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.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Existential Hope


Jason and I had a conversation a little while ago that went something like this:

Me: Do you ever just look out at the world and think, wow, we're the WORST?
Jason: Ummm...
Me: I was watching a pelican today, he was diving into the ocean, getting just enough food for that meal. That was it. It was beautiful. Then I saw a boat, smelled the gas fumes as they idled and saw the four people on it, drinking beer, pouring some of it out into the ocean and casting nets for fish. For fun. That's when it hit me. We're the worst.

Our conversation actually took some very deep and meaningful turns, but my primary feeling at that moment was indeed the crappiness of humanity. I told Jason that we would destroy ourselves, or at least that the earth would cease to support us, and then after we were all dead and gone, the earth would remain and have produced beautiful wonderful new things. Despite us. Happily without us. I was in a real nice mood. We joked that Jason had an emotional range of let's say A-K. With "A" being "everything's awesome" and "K" being "everything's OK." I have the full range, A-Z: "Everything is Awesome" to "Bring on the Locusts and Plagues." In the middle somewhere is the quiet, calm bliss of existential "Everything is meaningless." I feel these extremes all the time. In that pelican/human scenario I literally went from "life is beautiful" to "lord of the flies."

I had a seminary friend who would say that sometimes she felt we humans needed to get in touch with our worminess a little better. As a recovering southern baptist, I felt I had had plenty of worms shoved into my face, thankyouverymuch. It took me half my adulthood to see myself as a valid non-wormy person. 

However, I am now leaning back into Emily's words. What she meant (and what I witnessed that ocean day) was that we need to get in touch with the reality of how awful we are capable of being. And own it. Not by hiding behind guilt and shame over moralistic slights. Not by creating a class of purity that only the best and brightest can join and then judge others from upon our pedestal. No. By taking our blinders off to seeing that we can and have and will do things horribly wrong. We can't ignore it and assume things will work out. I talked about this in my last blog. We have to then empower ourselves to make shit right. By listening to people that we've hurt (intentionally or not) and being transformed by it. By removing our participation from the systemic injustices, or at least trying to use our privilege for good.

But here's the thing, when I go to "Z" (Lord of the Flies/Plagues) in my mind, my consolation is to turn existentially negative. To just throw my hands up in the air and declare it all a big wash in the end. Who am I to try? In Ecclesiastes the author writes "everything is meaningless" or, in the Common English Bible translation: "perfectly pointless." This guy GETS me. This idea that it's the same old shit all the time, and what the hell do I think I'm capable of doing to alter this inevitable tide? It gives me a deep sense of satisfaction that Ecclesiastes exists in the biblical canon. That people read this and thought- yes- we need to remember this too. I'm going to quote you some of it because it is hauntingly beautiful. It reminds me that I am not the only one who has ever felt this way. 

Perfectly pointless,[b] says the Teacher, perfectly pointless.
    Everything is pointless.
What do people gain from all the hard work
    that they work so hard at under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
    but the earth remains as it always has.
The sun rises, the sun sets;
    it returns panting to the place where it dawns.
The wind blows to the south,
    goes around to the north;
    around and around blows the wind;
    the wind returns to its rounds again.
All streams flow to the sea,
    but the sea is never full;
    to the place where the rivers flow,
    there they continue to flow.
All words[c] are tiring;
    no one is able to speak.
    The eye isn’t satisfied with seeing,
    neither is the ear filled up by hearing.
Whatever has happened—that’s what will happen again;
    whatever has occurred—that’s what will occur again.
There’s nothing new under the sun. 10 People may say about something: “Look at this! It’s new!” But it was already around for ages before us. 11 There’s no remembrance of things in the past, nor of things to come in the future. Neither will there be any remembrance among those who come along in the future...

14 When I observed all that happens under the sun, I realized that everything is pointless, a chasing after wind...

... I saw that wisdom is more beneficial than folly, as light is more beneficial than darkness.

This is it. This is the thing that revolves around in my head. I try to make meaning out of things but find that I keep coming back to this: "Everything is pointless, a chasing after the wind." 

You might be thinking that I've been on a dark binge lately, and you are 100% correct. I need to see and feel the darkness get under my fingernails so I can get to this next part. I don't want to be blind, ignorant, silly, or foolish. I no longer can claim full ignorance to get the benefits of bliss. I've gone waist deep, so I will just go ahead and be baptized by these storm waters, choke on their salt and oil so I know just what it is I am fighting. If I even feel like fighting. I thought about sinking to the depths in despair and futility.

When I had my depressing conversation with Jason, I was throwing my hands in the air like the author of Ecclesiastes. Everything is meaningless! This evil has been here and will be here and will be here again. This struggle is not new and the sun is not surprised. Why do I even care? What is the point of the struggle if I should be locked in an eternal tug of war that has no point? 

Jason got really specific and logical with me (which actually helps). We broke it down to the smallest parts. We exist. We have a choice of how to live this life- whether it is meaningless or not. We still choose. How do I choose to live my life? I knew. In the instant that I knew it might be completely meaningless, I also knew that I had to fight for good. Even if it meant nothing. Because I choose goodness. I choose love. I choose hope. Hope might not always visit me, but I will fight for it just in case she shows up. I'd much rather serve hope than fear. I'd much rather serve love than hate. The author of Ecclesiastes said: "wisdom is more beneficial than folly, as light is more beneficial than darkness." He said this even after saying that everything is meaningless. I came to the same conclusion. 

So I will follow my heart and the advice of the wisdom poet. I will " eat, drink, and experience pleasure in... hard work." In doing good. I will enjoy it for the mere sake of it existing- not the lasting effects or products.

I will enjoy the sunset, because even though everything is meaningless- for some reason it is inexplicably beautiful. Why? I will enjoy friendship, because even though it is fleeting, it fills me with joy. Why? I will love my husband, because even though our relationship is not significant in the grand scheme of things, it brings me joy and depth. Why? I will love my children, because although parenting is the most difficult thing I've ever wanted to do, I would give my life for them. Why? I don't know why. I can't describe it. And the best things are the things I can't explain.

When I feel existential despair, it's hard to find my way out. It's hard not to hide under my bed covers and moan "it doesn't matter what I do anyway!" 

Here are the things that keep me going: I have a choice. I choose goodness. Whether it means anything or not- it is what I want to choose every single time.

The most powerful elixir to despair I have found: beauty. It is completely unnecessary and everywhere. It isn't scarce and yet has value. If I ask why we even exist, I must also ask why the sky is beautiful. No answers, but I can enjoy them. So I may as well.

So today, on a grey Thursday on the eve before the archetype of all that is wrong with humanity is sworn into office... I offer you this: everything just might be perfectly pointless. But we still have to choose what to do. I choose to do good. It is the side I want to be on. The side of joy, love, hope, and beauty. I don't care anymore that it might be meaningless because even that doesn't change my mind. There's your existential hope. Join me in pointlessly fighting for goodness. Why the hell not?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Breaking Reality

I read an article by Aleksandar Hemon (read it here) that has undone the last stitch from my tightly held hope of reality. Thanks to Hemon, that reality is lost and gone forever, only to be replaced with freedom of seeing and foreseeing. Reality for me was the good and stable indestructible America. Now I understand that America is just as vulnerable and unstable as any other nation. History checks my fantastical reality with a long list of examples.

Oh I knew intellectually that America could not be eternal, but my heart hoped it to be an evolving goodness. Hemon reminded me of the Kafka story of the man who wakes to his own reality being completely transformed into a hideous bug. No warning, no remedy, no control. If I remember correctly, that story does not end well. I had NEVER imagined that story from the lens of a person who wakes up one day to find their pre-conceived reality was in fact a lie, or more closely, a hopeful fantasy. Hope is not a bad thing (I will write on this later). But the inability to sense possible change and evil is a naiveness. I've grown up. At least a short jut upwards into the inevitable understanding that I and my home are not immune from disaster. This growing up is necessary for the days ahead. We can't assume that everything will be OK because our vision of reality has been that everything will be OK. That's delusional. It's time to put my boots on.

Why do I write with such dark tones and scary prophecies? Because all of a sudden I hear all of the voices before me. All of a sudden I have the blinders off and I can see the future and its infinite possibilities: good and bad. Who knows what will happen, but now I realize it is all possible. I never imagined our country would elect a person like this.

I remember when I was in high school and my teacher posed a question to our class. She asked us: "Will the world get better, or will it get worse?" I was a squeaky clean Christian girl in a predominantly agnostic or atheist group of students. Many of my peers showed hope and responded "Better." I, the sweet Jesus-loving girl, responded "worse." My teacher, knowing me fairly well, was surprised. I honestly don't know why I answered that way, but something within me felt that I had not seen the worst that humanity could offer. And perhaps it was only my eyes that would open to recognize the worse, that the worse has always been here. Ignoring the evil underbelly has been a comfort. That was my privilege, one I need to shed in order to move forward.

I often refer to my Grandfather's (Opa's) autobiography. It is a bit white-washed by his Americanization (it's a word?) and loss of memory (he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's when he wrote it). But the heart of the story is authentic and true, and it still teaches me. He was a German refugee fleeing the Nazis in a time when German Jews did not often make it through the tight web of red tape that hoped to prevent undesirable immigrants coming to America. By sheer luck and the astounding good will of a handful of people, he made it to the United States. The rest of his family did not succeed. 

In his autobiography, Opa recalls the evening his father came home late from work on the day that Hitler was elected Chancellor. His father worked as an editor for the newspaper, and made it a point to be aware and informed of everything going on around him. He was aware of the growing darkness and danger to the fragile German republic. He announced to the waiting family the reason for his lateness: the people voted, Hitler was elected. Opa's Jewish mother left the room to hide her tears and fear. Opa's last stitch of reality was released on that day. His hope for a good life in Germany was cracked. He didn't know what the new reality held, but he knew that Germany was no longer the same. As children do when faced with a break in the facade, he asked his father: "what does this mean?" His father's response: "It means another world war." 

How did he know?

When I sat at the breakfast table, shocked and numb the day after the election, my son asked me similar questions. "Who won?" "Trump." My son's immediate response was one that I could not have imagined, as he had never heard these words from me or my spouse. He said "Now we're all going to die!" I soothed him, told him of course not. Told him not to worry. We would be OK and just have to do good things. But my facade was cracked. "But what does this mean?" my son asked me.

I don't know.

After Hitler's reign of terror, which began with an elected position of limited power and ended in a fiery suicide after millions upon millions of people would die in his wake... the world was facing a new reality. One that could not ignore evil. One that could not assume the goodness of their neighbor. One that found itself awake, a cockroach, squirming and wondering how this could ever have happened. 

People tried as quickly as they could to recreate a new happy reality. Don't mention the holocaust. Don't mention internment camps home and abroad. Just move on. Forget.

Never forget, said those who had no choice.

The author of the article I mentioned, Hemon, talks about the person that lives inside of you that notices things. That person that sees military targets and bomb shelters. The person that has flashes of apocalyptic scenes flash in front of them as they imagine their home in a new reality. That person that has seen the disintegration of places like Syria, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur that were not household names until bothered with genocide. When the old reality unravels, the person's imagination is given permission to notice, to predict, to wonder unwonderable things. 

Will we all die? God I hope not, not like that. Is that a chance? It is and always has been. I cannot be blind anymore. There is no such thing as security. That other person inside of me is counting out the years, assuming that even if Trump were to make it as long as Hitler and have whatever reign he wanted, that Hitler reigned from 1933-1945, that's twelve years. My oldest is eight. In twelve years he will be twenty. Maybe only two years in military conscription. That's too long. My youngest is five. In twelve years he will be seventeen. Is he safe? My husband is too old, right? I am not healthy enough, right? We will not be forced to serve in whatever war a ridiculous man invites, right?

I pray that my other person is paranoid. She is being ridiculous. Please let me be wrong. Please let me be wrong. Please, please let me be wrong.

The person we have at the head of our nation is unstable, unable to take any correction or even the slightest jab. He selects financial bosom buddies to be his advisors on topics they do not know or care about. He is unstable. When a world leader wants to pick a bone, what will he do? My other person hears my great-grandfather's words: "It means another world war." What will he do? I cannot trust him. I do not give him the benefit of the doubt. I won't assume the best, because what has been offered is far from it. 

War is not confined to the years that it is fought. I interviewed the living ghosts of World War II- people who seventy years later have not shaken the terror. They have never been able to restitch reality. It stayed shattered at their feet. Anni, who lived in Berlin through the war, died two years ago with the shadows of Hitler, her friends, the souls her parents couldn't help, the life of light she never managed to find. My cousin Ruth struggles everyday with the whispers of her grandparents who wrung her mother's soul with each letter they sent her from Berlin telling her "you're not doing enough, we will die, you are not doing enough." They did die, but she did everything. It was not enough. My Opa had a "happy" ending by living out the war in the United States and reuniting with his family afterward, but his mother was a shell carved out by a concentration camp, his father lost years and half his body weight to the war, his sister aged many years in a short time and learned to be vigilant and ready for evil whenever it inevitably crept in. 

War does not end. War seeps down through the generations. The start and end dates are a lie. That verse in the bible is right, whether we want it to be or not: the sins are visited upon the generations after. Original sin is not necessary when you have a boulder of sin rolling down over every newborn back. Generation to generation. Crushing fear and darting eyes.

And yet here we are, choosing hate. Choosing a fighting peacock over a dove. Choosing a bully over a friend. God why?! Maybe the Americans were so sure of their reality, so sure of the iron-clad fabric of their lives. So sure that America cannot be rent, rent, or rendered undone. So sure that the boulder of evil would stay "over there." The boulder is on all our shoulders, and it will crush us all if we keep bowing to the god of power and false security. If we keep crouching over our lives as if goodness is a scarcity that we cannot spare. The boulder will keep rolling over our shoulders onto our children.

To stand is to be blasted head-first. To stand is to see it. To stand up is to give the next generation time before it rolls on. To stand is to slow the boulder down. Am I brave enough to stand? 

America, you are bowing. You are being crushed. Your reality is vanished. You cannot depend on goodness now, because you have elected a fraud. You cannot assume the boulder will pass you by, because you have willingly bowed to it and it will roll right onto you. 

Wake up. See the possibilities, and with fierce honesty to what could actually happen: STAND UP.