What I Know

It feels like a weird time, doesn't it? Or is just me?

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and too many people in our country have been killed since that day. The lack of movement on this pressing issue baffles me.

The people in Aleppo are being bombarded....still.  

The man we elected to be our president seems to lack compassion for the very people he will be leading and respect for the office he will be taking. 

With all that in the works, I add a friend who is ill and other friends who are caring for aging parents with complex health issues. 

It is freezing in these bluffs of mine. The wind is whipping the snow, which sparkles in a way that seems almost like a taunt. 

Today at my kitchen table, I am picturing a mom like me, huddled in some tiny room with her kids at her feet, trying frantically to text a goodbye to loved ones, so certain is she of her death. 

All of this makes me wonder why am I here in this warm home with a full fridge and enough blankets to share. What is my point? 

I work all of this out with friends or on the trail with my dog or in a private writing group or alone, staring at the computer. 

I am compelled to read stories, the stories of people who turn tragedy into a life that shines not with success but with vitality. I turn to poetry because I am not the first human to turn such issues over and over. How do I live in troubled times and the problems loom large, but I am only one?

When my husband rolls out of bed and hits the ground running, he knows how many people he will care for. Twenty or more people will come through his door for an office visit in various increments of time ranging from fifteen to sixty minutes. He will say through word and gesture, "I am here to help you." That, to me, seems so perfect. He has a record of people he has helped- a tangible list and a paper trail to prove it.

My life looks nothing like that.

I wake up, the pets gather, I drink my coffee and read. I think about what I'm reading and then see if my charges are up. We do the family breakfast dance and scuttle for this and that and after a flurry they are gone. I wrestle with my pages, I make appointments and organize groups of people to do this (practice compassionate listening) or that (speak up about women's rights) and tidy and manage a family life.  

I come back to write and look at my charges who want to eat (again!) and I am grateful I can feed them. I do not have to text my loved ones good-bye. I can heat up the cast iron skillet until it is perfectly warm and place slices of bread buttered just so.The sizzle and pop as the butter hits the pan is a comfort and this is what moves me to tears. The normal of  my life is not in direct proportion to the normal of our world. I am the odd one out carrying on as is.

I care, I try, I seek, I look, I offer, I hold, I look, I resist, I attend, I retreat, I listen, I speak, I move, I rest, I wait.

Does anyone really know what to do in such dark days like these? I carry on believing I cannot be the only one.  

And so I settle on the grilled cheese and a steaming mug of tomato soup. The warmth is something to sink into. It is my offering and I already know the scene so well that I play it in my mind before it happens. 

"Hey sweetie, here's your dinner."

My son will barely look up from his book. He will mutter a thanks and take a huge bite off the corner of the sandwich. He will then blow too harshly across the top of the mug and soup will spatter onto his page. He will wipe it so it smears and then shrug. He will dip the eaten corner into the soup and then wait for it to cool as he dives back into his book. 

I like that I know this, and for now, it is the only thing I know. 

"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

These words by Dr. Maya Angelou have been rattling around in my head all week.

This was the conundrum we faced in this election between two woefully imperfect candidates. One has too many detriments to list but include misogyny, racism, and blatant narcissistic attributes. The other whose emails and complicated history and lackluster campaign failed to incite enough excitement within her own party to bring people out to vote against a vile and bigoted man.

She lost, and I am wondering what the rest of us will lose as well.

I have tried to wade carefully through the muck of people’s complicated hearts through conversation and social media.

I have learned, among other things, that I am an elite liberal, a whiny baby, a sore loser, and a libtard
(liberal retard). I have learned this has been God’s will. Trump is some sort of prophet for whom we are to “Praise Jesus!”.

It has been enlightening on many levels.

I have learned that some people did not understand that they cannot cherry pick qualities in their candidates. That people are reacting to the whole package we will be getting rather than the issues they voted for seems genuinely surprising to them.

I have learned that my son sees this future president as scary, but he's got a plan to deal with him. “I guess we will need to babysit this guy, huh?”

I have learned hatred and it’s evil cousins are alive and well. The day after the election a woman was waiting in a gas station for her oil to be changed. A man she knew blasted through the entrance to the counter to exclaim, “We got rid of that bitch!”  A few states further south, a white friend’s black daughter returned to her dorm room to find “Make America White Again” signs plastered to her door.

Because my kids are watching and listening intently, I have not been wailing out loud. Instead, I let my tears fall silently in the middle of the night as I let my mind wander a little too far down a dark path. Should we build a bunker? Will there be a nuclear war? Where can I hide the little savings we do have from the stock market? Will Mr. Trump clue me in on all those loopholes he managed? Not likely since I am not in that tax bracket but, wait!  If you don’t pay taxes are you in a bracket? As I contemplate my need for a drink of water, I begin to ponder our water. And the air and clean energy. Will Minnesota ever have snow again? I try to recall his environmental policies and my heart sinks. There are none.

But when I wake up I go to my computer because no matter what, my curiosity drives
me. It is the one constant written into the DNA of who I am. On I go to social media and the news. I don’t limit myself. I don’t hide or block or unfriend. I want to know what all the people are thinking. I want to see who people are showing themselves to be..

Nothing surprises me.

We are as big and as messy and as complicated as we have ever been.There is so much gray area in each of us, but many do not see their gray. I keep this in mind as name calling ensues. I stand firm in my desire to ask questions. I redirect, ferret, and open my heart. I tell my story. I reach out. I engage because I want to understand. I say, “ I don’t believe Republicans are racist. I don’t believe you condone hate speech.” I get blasted. I retreat, and begin again. If I am a libtard so be it, but who and what are you? What do you believe in? Why? Tell me.

It is clear the fear we feel for our lives and country is real on each side. A paycheck and health insurance make a single woman desperate and willing to cast her vote for a person she believes she sees fully. Single issue voters will never turn away from their party. The constitution, pro-life, and guns are their passion, their hard line. Curiosity is my fuel. I learn this is not the norm. No one asks me a single question.

One other irrefutable fact is that hate and racism are alive. I see it and I feel it from the swastika graffiti and loosening tongues and hate crimes and marches and the protests born out of fear that some believe is a total overreaction. I don’t agree at all with any act of violence though I can try to understand the emotions that drive it.  My guess is people who are confused and disappointed in what they are seeing have never been in an “Other” category. Maybe their way of life or who they are has never been maligned. Sexual assault victims have been living with PTSD for the entirety of the campaign. Other than a select group of white women and men, millions of people fear being rejected and/or bullied by the man who will lead us because of what he has already shown himself to be. I k we have learned from experience that if you have been bullied or assaulted you either retreat and shut down or lash out. Some are lashing out.

Were the outcome to have been what so many had expected, I do not believe I was in for a picnic. There would be calls for impeachment, road blocks to progress at every turn, and the background noise of "kill that bitch" would ring constantly in my ears.But those whose fear has been growing been throughout this campaign would feel, at least marginally, that perhaps our country had chosen to stand up against The Bully.

This was not to be.

On January 21st the first African American president will turn over the reigns to a former reality tv show star and man proudly endorsed by the KKK.

Despite all of this, I want President-Elect Trump to succeed. I have nothing to gain if he doesn’t.

I know one man alone cannot bring our country to ruin. I will never be stupid enough to believe such power is absolute in this great land. And yet I have also been taught to never underestimate the power of one voice. If this is the side I land on, the one most powerful one must be mine.

I will call out bigotry and hate, a hard line none of us can cross. It is the root of all we see unfolding before us. If we can’t agree on that, the problems we face are much bigger than name calling.

Whether Mr. Trump will lead us to unity with grace and compassion remains to be seen. Perhaps the better question is why wait?

Let us lead ourselves..

I will do my part.

I cannot wait to see it.

What's That Word?

There were too many moment I didn't want to recount from last night's debate and so I was staring at the sky on the drive to an early morning dental appointment. The sky grounds me and fills me with joy, something I am struggling at holding onto in this election cycle. My concentration floated upwards into what felt like a very hopeful October blue sky. My son was slumped slightly to the right, over his backpack, looking exactly the way a Monday feels. NPR was humming in the background and it seemed we were both a little a little lost until he bolted up. 

"Mom," he asked, "what's the p-word?"


I found my bearings through Kerri Miller's voice. She was listing the language used by one of our presidential candidates and because she said "p-word" and nothing more, he was left needing some clarification.

I listened for a bit and then offered, "Well, it's a derogatory word for a women't private parts."

Lame, right?

I know! In my defense, I was only one cup of coffee in and not in the parenting zone. After 13 years, you'd think I'd learned that I never really get to be out of the zone BUT. this is all to say that I let my guard down. 

Oh Mondays, you can be so cruel.

He looked at me with great expectation and then said, "There's a p- word? Are there others? Like a b-word, or a c- word? And a presidential candidate said them? Trump? Why would he do that? What are they?"

"Yes, there is a b-word and a c-word. Maybe you've heard them."

Suddenly it's the fall of '88 and I am sitting in my first women't studies class in Mankato, MN going through the exercise of filling up the chalkboard (yes, it was LONG ago) with every derogatory word that references a woman. We fill up the the board and start on a second board. Then we do the same for men. It is a single column and we are working hard. It took us twice as long to get that single column as it it did to fire off the seven columns about women. Having lived with sheltered white bread degradation, I had so much to learn from these women with diverse backgrounds and I broadened my knowledge in more ways than one. 

But back to my son. He's waiting. Will I say the words out loud? I know how much power these words have, especially when shrouded in mystery. But to use them in front of my newly crowned hormonal teenage boy? Ugh.

Instead I say, "Well, yes, Trump was caught on tape saying the p-word and I am not sure he said the c-word but he said some pretty lewd things all suggesting he doesn't think highly of women. I am sure you will hear these words somewhere. They shame and degrade women and I hope you just opt out of adding them to your vocabulary. They are vile and not meant for the kind of boy you are and the man you will be. You are much better than this."

He turns this over, reaching for comparisons. "So....bad like the n-word is to black people?" 

"Yes," I say, "Bad and degrading like that."

I am not sure this is a great comparison. It's not even 8:00 a.m. on a Monday morning  and we are on the way to the dentist! Can this day be worse already? I have one month to go....how in the heck am I going to do this?

I am reminded of the kinds of conversations black moms must have with their sons just to keep them alive. This is my work. It is my civic duty in creating a safe world for the men and women I live with, This talk and my willingness to get into it is my offering.

I look at my son and I see his curiosity. Words, especially language we are not supposed to use, are intriguing. And the words he is wondering about are damaging and lewd and not used by the men in my world and he most certainly is one of my men. He will go out into this world, a product of all I have tried to teach him.

And so I dig a bit deeper and say the very things I don't want to say and he listens. This will not be our last talk because how do you pack in how the world came to be through these words in seven minutes? How do I share that what I know about him and these words do not match in the space of a radio commercial?

I don't.

Instead I offer crumbs here and there, take the openings when they appear, and pause every chance I get. The blue sky above me offers just what I need, grounding and hope to begin again.