When God Sends Your Black Friends White Paternalism

So there’s this post going around, “When God Sends Your White Daughter A Black Husband.”  I would like to take some time to do a close reading of the language in it and talk a little bit about how, as white people, we can do horribly wrong things in our attempts to be helpful when it comes to confronting racial bias.  If you have not read the post, it is a letter that a white mother has written to other white mothers whose daughters may be choosing interracial marriage.  And while it is meant to encourage other white people to embrace their children’s choices, it goes too far in whitewashing very complex racial issues and ignoring the consequences that white attitudes have for people of color.

I’m going to go through that post now, copying the harshest of the language and deconstructing what may be read as implied meanings.

The story starts out with the writer explaining how she’d had a wish list that she prayed for her daughter’s future husband to be, and jokes that God “called [her] bluff” by sending “an African American with dreads named Glenn.”  What is unstated here is that she’d always assumed the man that she was praying for would be white, and it turns out that if she’d thought about it, she may have prayed for a white husband.  But given the title of the post I suppose that’s not surprising.

The writer then goes on to say that interracial marriage used to be taboo and even illegal, but isn’t anymore, and states that “though I never shared this prejudice, I never expected the issue to enter my life.”  Again, she’d always assumed her daughter would marry someone white, even though she claims she isn’t prejudiced.  So if she wasn’t prejudiced, why did she assume that her daughter would marry someone white and why did she say that God sending her daughter a black husband was “calling her bluff?”  Despite the author positioning herself as being openminded and accepting, her mere writing of the article gives tell to the lie- it had never occurred to her that her daughter may date someone black.  There is a very real, subtle but real, prejudice at play there.

“Glenn moved from being a black man to beloved son when I saw his true identity as an image bearer of God, a brother in Christ, and a fellow heir to God’s promises.”  The structure and language here are very interesting.  First, Glenn was a black man.  Then, as he proved he had certain good qualities, he also became something else: a beloved son.  This implies that being a beloved son and a black man are somehow contradictory or disconnected ideas.  Also, it states that his “true identity” is as an image bearer of God.  Is that also separate from his identity as a black man?

Then there is the anecdote about a fellow Christian’s worry over the possible future children of this union, “It’s just . . . their future children. They have no idea what’s ahead of them!”  This confession shows that there was an acknowledgement that having interracial children could be difficult.  What is interesting is that the writer brushes this off as a shrug- no one knows what is ahead of them!  No one picks the trials they face!  But that admits that the author believes having interracial children would be a trial.  That race affects one’s life is both tacitly acknowledged and painfully ignored simultaneously, in the way that only a white person can manage.

Then the author gives this problematic advice:  “Calling Uncle Fred a bigot because he doesn’t want your daughter in an interracial marriage dehumanizes him and doesn’t help your daughter either.”  Oh.  Okay.  The author encourages people to simply ignore “naysayers” as long as people aren’t “undermining the marriage.”  I think it’s worth mentioning here that experiencing bigotry does undermine marriages.  Relatives objecting to the marriage based solely off of the color of one person’s sin does undermine the marriage.  Encouraging people to just lovingly ignore racism helps no-one, other than tacitly racist people who don’t like confrontation.

The post continues on, talking about building relationships and trusting God.  It’s all very saccharine and generally good advice to anyone whose child is marrying anyone.  What bothers me, though, is that the issue of prejudice and racism is never confronted head-on.  If anything, prejudice and racism are swept under the carpet.  The author never delves into why she may have never assumed or wanted her daughter to marry a black man.  While she does lather on her son-in-law’s positive qualities rather thickly, she never discusses why those qualities may have surprised her in a black man with dreads.  She never talks about why other people might object to the marriage.

She does the opposite.  She ignores the issue of racism as if it weren’t important or even central to the necessity to write about her experiences.  She ignores the impact of race on the experience of of her daughter and son-in-law.  I have to wonder if her daughter and son-in-law feel that the proper approach to relatives who objected to their union was just to ignore the racism and pray?  I wonder if they felt that such objection undermined their relationship?

Instead, the issue of race was treated as a merely cosmetic issue.  I could imagine a similar missive being written about when God sends your tall daughter a short husband, or your athletic daughter a chubby man.

The impact of race on people’s lives is manifold, especially so for people of African heritage, even more-more-so for people who are known descendants of slaves, and I imagine that impact is even greater in the South (where the writer lives.)  What bothers me the most is the lack of introspection on the part of the writer, and the lack of repentance, and the lack of a call to introspection or repentance.  Without understanding how racism works in our own hearts we cannot repent of it or work against it.  We cannot ignore it as a cosmetic or inconsequential concern and simply shrug it away as if it doesn’t matter.  Rather than being a much-needed confessional of how entrenched and dangerous racism is, how badly we need to confront and defeat it, the writer instead gave us a rather prim 8-step tutorial on how to smile and pretend nothing is wrong.

All the while, what is really wrong is clearly printed between the lines.

 

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How casually we hate, but why?

Today my students kept asking me if I’d heard about the “whole gorilla thing.”  Almost immediately, as soon as anyone mentioned it, someone else would say, “that mom should have all her kids taken away.”  I would simply respond, “let’s trust local law enforcement to do their job,” and move the conversation onward.

But seriously.  Woah.  What is going on here?

I cannot move five feet, virtually or in real life, without running into someone who has already decided that a complete stranger deserves to have her family pulled apart, for a tragedy they didn’t personally experience and could not possibly fully understand.  I have to wonder what in the world we’re getting from this as a society, that we feel the need to execute this stranger and her family when we have to know we don’t have all the facts.

It’s gotten to the point that I’ve pulled the plug on Facebook.  For the meanwhile, I’ll continue posting there, but I refuse to read the news feed.  It was bad enough seeing the non-stop barrage of “you’re an idiot if you’re voting for this person” posts, followed by the “if you really love your friends you’ll share this” posts, and the “only stupid people like (whatever)” posts.  Now, to top it off, there doesn’t seem to be a single person alive who doesn’t have a vehemently held belief that either the zoo, or the mother, or both the zoo and the mother deserve to be prosecuted within an inch of their lives.

I deal with enough hatred on a daily basis without opening a door to allow more in, so sorry, Facebook, I’m gonna have to let the dead bury the dead on this one.  (Or let the judgmental bury the judgmental, whatever).  You’ll have to find another way to guilt me into buying your various multi-level-marketing products or to invite me to your parties that I can’t attend because I live out of state and am to anti-social to ever go anyway.

But back to the subject at hand:  why crucify total strangers over a situation we can’t possibly understand?

There are a lot of things to consider.  First, there’s the fact that women in the United States are incapable of raising their children properly.  No matter what choices a woman makes (breastfeed or bottle?  Cloth or disposable diaper?  Back to sleep or side?  Bassinett or crib or co sleep?  Start on solids or puree?  Veggies first or meats or grains?  TV or no TV?) there is literally no right choice to be made.  A large segment of the population is waiting to tell you how you’re ruining your kid, often very loudly and obnoxiously to your face in the store even though you are total strangers.

So, on the one hand, mother-shaming out of the blue to total strangers in a very real and hurtful way is a national past-time.  So mother-shaming this particular mother is just like winning the mommy-guilt lottery.  This is the Moby Dick of mommy-shaming moments, how could we POSSIBLY pass it up?

Second, there’s the fact that there’s a huge segment of the population who distrusts any authority figures and can’t wait to blame them for handling things wrong.  In some cases, like Michael Brown and Freddie Gray’s death, there’s both good reason to distrust the authorities as well as evidence that perhaps they weren’t entirely wrong.  In other cases, like the constant malingering belief that Barack Obama is going to steal your guns and impregnate your teenage daughters just to forcibly abort their babies, there’s not a lot of good evidence but the hatred remains.  So who WOULDN’T want to hate on a zoo for killing an innocent animal just to protect a human baby?  I mean, let’s hate on them hardcore!  Even though none of us are animal behaviorists, none of us were there, the video is short and doesn’t show the most violent actions towards the kiddo, we’re obviously anthropomorphizing the gorrilla by describing it as “protective” when we don’t really know how gorilla’s express protectiveness versus possessiveness, etc, let’s just decide to blame the zoo because blaming authority figures is our second favorite past-time right behind mommy shaming.

Then, there’s the fact that everyone loves to feel like their opinion matters.  Me too.  Having an opinion that matters is fun.  Mine matters a lot to me.

But last, and not least, I think we all just want a sacrificial lamb.

Boy, don’t we have a LOT of guilt as a nation?  We do, and we have a lot to feel guilty for.  Most of us enjoy lives of relative luxury, and the news reminds us on a regular basis of all of those people who have less than we do.  The migrants, the refugees of war-torn countries, the people fleeing cities we’re currently bombing the hell out of.  We live these privileged lives and routinely we see the evidence around us that it may not last.  Our place of privilege in the world is threatened constantly:  by our own greed and avirice; by a shaky economy based off of invisible money we don’t understand; by terrorism; by immigration; by jobs being constantly outsourced; by the cost of education skyrocketing while low-skills jobs pay less and less of a living wage; and so on.

We’re terrified.  And in the collective mind, we’re not too far removed from the Judeo-Christian values that say that when society wears a collective stain, it requires a sacrifice.  Sacrifices we’re all too happy to make.  Welfare moms?  Throw those bitches under the bus.  Bankers who are just banking the way society has taught them to?  Slash those golden parachutes.  Politicians doing what we ask them to?  Smear them.  Mothers trying their best?  Shame the hell out of them.  And the gays, and the single parents, and the transsexuals, and the celebrities, and everyone else to.  Whoever the news parades out for a public stoning, we are locked and loaded and ready to cast our own chunks of granite and rotten vegetables at their tear-streaked faces.  And why not?  We’ve got anger and fear to spare, and no-where better to put it.  We’ll put it where the media tells us to.

Harambe shouldn’t have died, we say.  Let’s stone them all.

Only in the midst of all of this, we forget that the world is a place where sometimes bad things happen even though no one meant them to, even though no one may have been able to prevent it.  What we have, most times, isn’t a failure of foresight but a failure of imagination.  Perhaps we could have never known such things would happen, until they’d happen.

As human beings we’re always learning from our mistakes.

Only we live in a society that has become intolerant of mistakes, so we take out our own anger and frustrations at our own failures for whatever sacrifice-of-the-week has been pulled out for us.  The terrorists, the Kardashians, Johnny Depp, who cares?  They made mistakes which we can paint as worse than our own.

Kill ’em all.  Take their kids.  Make them pay.

Anyway, I need out of the big societal rock-throw, so I’ll be stepping away from social media and focusing more on blogging as a way to unwind from my plethora of bad days at work.

Perhaps this is my own way of casting out for a sacrificial lamb.  Who knows.

All I can say is that the more I see people polarized- willingly, gleefully polarized- the less willing I am to participate in a society that thrives off of division, instead of unity and understanding.

As my students would say, “byeeeeee Felicia.”

Heh.

Why you don’t get to decide that Caitlyn Jenner is a man named Bruce.

The first day of my first anthropology class, my professor said that he needed for a moment to make us the most uncomfortable we’d ever been made.  It was cultural anthropology, and in the process of that class we’d spend a lot of time talking about cultures that didn’t remotely resemble our own.  Our professor instructed us that we’d have to accept the reality of these other cultures wholeheartedly and not try to rationalize it against our own experiences.  “If you’re dealing with a society that believes the sky is an ocean and the stars are fish and rain is a leak in the heavens, you accept that.  You don’t try to explain to them that their god-fish is really a big ball of gas.  You accept their belief, and accept that it does for them the same thing that your God does for you.  In anthropology there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” society, there are systems of belief that work or they don’t, and if it works for that culture, it is the right belief for that culture.  By depriving a culture of belief, you deprive them of their way of being human.  No one gets to make that choice for other people.”

That lecture, in and of itself, was upsetting for many people, who believed that there was absolute truth and to “accept” the reality that in certain cultures illness was the result of the curses of other tribes, and sacrifices had to be made to out-curse the other tribes in order for a person to get better was somehow inherently wrong.  But my professor held his ground, explaining that for those cultures witchcraft works.  “They believe it works, and it works, and if you want to understand who they are, you must accept that it works.  You must participate in their lives not as an authority, but as an equal.”

Not as an authority, but as an equal.

You may be wondering why I’d introduce a blog post about Caitlyn Jenner with a seemingly innocuous story about anthropology.  Let me tell you another story, this time about the section in the big book of anthropology that talks about gender.  “Male and female anatomy exists, that is undeniable.  And that the anatomy of male and female is proscriptive of our lives to some degree is also undeniable.  Only women can become pregnant and give birth, and in many cultures that by necessity defines a certain aspect of their lives, because we need children to survive,” my professor said, “but beyond that anything you think of as male or female is as much a figment of your culture as stars being the spirits of flying fish in an ocean you’ll never touch.”

In many cultures, male and female roles are defined by what the society needs men and women to do.  That doesn’t mean that in every society women stay at home and give birth and don’t otherwise contribute.  In many cases, women have roles that are just as crucial to moving the society forward as men do.  In some societies, for a man to try to overpower a woman or boss her around is seen as a grave sin, which is interesting.  What is even more interesting is the amount of societies in which men’s and women’s roles are seen as fluid and changeable.  A man can “elect” to become a woman and care for his children, or a woman can “elect” to become a man.  If this happens, it is treated as a good thing.  One story is of a woman whose husband died when her children were still young.  She could either remarry, but then her children would be denied the inheritance of their biological father, or she could choose to “become” a man and never marry again, preserving her children’s inheritance and allowing her to provide for their needs.  (Recently a woman who did this in Egypt was honored for her sacrifice.)  In some cases women who do this take on identities as male and “become” men, in other cases such as the Egyptian woman, it is something they add to their female identity.

In any case, there are many cultures where “male” and “female” are seen more as descriptions of who someone is, based off of how they dress and act and operate within the culture, rather than proscriptive orders about who they can and should be based off of the presence of certain genitalia.

After all, when we start to sit down and define who is “male” and “female” based off of physical characteristics, things get muddy.

What makes a man a man or a woman a woman?  Is it the presence of external sex organs?  Because those can be removed, modified, or even created.  Back in the day when castrating boys was still common practice, did those “boys” become a third gender based off of their lack of either male or female sex characteristics?  Were they male because they were born with a penis, or were they female?

What do we call the women who are born without functioning ovaries or uteruses?  They cannot give birth, thus are they no longer female?  Do we define gender based off of what specific gender roles someone is capable of fulfilling?  Or do we look at DNA?  What about people who are born with one set of female chromosomes and one set of male?  Are they simultaneously male and female, or are they neither?

This is one of those cases where I don’t believe there is a single, correct, answer.  While we may be able to define a set of physical characteristics that mark “male” and “female”, then the argument becomes what happens when those change.  If the characteristics define the gender, then if I ceased to have a womb, or breasts, or a vagina, would I cease to be female?  And these questions cannot be taken lightly, as women who experience uterine or breast cancer often have to face these thoughts.  If I lose what defines my role, my gender, do I lose my self?  Or is the gender, the role, based not off of the body but off of some harder to define, more intangible thing?

Men lose their gonads.  Sometimes their penises fail to function.  Do they cease to be men?

“Ah-” someone may interject, “it is what you are born as.”

I find that hard to stomach.  One’s role in society isn’t defined from birth.  At birth it wasn’t decided that I would be a wife or mother or teacher or Christian or anything else.  Those things that I have become, I have become as a result of my choices and actions.  And while I can say that I feel like a mother, and a Christian, and a woman, I cannot say that when I was younger I even understood what any of those things meant or what it felt to be them.  In many of those cases, those feelings had yet to even be birthed.

I will never be a woman who wears a certain kind of clothes, because when those clothes hit my body I feel instantly uncomfortable.  As an infant, I could’ve been dressed in them against my will.  I would hate for people to point at pictures of me in frilly pink dresses as an infant and say, “see, that is who you are.”

No.  Who I am, I am because I took the time to explore my self and get to know it.  I made deliberate choices about what I wanted from my life, and who I wanted to be.  I am the kind of woman I am, because I feel this is the person I am meant to be now, even if then I could not have understood or expressed that.

When I was younger, I had a female friend who had never felt like a “girl”.  I remember her crying in my arms and saying that she hated her female body and wanted for it to die, it didn’t feel like it belonged to her.  I cannot confess to knowing or understanding how that would feel, but what I do know and I do understand is that I had no right to correct her.  She felt what she felt, and if she had told me that she wanted to be referred to as “he” I would have done it in a heartbeat, because she was the one living in that body.  She was the one whose responsibility and right was to decide how to live with those feelings.

Commanding someone to live with those feelings in a specific way too often leads to death.

The suicide rate for transgender people is very high, and it is even higher for transgender youth.  Some statistics estimate as high as 45% of transgender youth attempt suicide.  The rates of violence experienced by transgender people is also much higher than the population at large, and that number also skyrockets for transgender youth (especially in ethnic minorities.)

This feeling, of being stuck in a body that doesn’t belong, can be a death sentence in too many ways.

So, to paraphrase my anthropology professor, “if you’re dealing with a person who feels like they are the wrong gender for their body, you accept that.  You live with them not as an authority, but as an equal.”

The first day of kindergarten, we all faced a big sign on the wall, usually a nice golden-colored one, that said “always treat other people the way you would want to be treated.”  That is a very basic law of reciprocity in our society:  if you want respect, you show respect.  If you want kindness, you first must be kind.

When people get very belligerent about the fact that Caitlyn Jenner is really a man named Bruce, this is how I respond:

Man:  “He’s not a woman.  He’s just not.”
Me:  “What gives you the right to decide that?”
Man:  “It’s just the truth as I see it.”
Me:  “Well, the truth as I see it is that you’re a woman named Susan.  And I don’t care that you can show me male genitalia and that you feel like you are a man, you are a woman named Susan to me now.”
Man:  “No I’m not.”
Me:  “We’re just having a difference of opinion, lady, don’t get your panties in a wad.”

Who decides who Caitlyn Jenner is?  Well, there are two people.  The first is Caitlyn, and the second is the law.  In terms of the law, a person seeking gender reassignment therapy who is taking hormones and undergoing changes to their physical characteristics in order to reflect a different gender than the one on their birth certificate is legallyable to fill out paperwork as the gender they want to be assigned.  So, Caitlyn may legally be seen as a woman and may legally be entitled to treatment as a woman.  If she can check the female box on paperwork and her driver’s license says “Caitlyn Jenner” and “Female”, then I say the least we can do is give her the correct legal name and legal pronoun.

But even so, who decides what is the fair way to treat someone?

Let me tell you another story.  I was fighting with someone I was in a relationship with.  That person told me, “don’t be such a bitch about this.”  I told them that I was really offended they’d use that word to describe me and I didn’t feel like I was being a bitch, I was just expressing my needs.  They persisted in calling me a bitch.

That relationship didn’t last long, because feeling loved and valued as a human being walked hand in hand with feeling respected, and part of feeling respected was knowing the other party understood the ways their word and attitude effected me.  To put things simply, they had to treat me in a way I was comfortable being treated, or they had no place in my life.

Who defines what is loving treatment?  Who defines what is respect?  These aren’t things that you can turn to a dictionary and get step-by-step instructions for.  In every relationship, to know and to love and to respect are things we learn from each other through communication.  Caitlyn Jenner has expressed that she wishes to be seen and treated as a woman, to do anything less is to disrespect her terms for having a relationship with the world.

Now, this note is especially to Christians:  Do we believe that Caitlyn Jenner, that any transgendered person, is a person that God loves?  If we do, that means we have an obligation also to love.  And if we have an obligation to love, that means we cannot do things that disrupt relationship.  And if we must do that, that means we must start with accepting the person not on our terms, but on their terms.  This is where the Church too often falls woefully short, because we think that we have to accept people on God’s terms and thus we feel obligated to decide what God’s terms are.

It doesn’t work that way.  We express love, others respond, others become open to love in their own lives, and by a very simple reaction that love changes everyone.  It’s hard to be cruel when you love, it’s hard to lie when you love, it’s hard to sin when you love.  Because that love is something we wish to preserve, and that love cannot grow in soil that is poison to it.

So when you are openly disrespecting someone, openly condemning them, openly shutting the door to any conversation with them, you aren’t loving.  You are doing the opposite.  You are destroying the soil that love needs to grow.

What does that matter?  Many readers may say, “it’s not like I’m friends with Caitlyn Jenner.”  Yes, but you’re friends with other humans.  And chances are, at least one of them is transgender or is friends with someone transgender or you have friends who simply care about the human rights of transgender people.  And you know those friend?  Those friends you are injuring by extension.

Our words matter.  Our attitudes matter.  Whether or not we respect other people’s way of being human matters.

We don’t get to decide that Caitlyn Jenner is a man named Bruce.

why I wish my thesis were entitled “don’t be dicks”.

Yesterday I abstained from the Superbowl so I could catch up on homework, like a responsible citizen.  While everyone else I knew (with a few exceptions) was having an intensely emotional reaction to some sort of sportsing mishap, I was reading an Educational Psychology textbook and still vacillating about what I wanted to do my thesis proposal on.

I’ve felt emotionally pummeled in more way than one, this past week.  It’s been a week of attempted suicides, public figures having sex-change operations and being eviscerated by the press for it, three year old children shooting their parents with a loaded gun they found in a handbag, global warming studies being more or less ignored, and oh so much more.   It’s been a week of listening to my author friends express their concerns about the changing publishing landscape, reading my classmate’s heart-rending journal entries about the fears their preschool children have about being black in a white justice system, and trying not to get dragged down in unending debates about the widening education gap.  Oh, then there’s the continuing struggle of women to be respected in the workplace and “reverse misogyny” and all of that other stuff, which I seriously don’t even want to contemplate being a thing that people actually discuss.

As I sat on my couch trying to decide what, given the breadth to write about anything at all I could research, I wanted to say, I found myself coming up completely empty.

I wish I could write a thesis about why people just have to stop being so incredibly shitty to each other, but a thesis proposal called “please stop being dicks, ‘kay?” just doesn’t seem all that professional.

I found myself, at one point in time, actually being asked to defend the fact that I didn’t care more about football.  No, really, someone asked me why I posted a meme that I thought was funny, in which a grumpy cat said that it wished both teams would lose, and they wanted to know why I was being a jerk about football since football is a beautiful expression of group passions.  It’s like a coming of age ritual, it’s like a pseudo-religious expression of community and togetherness.  Which I do understand, mind you.  I get how football is a way for people to bond, it builds a sense of community and it also becomes a way to express frustrations and hopes and even aggression that otherwise society would diminish.  Football isn’t just a meaningless sport.  Just as the gladiators of Ancient Rome and the Warriors of the Aztec engaged in ritualistic aggression to assuage the frustrations of the populace, we’ve got our muscular men in tight pants throwing pigskin around so we have a way to assuage our own angst- and it works.  Look at the painted faces in the crowd and you can see how it, like a good old fashioned tent revival, gives us somewhere to pin our hopes and leave our anger.

But what interests me is the fact that we can be SO passionate about a game, while there is all this other meaningful stuff that we brush aside.  How many children have been killed by guns since Sandy Hook elementary?  How many transexuals have been beaten or shamed in the past year?  How many suicides have their been?  How many children have had their educations trampled into the dirt by persistent inequality?

But god save us, we care about football.

If we took an ounce of that passion, an ounce of that funding, imagine what a difference we could make.

But oh, a friend points out that football makes us feel good and talking about teen suicide rates or child death rates does not.

True that.

If only educating our children were a game, then maybe people would stop rolling their eyes when we talk about the literacy gap.  If only.

But in the meantime, I drafted a thesis proposal about how systemic poverty affects the education system.  My kids came home from watching the game and my son asked me if we can still root for the Seahawks since they are losers now, and we have a good talk about how no one can win every game and what makes someone a great sportsman over time is how they play every game, even the ones they lose; people aren’t only defined by winning.

And we talked about how we all have times when we feel like we “lose” in our own lives and we need to keep rooting for ourselves, anyway.

And I laid in bed late at night, thinking about all of the fights I’ll probably pick up in my own career, knowing that I’ll probably lose them.

And I wished I’d drafted a thesis proposal entitled, “don’t be dicks.”

Another time.

The Immigration Crisis, Right to Life, and Birthdays.

Really, there are times in my life when I know better than to go on Facebook.  Lately I’ve been having to bite my lip and quickly scroll past angry screeds about the recent immigration crisis, followed by the usual pictures of aborted fetuses and cheery Right-to-Life posts that say things like “everyone deserves to have a birthday!  Vote for life!”

And I find my patience quickly dwindling down to nothing.  Let me tell you a story:  5 years ago now, I was the site supervisor for a homeless shelter.  One of our families had a child who had a birthday while they were still our guests.  Her parents, feeling horrible about the fact that she couldn’t really have friends over for a sleepover like other young girls, went all out.  They used their electronic benefits to buy cake and cookies and balloons and presents, and they treated her like a princess.  I was telling someone about this, thinking it was a touching story of finding hope in the midst of hopelessness, and that person responded:

“If they had money, why didn’t they use it to get out of there?”

Well, there are a few responses to that.  One is that the amount of money spent on that party, which couldn’t have amounted to much more than what I have in a coin jar on my dresser on any given day, wouldn’t have been enough to pay for an apartment.  The other, more important response, is:  doesn’t every child have a right to have some pleasant memories in their life?  Do you really want to give a child the memory of no party, no desert, no presents, simply because their parent was poor?  Do you want a child to have the memory of crying themselves to sleep in a homeless shelter?  Is that really what we want?

Every child deserves to celebrate a birthday, huh?

So this immigration crisis, or refugee crisis, or what have you.  These 50,000 young children here in America, parentless, because their countries are awash in crime and poverty and chaos- do they deserve birthdays?  Or are they, like the child of the homeless couple, doomed to be judge as worthy of experiencing pain because it is a just punishment for the wrongs of their forefathers?

Truly, I do not understand the overwhelming attitude of intolerance and rage that is being expressed by people who are otherwise caring individuals.  I do get the sentiment that every child deserves a birthday.  People imagine a sort of dream life that aborted babies are missing out on- a life that involves loving parents, birthday parties, being wanted and needed and celebrated.  To have that potential extinguished is certainly a painful conceit.  So I do understand, I do.  I find it hard to comprehend how such tender-hearted people cannot concieve of the fact that such potential was surely lost from the time the proverbial pee stick turned blue, as this child was neither wanted nor celebrated from the start, and simply being born is no guarantee of that sad fact changing.

Take the refugee children, for example.  Are they celebrated?  Wanted?  Needed?  Their parents loved them enough to face the fact that they may never again see them, but to at least risk the possibility of a secure future elsewhere, far away from their now empty arms.  But what future is that?

Given the fact that they are being deported back to homes which may now be empty as a result of the drug wars, it’s not a future of birthdays.

Now, back to the homeless girl’s birthday:  I’m sure that no one really wanted her to cry herself to sleep.  What anyone whom I asked said was that her parents should be more responsible.  “I want her to have the kind of parents who get her out of that life!”  Ah, yes, of course.  If only we could take the generations of poverty, distress, maltreatment, lack of education and societal disregard that landed her there in the first place, she’d have a proper birthday!  The sentiment, once picked apart, is that her birthday shouldn’t come at taxpayer expense.  Someone *else* needs to be responsible, am I right?

There’s a fundamental injustice, though.  We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t say, “every child deserves a life of being wanted and celebrated” and then say, “but if the people in their life are not providing that it’s not MY fault.”

If we truly believe that there is a baseline, a basic life of pleasure and comforts that every child should have, don’t we have a responsibility to secure that?  Even if it hurts our pocketbooks?

When I hear people saying that it is the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico that are to blame for the plight of children and THOSE people should be responsible for securing the children’s futures, I burn.

I burn.

I am consumed.

If there is a moral imperative of which WE are conscious which OTHERS ignore, guess whose responsibility it is to secure it?  Ours.  That is like watching an old lady walk into traffic blind, then pointing at the other onlookers and saying, “YOU should have known to give her your hand.”

NO.  NO.  NO.

If you believe every child deserves to be loved, every child deserves a future, every child deserves a birthday cake- don’t point your fingers elsewhere and say that it can’t be our responsibility to open our borders and our homes.  It has to be.

It just has to be.

If you want every child to have a birthday, you’d better start learning Spanish well enough to sing “Las Mañanitas” and get to baking cakes.

blargh

I have something like six different blogs and rarely post to any of them.  It’s been years since I’ve regularly blogged anywhere but here, and I only blog here intermittently.  But, every once in a while, I feel like writing.

This morning I’ve been thinking a lot about grief.  Also a lot about just struggling.

I have a lot of fears.  Some of them rational, some of them irrational.   I worry, for instance, that I’m annoying.  Every time I need or want something I feel like I shouldn’t talk about it because I’ll annoy someone.  I also avoid hanging out with my friends because I don’t want any of them to get burnt out on me.  When I’m lonely I think, “I shouldn’t call anyone because I don’t want to seem needy.”  When I’m not lonely, I don’t call, because I figure everyone in the world has better things to do than hang out with me.

And then there is the piercing fear that one moment I’ll be happy and laughing with someone, and the next moment they’ll hate me, and I won’t know why.

This is a million times worse with anyone I actually care about.

And grief.  Most of the time I feel fine, but often it’s the moments of happiness that are the worst because I step right off of the edge of an emotional cliff I didn’t realize was there.  There are moments where I’ll say, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been in known memory!” and then five minutes later I’m crying in my bathroom.

All of that to say that where once my isolation was an artifact of all of the bad things in my life, these days it’s mostly a self-imposed protective measure.  Only it doesn’t serve to protect me, it just makes everything worse.

I had this kidney infection.  I was so, so sick.  I had all of these IVs and all of these nurses fussing over me and it was so surreal, because I kept thinking, “this morning I was walking around like nothing was wrong.”

And it wasn’t until I was told how sick I was and had the medicine to make me better that I realized my definition of “fine” was sort of insane.

I suppose the same thing is true about my emotions.

Only I can’t go to the ER and say, “hey, something is wrong, I know something is wrong” and have someone stick a needle in my arm to make it go away.

And now I need to go to work and take care of other people, while in the back of my mind a little voice screams that I’m the one that needs help.

Life.

It’s funny.

2013, how I hate and love you.

Everyone is posting their “year in review” things, and I find it hard to deal with mine.  Oh, my year.  In some ways this was a good year.  I graduated from community college, I was admitted into a teacher certification program, I had a good garden and I learned a lot and I’m ready for the next year.

But it was a bad year.  My husband and I are still trying to figure out how to live with each other again, my kids have been exploding all over the place, and we’re ending the year with my father-in-law in a coma.

So, 2013, thank you for the good moments.  Thank you for the Apricots and tomatoes, thank you for the  nights writing that paid off in good learning and grades, thank you for the self-discovery.  Thank you for the knowledge that I can deal with far more than I ever thought I could deal with, that I can love better than I had loved, that I can carry more than I’ve ever been capable of carrying.

I’d love for you to give my father-in-law back before you go, though.  If you could do that for me, I’d be really grateful.

Philosophers talk about the balance in life, the balance between bad and good and how one makes the other taste sweeter.  Moments like this, that feels like such utter bullshit.  I’m sorry, but it does. My graduation does not taste sweeter with my father-in-law in limbo.  The fruits of the garden do not hold a deeper pleasure.  Yes, I can tunnel my way through the grief to the pleasure but dear God that can be so exhausting.  And after the last few years of my life and all my family has been through, there’s a part of me that can no longer accept “I now know I am stronger than I thought I was” as an appropriate lesson to learn.

Yeah, universe, I got that.  I’m strong.  Next year can the lesson be that I’m better at reading novels on the beach and oozing potent sexuality than I thought I was?  That I can drink more pink margaritas than I thought I could?  That I CAN PUBLISH THE FREAKING NOVEL I’VE BEEN WRITING FOR THE LAST FIFTEEN YEARS BETTER THAN I THOUGHT I COULD?

No?

*sigh*

But I am grateful for the sweet moments, for the little graces that have gotten me through the pain and drudgery.  I am grateful for the light at the end of the tunnel and the persisting belief that it is not an approaching train.  I am grateful for the fact that through all of the heartache I am accompanied by friends I would not trade, even for their weight in diamonds.  Yes, 2013, I realize that in many ways you have got my back.

But please, please, make Jack healthy before you go.