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Seriously, America. It’s Time.

May 1, 2014

As word started spreading last night about the botched execution of a convicted murderer in Oklahoma, the first of two executions scheduled for that evening, I was Death_Penalty_World_Mapovercome with a familiar sick feeling. How can this still be happening here? For a country like America, which perceives itself as an example and leader in the world, to still practice capital punishment is incomprehensible to me.

Being “Pro-Life” is very narrowly defined in this country. A person can fight tooth and nail for the life of every unborn fetus and yet treat the lives of criminals as inconsequential. A person can harass and shame women for their reproductive choices and then deny climate change, which is and will continue to threaten all of Life as we know it, not just the unborn. A person can wax poetic about the lives of our precious children and then actively oppose gun control of any kind, even as thousands of innocents are killed each year by guns. How is this pro-life?

When it comes to the death penalty, it is easy to get caught up in an argument about whether or not the convicted deserves to die for what they did. This is the wrong question. We find murder so reprehensible because it is inhuman. When a person takes the life of another, they lose a piece of their own humanity and this loss of something within them, the thing that we can most easily relate to, terrifies us.

What happens when we turn around and do the same thing? Whether the person is guilty or not (as is alarmingly more frequently the case than we’d like to believe), by taking their life we are aiding and abetting in our own dehumanization. With every life taken, a part of our humanity is stripped away. Do we want, as a society and a nation, to keep doing this?

I know I don’t.

We need to abolish this horrific practice and we need to do it now.

 

Home Is Where the Heart (and your stuff) Is.

March 18, 2014

After 7 looooooooong weeks of sleeping on an air mattress, I am beyond thrilled that our  imagesfurniture and the rest of our belongings are being delivered tomorrow. Sleeping on an air mattress for such an extended period of time is uncomfortable for anyone. When you are in your third trimester of pregnancy it is torturous.

In case you’re worried that I’ve lost all perspective and think that me living without my bed and books and other things for 7 weeks is a real tragedy, I assure you that I am well aware that I am among the fortunate for even having things to be shipped across the world to my new home, let alone not to be living in any one of the many war-torn areas of the world or having to worry about where my next meal will come from.  I know what I have been experiencing very much falls into the category of “first world problems”.

When we moved to Asia over three years ago I was also in my third trimester of a different pregnancy and also experienced about 6 weeks of living without a bed or much of anything else. That was hard, but this time has felt much harder. One of the major differences between then and now is, of course, that the baby I was pregnant with then is now a toddler who has his own stuff that he is also living without. The distinction between how you experience your own discomfort and that of your child cannot be overstated. Mine is frustrating; his is heartbreaking.

As much as I try to practice non-attachment in all things, the fact is that our stuff, the things we collect as we move through life, even if we are not overly attached to them, provide us with a sense of belonging. These are the items that bear silent witness to our lives, day in and day out, and I firmly believe that there is a way to practice non-attachment while still deriving comfort from them. It’s not that I cannot live without my favorite teacup, as I obviously have been doing. It’s that every time I use it I am reminded of how many warm delicious cups of tea I’ve had in it and how many times it has warmed me on a cold day. Our sofa is not the most beautiful or comfortable in the world,  but it is where my son built his first fort and where we napped together so often in the first few months of his life. Every time I see it I am reminded of those peaceful magical moments.

So, these past few weeks we’ve had everything we’ve needed; a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and each other. We are more fortunate than many. Tomorrow we’ll have all the things we’ve managed to live without, the things we do not need, but the things that will hopefully make our new house feel more like home. All of our stuff, inconsequential as it is in the grand scheme of things, will provide something we’ve all been longing for: a feeling of being settled and grounded and here, rather than in transit. Can. Not. Wait.

Because, Football.

February 3, 2014

As we are getting ready to leave Asia and move back to the US, the question I am most frequently asked is, “Are you excited?”. My answer always depends on american-football-67439_640the person asking the question, but my feelings about it are complicated. Of course I’m excited for some things, many things, but honestly the reality of returning stateside and raising my children in the US gives me a great deal of pause. I can go on and on and list point by point the things that have me worried but much of what I am concerned about can be summed up in one word: Football.

I have no issue with the game itself. I grew up playing football in the backyard with my brothers, I’ve watched plenty of it on TV and in person, and I understand the game and it’s rules well. (So please no accusations of just being a girl who doesn’t get it. I get it. ) What I do take issue with is America’s obsession with the sport, especially as there is now very clear evidence that, as it is played now, it is directly responsible for a brain disease that kills. And CTE is not a quick, merciful death. It is a slow slide into memory loss, depression, dementia,  and aggression, that often ends in suicide.

What could the NFL do to make professional football a safer sport for it’s athletes? Most experts agree that it would require various rule changes both on and off the field for injuries to be minimized. One of the most obvious ones is that players who sustain a concussion should not be allowed back on the field, as they are now. The reaction to these suggestions to make football safer? Fans, players, and NFL execs complain that it would make the sport “too soft”. Too soft? Protecting these men from a life-threatening and life-altering injury is not worth it? Are we not happy as fans and consumers unless we see these men literally risking their lives every time they play (and also while they train?). Who are we as a nation if what we love about football is not the sportsmanship and the teamwork but the aggression? When did professional sports become a means to entertain the masses no matter the cost to the individual players?

Some will say that players are paid a lot of money and that they know the risks going in. It is true that they are paid stupid amounts of money, another thing that I really can’t stand about professional sports. But in terms of knowing the risk going in, CTE is only now beginning to be fully understood. For many years, many of the legendary players that I grew up watching did not know what they were risking. But do you know what doctors and therefore sports doctors have known for years and years? That concussions are serious and require medical attention. It’s never been a good idea to let a guy who sustains an injury like that back on the field even within a few days, let alone within the same game. And yet, that has been happening. For years.

Could fans make a difference? Well, the NFL is a huge corporation that relies on consumers to make money. And it makes a lot of it. Pro football is the most popular sport in America and the most lucrative, raking in an estimated $9 BILLION annually. Also? They don’t pay a dime in taxes! Yes, that’s right – the NFL is a tax-exempt organization! Are you disgusted yet? Because, we should all be outraged. How can we, as a nation, continue to consume their products, including games, while they make money hand over fist on the backs of the players they knowingly and willingly put in harm’s way week after week? Just like any other money-making enterprise, if enough fans refused to participate in the immorality of this and demanded change, it would happen. I believe that.

And yet, what happens when you bring up any of this to the average American? Well, I’ll tell you, because I bring it up a lot. I am usually laughed at and accused of being self-righteous, a party-pooper, uptight, no fun, and my personal favorite, anti-American. Because apparently speaking up about the hypocrisy of the middle-class drowning in unemployment and stagnant wages while one of the most lucrative enterprises on the planet pays ZERO in taxes, while it also puts on these spectacles that are becoming more and more like the gruesome displays of the coliseums of ancient Rome makes one a real Debbie Downer.

And I haven’t even mentioned college football, which is no less disturbing. These young men are put under immense pressure to perform, generating in some cases millions of dollars for their universities, and aren’t paid a dime. (Some players are trying to unionize now and are getting immense pushback from the NCAA.) Sure they are given a scholarship, but one that is, for all intents and purposes, an empty gesture. These scholarships are revoked if a player can no longer play due to injury or illness and it is no secret that those who play all 4 years and do graduate, in many cases, do very little of the academic work required to do so. Many of them hope and expect to be drafted into the NFL, but the vast majority will not be. Those that do graduate may do so with a sub-par education and years of injuries that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. How is that fair or moral?

And one last thing: the hysteria. The crazy fandom surrounding teams both collegiate and pro. It is completely mind-boggling to any person who is not participating in it. Sane, intelligent Americans will fight – really truly fight, not just joke fight – over team allegiances. College towns will go berserk with both wins and losses by their team. (dumpster burning, anyone? how about some car-flipping?) Grown men and women will show more loyalty and fervor for their team of choice than they will show human decency to their neighbor. Seriously, what is going on, America?

So, while football the game is not my problem, it is what the realities surrounding it say about America and Americans that gives me pause about returning. You can tell a nation’s values by what they invest time, energy, and money into. Given how much time, energy and money is put into football, while we now know the terrible human cost, one cannot help but question the morality of our nation. When we care more about the outcome of a Super Bowl than our faltering education system, to name just one thing that desperately needs the attention of all Americans, where are we headed as a nation? What future can we possibly have if our priorities are so completely out of line with the common good?

So, am I excited about returning to the US? I’m excited about some things, but mostly I’m worried because, football.

Um, no.

January 3, 2014

Isn’t being a mommy just the best thing ever? motherhood

Each time I hear that question I am flooding with disdain, both for myself and for the person asking the question-that-is-really-a-statement; one that is implicitly understood to be one with which you must agree.

Perhaps where I should see a woman blissfully fulfilled by motherhood, I instead see this self-identified “mommy” as self-satisfied, possibly delusional, and worst of all, simple. Then I hear myself thinking these horrible judgmental things and the self-recrimination begins. God, I’m an asshole. Surely there are some women for whom this is the absolute and most sincere truth.

When this question-that-is-really-a-statement is posed directly to me I usually do a combination of nodding and smiling while mumbling something that sounds indicative of agreement. I am too afraid to say what I really think. What would people think of me as a person and a mother if they knew how I really felt?

Being a mommy is not just the best thing ever.  Not for me anyway. It’s hard and endlessly heartbreaking, backbreaking work. It is difficult, if not impossible, to ever feel like you know what you are doing, and while the rewards are great, so too are the sacrifices. (I should add that as a white middle-class married woman, I have it easier than many) I love my child and I love being his mother, but my identity as “mommy” is not one I cling to or hold any dearer than any other parts of myself.

When news of my first pregnancy spread, I was told over and over again about how my heart would burst open and grow in ways I couldn’t even imagine upon the birth of this child. The secret to life would be revealed to me as I stared into the eyes of the fruit of my loins. I can’t say that didn’t happen. My capacity for love has indeed grown. I do have a deeper sense of the purpose of my life, or perhaps, more accurately, a confirmation of what I already believed. I am enthralled with my son in every possible way.

And yet, I cannot get on board with believing that me being a mother is the best thing ever. There are too many other things in my life that are deeply meaningful to me – my work, my relationships, my spiritual life. I object to the use of the word “best”. It seems juvenile; the way middle-school girls feel the need to classify friends as best or other. It seems an inherent need of the young to rank things. Best to worst. Most to least.

As we age into our childbearing years, I have to believe that we have outgrown this need to organize and define experiences and realities in this way. Having children, a career, personal relationships, finding meaning – all of it is amazing and hard and wonderful and miserable. Each thing at times the best thing in our life and at times the worst.

Still, maybe I am just an asshole. I talk a big game about supporting women and other mothers and then one says something to which I cannot relate and I start doubting both their sanity and their sincerity. I just can’t help but wonder how much of what they are expressing is coming from within and how much of it is a subconscious effort to fulfill society’s expectations for women and mothers. Because we are supposed to be completely fulfilled by motherhood, aren’t we? A good mother is supposed to happily and willingly sacrifice anything and everything for her children, including her own fulfillment and happiness, if it is asked of her. In my experience most mothers will do this, but do they have to be thrilled about it? Can we express disappointment and pain along the way? Are we allowed to say when what is asked of us feels like too much, without fearing being labeled as selfish or bad mothers?

Is it possible to be a good mother without allowing motherhood to consume us whole, to become our most favorite thing, the best thing ever? I sure hope so. Otherwise, my poor kids are screwed.

Mutual Incomprehension

December 31, 2013
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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, pg 7

Ah, the holidays. So quickly upon us and just as quickly gone. I spent a lot of time this holiday season reading. I hadn’t read a whole book that didn’t have anything to do with parenting for a long while and in these last few weeks I’ve finished four and am well into my fifth. For the parent of a toddler, this is nothing short of miraculous. Part of the reason I had so much time to read was because, for the first time since we’ve been together, my husband and I didn’t have any guests and we weren’t visiting with any family for the holidays. It was just our little family, eating and drinking and being merry. And napping. The napping was when I got most of my reading in. 

Not seeing any family during the holidays is both a blessing and a sadness. A nice quiet holiday with no small talk or catching up or traipsing from one relative’s house to the next is quite relaxing. Of course, family is family and no matter how exhausting it can be to be part of a family, we are still drawn to these people; these people who share our history and our DNA. But, as someone who has invested countless hours and thousands of dollars in therapy trying to better understand my family of origin, my relationship to it, and my place within it, I fully understand those who find no joy in making great pains to be with family during the holidays.

I recently wrote an email to a friend in which I expressed that creating and maintaining healthy boundaries with family feels like it must be my life’s intended work, if the amount of effort I put into it is any indication. It’s something I really struggle with and have for a very long time. (see the aforementioned hours upon hours and thousands of dollars of therapy) I would like to start this next sentence off by saying that I just happened to be thinking about this when I stumbled upon something which has moved me closer to the ever-elusive place of acceptance, but the fact is I never just happen to be thinking of this stuff. At times it feels like it is all I think about. And I was doing just that when I came upon a sentence in the novel I’m reading that has… I don’t know… opened something up for me. The narrator is writing a letter to his son and in the context of explaining his own relationship with his father he says: “A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension”.

When I try to articulate what most frustrates me about my relationship with the family I was born into (and the one I married into) it is this yearning to be known and understood that goes unfulfilled. Mutual incomprehension perfectly describes what is going on. They don’t get me at all and, no matter how much I’d like to think otherwise, I don’t really get them either. If I did, I wouldn’t be so frustrated by their lack of understanding.

When we meet people in our daily lives and experience this mutual incomprehension, a relationship usually does not form. But with family, our relationship is based on something entirely different. It is what we share – history, blood, memories – that keeps us linked to family. It is due to these that no matter our relationship with them, we feel loyalty to them. And there is always love, no matter how insufficient or conditional or painful it may be to feel it. And the fact is, love and loyalty are nothing to sniff at. Those are very real, very valuable things. They don’t make up for what may be missing, but in and of themselves they are meaningful.

I learned long ago the secret to finding peace with family, but that doesn’t mean I’m any closer to successfully implementing it.  Letting go of expectations, accepting people and circumstances as they are, and maintaining healthy boundaries, like everything else, is much easier said than done. Perhaps I love this sentence in this book so much because it very tidily explains, not only what I do not have, which I’ve perhaps spent too much time focusing on, but also what I do have, which I have decidedly not spent enough time appreciating.

I may not understand these people, but god I love them something awful.

New Wine, New Skins

September 13, 2013

Watching the heartbreaking drama in Syria unfold and President Obama’s reaction to the crossing of the “red line”, I can’t help but wonder what happened to the man I worked so hard to get elected. Seriously, Barry, what happened? 2454847837_2150b957ce_o

I know it would be too much to ask to agree with every single decision he makes in office, and I haven’t, but I do wish that on the big issues we could still see eye-to-eye. Although military strikes are looking less likely now that Syria has agreed to Russia’s plan to have them hand over their chemical weapons, the strikes have not been taken off the table.  They are still being threatened if Syria does not act as quickly as the US would like or give assurances that the US would like to hear.

War and aggression only make for more war and more aggression, either immediately or down the road. Barack Obama knows this, I believe, but he is operating within a system that also knows but doesn’t care. Was I naive enough to believe that Barack Obama could change Washington and not the other way around? I think I wanted to be.  If nothing else, his presidency has been a very clear reminder of how little a well-intentioned and completely reasonable person can get done within our current political system. And I’m not sure that Washington has changed him so much as broken him.

There is no shortage of good ideas out there in the world. Brilliant people with good hearts and a deep desire to change what needs to be changed are easy to find. The problem? They get funneled into and through these systems that simply cannot handle them.  Old broken systems, when they are no longer serving the needs of those they are meant to serve, must be dismantled and rebuilt. After a certain point, they cannot be fixed.  As a really smart guy is rumored to have said,  “you don’t pour new wine into old skins”. (Mark 2:22)  The system can’t handle new wine so we need to build one that can.

Next week it will have been two years since protestors first occupied Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan as part of the worldwide Occupy movement. This movement has been a cry for new wine skins from a generation that has seen that our current systems do not serve the majority of the people. Their methods and message has been criticized but one does not need to look very far to see evidence of how right they are. Our financial, political, societal, and religious systems are not creating a fair, just, and peaceful world.

A book was just published last week, Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation, written by Dr. Rev.  Matthew Fox and Adam Bucko. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It addresses not only the yearning of the current generation for systems that serve the people rather than people serving the system, but also highlights all the new wine that is out there, just waiting for new wine skins. The world is full of people using their creative energy and intellects in the pursuit of equity and compassion and justice, which  if nothing else, is a great reminder for those of us who can feel so sad and overwhelmed by what we see happening in the world. It also talks about the importance of calling on our elders, the wisdom of the older generation, to guide us forward.

Building new systems, starting over; that too can feel overwhelming. Dr. Rev. Matthew Fox wrote something that I find very comforting in another of his books, Original Blessing. He writes: “… compassion – interdependence – already is the universe. We do not have to make it anew. Compassion, one might say, is a grace and not a work. This is very good news indeed. Our work comes in entering into this truth and then struggling to rebuild or start anew in building human institutions that themselves relate interdependently and encourage interdependent relationships. “

 

 

Happy July 9th (minus 5)!

July 9, 2013

Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance.  It is also owed to justice and to humanity.  Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong. – James Bryce

Alas, I am a day or two  or five late (depending on which time zone you hold me to) in getting this post up. I patriotic-americanthink since the 4th fell on a Thursday this year, and Thursday is almost Friday, and Friday is basically the weekend, this extends the festivities and turns the 4th of July into a weekend-long celebration + a few days of the next week. You with me?

I’ve spent about half a dozen 4ths of July abroad, but the last three have been the only ones where I’ve lived near a military base while abroad and have benefited from the adjacent fireworks show. The monsoon season has officially started here and there were a few hours of downpour followed by some very thick (fog? pollution? steam?) that somewhat muted the splendor of the colored explosions.

On this 4th of July I did something very American, which was sit on my ass and watch a lot of TV. The Hatfields & McCoys miniseries, to be exact. It seemed highly fitting to be watching two American families feud in the setting of our nascent nation that was just recovering from the Civil War.

Feuding, over things both important and trivial, is as American as apple pie. Thankfully, in general, feuds are not longer settled with guns and knives and fire the way they were between the Hatfields and the McCoys. These days we fight with our words. The words we tweet, the words we post on Facebook, the words printed on our bumper stickers. Sometimes, occasionally, we still even talk face-to-face, but that is becoming rarer and rarer. Most Americans count themselves very fortunate indeed to be citizens of a country that protects the freedom of speech, and values both expression and respectful debate.

Of course, it gets ugly sometimes. One only need turn on Fox “News” or MSNBC to see both sides of the political spectrum hurling insults and putting spin on anything and everything said by the opposite side. Respectful debate is actually a bit scarce these days.

I love a good old fashioned debate myself, hard to come by as they may be. I don’t argue just for the sake of arguing, though, because, god, I hate that shit. Besides, a distinction must be made between arguing, fighting, and debating. For a fight or an argument, both people generally come to the table positive that they are right. (Which is why all televised political “debates” should instead be called “fights”) I think that to debate well you have to listen and try to understand the viewpoint of the other person. If you don’t know where they’re coming from, how will you ever sway them anyway? (or be swayed yourself?)

A few months ago, while discussing the war in Iraq, among other things, I was accused of being unpatriotic. The phrase “America-hater” was thrown around. This because I questioned the willingness of my government to engage in an illegal war under false pretenses; a war in which my then-future-husband fought. My views on the Iraq war are not radical. I am among the millions of Americans who feel that it was wrong to sidestep the UN and invade a country that had not attacked us. And yet, here I was, in my own home, expressing myself in a way that was articulate and in no way unkind or cruel, and being called names. (I was also likened to the people who threw garbage  and yelled “baby-killer” at veterans returning from Vietnam)

The experience was incredibly unpleasant and a bit shocking, really.  Though I was aware that there are people who feel that expressing any dissent at all is unpatriotic, I wasn’t aware that I knew any of them personally. The shock subsided and I started feeling angry, which I soon realized was just masking the hurt I felt at being so misunderstood. Me, unpatriotic?

A few years ago I don’t think it would have bothered me at all to have been called unpatriotic, but I was really bothered by it now. What’s changed? Well, I’m an aging human, so lots. But specifically, I’ve had a child. My child was not born in the US and has never lived there but will someday soon. America has now gone from the country of my birth to the country where my child will be raised. And guess what? It’s not good enough. Don’t get me wrong – I know it’s better than a lot of other places – but it’s simply not good enough for my child or for anybody else’s. And the reason it’s not good enough is not because of it’s failing education system or it’s consumerist society or it’s devil-may-care attitude towards global warming. It’s not good enough because it’s not living up to it’s full potential.

I object greatly to the “greatest country in the world” bullshit. That is nationalism, not patriotism, and I do not support nationalism at all. America is better than  lot of places, but calling any country the best is a bit ridiculous. America does have a lot going for it and it should be using every advantage it has to live up to the vision of its founders and to the ideals that it so loudly preaches. Right now, it’s just not.

I’m grateful to have been born in a country that protects the freedom of speech, among others. I’m proud to come from a country that ranks in the top 5 of charitable giving in the world. And I want my country to constantly improve and be the absolute best country it can be. I want less bullshit and more transparency. I want a better education system and better healthcare. I want to know that our country’s leaders will not be willing to sacrifice the lives of our men and women in uniform for reasons that will not stand the test of time.

One of the undeniably great things about the United States is our well-established democracy. It’s not perfect, but it gives us a voice. It provides us opportunity to express our dissent, to stand up for what we believe in, and to effect change. But we have to use that voice! Blind devotion does not improve anything! Insisting that your country be “righteous as well as strong” is, to me, what being a patriot is all about.

So, ‘merica, let’s get our shit together, okay? If we devote ourselves as a nation to serving humanity we will be great.

Happy belated 4th!

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