred and intimate time.... except that I have a hunch about it. People want to connect. They want to know that their time on earth meant something. They want to share themselves (good, bad, and ugly). They want to be seen as HUMAN. And since I was very adept at hanging out with dying people without treating them like they were some sort of scary thing, they wanted me around. I SAW them. And oh my goodness, they allowed me in. So I saw all sorts of humans. I saw abused wives, manipulative mothers, womanizing men, simple people, educated people, filth and pristine-ness. I saw people from different races, cultures, economic class, religions, and political beliefs. Guess what: they were all HUMAN. And they all deserved the most peaceful death we could foster. They all deserved to have someone sit with them. They all deserved to be SEEN. That was my greatest privilege. To SEE people. The paperwork and corporate meetings and everything else was a means to an end. The best part of my day was when I got to go and be in an uncomfortable situation and find out that it wasn't all that scary after all.

One patient I had was a supporter of our current president. He was a crazy old man from Britain who had amazing stories and strange habits. He told me about his childhood, which was completely enclosed in the framework of war and survival. As a 13 year old, he had a job looking out into the ocean for menacing bubbles that might be signs of a German U-boat. He'd point out the bubbles and then the military would send a storm of fire towards the U-boat or the unfortunate sea creature that made the bubbles. Is this story true? I have no idea, but he told it to me- so in his memory- it was real. You know what else happened? When this man was transitioning (a hospice lingo for that time before someone is actively dying)- he spoke to me about a certain composer and how no one made music like that. I found it on my phone, turned it up and we listened to a forty-five minute concert. This man's face was light! Radiance around him as the joy of hearing this music filled him. His hands moved around him as he encouraged the music on and felt the emotion of sound. His eyes were closed but streaming with tears. Pure joy. You know what? That man was not like me in so so many ways, but I held his hand as he cried tears of joy while we enjoyed the same music. I listened to his stories and understood why he would fear an enemy, as his whole life had been framed by fear of the enemy. (And remember that enemy was not so far from wiping out his country, and certainly tried.) Did I disagree with him? Of course! Was he human? Yes. Could I be in the same room with him? I couldn't wait, and I cried when he died.

Relationships. DO something about them. Make it a point to talk to someone not like you at least once a week. Go ride a bus or something. Go to a church and talk to a crochety old lady. Go to the homeless shelter and believe every word someone tells you, even if you think it is all lies- so that person can feel heard. Go to a hospital and ask to visit someone who has no family. Go to a school and read to a kid. Step outside of your bubble and make relationships. Go greet people at the local Mosque before their prayer service on Friday night. Go to a synagogue and enjoy a service. Go do yoga with some buddhists. If you can't get out- then start reading books by people not like you. Watch movies about people not like you. Find a pen pal - writing letters is super fun.

DO SOMETHING TO BE NICE.

Here's the thing: some people will be mean and rude and annoying or annoyed in response. Some people will be kind and amazing and wonderful. You will be surprised at how it will shake out. But the response is not why you're doing it. It is YOU we are working on. YOU need the evolution. If someone isn't super excited that YOU decided they were humans worth talking to today, that is OK. YOU needed to know they were humans worth talking to.

This is not the last thing you will need to do if we want world peace. But by golly it should be the first and consistent thing you do. Don't stoop below it. Don't justify being a jerk. Don't tell lies about people because you hate them. Don't ignore someone- say hello and at least talk about the weather- everyone can get behind a good weather report.

In summary: 1) We are all Human. 2) Be Nice. 

This is ground zero of "how to have civilization."

Start there. Build relationships and see what happens.