Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Rare Peace and Quiet

I am alone in the house for the first time in three-and-a-half months. The quiet surrounds me and brings my heart rate down; I feel like laughing. When I called my mom we had forty minutes of uninterrupted time, no shouts for car keys, demands for food, or random cries of "Mom, Mom!" interrupting the rhythm of our discussion. With Aden and William at work, and Rob and Daniel driving through the Chicago suburbs, my home is my kingdom once again. It brings back dusty memories of routines circa February, 2020.

Thinking seems doable again in the silence, poems might even be possible. My hat is off to all parents working in a full house and producing actual intellectual output; I have been busy and checked many items off to-do lists but I have not spent much time in deep thought. There isn't much point in "going deep" if you're going to get yanked back to the surface with the barbed hook of adolescent needs. Having my family close has been a gift of enormous magnitude, but I have paid the price in functioning brain cells.

The quiet costs more than a little worry, however, as Rob and Daniel traverse several states in the old black Acura. Rob has to pack up his corporate apartment in Chicago as his company will terminate its lease. Rob wanted to make the trip in person rather than have a friend pack up and ship his belongings. I think he's hoping for a socially distanced meeting tomorrow so that he can see co-workers for the first time since early March. Then the boys hope to travel on to Ohio to see Bill and Connie.

Our travelers stopped over in Omaha, Nebraska last night. Rob said the hotel in Omaha was virtually empty, as were the city streets outside the College World Series baseball stadium. We were all supposed to be in Omaha last week for the USA Swimming Olympic Trials, so their stopover was bittersweet. Instead of watching the first four days of hopes and dreams realized with fast swimming, loud music and fireworks, I received a picture that Daniel took for me, a big road sign reading "US Olympic Trials Postponed until 2021."  We can only hope.

My dynamic duo are using copious amounts of hand sanitizer and avoiding elevators and indoor spaces whenever possible. That's one big worry: to protect themselves. The other issue is protecting the ones they visit, particularly Rob's parents. When Rob and Daniel left home they had runny noses, and though the symptom is likely due to allergies, I told Rob to monitor the situation closely. The boys are supposed to spend the Fourth with Rob's parents, but under no circumstances will they bring a bug with them.

Such strange times we live in when we struggle to see co-workers and loved ones, weigh the need against the risk. I'm conducting the same inner debate over whether or not to go to Montana to see my mom, weighing the desire to be with her against the risk that doing so might bring trouble in her direction. As the inner debate rages I will take a few moments to appreciate the rare quiet, say a few prayers for the safety of my travelers and offer up a request that we might all feel some peace in our rare quiet, private moments.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Wrestling with Reality

William and I visited Duke and UCLA yesterday, a feat of bi-coastal viewing enabled by magical new virtual tours. The fresh-faced tour reps associated with each university gave a real-time presentation while showing photos of campus markers and reflecting on favorite traditions and events that may no longer happen. Attendees asked questions in the chat boxes and received responses from the tour leaders or facilitators, but these young people can't know the answers to our most significant questions: what will life look like in fall 2021? Will "college" still be possible?

Who knows what form college will take this year or even next year, but our older kids need something to grab hold of as they traverse a journey out of the valley of despair up to the next peak of achievement. CU Boulder rearranged all their classes for the fall semester, switching times and classrooms in order to provide socially distant spaces for small classes and moving large lectures online. Aden now has three classes that overlap, but the university will continue to tinker with schedules through July so there's really no point in worrying.

With work, swimming, significant others and outdoor contact with friends, our older kids are navigating this strange time reasonably well. On the other hand, our fourteen-year-old struggles mightily. Baseball is finally back, and one in-person taekwondo class per week, but otherwise his week is empty and he is too young to get a job. So we "hire" him to paint the back fence, mow and edge the yard, assemble patio furniture, tear up the tower of cardboard boxes that seems to grow each week. That doesn't meet the insatiable and important need of teens to bond with peers, and our efforts to ration phone or screen time have not worked. We're tapped out and concerned.

A dear friend asked me yesterday what I pray for in these confusing days, if I pray for the virus to end, for a vaccine, for the kids' school to resume. I had to admit that I don't pray for any specific outcome - the future is too murky for me to see. Every night I sit with my gratitude journal and force my pen to enumerate our blessings, which flow easily enough once I get started. I don't know what the future holds or even what to ask for, but if I rest each night on gratitude I can find the strength to get up and embrace whatever virtual or true reality comes the next day.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Juneteenth Anniversary

Rob and I married on June 19, 1999 in Lake Tahoe, surrounded by family and close friends, all of us oblivious to the Juneteenth holiday. If my history books named the holiday or its significance I do not remember. It's likely that my books and teachers didn't even cover this historically relevant occasion, when "Major Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Texas, to deliver General Order No. 3, proclaiming emancipation" (New Yorker, Jelani Cobb, 6/29/2020 ).  The Civil War had been over for two months and the freedom of enslaved people in Texas had been delayed two and a half years by whites who didn't want to share the news.

Two and a half years of additional enslavement, separation from family, and work without wages certainly lend a bittersweet tinge to the Juneteenth celebration of freedom. When Rob and I married we never had to worry about being forcibly parted, nor about our children being born into servitude, their lives hanging in the wind of a master's whimsy. We've never experienced the grinding intolerance and hatred that generations of black Americans have faced. Our sons do not have to learn elaborate methods of self-protection and defense from police officers.

Black Americans who persevered in observing Juneteenth along with Memorial Day and Independence Day (which was not a true day of freedom for black Americans) in the calendar of summer holidays inspire awe. To hold onto history and celebrate the tenacity and strength necessary to wait not just two and a half years but for four hundred years for true freedom - that's both remarkable and a national shame.

Our country seems to be embracing Juneteenth in the year 2020, 155 years after the original event, elevating it to a statewide holiday, a paid day off, a proposed National holiday. It's past time for our country to elevate emancipation of enslaved peoples to holiday status, but also to reckon with the grievance of having enslaved peoples in the first place.

I'm abashed, surprised and grateful to discover this connection between our anniversary and American history and consider it one more motive to learn more about the history we glossed over in school, appreciate the heroes that we failed to mention and praise the days that we are just now celebrating.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Fifty Nifty

"Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies;
Fifty nifty stars in the flag that billows so beautifully in the breeze."
- Ray Charles, "Fifty Nifty United States"

The list of states where coronavirus is on the rise reads exactly like the bridge of the "Fifty Nifty" song which names every state in alphabetical order: "Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California... ." Colorado comes next in the list but the illness isn't spreading here (though our governor is keeping a sharp eye on neighbors Utah and Arizona). Full stop at Colorado, my friends, where luck and outdoor lifestyles have so far kept us off COVID-19's most wanted list. Fingers crossed.

This song has been stuck in my head over the past few days and I decided to look it up and write a few words on the subject. I was quite startled to learn that Ray Charles crafted the lyrics, but with a quick Google search I found not rhythm and blues great Ray Charles but a whiskered, grandfatherly, white Ray Charles who apparently  also sang the theme song to the TV show "Three's Company."

I learned Charles' lyrics in fifth grade chorus at Thurston Elementary School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The lyrics are somehow unforgettable and they surfaced in my brain when my oldest child learned and performed to the same song thirty years later.  Memory's grip held me strongly enough that I was jolted during the fill-in-the-blank line when you name your favorite state and the children said Colorado instead of Michigan.

Now the poor states are strung out in repeated tallies of protests, police overreach and COVID hotspots, a chorus lacking cheer and sunny patriotic images. Current headlines render the quaint lyrics of "Fifty Nifty" unbearably antiquated and reminiscent of a time - not when everything was better - when everyone had their heads in the sand.

But certainly the fifty of us (along with Puerto Rico, who should be a state if they still want to be) are somewhat tired of being held off with promises of unity and coherence that fall flat. As each governor fights desperately for his or her own people and tries to craft "Survivor"-style alliances with neighbors, the fabric that used to unite the North to the South, the East to the West, wears mighty thin.

The round number fifty and the phrase "fluttering flag" create pretty pictures and smooth sentences, but they are just words. We need actions to help unify 330 million diverse actors, to bridge gaps and build safety nets and scaffolding to better things. We need a plan to defeat COVID-19, to heal the wounds of slavery and racism, and to imagine a better future for every individual in every state. Until the leaders emerge or until we become the leaders we need, we'll continue to hear roll call and pray no one's calling our name.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Action and Healing

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity."
- Amelia Earhart

"The love of the family, the love of the person can heal. It heals the scars left by a larger society. A massive, powerful society."
- Maya Angelou

Over the past week, personal statements against racism have sprouted like spring dandelions in the windows of my browser. From Joe Biden to the Rock, NFL to Ben and Jerry, organizations have either leapt or been pushed to make statements against systemic racism and specific racist acts in this country. At a personal level, I've been moved by my cousin's participation in New York City protests via bike, foot and surfboard.  Our neighborhood staged a mini-rally at the local park, and our high school principal sent a personal and thoughtful message to the student body and their families.

Daniel and William came with me to the rally at Willow Creek Park, which was attended by 150-200 masked individuals of all ages and backgrounds. The crowd proceeded slowly around the green space, periodically stopping to let bikers through or to acknowledge the cheers and supportive honks of passing cars. "Black Lives Matter" signs and "Think, then Vote" slogans bobbed above our heads as we chatted with neighbors and collected flyers recommending books, movies and websites to deepen our understanding.

Most moving were the comments after our parade. A young black woman spoke of how emotional the past month has been for her as she acknowledged for the first time the pain of racist comments and actions that she had previously swept under the rug. She said the first racist incident occurred when she was six, in first grade, when her white seat-mate refused to share books with her because she was black.  Her two small children clung to her legs as she thanked us for being present, for dealing with the truth of America's racism and for trying to do better. The group's (white) organizer spoke to her children afterward, telling them and all children of color present "they matter, they are important, they are loved." The two women embraced in the middle of our circle and my boys were silent and thoughtful as my sunglasses mysteriously watered.

Our principal's message, too, ventured into the deeply personal. Though our high school has made efforts to embrace diversity and create equal experiences for all students, Mr. Silva acknowledged that his incoming daughter would face different summer and school year experiences than her good friend, also an incoming freshman, who is black.  The young man has chosen to stay home over the past month, seeing friends only in an environment that he can control. He and his parents have determined that even casual trips to the gas station store or ice cream with friends could be fraught with peril.

Listening to the experiences of people of color and to the introspective admissions of friends and relatives about their guilt and angst and determination to do better has moved me to do more. My children and I have new books to read and discuss. We have new organizations to sponsor and new legislative priorities to support with our local representatives. We have new friends and neighbors to get to know - and to start to love. Loving actions done with tenacity can hopefully lead to healing.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Liberty and Justice for All

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon, we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy."  - Dumbledore, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (based on the book by JK Rowling)

"Here's one delusion: that we can escape slavery. We can't. It's scars will never fade. When you saw your mother sold off, your father beaten, your sister abused by some boss or master, did you ever think you would sit here today, without chains, without the yoke, among a new family?" Everything you ever knew told you that freedom was a trick - yet here you are."
- Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad, Character of Lander 

There's a scar on my leg where I cut it on a rusty nail as an 8-year-old. It's faded now, but showed up ridged and narrow for decades. Because of the rust, the cut didn't heal cleanly, thus the scar.  In contrast, the deep divots in my hands caused by a mountain bike crash took a few weeks to mend but, due to frequent and liberal applications of Neosporin and soapy water, they're healing without a trace of injury.

In the United States of America, where generations benefited from the abduction and enslavement of people from another continent, slavery is marked by sore scars over wounds that have never healed. Slavery has never been reviewed under the light of truth or cleansed by admissions of guilt - just poorly bandaged by three hundred and fifty years of lies about the superiority of white people, the limitations of black people, the inevitability of social injustices. 

The scars of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, imprisonment of black men, voting restrictions and generational poverty of inner-city families still hurt everyone in this country, and in reading about the protests this week, it seems that the majority of Americans now feel the pain. Maybe, if we can hear the truth from our black brothers and sisters about racism, if we can bow our heads under the weight of the guilt and then be cleansed by our confession and desire to change, the scar can finally heal.

Scars signify not only injury but triumph over the pain, healing over the original damage. Can we overcome the legacy of slavery and speak more to healing and unity than to woundedness?

We're a long way from triumph at the moment, more like dealing with fresh wounds every day. If white people can do the hard work of admitting privilege and preparing to give up the unearned "edge" that our white skin provides, perhaps we can move forward. Our Pledge of Allegiance ends with "One Nation, Under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all." That has never been a valid description of our country, only an aspiration. Perhaps, some day, the words will ring true.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

We Stand With the People

"I just want the world to know, that we in the diocese of Washington, following Jesus and his way of love...we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this President. We follow someone who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love."
- Right Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington

"We stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. We stand with the grassroots organizations who have been doing and continue to do this hard work. WE STAND WITH THE PEOPLE."
- Marisa Siegel, The Rumpus

Over one hundred thousand dead from COVID 19, including many who could have been saved by earlier action or better protective gear, including a high percentage of loved ones from black and brown communities. It's difficult to believe that such great trauma was a mere backdrop for the horrible murder of a man of color at the hands of white police. Thousands of protesters spilled into the streets despite the health risk of the pandemic, explaining that the ills of racism would kill them sooner and more surely than any virus.

Then, on Monday, peaceful protesters were gassed and shot with rubber bullets and pepper spray by our own military so that the president could stand before a church and fumble with a Bible, as if a photo op and polished video could blind us to his inadequacy, his weakness. Forty-five wants to use the military on us, on all of those who oppose him, and particularly on people of color. I am jumping out of my skin to do something meaningful for the people, something beyond admitting my complicity in the culture of racism, something more than have difficult conversations with my children.

I came back to my blog several months ago with a goal of using words to "deepen the argument for being alive" and in that mode I stayed away from our inherently divisive politics, but that is no longer possible. In order to deepen the argument for everyone to live, I have to speak. When  my neighbor said yesterday that protests were merely frustrating, always ending in violence and never solving anything, I asked him why the problem was the protests and not the great issue of racism that spurred them. By working to break down racist structures we could remove the need for protests.

It must also be said that President Trump should resign or be removed from office. We can't wait until November, can't sit by and watch further tragedy unfold over the next five to seven months. We are all in danger, as events of Monday night illustrated. My family, along with people of faith who follow Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed, must stand with the people and say that Black Lives Matter, racism exists, and our president's dictatorial desires cannot be indulged by his lackeys.  We will use words, written and spoken, donations, our names, our votes and our bodies, but we will speak out. This is an historic moment - we can't blind ourselves to the danger of a mad man's overreach. Stephen Colbert urged us all to "be our own presidents" in the absence of federal leadership, and so we must act as leaders and we must use our speech before we lose it.

June 5, 2020 - post script
Here's an article with many links to causes where you can donate money, if you are so inclined. To fill in the void created by not going to protests, I've been busy with some of the causes on this page: