Category Archives: perspective
I am writing this on a Saturday that is the punctuation mark on what is perhaps the longest week of my life.
The Covid-19 pandemic has elicited some of the same raw emotions as September 11, 2001. Only instead of witnessing the amount of damage human beings can intentionally do to each other in a matter of hours, this week felt like watching a failed rescue attempt in slow motion. I can see a person standing on railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train. That person is not only oblivious to the danger, but he’s inviting all of his friends to join him. And that scenario repeats itself over and over again.
Because I work at a social service agency, this wasn’t a week of self isolation or working from home. I oversee four offices that provide a variety of programs, including two food pantries. So this was a week of making plans, then changing plans then making new plans. It was a week of worrying about keeping staff safe, and clients safe and volunteers safe. It was a week of witnessing leadership failure and self-serving decision making. It was a week of hearing fear in the voice of a learning-disabled client with autism who had been living in his car when he first arrived at our office. He had finally been able to get his own apartment by working two jobs at two restaurants as a dishwasher. And this week he lost both of those jobs.
All of that was weighing heavily on my mind when I took my energetic puppy Jasper to a local park for a long walk in the woods on Thursday evening. The temperature was unseasonably warm, so a lot of people were taking advantage of one of the few recreational venues still available to us. Several fathers and sons were fishing. Athletes were running around the parameter of the park. Families were walking their dogs. And several people were standing still just listening to the spring peepers.
The tiny frogs were raising their voices to welcome the evening and provide me with a reminder that no matter what is happening in the world, we can always find beauty, peace and comfort among the chaos.
Amid the challenges of this week, family and friends reached out via phone calls not just text messages. Volunteers went beyond the call of duty to make sure our clients received the help they need. My amazing co-workers never complained about the increasing demands on them. When life gets scary, there are always kind people to help navigate it.
The sky was almost dark as Jasper and I finished our walk. As the last person in the park, I stopped for one last time at the edge of the pond. I took out my phone and did my best to capture a short video of the moment. The ducks called to each other as the peepers raised their voices in a joyous chorus.
“It’s okay,” they chimed. “It’s okay.
For the past few month’s, I’ve been feeling like Horton the Elephant in Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book Horton Hears a Who.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, the Whos live on a speck of dust that is floating through the air, which means their entire civilization is at risk of being destroyed.
Because Horton has such big ears, he is the only jungle animal that can hear the Whos. Initially, he saves their community by putting the speck of dust on a clover so he can carry and protect it. His efforts are undermined and ridiculed by the other jungle animals, who try to destroy the clover. Horton rightly believes the only way he can save the Whos is by ensuring their voices are heard by the other jungle animals.
Nothing works until Jo Jo, the tiniest Who of all, joins the effort.
I may not be carrying around a clover, but I am carrying around a lot of concerns. I’m worried that something I’ve cared for and nurtured is going to be destroyed, and the people who could truly protect “my speck’ won’t listen.
Fortunately, unlike Horton who felt all alone in his efforts to protect his clover, I know I’m not alone. Many of us carry clovers. And, like Horton, we persevere because we have to. We are responsible for those who have less power.
Dr. Seuss understood this and passed the message on through his books. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood it and passed the message on through his speeches.
And they both understood that no voice is ever too small.
Jo Jo had a tiny voice that made all the difference to the survival of the Whos. Members of the Civil Rights movement were the voices that changed the world. And all of us can be a voice for someone who needs our support.
Be a Horton. Or be a Jo Jo. Or be both. But most importantly, be someone who does what you can to make the world a better place for others.
I was a bit irritated when I walked into the retail establishment and saw both clerks were already helping other people. I had specifically planned to be at the store when it opened so I wouldn’t have to wait in line. A couple of uncooperative traffic lights had disrupted my plans, and now I was stuck waiting.
The assistance I needed was simple and could have been quickly addressed, but the guy ahead of me was in no hurry. Instead, he seemed oblivious to anything but the long list of complaints he was making known to everyone in the store.
Being forced to listen to him was making me even more irritated,
And so while I waited, I judged him.
I judged him to be an uneducated, racist, redneck. I also guessed that he was about my age, which is why his anti-technology rant was so intolerable.
He was in the store to pay a bill and was complaining about the late fee. His bill had been due on Christmas, and he told the clerk that he couldn’t pay it because the store was closed. The woman politely told him that didn’t have to pay the bill on the day it’s due but could pay it in advance. He ignored her statement and told her that his previously bill was due on a Sunday, and he couldn’t pay it because the store was also closed. The salesperson politely told him the store IS open on Sundays. She also noted that he could pay his bill online.
And that’s when the anti-technology rant began. The man used his limited vocabulary to explain that the one time he tried to pay a bill online, the bank had taken the same amount of money out of his account every month. When he called to complain, he had to talk to someone who couldn’t speak English very well.
“I’m an American, he said. “I speak American. If people are going to work in this country, they need to speak American too.
That’s when the clerk surprised me. “My husband is from another country. He’s working to learn English, but it’s been hard.”
She said it nicely without any note of condemnation or disagreement with the customer. She was just stating a fact, and, surprisingly the man said little else. He didn’t apologize, but his rant stopped. He paid his bill with cash and left mumbling to himself.
“Wow,” I told the clerk, “that was amazing. You have so much patience.”
“I have to. I work retail,” she said. “I have to forgive people because I can’t go through my day angry.”
“I’m still impressed,” I said. “Especially since he was so angry about people from other countries. Where is your husband from?”
“Honduras. He’s been here nine years, and he still struggles with the language.”
“Honduras,” I repeated. “Wow, I bet he came here for a good reason.”
“The cartel took over his family farm,” she said. “We are still trying to get the rest of his family up here but we aren’t having much luck.”
I chose not to engage her in a conversation about the current immigration system or political environment. Instead, she asked me what I needed, and, as expected, I was soon out the door.
But the encounter stayed with me for much of the day. I was angry at the man but impressed with the clerk. I envied her ability to remain unruffled and almost kind to such an ignorant fool.
Only that night, when thoughts about the day raced through my mind as I was trying to fall asleep, did I recognize what a hypocrite I was.
My job is to advocate for people who struggle.
My job is educate the public about how stress, and adverse experiences, and lack of early childhood education can have a lifelong impact.
My job is to work with people who have few resources and little exposure to other cultures or countries.
My job is to help people just like that man.
For all I knew, the man was illiterate or have a learning disability. He might have grown up in an abusive, hate-filled environment. He might live where there is no access to technology because of geography or finances. He might have emptied his bank account to pay that bill.
Standing in that store wearing my middle-class, well-educated, self-righteous attitude, I had judged him based on nothing but how he was behaving in what was probably a very stressful situation for him.
I did exactly what I am always complaining other people do: I made judgments based solely on my personal perspective and experiences.
I could have spent a sleepless night worrying about my hypocrisy, but I didn’t.
Instead, I took to heart the words the clerk had uttered that day: I have to forgive people because I can’t go through my day angry.
She was right. What she didn’t say was that sometimes the person we have to forgive is ourselves.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I woke up on Sunday morning to the news of yet another mass shooting. It wasn’t the one in El Faso Texas that I went to bed hearing about. It was yet another one – this time in Dayton Ohio.
After texting to check on the safety of a college roommate and her family, who live in Dayton, I almost thew up.
I’m not exaggerating. I was literally sick to my stomach.
I felt completely powerless and angry.
When a friend called to check on me, she expressed the same thoughts. She was on her way to church and said she’d be praying.
“Pray that people actually elect leaders who care more about people than they do about money.” I said. “Because right now? They obviously don’t.”
We are both furious at the NRA, which is all about ensuring the gun industry continues to make money, that ignorant people fall for its propaganda, and that politicians remain in its pockets.
The current resident of the White House is no exception. Like so many politicians who think they need the support of the NRA, he’s pointing his fingers at mental illness and not at a problem with gun availability. In fact, too many so-called leaders do everything they can to avoid addressing the fact that there is a huge gap between responsible gun ownership and arming citizens with semi-automatic weapons. If they did, they’d be admitting there is plenty of opportunity for compromise.
In all the history books I’ve read, I don’t remember one that claimed America’s sordid history of racism is linked to mental illness. Can you imagine claiming that every member of the Klu Klux Klan or of a lynch mob was diagnosable? They weren’t. They were full of hate and fear.
The reign of terror carried out by the Nazi’s prior to and during World War II wasn’t linked to mental illness. Sure, the case can be made that Adolf Hitler was mentally ill, but not every single Nazi. They were full of hate and fear.
And now, do we claim that every perpetrator of domestic violence or that every racist is mentally ill? No. They too are simply full of hate and fear.
I can’t predict the future, but I do know that our present times will soon be history. And I can only hope that my grandchildren don’t have to read about how mass shootings became an acceptable risk of every day life. Instead, I hope they read about how concerned and compassionate citizens refused to let corporate interests control America and voted out the politicians who allowed that to happen.
A few months ago, my daughter performed the song “I’m Breaking Down” at a state thespian competition.
Her song choice wasn’t lost on me. You see, the character who sings that song in the musical The Falsettos is named Trina.
If you’re wondering why the heck my daughter would do that, don’t worry. You’ll soon know more than you ever wanted about my mental health.
On Wednesday night, I was truly breaking down. For a while now, I’ve felt overwhelmed in so many aspects of my life.
Every. Single. Aspect.
Nothing is going as I hoped, and there’s even a scandal making national headlines that’s impacting my job. Fun times.
I’m not throwing a pity party. There are still wonderful elements of my life, like my husband. (I’ll get to him in a minute.)
Let’s just say that, overall, I’m a walking mess. And when I’m a mess, all I want is for everyone else to understand exactly how I feel – even at 3:00 in the morning when I haven’t slept because I’m so angry, frustrated, stressed and just plain pissed off at the world.
(This is where my husband comes back in.)
After speaking only to myself for hours and realizing that my own words were only making me feel worse, I needed someone who would actually reassure me. So I woke my husband up to do that. He wasn’t happy.
In fact, he said something to the effect of “nobody cares.”
With those words, I felt like the whole world was against me.
Or, in the word’s of Trina in The Falsetto’s I was “breaking down.”
I got in my car and drove out of the neighborhood. The cop sitting in the church parking lot across from my neighborhood must have been thrilled to finally see a potential revenue source, because he (she?) pulled out behind me.
My first concern was to check to see if I’d actually thrown on a bra before leaving the house.
And even though I’m pretty certain that going braless while driving isn’t illegal, there might be some people who think it is. So I chose not to push my luck.
To get the cop off my tail, I turned into the nearby hospital parking lot.
That’s when I had a flashback to a few months earlier when I was in severe pain related to degenerative disk disease. I hadn’t slept for about a week and was miserable. I ended up making not one, but two, early morning visits to the Emergency Room. On one visit, to help ease the situation, the doctors gave me a shot of Valium and sent home a few more capsules to help me sleep until my condition improved.
Here’s what I learned about taking Valium:
- I don’t stay up all night being preoccupied, worried and pissed off;
- I don’t get preoccupied, worried and pissed off at all;
- I don’t care if people understand where I’m coming from;
- I can sleep;
- I like it.
As I pulled into that hospital parking lot, the glowing emergency room sign seemed like a welcoming beacon calling me home to an simple solution. And, for just a moment, I considered going in with the same set of complaints I’d had a few months earlier. The thought of not living with my head in a constant state of turmoil was overwhelmingly compelling.
But I didn’t. Instead, I parked in a dark, out of the way spot; I cried; I freaked out a couple of nurses who were sneaking off for an illegal smoke break; and then I headed home with the same set of problems and issues bouncing around in my head.
I honestly don’t know what stopped me from seeking drugs Wednesday night. Not wearing a bra might have had a little bit to do with my choice, but not a lot.
Maybe I’ve had enough experiences in my life to know this too shall pass.
Maybe I know that the consequences wouldn’t justify the immediate relief.
Maybe I am fortunate to have a support system that, while not available at 3:00 in the morning, is still there for me.
Maybe my childhood continues to impact my life well into my fifties.
Maybe I just don’t have the predisposition for drug seeking behavior.
Whatever the reason, here’s what I do know: the gap between maybe and don’t is precariously slim. Literally anyone call fall through it in certain circumstances.
I should know. I almost did.
I am one of those people.
There’s an old saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The saying may be old, but it’s more relevant than ever. From the world stage to the community stage, too many people use the slightest bit of authority to benefit themselves. Sometimes they do so with no thought to the damage they do to others, sometimes they tell lies to hide their true intentions, and sometimes they just don’t care.
But those left in their wake do care.
I should know.
In the last few months, weeks, and even days, the fallout from multiple instances of abuse of power has seeped into both my personal and professional life.
But, like so much in life, I’ve had to make a choice. I can either ignore the problems or I can can learn from them.
I’ve chosen to learn, and here’s what I’ve figured out: people only abuse their power because other people let them.
Sometimes, people allow the abuse of power because they think they too will benefit. They realize what is happening is wrong, but the potential gains outweigh the immorality of the situation. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people are afraid to call out the wrong doing. They fear they’ll be hurt, someone they care about will be hurt, or that an institution or organization in which they are invested will be hurt. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people believe more in institutions than they do people, and they will do all they can to protect those institutions. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people are in such awe of power that they truly believe that the abuse of power is justified. Or they believe that those who are abusing the power somehow earned and deserve to be where they are and to do what they do. Or they were taught not to question authority. So they say and do nothing.
These may be excuses, but they should never be excusable.
In the end, people who abuse their power only do harm: to people; to communities; to organizations; to institutions; and even to countries.
And while their behavior is reprehensible, looking the other way when abuse occurs is what allows it to continue.
It’s the sin that sits next to power.
Last week I questioned the educational background of Eric Porterfield, the Trump-loving, MAGA hat-wearing, WV State Delegate who made national headlines for railing against the LGBTQ community. The information I found through my “sleuthing” (aka Googling) wasn’t impressive. In fact, I was left wondering whether Porterfield actually had a legitimate post high school education.
This week, he revealed a bit more about his educational background.
In a Charleston Gazette Mail by Jake Zuckerman, (How Porterfield Went Blind in a Bar Fight,) Porterfield said he earned his divinity degree at Hyles-Anderson College in Indiana. Since the article was about how Porterfield was blinded in a bar fight after leaving a strip club, I doubt most people paid much attention to that nugget of information.
But I did, and it inspired me to do some more sleuthing. (In other words, I did some more Googling. Writing is my hobby, not my profession, so please don’t judge me.)
At first glance, Hyles-Anderson College may seem more legitimate than taking a correspondence course from Belle Meadow Baptist College. However, on further research, it raised numerous red flags.
Hyles-Anderson College is operated by the First Baptist Church of Hammonds, Indiana, which has a sketchy history of sex abuse (Let Us Prey ) and misogyny (Video of Anti Women Sermon) as well as accusations of investment schemes (Lawsuit against First Baptist Church).
Interestingly, despite all this, now Vice President and Former Indiana Governor Mike Pence has visited there on more than one occasion. (Mike Pence visits First Baptist Church in Hammond)
I spent some time looking into the non-accredited Hyles-Anderson College, and I wasn’t impressed. But my opinion about the school isn’t as relevant as my concern about how such schools and their affiliated churches are creating a version of Christianity that people like Eric Porterfield embrace and want to force onto others.
It’s a type of Christianity I don’t recognize.
I was taught that Jesus wanted us to love each other not to condemn people who think or live differently than we do. He wanted us to help the weak not to prey on them. He wanted us appreciate the importance of people rather than money and material possessions. He wanted us to welcome the stranger instead of build walls, care for the sick rather than decide who is worthy of care, and to turn the other cheek rather than instigate fights.
When Christians go bad, they don’t work to create Christ’s vision of a community of acceptance and peace.
Thankfully, many Christians still do.
I reflected about this Saturday night when a friend invited me to go to the Spanish Mass at a local Catholic Church, I’m not Catholic and my Spanish is limited, but I was literally welcomed there with open arms. My white skin and poor language skills went unnoticed, or at least unmentioned. Instead of feeling like I didn’t belong, I felt like people cared that I was there.
And that’s exactly how everyone should feel both in church and in America.
I’ve spent a lot time thinking about education lately.
Maybe that’s because my daughter, a senior in high school, hasn’t yet committed to a college, and her dad and I are getting anxious about her first choice. (It will require some financial gymnastics.)
Or maybe it’s because that same daughter missed school last week when West Virginia teachers went on strike for the second time in just over a year.
Or maybe it’s because the antics that led to the teacher’s strike made me want to dig into the educational background of the state legislators who think they know more about education than teachers do. Thankfully, the omnibus education bill that would have used limited public dollars to pay for private education and charter schools was killed, and the strike ended. But my curiosity about the legislators who supported the bill was piqued.
And when I looked up who voted to continue moving forward with the bill, a familiar name popped up.
I wasn’t surprised. He’s the guy who made national news earlier this month for railing against the LGBTQ community. What did surprise me was the difficulty I had getting information about his educational background.
I started by looking at his bio on the WV State legislature’s website.
There wasn’t anything there.
Faced with that roadblock, I did what any concerned voter would do: I used Google. That took some time as I had to wade through all of the news stories about his controversial comments. I finally found information on a website called “Vote Smart.” According to it, Porterfield received a DDiv from Belle Meadow Bible College in 2009.
Since I’d never heard of the college, I looked it up.
There’s a reason I’d never heard of it.
From what I could tell from the website, it’s actually a correspondence course offered by an Independent Baptist Church in Bristol Virginia.
When I showed this to a friend, she encouraged me to spend the $75.00 for the course.
I passed on her suggestion.
I didn’t, however, pass on continuing to dig for more information.
I didn’t find much.
In a self-completed candidate profile that ran in the May 5, 2018, edition of the Beckley Register Herald, Porterfield reported that he had “a BA in Religion and Arts, a Masters in Pastoral Theology, a Masters of Divinity.” https://www.register-herald.com/news/candidate-profile-eric-porterfield-house-district/article_a133ba54-51d1-11e8-a22c-5fb381dcf5e7.html.
There was no information about where he received these degrees. The only other reference to his educational background is in a September 28, 2012 article in the Princeton Times in which he says he went to a Bible College at age 20: https://www.ptonline.net/news/local_news/porterfields-bring-blind-faith-to-south-sudan/article_fa0ea72a-6f9d-5634-ad5e-fcd5a74464b1.html.
That’s it. That’s all I could find.
Which bothers me. It bothers me a lot.
As citizens, we are giving legislators the ability and responsibility of making decisions about education, and therefore the future of our children. We have the right to know if they are educated enough to do so.
For months, I’ve had an ongoing debate with myself that goes something like this:
Me: I need to tell everyone exactly what I think about President Trump and the antics of the WV State Legislature because their rhetoric and decisions are pandering to hate, greed and hypocrisy.
Also Me: There’s no reason to write about my opinions. I’m not going to change anyone’s mind. It’s just a waste of time.
For a while now, “Also Me” has been winning.
Then two things happened. First, I was privy to a debate regarding whether or not an organization should issue a public statement about the egregious comments made by a state legislator. The second was a brief conversation with my neighbor.
The issue concerning remarks made by state legislator Eric Porterfield began a couple of weeks ago during a debate in a legislative committee about a bill to add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Not only did Porterfield make scathing comments about the LGBTQ community, but he subsequently defended those comments to the point of likening the LGBTQ community to the KKK. Much to the embarrassment of many West Virginians, the story went national, and individuals and groups from both sides of the political aisle condemned Porterfield’s comments.
The organization with which I am affiliated also decided to publicly condemn his comments. The statements didn’t go without some internal debate. A few individuals believed that Porterfield shouldn’t be given any additional attention for his hate-filled rhetoric. To me, the public condemnation was important. While I didn’t like keeping Porterfield in the spotlight, I was more opposed to keeping silent about any form of hate speech, particularly against a community that has fought so hard for equal treatment.
And only a day after that realization, a neighbor stopped me to casually ask why I wasn’t writing my blog anymore. I hemmed and hawed about being too busy, but I didn’t say “because I started to feel like what I have to say doesn’t matter.”
I’m glad I didn’t, because her response was, “I miss it. It’s good to know that other people think like I do.”
And I realized she was right.
So, even though I’m probably never going to change anyone’s mind about what matters, I can lend support to all like-minded souls about the current state of affairs in our country.
So this is for them:
- I don’t believe that Americans are superior to people from other countries, regardless of their country of origin, the color of their skin, the language they speak, their profession, or the amount of money the do or don’t have.
- I think building a wall is in opposition to everything America is supposed to be about.
- I don’t believe that people who have money work harder than people who don’t have money. In fact, I believe that wealth is usually (not always but usually) more a matter of good luck than an indicator of perseverance, intelligence, or stellar character.
- I believe that most privileged people don’t realize how privileged they are. (I’ll never forget last year having a friend show me a Facebook post by a middle-aged white guy. He was questioning the credibility of Congressman Joe Kennedy because he was “born with a silver spoon in his mouth.” The guy ridiculing Kennedy actually inherited his own family business. For most Americans, that is exactly what a silver spoon looks like.)
- I believe in public education. Period. I don’t think tax dollars should be used to pay for schools that include a curriculum based on religion or that teach a particular religious philosophy.
- I believe good teachers are our greatest hope for the future, and they should be treated with the same respect and pay as other professions.
- I believe in science. Period.
- I believe that allowing industries to buy off politicians is damaging our country, And I believe that only people, not businesses or industries, should have opinions.
- I believe too many people use religion as an excuse to hate and to feel superior to others.
- I believe that a person’s sexual orientation isn’t anyone’s else’s business. You should be allowed to love who you love.
- And to the Eric Porterfields of this world? I believe you are purposefully ignorant and use religion to hide all of your insecurities. Your missionary work is an excuse to share your hate with others. If you really understood Christianity and what Christ taught, you would be too busy caring for the marginalized to be concerned about whom they sleep with. And in doing so, you’d probably learn that they actually have a lot to teach you. So know this, my internal debate about sharing my opinions may have just ended, but my battle for the greater good is just getting started.
I actually started crying during a work-related meeting last week.
Thankfully, I was with a group of women who understood my melt down.
An employee with a local domestic violence program was sharing how her agency has been dealing with the local fall out from accusations against now U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
They’ve experienced a significant increase in the number of calls from women who needed to talk about incidences they’d kept quiet for decades]. Their efforts to convince Senator Joe Manchin to consider how his confirmation vote would impact rape and domestic violence survivors had been frustrating. And then there was her story about the teenage girl who had called insisting that she had to meet with a counselor immediately.
The girl said she had been sexually assaulted by a boy at her high school, but her parents wouldn’t believe her. At least she was convinced they wouldn’t believe her.
They had, after all, spent the past few days calling Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school, a liar. And they had insinuated that a teenage girl should have known better to go to a party where there was drinking.
The girl pleaded for a counselor to listen to her story then speak to her parents. She believed they were more likely to listen to a professional than they were to her own daughter.
Listening to that story is what made me cry.
Only days earlier, a childhood friend had shared via social media her story of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather.
And I hadn’t known.
I had spent countless nights at her house and gone on trips with her family. I had coveted her canopy bed, her horses, her boat and her ability to fit in with the popular kids.
And the whole time I’d been comparing her seemingly cool life to mine, she had found safety and reprieve in my childhood home.
Only decades later would I discover the vast chasm between the reality of her life and the one she presented to the rest of the world.
Which is actually true for most people.
We can never know the full truth about someone else’s life but only what they choose share.
But we should all feel safe sharing our own truth without being shamed or blamed or dismissed when our reality doesn’t match what other people want to hear.
So here’s to the truth sayers, the people who believe them and the people who won’t tolerate those who want to silence them.
You are my tribe.