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Posts Tagged ‘respect for all people’

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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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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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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open door

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. (Ernest Hemingway

In 2012 I wrote a journal during Lent when memories of trauma ate through the present. Today I survive, as imperfectly as everyone else. I decided to reread an entry or two. This story appeared on an ordinary Wednesday when I was babysitting two of my granddaughters. Rebe was four and Ella was a toddler:  

I’m rinsing breakfast dishes as the doorbell rings. Jay is busy with Ella, so I answer. Outside a young girl stands sobbing. She asks to use our phone.

     “Who are you?” I ask.

     She doesn’t answer. Instead she tells me her boyfriend beat her up, and she wants to call the police.

     Jay is standing behind me by now. He holds Ella. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want this girl standing out in the cold. I let her in and get her a glass of water, then finish the dishes as she calls from our living room.

     When I get back, Ella blows kisses to her and the girl smiles and tells me she has a one-year-old child.

     “How old are you?”

     “Eighteen.”

     The girl’s skin is a flawless ebony. I would have guessed she was much younger.

     While I don’t watch the clock, it seems like a long time until two policewomen arrive in two separate cars.

     We leave the room. I need to change Ella’s diaper anyway. On our way into the bedroom we hear one of the officers ask, “So why do you stay with him?”

     Apparently this is not a first-time event.

     After the girl leaves with bus money we provide, one of the policewomen comes back into the house and chides us for our kindness. This girl’s live-in is trouble. It is her choice to remain in jeopardy. Drugs are an issue.

       We should have called the police and made her stay on the porch. Twenty-twenty hindsight. (Although, an addition added to this entry in 2020, I doubt I would have followed her advice. After all, an abused eighteen-year-old girl is a child in need.)

Ella as a baby

       I am relieved later while Ella and Rebe watch Caillou, a children’s cartoon show, where a lost toy dinosaur is the only problem. Two little girls wrapped in the discovery of a stuffed toy and the loving concern of Caillou’s father.

     Real life isn’t always that sweet. I have been fortunate. My flaw today was trust. Yet, I pray that our little Ella’s blown kisses can be a blessing into the soul of this lost girl. A seed, perhaps. One that can grow someday, even if I never see it blossom.

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Hygge is about having less, enjoying more; the pleasure of simply being… Louisa Thomsen Brits, The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well

Hygge time. A Danish concept. Moments when we are grateful and aware of the now. Not yesterday or tomorrow. Snow falls while Jay and I sip coffee.

He tells me about someone he met at the pool. “I killed two kids,” the man told him.

My first thoughts are DUI or an accident, but this is my time to listen. The man is a veteran. He followed the command to shoot. Children sometimes carried explosives. The dead are not people; they are the enemy. Saved by the military.

Jay tells him it wasn’t his fault. He did what he was told to do. The man answered, “But I pulled the trigger.”

Now that moment explodes through the man’s head. A mantra called PTSD, created by the battlefield. Guilt with no place to go. He wants someone to apologize for the command. Jay can only listen, a powerful tool for the moment. Not an immediate answer.

The man left the pool.

I had been looking out our front window and watching the lines formed by the houses in our neighborhood. The homes. I look for the focal point I have been discovering in art class. As a student at age 73.

Even a simple line remains true and honest, then easily misunderstood by point of view. A tilted camera. An I-already-know attitude. In the photo I didn’t want a picture of my car, the house across the street. I didn’t want the half-iced street. This tilt is obvious. Not every slant is.

In the picture I know the difference. In real life, perception can be blurry in ways that have nothing to do with eyesight.

The whiteness won’t stay. Neither will ten o’clock on a February Saturday morning. However, I hope the integrity inherent in a few moments on an ordinary couch, remains and grows into whatever I need to be now. Into tomorrow. Into each giving opportunity as it opens.

 

 

 

 

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Ah, how the seeds of cockiness blossom when soiled in ignorance. (Steve Alten)

DUBIOUS ADVICE

 

Take one opinion;

call it the whole.

Shout your words

with venom if necessary.

Cover your home,

your car, every space you touch

with bumper stickers, clever words,

succinct, biting,

so obvious, transparent,

you mimic a peacock flashing

your message across a zoo.

Then, well satisfied,

flick on the television,

curl up in your favorite chair,

or lie on a distant beach,

and revel in the comfort of your truth.

Relax, with food and wine within reach,

your part completed.

 

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(photo of the two children taken by Alice Zeiser)

I choose not to place DIS in my ability. (Robert M. Hensel)

Buddy Walk Day. The Saturday after Labor Day brings

A sea of shirts in bright colors. Yellow this year. Thousands.

One day without any uninformed person

dropping both eyes and mouth into parallel

frowns and an I’m-sorry. Down syndrome isn’t sad.

Apologies come after simple happenings.

Spilled water—nothing a napkin can’t handle,

or an it-took-me-forever-to-find-a-parking place.

Smiles follow. My granddaughter takes her cousin’s hand.

Or does he grab hers? It doesn’t matter.

This group knows we are all one.

And celebration comes naturally

when our common space is love.

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If we have no compassion it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another.
(Mother Teresa)

 

The Neighborhood, Delicatessen, and a Baby Squirrel

 

I hold my delicatessen number as if it had first-class boarding-pass value.

No neat queue waits for meat and cheese sliced as if

a thousandth-of-a-millimeter difference per slice mattered.

Customers stand scattered.

The woman with the number before mine

buys one slice of bologna. I wonder if that is all she can afford.

Her cart holds one marked-down loaf of generic white bread.

 

My thoughts wander to a neighbor.

Yesterday he asked my husband for a small loan.

This man performs chores for sub-adequate fees.

I want to contact him, give him a small job,

call the score even, then give him a tip.

 

I know the cashier. She rescued a baby squirrel after a predator

snapped off his mother’s head. I ask how he is.

Died on Monday, she answers. She continues to scan my purchases.

I tell her she did her best.

 

And we agree we can’t save the world

yet can’t stop trying.

I notice her silent tears but don’t mention them.

A neighbor’s phone number

is pegged on my home corkboard. Earlier, when I called

to offer him a gift, some loaves of bread,

more than what we needed,

his number had been disconnected. I nod.

We can’t stop trying.

 

originally published in For A Better World 2015

 

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Our deepest wounds surround our greatest gifts. (Ken Page)

Enough

Enough, such a curious word

to ponder on a solstice day.

Enough light, dark, pain, success,

orchids, and weeds. Illness and health.

Does enough thrive on my dinner table

or include food for a child I will never meet?

Does enough stop at my ego or begin there?

Perhaps, this is not a question to answer.

But, a journey to live.

 

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