According to a teenager in the know, “Tide Pods are a really old thing. Why are you writing about them?”
My reply? “It might be a really old thing for your generation, but adults won’t let it go.”
The response was a look. Not just a look. It was “the” look. You know the one parents often get for being completely ridiculous, or embarrassing or just plain out of touch with reality.
That look made my point more than any words I can write.
Adults aren’t always right. Many of us might have war chests of experiences, but that doesn’t mean our perceptions are always right. The number of years we’ve lived doesn’t count for everything and can sometimes get in the way of seeing and hearing the truth.
And the truth is that the majority of teenagers thought that the Tide Pod challenge (which, as a reminder, is to them ancient history) was really stupid. They never tried to eat Tide Pods, and they don’t want to be lumped in with the few highly publicized groups of teens that did.
And yet, some adults are doing just that.
Last weekend, as I and millions of other Americans, cheered for and cried with the youth who led the March for Our Lives against gun violence, some adults were posting rude memes on social media. I saw several versions of them, but the message was basically the same: We shouldn’t listen to our youth because they eat Tide Pods.
And then there were the ones comparing the teens to Hitler Youth.
Those actually made me nauseous.
This effort to discredit our youth was repeated throughout the week in various ways. And it was indecent.
No matter what your opinion about gun safety, ridiculing, belittling and dismissing our youth isn’t just horrible. It’s harmful.
Research shows that youth must feel valued by adults. It is essential to ensuring they grow into healthy and engaged adults. And yet, The Search Institute indicates that only 25% of all youth feel they are valued by their community.
I can’t imagine the vitriolic memes and rhetoric are helping.
So just stop.
None of us are going to agree with everything the next generation says and does. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything of value to contribute to the conversation.
After all, they are the ones who know that the Tide Pod Challenge is ancient history. And posting anything otherwise only makes the adults appear to be the ones out of touch with reality.
I’ve never been one of those parents who wants to keep their kid home from school whenever possible. I operate on the theory that school is preparing young people for the world of employment, which doesn’t stop every time there is bad weather.
So yesterday, as high school students were already on school buses and a few were even at school when they got the text that our school system had changed its status from two-hour early dismissal to closed for the day, I rolled my eyes.
I had, after all, been closely monitoring the weather situation. I had heard all of the dire predictions that we would get a big snowfall on the first official day of spring. But only 14 hours earlier, I had been out on my bike enjoying spring-like weather. Not only that, but I’d had my eye on the National Weather Service forecast believing that, unlike for-profit weather companies, it would give me accurate information without all the hype.
And, the last time I checked, it was calling for a mix of sleet, snow and rain until 2:00 in the afternoon when the temperatures were supposed to drop below freezing. The sun hadn’t even risen when I took the dog for a walk while our cat trotted behind. That cat hates snow, ice and cold temperatures, so I trusted her more than any weather forecaster.
I shouldn’t have.
As I got ready for work, I put on clothes intended for looking good rather than for battling the elements.
I shouldn’t have.
I left for work after texting a couple of co-workers that the roads were fine and they didn’t have any worries.
I shouldn’t have.
By the time I drove the eight minutes from my house to my office, the temperature had already dropped two degrees. And I had only been in my office for a short time when big, heavy snowflakes began to fall.
By the time I was on a 9:00 conference call, I was watching a truck slip and side in front of the office.
And by the time I got off my conference call, the National Weather Service forecast had changed.
Needless to say, I closed the office, went home, shoveled the driveway and sent a text complaining about the weather to my friend.
But here’s the truth. There’s always something enjoyable about unusual weather. Maybe it’s how it breaks up the predictability of our lives. Maybe it’s because it brings us closer to neighbors, friends, co-workers and even the paper delivery guy as we collectively fight the elements. Or maybe it’s because these moments create memories that last a lifetime.
Yesterday afternoon, I sent a message to a group of college friends telling them about the local weather and reminding them of another freak snow storm.
It was April 1987 at Ohio University, and we were all looking forward to the warm days on South Green where we lived. When the temperatures rose, barely dressed students would sunbathe on towels while groups of guys played hacky sack nearby.
I had taken all of my winter clothes to my parents during spring break, so I didn’t have a coat, or boots or even any warm sweaters.
Which means, I wasn’t prepared to walk around campus in 17 inches of snow in tennis shoes: April 1987 Snowstorm
But I was 20 years old, so I did. To keep warm, I borrowed highly stylish 1980’s big, bright sweaters from my roommate Amy, who was from Rochester, New York. She knew spring didn’t necessarily mean it was time to pack away the sweaters.
She also knew where the best parties were. And so a group of us tramped through knee-deep snow to go to a party where, for some reason, we took photos.
Today, those photos hold so many memories. They don’t just represent a snapshot in time during a freak snowstorm. They represent a part of me that used to be… that part that only still exists only because I can share it with the people who were there with me.
Mother Nature may be temperamental, but Father Time is as predictable as he is relentless. His march forward stops for no one. He leaves his footprints on our relationships and our circumstances while etching wrinkles on our faces. But in each of those footprints, he also leaves a memory that can be taken out and enjoyed in any kind of weather.
Life is short. Snowstorms are even shorter. But friendships and memories? With the right people, they can last forever.
The man who walked into my office carrying a chainsaw a few weeks ago is now stuck in a jail cell.
In all likelihood, he’ll be behind bars for a very long time, and I don’t think anyone who knows him is surprised. My former client has been struggling to survive since he was released from prison only a couple of years ago. And while he’d most likely been involved in criminal behavior for which he wasn’t caught (the origins of that chainsaw he was selling to raise money to pay his electric bill are highly dubious), his luck ran out this week. He never really had much of a chance anyway. Growing up, he had too many strikes against him.
And if common sense isn’t enough to tell us that the more negative experiences a person has in childhood, the less likely they are to succeed as adults, science has now proven it. But this doesn’t mean we should give up. Research has also shown that positive relationships with caring adults can help mitigate the impact of those negative childhood experiences.
And for many children, those caring adults are teachers. Teachers aren’t just educating the next generation; they are building relationships that could very well save a child who would otherwise end up like my former client – in a jail cell heading back to prison.
If common sense and logic prevailed, our communities would be doing everything we could to support teachers. We’d recognize that our future depends on them.
And yet, in West Virginia, our teachers – some of the lowest paid in the nation – have been on strike for more than a week. And the issue isn’t just about salaries – it’s about access to affordable health care and basic respect for the profession.
Many lawmakers are their biggest advocates, but others are actually belittling them.
Take, for example, Republican State Senator Craig Blair, who unfortunately and embarrassingly is from my county. During a radio interview, he actually used the fact that teachers are personally ensuring that low-income children still have access to free lunches during the strike as a reason they shouldn’t get raises.
Not only did he fail to acknowledge how incredible these teachers are for giving more than they are required, he flat-out failed the children they are helping. These are children in poverty. These are children who already have several strikes against them. These are children who need caring adults in their lives to counter all of the negative consequences of poverty. These are children that are caught up in a political battle that could be easily resolved. And these are the children who will soon be adults that either contribute to or become a burden on our communities. It all depends on what we adults choose to do.
I couldn’t save my client who is back behind bars, but I refuse to do nothing for West Virginia’s children and the teachers they need as much as they need sunshine and water to grow.
I’m using this blog and my words to strike back at the lawmakers who aren’t supporting them. And I know a lot of voters who will be striking back at the ballot box in November.
On Thursday, the man who currently lives in the White House asked a subsequently well-publicized question about why people from certain poor, non-white countries should be allowed to come to the United States.
The very next day, he said the following as he signed a proclamation marking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, “Today we celebrate Dr. King for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter the color of our skin, or the place of our birth we are all created equal by God.”
My first reaction was, “That’s our Hypocrite in Chief.”
My second reaction was, “That’s the difference between words that have a direct path from his brain to his mouth and ones that someone else wrote for him to read.”
My third reaction was to wonder how Dr. King would expect us to react. I can guarantee it wouldn’t have been to make excuses for Trump or to accept the horrible things being said about people from other countries.
I was just over a year old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in April 1968, so I have no memories of him. Everything I know is based on what I’ve read or seen on television. I don’t remember ever studying him as part of my public school education, and I was in college by the time a federal holiday was established in his honor.
Maybe the fact that I didn’t get a school-book version of his life is a good thing. I never thought of him as just the guy who gave a bunch of great speeches or even as just a civil rights activist. To me, he was someone who always put people first. And in doing that, he called all of us to think about and respond to the problem of privilege: who has it, who doesn’t, and the role we each play in making or changing that reality.
Being privileged isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Generally, most privileged people aren’t responsible for their own circumstances – they have it because of birth, or marriage, or appearance, or the assistance of someone else. It becomes a problem when privileged people believe that being privileged means they are better and more deserving than others.
Which is exactly the problem with Donald Trump. He thinks money and status and appearance are more important than anything, and he thinks if other people don’t have these things – and lots of these things – aren’t as important or valuable as those who do.
In other words, his belief system is the one Martin Luther King Jr. spent most of his life fighting.
Which brings me back to my question about how Dr. King would expect us to react to Trump. And while I can only speculate, I imagine he would ask the following of us:
- Speak out often and loud against any words that belittle another person or group of people: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” and “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
- Take action. Write letters. Make phone calls. Talk to your friends. Write a blog. Whatever you do, don’t ignore what is happening in our country right now. “The time is always right to do what is right.”
- Help someone who isn’t as privileged as you – however you define privilege. Learn about our immigration system and the conditions in some of the countries Trump denounced. Find out how adverse childhood experiences can impact a person’s entire life. Find out the facts about programs that help the poor. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?”
- Don’t waste time worrying about or fighting with people who will always see the world from only one perspective – theirs. “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
- Never, ever give up or lose faith in humanity but don’t expect circumstances will improve without you. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” and “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday is always observed on the third Monday of January. This year, it falls on Dr. King’s actual birthday.
Please, please, please find a way to honor his words and his actions on what would have been his 89th birthday.
It’s not only the least we can do – it is what we absolutely have to do.
A few months ago, I realized that regardless of what the man occupying the Oval Office says or does, he will always have a group of hard-core supporters.
Some of them support him because they truly believe his rhetoric – that legitimate news sources and journalists are making up the facts and twisting reality.
Some of them admit that he’s not perfect but believe that as long as his party affiliation starts with an R, he is the best option.
Some of them don’t care what he says or does as long they will personally benefit from his agenda – regardless of how it impacts others.
And then there are those who wave the American flag and claim that being patriotic requires being deferential to the President. They try to shame those of us who can’t support Trump by telling us that we are hoping he fails as president. I 100% agree with this. They generally follow this by saying that by hoping he fails, we are hoping America fails. I 100% disagree with this.
I want Trump to fail because his agenda isn’t American and his personal behavior and words don’t reflect what America is all about.
I want Trump to fail because I believe that health care is a right and not something that should be based on your job, your bank account, or to whom you are married.
I want Trump to fail because I believe that the majority of immigrants bring opportunities and not problems to America.
I want Trump to fail because trickle-down economics has been a proven failure to the people who most need the opportunity to make a living wage.
I want Trump to fail because I believe we should focus on improving public education rather than expecting the best education to be provided by private institutions.
I want Trump to fail because I believe in science, and the environment, and national parks and global warming.
I want Trump to fail because I don’t believe that a man who has publicly degraded woman on numerous occasions is an acceptable role model or, for that matter, a decent human being.
I want Trump to fail because I don’t believe in banned books or banned words, particularly words such as diversity, vulnerable and evidence-based.
I want Trump to fail because anti-bullying programs aren’t going to work when the supposed leader of our country is a bully.
I want Trump to fail because this country was founded on the principle of religious freedom – and that includes all religions – not just various Christian denominations.
I want Trump to fail because the United States shouldn’t be a country in which one’s man’s words can hold more power than the truth.
Yes, I want Trump to fail. But to all those people who claim that means I want our country to fail? Think again.
I want our country to succeed, but my definition of a successful country is apparently different from theirs.
Because to me, a successful country is one that puts people over money, science over profit and love and respect over hate and prejudice.
And if supporting people who put that agenda first and opposing those who don’t isn’t patriotic? Then I don’t know what is.
I got a rash on my face for Christmas this year.
It was a gift, or, at least it was the byproduct of a gift that was given with the best of intentions.
And because of that, I almost didn’t write about it.
I didn’t write about a lot of things in 2017.
That’s partly because I had so much on my plate that I couldn’t find the energy at the end of a day or week to collect my thoughts in a coherent manner.
My lack of writing was partly because there was just too much going on to address anything in a timely manner. The man currently occupying the Oval Office said and did so many mind-numbing, jaw-dropping, embarrassing things, that something I wrote on Saturday morning would already be obsolete by that afternoon because of his latest tweet, or handshake, or speech or attempt to drink water with two hands.
And I didn’t write much this year because I live with my greatest critics. And sometimes not writing is easier than dealing with the aftermath of someone feeling misquoted or offended or embarrassed by my interpretation of events.
Which brings us right back to the rash on my face, which is the direct result of a thoughtful Christmas gift that my husband gave me. And, at risk hurting his feelings by sharing with the world that the itchy bumps on my face are his fault, I’m doing it anyway.
That’s because as 2017 ends, the rash symbolizes so much more than my husband’s misguided attempt to help me relax by giving me scented spray for pillows and linens (a spray to which I am apparently allergic).
It’s about having survived almost an entire year (starting on Friday January 20, to be exact) in which our country has been subjected to a rash leader whose impulsive tendencies are causing much bigger problems than just an irritating itch.
Unfortunately, I can’t change the leadership problem in this country as easily as I changed the sheets and pillowcases doused with the rash-causing spray. But that doesn’t mean I have to tolerate it nor should I be silenced.
A rash isn’t just irritating, it can be dangerous when untreated. The same goes for rash people. And there is no shame in trying to address the root of the problem or finding an antidote.
Here’s to making that a breakthrough discovery in 2018.
On Friday afternoon, my 16-year old daughter and her friend giggled as they insisted I look at a picture from earlier that day.
In the photo, my daughter, who wears her glasses more than she wears her contacts, had placed several of her friends’ glasses over her own.
She was laughing with delight at the image of all those glasses perched on her nose. But just looking at the picture made my head hurt because trying to see the world through multiple lenses can be painful.
It’s so painful, in fact, that many of us avoid doing it.
But we should.
I was reminded of that this week when I begrudgingly attended a continuing education program that I needed to keep my social work license. The licensure requirements recently changed to include at least two hours about mental health issues for veterans, which was the topic of the workshop.
As soon as I entered the classroom, I realized that not all of us were there solely because we wanted to keep our licenses.
When I sat down, the older gentleman sitting directly across from me explained that, even though he wasn’t a social worker, he was interested in the topic.
He was a veteran he said as he gestured to a woman sitting near us who was wearing a hijab.
“I was taught to kill people like that,” he said to me. “Now I’m being told to accept them.”
I’m not even sure what hackles are, but I immediately felt mine go up. His words were in direct opposition to everything I’ve been raised to believe:
- America was founded on the principle of religious freedom.
- Christians aren’t supposed to judge people who are different than we are.
- Good people don’t want to harm others based on their beliefs.
With only a few words, this man who had spent most of his life in service to my country, made me question both his ethics and the agenda of our country’s military.
Only hours later, after listening to a presentation about military culture, hearing from family members of veterans, and getting bombarded with statistics, did I realize the man was crying.
A colleague was trying to comfort him as tears rolled down his cheeks. He was explaining how difficult adjusting to civilian life has been for him.
That’s when I realized the entire purpose of the continuing education requirement: I needed to understand that lens through which Veterans like him might view the world. He isn’t a bad man. He’s actually a good man who is living in a culture with conflicting message and ideals.
That was only one of the many reminders about different lenses that I’ve been getting recently.
For example, I had to change the lens through which I saw a childhood friend whom I’d envied for having everything I didn’t: a sense of style; easy popularity; a beautiful bedroom; horses and even a boat. She recently revealed that her stepfather had molested her for years in the house where I’d spent so many hours. In fact, she had envied me for my ability to express exactly what I was thinking and feeling while she kept everything bottled up.
I’ve had to change the lens through which I view some of the frustrating low-income clients who walk into our office after continually make poor choices. New medical findings show how poverty and childhood stress literally change brain structure.
I’ve had to change the lens through which I perceive people who allude to Fox News or share clips of Sarah Huckabee Sanders citing a recycled email. I have to remind myself to try to see the world through their tinted lens colored by dogma, lack of information, priorities, fear and their beliefs about their own circumstances.
Unlike my daughter, I’m not going to subject myself to a headache by putting on several pairs of real glasses that will make the world blurry. But I am going to try a little harder to look through the lenses that other people choose to share with me.
And in return, I hope they take time to look through mine as well.
I’ve been wanting to write about something that happened to me last Monday, but, up until just now. I haven’t been able to.
I could use the excuse that I’ve been busy (which I have been), but I’ve never before let that prevent me from writing about something so incredibly important.
The real problem hasn’t been lack of time. It’s been a lack of words.
I just don’t know how to write about hate.
You see, last Monday morning, a man came into my office and spewed racist venom at me.
I sat in shock as he got up in my face and yelled at me about using agency money to help Hispanic and black people. He even accused me of not caring about white people. Despite my efforts to be calm with a clearly irrational person, I admit glancing down at my arm and saying, “You do realize that I’m a white person, right?”
He couldn’t hear me. He was too absorbed in his own anger.
And, other than simply waiting out his verbal assault while my colleagues tried to decide what to do, I was powerless.
I can’t imagine how I would have felt if my skin color were darker.
I used to think I understood the problem of racism.
At age five, I cried on the first day of kindergarten when I discovered that I was the only white child in my class on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
But my parents and teacher (who was also white) rushed to my rescue. They had the only other white child in kindergarten transferred into my class so I felt more comfortable. I can only imagine how the man in my office would react if a Hispanic of black family had done something similar for their child.
By first grade, my parents moved our family off the reservation, and my class was full of kids who didn’t make me self-conscious about the color of my skin, eyes, hair or culture. As I moved from childhood into adolescence, I claimed to have experienced racism because I had been one of only two white kids in my kindergarten class.
I hadn’t. My limited experience didn’t even come close. Being a different color doesn’t equate to racism if you still have power. And my family had the power to get me out of a situation that made me feel uncomfortable.
But I didn’t feel as though I had any power last Monday.
I was in an office with no escape as the angry man stood between me and the door. I was in a situation in which reasoning and rational discussion couldn’t resolve the problem. And I was face to face with an individual who truly believed in a social hierarchy based solely on physical characteristics.
No matter how calm my voice was as I repeated the mantra “We care about all people here. We don’t care about their skin color or their religion,” I felt powerless.
When the man finally left, I rehashed the incident with my co-workers, expressed relief that he hadn’t been carrying a weapon, implemented a safety plan and complained that the current political environment is empowering bigots.
But I never doubted my convictions or the words I’d said to him.
He may have tried to intimidate me with his hate, but my words of love actually had more power – of that I have no doubt.
Hate might come knocking on my door. Sometimes, it might even walk in. But I will never, ever allow it to stay.
And knowing that makes me feel incredibly powerful. As it should.
“You need to choose the sword you fall on.”
Those words rang in my ears as I walked back through my office doors.
They hadn’t been said in warning. They were simply the last bits of a conversation with a wise woman who was commenting on my tendency to either push back or push the envelope, challenge the status quo and speak out loudly about my beliefs.
And yet, the words seemed to take on a shape of their own and drift behind me as I braced myself for my next challenge.
Don’t get me wrong.
I’m a firm believer that challenges are great for character development. But they can also be senseless and tragic when created by one group of people against another group of people.
And more and more, that’s the type of challenge I face on a daily basis.
Earlier in the week, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers conducted raids in my community and took numerous individuals into custody.
For some people, that just means they were following the law. For others, it demonstrates how a complex and outdated immigration system is hurting our fellow human beings. And for some hateful and spiteful individuals, it means that “foreigners” and “illegal aliens” are getting what they deserve.
But to people like me and my colleagues, it means families are being torn apart.
It means children are losing a parent.
It means people who have escaped desperate situations and horrific conditions are losing hope, struggling to navigate a complicated and bureaucratic system and living in fear that they will never see their loved ones again.
And it means that the challenges my colleagues and I face every day aren’t as simple as ensuring that families have housing, food and enough money to pay the utility bills.
The challenges aren’t as simple as advocating for immigrant rights or educating the community about the complicated immigration system in our country.
They aren’t even as simple as ensuring that teachers understand that a spirited debate about “illegal” immigration isn’t helpful when you forget that the child in the back of the room has a father who has just been deported.
The challenges we face aren’t simple because matters of the heart are never simple.
And the art of living with people who have different ideas, different skin colors, different religions, different beliefs and different histories is a matter of the heart.
Unfortunately, my heart has been breaking a little more each time I hear, read or witness another senseless attack on someone who is simply struggling to exist.
Which is the reason I’ve been sharpening that proverbial sword I was warned about.
My sword isn’t intended to hurt people, but, when it’s used correctly, it sometimes does.
That’s because swords were designed for fighting.
My sword is comprised of the words I write about the truth as I see it. My colleagues have their own swords built on experience, education and passion. And all of us are using our swords to fight against injustice and to defend hearts that can easily break in today’s heated attacks on minorities, the poor and the undocumented.
We may trip and fall on our swords by accident, but there is no doubt that we will ever regret the fight.
I finally saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway last week.
I say finally because I’d heard the music so much (thanks to my theater kid daughter) that I already knew most of the lyrics by heart when I took my seat in the Eugene O’Neill theater on 49th Street.
I enjoyed it so much my daughter actually had to hush me when I automatically began singing along with the actors.
But my positive reviews haven’t been appreciated by everyone.
One person told me “I’m all for free speech, but that play pokes fun at religion. If they can make fun of Mormons, then other religions will follow.” My internal reaction was “so what?”
Her distaste for the musical was one of the reasons I loved it so much. The show points out how people can be so invested in promoting their version of religion that it takes priority over actually helping people. It calls out individuals who abide by dogma in hopes of being rewarded. It demonstrates how being so focused on your own agenda can make you blind to reality. And it points out how religion can be a way to avoid critical thinking.
I know some people find both my words and the musical offensive.
I don’t care.
Having faith and asking questions aren’t any more mutually exclusive than evangelizing while respecting different religions and beliefs. My experience with Christianity demonstrates that some of the closest followers of Christ’s teachings are people who never go to church, and some very hateful people go faithfully every Sunday.
Religion should never focus on ensuring that everyone believes what you believe. Instead, it should be about putting faith into action by treating everyone we meet with dignity and respect.
And, because of that, here’s what I think churches should never do:
- Promote an us and them mentality. Whether it’s Christians versus Muslims, the haves “helping” the have-nots, or the old timers feeling more entitled to more control than newcomers, focusing on differences rather than commonalities is never helpful. If every church member spent one hour with someone with whom they thought they had nothing in common and focused on similarities rather than differences, the world would immediately become a better place. And if we focused on doing things with others rather than for others, it would be even better.
- Try to be a social service organization. Charity is wonderful, but attempting to run a social services program can often do more harm than good. Instead, raise funds, volunteers, and resources for community programs that have the experience and capacity to meet the community’s greatest needs. This doesn’t mean compassion isn’t needed or that help should never be provided. But some churches have actually made a family’s situation worst by providing them with the wrong resources.
- Set unreasonable expectations. When I was in graduate school, a professor told our class that studies indicate some mental illnesses are actually tied to being raised in a dogmatic religion. That’s because expectations don’t match reality, and guilt is used as a tool for conformity. If people want to feel accepted, they can be very good at pretending, but the cognitive dissonance can create even greater problems.
- Proclaim your religion is the only real religion. You should use your faith to be the best person you can be – and that should speak more loudly than anything else.
During the second act of The Book of Mormon, Elder Price sings a song about his beliefs. The song garners a great deal of laughter from the audience, which leads me to the last thing that churches should never do: discourage self-expression. Music and laughter almost always bring people together, and bringing people together should be one of primary missions of any church.