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Archive for the ‘inspiration’ Category

Freedom is never given; it is won. (A. Philip Randolph)

The sixteen-year-old creator of this sidewalk art has requested anonymity; her topic speaks for itself.  A close friend told us that this beautiful girl’s work would not be as well accepted in his neighborhood. He is glad it is approved in ours.

The rain has faded some color. The intensity of the message remains. If only it could jump from its enclosed space. If only history books in the entitled communities could be edited. If only ears could open long enough. To hear. To see.

Lynching was once celebrated. On postcards. Sent in the mail next to the birthday cards and wedding announcements. I see the outside of those who have struggled. I am humbled to admit how recently I learned about the horrific postcards and other hidden historical facts.

The artist who painted the work in front of my house has beautiful dark hair. However, you can use your imagination to surmise her skin color. She has grown up in an integrated community. Her friends come in many colors. She sees the shades. As unique parts of each person.

She told me about a foster child she knew. Recently adopted. His sparkling personality. I discovered his skin shade after she showed me his picture. Not the same as his adoptive parents. His color is important. Yet secondary to who he is as a human being. Fill in the blanks, the skin colors of the characters in this tale. In this hypothetical sense only we see all as equal.

Unfortunately, on the everyday scene equality hasn’t arrived.

Yet.

It will never arrive in denial.

Or silence.

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We’re capable of much more than mediocrity, much more than merely getting by in this world. (Sharon Salzberg, Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection)

A Child’s description of a YMCA pool. “Nothing like the ocean…deeper even at the beginning.”

Two brothers enter the pool. I hear the younger boy say to the other, “This water is eleven feet deep. But it is nothing like the ocean. The ocean is deeper even at the beginning.”

I smile at the child’s innocence. His simple joy. The boy has his green wrist band now. So, he can plunge into the deep end. With confidence. Swim tests completed.

Unfortunately, during Covid19 days those times need to be reserved. Socially distanced. Limited. Nevertheless, I watch the family interact. Enjoy. Celebrate. As I tread water. And reality. As well as I can.

“You have a delightful family,” I finally tell Mom. She smiles. A camera slung around her shoulders. Pictures captured inside.

She is an attractive lady. Black hair almost to her shoulders. Smooth skin the color of dark chocolate. The boys are a tad lighter, with a chestnut tinge. Lean. Active. The father, attentive. Smiling. He doesn’t see me. I smile anyway. To a beauty that I recognize inside him.

And I think about how the ocean seems deeper, even at the edge. A long way between shores. A deep space between peoples.

“Have a blessed day,” I say to the woman as this group’s assigned time ends. As the staff prepares to clean. To keep the space safe during a pandemic virus.

Safe. Such a short word with such an expansive unsaid meaning.

Peace. For all.

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When I was 5 years, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life. (John Lennon)

 The young Beatle-to-be obviously didn’t have nuns as teachers. He would have been knocked down a step or two, or three, or four. With or without a cracking ruler.

If only happiness didn’t need to be pursued. I tell my grandchildren they are important often. Sure, action and discipline remain necessary. The-world-owes-me makes a sad goal. However, a happy-to-be-alive everyday life isn’t easy to achieve.

“You need to live to be 138,” one grandchild told me recently. “I’m going to need you that long.”

Sweet. Yes. And yet a potent message. A need to be assured remains powerful.

The little things. Always the little things. How well or poorly are they set together?

 

 

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It’s like, at the end, there’s this surprise quiz: Am I proud of me? I gave my life to become the person I am right now. Was it worth what I paid? (Richard Bach, writer)

This is the scene. Mid 1950’s. A playground outside a parochial school where the population has skin that is almost bleached. And this is the norm.

I am in elementary school. Color my hair red-blond. We are taught love that comes with precise word definitions. In catechisms. They graduate from blue to green covers. The discussion is secondary. Memorize. Every word in sequence.

A bell sounds to end recess. Classes line up to return to the solid, brick building. Defined. All reality has clear edges.

Children line up in pairs. No one stands next to me. “Ziggy the niggy,” another child whispers to me. My surname begins with a Z. The girl’s voice doesn’t reach the ear of the robed nun in charge. I know I am being insulted. The open space next to me feels emptier than it is. Because I am nothing in the emptiness.

The insult’s fuller cultural meaning doesn’t touch me until later. Much later. Into maturity. After the time when I realized Juneteenth was never part of the school curriculum. When the significance of the n-word reached beyond the shunning of a pale, shy little girl—into a reality called systemic racism.

“I need to become a saint to survive,” I told myself on the walks home as the taunting replayed in my spirit. But the stories of the saints in my school texts involved little more than their end sufferings or magical talents. No day-to-day hints.  

Fortunately, after I married, I found the gift of a racially mixed neighborhood. And I am grateful. My friends and neighbors come in different beautiful colors.

I am grateful for my long-ago experience of shunning. It appears like a splinter compared to an amputation next to the history of my darker comrades.  A first step on the road to understanding.

True, pale privileged people never learned the truth. Many remain isolated in their bubble of ignorance. After as long as ninety years of existence on this earth. Now is the time to break that barrier. The future depends upon it. All-about-me logic needs to go.

If I gave my life to become who I am now, a saint wouldn’t be anyone’s first answer. However, I do hope that in the end, my life will be worth what I paid.

 

 

 

 

 

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Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So, go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. (L.R. Knost

I wonder if the world has ever been more broken. Perhaps it has. Before mass communication replayed horrors in an infinite loop. My granddaughter Ella brings relief. With humor. A grin. One pretend-game after another.

She cooks. On a real stove. No heat. Most ingredients remain imaginary. Moose stew. The moose is invisible, hidden inside olive oil poured from a capped bottle.  Ella grabs blueberries and tomatoes. Okay. A little different. The molasses and sugar? Thank goodness our guests will be stuffed animals.

We bake a cake. No clean-up is necessary. An unopened bag of flour is easily returned to the shelf. A cake can be baked in three minutes. No hot pads needed for oven removal.  

Perhaps nothing of tangible worth was created. Then again, my heart found laughter. Needed to brighten dark places in the outside world.

Thanks for bringing simplicity into our home, Ella. We needed it. The light that is you.

 

 

 

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by Sharon M. Draper

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”  (Alice Walker)

 “Nine robed figured dressed all in white. Heads covered with softly pointed hoods.” And Sharon M. Draper sets a scene with two short sentences. Not soft. Or safe. She writes the novel to honor her own grandmother. Her heritage. Yet, it embraces a larger truth. Heart. Courage.

 Human creatures wear skin color. Stella and Jojo, silhouetted on the cover of Stella by Starlight, are amazing human individuals. With a story. Skin color is only the cover, the beginning.

 I lost count of the number of times I have read Chapter Eleven: Truth. Two pages. Written in the main character’s handwriting. Prose poetry. 

To find truth in my life, I ask my mirrored reflection what I see. Beyond wrinkles. Beyond the piece of spinach caught between my front teeth.

 Am I more than today’s limited experience? Can I speak out, reach out? Admit failure. Try again. I can’t tell my darker friends I know how they feel. I don’t. Except in an empathetic sense. Listen? Yes! Care. Definitely. Stand for what is right? Of course.

The character, Stella, epitomizes power, seized when it was needed. However, the power of the oppressed can never be found without allies. Peace. May as many people as possible join. Now.

 

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Know you what it is to be a child? It is to be something very different from the man of to-day. It is to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has his fairy godmother in his own soul. (Francis Thompson)

 Instead of a rant about racial prejudice, I reprinted this long-ago blog from March of 2011. I will let the children in the scene speak. May their innocence win.

 

A two-year-old girl at the Museum Center in Cincinnati protects one of the Children’s Center’s naked dolls as if it were her own. Her mother laughs. “I wonder how we are going to get out of here without it.” I watch as it becomes clear that she only wants this brown doll, not a nearly identical pale one she picks up by mistake. The little girl has ivory skin and wisps of honey hair, but she gravitates toward color.

 

 Funny, more of the pale dolls appear abandoned on the floor of the toddler room than darker-skinned ones. I smile, then laugh when I see my granddaughter Rebe making the same choice. “Baby” goes down the slide with her, takes a trip to the grocery in a miniature grocery cart, and explores the sandbox. Sometimes the doll is held upside down, but Rebe is visibly upset if “Baby” disappears into the arms of another child.

 

 Fortunately, I find another. Lots of pale faces lying around. But Rebe is not satisfied with the Caucasian version. As soon as the doll she wants is left for a second, she adopts it, with the speed of a hawk diving for prey.

    

True, Rebe has grown up in a mixed racial community. So did her father. But it seems that another awareness is involved here, on an innocence level lost long before adulthood. I think of the number of adjectives that describe darker skin, from mocha to mahogany to ebony. I can’t think of anywhere near as many words to describe fair and olive-skinned folk. 

 

Little people don’t need words. They go to the essence of a beautiful reality without it.

The photo is created from a simple colored penciled public domain photo, designed to mimic innocence. 

 

 

 

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separated smilesThe way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. (Dolly Parton)

“Put a smile on your face.” A quote. Made by almost any parent. Well-meant perhaps, but misleading. First, the smile needs to be placed in the heart. It isn’t an accessory, like a hat or sweater.

As a teenager, I recall fussing about my thin, flyaway hair. I tried to make it look like someone else’s.

“Pretty is as pretty does,” my mother said with a face that stated, “And you are not pretty in appearance or deed.” That notion could have been restated. “This may seem important to you now. I can show you a better way.” I am glad I eventually discovered a new mirror.

The illustration pictures separated smiles. Without the rest of the person, they appear strange. The completed faces that belong to these mouths, have blessed me. One belongs to my sister. Another to my daughter-in-law. The baby’s grin belongs to my growing, youngest grandchild.

Sure, I’ll put on a smile. A smile that comes from the heart and soul. Not to a command. Sadness is real. It doesn’t need to be fed, but it does need to run its course.

Perhaps joy may take some time. Like waiting through a pandemic. Like hours of labor before birth. Like the negative space that gives lace and art its beauty.

The picture is metaphorical. I have heard all three of the voices attached to these lips, felt their presence, even if that physical touch was distant. These voices speak love.

The past can’t be changed. I offer my mother no advice. However, I have plenty to tell me. I don’t advise someone else about how to feel. I do tell them they have value, then give them space to discover it for themselves.

 

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Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present. (Eleanor Roosevelt.)

On this day in 1946, I was the huge bulge in my mother’s middle that made her enormously uncomfortable. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, a hole in my umbilical cord fed her instead of me. She didn’t appreciate it. I don’t blame her.

 I appeared six days later, scrawny, my head the size of an orange. I was malnourished. For the first and last time in my life. Mom wondered why I was so red, wrinkled, and ugly.

The nurses didn’t let her hold me. I was rushed to the nursery. They told her I was all right. Too small. Four pounds and a few more ounces. But okay. A contradiction.

 Would I believe that reason for separation? I’m not sure.

 Too much distance now. In a bonding that never happened. In years. In my mother’s death. In the changes in the economy. Pictured is a typed bill. For ten days in a newborn nursery. Sixty dollars, the current cost a hospital may charge for an aspirin.

 No, I can’t see the print without a magnifying glass either. The past. The present. Neither can be explained with a dogmatic approach. Better in some ways. Worse in others.

 We choose what we know. Now. I pray to choose and love well.

 

 

 

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The strangest part about learning to fly is how quickly you forget. (Gregory Petersen, The Dream Thief)

the paperback, set on a pillow and blanket

If the surname of the quoted author sounds familiar, there is a good reason. He is my son. Greg is a consummate writer and speaker, has done stand-up comedy, and maneuvers the English language like a magician. An analogy with one exception—Gregory relays more than magic; he speaks heart language, where it beats strongest.

“The strangest part about learning to fly…” is the first line of his newest novel, published by Morgan James Publishing Company. His novel officially appears on the market on May 5. While Amazon is always available, local presses could use support. Book lovers appreciate touching the pages, walking down aisles. At least eventually. In the meantime, many bookstores offer curbside pickup. Josephbeth.com is one example.

I should have known Gregory would be a word artist. As a toddler his grammar was impeccable. Nouns. Verbs. Adjectives. In proper order. He read letters from the alphabet from the other side of the newspaper as his aunt read the front page. “How old is this kid?” she asked. “Uh, twenty-three months.”

And I thought all folk small enough to bend over and touch their feet without bending their knees, were alike.

Enough about the real-life past. The Dream Thief brings together the past and present of two friends in an unexpected, otherworld, believable way.

Step into the world of Nadine Brier. And discover forgetting, finding, and adventure.

 

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