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.

grateful . . . restless

First, I have to say that I have so much to be grateful for. I am aware that my whinings betray a huge lack of gratitude for all that I do have.

With that said . . .

I so, so desperately need for something to change. I have been at the end of my rope in the work arena for going on three years now. Blah, blah, blah, be grateful you have a job . . . I know. But my dissatisfaction is growing up in me like a tidal wave, and I am desperate to be able to catch my breath, to break out from under the smothering force of this restlessness. I have been wrestling with this for far too long . . . I am so, so tired of these hopes deferred. I am tired of not being able to decide which direction I want to take, but more than that, I am weary at the doors that keep on closing at every turn. I just. want. SOMETHING. to. change.

There’s a song that I keep hearing on the radio that I don’t know what to do with, but the lyrics keep echoing in my mind nonetheless.

God gave me
A dream that would not die*

And that’s just it. So many of my dreams have died, or at least have faded away as I have lost interest, moved on to the next shiny object left in my path to distract me. And as doors continue to close, it is an uphill battle to convince myself that I’m not doomed to a life of career failure and dissatisfaction, that something better might yet be ahead for me. For now, I am doing everything I can to move forward, but every small setback brings back that fear that I am doomed to a lifetime of purposeless wandering. I am just not okay with that, and so I continue to press on, even when the destination is entirely unclear.

I pray that God will help me to see the next step, and that I will be faithful in this desert while I wait.

(*Shirley Murdock, The Dream that Would Not Die)

Choices to be made . . .

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.
Sydney J. Harris

In the iconic television game show The Price is Right Let’s Make a Deal, one of the popular games requires the contestant to select from among three doors. If I am remembering this correctly, the prize behind Door #1 is revealed, and the contestant then needs to decide whether they are going to keep that prize, or risk asking to see what is behind Door #2 or Door #3. What’s behind those other doors could be much better than what is in front of the contestant, or it could be much worse.

I have been thinking about doors quite a bit lately as I have been reevaluating my life, because I have seen what’s behind Door #2 and Door #3 (or at least, I have seen a glimpse of each of them), and yet I stand here, hesitating, almost paralyzed by the crushing weight of inertia.

I am not happy with my life as it is. I am sure that this is no surprise to anybody who knows me. And for years, I have vacillated, unsure which direction to take. I am annoyingly fickle; it seems like I follow a given passion for a while before discarding it for the next whim or fad that comes along. A few things have remained constant, however, at least on the macro level. I have not outgrown my love for children, or my passion for fighting racism. The desire to have someone to mother is another longing that I have not been able to shake.

Over the last few years, desperate for something to change, I have felt a pull to two different doors, each related to these underlying passions. I have taken halting steps towards each of those doors; however, I have yet to make a choice, and I am hyper-aware of the fact that time is passing me by, and that every day of non-decision is a day that brings me closer to being stuck with the crappy-living-room-furniture set that is my current “Door #1”.

Behind Door #2 is the “mommy” prize. I have glimpsed into this door, even going so far as to take a few initial foster care licensing classes. My experiences with Elijah have convinced me that I would be able to do the hard work of fostering without any promise of permanency, and I am awestruck at the thought of what a gift and a privilege it would be to be in a hurting child’s life for a season. Am I certain that I could do it? Not at all. But I know that the need is huge, and I do not want to avoid doing something merely because it is difficult.

Door #3 holds the “teacher” prize. Having pursued (repeatedly, and unsuccessfully) a particular alternative teacher certification program has been a roller coaster. Certainty that it was going to happen, followed by crushing disappointment. Trying again . . . and again. Still not succeeding, and yet, unable to shake the almost visceral sense that this is what I am meant to do. That feeling ebbs and flows . . . working a temp job grading standardized tests recently, I felt the pull again, “seeing” these students and their need through their essay answers. Who is going to speak for those who have no one to advocate for them? Again, the need is huge, so why not me?

I have begun to identify steps that would bring me closer to being able to walk through one or the other of these doors, but I have a long way to go. I am paralyzed by indecision, however, and my greatest fear is that I will continue NOT to act, that I will indeed waste my life. Tomorrow isn’t promised, and my body reminds me daily that I am getting older. If I don’t do something now, I am certain that I will wake up one day an old lady, sitting on that outdated piece of furniture that will daily serve as a reminder of the way that I chose the default option, the “safe” choice that is no choice at all.

I believe I was created to live a life that matters. That I am not moving in that direction is a travesty of the worst sort. I need to fling open one of these doors; there is work to be done. I say that I want to live the way my heroes did, but those words ring hollow in the shadow of my inaction. I need to work around the pile of excuses that have held me back for so long. I need to move forward, because life will not wait for me. And the one thing I am certain of is that what is beyond those other doors will enrich my life in ways that I cannot yet fathom.

I just pray that I don’t miss it.

misnomer

“Glad to see you made it back in one piece”, they say.

Apparently they are missing the fact that my heart is broken . . . or that a piece of me is over a thousand miles away. So although it is that I have returned safely, please don’t say that I am back “in one piece”.

(going to try Nablopomo again; however, the entries will probably be short if they’re going to happen daily . . . )