Saturday, June 30, 2018

Turning the other cheek

I'm always surprised at how weddings and funerals can bring out the worst in families. Or it can bring out the best.

Major life changes that we celebrate with family are times when we must be with people whom we may disagree with either politically or socially or religiously. There are often unresolved issues from childhood that become more prominent when so many expectations are heaped upon these gatherings. 

I also look at major life changes (weddings, child births, funerals) as a way to start over. To be a uniter not a divider. To find the spark of love that you once had for each other and capitalize on it.

My husband teases me all the time about my love of logic and science. He calls me Spock which I just love. But I often lead with my heart when it comes to people. I am easily hurt and disappointed by people when the hand I extend to them in welcome is slapped down. It doesn't happen often but when it does I am reminded of the story in Matthew's book in the bible about turning the other cheek.

I don't consider myself to be a Christian in the accepted definition. I don't believe in the traditional Judeo Christian god or believe in heaven. My spiritual beliefs are constantly evolving and are grounded more in humanism and transcendetalism with a good dose of astrophysics. None of that truly matters. I should be judged by how I live my life and how I treat people - especially people who are in need.

In that regard, I am a Christian. I try to follow the example of Jesus and others who came before and after him who didn't just talk the talk but also walked the walk. 

So turning the other cheek is a bit of a conundrum for me. Although I feel that I need to be respectful of others beliefs (as long as they are not harmful) and always try to lead with kindness, I am also not a pushover. 

Was Jesus a pushover because he turned the other cheek? Did his violence in the temple make him a hypocrite? I think about these things when my extended hand is pushed away. 

Where is the line between being forgiving and losing your self respect? 

I have no problem drawing that line with friends and coworkers and others. But with family it is much more complicated as walking away from one person affects others you care about. I wonder too how much I am expected to give up in order to keep the peace. Why my hurt is somehow less important than someone else's.

There are no easy answers. As a Unitarian Universalist I live by a set of principles, not a creed. We have as our first of seven principles: we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I often refer to this as "the fucking first principle" when faced with someone who clearly is not a good person and I am holding my anger in to deal with them respectfully. 

As times go on and our nation embraces anger more easily, the first principle and Matthew's story become more present in my thoughts. Do I owe it to EVERYONE to be respectful and kind when they are not either of those things to me? 

If a family member knocks me down over and over, am I not living my beliefs if I fight back? Even Jesus had his limits in the temple.

When I agonize over these choices I often come to a place of peace. Because those I am agonizing over are not agonizing over me. They dismiss, they judge, they "other" me. But I take the time to consider my beliefs and hold them up to a mirror. 

Maybe I will never have a temple moment but that doesn't mean I will not hold others actions up to their own mirrors. And maybe that's where grace lies. Not in lashing out, not in turning the other cheek, but in being honest and respectful in the face of people who use their beliefs to harm. 

I might not be a Christian but I am nonetheless christian.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Mentorship Matters

I shared these opening words at my church this morning. I share them with you here:

It’s hard to fall asleep at night when there is so much uncertainty in the air. Every day yields another crisis that leads me to deep worry and even sadness. Somehow lying awake in the dark trying to make sense of things is my way of thinking I can fix it all by worrying about it.

Turning worry into action is hard for me given the limited energy I have. I’d love to hit the streets in protest, march with activists, visit politicians’ offices, attend planning meetings for social reform. But I’m left with the strong emotional reaction to political events and no significant outlet which is hard for a passionate person like me.

So … what to do….

The American culture has always placed a lot of worth on action as a force for change. And there’s no denying that a concerted effort like a revolution can work. So maybe, for me and others like me, the challenge is to redefine the concept of “action” in a culture filled with very public “doers”. 

We often overlook small acts when faced with a large problem. We forget that chipping away at a wall can change it. We don’t have to knock it down to affect its height. 

Being part of a peace-seeking community no matter how small is an important act and the first chisel strike to that wall. Within this community we are given the opportunity to positively affect others. In my volunteering with youth here I started the act of mentorship years ago which for me did not end with high school graduations. 

The small act of offering advice and support, and just being there for the latest generation of doers is action. Chipping away at the walls that impede their progress toward changing the world is chipping away at the walls facing all of us. 

I find that the only thing that helps me worry less when bad things happen in this country is reading the social media posts of the youth that have been mentored in this church. I have to weed through some less-than-uplifting comments from my generation to find theirs but there they are. 

January was National Mentoring Month but the act of mentoring our youth here is something we do all the time. It will never appear on CNN but It is an important act that arms the next generation with the chisels they need to knock down those walls. Don’t think they can do it?  Just watch the youth from Parkland, FL.

I light the chalice today for the quiet acts that we do to change the world and the recognition that small acts done today can make a big difference in the future. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Hillary and Melania and the MeToo Movement

It's not always what's said that defines a moment. Sometimes it's what's not. 

Donald Trump's well publicized cheating with a porn star while his wife Melania was home with a baby - and then paying for the porn star to keep quiet - is to some just another scandal for our latest president.

I have seen sadness and support for Melania both online and with people I speak with - on both sides of the political aisle. She is the victim here and no one I follow on Twitter or other social media sites has said otherwise. I'm heartened that even hardened liberals who rage at Trump have not gone down the wife-bashing road which unfortunately can happen when a husband cheats. 

This heartening moment might be brought to you by the MeToo movement but I think that's too new a phenomenon for it to have had that much of an impact that soon. So my mind has wandered to other potential reasons.

I am reminded of the time that Bill Clinton cheated on Hillary. She was not pregnant at the time and he did not pay off a porn star though he did cheat with a White House intern. 

But when Bill was found out, the comments around the water cooler and around the media was about how Hillary was somehow to blame for at least part of it. She was demonized by conservatives and even some liberals who portrayed her as (if you'll pardon my street slang) a cockblocker. She was a wife who must be a turnoff in bed. Who could blame Bill for being oversexed when he had HER to go home to at night? This was long before the dawn of social media but it was a very prominent discussion at the time.

So now comes Melania. A pretty, demure ex-model who knows her place and stands by her man with her head down and her eyes averted. 

How different she is from Hillary who had a successful career before (and even after) her stint as First Lady. Who jumped into the health care debate at her husband's request and tried to work with Congress to enact a universal health care bill while First Lady. She was and is strong, smart, and vocal. She is not a tall, thin body type and probably stuggles to keep weight off as many post-menopausal women do.

I was lead to wonder by the difference in the two women and the difference in the treatment of both when their President husbands cheated publicly. 

Let me be very clear about one thing first: I am not advocating that Melania be treated poorly because of her husband's cheating. She is a victim in this scenario. Just like Hillary was.

My observations are more about why Hillary was and probably still is looked at as part of the problem with Bill but Melania is not. 

You won't be hearing that Melania is someone a man wouldn't want to take to bed. You won't be hearing that Melania is too outspoken and successful and therefore must be emasculating to men. You won't be hearing that it's no surprise that her husband cheated on her since the person he cheated with was more attractive than her.

And therein lies the lesson.

In this time of MeToo and Time's Up, let's not forget what isn't said. And how what isn't said speaks volumes about our perception of women. Even now. 

My only hope is that the lack of blaming of Melania is about how far we (especially men) have come this past year in our respect for women. And not about how pretty and quiet women still catch a break when strong and vocal women do not.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Purple Plans

Every New Year's Eve I break out the cookbooks and choose some recipes for a lovely dinner. Just me and my husband. It's a tradition I've maintained for many years. We march around all year long to other people's drums so I like to end it with a day in the kitchen "creating".

Once dinner is over it's usually a movie or some sort of music. This year Ron gave me a DVD of a Prince concert from his infamous vault. It was from 1985 and included many of the Purple Rain songs. I watched it in awe of Prince's artistry and energy. Made my "creativity" in the kitchen seem like small potatoes.

Prince has been with me all through my adulthood and I figure that he should see me out of this life as well.

Friends laugh when I talk about my funeral and what I want. My friend Mary told me many years ago she would bring the mac salad when I started talking about my wishes. I don't think that's a depressing subject at all - planning one's funeral, that is. It's a great way to think about your life and what is important to you.

My friend Kathleen has been assigned DJ duties and knows that Prince is on the top of the list. We saw Prince together in 2004 and it was one of the defining moments of our friendship.

When I was watching the 1985 Prince tonight in what some would argue was the height of his career, I was reflecting on his life and how he always seemed ageless and almost immortal to me. Like he would somehow transcend space and time because of his spiritual presence in my life and others.

He performed a couple of the songs I want played at my funeral: Let's Go Crazy to start the service (with everyone in the aisles dancing, led by the young people in my life who already know that's their responsibility) and Purple Rain to close. In the middle, I want Nothing Compares 2U played (the live version).

I miss Prince's presence on this planet. Though I really feel that he left so much of himself behind that he *has* transcended space and time. His music fills me with joy and energy that is at a premium in my life given my chronic illness. His lyrics make me contemplate a higher power. I live vicariously through his phenomenal dance and guitar skills. He feels like a present-day Mozart who lifts me up and inspires me as well.

At the end of the calendar year I do spend time reflecting on not so much where I was but where I'm going. Physical life is short. Prince's sure was. What will I leave behind that others will find inspiring and joyful? What memories will I provide that will lift others up? Will my presence inspire others to think about their own lives when they reflect on New Year's Eve after I'm gone?

I don't think you have to be a rock god to make a difference in people's lives. Or laugh in the purple rain. You only have to plant seeds of joy and introspection. And that's enough. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Finding Joy at Christmas

It's Christmas Eve and I'm sitting by the tree and the fire drinking my annual glass of Bailey's shortly before midnight. My husband is in bed - expecting to have to rise early to clear snow from the driveway. It's December, after all.

We spent the afternoon at my in-laws celebrating Christmas and the engagement of my brother-in-law who is marrying a great woman. She and I are two extroverts who hit it off immediately and I was in tears when I hugged her today as I welcomed her to the sister-in-laws club. 

My father-in-law returned home from rehab two days ago and will turn 89 next week. My mother-in-law is 92 and going strong with an attitude that defies age. 

I told the story of my engagement there tonight. It was 30 years ago tonight that my husband proposed to me in their living room. The rest of the family had gone to midnight mass and we had stayed behind. When they all returned with expectant smiles, I excitedly stuck out my left hand and we all jumped up and down with joy. It was one of those magical moments in my life that I will never forget.

The state of our country has been a source of great sadness to me. We are living through a White House that denies science and truth, denigrates our common humanity, and puts us at risk for war with a complete lack of diplomacy and detente. 

I constantly search for a light in the storm. Oftentimes I find it in the pastoral care work I do at my church. Or in the mentoring of amazing young women that makes me hopeful for the country's future. 

Tonight I found it in both the joy of a new marriage that is beginning, and the dedication to joy and quiet resolve that my church fosters not just at Christmas but all year long. 

When I read at our Christmas Eve service tonight, I choked up at the end of the poem my minister asked me to read. I share it with you here on this peaceful night and pray that you find the hope you need to carry on. 

There IS love and joy in the world. We just have to be ready to receive it.

“First Coming ” by Madeleine L’Engle

He did not wait until the world was ready,
Till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
And prisoners called out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
Turned water into wine. He did not wait.

Till hearts were pure. In joy he came
To a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
To heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
The Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
To raise our songs with joyful voice,
For to share our grief, to touch our pain
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Assault in the Age of Woman

When I was in my early twenties, I was sexually assaulted. It is something I never spoke of until this year. l told no one. Not family, not friends, not my husband. I had, in fact, completely shut it out of my mind. Until the rise of Trump.

My friend Diane and I had gone to see a friend's band perform at a club in Quincy Market in Boston. I had a major crush on the bass player and was not going to miss this. It was a Thursday night and we had parked at a garage nearby. It was a beautiful spring night and lots of people were out enjoying the evening.

We had a great night at the pub and left there around 11 since we had to work the next day. We were crossing to the parking garage and chatting about the cute bass player and how Diane thought I had a chance with him. 

Two young men were walking past us when suddenly one of them lurched forward and grabbed my breast with both hands so forcefully that I couldn't breathe. He was uttering some sort of drunken gibberish. Diane started shrieking. The man's friend grabbed his friend off me and apologized profusely. "He's REALLY drunk. I'm so sorry." and quickly led him away.

Diana and I stood there in shock. I had my arms around my chest in pain. Diane asked if we should call the police or maybe go back to the club to get the guys. I said, "I just want to go home." So we walked back to the garage and she drove me home. 

For a week I was in pain and the bruising was horrific. I was still living at home at the time but said nothing to my parents. I wondered if I should go to the hospital. I worried about the long-term physical effects of such an injury. Yet I told no one. 

Women talk about fear and shame when they are sexually assaulted in any way. And this includes verbal assault. We somehow feel that we did something to bring it on. But there's also this feeling that men are in charge of the world and this is the price women must pay to live in it with them. We fear repercussions because of that. Maybe we won't be believed. That our reputations will suffer because this happened to us. TO us often morphs into BECAUSE of us in our heads. Crazy, I know. But men would have to live as women for years to fully understand it.

Diane and I never spoke of it again. She was probably just as traumatized as me. The bruises and pain subsided and I stuffed all the feelings down as best I could. 

For the longest time I thought I must have been an anomaly. It was one of the reasons I didn't share it with anyone. 

Since then I have had a lower opinion of men in general. This is not to say that I am a female chauvinist. There are many many men whom I admire. My husband is one of those men. But, in general, I tend to roll my eyes when men "act up" because I feel that they are more easily swayed by baser instincts. I did not feel that way before that Thursday night in Boston. 

Earlier this year I was having a discussion with my husband about how Trump's openly attacking women both physically and verbally has stirred up a lot of old memories for women like me. At the time, I thought it was a bad thing. That women were suffering in droves because of the specter of sexual assault around every corner not to mention its normalization by the man in charge of the country. 

Initially I think that women like me did have some PTSD moments. We try hard to assimilate, show our strength, and compete with men in areas such as careers. Underneath it all, however, are memories like mine. 

Most women I know and admire don't take marginalization for long. We fight for ourselves, our families, and other women. So it is not surprising to me that women's trauma has turned to action. There have been too many Thursday nights in Boston for all of us. We are done.

A year ago, when Trump was elected, I was dejected and had very little hope. I was talking to my minister who was probably even more dejected than me. In the end, I told her that maybe this was what the country needed. A kick in the pants. We had become too complacent as a society. We needed to open all the wounds in order to heal them once and for all. 

I'm still not sure where all of this is going for women or the country. I was approached by a woman after the election who was working with others to recruit women to run for office. Because of my health, I had to decline. But there were many women who did accept the challenge. And that gives me great hope for the future. 

If there is a lesson in here for men (and I hope there is) it would be to talk to other men. Have they been that young man in Boston that Thursday night? Do they understand how invasive this is? Have they talked to their female family members and friends to see if they have stories to tell? 

If so, listen and share. These wounds will not heal if they remain covered.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Winners and Losers

I've been thinking of the Yankees’ firing of Joe Girardi. I was really surprised by that news not just because I think he is a great baseball manager but because it feels like our culture has become one of winners and losers with nothing in between. 

You only need to look as far as the White House for this cultural shift. How many times has Trump used the terms “winning” and “losers” not just in his campaign speeches but in his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks. 

Our social media perpetuates this culture with the one-upmanship of sharing our stories of whatever we’re winning at that particular day. It’s good to share. I’m a sharer by nature. I just wonder if people who don’t share are holding back because they feel that they can’t compete. Like if their day isn't as “winning” as others, they therefore must be losers.

The sports fans are this culture to the n’th degree. Boston has become this way particularly with the many titles from all of our local pro teams in the recent past. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t expect teams we patronize to perform at their best, but we also wrap ourselves up in their winning and losing as if their loss makes us losers too. And their winning, though we've really had very little to contribute, makes us champions as well.

This may be my over-thinking of a simple change in baseball management. But my concern is that we feel that by not grabbing the top prize we somehow have something to be ashamed of. And no one would value us if we don't produce that level of success consistently.

We live in a very competitive country. The pressure we put on ourselves, our employees, and even sometimes our children has created a national anxiety that is palpable. The origins of this competitiveness is an entire book in itself and one that I think should be written. I think it's bundled with our original fight for independence but has now morphed into our need to maintain global domination and be perceived as the greatest country on earth.

The national culture is found in everything from the arts to corporate expectations to governing dynamics. We can't escape it. 

It makes me sad to think that the foundation of our society is slowly focusing more on who wins than who contributes. It takes each of us with our own unique gifts to move the world in a direction of kindness and self-sustainability. We can't all be superstars or leaders. To start, we can recognize that personal value shouldn't be based on the number of checks in a win column created by someone else.

We win in many different ways all day long. For me, just getting out of bed with my illness is a huge win. For others juggling work, child-raising, and paying bills on time is a win.

I would hate to see us lose sight of the ability of all of us to be winners in our own way.