Bend Before It Breaks

I’m quickly approaching the 9th anniversary of my mom’s death–a date which is book-ended by other significant dates over the span of about 6 weeks. I usually start feeling and/or anticipating the pain that inevitably comes around mid-March.

So here I am.

This year, it’s been a different experience. My grief is much closer to the surface sooner that I thought it would be. And in many ways, it’s just as raw as it was nine years ago. This time, though, I’m allowing it to surface and to come out–and providing space for it. Because I clearly have not finished the active grief process, and I know I still need to do that.

The tag line for this blog is an African proverb that spoke to me in the months following Mom’s death. It occurred to me today that I’ve been trying to outdistance the pain and grief still residing inside of me even after almost 9 years. I’ve succumbed to it on occasion, but usually on my terms–which meant short-bursts-because-I-had-to-but-not-really-sitting-with-the-pain-and-grief-and-allowing-it-to-come-out-so-I-can-fully-heal. Grief doesn’t really work on one’s own terms, and I cannot outdistance it anymore. Nor am I trying to.

This year, when it wells up, I am welcoming it to the surface, holding it, and then letting it go. I am finally–truly–walking wading through the muck because I know I need to and because I am finally okay with doing so. Mainly, I think, because I feel better equipped to wade…or because I’ve finally come to a place where I really am okay with letting go of the pain and keeping only the memories. Either way, I’m leaning into the process in a way I haven’t before.

White Flour…Or The Day Clowns Overpowered Racism

I just finished reading White Flour, a children’s book written by peacemaker David LaMotte and illustrated by Jenn Hales.

White Flour is the story of what happened in Knoxville, TN in May, 2007, when a group of KKK members came to town for a rally in a public park there. As is often the case, a group of people opposed to white supremacy outnumbered the white supremacists. As the story goes, however, the counter-protesters came armed not with weapons, speeches or anger, but with props, costumes and humor. The Coup Clutz Clowns were ready. As the KKK members shouted “white power,” the CCC members “misunderstood” the phrase and turned it around in various humorous and positive ways. The clowns demonstrated a third path to peace, inviting all who would join them.

This story is written in rhyme, a poem that tells the story and the various ways the Clowns fought back with nonviolence and even humor. The book is elegantly illustrated, and the colors are masterfully blended to evoke the happiness the Clowns must have that day in May–as well as a glimpse into the darkness that still exists on the other side.

Well written and beautifully illustrated, this book reminds us that racism, hatred and power over another still exists–and that there are better, and probably more effective ways, of responding.

This book is recommended for middle school aged children and older–though some younger children may appreciate it with parental participation.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Collectively Human

Once upon a time, we all came together for a common purpose, for the greater good, for a cause that was ours and so much greater, for–literally–the sake of the world. Once upon a time, we were not united by nationalism but by our collective humanity.

Once upon a time, the entire world was on fire and the only way to stop it was to get involved. It was the last just war, the time when everyone had to give a little–or a lot. When everyone got involved in some way. When our country was struggling economically and forced into a conflict that brought all of civilization to the brink. Where our nation may have been the most alive as it was faced with the most to lose.

How quickly we forgot that sentiment. As WWII came to an end and our country emerged stronger and more economically stable, when we cared for our neighbor (or even knew who they were), when we understood what it meant to lose it all and appreciated getting some back. How quickly we forgot when, 20 years later, we were thrown into a national climate of division. When we were once again involved in a war–one many will argue we never should have gotten involved in. When soldiers returned home wounded and broken–spat upon and shunned, in spite of the fact that they were still fighting a war that may not ever leave them inside. When no one could agree on politics. When civil rights reached a violent climax and so many had to be convinced to see things differently than they–or anyone in their family ever had.

Bring it forward another 30 or so years. To the most recent horrific tragedy in our nation. An act of terror so unforeseen and stunning that made us feel like we were collectively gut-punched. And then, within the next few days and weeks, we were collectively joined as a nation of people who once again understood what it meant to stand in solidarity with our neighbors. When we once again knew who our neighbors were. When we were joined in our collective humanity, not by our nationalistic unity.

But in the ten years since 9/11, how quickly we’ve forgotten. We’ve forgotten who we are. We no longer look after those around us. We’ve seen more war than any moment in our history. We’ve stood on the sidelines as thousands of innocent Afghan and Iraqi men, women, and children have been murdered or abused at our hands. We’ve forgotten what it means to give a little–or a lot for the common goals that should be higher than ourselves. We stopped thinking about logical conclusions. We stopped looking out for others in order to serve our own selfish desires. At least we no longer spit on our troops.

At some point, instead of demanding Medicare and Social Security (all the while screaming “Socialist!” when it comes to any other government program), instead of refusing to pay a little more in taxes (even though the people who legitimately could pay more think they’re money will run out in 6 years instead of 6 lifetimes), instead of pointing fingers only at the guy in the Oval Office, maybe we should examine ourselves. Maybe we should think about what we can all give for the greater goal. Maybe we should stop fighting over debt ceilings and come to the middle. Maybe we should come to the middle on a lot of things. Maybe we should remember that this experiment we call the United States probably exists and is successful (in spite of ourselves) by the grace of God…and then start acting like we are all children of God. Maybe then we’ll be less concerned about Democrat, Republican, Tea Party or Progressive; Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist; military or civilian; black, white, Hispanic, or Asian; gay or straight. Maybe then we’ll be less inclined to be self-serving. Maybe then, we’ll stop operating out of a base of fear. Maybe then, we’ll once again be…collectively human.

Blissful Ignorance

I finally found a way to feel compassion for George W. Bush. And it really came to the surface after the shoe incident in Iraq.

Let’s face it. In many ways the whole situation was comical. An Iraqi reported took a line drive at Bush’s head not once, but twice. A little more force behind it and he would have succeeded. And then there’s W.’s quick, cat-like reflexes. And then there’s the humor afterward. “It was a size 10” and everyone laughs.

But here’s what else was said. The Iraqi reporter threw the shoe “for the widows, the orphans and those killed”. Bush remarked later that “It doesn’t bother me,” and that “I didn’t feel the least threatened by it.”

Telling words when you stop and really think about it. The strongest insult, the greatest act of hatred in that culture was sent his direction and he wasn’t bothered by it. Nor was he threatened by it. Which says to me that he doesn’t get it. And he never has.

He does not understand the impact he’s had on milllions of men, women, and children all over the world. He has no idea what he’s done to families, how his decisions of traumatized whole societies. God forbid that he ever does. Because if he ever really wakes up and realizes what he’s done, I’m not so sure he could withstand the weight of the impact of his decisions. I certainly could not.

So, Mr. President, after 8 years, I have finally found a way to have some compassion toward you. May you find peace and redemption, and may God help us all.