God Gave Me Grandma

Some might call this post mother bashing. I prefer to view it as praising the women in my life who I believe God sent to compensate for my mother. Growing up with her was tough. I could blame it on her youth; she was 18 was I was born. Or on what I later found out was a mother, my grandmother, who beat her when she was little for no apparent reason, this according to an aunt who witnessed the abuse (my mother has no memory of it). Or I could impose no blame at all and simply say it was what it was, and she is who she is.

I think I’ll go with that.

My mother wasn’t the type to say I love you or offer any form of physical or verbal affection. In fact, she went out of her way to criticize me at every turn. She seemed to be in a chronic state of rage, which as a child frightened me, likely due to the indignity and stress of being married to a serial philanderer, my stepfather. Not only was she unkind, often she was downright mean and verbally abusive. I won’t go into the details because that would be a book. There’s no point to it anyway, because God gave me Grandma.

My paternal grandmother offered me the unconditional love, kindness, and care that my mother could not. Growing up, I spent countless weekends at her house after my parents divorced. Her home was a sanctuary where I could spend hours relaxing, being myself, and being loved for exactly who I was. She taught me things like, “Always pay yourself first, even if it’s a dollar.” And, “Never gossip about people’s marriages – we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.” Often, she would place her hands gently on either side of my head, look me in the eyes, smile, and tell me how wonderful I was. On Saturday nights she let me stay up late with her to watch Love Boat and Fantasy Island, a routine that I cherished.

I thought I would die when I started losing her to Alzheimer’s. Though even at the disease’s worst, my grandma never once became nasty or mean, as some people do. Her true nature was so sweet and good, not even the deterioration of her brain could change it.

When Alzheimer’s completely took Grandma, God gave me Cynthia.

Cynthia was one of my bosses at a new job. Another sweet, kind woman who seemed to accept me unconditionally. It became known around the office, almost a joke, that I could do no wrong in Cynthia’s eyes, and that no one had better say one negative word about me in her presence. To this day, I don’t know why she cares for me in this way. True, I worked hard, and I adore her back, but it truly was as if God knew what he had taken from me and sought to replace it. Though I moved on to another job years ago, Cynthia remains one of my most cherished friends.

God also gave me Nancy. For over 20 years, she has loved me unconditionally, though my friendship with her does have its ups and downs. She’s tough sometimes, like my mother, but never unkind or abusive, and she always has my best interests at heart. I trust Nancy completely. She knows I’m not perfect, she knows my secrets, but she doesn’t judge and she loves and accepts me as I am, flaws and all.

God gave me three amazing women who have loved me unconditionally, valued me for who I am, and made me feel worthy and special just for being me. These women have lifted me up, taught me, and helped me become the woman I am. Thrice blessed, I am so grateful to them and for them.

As for my mother, since she and my stepfather divorced after 27 years of marital hell, she has mellowed. Once, she even apologized for the way she treated me growing up. She is my only mother. I love her despite everything and I forgive her. I understand now that she suffers from low self-esteem and a low sense of self-worth. But I haven’t forgotten. I am always on guard with her. I have to be. Sometimes she still gets a dig or two in, and I have to strive to not be triggered. She can’t help it, it’s who she is. We all are who we are. I have chosen to follow the examples of Grandma, Cynthia, and Nancy and accept her anyway.

I’d love to hear, who has God given you?

Gray Matters

When it comes to matters of Black and White, there is much gray in between. I am reminded of this every day on social media, television, at work. I was reminded of it when my brother texted me close to midnight recently and said he needed to talk. My brother has never texted me that late before.  I can talk now, I told him. Is everything okay? My mother’s family hurt me, he said, but let’s talk tomorrow. 

My brother is technically my half-brother. Put another way, he’s my brother from another mother, my father’s second (now ex) wife. He is the father of a beautiful, vivacious six year old daughter who has a Black mother. He is the White father of a Black daughter and for the first time since her birth he is beginning to understand what this means for him and for her.

The email chain his mother’s family, all of whom grew up down south, was passing around started with a long diatribe from an 80 year old aunt against NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem. Others chimed in and the chain became one big bashing session against spoiled, rich players who disrespect the American flag.

These are the people who, when I was 11 and went to Atlanta for Christmas with my father and stepmother, introduced me to Gone with the Wind and were proud to take me to Kennesaw Mountain and a Confederate Museum. They were proud because the Confederacy was part of their Southern heritage and it tickled them to educate me, a New England Yankee, about it.

I admit as an impressionable young girl, the romantic picture they portrayed fooled me for a while. From the time I was 11 until about 13, I read Gone with the Wind over and over until I lost count of how many times. Although I knew that owning slaves was wrong, being White allowed me to ignore that part of the story in favor of Scarlett O’Hara’s saga of survival and misguided love.

My brother was no different. Before my niece’s birth, before she came to him crying that she was afraid the police were going to take away her mommy, before he saw how excited she got when a group of peaceful protestors marched through their quiet, small town chanting Black Lives Matter, and she started to chant, too, and said Daddy, you say it, too, he would have ignored the email, by his own admission. He no longer has that option. Instead, he is grappling with how to educate himself, and his extended family, so that he can be the best, most supportive father to his little girl.

He spent days composing an email response that attempted to educate his family about the history and legacy of American slavery, systemic racism, segregation, etc. from a Black perspective (to the extent he was able) and why it might compel some players to take a knee. He sent each new draft to me for review. I wouldn’t share that video, I’d say, your Aunt (a devout Christian), will be offended by the profanity and not see past it. And, You don’t have to convince them of anything. Just say that you love our flag, too, but as the father of a Black daughter, you also see things from a different perspective. There was the not so helpful, Why don’t you point out to them that it’s ironic they’re so proud of the confederacy, traitors that seceded from the United States and declared war on and killed Americans, yet they have a problem with some guy kneeling to silently protest the treatment of Blacks? 

His efforts and my feedback were for naught. His mother insisted on reading his email response and begged him not to send it. She felt it would cause too much pain in the family. His attempt to speak his truth and stand up for his daughter was effectively shut down.

The American Flag on my house.

I admit that when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee, sending the country in an uproar, I barely paid attention. I do not like football, never watch it, not even the Superbowl, and blew it off as sports-related drama. Someone, I cannot remember who, asked me once how I felt about it and I shrugged. It didn’t matter to me either way. Stand, take a knee, whatever. Just because I stand for the National Anthem, and place a hand over my heart, doesn’t mean everyone has to. My grandfather served in WWII, my father and a brother also served, so this is important to me. I am not personally offended by people who choose differently. I don’t know their story.

My brother’s text and subsequent emails forced me out of indifference. I asked myself, what would drive me to the point that I would protest the flag of my country?

The very fact that I shrugged and thought, whatever, is a privilege most Black Americans don’t have. I realized I have a responsibility to understand. I Googled, Why do NFL players take a knee? I learned that taking a knee has a long history in America’s Civil Rights history. That players used to be in the locker room during the Anthem, until the United States Department of Defense started giving the NFL lots of money to promote patriotism.

Each of us views life and its many facets through the lens of our own experience. It is human nature to do so. Some of us, however, are so fixed in our mindsets that we cannot or will not see another’s perspective. Being in black or white, right or wrong, is simpler, cleaner, affirming. Gray matters get messy and murky. They force us to examine things that are complicated and uncomfortable. Yet gray is the space where learning and growth, and new ways of seeing and being, take place, if we are willing to go there.

 

 

 

 

A Rumi Mood

As I attempt to process the pain and chaos reigning in my country – over 100,000 citizens dead from COVID-19, near-record unemployment, relentless racial injustice, and as many different opinions about these things as there are people – I find myself drawn to Rumi to make sense of it all.  Doing so has helped me realize some things:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I no longer feel responsible for saving people from their own willful ignorance, or for educating them about things they don’t want to learn.  I will save my energy for people who want to learn, grow, and change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am in no position to change the world if I overlook my own internal biases, prejudices, and conditioning. Self-work, self-examination, and self-awareness are great tools to start this process. So is exposing myself to conversations and situations that might be uncomfortable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am done trying to make people understand, whether an alternate opinion or perspective, my feelings, decisions I or others make, etc. If after an exchange or two it’s apparent that they don’t, or won’t, understand, my next reply is silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pain is where change begins. When we hurt, we want to heal. When we see others hurt, we want to help. Through the process of healing or helping, we awaken.

 

 

 

 

 

Life is short. Seize the day.

 

Isn’t She Lovely?

This photo makes me smile, mostly because I want to be that old woman. I have always believed that the ultimate freedom is being yourself. It is a freedom many of us will never fully know. Yet with this freedom comes power. In this old, eccentric lady, I see power that no one can take away. It’s the kind of power that comes with loving and accepting yourself as you are, and expressing who you are, without apologies, excuses, or justification.

Wouldn’t that be lovely?

I think it would, which got me humming this old Stevie Wonder tune. Hope you enjoy!

Living Our Values

When a former student of mine, now a young woman in her late twenties who is bi-racial (black and white), shared this question on Facebook last week, I had a choice: respond or keep scrolling.

It was a provocative question. I might have passed over it, if not for her adding: This is not a rhetorical question, I really want to hear.

I didn’t want to respond. Matters of race can be contentious. Especially for white people who want to pretend they don’t exist, or who just don’t know what to say and figure saying nothing is better than saying the wrong thing.

My finger hovered over the post. I knew she was hurting from yet another senseless murder of a black American man. Many of my colleagues of color were hurting, too, as was clear in their posts. Responding with a sad or angry emoji seemed wholly  inadequate.

Though I was afraid of saying the wrong thing, I placed my finger in the comment box and began to type: We live in a diverse neighborhood and I value this. My little street has every race and multiple ethnicities within the races represented. We also have an interracial couple, a lesbian couple, and the black family across the street adopted two white kids….I truly value diversity and feel it is a strength of our country.

I said more, but I want to focus on this part because I think many people talk a good talk, but don’t walk the talk. Normally, I would consider this none of my business, but lately I’ve noticed a lot of people saying one thing with their words, and another with their actions (or memes) which, as the cliche states, speak louder than words.

I know people that claim to value diversity, but live in neighborhoods where everyone looks and sounds like them. They send their kids to schools where everyone looks and sounds like them. All of their friends look and sound like them.

I know people who would never consider themselves xenophobic, yet post memes that say things like Don’t buy from China. One person I know who did this forgot that the American daughter of her good friend is married to a Chinese man, lives in China with him, and that their toddler,  the friend’s granddaughter, is half-Chinese. She forgot that she is Facebook friends with the daughter and the husband until he, not unkindly, wished her good luck trying to buy anything, for example her car, that doesn’t contain some parts made in China.

One might argue it is the Chinese government the woman has a beef with, not the Chinese people. Tell that to the husband, his wife, his child, and the friend.

Things get ugly fast when we don’t live by the values we claim to possess.

I know people who value Christianity, yet their values seem not to extend  to loving their neighbors as themselves, not if the neighbors don’t look like them or practice their religion or come from another country.

I know people who claim to value children and family, just not when they come to America seeking asylum. Then it’s okay for them to be separated and placed in cages indefinitely.

Things get ugly fast when you point these inconsistencies out to people.

In all fairness, some people may value the rule of law more than their Christian values. But who is making the laws and what are their values? What is government anyway at its core, but a set of values that guide a nation?

I responded to my former student’s post instead of scrolling by it because I want to live my values. I responded to the question because I want to be part of the solution, even if it means being uncomfortable or vulnerable. I knew no matter what I said, she wouldn’t be unkind, but there was a risk. I could lose her respect forever.

She loved my comment and thanked me for standing in the gap. I hadn’t lost her respect, or even her love, but I was appropriately humbled, and saddened to realize that standing in the gap was probably the most I would be able to offer.

I believe that one of the reasons matters of race, religion, sexism, xenophobia, and politics get so contentious is because they force us to reckon with our values. When the values we believe we have and the values we actually live don’t align, we become defensive.

We owe it to ourselves, our neighbors, our colleagues, our students, and especially to our children to conduct a thorough inventory and examination of our values. Are we really living what we say we believe or is it possible that our actual lives are truer reflections of our deepest beliefs?