Overheard on Facebook – For Vivian

So the wondrously multi-talented pharmacist/hairdresser/opera singer/fighter for justice Becky Boyd has a section on her blog called “Best of Facebook“.

I like the concept, enough to steal the idea from her (which is probably prohibited in the “legal disclaimer” section…hmmm. Do I need one of those? Or does my header suffice?). There are times when a Facebook status update turns into a rant, but one that might be worth sharing, worth capturing.

This one seemed to resonate with people, and Vivian’s dad has actually encouraged me to share it far and wide, so in her honor, here it is.

A 17-year-old girl from my church took her own life this week. There are waves of heartbreak and grief in the wake of it; the pain is unfathomable.

Although I didn’t know her particularly well, this haunts me nonetheless.

From the age of 14 until almost 40, I was almost constantly suicidal, whether actively or passively.

If I had access to this thing we call the Internet at 17, I’m not sure that I would still be here. And I honestly don’t know how I made it through my late twenties.

But I am here. God spared my life.

I wish He had spared hers.

I wish I could tell her that it does get better, that at some point you will look at your life and be shocked to find that you are glad to be alive. That you will someday gain a new appreciation for the line in the story of Pierre that reads, “He rubbed his eyes and scratched his head/and laughed because he wasn’t dead”. This odd, giddy feeling that life is here and it’s horrible and wonderful all at once, but it’s here to be lived, and that you are still here to live it.

I wish that I could tell her that she was loved so much more than she could possibly comprehend, and that, no matter how she might have felt in any given moment, that there were people who could not – who cannot – imagine life without her.

On Tuesday, I flew to New York overnight for the sole purpose of seeing the Macy*s Christmas windows. I got to spend time with an old friend, walk until my feet ached, and take in the sights and sounds and smells of the city. It was a ridiculous, impulsive trip, and it made me ridiculously happy, albeit a few hundred dollars deeper in debt.

If I had died at 17, or even at 27, or 39, I wouldn’t have had this moment. I wouldn’t be able to feel the subversive pleasure of doing something you can’t really afford, just because life is here…just because you can.

If I had died at 29, there are a dozen or more children I never would have gotten to know. A million little moments – things Elijah or Donovan say that have me doubled over in laughter, the precious smiles and hugs from Jacylyn’s beautiful twins, sweet little Elias talking about “Aunt Rain”.

These are the little joys in life. They are sometimes few and far between, but if we look, we can find them. And somehow, in the spaces between those moments, we live, and we survive, and we remember that the bad times don’t last forever.

Life is not just hard; It’s brutal. It’s agonizingly long at times. It sucks to be the one who doesn’t get to die. Life is both a gift and a burden, and sometimes both at the same time.

I wish I could tell her all of these things, but I can’t anymore. So I’m sharing it here, because someone you know may need to hear these things. Maybe you yourself need to hear it.

The pain does subside. You are loved infinitely more than you can possibly fathom. You are here for a reason. Don’t ever doubt that.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes with the morning. And the morning does come.

Please, please, please, make sure you don’t miss it.

 

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Resisting arrest

It was maybe ten years ago that I was in my apartment complex’s pool with a friend’s young daughter. She was not a good swimmer at all, and was reluctant to go into the deeper end of the pool without my help. At one point, I can’t remember exactly what we were doing, (I do have a habit, even to this day, of letting kids use my back as a surfboard in the pool. Note to self: just because you’re in the water does NOT mean it is not going to hurt like a @%# later.) but whatever we were doing, she was either on my back or on my shoulders. We crossed over the point between the shallow and the deep end, and in her panic, she was holding on to me more and more tightly, pushing me down underneath the water.

With my head under the water, I could not explain to her that she needed to let go so that I could get my footing and thereby get us both to safety. I have very little understanding of fear of water, having spent my summers swimming in my grandmother’s backyard pool since before I could remember, but I can understand that it must be terrifying. Her panic was palpable, and yet, in order for me to regain control of the situation, I had to wrest her hands away from my grasp.

It was probably a mere 15 seconds, and I don’t really think that we were ever in any serious danger, but it frightened me nonetheless.

My friend’s daughter was like any other human. When faced with an immediate threat, real or perceived, her mind and body reacted, and her only instinct was to stay alive. It’s an instinct all of us have. It’s what keeps people going in the face of almost impossible odds…it’s why we refer to people with cancer as “fighting bravely”…it’s what makes suicide more difficult than people who haven’t been in that place can imagine. We are human, and our instinct is to stay alive.

Which is why I am so, so tired of people saying, “well, if _______” (insert police brutality victim of the week here) “hadn’t been resisting arrest, they wouldn’t have had these problems”.

These words are usually spoken by people who, even if they were in an encounter with the police because they themselves had broken the law, would never have to experience the abject terror that people of color – whether they have or have not done anything wrong – face every time they have an encounter with the cops.

As a white woman, being stopped by the police is an annoyance at best, albeit triggering in terms of my unresolved crap with authority figures. However, I can think of very few situations in which a random (or not-so-random) police stop would leave me fearing for my life.

I don’t know what it feels like to be a person of color in this country. I don’t know what it is to feel some unidentifiable combination of anger and terror at the mere sight of someone in law enforcement. And because I don’t know what that feels like, I am in no position to say what I would or would not do in that situation.

If you know anything about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you know that it can lead to a state of constant fight-or-flight hyper-alertness. I imagine that living with the trauma of so many difficult encounters with police over time, either in one’s own life or as a witness to this violence, might lead someone to act unpredictably in the face of this threat. It’s not even accurate to say that this is a “perceived” threat, because for too many black and brown Americans, this is a reality borne by experience after experience after experience.

When my friend’s daughter was pushing down on me in that pool, pushing me further into the water, she was not trying to “resist” my instructions, or my efforts to contain her. She was, rather, trying to resist drowning, to somehow keep herself from the threat she was facing. That threat was very real to her in that moment, and so she thrashed and fought back against my efforts to free her hands from my shoulders and flailed and shouted.

She thought she was in immediate danger of dying, and her body reacted. She did what humans do. She fought for her life.

So now imagine that you are facing an immediate threat. Perhaps you are angry, and you don’t watch your words as closely as you should. Like a child talking back to a parent (unsettling image, but the power structure is set up in such a way that I’m often reminded of the children’s book Matilda: “I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”), you open your mouth, or you move in the wrong direction, and you are suddenly and painfully aware that you have provoked the rage of this authority figure, and you may very well be killed.

Or maybe it’s a case of mistaken identity, and yet you are taken to a police station and repeatedly sodomized and beaten…or maybe you simply grew up in the shadow of incidents like these, both the larger cases that are publicized in the news as well as the ongoing narrative in your own community of confrontations large and small.

If you don’t know what it’s like to live in that world, then you ought not speak of “resisting arrest”.

What they are resisting is death. What they are fighting against is the generations of brutality and fear that are seared into the flesh of this nation’s history. However they are reacting, it is all they can do in that moment. When you have a police officer’s knee in your back, or his gun to your head, it is not the time for calm; it’s the time to figure out how to stay alive.

If you resist, they may kill you. If you don’t resist, they still may kill you. And the definition of “resisting” is ever-broadening and not easily defined. And if you are a young black or brown man in this country, you don’t stand a chance against these changing definitions. You certainly do not have the luxury of trying to guess whether this is the day you will die at the hands of the officer who is approaching you.

They aren’t resisting arrest. They are trying to stay alive.

And they are doing this because this is what humans do.

What if everything you’ve ever been told is wrong?

The churning I am experiencing means that everything I have to say will not fit neatly into a single blog entry. But let me start by saying this:

It’s not about what you think it’s about. Or rather, it’s not that simple. If nothing else, remember that. There is so much going on beneath the surface.

I have so much to say and it pains me so much to say it and it is going to take me a while. But let’s start with this phrase: “Implicit Bias”.

Got a minute? Take one of these tests. Or a few of them. Then ask yourself how you came to believe the things that you believe. The things that you don’t even *know* you believe.

This mess we’re in came from somewhere. We want to believe that we woke up one day with our enlightened, post-racial selves and that we are not carrying the baggage of our nation’s history. And why can’t people just get over it?
A poem by June Jordan, called “Jim Crow: The Sequel” is haunting me these days. It was written roughly in the Clinton era, and I think I came across it in an issue of Essence magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

But for two hundred years this crazy
land the law and the bullets behind the law
continued to affirm the gospel of
God-given White supremacy.
For two hundred years the law and the
bullets behind the law, and the money and
the politics behind the bullets behind the
law affirmed the gospel of
God-given White supremacy/
God-given male-White supremacy.

And neither the Emancipation Proclamation
nor the Civil War nor one constitutional
amendment after another nor one Civil Rights
legislation after another could bring about a
yielding of the followers of that gospel
to the beauty of our human face.

I know that the phrase “white supremacy” will upset some people, but please know that I am not talking about someone with a Klan hood in their closet. In fact, I am not talking about individuals at all. And I think that before I can go further, I will need to define a few things, will need to explain why I label myself a “recovering racist”. As disorganized as my rants may be, I would be so grateful if some of you would be willing to see through that and to join me as I continue to wrestle with these issues.

(untitled)

I don’t know what title to give this post…and I honestly don’t know how I will spit out all of the words that are swirling around within me.

I am home from Elijah’s birthday party, and for the first time in at least three years, he did not come home with me. Partly because I am finally beginning to admit to myself that I don’t need to save him from his life, his surroundings, but also because he has more to keep him there, and it would be selfish for me to force him to come with me.

My house is empty, but my heart even more so.

This moment has been so long in coming. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been seeing traces of it for at least a year now. He has friends on his street, and there’s just no reason why he should want to come and hang out with me…especially not now that his buddy Donovan’s not around. And it’s normal…he’s a big boy now…and I don’t begrudge him that.

But my heart is broken.

Make no mistake about it…despite what anybody may say, my love for him is, and always has been, selfish. I got to play “second mommy” to him…everything I did was as much for me as it was for him. People will be quick to say that he is “lucky to have you”…but I call bullshit. It was all my greed to have someone to love, my selfish desire to belong to someone. I’ve been lying to myself, and I’m paying for it now.

Mona keeps telling me that I need to change my shift at work so that I can take him on weekends again…she is oblivious to the fact that he has no reason to want to come spend time with me, and that I wouldn’t do that to him. I’ve already delayed the inevitable by filling his summer with exciting trips to hotels with water parks, and to ‘Acago to see his buddy. I can see now that I was trying to hold on to the last remnants of a time that is now behind us.

When you’re the real mommy (or so I imagine), you feel a similar ache in your heart, but it’s different. Though the relationship changes, you’re still and always “mama”. Come what may, there’s nobody or nothing in the world that can take that title away from you.

But me? I’m Puff the Magic Dragon, not just with Elijah, but with everybody in my life who grows up and moves on, to the type of life that “normal” people have.

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant strings make way for other toys
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head now bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
And Puff no longer went to play along that cheery lane.
Without his life-long friend, he could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.

My “cave” right now consists of eating too much, sleeping too much, and crying loud, jagged, gagging tears. And despite my therapist’s insistence that I can now “focus on myself” and get my life figured out–“invest in me”, or some such crap–I am not quite ready to crawl out of my cave just yet.

My grief is selfish…it’s pathological. At best, it indicates just how emotionally stunted I am…at worst, it’s just short of creepy…and real mommies’ love for their children is never considered “creepy”…

Please understand that I’m not writing this as a way of fishing for people to try to convince me that what I’ve said here isn’t true, or that I “shouldn’t” feel the way I do. I don’t need to be told that I should be proud of the way that I’ve invested in his life or that he will never forget me or that he has been “lucky” to know me…please, make no mistake about it. I’m the one who has been lucky. I have loved him selfishly, and I am paying for that selfishness now with these tears.

I am quite certain that I have never loved anyone as much and as fiercely as I love that little boy…and that love is not diminished, I know. But I also know that the most precious times we have had are now behind us…behind me, truth be told…and I haven’t prepared myself for what comes next. At some point, I am sure that I will crawl out of my cage and reluctantly face the too-bright sun…

But today…today is not that day.

The joy of not having a headache

If you have ever had a migraine (or any really bad headache, I guess), I think you will agree with me that the best feeling in the world is the moment of reprieve after it fades, the moment when you realize that, right now, you do NOT have a headache.

As the Facebook reflections have been coming in, I’ve tried to look back as well. And what I realized is that this year was a “not having a headache” year. In other words, it was a year that didn’t totally suck, that wasn’t filled with non-stop pain and the inability to focus on anything outside of that pain. This was a year in which I could breathe, and could appreciate the small joys and blessings because I wasn’t going through hell.

As a Christian, I don’t believe that we are meant to have it easy in life. And I like the *idea* of karma, but I don’t “believe” in it. My theology tells me that life on this earth is not meant to go well all the time, that sometimes the bad guy DOES win, and that some people who don’t seem to “deserve” it will have good things come to them and a life of ease. In other words, I know that there is no guarantee that the year ahead will be an “easy” or “happy” one for me. I also know that focusing more on my blessings and less on my troubles does seem to help; maybe part of it is that I’m in my forties now and trying to be okay with who I am, even the things I can’t stand about myself. Maybe, just maybe, all that therapy is starting to pay off 😉 or maybe I just realize that I have people who love me, and that is enough.DSC09360

I am thankful to God for the year behind me, and for the years behind it, even though they held so much difficulty and loss and sadness. Just as it’s impossible to understand how amazing it is to be free of a migraine unless you’ve actually HAD a migraine, the good moments are not as rich for someone who has never been through a deep and seemingly endless valley as they are for those of us who have.

I am blessed. Blessed when things are going well, and blessed when they are not. The older I get, the more I understand the lyrics to “It is well with my soul“, and the more I am able to accept the fact that storms will come.

Of course, I don’t want any more storms…not for myself, not for the people I love…but I’ve been through them before…I know they end, sometimes sooner, sometimes far later than we care for. For now, I will give thanks every day for this time of reprieve, and will trust that whatever comes next, I will  be okay, okay because I still have people who love me and a God who has never given up on me. At the end of the day, that is all that any of us really need.