Sunday blogging against racism–love your hair, but not because I said you should.

So yeah . . . of course I absolutely love this video . . . but I keep hearing people say, “Oh, this adoptive father wrote this for his daughter, who is from Ethiopia, isn’t that so nice?” Well, yeah, it’s sweet and all, blah blah blah, but how long is it going to take before black folks can like their hair just because THEY decided to like their hair, and not because we benevolent white folks have given them “permission”?

I’m glad that this white father of an African-American daughter is conscious of these issues, and cares about his daughter’s self-image. Still, I long for the day when we as white people will stop feeling like we get to be the ones to give black women ‘permission” to call the hair God gave them “beautiful” . . .

reflections – year 9

I feel like I have to mark this day somehow, as I have for the past several years . . .

I feel so connected to this day on such a personal, visceral level . . .I worked in lower Manhattan for several years; I was working at a shoe store two blocks away on the day of the first WTC bombing in 1993. Knowing what I saw that day, and then trying to translate my own experience to the magnitude of this second attack,  I feel like somehow I “get it”; I tell myself that I am not just one of those people who is appropriating someone else’s grief for my own purposes.

but the more I hear about what some of the people I know went through on that day, the more I start to believe that I am really just a fraud after all . . .

I know the rhetoric–that this day happened to “us” as a nation, and particularly to “us”, my beloved hometown of NYC.  But if I am to be honest to myself, it didn’t happen to *me*. Not in the way that it would have happened “to me” had I still been in the city at that time . . . not in the way that it happened to these people I know, people for whom those streets were not merely recent memories viewed from a distance, and for whom the events of that day cannot be shut off from their consciousness simply by changing the channel on their TV set.

Had I been there, had my feet walked those streets and my lungs breathed that death-filled air,  I would not now be capable of watching those events reenacted, moment by painful moment, as I did today and have done for the last several years. I would not be capable of sitting in front of The History Channel until I am too sick to my stomach to watch anymore. If I had lived it, I would not be merely trying to imagine the tastes and smells and sounds of that day, because they would have been indelibly seared into my brain, far beyond the reach of any psychic “off” switch.

Those of you who have lived it, and survive it still, are as much heroes to me on this day as those who lost their lives nine years ago, and it is a privilege to be able to honor your journey.

No such (thing as) luck

I don’t believe in luck.

I have to say that I don’t believe in luck . . . and I also have to tell you that this is not as true of me as I would like it to be. In fact, the struggle to avoid attributing the good or bad things that happen in my life to “luck” is a constant one. Having a persistent case of OCD doesn’t help matters; in fact, I could easily blame my superstitious ways on my ever-present anxiety and tidily explain away the heresy inherent in every decision I make to “knock on wood” or throw salt over my shoulder.

But I will spell it out plainly: I do not believe in “luck” for the same reason that I do not believe in “coincidence”: I believe in a God who is in control of all things. I believe that there is a purpose for everything, and that every moment of our lives is woven into the larger tapestry of a story whose end we have yet to see. No “chance”, no “luck”, just a God in whose love and goodness I continue to trust, no matter what my circumstances may be.

With that said, nobody was more amused and delighted than I was when I won a one-hour massage last week in response to an email ad from a local chiropractor . . . and then found out yesterday that I had won a dozen gourmet cupcakes via a contest I entered with a local business via Facebook . . . and sure, those two bits of information, taken together, might lead someone to say that I’ve been having a bit of “good luck” as of late, just as the flat tire I got this afternoon might be interpreted as a change in that “luck” . . .

But I need to remind myself, over and over and over again, that all of the good things in my life, and all of the bad things, and everything in between, come to me not by luck but by the hand of One who loves me more than I can imagine, and who not only wants what is best for me, but knows exactly what combination of good, bad, and everything in between is required for me to become who He means for me to  become.

That’s not lucky. That’s blessed. And I pray that I will continue to remind myself of that minor, yet oh-so-important distinction between the two.

Clown shoes

All summer long, I have been guilty of a huge fashion faux pas. Because I am trying to be kind to my ankle after a lengthy recovery from last summer’s surgery, I am hardly interested in how I look; I am just happy that I can walk. And because I want to CONTINUE to be able to walk, I am choosing footwear that values form over function.

I have two pairs of shoes right now that I am able to walk in with minimal pain. Both are black; one is more of a dress shoe, but the other is a big, clunky pair of New Balance sneakers. I am a size 10 wide, so it’s not pretty under any circumstances . . . but it is summer, the season of capris and (as short as i ever go) Bermuda shorts. I need to be able to walk, though, so without apology, I wear my capris–and yes, even my shorts–with socks and black sneakers.

Elijah tries on my giant sneakers

I cannot go up to every person I pass on the street and say to them, “I’m really not usually this tacky in my choice of footwear. I DO know that capris are not meant to be worn with giant, ugly sneakers.” I can’t communicate this to everyone, and because of this, I cannot control the assumptions people are making about me. And it suddenly struck me the other day that all of us are wearing some kind of “clown shoes”; we all have some outward trait that may not make sense to others who don’t know the story that lies beyond what the eye can see.

A friend of mine has this quote as part of her email signature: “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle”. Those words convict me; I am hardly kind at all, let alone “kinder than necessary”. But perhaps I need to remember my clown shoes, and try to have more grace for those around me. To remember that we only see the shoes–that behind every pair of ugly shoes inappropriately paired with socks and shorts is a story, and a journey. As I hobble on my way, I need to remember that, just as my own shoes tell a story, so do those of the people I meet.

In time, as I continue to heal, it’s possible that  I may be able to trade my clown shoes in for footwear that doesn’t call attention to me, shoes that allow me to mask my brokenness and blend in with the crowd. In doing so, however, I don’t ever want to forget where these shoes have taken me.

To respect a person’s story, to see without judging, is the best way to honor that person’s journey. And although judging others seems so automatic, I am grateful that I have these ugly shoes to help me remember that there is more to the story, and that I can never go wrong being “kinder than necessary”.

breaking free

I am sick of being so bad with my money. I am tired of being the epitome of the cliche “living paycheck-to-paycheck”, of never being able to take a “real” vacation . . .  I  dream of someday being able to buy an $80 swimsuit from Lands’ End no matter which pay period it is. I would love it if I didn’t have to plan ahead for every unexpected expense, if I could always feel like I still had “enough” no matter how many days it us until payday?

At the same time, however, I’m disgusted by my, for lake of a better term, “American-ness”. I hear a conversation about the causes of poverty, and wonder why we don’t ask ourselves, “What are the causes of material wealth?” I want to have less STUFF; I want to live my life being constantly aware of the fact that, as the Michael Card song says, “we rob our brothers by all that we own”. Every useless tchotchke in my house, every item that I’ve purchased and long since abandoned to Goodwill or clogged up the landfills with, robs those who don’t have a fraction of what I have access to.

I dream of taking a cruise, of having a week for luxury and relaxation and towels shaped like  swans and WAY too much food . . .  but at the same time, I ask myself how I could possibly live in such luxury, and how I could travel to places where the extremes of poverty are likely to be just out of sight of this blatant, almost unforgivable extravagance.

The hell that is my life with Sallie Mae aside, I tell myself that I would gladly leave the US and go somewhere that I could be relatively free of the trappings of capitalism . . . but all of that is only lip service. I have been raised in the US-ian culture and, for better or for worse, it has put this unrelenting longing for “stuff” into the depths of my being.

And so, I spend hours perusing catalogs, looking at vacation spots online, and wandering the stores looking for a bargain. I dream of getting a new(er) car, and yet prepare myself for the inevitability of spending some time on the bus. I feel myself torn between two conflicting desires, the desire to possess, and the desire to break free. And yet, I am standing in a no-man’s-land, incapable of achieving either goal, choked by my possessions but left being hungry for more.

I wish I knew the way out of this. I wish I could break free. But for now, I am here, having way too much, yet not enough.