Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Ode to the gifts of the horrible year that was

January 11, 2018

From the backseat, on the way to kindergarten, my five-year-old son asked, “Mom, why do scientists make bombs to kill people?” I paused at the profundity of his question, one I too have wondered, then answered humbly, “I don’t know.”

Almost as unfathomable to me is the intentional destruction of American democracy by those elected to uphold it, and their cruelty toward the vulnerable. Daily I ask, how can this be happening? I was told recently that if I could accept that it IS happening and that people like that exist, I would be better able to live my own values and help to create something different.

In 2017, I rode regular waves of existential fear for my son’s future. Will he live in a free country? Will he be able to vote for his leaders? Will his young life be cut short by nuclear war?

By the time the Las Vegas massacre happened, I thought I had become numb. I didn’t feel anything when first reading news of nearly 500 people shot and 58 killed at a country music festival, but then I watched a video that captured the sound of weapons of war mowing down mothers, fathers, teenage daughters and veteran sons. I saw country star Jason Aldean run off the stage in fear, and I cried all day while trying to work.

Over the course of the year, as my Facebook friends posted about their lives, but increasingly not about politics, and my Twitter feed was full of intelligent people discussing the daily state of our government, but not much about their personal lives, I yearned to read someone who would speak to both. I didn’t want advice; I just wanted to hear how they were taking care of themselves and their children within this national context. So that’s what this is, my story about how I’ve gotten by during the most challenging and clarifying year of my life as a citizen, mother and human being.

I woke up on December 31st grateful that we had made it. We are still alive and our country still has a fighting chance. I now know that I’m ok – even while I am sensitive to the suffering of others, and disgusted almost every day by what I learn in the news.

Early on, a teacher said to me, “Don’t let a tyrant steal your light.” These are the people and unexpected gifts that helped me keep my light.

My husband

P1050024He’s kind, smart and sexy. He stays calm when I am not. I love that in his work he serves children from low-income families. It wasn’t until this year though, seven years into our marriage, that I knew for sure he was meant for the deepest part of me. The part I’ve learned to hide. The part that shakes with grief about what is happening to our country and fears we’ll see things we cannot yet imagine and may not survive, at least with our souls intact.

He never shames me for how much I feel or how often I need to talk about what is happening. He doesn’t roll his eyes when I ask how we’ll spend the last 10 minutes of our family’s life if we receive an alert that nuclear war has begun.

When I call our red-state Senators, and wonder if it matters, he says, “Thank you for doing that.”

Most importantly, we talk about how to parent our son now. How do we shield his innocence, engage wholeheartedly in his joy, and prepare him for his future life in our country? What choices do we make that serve both our son and our communal duty to other people’s children? We feel responsible for the country and the earth we leave him and generations of others.

Speaking of… this guy, our son

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Thank God that our five-year-old’s endlessly rejuvenating joie de vivre commands my attention. I know that I will never again have this exact moment with my precious child and I’d be wise to fully participate. With him and for him, I laugh easily, I chase, I cannonball, I wrestle, I build, and I hold on tight for 20-second hugs.

My best friend

As my panic rose on election night, a feeling I recognized from the days before my Dad died, I texted my best friend in Virginia as she hosted a champagne party anticipating a vastly different outcome. She is the only one I could write mid-year during some awful legislative week, “I don’t think I’m very good at being happy” and be assured that to be having a hard time was normal. She sent me flowers with the note: “These days we need reminders that there are still beautiful things in the world. Your friendship is one of the most beautiful things in mine.” And because I know she pays attention, I love that she took a respite from the news to revel in the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It gives me permission to do the same.

The Great American Eclipse

Being with my family in an open field amongst celebratory community was as much a part of this phenomenal experience as the tear-inducing moment of totality. It felt to me like the Bicentennial when I was seven years old riding my decpexels-photo-580679orated bike while neighbors stood on their front porches and rang silver bells. As the eclipse progressed, it was quite moving to sense that all across the country, my fellow Americans were looking into the heavens for something to heal our brokenness. I wondered if this cosmic happening was of the same stuff as Christ.

Dance class!

By the time summer came, I knew I needed a regular influx of joy in order to turn up my light for my family, my work in the world, and myself. So I thought, “When am I happiest, just for me?” and decided to start dancing again. The DanceFix class I take every Saturday morning is the most fun hour of my week. It is amazing what shaking your booty can do for your spirit.

These Books

Each of these healed and shaped me this year.

  • Paradise in Plain Sight, Lessons from a Zen Garden, by Karen Maezen Miller – Written by a Zen priest who is also a mother, I learned that this life, my life, this very year, this that seems so horrible, this is the Way.
  • Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid – Many times, I had to stop reading to breathe and absorb the sheer beauty of Hamid’s writing. This story of refugees reminded me of how lucky I am. Would that Americans could imagine how easily it may be us needing someone else to take us in.
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates – When Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said about NFL players, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” I thought of this book and the way Black bodies are regarded as commodities with willing, extreme denial that within these bodies are human beings.
  • Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times, edited by Carolina De Robertis – I found parents here. While most of them are people of color or from immigrant families, having it thus much harder than I, I relished their letters to their children and ancestors, and their unwillingness to give up on our country’s promise, even if it takes a long, long time to realize.
  • Trump and a Post-Truth World, by Ken Wilber – This short, dense book helped me see how our society mirrors individual human development. I could then read about fellow Americans posessing what seems to be an astounding lack of compassion for others, including children, and understand that they cannot yet comprehend that they even should care about those outside their immediate circles of identification. I am the same way at times. It helped me recognize my own judgments, and what kind of leadership we all need to move civilization forward.
  • Pantsuit Nation, edited by Libby Chamberlin – I asked my husband for this for my birthday in December so that I could remember how it felt to read the heart-filling stories of all the different people who make America America.
  • The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy – I read this in the last week of the year, during my son’s 20-day winter break from kindergarten. In it Levy tells of losing her premature baby boy after only 10 minutes of having him alive and on her chest. I would put my son to bed after playing all day, and rather than bemoan my exhaustion, I felt grateful for my luck that I get to be his mother.

My growing ability to see people of integrity “across the aisle”

Along with truth-telling journalists and deeply knowledgeable historians, I so appreciate those across the partisan spectrum who are fighting mightily to save our country from corruption, personal greed and foreign interference. Though I am a lifelong Democrat, I’ve come to respect the integrity of some conservatives whom I may never have read otherwise. Without democracy, our policy differences won’t matter and no one, not even those who seem to benefit, will have a real chance at “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Virginia Election

One of the best days of 2017 was the election of Ralph Northam to the Governorship of Virginia, along with a slew of diverse women and men to the state legislature. My family had already made the decision to move home to the Commonwealth this summer and the thought of having a decent and intelligent leader is quite heartening. I also look forward to being in a bipartisan state as it seems the strongest way forward, even if difficult.

And the little things, like…

  • Breathing into my belly to ground my over-active heart.
  • Yin yoga to calm my body and clear my mind.earrings
  • My Gloria Steinem/Ruth Bader Ginsburg earrings. I wear these (as do my sisters and my mom) when I need bad-asses as spirit guides.
  • Naming three things I’m grateful for upon waking and another three before I close my eyes at night. I hope when I get to the end of my time, I will be able to follow John McCain’s example and “celebrate, with gratitude, a life well lived.”
  • White Sun’s “Ik Ardas Wahe Guru” – listening to this makes me exhale.
  • The Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean – No explanation needed. May we protect them.IMG_6135

 

Lastly, these words of wisdom from a nightingale

When I wonder how to talk with my young son about the world he lives in and how to navigate our path in a time of such tumult, I think about this passage I read to him from The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, with the most beautiful illustrations by Erin Stead (pages 90-91):

Prince Oleomargarine

“When dinner was nearly done, the nightingale excused herself. She shook the crumbs from her feathers and flew up to a high branch. From there, she sang a sweet song. It had no words, but still, everyone present knew its meaning, which was:

The world is beautiful and dangerous,

and joyful and sad,

and ungrateful and giving,

and full of so, so many things.

The world is new and it is old.

It is big and it is small.

The world is fierce and it is kind,

and we, every one of us, are in it.”

 

That’s it. That’s what I’ve learned this year. Now onward, with heart…

 

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Church

January 23, 2017

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Because it’s important

June 19, 2011

I was sad to learn about the recent passing of Mr. Beverly W. “Booty” Armstrong, one of the first people I met in Richmond and someone who made a lasting impact on me. During my rounds of informational interviews, a potential employer suggested that I speak with Booty about his work with the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation – at the time, the Foundation was raising capital to renovate and expand a historic downtown theater. I asked what motivated him to become involved with the project. He replied, “Honestly, I would rather be at a football game than watching a performance, but I do this because it is important for Richmond.”

I’ll never forget that straight-shooting and honest statement about why he was doing what he was doing. As I came to know my adopted city, I found Mr. Armstrong to be among a generation of Virginia gentlemen who cared deeply about the community in which they built businesses and raised their children, and who hoped it would continue to be a city in which their grandchildren would want to live and work. (I mention the men because at the time, they were more visible in corporate leadership than equally- involved and -philanthropic women.)

While meeting with this slightly intimidating yet humor-filled man, he also said to me, “You’re quite comfortable talking with wealthy people, aren’t you?” I was taken aback, and hoped I had not been so informal as to be disrespectful. I had just moved from Aspen, where people of different socioeconomic levels mixed on a daily basis, mostly on a recreational level. Friendly, real interaction with people of wealth who cared about their community as I did had been integral to my eight years of non-profit fundraising in that town. However, there is always deference involved when asking someone to invest their hard-earned money in the common good. Even while I firmly believe that it takes many people playing different roles to create good change in the world – those who ask for funding, those who provide it, and the experts and participants who use it to make change happen – I still find it humbling when donors say yes.

I only spoke with Booty a handful of times after that exceptional first meeting, and I hadn’t seen him for several years. However, he continues to be a role model for me in his commitment to issues he considered critical for the health of this city. I suspect we had different political views, but I’ve been repeatedly surprised by the ways that we in this town can come together to work for what is important.

I do my work primarily because I care about creating equal opportunities for people who do not have them. I also do it because I feel affection for this old, traditional, southern city: a city with injuries so deep they will always be felt, and at the same time a city with promise so great it has yet to be fully realized.

Richmond, along with many other high-poverty urban areas, has problems that are too large for us to solve on our own, either as individuals or as small groups. I think these are problems that require God’s help to solve. But I also believe God wants us to give it our best shot, and at least try before depending on divine intervention to cure our ills.

During my workday, while driving from meeting to meeting, I’ve begun asking for knowledge of God’s will for our community and for God to grant us the power to carry it out. While sitting at a table with colleagues who are working towards a common goal, I sometimes ask the Holy Spirit to come into the room with us. I’m not sure it works, but I sense that my own will relaxes and I become open to our creating something greater than any of us can envision on our own.

I will miss Mr. Armstrong’s presence in this city. Though I didn’t know him well, I believe his big spirit and his example will live on as the rest of us continue to care for this place we love.