Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Yes, Black Lives Do Matter

I could give you a long list of individual black people whose lives matter to me. Doctors who have served my family. My math professor of a few years ago. My beloved former coworkers and classmates. Neighbors who have helped me in the snow. The people at my post office who were there for me when my sister died and my son died, and I had to send paperwork back and forth across the country to be my dad's legal guardian. Several priests, including one who is quite large & I have found myself being concerned for him when I have heard that some officer or another was afraid because someone was black and large. Oh, puh- lease!

There was a time in my life when I wasn't awake to the idea that there was a real problem. A couple of times, really. One of those times, in the late 60's, I started reading. Another time, in the 90's, I just gradually became more aware.

So, if you don't see what I see these days, the terrible injustices, I would ask you to read more widely, to meet more diverse people if possible, to consider that maybe, just maybe mistakes, and sins, and criminal injustices are sometimes made on both sides of the law.

If a teacher abused a child, people would be all upset. And teachers did, when I was a child, but what could I or my classmates do? But if other teachers, or parents, or the school board held them responsible...and perhaps they did.

How many bodies of people, how many positions, do we grant impunity to? There should be none.

Personally, I'm not even sure what you and I can do. But I would ask you to get your news and views from more than one source, and to pray with me for a time of greater respect for all people, because we all matter, but right now, today, I'm going to say this: Black lives matter!

Friday, July 08, 2016

In the Wake of Recent Tragedies

I was heartbroken yesterday. I am no less so today. I'd like to ask you one thing. Please don't let the media, any politicians, or anyone else make this an "us" vs. "them" thing for you. It isn't.
You might not guess this from my past posts, but someone close to me wears the uniform and carries the gun. I thought about that waking up this morning, and I hadn't heard about Dallas yet. Maybe I was feeling something. Yes, it's not easy being an officer, and we need to see them as human beings and value their lives, and appreciate the dedication of the many who are doing their jobs well. But please understand that doesn't mean we can't make some changes in the system. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't value the lives of those who are senselessly killed, without due process, for minor infractions or sometimes no infraction at all. That doesn't mean we can't call for accountability, as we would in any other profession.
Just for a little perspective, does anyone think that teachers, coaches, and those who lead souls should be allowed to sexually abuse children unchecked? No, we have worked to change systems to control and deal with that…fortunately, to the benefit of all those who are good teachers, coaches, and leaders of souls. In a similar way, it is not that all or most policemen and policewomen are bad people. For heaven's sake, many of them get into it primarily because they want to serve. But if you assume they are all good, all make good judgments all the time, no matter what they do…even if they kill without cause, then would you make the same assumption if it were your child or son or husband who was a victim? Would you feel the same if a teacher abused your child? We need to respect the law but we need to change some of the systems, so that we have better training, better vetting, and more accountability in the profession.
One can be upset about both what happened with the two men who were killed by police in the past few days and what happened in Dallas. That is not mutually exclusive. Sure, perhaps some in the media want to make it us vs. them, like a sporting event, so we will watch and read. But it isn't us vs. them! For one thing, if you go there, you are comparing apples and oranges, a profession and a race. What sense does that even make?
Wanting accountability within a profession doesn't mean someone wants carnage, the very kind of carnage some of us are hoping to change. Why would anyone who is trying to fight for better legislation to stop violence want more violence? Are people even aware of the reasonable means being used to try to bring about change?
What happened in Dallas was a peaceful protest, which was being followed by a moment of silence. Who the snipers were and why they were there, I don't know. I don't know if we will ever really know the motivation. But it is grief upon grief for our nation.
I do want to add that all my teenage and adult life, I've grieved so much whenever I hear people say derogatory things or make derogatory judgments about people based on their race. I'm not saying I'm perfect and that I've never had any kind of prejudiced thought in my life; but I check myself on it. I'm not saying I'm a better person; maybe I was helped by my sister marrying someone of another race, while I was just a young teen. But all I know is it grieves me deeply. I think it must grieve the Father more. If we look at someone and automatically make a judgment about what they might do or think or feel, based of the color of their skin, then what are we saying to their Creator?

Thursday, July 07, 2016

To My White Friends Today

Today as I drove to the store here in Baltimore, as I saw black men walking from the subway or the bus to their jobs, as I always do, I really thought seriously about what it might feel to be them, to be walking, and to never know how that day might go down. Or how about the many who are working professional jobs, driving their cars to work or recreation, not knowing what might happen at a traffic stop?

As I shopped, my heart just kept breaking, feeling the pain that must be in the hearts of my neighbors here, those I shop with and those who serve me at the store, those who put the food on the shelves so I can buy it, the men and women who check my food through when I'm done, the woman who kindly made sure I remembered to remove my card from the silly new chip reader. How do they feel today? Last month? Last year? Every day?

I know how I felt that one day when police came to my door in bullet proof vests with adrenaline oozing into the atmosphere, guns at the ready, asking if my son was home, asking which room he was in, demanding that I step aside so they could enter the room of my sleeping son.

I don't know what anyone might do who is wakened from a sound sleep to a strange situation. I don't know what policemen "on the ready" might do. So in my fear, I did something which could have been very foolish. When the officer told me to step aside, I just stood there. I sometimes wonder how that would have gone down if I had not been a middle-aged white woman? Yes, I think I'm privileged. It's not a choice I've made, and it breaks my heart that, for someone else, it could have gone differently.

I don't even know where the words came from, but I asked, "Are you sure you have the right person?" Somehow, in that moment, the officer released a degree of his fear and readiness, and brought out a flyer to show me.

Next time you think that surely someone "didn't cooperate", first of all, it might not even be true; but even if there may be cases where it appears that way, please, if you would, remember me, standing there between armed officers and the door to my son's bedroom while I was told to move, and I didn't cooperate; I didn't comply. It wasn't wisdom and it wasn't bravery; it was just what I did in the moment without thinking.

It wasn't my son they wanted. After showing me a flyer, they believed me, and they let me be the one to wake my son so they could talk to him to see if he knew anything about the wanted person (he didn't). It was a case of mistaken identity, the right name, but the wrong person at the wrong address. It happens. It wasn't the first time it's ever happened to anyone; that's why we have a name for it. It happens in homes and it happens with cars.

You might have heard me tell this story before, but I tell it today to share the fear and reactions of a mother, a woman who was brought up in the 50's and 60's in a small town in Washington...brought up to think that all police are always our friend, always there to help, and as long as we cooperate, everything will be just fine. Yet, in that moment, I felt their fear and their readiness, and I was very afraid for my son.

I agree with those who say that many policemen just want to do their job. And yes, of course their lives matter. Of course all lives matter. But when we say black lives matter – at least when I say it - it's my way of saying that we need to acknowledge that there is a problem. And we need to work toward improvement without delay: better training and especially more accountability! And we need to be empathetic instead of defensive about the loss of black lives.  

All I'd like to ask from my white friends for today is a little honesty with ourselves and a little empathy. How would we feel if we were that wife and mother, that girlfriend, that sister, father, brother, or friend of someone whose life was threatened or violently ended over a minor infraction or, in some cases, perhaps no infraction at all?  How would we feel if we were part of a group for which this just kept happening again and again and again?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Business and Grief

When my sister died, I had to take over my dad's guardianship (not his care; I live clear across the country, but his legal and financial affairs). It was a lot of work and worry to get it started, and five weeks into the process, my son died. When we returned home from burying my son, I had to immediately continue the complicated and sometimes confusing process to get the permanent order from the court for my dad's affairs. Then I had to periodically report all things financial to the court.
Now I am backing my way back out of that process. Close a bank account (but not yet the primary account, in case any bills come in). Get the death certificates to show certain entities, as I had to do with my sister's passing 4 1/2 years ago. Do the final financial reporting, and so on.
It just feels a little weird to be putting it all in reverse. I was never comfortable with reversals. Also, I'm still in the same place of wondering what to do in what order, and not being able to ask the attorney questions every minute, but sometimes just do it, and perhaps once again I will find out later that I did it incorrectly, and fix it. At least now I know that most things are "fixable".
I'm not sure why I'm sharing all this. I'm not seeking sympathy. I've already received that and I appreciate it. I'm just sharing about a process. As I said yesterday, in the meantime his caregiver family has been taking care of the "junk" in his storage unit for me, which was most of what was there, after we and they looked through it together for items of value or sentimental value. So, they are backing their way out of this process too. I'm so appreciative of all they have done and are still doing.
I'm not sure about the other part of the process...grieving. I'm not sure what that looks like. Maybe I've already done it. Maybe I already did it when my dad had his mentally debilitating stroke, followed by my sister's death, followed by my son's death (and one of my nieces, and two brothers-in-law, and a couple of dear friends...all within about five years).
Maybe my grief came out enough in those moments four years ago when I couldn't track an important envelope, and I cried and told my story to a perfect stranger at a UPS store (who didn't know what to do with my story, poor guy), and when I left an important item on the counter at the post office (I'd already told them my story), and I panicked about the lost item, and when I came back, they looked up with a kind smile and handed it to me. I didn't know they would remember me, here in the big city. Maybe my grief came out enough when I used to cry at Mass every Sunday morning, after my son died.
Maybe I grieved my father (and mother) enough after I moved out of state at the age of 18. Or maybe I grieved enough when I was a teenager, and I didn't like that they had changed (in my eyes), and they didn't like that I had changed (in their eyes).

But maybe also, the good memories help outweigh the sadness, too. I will always remember that my best vacations when my children were young were visiting my dad. Ed and the children and I would go on outings during the day, and when we returned to the house, my dad would have cooked a delicious dinner for us. One time he had also created a wooden Aggravation game board for the kids and had painted golf tees as pegs.

When we moved from Los Angeles, my dad drove down from Washington to bring our house up to code so we could sell it. When we lived in Kentucky, he flew out to see us, even though he wasn't comfortable with flying so far anymore. And we had some deep talks about the past. Those kinds of talks always seemed to make him uncomfortable; and when I got ready to go visit him last time, I wanted to say some things to him. I never did though. I don't think he would have understood. Mostly he understood only the present moment by then. And mostly we couldn't understand his words. But one time, I laughed at something on the TV, and he looked up at me and said clearly, "Oh! It's you!" That's a beautiful memory I cherish.

What I had wanted to tell him, but didn't – I think the time was long past - was: "Dad, you didn't raise me perfectly every minute, but I didn't with my kids either. But you were always willing to listen to me prattle on. You taught me life skills and independence. You were a good father! You did good!  And yes, I know. It's 'you did well'. J "