Posts Tagged ‘humanity’

On margin hearts

This morning, I finished William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite. I daresay I drew more hearts in the margins of its final chapters than in total throughout all the other books I’ve read this last year.

Most of what I read doesn’t really warrant being smattered with ♥♥♥. It’s mostly grim, and blunt, and important for me to keep reading no matter how much it hurts my figurative heart when I do.

Some of what I’ve read goes beyond describing what’s wrong and into envisioning what “right” might look like. It’s those visions of something better for all that inspire me to draw hearts in the margin of my non-fiction reads. My highlighter hearts are the opposite of all my furious, borderline hopeless margin notes, which speak to the hard work I’m doing with my head. Margin hearts, on the other hand, reflect the hard work that I’m doing with my heart: finding the chutes of green among the rubble of American inequity and militarism, searching for and attuning myself to voices of hope with dust still heavy in the air.

sample shelf.png

Books are oriented three different ways on my in-progress shelf. The leftmost books, with words falling down like rain, are books I’ve already finished reading. Books with words climbing upward are ones I’ve begun, but have set aside for the moment. The remainder, I’ve yet to start reading. 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.

The grace and joy of “for”

I’ve had such a monumental heart-shift recently, it may well take me weeks or months to articulate it.

It will almost certainly take thousands of words. At its core is for: the difference between being for and against, but it runs much deeper than that handful of words conveys.

What a felon looks like. Also, love.

What a felon looks like. Also, love.

A piece of this shift showed up in conversation I had with my friend Ra a couple of weeks ago. I told her how I’d written a post called “I believe you” while she was in prison. I mused aloud about how one piece of that post was difficult for some to grok: the piece where I suggested I was for her, not against him, in sex assault cases. As I wrote then,

It’s not my job to adjudicate. In any case, I’m not interested in weighing his guilt, threatening or cursing him. That doesn’t change anything–not for the better, anyway.

In fact, I believe focusing so keenly on all the details of any one him, speculating about him or castigating him hurts not only you but all of us. We blind ourselves to the whole picture because it’s easier to speculate on one lurid detail: one him. We’re so busy ogling the accident on the roadside, we don’t see the crumbling bridge ahead of us. Nothing gets changed that way because we can’t change something that’s already happened.

I’d like us to stop talking about any one him and start talking instead about how to help you. How to lift you up in healing. How to let you know we are here for you, listening to you, believing you.

I’d rather focus on building than destroying.

I now believe those words a million times more intensely than when I wrote them last January. A trillion times more, even, or to the infinity-eth power.

I also understand that there are a billion more ways to destroy than I then understood, and that I perpetrate some of them daily.

Listening to Ra speak of prison and parole, I am overwhelmed by the tragedy of all the lives destroyed by the United States prison system. Less and less do I believe we send people to prison for reform, or allow those freed from the physical walls of prison to ever be free.

Mackorah Debenzie 2011

Mackorah Debenzie 2011

Somewhere in my heart of hearts, some part of me used to believe people who went to prison deserved whatever they got, for however long they got it. Then, on a long car trip with my beloved Mackenzie some years ago, she waxed eloquent about how dehumanizing that was. I still dehumanized others after that conversation, but Mackenzie’s insights started me down the path of questioning some of my basest assumptions. (Thanks, Mackenzie. ILU.)

With Ra and Mackenzie’s words in my heart, a quote by Ellen Degeneres then made my heart sink as I thought, “That was me.”

So when I read Ra’s most recent post this morning, I cried. Of course I did. It’s the epitome of what I’m struggling to articulate; it’s for, through and through.

Ra is not against Ellen, but for love. For hope. For books, and literacy. For seeing the inhumanity with which we treat prisoners, whether they are within or outside of prison, and for accepting the humanity of individual prisoners, seeing each as herself instead of one indistinguishable piece of an identical whole. For compassion. For love. For for.

I am for all of these things, and for Ra, and for you. I am for you reading Ra’s post and spending some time today contemplating and then basking in the sweetness of sitting with all the many things you’re for.


I subscribe to several hundred blogs.

Some of the bloggers I follow are work-at-home moms. Others are work-at-home dads.

Many of these blogs are by moms and dads working outside the home. Some have kids with special needs; others have kids who are physically and neurally “typical.” Still others of the blogs I follow are written by folks who have no kids; some never want to have kids.

I follow a handful of teens, as well as some college students. I follow others whose age and parental experiences are totally unknown to me, because they choose to focus on one part of their experience: their faith, their crafts, their hardships with a specific aspect of their lives, like mental illness or being gay within hostile communities.

Apart from the fact we are all human with the same physiological needs, the bloggers I follow have just one thing in common: Read more…

Sharing Demons

I like to listen more than I like to watch, much to my movie-loving husband’s chagrin.

Even so, when a friend told me I’d love the music video for Imagine Dragons’ “Demons,” I was willing to give watching it a shot. Why was she convinced I would love it so–not only the song, but the story the band chose to tell with it?

If they were around when I was 14, I would've been doomed. Much as I tried to put on a tough exterior, my classroom doodles revealed the truth!

If they were around when I was 14, I would’ve been doomed. Much as I tried to put on a tough exterior, my classroom doodles revealed the truth!

My friend was right. I loved the video. I don’t mean that the flippant way folks–myself included–sometimes say things like “I love Starbucks!” or “I love Target.” I mean I loved it in a way that rocked me to my core, filling me with a sense of connectedness to life similar to that inspired by love I feel for friends and family.

Before I began blogging, I thought only my siblings could ever understand the dark, sad places in my heart, having lived the originating experiences with me. They knew the same poverty, abandonment, abuse, bullying, and loss of a loved one to the depths of mental illness. When our mom died of cancer after a life filled with so much pain, they shared that sadness, too. We’d walked those rocky roads together, but no one else–no one–would ever understand what it was like to walk them. It was just us.

Blogging expanded my world. As I wrote about my experiences, others shared their own like experiences. I saw commonalities I’d never have seen if I’d kept my own demons hidden. I read, too, about uplifting and heartbreaking experiences totally unlike my own. With each word I read I came to understand I didn’t own statistically significant shares in suffering. Every single blogger I read–even my favorite humor bloggers!–occasionally wrote about their own sorrows and struggles in ways that expanded my understanding of life. The more I read, the more I understood that while individual circumstances vary, every single human walking this earth knows the core experiences of joy and pain. No one owns them. Read more…

46.5 million critical reasons to see poverty’s devastation

The bathwater was on the verge of spilling over the edge of the tub, so I leaned over and turned it off.

My son immediately threw a fit. He was only two at the time, so his fit didn’t involve his now-customary attempts to negotiate. He mostly shouted “more” a lot and flailed around to show he disapproved of my decision.

“Sweetie,” I told him, surprised by his unusually strong reaction. “There are people in this world–”

What I wanted to say was, “There are people in this world who can’t give their kids a single glass of water to drink. This problem is not so big.”

What I actually did was choke on my words and begin to cry. As my son stopped flailing and focused on his toys again, I imagined what it would be like to gaze upon his cracked lips and be unable to give him a single ounce of clean water. I thought about the reality that countless mothers around the world face this very situation daily.

The imagining felt real, and terrible, but I understood its limitations. Read more…

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