Category Archives: perspective

Huh?

A few years ago, a former colleague commented on a photo of my daughter. “She is so pretty and talented, she won’t have any problem finding a husband.”

“Huh?”

That was literally my reaction: “Huh?”

The comment about my daughter wasn’t made in the 1950’s. It was made in the 2020’s. Who the heck cares if my daughter ever gets married, or if she does, if she marries a man?

I knew responding to this person with a “huh?” wouldn’t have mattered. This same person’s whole identity seemed to be wrapped up in her husband to the extent that she rarely went anywhere but work without him. In fact, even when she went to work, she often dragged him with her as a volunteer.

My internal reaction to her prattling on about her husband was usually “huh?” To clarify, this wasn’t because she was talking about her husband. I mean, I talk about my husband all the time. That’s what you do when you are in a relationship. What bothered me was the way she talked about her husband. She obviously didn’t think she was a complete person without him and that her marriage to him was what defined her.

Even though I internally rolled my eyes at her backwards beliefs, there was a part of me that felt sorry for her. She had never outgrown that myth that many of us were fed as young girls: some day your prince will come and you will live happily ever after.

Thank goodness my mom told me early on that was a load of crap, and thank goodness my dad encouraged me to always be able to take care of myself. That was how I was raised: get an education and never expect that you can rely on anyone but yourself. I thought that was normal until I discovered how many of my peers were raised differently. There were numerous times that I was shocked when a smart, talented young woman put a relationship before education and career.

“Huh?”

Of course, these women usually didn’t have a mom who told them that needing a man to be complete was a load of crap or a dad who championed his daughter’s independence. Their parents had actually told them they didn’t need to worry about getting a good education if they found a good man or that going to college was a great place to find someone to marry.

“Huh?”

In hindsight, I was extremely fortunate to have parents who had the same expectations of me that they had for my brother. Even though I am very strong willed and I can’t imagine thinking I needed someone else to define me, but who really knows. Maybe I would be a completely different person if my parents had encouraged me to wear makeup instead of encouraging me to be my own person.

I know I shouldn’t judge women like my former colleague who see marriage (and then children) as what makes them successful. If they are truly happy, then good for them. What bothers me is putting that old-fashioned ideal on the next generation, which is what actually prompted me to write this.

Recently, I saw a Facebook post from someone who is the same age as me. Her daughter, who is is in her very early twenties, was getting married, and the post was “I always prayed that “Mary” would meet a wonderful man one day. God is working in her life.”

Huh?

Should she be happy and joyful and celebrating? Absolutely. But praying that your daughter would marry a good man? Really?

How about praying that your daughter will give back to the world more than she takes? How about praying your daughter will learn to navigate the tough world with the knowledge that she is strong enough to handle difficult times. How about praying that everyone will treat your daughter with the same respect and expectations that they treat your son? How about praying that your daughter has a such a sense of self that she will never consider getting married as something she needs to do to be a complete person.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against marriage, or relationships or motherhood. I think they are all great. I just don’t understand how some people still hold on to the belief that women have to have these to be complete or fulfilled or happy.

In other words…

“Huh?”

Giving Up or Letting Go?

I love podcasts. I seriously don’t know how I once managed to get through walks in the woods with my dog, regular household chores and long car drives without them. They are amazing. I can be productive AND entertained AND informed by just popping in my wireless earphones and going about my business.

I especially like the ones in which I feel like I’m eavesdropping on a conversation with good friends. The hosts don’t pretend they are perfect and sometimes talk about some of the same struggles I often face. These aren’t polished productions with professionals who guarantee they will provide the best advice about how to improve our lives, our budgets, our families, and whatever else self-help gurus talk about. I don’t need anyone telling me my life would be so much better if I just did “this” – whatever the latest, shiniest “this” is.

The podcasts that I prefer don’t have origins in board rooms with the primary purpose being to create productions that ensure shareholders and CEOs get even wealthier. My favorite podcasts started out in basements or at kitchen tables or in living rooms in which the hosts just want to tell stories or talk about something interesting. They don’t need fancy productions or perfectly polished delivery. They just need to be relatable, and relatable they are.

Just this week, the hosts of a podcast I regularly listen to were talking about New Year’s resolutions with a twist: instead of trying to do something new or better you choose something to let go. (This wasn’t the primary content – it was just a conversation the hosts had before they delivered the primary content. Again – I’m not into self-help as entertainment.) They weren’t discussing giving up something – like junk food or drinking alcohol or watching too much television. They were talking about something completely different.

Up until then, I’d never thought about how giving up and letting aren’t the same thing. Giving up can be good (I’m giving up candy) or it can be bad (I’m giving up trying to write the great American novel.) Letting go is about lifting a self-imposed weight that drags you down.

Giving up is about making a sacrifice, like people do during Lent, or about failure. It’s rooted in negativity and requires regular, conscious, decision-making. It’s about trying to maintain control in a chaotic world. Letting go isn’t about sacrifice at all. It’s about choosing to not think or worry about something that generally serves no helpful purpose.

I love this perspective because, like many people, there is so much I need to let go of: automatically feeling like I fall short when I compare myself to others; worrying that I could have done a better job raising my kids; ruminating over past decisions; obsessing about people who have treated me poorly or about people I’ve treated poorly. None of that is helpful to me or anyone else. It serves no purpose other than to create obstacles to appreciating all of the things I do right and enjoying life to its fullest.

In 2023, I’ll do my best to let go because I am at a point in my life that I don’t want to give up things I love (like podcasts). Besides, giving up seems to be more about what you show the outside world you can or can’t do. Letting go is about the stories we tell ourselves. This year, let’s all tell ourselves some great stories.

Superficial

I absolutely love when a fictional character says something that completely resonates with me to the extent that I’m still thinking about it days, or even years, later. For example, I don’t even remember which Scott Turow novel I was reading or which of his characters made the observation that teenage relationships teach you how to break up not how to stay together. The concept rang so true to me that I still reference it.

More recently, my husband and I were watching Three Pines, the television series based on Louise Penny’s books featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. During one episode, the detective tells another character, “Grief is love that has nowhere to go.” That simple statement captured the essence of grief in such a meaningful way that I know I will remember it forever.

But no quote has ever rang as true as one in the most recent Peter Robinson novel when his character Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks makes the observation that “Superficial people have superficial morals.”

(I’m going to make a brief side note here: Peter Robinson is one of my favorite authors, and I actually got to meet him at the National Book Festival in 2008. Unfortunately, he passed away just a few months ago, and his final novel will be released this spring.)

The statement about superficial people having superficial morals was a reaction to how some people are quick to judge other people’s relationships based on some shallow moral code. No truer statement could have ever been made. Shallow morality is a moral code rooted not in love and compassion but in judgement and fear. Ironically, most people who spout shallow morality don’t think they are superficial. Many think they are spouting a gospel that can not be questioned.

It can, and should, be. In fact, I suggest that everyone ask the following questions before dropping a judgement bomb:

  • Do you believe that a relationship can be immoral even if both partners are of age and are not hurting each other? If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you use fear and scare tactics as a justification for judging others. For example, do you tell others that trans individuals are stalking potential prey in bathrooms or that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles. If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you spout passages from the Bible out of context or without considering that some passages even contradict each other. If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you think that you have to be a Christian to be a moral person? If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you blindly follow your brand of Christianity, its rituals and its dogma without question or challenge. If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you protect your own and circle the wagons to protect others who think like you even if you know they are hurting others? If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you make sweeping judgements about other people’s difficult decisions, such as whether to terminate a pregnancy, with no understanding why the decision was made or the consequences of other options. If so you might have superficial morals.
  • And finally, do you believe that whole groups of people are less moral than you are and therefore need to be treated differently – whether it’s Muslims or Mexicans or African Americans or refugees or immigrants? If so, you definitely have superficial morals.

The bottom line is that morals should never be used to make us feel superior to other people. In fact, they should instead be used as an opportunity to learn about, care about and love people who are completely different than us. They should make our world and experiences bigger not smaller. They should be based on inclusivity not exclusivity. And most of all, we should recognize that they are subject to change as we have new experiences, meet new people and learn more about the science behind human behavior. To me, superficial morality isn’t moral at all.

I know not everyone will agree with me. I don’t care. As the late, great Leslie Jordan (who like Peter Robinson passed away in 2022) said, “What other people think about me is none of my business.” Thank you Leslie and thank you Peter for your moral guidance.

The Chair

The chair on the side of the road gave me pause. From what I could see, it was in great condition, but the logical side of my brain told me that no one could possibly throw out a perfectly good chair. So I didn’t seriously consider stopping, checking it out, and, if it seemed ok, throwing it in the back of my car because one of my kids might be able to use it. Yet, something about the abandoned chair niggled at the back of my mind.

I couldn’t help but wonder if it actually was a perfectly good chair that someone just didn’t want. Maybe it was the wrong color, or the wrong shape, or the owner had just gotten bored with it. People do that with pets, so they would have no problem abandoning inanimate objects for the same reason.

Regardless, I felt an unexplained empathy with the chair. Yes, I have probably seen Beauty and the Beast too many times and automatically personify inanimate objects, but I have also developed a deeper relationship with chairs after spending a significant amount of time with them a couple of months ago. The organization where I work had an online auction, and a donation of new furniture, including chairs, provided numerous items to offer up for bid. I had the responsibility of photographing and researching each chair to determine its retail value. Of course, I did this as part of a team, and I quickly realized people can have really strong feelings about chairs.

Everyone loved the rockers and recliners, which were mostly in neutral tones. But the accent chairs were quite controversial. Some people loved the bright, floral ones. Others thought they were obnoxious. I was particularly fond of a paisley chair that my co-worker deemed “absolutely ugly.”

It was simply a matter of taste, and no one tried to convince any of us that we were right or wrong. Because of course, no one was right or wrong. We just liked different chairs. Yet, I felt oddly hurt that someone thought a chair I liked was ugly, and I momentarily questioned if maybe I was wrong. We live in a society that tries to define beauty for us and reminds us on an annual basis what is “in” and what is “out.”

I will be 56 years old next month, and, when I’m honest, I admit that I still worry that my wardrobe isn’t cool enough and that there is something wrong with me because I have nothing to contribute to a conversation about the latest trends in interior paint colors. I tell myself that I don’t care, but a part of me does care. I tell others “you do you,” and “the only person you have to make happy is yourself,” but I worry that they may be putting themselves in a position of ridicule. I feel the constant hum in the background of daily living is telling me what I should look like, how to decorate my house, what music I should enjoy, and even whether or not my kids choices are normal.

The constant pull between being true to myself and true to the dictates of society is a struggle. A part of me will always be that kid whose peers made fun of what she wore when she started a new school in a community very different from the one she had left. I will always be that young woman who downplayed her intelligence and pretended she liked music she didn’t because she thought that’s what she had to do if people were going to like her.

Over the decades, the part of me that needs to fit in has grown smaller with every year while my allegiance to my true self has strengthened and grown. I may still worry about what others think of me, but I rarely make decisions based on that. And every day, I strive to be a champion for individuals who don’t feel they can be true to themselves without being discarded and isolated.

Maybe that’s why the chair on the side of the road made me so sad. It was a reminder of how easily anything – or anyone- can be discarded when they no longer meet someone else’s wants, needs, or sense of what is right and wrong.

I didn’t go back for that chair, but I hope someone else did. I hope they saw its beauty, and purpose and uniqueness and that it’s now sitting in a place of honor in someone’s house or apartment.

Everything and everyone belongs somewhere.

Getting Back Up

There is an anecdote in my baby book that explains so much. The brief notation is written in my mother’s perfect handwriting.

Christmas 1969 Trina was in the Sunday School program but kept falling backward.

That is all it says.

As a teenager, I remember asking my mom to elaborate. There really wasn’t much to tell. Apparently, nearly three-year-old me was one of several children singing Away In the Manger, but I could only get through a few lyrics before I’d fall backwards. Then I’d pick myself up, resume singing, and fall over again. And then I’d pick myself up again. And again. And again.

I hadn’t thought about that story in decades until this week when I was clinging to the root of a wild Rhododendron bush on the side of a cliff.

How could I have let myself get into this situation? I am the person who was once too uncoordinated to sing and stand up at the same time.

Being uncoordinated has shaped the person I am. I am the little girl who could never do a cartwheel and failed gymnastics. I am the kid who never once hit the ball during softball. I am the teenager who could run fast during a track meet but tripped at the finish line. I am the college student who sprained her ankle walking down the stairs of her dorm. I am the friend who got left behind on a ski trip because I just couldn’t get my feet to work correctly. I am the woman who shattered her wrist while walking her dog. I am the person who constantly has bruises and who everyone at work worries about every time they hear a crash or a loud bang.

My lack of grace generated a sense of fear in me at an early age. I wasn’t afraid of heights. I was afraid of what I might do to myself if I tried to do anything from a height: jumping downstairs, going off a diving board; springing off a swing in mid flight. I’d watch in awe as other kids did those things, but I avoided doing any of those them myself. And those decisions came with regrets. I once stood at the top of a fire pole willing myself to go down, but my feet refused. They felt as though they each weighed a thousand pounds.

My journalist mother was writing a feature story about a family that had installed the pole in their house as a fun way for their children to get from the second floor to the first floor. All of the kids in the house, their friends, and even my mother had gone down the pole. And yet, I stood in fear at the top unable to grab and go. The shame I felt from having to take the stairs stayed with me and inspired me to push through the fear.

Top of the forty-foot waterfall

Which is why, earlier this week, I found myself desperately hanging onto the side of the cliff.

My husband and I had taken the week off to spend time hiking and exploring state parks. He was on a mission to find a certain waterfall from a historical illustration, and his search took us to a series of falls that could only be accessed off the beaten path.

Off the beaten path turned out to be what I can only describe as an almost completely vertical cliff.

Getting to the first falls was fairly easy, but I took one look at the steep descent to the next one and said, “I can’t do it.” But then I did it anyway. The descent to the third waterfall, the one that plunges forty feet, was basically a forty foot vertical drop with vegetation and a few foot holes. “I can’t do this,” I said. And then I did it anyway. My forehead and back were dripping in sweat, but I did it anyway.

As my husband and I stood on a rock taking photos of the falls and basking in our success, he turned to me and said, “Now we have to do the hard part and go back up.”

The forty-foot waterfall

“I’m not worried about that,” I replied. “Getting back up has always been the easy part for me.”

I wasn’t just referring to the fact that, to me, climbing uphill really is much easier than going down a hill, when I often feel unbalanced.

I was referring to the fact that life has demanded that I learn to turn my weaknesses into strengths. When I was almost three years old, I had a problem simultaneously singing and standing. But when I fell, I always got back up. And I eventually learned to sing and stand. And to ride a bike. And to climb trees. And to climb down cliffs. And to trust myself to take risks.

The secret to enjoying life isn’t just about finding those things at which we are innately good and pursuing them. It’s about finding joy in overcoming those things at which we sometimes fail.

It’s about getting back up.

Five Questions

In the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, I noticed a trend on Facebook. Trump supporters were posting false information and then complaining when the Facebook administrators called them out. Apparently, some of these individuals were even getting private messages telling them about the consequences of posting false information. When discussing this, one person said, “everyone is getting that message.”

I wanted to comment, “I haven’t received that warning because I don’t share false information.” I didn’t though, because I was fairly confident I would have been called a lying libtard or told that Facebook was targeting conservatives and protecting progressives.

The irony of all of this is that the people who kept posting false information were the same individuals ranting about “fake news.” While they were definitely projecting (unconsciously taking unwanted emotions, traits, and behaviors they didn’t like about themselves and attributing them to someone else), they were also acting like spoiled children. In their delusional brains, something is only a fact if it justifies their beliefs or meets their needs. 

Before the election, I rolled my eyes at their temper tantrums and self-centered posts. After the election, I realized that this twisted thinking, encouraged by President Donald Trump, was dangerous. When Trump and his allies told his minions that the election had been stolen, they believed them. Even when every avenue was pursued to ensure the election results were accurate, including re-counts in Republican-controlled states and court cases, these Trump supporters were convinced, or pretended to be convinced, of some grand conspiracy to steal the election. In an attempt to get their way, they filled busses and airplanes during a global pandemic and went to Washington D.C. to demand that Trump remain president.

The mayhem committed at the capitol building in Washington D.C. on January 6 is unforgivable as are false assertions that members of “Antifa” disguised themselves as Trump supporters and were the actual perpetrators. 

Following the events on Wednesday, Trump followers are now complaining that actions taken by social media and technology companies to address hate speech and violence is fascism. Considering the education level of most of the people I’ve witnessed saying this, I’m fairly certain they would be unable to define fascism without being given a computer to Google it. These are, after all, the same people who call any policy with which they don’t agree socialism. The icing on their hateful cake is that many are proclaiming themselves Christians while calling people with different beliefs evil.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe people have the right to different opinions just as they have the right to organize and participate in peaceful protests. What they don’t have the right to do is demand that our country revolve around their belief system. And for those who say that’s not what they want, I have five questions:

  1. No one disputed that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016 but that Donald Trump won the electoral college. If Hillary Clinton had proclaimed the election was stolen, filed multiple lawsuits trying to get the results overturned, and tried to convince a secretary of state to find 11,000 votes, what would you have done and said?
  2. In Italy, the birthplace of fascism, people noted that the scenes at the United States Capitol on Wednesday were reminiscent of events in Italy in the 1930s under Mussolini. You call people who have taken a stand against police violence and for basic human rights as “Antifa,” which is short for Anti-fascists. Does that mean that you are pro-fascism?
  3. In America, where the economy is rooted in capitalism, the wealthier you are the more access you have to political power.  Donald Trump used his wealth and celebrity to win the 2016 presidential election but has yet to publicly share his tax returns. Since taxes are used to pay for public education, public safety, roads, and numerous other services that are equally available to all citizens, the amount he pays in taxes is one mechanism of demonstrating how he much he has or hasn’t contributed to the public good. Taxes are a contentious issue for many conservatives who constantly worry that their taxes might increase (even though they are benefiting from those public services). If the amount people pay in taxes is so important to you, why haven’t you held Donald Trump accountable to ensure he contributes his fair share?
  4. This week I saw a heartbreaking post from a young woman whose father berated her for not supporting Trump. He told her that college was giving her the wrong ideas. This isn’t unusual. I’ve witnessed numerous Trump supporters complain that colleges are turning young people into liberals. A college education is intended to expand a young person’s knowledge, expose them to different ideas, and teach them critical thinking skills.  Are you afraid that people who think for themselves or are better educated than you are a threat who will challenge your belief system or demonstrate that your way of thinking may not be for the greater good?
  5. A vast number of Evangelical Christians have continued to support President Trump even though he has never been actively engaged with the church or behaved in a Christ-like manner. Among his many behaviors, he has bragged about grabbing women by the genitalia, engaged in name-calling, endorsed policies that separate families, and lied on a daily basis. He cheated on his wives. In order to gain the support of Evangelical Christians, he chose Mike Pence as his vice president, but last week put him in danger when he didn’t “follow orders” to disrupt the electoral process. And he has supported a health care system that operates on the principles of making money rather than on ensuring all Americans have access to it.  None of these actions are in the least bit Christian. And yet so-called Christians have supported him in part because of his ability to put in place conservative judges. How do your reconcile the Golden Rule, the beatitudes, and the Ten Commandments with supporting a man who has demonstrated he worships wealth and power more than anything else? 

If any of Trump’s supporters read this, they will probably be angry. That’s fine with me. I’ve been angry for four years and during that time the most controversial political action I took was to wear a pink, knitted hat. And, for the record, I didn’t even have to purchase it thus contributing to a politician’s coffers. Someone made it and gave it to me for free because that is what genuinely nice, not evil, people do.

The Difference Between Like and Respect

I was having dinner on a friend’s deck with a group of like-minded women when we got the news: Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died.

We all reacted differently even though I’m certain we were all feeling the same way. One of us burst into tears. Another just sat silent while a third stood up and started clearing dishes. Me? I cussed. I cussed because Notorious RBG was a role model and a heroine. I cussed because I know what is at stake. And I cussed because some people I know will see her death more as an opportunity than a reason to  mourn.

The following words are for those people: I may like you, but I can’t respect you.

I like you because we might laugh together or share common interests or talk about our children.

But I can’t respect you because your vision of what our country’s future holds for those children isn’t one of diversity and inclusion and equality.

I can’t respect you because you believe your narrow definition of Christianity is the only legitimate religion.

I can’t respect you because you can’t discern the difference between journalism, opinion pieces and fake news.

I can’t respect you because you share information on social media that validates your opinion even if when the information is a complete lie.

I can’t respect you because you support political candidates and listen to pundits who claim that liberals aren’t real Christians.

I can’t respect you because you are a one-or two-issue voter who makes decisions at the ballot box based on dogma rather than on the scope and impact of a variety of policies on people’s day-to-day lives.

I can’t respect you because no matter how many times someone has tried to explain the difference between “gun control” and “taking away your guns,” you choose to listen to propaganda from the NRA,

I can’t respect you because you are voting for politicians who care about money more than they care about the well-being of people.

I can’t respect you because you think patriotism is marked by saluting a flag rather than by honoring the first  amendment.

I can’t respect you because you throw around the word socialism when what you are really saying is that you don’t want your tax dollars being used to provide services for people you have decided are “undeserving.”

And most of all, I can’t respect you because you are supporting politicians who have shown general disrespect and even criminal behavior toward women.

I know these words will offend some of you, and now you probably won’t respect me. I don’t care.

I’m 53 years old, and I’ve fought hard to become a strong, opinionated woman who cares about minorities and immigrants and the poor and people of different faiths.

I’m writing this because even though there are a lot of people I don’t respect right now, I couldn’t respect myself if I left these words unsaid.

Also, I’m fairly confident that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would approve.

The Experiment

When I was about five years old, my mother pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter so I could watch what she was doing.

She got a soup bowl out of one cupboard and a container of cornstarch out of another.

“We are going to do a science experiment,” she explained.

She poured the cornstarch into the bowl then slowly added water. When the mixture was exactly the texture she wanted, she told me “stick your finger in until it touches the bottom of the bowl.”

I tried, but the mixture was solid, and my finger didn’t even dent it.

“I can’t,” I said.

“Yes you can, ” she replied. “Try again.”

I poked at it again with the same results.

“It doesn’t work,” I complained.

“Yes it does. Look.” she said as she put her finger in the bowl. I watch in amazement as what had felt like a rock to me oozed around her finger.

She removed her finger and told me to try again. I did and was once again met with resistance.

“Don’t poke it. Instead just lightly touch it.”

I followed her instructions and was delighted when my finger began to sink into  a gooey substance.

I don’t remember if my mom talked about the science behind our experiment, but apparently it had a lasting impact as I’ve been thinking about it recently.

From an early age, my approach to dealing with problems has never been subtle. I’ve been called blunt,  forthright and outspoken. I’ve taken in pride in the fact that I always let people know where I stand and, most of the time, exactly what I’m thinking. I’m not good at quietly expressing my thoughts and then letting them soak in while I patiently wait for a response. As my husband knows, when I don’t get a response, I keeping poking until I get one.

Generally, that works, but sometimes it doesn’t.  Recently, I’m not only getting resistance when I make a stab at addressing a situation, I feel as though every effort is bouncing back and bruising me. I guess that’s why I’ve been thinking about that experiment at the kitchen counter with my mother more than 45 years ago.

Maybe my mom was attempting to tell me that sometimes you have to stop trying so hard to make something happen and  just need to let the situation unfold. In some circumstances, that may be the right approach.

But here is my other take away from that long ago experiment: when you let things rest and happen at their own pace sometimes all you get is covered in muck.

History tells us that change only happens when people are willing to poke their fingers at the problems and keep poking until they make cracks.

I don’t need muck. I need change.

And Now For Another Lie

When I was growing up, my mom baked a cherry pie every February in honor of George Washington’s birthday. The tradition was tied to the story about how, as a child, the first President of the United States chopped a cherry tree with his new hatchet. When his angry father confronted him, young George admitted what he had done because he couldn’t tell a lie.

The story was the basis of many elementary school lessons, and only as an adult did I learn that the story of the cherry tree was itself a lie. Author Mason Locke Weems added it, along with other heartwarming stories, to the fifth edition of his book The Life of Washington. Historians believe that Weems included the story to make Washington a virtuous role model that could influence the behavior of children.

He wasn’t alone. The history I learned in school almost always portrayed honorable men who built a perfect country on unquestionable values. In truth, the men were imperfect humans who built this country on the backs of others.

But for more than a century, history was written by people like Parson Weems, who wanted to shape it into a tool that could be used to control what people believed, and therefore how they behaved.

My elementary school classmates and I were taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America. We used crayons to color pictures of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria while reciting “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” No one taught us about the genocide he perpetrated on the people of Haiti.

In Junior High, I had to memorize the presidents of the United States and their accomplishments.  I was taught that Andrew Jackson was the seventh president, was nicknamed “Old Hickory” and founded the Democratic Party. I was an adult before I learned how he abused his power to remove Native Americans from their homes and was  responsible for what is now known as the Trail of Tears.

In high school, the lessons about World War II covered how America helped defeat Germany and end the Holocaust. There was never any mention about the Japanese internment camps on U.S. soil.

For the most part, what I was taught was factual. It just wasn’t truthful. America may have been established on the principles of equality and freedom, but those principles only applied to white men. When the south tried to leave the United States to preserve slavery and its economy, the Confederate message was clear: equality and freedom weren’t the most important values; power and money were.

As a nation, we are still struggling with those conflicting values.

On Thursday as I was leaving work, a pickup truck stopped in front of my office. A large confederate flag with the handwritten words ‘heritage not hate” was flying from the back. I winced.  I wanted to stop and ask what heritage meant to the driver, but I knew that would be pointless.

Some people think they have to hold on to relics of the past to justify their belief system.

Instead, we need to distinguish between erasing the past and learning from it.

We can still eat cherry pie on Washington’s birthday because we like eating cherry pie. We just shouldn’t eat it because we think it makes us more patriotic. Taking care of each other and honoring our true history is the only way to do that.

The Racist In Me

My kindergarten school picture

Nearly fifty years later, I don’t clearly remember my first day of kindergarten, but I know I was miserable and complained that I didn’t fit in.

What I really meant was that I was the only white student in my class.

That didn’t last long.

On the second day of kindergarten,  Mike Donahue switched classes and joined mine.

I have a few other memories from that year: sitting on the floor at the feet of an elderly tribe member who taught us her native language; participating in the annual root feast; wearing the wing dress my mom had sewn, and being chased and taunted when I was walking home from school. My tormentors, a group of older children, told me I didn’t belong and I needed to move off of the reservation.

The next year I did. I started first grade in a classroom full of white students like me.

When I was younger, I used to tell people that, because of those experiences, I knew what being a minority felt like and that I had experienced discrimination.

I didn’t and I hadn’t.

When I complained about being the only student with my skin color, my white, well-educated parents stepped in to ensure I had a friend in my class. When I lived in a place with a very different heritage than mine, my professional parents bought a house elsewhere among people with similar backgrounds.

In other words, what I actually experienced as a child was white privilege.

I’m still experiencing it.

I guarantee that no one has ever clutched their purse a bit tighter when they’ve seen me in a  parking garage. No one has ever called the police because I look suspicious when I’m walking my dog in their neighborhood. I’ve never been patted down or had my car searched when I’ve been stopped for speeding.

But I have been the person who has clutched her purse a bit tighter when she’s seen a black man in a parking garage.

And I absolutely hate that.

My parents raised me better. They taught me not to judge people by the color of their skin. My education specifically addressed prejudice. I am a licensed social worker whose professional ethics are grounded in fairness and equality. My children and friends, who are all strong advocates for diversity, expect more from me.

And yet, I’ve had those moments when my immediate reaction is to clutch my purse tighter.

Living in a racist society has influenced my reactions, but, I am still responsible for them. I am responsible for acknowledging them and I am responsible for changing them.

America should be too.