Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is the best of all the holidays for me. As a child, it was Christmas - hovering on the razor's edge of trying to stay awake to hear Santa and his reindeer, the inevitable fall into sleep. Waking early, the greed that propelled me downstairs to find my gifts under the Christmas tree. The joy of ripping packages apart to discover what was inside. Of course, there were thanks you, often decidedly brief and hugs and kisses. It was only later, over the passage of years, I began to understand the fullness of giving thanks and being grateful. And I believe the depth of that understanding will keep on growing over my lifetime, and possibly beyond. Today, this day, this moment, I'm giving thanks for each bite of a sumptuous feast of memories, some spicy, some achingly sweet and joyful. Some bittersweet. Today, I'm grateful for food on the table, a fire in the fireplace, and the river which was supposed to flood, but for some reason changed its mind. And isn't that what rivers do - have their way? I'm grateful for a reasonably sound mind. And discounting the bum knee, which will be changed in January for a bionic version that in my wildest fantasies has me leaping over small buildings, I'm giving thanks for a sound body. I'm grateful for those who are out there expressing gratitude for life by giving to those in need. The caregivers. The listeners. The educators. The openers of hearts. The menders. The carriers of light. I'm giving thanks to the mean ones, the deniers, the pompous and the greedy who serve as wake up calls to what's inside us - what we sometimes forget - that we're all connected. I'm giving thanks for friends present and friends lost, for friends yet to come. I'm grateful for those who've looked past my flaws and my careless mistakes, who know what it is to be human and stay. And I'm giving thanks for all of you, who've become family. In one way or another, unknowingly or with intent, you've enriched my life.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The bittersweet passion of being a mother in multi color world

Following the grand jury's decision about the fatal shooting of the teenager Michael Brown, I can't stop thinking about what it would be like to be the mother of a young black man in America today. It's not as if I haven't thought about it before. I have. And I've made an effort when possible to help, and as a woman especially my African female friends. But I, like many other white women who are mothers, tend to get wrapped up with what's close to my own life. My own child, her welfare and my daily battles and victories make it easier to forget. I can't pinpoint one particular reason why this tragedy has captured my attention in such a powerful way. But it has. But this morning, I sat down to envision what it would be like to start the day as the mother of a teenage African american boy. I would fix a healthy breakfast while the two of us talked about our plans, to do lists; who we would be seeing and where we would go. And underlying this conversation would be the understanding that my boy's beautiful coffee or deep black skin color could provoke mistreatment and scorn at any given moment in anyplace. I wouldn't have to tell him be careful of the police, they might hurt you, we'd already had that talk. And deep down, I knew there would be times when nothing I could do would change the violence he'd might face. He would already know he shouldn't walk too fast because that would make him look guilty. And unlike the time when my white boyfriend ran down the street toward the drive in dairy in an all black neighborhood at the edge of a ghetto, the police wouldn't pull up and ask if he needed help. Nor should he walk too slow because then he'd look suspicious. He would know not to keep his hands in his pockets and avoid hoodies. As he gathered his books, I would remember the old white woman in the supermarket who took one look at him, turned and sped down another aisle. The time when we'd stopped at a liquor store so I could buy a bottle of wine. I'd disappeared to the back when I heard shouting. Rushing to the front, I saw the owner aiming a gun at my boy. Threatening to kill him. My boy's hands were empty. He hadn't taken a thing. And he was angry. 'Go ahead and shoot me, old man,' he'd shouted. And faced with a gun, what does a mother do? I told the 'gunslinger' we were leaving and dragged my boy outside. My son wouldn't have been happy. He would have resisted, but my visceral instinct as a mother was the overwhelming desire for him to live to see another day. To let him intelligence and creativity take him places he'd only imagined, but was afraid would never happen. I would have told him, there are other ways to promote and support change. Maybe he would already know this because he'd attended the self esteem classes for teen age black boys held by the teenage african american friend of my daughter. And as he left for the day, I would have held him. And as he walked away, wearing his non offensive clothes, with his non offensive hair cut, his careful walk, I would have been hit by the pain of knowing I might not see him again. Of knowing that if he did come home that night, something might have happened that took him to place full of anger and rage. An alien place where a mother's love couldn't enter. A place where a mother's worst night mare would come true. None of these happened to me. They were told to me by African american women who are mothers and friends, soul sisters, grandmothers. I can imagine what it felt like. I can write about it. I've even cried about it. But even, I've gone as far as a white woman can truly know. What I do know down deep is that good mothers have never been more important than they are today. As women who are mothers we need to own that innate power we share and up the ante. Join with others of all colors and creeds. Start in our neighborhoods, at churches, in coffee shops and libraries to talk about how we can empower mothers. As mothers we're usually the ones who spend the most time with children. Invite the rainbow of mothers and children into our homes. Share stories. Stories passed down by our mothers and grandmothers about victories. How we got help. We need to tell them about failure, self forgiveness. How we let go and moved forward. And most of all they need to hear every single day that we haven't lost faith. That we're not giving up. That as mother gatekeepers, we promise to keep the passage that leads to the future open because all children matter.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Coming Home is a longing that's particularly strong in me on this gray, wet day. And isn't that the feeling that sent me out into the world on a lifeline search. Find Home. The first time I went looking for something other than the war zone of my parent's home was at the age of six. I ventured several blocks away and found a small avocado tree where I spent the night. Shivering with fear of the monsters that lurked outside its sheltering branches on a road where there were few streetlights and houses were set at distance from each other. There've been many other times in the years since then that I've ventured into the world hoping to find a home away from pain and anger and hopelessness that rise up from the obstacles life throws in my path - many of my own creation. There were the tears from loneliness and want after seeing the happy homes depicted in movies, books and on tv, only to discover they were nothing more than a cruel Hollywood myth. The rage and loss of balance that sent me to a wreck of one room apartment waiting to be renovated. A hotel room on the West Side of I rented during my first job in NYC, which I decorated with small pots of ivy, dried flowers, candles and colorful pillows. This morning, I waded to shore after floundering in my own tempest of self indulgence of helplessness. This time I was afraid I might never walk normally again. You see I've been told I need a knee replacement. The pain keeps me up nights and wakens me before I'm ready to get out of bed. The fears centered around questions like 'what if I didn't find a surgeon my health insurance would cover? What if the surgery went wrong. Would I ever be able to long walks in the country or dive into those adventures I enjoy walking for hours through cities and towns? What if I'll never be abe to do my yoga stretches again? Dance around the living room to pounding rock and roll or salsa, twitching my hips in a way that makes me feel more like a woman? And what if I'm left with a portion of the surgeon's bill that will be a burden for months to come? Without fully using my body, I tire more easily. Other aches and pains emerge. But this morning I arrived home, or at least to the front door. It's open because even if I never walk normally again. If my health starts sliding downhill from lack of exercise, there's still enough time and life to make what's left to me count. To live large with what's at hand. You see, if all those fears manifest into what is, I want to be like the woman I met a few years ago. A retired attorney whose resided in an assisted living facility. Whose bed was covered by books, along with a computer and ten telephones, all of which she used to do pro bono work for people who couldn't afford the services of an attorney. Home for her about compassion. She lived large; creatively and courageously. Thinking of her, I managed to conjure up a place where the door was open. There was a fire inside the fireplace. Fragrant smells coming from a cast iron pot bubbling on the stove top. The one I use for delicious soups, hearty stews and jambalayas. Looking down the mat on the doorstep said Welcome Home.