Sunday, May 31, 2020

OUR CHOICE




Over the last few days, beyond the anger and sadness I feel at the death of George Floyd and other injustices these past few years, I also feel something else – something I can’t quite narrow down to one emotion. Watching the video brings up a plethora of emotions and memories for me because the last words Mr. Floyd spoke, while a police officer’s weight was on his neck, were the same last words my husband uttered on the floor of our hallway in 2016 – “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe."

Though the circumstances were vastly different – the EMT’s were trying to save my husband’s life, however ineffectively - the intent of the four Minneapolis police officers is unclear and questionable. After I heard my husband’s last pleas, and when no means of giving him oxygen were produced, though one EMT asked where the oxygen was, I yelled for someone to give him mouth to mouth. I will never forget the words of a female EMT standing at the head of the gurney, doing nothing. She turned to me, and in a most indifferent tone said, “If he can talk, he can breathe,” as if I had offended her and should mind my own business. Within minutes, they wheeled out his silent body – no oxygen mask, no bag, no tube – nothing to help him breathe.

So, I know what it feels like to hear those last words, my husband's last utterances for help, in a life-threatening situation, and not be able to do a damn thing. I also know what it is to feel suspicious that the people in charge are not following professional protocol and perhaps putting your loved one in harms way. Yes, he could talk, until his air ran out!

What I DON’T know is how it feels to have an ever-present history of abuse by people in
charge – and rarely any justice when threatened or injured by the violence of authorities. I also don’t know what it would do to my heart and soul to grow up knowing there was a part of my county – my own town – who did not know me but hated me anyway. Indeed, whole organizations with chapters in nearly every state, filled with white men who formed these organizations to keep me down or do me harm. I would not know who they are. I would not know if or when they would harm me or for what? I would need to be on-guard and in defensive mode constantly in every socio-economic stratum.

And I don’t know what a black child feels when he or she learns that the short history of their race in America – the lives of their grandparents, great- and great-great grandparents- began with kidnapping from another country, and continued with brutality, being sold into slavery, beaten, lynched, drug behind trucks, raped, impregnated, and forced to do hard labor so white slave owners could live comfortably and rich. To know, that in a large sense, your ancestors built much of this country yet reaped little of its benefits.

Let’s imagine if just a few of these things were done to one individual – say a white child – we would consider their ordeal beyond traumatizing. Now, multiply that by millions down through just three or four generations – and here we are. It has to continue to have some traumatic generational effect on the entire culture.

I was born into a racist home and grew up during the riots, unrest, and upheavals of 1960’s and 70’s. Though I loved my father, and though he taught me many wonderful things, his bigotry was an ugly side of him. I know some of those ugly seeds took root in me, as I watched him spit and curse at the television whenever a black person was featured. He loved George Wallace and hated Martin Luther King Jr. So, I disliked MLK, also, believing the foul things my father said about him, until I read his writings. As an Air Force officer, my father despised policies like Affirmative Action and held a particular bitterness for any blacks in high positions anywhere. He told “nigger jokes” with his country club golfing buddies. He used to call black waiters, Reg, instead of their names,  because nigger spelled backwards was reggin. It was his subtle, racist way of putting them in their place and showing off around his comrades.
  
So, I know racism. I know its ugliness and subtly. I know the superior attitude that white men can carry around, thinking African Americans are stupid and inferior in every way, except as players to be bet on in sports. Over the years, I have had to search my own heart and deal with my shame in participating in some of that bigotry. And I have SO much further to grow. This country has so much further to grow, as well. I don’t know exactly what the answer is. Then again, maybe the answer is simply: when someone is pleading that they can’t breathe, we need to listen, and do something to ease their suffering.
 
What sometimes helps me understand the essence of a cultural problem is to again bring it down to an individual or two. My husband and I used to facilitate a Marriage Maintenance group for young couples at a church. The first thing we talked about, born out of our own struggles, was building a foundation of respect. And part of respecting means listening, instead of reacting. Nothing can be as infuriating or make you feel so alone than to remain unheard or misunderstood when you share a hurt or complaint. So, we encouraged them to watch for their own defense mechanisms…the “Yeah, but… or the “Yeah, well you…” or the point/counter-point and unwillingness to be empathetic to their partner’s pain. It can make you feel either defeated, angry, or ready to call a lawyer.

During these last three and a half years, as brutality and bigotry seems to have reared its ugly head more boldly, it appears that African Americans are damned if they do (peacefully protest) and damned if they don’t (although most violence has not been instigated by protestors). The vitriol that came out after Colin Kaepernick took a knee in prayerful protest of this very type of violence was unsettling to watch. Instead of listening, the narrative was immediately changed. It went from his self-proclaimed protest of police violence against blacks, to others proclaiming that he was spitting on the flag (America) and into the faces of our active military and veterans. The two had NOTHING to do with one another, but that new, changed narrative was something white folks could get justifiably indignant about. I wonder how these same people would have responded had it been a Native American football player taking a knee in protest of how our country has and does treat them. Would they have been so harsh? Could they have, in good conscience, changed the narrative? Or what if a conservative, pro-life player took a knee to protest that a pro-choice policy goes against the kind of America they want. Would taking a knee during the National Anthem still have been wrong? And would progressives have changed the narrative? If so, that, too, is a problem.

At the beginning of the year, a slogan, passed around and embraced by some, was “2020 Equals Perfect Vision.” Maybe that was our first Divine Clue…to watch and pay attention. Maybe the second Clue, as we DID watch loved ones and strangers on ventilators struggle to breathe and George Floyd pleading to be let go so he could take another breath…is to Listen. If we don’t, we will continue to be a nation divided, divorced from one another and always harboring hate, suspicion, and anger. This time it needs to be our humble choice, white brothers and sisters. Our choice.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

10 THINGS I MISS ABOUT CRAIG...




 1.    Foremost, I miss Craig’s unconditional love for me, which was both romantic and practical. I knew in my heart, because of his actions and his words, that he wanted only my highest good. We told each other we were loved every day. 

2.     I miss the security he brought to my life. I always felt safe with him. If we were apart I knew that if something went wrong, if I couldn’t, he would come take care of it…and never begrudgingly. I’m not ashamed to say that, at times, he was my knight in shining armor.
 

3.  I miss his strength, both emotionally and physically. He was a rock…of good character, spiritual wisdom, faithfulness, and courage. Physically, Craig did not have a ripped body, but he was all muscle (well, not all :), and would lift a car off you if pinned. Many times, he would carry or lift something that seemed impossible…like the lawn mower out of a wet ditch with me still on it! And those powerful hands…wrapping around mine every time we walked together. And most of you can testify about his bear hugs…or handshakes!


 4.    I miss our true companionship (a phrase from a Marc Cohn song that we adopted as our own). We could and would talk for hours with one another about anything and everything. We loved each other’s intellect, and the transparency and vulnerability we cultivated in our marriage.

5.     I miss his examples of loyalty and generosity towards friends, family, work and co-workers, and any organization he was part of. He was truly a faithful man.


6.       I miss the nicknames (new ones practically every week), the notes we left each other, the film quotes, the inside jokes, the silliness that would overtake us at times, the pillow talk, and the “making fun of all the weird people.” (an inside joke)

7.       I miss his kisses – small pecks on the cheek and passionate lip-locks, as he would call them. He was a really good kisser!

 
8.       I miss his “can do” attitude. I now realize he was the fuel behind almost every spark of inspiration either of us had. I will need to learn to be my own incendiary device going forward.

9.       I miss his encouragement. Craig’s full-time job early on was to remind me I was not as deficient as I thought I was. He often verbalized how grateful he was for my gifts and talents…and in the end I began to believe him.


10.   I miss how his mind worked. He taught me new ways to look at things. He was strategic – in everything from buying a refrigerator to playing a board game to voting in a primary election. It’s why he loved baseball I came to understand. He solved problems. He negotiated deals. He built bridges…and never burned a one.


WHAT DO YOU MISS ABOUT HIM?

 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

SYCAMORE, NO MORE

As I sit here half asleep, half awake, a fog is descending. Or rising, I’m not sure which. Or maybe it is just the rays of light exposing what was already there; last night’s settled dew seeping out from the leaves and petals and feathers of sleeping birds. 


This morning before dawn, the barren, leftover bulk of a once-magnificent sycamore fell, crashing so hard it woke me from sound dreaming.

While the faint light held, I stood before the stripped-down trunk, marveling in my slippers at a great many things. How was it still mostly intact? See how it landed neatly in a clearing beside a 50-foot hemlock and a taller tulip poplar, taking very little with it. What sounds had it made right before the full uprooting and collapse? Had there been the slightest breeze, or the extra weight of a woodpecker that caused it to surrender to the pull of the earth?

I thought about how many squirrel nests it housed high in its branches year after year. And I thought about the poem, When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou, shared by a friend just a few feet from this fallen sycamore during my husband’s second Remembrance Gathering. That tree, like my husband, was in its prime twenty-seven years ago when we bought our home. Over the last ten years it kept shedding its glory one limb and one branch at a time. Then with no warning, like that other horrible, groggy morning in August, the tree fell; and a great soul also died.

This landscape, this yard, will always be changing and adapting. What is in the shade will eventually be in the light. What was planted in the sun will someday flounder in its absence. Lives, like the kingdoms they inhabit, come and go, remembered for two or three generations, then a name on a page of history. But still, there must be a great journey from this ever-shifting world, where splinters from falling branches can pierce our hearts; someplace where it is cool and perfect under the blazing sun.