Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Friday, May 29, 2020

Broken and Broken-hearted

"Within two days, we saw a white woman make an emergency call to the police, because a black man, who is a bird watcher, asked her to leash her dog, which was unleashed in a part of Central Park where dogs are required to be leashed. She kept repeating to the police that an "African American man" was threatening her. The implication was clear: because of his race, he was the guilty party, for simply being a black man in America.

A day later, police responded to a call regarding forgery. George Floyd was flung to the ground and a knee pressed against his neck. Even while he was crying out that he couldn’t breathe and bystanders were pleading for the man’s life, the knee remained until the man, shortly after crying for his mother, had his life snuffed out.
Lynchings continue in the United States of America.
As a white woman, I am aware that every time I walk out the door, my skin tone gives me a status and protection that my black and brown siblings are not afforded. I did nothing to earn that status and protection. Nor did they do anything to warrant not having the same status and protection. Racism was woven into the very foundation of this nation, when black men were considered 3/5ths of a white man, and indigenous people were labeled “savages”.
This racism continues through the maintenance of white supremacy. What does white supremacy look like? Recent news reports showed white men with military rifles marching through state capitols unimpeded by law enforcement, while unarmed black people were tear gassed for protesting George Floyd’s death. White communities are given medical supplies to combat COVID-19 while the Navajo Nation and other tribal nations suffer countless deaths from lack of supplies.
I do not have the privilege of saying, “But I am not a racist.” I am a part of a racist culture. I must do all in my power to speak out, to seek justice, to create a world where every child of God is precious. We follow a brown-skinned Messiah. May we do all in our power to protect the image of God everyone possesses and love our neighbor enough to seek justice for all. Jesus demands no less of us."
-Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church

I asked Aden to read our bishop's letter aloud last night after dinner. After scanning horrific accounts of George Floyd's death throughout the day, I had probed the boys about their knowledge of the incident. Daniel had actually watched the video taken by a bystander, which shocked me, and saw George plead for air, then cry out for his mother before he died. William said his social media had lit up with reactions against the protests, particularly the looting of the Target store and the burning of police vehicles and construction. It was time to come together as a family and discuss the fact that the United States of America is a profoundly racist country and injustice is being done - in our name and by our public officials - every day. I could see no better way to enter the discussion than through the words of Bishop Oliveto, though I didn't trust myself to read.

What would be life be like if my two boys were growing up black? How much would I fear any trip to the gas station or convenience store, any close encounter with police? It is wrong that families who simply have more melanin in their skin face a different and more awful reality. I can't fathom my son pleading for me as a policeman kneels on his neck. I can't imagine it, but I must try, in order to understand the situation of many families in America. Christy Oglesby writes how all mothers must join the outcry against the unfathomable wrongness of these too-early deaths in a stirring piece on CNN online"I need white Mamas to come running".

The incidents of injustice seem to have piled on fast and furious during the pandemic, even more than usual, though as Will Smith said recently, "racism is not getting worse, it's getting filmed." Even at our church we find injustice; a relatively new pastor, who is black, decided to return to her previous home in Manhattan because she and her children had faced such racism in Colorado. I am embarrassed and sad that my state appears to be a worse place to live than the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

My impotence to change the world frustrates me to the point of tears. I live in a racist country, what can I do to change that? We started with the conversation with our children and need to have many follow-up discussions. To my son and his friends who see only the looting and vandalism, I would offer up my friend Tim's words:

"Looting" is a distraction from murder. Do not be distracted. Rage, too, is the language of the unheard and oppressed, precisely because systemic silencing and oppression are the lived experience of those...who are forced to live on the downside of false promises and deferred dreams, national fictions and state-sanctioned violence. If this rage makes you uncomfortable, that's the damn point. More importantly, what are you doing and going to change?"

Our country is broken; we are broken-hearted. What can we do to fix this? It's only by repairing the brokenness for all that we can find wholeness for ourselves.

Friday, May 22, 2020

It's Like Dead Squirrels

Aden's face drained of color as she told me about the dead squirrel in our front yard. As a responsible adult and parent, I turned to Rob and asked, "Wanna take care of this one, honey?"  Rob excused himself with a gesture to his headset and mouthed words that have become a refrain around here, "I'm on a call." As soon as I armored up with gloves and a shovel, though, he came out to help hold the trash bag and deposit the petrified grey body of the squirrel therein. We carefully positioned the bag on the shady side of the house to await trash pickup next Tuesday.

Later in the day I labored over a spreadsheet of my recent writing samples. I'm attempting to compile my business writing portfolio in order to pitch for more work. As an introvert and linear thinker, marketing (especially for myself) is an uncomfortable and frustrating area. After searching fruitlessly for a grant proposal that resides somewhere on my hard drive, I told Rob that building my portfolio was "like dead squirrels. I just don't want to do it."

During this strange and often difficult time we have done many things we didn't want to do. My mom didn't want to fly home last weekend, though she desperately wanted to be home to check on the house she shared with my dad and to follow up on possibly changing funeral arrangements.  To fly from Oakland to Spokane, she donned hat, mask, head-to-toe black jacket and pants, and a baseball cap. My brother, Michael, wished her a safe flight and asked her to let us know when her next rap album would drop.

Mom made it safely home with the help of her siblings, and now we all wait with bated breath as the dates click forward, hoping that no symptoms of COVID-19 emerge. She's five days out today, and symptom-free, so far so good. The kids, meanwhile, are healthy but bored, relieved of online school duties but wondering whether their summer jobs at local pools will materialize. Aden grew tired of the uncertainty and joined Instacart as a shopper - she did her first shopping run yesterday despite hesitancies about grocery stores and sudden new jobs.

Wishing everyone luck with their dead squirrels today. Stay safe and well.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Connecting under Quarantine

On Saturday night we met on the patio of our friends, just four of us, perched hesitantly on outdoor furniture at an estimated distance of six feet. We brought masks but didn't wear them, mine dangled from my arm like a newfangled bracelet as I wondered if I shouldn't have brought a tape measure instead. Our enjoyment of good conversation, face-to-face, was marred by concerns, especially when I noticed one of my speech "droplets" flying forward from my mouth towards one of my hosts. Time stopped, a voice in my head shrieked "Noooooo!" and my instinct to reach out and grab it was narrowly squashed. Though my visible droplet fell short of my host's chair, the paranoia was real.

Our family's experiment in physically distanced socializing continued at our house on Sunday when our son celebrated his 17th birthday by having a small number of friends over to the back porch. I bleach-washed the table and chairs, carefully spacing them out and re-measuring the distance between. We placed snacks on individual plates without touching any food and asked all the boys to wear masks, which they did, except for the moments they were eating.  Though we had no entertainment other than conversation, no refreshments other than the small first plate they received when they entered, the teenagers stayed for six hours. For teens who normally only converse while in the middle of doing something else (video games, workouts, driving) this was frankly remarkable.

Though my husband, son and I are profound introverts, we have dug deep in the past eight weeks and found the need for people. I have two more small-group gatherings this week, both outside, both carefully planned by conscientious people. Connection and conversations re both real human needs, and yet the ever-changing recommendations of our public health officials and politicians freight our gatherings with overtones of peril. It's like a long-running game of Twister, trying to figure out which configuration will bring us closest - but safest - to our previous life of connections.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Get Up Again

"I get knocked down but I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down..."
-Lyrics from Tubthumping, by Chumbawumba

The immortal lyrics of one-hit-wonder, Chumbawumba, ran through my head as I looked at the laughing faces of family members. We had Zoomed to celebrate John's birthday, and the conversation descended somewhat riotously into "do you remember" stories about each sibling's escapades with John. The story they chose to tell about me centered on John and Carol's wedding reception, when I stumbled halfway down the staircase during the announcement of the bridal party. Thank goodness for the slight but strong young man who was escorting me down the sweeping staircase as hundreds of guests looked on. I almost separated his shoulder as I clattered down the steps in front of him, but he valiantly held on and saved me from going head over heels.

My sister loves that story because I asked her, when we finally sat down at the head table, if anyone saw me fall. I was thinking maybe half of the room missed out.  She looked me in the eye and said, "I'm not gonna lie, Laura. Everyone saw you."

Everyone credits this fall to the amount of alcohol I drank prior to the reception, whereas I know it was due to the heel breaking off my shoe at exactly the wrong moment. My kids had never heard the story and were quite interested in the telling. Noticing this, I held up my hands to stop any more truth-telling from the troublemakers onscreen, and they saw the heavy application of band-aids on my palms. "What did you do now?" someone asked.

I had to explain the painful and ridiculous fall I had taken off my bike earlier that day, having reached for my water bottle while hitting a bump at the same inauspicious moment. My left hand instinctively grabbed the brake and I shot over the handlebars with hands and hips straight to the gravel as the bike ground to a halt.

"You fall down a lot," said one helpful brother.

"I do. But I always get back up!"

I had to defend myself in front of the kids, and it occurred to me that I would rather them see me wipe out and recover than think I never fell or made mistakes. I'm still limping and nursing the wounds in my hands, but I got back on my mountain bike yesterday (with new gloves, hurray!) and went 21 miles in the hills. In this newly curtailed world there are fewer opportunities for adventure and exploration and I am going to take the chances I get, even if I get bumped or bruised. If I fall down, I get up again.

Stay well and safe.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Lucy Maud to the Rescue

"Reading gives us somewhere to go when we have to stay where we are."
- Mason Cooley

"Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet."
- L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

If there's a better place to hide from reality than Lucy Maud (L.M.) Montgomery's Avonlea, I haven't found it. Since I first read Anne of Green Gables as a little girl I have escaped to Anne's world countless times, suspending cynicism and losing myself in the author's inexhaustible descriptions of "amethyst skies," "pearly white blossoms" and "stormy seas." Montgomery wrote eight books about Anne and her family, and described Prince Edward Island, Canada, so lovingly that pilgrims used to go there from all over the world. I wrote my college thesis on Montgomery and tried to name our oldest Anne Shirley (Ann is my mother's name and Shirley was Rob's grandmother's). The name didn't stick but I have never shaken my infatuation with Anne's adventures.

Anne and her family faced hard times - the books aren't at all Pollyanna-ish, as some think - including illness, death, and war. In the final book Rilla of Ingleside, which describes the adolescence of Anne's youngest child (named for Marilla, Anne's adoptive mother) the family lives through World War I and sends three sons to the European front. As I read last night it came home to me that humans have suffered through years of war and plague in the past, and that we are just the latest generation to do so.

The rest of my family has their noses in other series. William is storming through George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series and Daniel is escaping to J.K. Rowling's world in the Harry Potter books. Aden just finished classes at CU, so hasn't started a series, but called her three-hour timeout for free reading last week the "best three hours she ever spent."

We'll keep escaping to our favorite books, or preferably a series that will keep us in their worlds, suspended, for some time. We can escape, find support and even courage in our favorite books, whose authors gently remind us that folks have had tough times before and can get through them, together.

Stay safe and well.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

For the Birds

"I thought, why don't I take up birding? It's like real-life Pokemon Go."
- Conner Brown to the LA Times, May 3, 2020 (LA Times)

Rob attached clear bird feeders to our kitchen windows a few months ago, not for the human inhabitants of the house, but to entertain (and frustrate) our cats. The cats have learned to tune out the birds, but the little creatures who dine outside our kitchen have provided endless amusement and joy for us during quarantine. We have joined the legions of Americans in thrilling to bird watching and identification.

After reading about free bird identification apps, I downloaded the Merlin ID from The Cornell Lab. I used it to research two unusual birds that Aden and I saw during our Sunday morning bike ride. The lovely bird with the yellow breast was the Western Meadowlark, which I know by its beautiful song but not by its plumage. The bright blue individual in a tree was a Blue Jay, which we don't usually find in our neighborhood. Then yesterday we caught sight of the first visitor to our new hummingbird feeder and Merlin ID'd a Broad-tailed Hummingbird by its beautiful red throat and green jacket. (A friend of mine with several hummingbird feeders posted lovely photos of her first visitors of the season with the caption "The Boys are Back in Town," which now runs through my head every time I think about hummingbirds).

The bird songs raise my spirits when I'm down, when tears unexpectedly come and blur the outdoor scene (precarious on a bike - I crashed last week). National headlines are not-so-good and it's difficult to keep spirits up, which makes the birds even more necessary. I love the headlines about bird watching "taking flight" and the knowledge that thousands of Americans are supporting our song birds by adding bird houses and feeders to their backyards. The population of song birds has dropped significantly in the past decades and I am hopeful that our new national past time will put our enchanting feathered friends on the rebound. If interested, here is an article from the New York Times with tips on watching birds: Try Watching Birds.

Stay safe and well.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Happy Birthday, Mom! (and Dad)

May Day is also my mother's birthday, so May 1st has always felt like a double celebration,  launching us into the spring month of planting and flowers with a grateful eye to Mom (and now Nana, too). I'm so thankful that Mom has been safely ensconced in the Northern California home of my youngest brother and his wife since Governor Gavin Newsom issued his "stay in place" order, over a month ago. Since Mom reads my blog (thanks, Mom!) I wanted to post something celebratory today.

When I think of growing up with Mom I think of laughter, artsy crafting projects, playing outside at the park while she and Dad hit the tennis ball, homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie, mint in our lemonade, lullabies, flowers and sunshine. I think of needs met, confidences shared, independence granted and bountiful supplies of love and understanding. Mom has the special gift of making all her children (five of us) feel like we're the favorite.

Mom's loving spirit covers our heads in warm knit caps, our beds in crocheted blankets and special quilts. Her lovely handwriting fills birthday cards and thank you notes with warm expressions and her texts are full of hearts and happy emojis. In this time of uncertainty she keeps supporting us with those texts and Zoom calls, exhorting us all to be strong and telling us "this too shall pass."

We love you, Mom.  We celebrate you on this special day, and though we know it's a challenging time for many reasons, we hope you feel the love and gratitude that floats your way from across the country. Thousands of heart emojis to you and Happy Birthday!!

Post Script: May 3

Today is my father's birthday, the first one we're celebrating after his death. It's a hard day in which we all feel the loss of his presence, even though we're grateful we could all be with him at home when he died. That December experience feels like it was years and lifetimes ago, and my heart goes out to all of those who can't be with their loved ones now.

Aden and I went on a long bike ride this morning and as I dodged spring butterflies and rode through patches of scent from blooming trees, I remembered my Dad leading my brother and I on long bike rides into Ann Arbor. We always concluded with a Baskin Robbins ice cream, which I missed today.

Mom texted us with a lovely message this morning. She said the shining white light of the moon woke her in the early morning and she felt sure that Dad put it right in her window to remind us all that he loves us to the moon and back. Again, Mom's strength and loving support help buoy our spirits on a hard day, and reminds us to be grateful for what we had, and have.