I Marched, I March, I Will March*

31 Jan

Just over two weeks ago, I got up early on a Saturday to go to a march. I had a spring in my step. It wasn’t really remarkable, but I distinctly remember feeling that extra oomph because I hadn’t felt it in a while. I hummed “Bread and Roses” to myself while as I donned my Ukrainian necklace and pulled my braids up into a crown, a nod to all of my sneaky, subversive pals in Ukraine. I picked up the sign I’d made in honor of my favorite suffragettes, I got coffee, and I contacted the bevy of women and men I planned to meet at the capitol. I was chipper, dammit. It was a life affirming morning. I chanted, I smiled, I waved, I laughed, I prayed, and I cried a little. It felt good. Yes, there was certainly a subtle tension in the air. There was anger. But I never saw any meanness. I saw men and women showing up, wanting to be sure their voices were heard. Sending a giant visual reminder that what is important to us counts, too. That although our candidate(s) didn’t win, those that did represent us, too.

I posted photos from the OKC march to my social media accounts for a number of reasons: it’s 2017 and I’ve begrudgingly admitted that I’m on the upper edge of millennialism, I fantasize about my amateur cell phone photography skills, I’m just as slightly narcissistic as the next person, etc. Maybe I’ve created too much of a bubble around my posts, or perhaps even my most conservative family and friends have just stopped commenting on things because I’ve got a veritable army of like minded friends who will try to shout them down. The problem with this, I’m still realizing, is that now, no one talks. In the left-right spectrum, we all tend to shove our heads in the sand, we shout into the echo chamber only and can’t hear beyond the ringing. It is exhausting, and leads to nothing. I am not a perfect person. In fact, I’m a pretty judgmental asshole. But, I try to start with kindness, and I try to remember that for all my stories, there are folks out there with ones that I’ve yet to hear. So, in belated response to a loved one who privately asked me a genuine question about why I made my way to the capitol a few weeks ago, here’s a public response to why I marched, march, and will march in three parts. For anyone reading this that wants to talk more about whatever … I’d be happy to come to the table.

Part One: Who Do I Think I Am?

I love this country. It is not perfect, but it is what we make it. I remember feeling a sort of shame not long after I started working at FDA. I studied political science in college and I had no idea all that went into a bureaucracy and why it was and is important that career public servants go to work each day. I understood that Congress could direct our federal agencies to make certain things so that, in terms of policy, I disagreed with. I did not understand that Congress could actually direct our federal agencies to do things that don’t make sense because they didn’t understand the system they themselves created. If we want a government that works for the people, we need people to elect representatives that understand how government works. Or, should work.

Every now and again, I wonder about what kind of person I would have been throughout history. Barring the difficulty I would’ve had medically being alive, sometimes I worry that I wouldn’t be proud to know what historical me did or did not do. When I was younger, I somehow managed to believe that all the civil rights problems in this country had been fixed.  I was sad that I would never have the opportunity to know what it was like to live in a time in which everyday citizens became ordinary heroes. Adult me has met a lot more people than teen me, and while I still don’t know much, I’ve met people and I’ve learned histories. Adult me cringes thinking about that now.

One of my best friends made me an art. It says, “The heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep loving. Keep fighting.” I like to think of myself as a fairly progressive person who more often than not falls into the ‘democrat’ camp. I do not lionize my party’s candidates. They are not saviors. But for the most part, they campaign on platforms that I support, that seek to move us forward towards equity, even if what we usually get is “four more years of things not gettin’ worse.” My candidates lost this past November. So, in the simplest of terms, I march because my party lost and I want to be a citizen of this country that does more than wonder about what kind of person she would have been, could have been. Who shows up to be a face in a crowd of people letting our elected officials of all parties know that we expect better, more.

Part Two: The Weather

In 2003, Renee Zellweger brought an exceptional fictional character named Ruby Thewes to life. Her story takes place during the American Civil War. At one point, her character exasperatedly says the following:

“Every piece of this is man’s bullshit. They call this war a cloud over the land, but they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say, “Shit, it’s raining!””

I am of the opinion that politics is a lot of bamboozling. A lot of bamboozling that we’ve done to ourselves. It’s often about control and it’s often about money, both of which are used to retain power. I believe that good people get into governance because they believe in service, that they recognize the sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made are worth more than money and power and control. But it’s easy to get caught up in the process of staying in power in order to do good, especially when regular people phone in their citizenship and the majority of a politician’s interactions are with entities that want control and have a lot of money to make sure they can keep it. And it’s easy for those people to not only tell us who is responsible for our plight, but also to care who is responsible for our plight so much that our main concern shifts from the actual issue to who can be blamed for it. And instead of talking to people we disagree with, our goal is to help them understand how wrong they are. I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about gaslighting these days. It is not a new phenomenon, but we still get lost in it.

I went to a training once (for my federal job, holler!) that delved into the ‘5 Whys’ theory, which basically states that if you ask ‘why’ enough times, you’ll eventually get to the actual cause of an issue or problem. You ask why, not who. Eventually, you get to the root, and you actually get to talk about the policies that impact whatever it is you care about: abortion rates, job security, terrorism. So, if you want to talk to me about blame or shame for some systemic issue you think this country is facing, be ready for a long conversation. There are a lot of whys, and America does not exist in a vacuum. We have to understand and care about more than these United States, and we have to consider the broader questions and impacts when we make declarations about solutions and problems. We’ll get it wrong every time if we don’t. I march because I hold my representatives to the same standard.

Part Three: What is Important to Me

I have a few favorite quotes. Things that I’ve read that have been burned into my memory. I use them as a guide for living. I’m preaching to the Hamiltonian choir on this one, but, as you know, living is harder. So, it’s important for me to live a life in which I try, in which I attempt to leave small ripples of kindness behind.

One, a JD Salinger quote from Franny and Zooey:

“[…] don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is? … Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.”

Another, from Albert Camus’ The Plague:

“…there’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is – common decency.”

At the end of the day, I know there is evil in the world. I am young-ish, and I certainly enjoy a rose-colored filter, but I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the horror it leaves in its wake. I know that for every person out there who thinks like me, or could at least understand and respect my way of thinking, there is more than likely another somebody out there who understands I exist and is banking on my willingness to talk, to compromise, to seek peace first always to stall the Monicas of the world while they calculate and destroy for power or money or control or for no reason other than the fact that they can. I know that while everyone can come to the table, not everyone wants to. So, I march. More than anything else, I march because it gives me that unremarkable amount of life affirming oomph I need to stay wise to the assholes of the world (and to hopefully wear the motherfuckers out.)


*March, in any tense, can be interchanged with call, write, vote, volunteer. You get the idea.

The Lady Errant (A Variant)

20 May

Yesterday truly was a dismal day in the Oklahoma news cycle. While it hasn’t been unusual since I left almost five years ago to see headlines that cause me to cringe and rage before trying to tell my friends and colleagues here that what we see on the news isn’t an accurate representation of the great people I know in OK, they rarely present themselves with the speed and alacrity they did yesterday. It was a shocking, full-frontal assault.

This all comes to me after months of contemplating (and finally deciding affirmatively on) a move back to Oklahoma. I was accepted into a nursing program set to begin in January 2017, I interviewed for and accepted a job offer with a scheduled start date in early July – just under two months from now. And I’ve cautiously been socializing the news with folks without specific references to timing. A non-committal commitment,  as it were, while I slowly tried to fend off the anxiety and worry I feel as I read about the state of healthcare and education in this place that I can’t quite write-off. And yesterday, amidst jokes about Oklahoma City being a hellmouth, I really did contemplate washing my hands of all of it. I have a very stable and rewarding job. I have a wonderful social circle. Maybe this was all a sign that if I come back home it’ll be nothing more than heartbreak.

Then, in between hellmouth jokes, my friend told me very directly that Oklahoma needs my vote. It triggered a memory I had of viewing this clip of Lauren Zuniga just before I left OK for DC: https://youtu.be/WcsuyMWmRRU. I felt guilty after watching that five years ago, and viewing it again just reminded me that this is not a new challenge being faced by progressives in Oklahoma. And bless Lin-Manuel Miranda* for the lyrical genius that is Alexander Hamilton singing, “This is not a moment, it’s the movement”, and bless Alice Paul for referring to her suffrage work as part of the mosaic of “the movement.” It’s never going to be what I know it can be if the only place I ever get to is talking about what a shame it is (editorial note: this is more or less why I’ll never Bern**.)

All this is to say that even if I believed in signs, I’ll be ignoring the ones I received yesterday. It’s time I walked my talk. It’s time to try to engage my community in a real way. Oklahoma, I’m comin’ for ya.

*If you need motivation (general life or civic) listen to Hamilton immediately.

**Additional editorial note: please do not use this as an opportunity for Bern conversion.

(A Belated) Festivus for the Rest of Us

20 Jan

On Friday, at roughly two o’clock in the morning, I came to the realization that I hate the smell of insulin. It smells synthetic, like a laboratory creation. It is a reminder that my body has failed me. When I catch a whiff of insulin, it is a smell that I cannot escape. Perhaps that’s because when I smell it, I know something is wrong, and somehow that scent is required to linger until I’ve fixed the issue. Whatever the case, I feel it is important to note that on the eve of the seventeenth anniversary of my diagnosis with type one diabetes, I had a visceral reaction to the smell of the medicine I’d be dead without. And I hated it.

This year with type one has been unusually difficult for me. I’ve started thinking of myself as the parent of an errant teenager who knows, despite my most fervent desire and efforts, that my kid will never EFFING MOVE OUT OF THE HOUSE. So, as one does on the Internet, I’m going to write some vitriolic things fueled by the rage that comes with the knowledge that life isn’t fair and hope that it makes me feel a little bit better.

Type one is never easy and it never will be, no matter how many advances are made in finding a functional cure. That is something you don’t learn on day one. You don’t understand that this disease is nothing if not a constant testing of limits, a kind of Russian roulette with your body to see just how far you can push it, just how much you can control it after it tried to quit on you. And it is scary. There is no definitive number that equates a seizure from a low or acidosis from a high. There is no manual for figuring out how a high or a low impacts your character, your mood, or your ability to go to work each day and do a job without screwing it up. There is no way to teach someone how to be self-aware enough to realize that they aren’t acting like they would NORMALLY be acting… and then correct their behaviors so that they seem like their normal self. I had to answer a question on an online dating site once that more or less asked, “Are you competitive?” I didn’t realize it then, but my answer has to be an emphatic (pardon me) FUCK YES. I am in constant competition with a disease. And every day, I am required to refuse to lose. And it is exhausting. So, here is an airing of grievances. Thanks, Internet, for the indulgence.

  1. I changed up my pumping regimen this year. After three or so months, I started developing a rash where my pump sites were located. At first I thought I could fix it with alcohol prep, but it didn’t matter how clean the surface was, I’d scratch until I bled. I was burning through infusion sets (the device I use to deliver my insulin), which caused myriad issues when I’d request refills too soon. (More on this in a later grievance.) My endocrinologist recommended I use a cortisone bandaid, then insert the infusion set through the bandaid. This seemed outrageous to me (and I love my endocrinologist). I called the supplier to attempt to switch back to the old adhesive (cloth, not the clear plastic that was giving me issues) and they “didn’t carry” that particular infusion set. This was happening for months. I had welts all over my stomach, lower abdomen, and hips. And I was miserable. It took two rounds of resupply before I finally had a come to Jesus talk with a sales representative who confirmed I could use the infusion sets I had used with my previous pump.
  2. I have to call three different companies to refill my medical supplies. One for insulin, one for pump supplies, one for continuous glucose monitor (CGM) supplies. Most conversations end with me feeling like they’re doing me a favor so that I can live, rather than them providing a service to someone who is paying a lot of money for things, despite having what I consider decent insurance coverage.
  3. I’m not yet thirty and I’m having extensive conversations with my friends in the medical profession (who also have type one) about whether or not I should be on statins and ace inhibitors. The verdict is yes, I should be.
  4. Trying to date while wearing tubing and a machine and another machine that noticeably protrudes from your tum tum. It isn’t quirky or cute awkward. It straight up freaks dudes out.
  5. The fact that even after Banbar[1], FDA has to put out publications like this. The fact that “Dr. Mell White” has paid to have her horrible “diabetes destroyer” that “reduces insulien resistance” promoted in my Twitter feed (see photo below). The fact that people believe that you can “cure” type 2. The fact that people don’t understand that there is a difference between type 1 and type 2. The fact that it bothers me that people don’t understand there is a difference between type 1 and type 2.
  6. The fact that the kink featured in the photo below still happens sometimes, and I stay up until four in the morning to make sure my blood sugar returns to its proper place (and still make it to work in time for an 8:00 meeting).kink
  7. I get even angrier about all of the above when I think about the fact that I have resources to deal with these things. I’m not poor. I have friends who can refer me to physicians and talk to me about courses of treatment. I have decent health coverage that affords me fancy new technologies like CGM. I speak English, I go to see specialists. I know how to use that tone of voice that indicates I should not be fucked with. And it’s still really hard. From where I’m standing, that seems like more of the exception than the rule. And that makes me really angry.

This year has also seen a few type one tragedies that, maybe, are just making me more irritable than usual. A friend’s son, who is less than two, was diagnosed right around Thanksgiving. At Christmas time, a college friend died at 28. She had type one. I don’t know if her death was diabetes related, but in my mind, it was. In my mind, this beautiful young person, who lived with such a light, just got too tired. So maybe I’m angry and scared of my own mortality and I see it more when it makes itself apparent in the lives of people I love and know to be innocent and good. And maybe I’m just tired, too, and I don’t really know what that means.

This is not a peppy post. But it’s real. I’ll be okay, I just have a diseased teenager in my life and I’m trying to figure out how to navigate that.

[1] “To establish fraud, the bureau had to show that the manufacturer knew the product was worthless, and this proved difficult in many cases,” Swann says. For example, Lee Barlett, a former shirt salesman from Pittsburgh, promoted a medicine called Banbar as being effective for diabetes. Banbar was an extract of horsetail weed. The government took Barlett to court for selling a misbranded drug and even showed the death certificates of people with diabetes who had taken Banbar. But the jury ruled in Barlett’s favor. http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/WhatWeDo/History/CentennialofFDA/CentennialEditionofFDAConsumer/ucm093787.htm

Requested: Christmas Miracle

19 Dec

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. Not the irrational fears that stem from any one of many neuroses, but the debilitating fears that seem to creep into your very bones and take control of every thought and every action you once believed you had the choice to make.

When I was a little girl, I didn’t know about that latter category of fear. The types of things I thought were frightening – an accidental viewing of Legends of the Fall or a recurring nightmare featuring a locked room, snakes, my mom, and a handful of keys – these types of things were forgotten after the sanctuary of a hug or the gratitude that comes immediately after you wake-up, clammy and covered in sweat, but safe. No, that latter category of fear didn’t enter into my life until much later. I succeeded in Peter Pan-ing my way through life until the day those planes hit the towers. That is when I first understood that someone I’d never heard of or seen, someone that didn’t know anything about me, hated me on principle and actively wished for bad things to happen to me and mine. This reality became even more clear in March 2003 when my beloved country went to war and it dawned on me that people I knew intimately, that I loved, could die. And your blood runs cold and there is no sanctuary and you are not safe. We don’t understand what it means to be a grown up until we learn this type of fear – the type of fear that encompasses hatred and violence and indifference. It is a void that it seems no light can fill. And what a cruel welcome to the world that is.

So then you are at a loss. How do you combat the sort of despair that accompanies the trappings of adulthood? (This is a genuine question that I could never verbalize.) There is no easy answer to this question. Life is hard and it is most definitely scary. The way I feel at this moment, there actually may not be any answer to that question, the thought of which literally just sent me into a panic. When I started writing this, I had hoped I would follow my standard format (which is very much like an episode of Full House), but I’m not quite sure I can get to the place where my hope for the future and faith in humanity serve as stalwart answers to every question. I’m not sure I can get to the place where those core beliefs seem anything but futile. I suppose what I’ll do instead is talk about why that is.

I believe children are magical creatures (see here, or here). This is not a new topic for me. Recently, I watched a sermon given by Robin Meyers called ‘The Inconvenient Wisdom of Children’. In typical Robin fashion, he was addressing the youth in the congregation while really addressing us all. Towards the end of his homily, as he was speaking about communion and sacraments, he said this (please note: I did not get permission to use this, it is not a perfect transcription, and emphasis is my own):

Something that is in the world of our experience but carries us into the world of the sacred, the holy, the everlasting. We all have to eat of course, to live, but we also have to love and be loved in order for life to be worth living. And sometimes, for some reason, I think you guys get this better than your parents do. Let’s talk about your parents for a moment. Right in front of them. They’re busy. They have a lot to worry about. They have careers. They have to make money. They have to try to save enough for you to go to college. But just remember, when it comes to what really matters, Jesus took a child and said, ‘This is what it is all about.’ See, no advanced degrees, no status, no desire to exercise authority. But in the pecking order of the world the last of these, as you must become the least of these he said to his disciples, the servants of all. Okay, well, after church, you may need to explain all of this to your parents.  Tell them why you have always been front and center in the kingdom. Be patient. They may not get it at first. It’s been a long time since they were kids. They may have forgotten how to imagine and how to be amazed. But you will be able to show them the way because they love you and so did Jesus.

Regardless of any spiritual or religious beliefs you may or may not have, it must be acknowledged that the core sentiments in these remarks are true. It pains me that today, children are learning to understand the meaning of that omnipresent fear before their childhoods are over. They don’t get those carefree days I cherish the memory of so dearly because it is edged out by an adult’s understanding of the world too soon. It seems we have become a society that has, in the course of winning, lost sight of our purpose. We have done this without even realizing it. We have gone so far down the rabbit hole that instead of shielding our children from the fears and harsh truths of the world, we attempt to teach them to cope with it.  In turn they are forced to sacrifice those memories of carelessness and joie de vivre that sustain us in our darkest days before they have even been acquired.

And so, how will they explain the things to us? The things that offer hope for the future and a light in the darkness?

From this low point, things do not get much better. You see, it doesn’t take much more than a scroll through a Facebook or Twitter feed to realize that as a society we are failing to teach our children and young people how to cope with the outpourings of fear (i.e. tragedy and violence and hatred). We have created a world that steals their innocence, a crisis magnified by the fact that we provide them with no understanding of how to combat that loss. In the wake of any national event, remotely contentious or not, I am easily horrified by the things we shamelessly say to one another. We do not come to the table willing to talk with one another. We do not come to the table at all. Instead, we post what we think to be innocuous quips and memes that justify our opinions and perspectives. They bolster our sense of indignant righteousness. We score cheap points that make us feel better but do not actually address the issue at hand. Our selfish emotions overrule history and fact. We forget that we are brothers and sisters. Without thought, we drive the wedge even deeper. That is how we are teaching our children to cope.

This summer, I had the privilege of hearing John Lewis, a personal hero of mine, speak at the National Book Festival. He was talking about a book he had written about his life, and when he spoke about the time he and other members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee spent studying together, I was brought to tears. Before they took action, they came together and studied. For a year, they met for the sole purpose of learning. They armed themselves with knowledge and truths, and when the fear that leads to chaos and violence and hatred would have gripped any normal human being like a vice, they held fast. They knew their course of action in those moments, for they had taught themselves to cope. During his talk, he said:

And we would be sitting-in, or standing-in at a theater. Or going on a freedom ride. And we would be beaten. We would be jailed. But we didn’t strike back, because many of us grew to accept non-violence as a way of living, as a way of life. It is better to love than to hate. We wanted to build a beloved community. We wanted to be reconciled.

They had the will to come together, to learn to accept non-violence as the path forward. As their coping mechanism against the harsh realities of adulthood. They wanted to be reconciled more than they wanted to be right. John Lewis is old, as are his compatriots. It is unfortunate that we hear less from them than media pundits and personalities more invested in special interests than the national interest.

That is where I am today. Despite it all, I am grateful for the good people in my life who remind me of why I want to come to the table. During this season of advent, I ask that you do the same. Perhaps in the New Year we can study together.

The Sword of Gryffindor

25 Sep

When I graduated from high school, my best friend’s mom gave me a book by Marilyn vos Savant called Growing Up: A Classic American Childhood as a graduation present. It was filled with ‘what kids should know before they leave home.’ I didn’t read it. Ha! I flipped through it and thought it was cute – each chapter is formed like a checklist – but assumed she had given it to me in part because I have caught a lot of hell over the years from the Daves clan as a result of some ridiculous thing I did or said that served as an example of my ineptitude. My childish nature. I sometimes took myself too seriously and they were so great at reminding me of it. To my mind, it was good-humored and made a good coffee table book. To my mind, I knew what I needed to know. I was 18 and on my own.

If you’re still reading this, you’re probably thinking, “Not this again.” I’ve used this blog a number of times to talk about how much I’ve come to realize how little I know. But, I have glad tidings! While it’s true that it is a great big world and I know far less than I should, I’ve recently put my mind around something! (This would provide me some solace, I imagine, if this new grasp on one of life’s truths didn’t lead to a slew of new questions.)

This morning, in an e-mail exchange with my sister, I made a comment on how sad it was that I’m still such a child. She responded with a reassurance (it was sweet that she knew I wasn’t joking), but as I moved on to other things, I really had to think about how old I was. As in, I had to stop what I was doing and ask myself, “Am I 25? Or 26?” Breathe easy: I figured it out without having to break out the abacus, but I had a hard time remembering that self that used to not understand when people couldn’t automatically tell you how old they were. I mean, is it really that difficult?!? Do we stop anxiously awaiting our next birthday at 21? I don’t know. This isn’t one of those important questions or realizations I mentioned and haven’t given it much further thought.

This is what I thought about, instead: my happy independence is very subsidized.

I can spend a lot of time talking about the ‘things I’ve done.’ I probably have. Thinking about it makes me feel a little bit pompous, actually. I like believing in the idea that I am this intrepid adventurer, ready to boldly move forward into someplace or something I don’t understand to get some answers. Create some memories, some experiences. Then move on, learn something else new, cut a path that helps the people I meet and the people who come after me. And getting there by choice – making my own decisions and not asking for help or needing anything from anyone – this is important. I like this idea that I have gumption. This is a nice idea. And while perhaps sometimes it is true, I’ve never done it independently.

I grew up with one sister, but we have a big family. A ‘put the expander in the table and pull out the leaves and use the spare table, too,’ size family. And they were always supportive and encouraging. Overflowing with love. I was disciplined when I caused mischief, but I was never scared to be myself. I was never afraid of the repercussions that a question or an action might lead to. If my mom told me to find something in the pantry and I couldn’t (even when it was right in front of me), she’d sigh with exasperation but I could still see love on her face. If my dad got mad because I accidentally mowed over a tree (a small one – don’t judge), he’d speak sharply but patiently. He’d teach me how I could spot one in the future so as not to do it again. It was the same with all my family. I was encouraged to study hard and go to school but was never told not to pursue a ridiculous liberal arts degree. If my aunts and uncles had questions about any of my schemes that seemed troubling, they would ask questions, but I never once was told I was stupid or that I should think about doing something else, instead. My family taught me how to treat my friends like family. They grew up on a street filled with other families just like them. I know their childhood friends because they’re still around.

Growing up unafraid of judgment enabled me to be myself around people I didn’t know. How, on my better days, to extend that same courtesy to other people. To genuinely listen for the answer after you ask, “How are you?” To want to love other people because I can, not because I have to or I should. They built a sturdy foundation in which I was comfortable being vulnerable, which has come in handy in strange places and situations over the years. (Note: I am aware that I am not immune to awkwardness. That is not the point.) Because I was encouraged to try my own path, to do things I was scared to do, and most importantly because, “Help will always be given to those at Hogwarts who ask for it,” I’m able to be this grown-up person that I am today. This person who still receives care packages from her family and whose friends shipped her ‘fallen-off the truck’ insulin because she complained about how astronomical the price of a vial was (with insurance, mind you!) I may be by myself, but I’m certainly not alone. And that makes all the difference.


Kids bein’ kids: an example.

I had a charmed childhood – I mean it: somewhere, there is a picture of my sister and I petting a fawn (baby deer to all you city folk) with white specks on its back. That childhood has given me support and help when I needed it and when I didn’t. I didn’t have to ask for it or be afraid of the answers. That childhood taught me that things work out. They make sense in the end. This is the point when I get to those bigger questions I mentioned before. Because what about those kids that don’t have that childhood? That don’t get to be my kind of 26-year-old ‘grown-up’? What will happen to the crying kid at the pool whose uncle smacked him across the face, called him a bitch, told him to ‘be a man’ and slap him back? Or the little girl on the bus whose mom was so displeased that she had dirt on her dress and snot coming out of her nose that she pushed her away? Whose face said she never made her mom happy? Or the boy who got a pop for saying ‘yeah’ instead ‘yes ma’am’ and then got another few pops when his response was a scared silence? What about these kids? The ones who get in trouble for being kids? How do they learn to ask questions or show affection? Or be open to all the experiences that questions and affection lead to? How will they learn to be brave? To quiet all the naysayers?

If you made it this far, thanks for hanging with me. I’m a bit melancholy and out of sorts, I suppose, brooding over the fates of these little, tender faces I can still make out that know entirely too much sadness and fear. It has caused me to write this using an excessive number of commas and too few active verbs. I take comfort in the fact that you’ll continue to be around as I work it out.

Maybe Marilyn vos Savant has some ideas?

William Wallace’s Tattoo

6 Aug

Have you ever heard someone ask, “What did they teach you at that liberal _______ of yours?”

I have. It wasn’t always verbally communicated, but I still heard the question. Numerous times. Most of the time my answer was a placating laugh or an eye-roll followed by a quip and a swift exit from whatever situation I found myself in. This weekend, during a visit to my local pool, I found myself in a conversation with a stranger and I heard one of the many variants of this question asked for the first time in a long time (DC is fairly liberal city.) This time, I tried to answer it in a way that wasn’t righteous or mean, but I don’t know that I expressed myself very well. I don’t know what was different about this situation – maybe it was because it started out innocently, a general inquiry about something that means so much to me. I don’t know that the questioner really wanted to hear my answer. I often find myself wishing I could have done or said something differently, as I’m sure most people do, and this event was no different. I’d like to do that now – to get that differently bit out of my head and out there somewhere. Maybe next time someone asks, I’ll get it right:

I loved learning at Oklahoma City University – I definitely acquired a penchant for knowledge there, a desire to ask questions and really learn about things from a lot of different perspectives. I learned things cannot generally be defined as right or wrong, but that, as is often the case when it comes down to common decency and human dignity, there can be exceptions to this rule. Perhaps this belief became a deeply-seated part of my psyche during a history class that focused on the experiences of women in the United States. As the semester progressed, I not only became a stalwart feminist, but also a believer in social justice, and I met a couple of other young women who felt as strongly as I did about honoring the work so many women had done to get us where we are today, who didn’t want to forget and who wanted to move ‘forward into light’  – who believed that, when equality was the question, there was (and is) no room for debate. If you think about that question… ‘Are you for equality or against it?’… One of those answers seems pretty dumb. So, this class was important to me, and I ‘met’ so many role models: Alice Paul, whose work was so crucial in the passage of woman’s suffrage. She dedicated her life to the pursuit of equality, before and after women got the vote. And then there were the somewhat accidental feminists – Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan who would have been hailed as a great spiritual leader had she not been a woman. Anne Moody, who shed light on how the civil rights movement could have been so much more had the women participating in it been treated differently.

These women fought (and still fight) for social justice, not just for themselves, but for others, too. They picketed the White House in times of war, they were subjected to ridiculous and humiliating trials, and they risked their lives because of a basic belief in equality. That I am no better than you, and that you are no better than me. That we should all, when striving for something, start on a level playing field. I never wanted to forget that. I still don’t.

Depending on who you are, the following news may be: a) surprising, b) disappointing, or c) no big deal. But having this information is key to understanding, in my opinion, why I decided to engage with this stranger at the pool, when typically – even in the most neutral settings – I walk away. Here it is: I have a tattoo. On the inside of my right ankle, there is a discreet ‘19’ permanently inked on my body. What’s the significance? The nineteenth amendment (women’s suffrage.) Why? I wanted to honor the memory and the sacrifices of so many, through so much time. I wanted a permanent reminder of what women went through so that I could have a say in my life. I wanted a permanent reminder that often the majority is wrong. I wanted a permanent reminder that the struggles for equality and social justice are not over. And that I have an obligation to do for others what was done (and is still being done) for me.

So, as I entered the pool, a stranger noted and commented on my tattoo. Typically when people I know ask about my tattoo, I ask them if they want the long answer (what I just typed) or the short answer (it’s my favorite amendment)? When people I don’t know ask, I usually just say something like ‘progress’ or I make something up so that I don’t get embarrassed when they think I’m completely off my rocker (I am intense, this I know.) Because this person was tattooed, I gave an abridged version of the long answer then turned the conversation around and asked about his tattoos. He gave a brief synopsis and then started going on a tangent about how numbers mean something, e.g. 666 is the number of the devil (I told him this was believed to be a mistranslation – he didn’t seem too concerned.) My desire to go away at this point – or to at least change the subject – was increasing, so when he mentioned he had written two books, I asked what they were about. Big mistake. He told me that one was a book of poems and something else, and the other was more or less about how, based on the Bible, gay marriage was wrong.

At this point, I wondered what it was about public pools that led to these strange encounters I seem to have every time I visit them. In an attempt to change the subject, I told him I disagreed with him and that everyone was entitled to an opinion. But then he pushed me on it, and I thought of that stinking tattoo. And about all of the discrimination happening in my country, disguised as a debate over what marriage is or should mean. So I told him that we’ve evolved past believing a lot of things in the bible (based on a biblical literature class – see this clip from the either-you-love-it-or-you-hate-it West Wing for a brief tutorial), that while all are welcome to religious beliefs, the freedom from having laws based upon one religion or another is an important element of this country and its founding documents. When he went on to talk about the purpose of marriage being to procreate, I told him in many traditions and histories it was about power – consolidating it or creating it. Then he brought up children. And I noted the fact that there were plenty of babies in need of a good home (and plenty of babies being born out of wedlock.) Then the lifeguard blew the whistle that indicated it was time for us all to get out of the pool so they could dump some more bleach in the water. And I said, ‘It was nice meeting you.’ Clearly, it wasn’t, but he said the same and that was that. Conversation over.

I’m not ashamed about what I said. But I wish I hadn’t been so timid. That I had been able to have a conversation, not an argument, without worrying about offending this man when what he was saying seemed so offensive to me.

I wish I had told him that when we talk about what should be legal and what shouldn’t be, please do not substantiate your point by using the bible to state that discrimination is okay. While I respect the book and believe in God, America is bigger than that. It is big enough to say that while you are free to hold yourself accountable to a church and to the lessons of the Bible, your neighbor is free to hold himself or herself to a different book, a different theology, or none at all. If you want to come at me with a statement that gay marriage is wrong or dangerous, please bring scientific data or criminal statistics that prove that it, indeed, is harmful to this country or to the American family. While the Bible is an excellent book, it has no place in being the sole source of the creation of laws affecting an entire country that espouses many faiths and traditions. There are plenty of examples of folks doing harm to America (both legally and illegally) in the name of Christianity or something they believe to be dictated by the word of God. Equal rights for the LGBT community will not necessitate a change in your right to raise your family or live your life with Christian values: you will not be forced to marry someone of the same sex. It will, however, give someone who is gay that same right (not to be forced to marry someone of the opposite sex to enjoy all of the rights and benefits marriage offers.)

The topic of gay marriage, to me, is bigger than gay people having the right to marry whomever they choose. It is about equality. I know a lot of gay people, many of whom support gay marriage, and some who don’t. But in serious moments, the moments when we speak about things like equality, they will speak with passion, because they know what it’s like not to have it. To live with fear and anxiety that exists only because they are different. They are Anne Hutchinson in Puritan America, Anne Moody in segregated Mississippi. They don’t want special treatment, they just want equal footing. They want the same things I want. They want the choice. When I hear about people lining up in droves to purchase food from a company after its CEO received negative feedback for pronouncing his opposition to gay marriage, I don’t see people lining up in support of his right to free speech or his pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. I see people lining up to put a group of people in their place. Lining up to say not today. Laughing in the face of a cry for equality. In the face of brave souls demanding the same freedoms that they themselves enjoy without discrimination. And they get away with it because all I do is crack a joke and walk away.

I dislike hearing the argument that so and so is on the wrong side of history. Regardless of whether or not I believe this, the people it’s directed towards don’t give a damn – life doesn’t always play out with a Remember the Titans handshake. It doesn’t always play out that way because the course of history was never changed by people who cracked jokes and walked away, but by those who saw injustice and weren’t afraid to say it was wrong. Or they were afraid, but they took a breath and said, no anyway. They were there to keep those in power accountable. They were present. They weren’t militant, but they weren’t timid. They changed things by being engaged and by showing up.

I don’t really know what this post is about – for that, I apologize. My belief in equality? My support for gay rights? My love for America and the Bible? My stance on body art? Maybe it is about all of these things. They aren’t mutually exclusive. I suppose I was just thinking about my tattoo and what it means and I wanted to say something.

(Please enjoy this Shangri-Las hit that played while I wrote this.)

What Does the Lord Require of You? (Or, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother)

25 Jul

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I used to go to this church called Mayflower in Oklahoma City, and I loved it. One of the things I’ve missed since moving away has been the benediction that took place at the end of every service. Everyone stands up, the pastor says something like, “Go in peace, pray for peace. Love one another, every single other.” And then everyone in the church turns inwards, towards the aisle, and sings this beautiful, often tear-inducing rendition of Micah 6:8 (What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.) When this happens, everyone singing is taking part in a twofold agreement that involves making an active promise and a pledge of accountability. There is nothing hokey or cult-like about it – I don’t get the urge to roll my eyes like I sometimes do during a yoga class (this in no terms is meant as a slight to Buddhists…send me a note if you’d like further explanations) – it is, simply put, quite calming and quite beautiful.

For those of you who can’t temper the need to eye-roll, consider this gem from The Hollies, inspired by the Boys Town slogan. (Which I think has religious undertones. I don’t know how to virtually shrug my shoulders. I tried.)

I often think about our obligation to one another. To provide you with a more explicit example, what do I do when I see a homeless person asleep, splayed across the shady portion of the sidewalk? What should my reaction be to all the debilitating angry words and actions I hear and read and see every day? To the indifference we seem to feel for one another? I don’t like to speak in absolutes, but I will here, because this is something I firmly believe: we do have an obligation to one another, one that goes beyond rationalizing someone else’s poverty or problems by enumerating the ‘faults’ that led to their circumstances. Those who disagree with me here have either never lived in or have never truly seen poverty, have never experienced what it is like to catch one bad break after another. There should be no shame in needing one another, and using the stereotypical stories of those who abuse the ‘system’ is not a legitimate excuse for turning our backs on those who haven’t.

A friend of mine is working in a free clinic type of setting. I’m using her words here without her permission. (Not that she is withholding it, but I just haven’t asked. Therefore, she shall remain nameless, and if she sees this, perhaps I’ll remove this paragraph in the future.) “I am uncomfortable when patients and their families thank me or look to me with gratitude. I try and communicate that I did not do anything when what I want to say is ‘Don’t be grateful that your circumstances have forced you to give up your privacy, your dignity and depend on [strangers] for something that should be yours by right.’” When I read that, I was glad to know a person who felt the need to do something because, well, isn’t that what anyone would do!? What kind of society do I live in that it’s okay to walk past the homeless man splayed across the sidewalk? What kind of person am I that I know it isn’t right but I do it anyway?

Albert Camus is one of my favorite authors. I read The Myth of Sisyphus and The Plague and am heartened by their contents…it is something akin to how I feel after watching a particularly good episode of an Aaron Sorkin television show. Perhaps the reason I return to the works of Camus so frequently is that they never seem to lose their relevance. One of my favorite lines from The Plague is this, ‘There’s one thing I must tell you; there’s no question of heroism in all this.  It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is – common decency.”

Common decency. The magic words. You see, to me, that is our obligation to one another: common decency. And I suppose that what one views as common decency is a direct result of one’s own experiences, and to that end, is not an absolute. I am the product of experiences that lend themselves to supreme examples of common decency. I am a child of an Oklahoma tragedy. A child of extraordinary kindnesses in foreign lands. A child of parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles whose ideas of decency were willingly self-sacrificing. So sometimes when I think about our obligation to one another and common decency, I worry, because perhaps I’ve been lucky to know so many decent people, guiding me by their responses to every type of plague. But then I see a stranger buy a man a drink to keep him from quenching his thirst with a discarded soda that had been pulled out of a trashcan on the street. I see GoFundMe news out of Colorado of people donating $5 and $20 and $100 dollars towards the medical bills of the victims of what can only be described as a massacre. And I hear those people at Mayflower singing to me. And I understand that you see and hear all of that, too.