The New Jim Crow & the Nightmare River

When I started reading The New Jim Crow a couple of years ago, I felt my world rippling. I don’t mean this allegorically. I felt the smoothness disturbed by something else clawing to be let in.

Before I picked up the book, I’d been floating along on the smooth, clear water of U.S. life. I assumed all was (mostly) good and well straight down to the river’s bottom.

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow‘s author, invited me to stop floating and actually dip a finger into the water. Beneath the thin veneer of calm, her recounting of recent American history informed me, I’d find turbulence and boiling water that was scalding people alive.

I dipped in one finger and discovered she was right. Horrified, I returned my hands to the surface. I set Alexander’s book aside and enjoyed my onward drift.

Over the summer, little burning bubbles began emerging from the water around me. They were uncommon and only a little painful, so I ignored them at first. Why would I go seek out more pain?

But then I saw bigger bubbles roiling below the surface and understood: the U.S. is a world in which only a few are allowed to float at the surface. Others are forced down, trapped in the murky, hot water beneath and struggling to reach the surface for even a moment’s gasping breath.

I understood: they suffer so that I might stay comfortably afloat. “Oh, shit!” I started shouting to those floating near enough to hear me. “People are drowning below us! We have to see the whole river beneath us, not just the sparkles up top, or they’re going to keep on drowning!”

Alone, I saw, I could pull very, very few people up to the surface. If I could enlist other surface-floaters to reach down, though, I knew we could together evacuate this nightmare river and seek out one with cleaner, genuinely smooth waters where all were equally able to experience the river in its fullness.

“Shhh, you’re disturbing our ride,” fellow floaters admonished in return.  Read more…

Thunder Thighs Forever

February 10, 2017 Comments off

For more than three decades, I shared a birthday with my mom.

In October 2010, I faced my first birthday without her. Cancer had claimed her body in March 2010.

mom me n d

(but not before she met my Li’l D, the first of her many beautiful grandchildren)

Writing about her sometimes challenged me, especially early in this blog’s days. How could I show all her love, humor, compassion, and ferocity, while still being true to the hardships I endured both growing up and saying goodbye to her?

I got as close as I’ve ever gotten in my 2014 birthday letter to her, my blog’s most popular post by far, “Dear Mom.” In a single paragraph, I was able to sum up my experience of being her daughter better than I had before or have since:

You always begged me not to write about you. You thought I’d write about how you beat my siblings and me, how you yelled at us, how you could barely feed us and only kept us in a home by selling other people’s trash. I do write about these things, because they’re part of you. But they’re a small part, so enormously insignificant compared to your laughter, your love, your lessons in forgiveness, our birthday trips to Farrell’s and Pietro’s. I wish I’d written more about you in your life, so you could have seen how greatly your loving acts overshadowed your lost and tired ones. I wish I could’ve started writing sooner, or that you could’ve lived longer to see your love through my eyes.

I was a little nervous when I wrote about my mom in “Bernie, Because I Was Poor: Poverty, Predation, and Understanding Love.” I posted it on Progressive Army, a site with readers knowing nothing about my mom but what I wrote there. Since they didn’t know my mom, I worried they’d take away from the piece a unidimensional understanding of a woman enormously complex and vivid.

My mom was and remains my foremost superhero. While the word “superhero” is thrown around a lot these days, I mean this fairly literally. One of my favorite things about my mom was her superhero alter-ego, the uniquely malodorous Thunder Thighs. Read more…

A heart cracked open

“It’s not about money. It is about compassion,” said a local city council member at a meeting earlier this week. He spoke with such poise and kindness, I  deeply felt the broader truth behind his statement on a local measure.

Over and over since, I’ve come back to his words: It is about compassion. 

Each time I roll them over on my lips and in my heart, I understand better how much everything is about compassion.

Seeing how little is presented around me these days, I’m trying to find ways to show it more in my own life. I feel it often, to be sure, but quiet, held-in compassion does little for someone who yearns to be overtly recognized as human.

This morning, I heard something so overflowing with powerful compassion that I began sobbing. How rare it is to hear something so raw so boldly presented! How wondrous to hear a world in a shaking voice and to understand how compassion connects and strengthens us!

If you’d like your heart to be cracked right open and hear the goodness in compassion (and pain, and solidarity) expressed, please go here. Scroll to 52:40 in “Orange is the New Anti-Black” and listen to the minute of preface explaining why Jeremy Scahill included Kimya Dawson’s “At the Seams” in today’s podcast.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” — Leonard Cohen

Categories: Music, Reflections Tags: ,

Love you well deserve

 

“You both
have so much energy,”
a mom told my husband
as she watched him and me
play with our boys
at the playground
a few weeks ago.

“Yeah, well,
we have fun,”
he replied.

I was saddened
by the exchange,
but not sure why.

I kept stepping.

“It really looks
like you’re having fun
with your kids!” a cashier
told me and my husband
a few days later.
“It’s sweet.”

(“It just comes naturally
to my husband,” I should’ve said,
but didn’t.)

“My mom really
had fun with me
and my siblings,”
I said, smiling.

I was saddened
by the exchange,
but not sure why.

I kept stepping.

Last week,
someone told
my husband that
our seven-year-old
is just the sweetest.

“He said, ‘You can tell which
kids are so, so very loved,’
my husband relayed. Read more…

A sitcom jersey & memory lane

On Wednesday evening, I caught the flu my two-year-old had just ditched. I stayed home Thursday, but was determined to make it to the office on Friday. Why was I so determined? First off, my cube is quiet and tidy, unlike my home. I cherish my time there.

Second, a beloved teammate was in from another office this week. I so seldom get to see him, I wasn’t about to let a little thing like “recuperating” keep me from the office.

Finally, it was a rare jersey day. With the Super Bowl just a couple of days away, I could wear a jersey and sneakers to the office! How could I sit that out?

My husband, Anthony, loves hockey and owns at least a dozen jerseys. At first, I put on one from his alma mater. It more or less matched my comfy toe shoes, which was this sports-ambivalent person’s main criteria for choosing a jersey.

Seeing myself in it, unfortunately, I could easily imagine a dozen conversations explaining that, no, I didn’t actually go there. (Been there, done that. It’s no fun for an introvert, even one in peak health!)

Anthony brought out one from a bin under our bed. Unlike the first, this one, a gift from his third season on a show for which he worked five years, had shared meaning. I’d worked on the show as an extra once, when my husband and I were newly dating. My heart fluttered when I caught a glimpse of him from the bleachers, and again when he swung by to say hello. Read more…

Please keep smiling

For several years, I worked next to a mosque. Its parking lot often overflowed on Fridays and religious holidays; on such days, my company’s owners permitted its congregants to park in the company parking lot.

Once, I saw women step out of a car and cover themselves for service. I smiled on my way into the office. They smiled back.

Many times, I walked by women already covered. I’d smile at each, if she looked at me; much more often than not, I’d see eyes wrinkling from smiles returned.

(Seeing mouths isn’t the most important thing to seeing smiles.)

After exchanging such smiles one afternoon, I remembered a conversation with a male friend years before and hundreds of miles away.

“You’re not supposed to look at them when they’re dressed like that!” he’d told me. I replied that I’d never heard such a thing, and that I’d keep greeting human beings as human beings.

I posted about the new smile and the old conversation on Facebook. “Please keep smiling,” one Muslim friend soon replied. 

I committed to doing so.

A year ago, I saw a Muslim family on a plane and just about broke into a cold sweat.

I came to my senses soon enough. Warm smiles were exchanged that day, too. 

When I returned home, I told my husband, “Fearmongering works!”

(I vow now not to let it.)

“Yep.” he replied. “That’s why they use it.”

Protesting at LAX last weekend, I saw many women wearing hijabs. In all the hubbub, I only spoke with two. I was tired and ineloquent as I greeted them with my two-year-old on my hip, but they were lovely.

“Ugh, I’m saying all the wrong things,” I mumbled a couple minutes into conversation. Both women, Sara and Hannah, said no, no, no; Hannah’s face was especially aglow with compassion that filled me with a sense of okay-ness.

Maybe I didn’t say the right words. Maybe there are no right words.

What I do know is that I said I’d keep smiling.

I meant it,

and I will.


… and fortitude

Last night, I went to bed crying. I felt like every bit of hope I’ve had these last few months was delusional.

I still feel that, but I did find a little spark in something that happened yesterday.

Midway through the afternoon yesterday, an old work friend texted me. “Are you at LAX right now?”

He was there with his wife. When we met up, he said they’d invited all their friends. None had shown up. They’d been there for hours when he went, “Wait! There’s no way Deb’s not here!”

Thinking of that today made me smile. I might not have hope right now, but you know what? 

Agree, disagree, hope, don’t hope, like me, don’t like me, I’ll show up for you.

I might not have hope right now, but I have love … and fortitude.

LAX 7 p.m. Saturday v. LAX 3 p.m. Sunday

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