Our Mad, Mad World

Remember when social media used to be fun, a place to share photos of your kids, family vacations, and gatherings with friends? There is still some of that, but mostly it has turned into a cesspool of anger, darkness, and hate. Because of social media, I almost didn’t visit my mother recently, and I made the difficult decision to defriend my oldest son on Facebook. Needless to say, all of this has left me feeling pretty low.

Of course the disagreements started with politics. Almost everything these days does. I have no issue with people who have political opinions and affiliations different than my own. I do, however, take issue with conspiracy theories, promoting racist propaganda, and flat-out rudeness and disrespect.

Until the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests, not once in my life did I hear my mother use racist words or see her behave in racist ways. Nor was she anywhere near inclined to discuss or even pay attention to politics. Growing up and until about four years ago, the only thing I knew about her politically was that she was a registered Democrat.

Then came retirement, a new set of friends after moving to a different state, a sudden interest in Fox News, a pandemic, and a lot of time on her hands. What started as benign political posts on Facebook progressed into anti-Democrat rhetoric and vague conspiracy theories. So her political affiliations were changing and she believed some crazy stuff, I reasoned. But when she started sharing far-right racist propaganda, I became alarmed.

At first I ignored it, sticking to our agreed-upon deal of not commenting on each other’s political posts. This was actually at her insistence, as I could not care less if someone with a contrary opinion comments on my posts, as long as they are civil about it. But when in one day she posted six race-inciting memes, I felt I had to address it.

I did so privately. She completely denied that her posts were racist, and challenged me to explain how they were. When I told her that if I had to educate her about why they were racist, there was no point, she said it was I that needed to be educated, and went on a hate-filled rants against Democrats, Black Lives Matters protesters, and more. I was so upset and alarmed by her anger and extremist language that I made an excuse as to why I couldn’t visit the next day, as planned, then sought to calm down with a walk and chat with a friend.

The chat with my friend was also alarming. She shared with me her own angst regarding her daughter, who is an open follower of a conspiracy theory group called QAnon. Followers believe that the United States is controlled by a deep state of satan worshipping pedaphiles, mostly Democrats and Hollywood personalities, and that Donald Trump was sent to save the world from them.  The daughter recently was fired from her job after a coworker alerted  the company about her verbally abusive, racist posts, which they deemed as not being in alignment with company values. She is suing the company.

The conversation with my friend raised alarms, though. Based on what she had told me, and my own online research after our conversation, I thought back to things my mother had said and posted, plus an odd private message she sent to me by mistake. The puzzle pieces began to fit together, and the realization that my mother, and some of her friends, are likely followers of this conspiracy group dawned. I texted her and told her what I suspected. She neither confirmed nor denied it.

A week later came the issue with my son. A couple months back, he challenged me to not post about politics for a day. I accepted the challenge and raised him a week. The week off was so refreshing, that to this day I have barely shared one political opinion, article, or meme on Facebook. Not that I’m not paying attention. I am. But it has felt good to focus on sharing mostly positive things, and I have been grateful to my son ever since for the challenge.

However, something really upset me recently related to politics, so I shared an article about it, hoping to inform others who might not be paying attention.  My son’s comments in response, not just to my post but to others’ comments, were so rude and disrespectful, got so personal, that I removed one of them, defriended him, and then texted to tell him why. He responded with even ruder and more disrespectful remarks. I can only hope, and this is a sad statement, that he was drunk that night.

This wasn’t the first time my son has been rude and disrespectful in his Facebook comments. Friends have pointed this out to me and one suggested last year that I block him. He is my son, so of course I didn’t want to go there, but I finally reached my breaking point. I will not tolerate verbal abuse or incivility, especially from my own children. Still, I cannot believe it has come to this.

I did end up visiting my mother, for one night instead of three as originally planned. We didn’t discuss our disagreement, and enjoyed time together on the beach, her patio, and with neighbors. But the residue was there between us, as it is for so many family members and friends during these divisive times, the most divisive that I have personally experienced.

My son and I haven’t communicated since our last texts, a little over a week ago. He lives in another state, an almost three-hour plane ride. I know this pandemic has been tough on him. His work hours were reduced, making it necessary for him to dip into savings, and when that ran out into his retirement account. He is feeling isolated and lonely, as he’s never been able to make the kind of close friends he had back home since moving. In retrospect, I could have just blocked him temporarily and let my anger cool down.

I long for civility, for a world in which we can agree to respectfully disagree. I fear we may never live in such a world again. The rhetoric and division over the past four years has stirred a pot. The sledge from the bottom has risen to the top. If only we could skim it off and throw it in the trash. Instead, some feed off it, while others view it with disgust.

I have never believed in extremes, not in health and exercise habits, financial practices, risk-taking, rules, organizations, politics, or anything.  Extremes concern me because they speak to fanaticism. This, in my view, is a dark and dangerous place to reside. This is what I told my mother, that I felt sad she was so focused on the anger, hate, and darkness on all sides.

Nowadays, it is easy to forget that there is still much light, love, and beauty in the world. But it does exist. I was reminded of this today when I was loading my groceries into the car. An old man pushing his cart nearby called out, “Look, a double rainbow.” I looked up, and there it was. It gave me hope, not just the rainbow, but that the old man noticed and thought to share it with me.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

The Horror!

“He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: “‘The horror! The horror!’” ~Kurtz’s last line in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

How was your week? Mine had some horrifying moments. Like when I realized I completely ruined my blog. When I found out my neighbors have a slaughterhouse in their basement. Neither of these moments was more horrifying, though, than turning myself into human jerky.

I’ll start with the blog. Last week, I decided to clean up my media library and delete some of the photos. Sounds positive, right? Cleaning up, letting go, all that good stuff. Until that horrifying moment when I remembered that when you delete photos from the library, they are deleted from your blog posts, too.

Horror turned to despair as I sifted through post after post and saw gray spots where once there were photos. To make matters worse, so many of my posts are directly related to the photos that without them, the words don’t make much sense. I was able to add some photos back – a long, grueling process that required scrolling through thousands of photos on my iPhone, emailing them to myself, downloading them to my Chromebook, uploading them to the library, and inserting them back into my posts. I’m sure there must be an easier way of doing this, but I have yet to figure it out. Some of the posts are so old that I may never be able to retrieve the photos because they’re on my near-dead, virus-infected laptop. The very idea of dealing with that, and this whole blog mess, horrifies me so much that I’m going to ignore it for a while. Which brings me to the next horrifying moment.

Wednesday night I learned that my neighbors have a slaughterhouse in their basement. The revelation came during a Zoom Zoning Board of Appeals Hearing my husband and I attended on Wednesday night. We were there to oppose the neighbor’s request for a variance to keep chickens on their double occupancy property, which is not allowed in our small city. This chicken ordeal has been going on for two years. The coop is two feet from our property line, along which runs our driveway, and next to our driveway is our patio. The neighbors do not properly clean the coop and at times the smell is unbearable. Often we have not been able to enjoy our patio and have had to move outdoor gatherings inside because of the horrible smell. Then there is the matter of the chicken waste they keep throwing in a pile against our fence, which is now collapsing in places. Since the chickens arrived, for the first time in over 20 years of living in this home, we see rodents, dead and alive, in our yard. The town sent a cease and desist order to them for the chickens two years ago, but they didn’t comply and our communications went ignored by the zoning enforcement officer, until finally I went over his head and emailed the Director of ALL Zoning.

These are the same neighbors I called animal control on several years ago when I discovered, to my horror, at least 25 rabbits in small cages sweltering under a tarp in their yard during a heat wave. I had gone behind our garage, which is detached and set way back from our house, and there they appeared, like something out of a Stephen King novel. They were forced to get rid of all the rabbits except a handful, per zoning laws.

Once when the chickens got loose and ended up in our yard. I really was rooting them on.

Given their track record, I shouldn’t have been shocked when, during the hearing,  our neighbor admitted, in response to a question, that she uses the chickens for eggs and meat. But I was. A board member asked the question that had to be on everyone’s mind, “Where do you, um, prepare them for meat?”

“The basement.”

The silence that filled the Zoom meeting was without doubt one of collective horror. All five board members denied the variance and the neighbors have 10 days to get rid of the chickens. I imagine they’ll be stacked in a freezer soon.

Moving on, to my abject horror I turned myself into human jerky through my own carelessness. I don’t know what I was thinking when I spent four hours at the beach last Saturday without putting on sunblock. Usually I do, and sit under an umbrella most of the day. But it was pretty windy, so it didn’t feel too hot, and the umbrella likely would have blow away. I have olive skin and don’t burn easily, so I thought I would be okay. Not. I have been in agony all week from this sunburn. I had to wear a strapless bra for two days because my shoulders could not withstand straps. I have been slathering aloe vera that I keep cold in the fridge all over me, and still areas of my skin are starting to peel. Peel! I haven’t peeled from sunburn since, well, I don’t think ever. I am so mad at myself. At my age, the last thing I should be doing is allowing my fragile, aging skin to shrivel up like dried out, dehydrated meat. I learned my lesson the hard way, but my poor, old skin may never recover.

Oh, the horror of it all!

So, how was your week?

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!