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.
Here are a few of my favorite things:
- Riding my bike
- Taking time to enjoy the awesome beauty of nature
- Having a good story to tell
Here’s what I’m known for:
- Having random weird stuff happen to me on a regular basis
Thankfully, that random weird stuff often involves animals that I encounter as I’m riding my bike while enjoying nature. Those events, in turn, generally make for a good story.
Take, for example, what happened Wednesday night as I neared the end of an otherwise uneventful 16-mile bike ride. I was zipping along a flat, straight stretch of road that runs parallel to a large cow pasture when something unusual happened.
I’ve ridden by that pasture hundreds of time, and the cows have never demonstrated the least bit of interest in me. Even when I’ve belted out Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes such as “Oklahoma”and “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin” they have remained unimpressed while they chewed their cud.
But not on Wednesday.
On Wednesday I didn’t even have to sing to grab their attention. In fact, I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. I was just peddling along when a big white cow with black spots started chasing me.
I’ve never seen a cow move that fast, and I wanted to know why.
And so, I stopped to ask.
But the cow didn’t provide any explanation as to why she felt the need to stalk me.
When I went up to the fence to question her, she didn’t udder (pun intended) a sound. Instead, she started licking me.
She licked my hands. She licked my stomach (or at least my shirt over my stomach). She licked my leg (or at least the pants over my leg). She licked my shoes then she licked my ankle (she really licked my ankle – not just my sock).
She even tried to chase away the other cows who, like me, had become curious as to her motives.
But, after I scolded her for not playing well with others, she allowed the other cows to join us at the fence.
I literally had a whole herd of cows at my fingertips when I finally realized I needed photos to document my whole “cow whisperer” experience.
Taking pictures on my phone with a herd of cows jostling around wasn’t exactly easy, but I got a few.
Not until I got home and was looking at those pictures did I realized two things.
First, not one photo captured the essence of the moment. Sure, some gave a glimpse into it, but none captured the actual experience. That’s because truly magical moments have nothing to do with what is seen by the eye and everything to do with what is felt by the heart and soul.
And second, I’ll probably never experience something like that again. No matter how many times I ride my bike by that field and no matter how loudly I sing to those cows, they will probably never come running again. (My singing might actually make them run in the other direction.) But even if they do come running, their actions won’t be nearly as remarkable. Remarkable moments, like remarkable people, can’t be duplicated. And, like people, the more unique they are, the more they should be treasured.
But here’s the thing: whether or not the cows and I now have some kind of undefinable relationship, they are now on my growing list of favorite things.
And anyone or anything that goes on that list will forever be part of not only a good story but of my life story. And that, in itself, is magical to me.
When I was a little girl, I fell out of bed on a regular basis.
Sometimes, I’d pick myself up off the floor and climb back under the covers. Sometimes, my father, who must have heard the thud, would come into my bedroom, scoop me up, and tuck me back into my bed.
I don’t remember being particularly concerned or afraid of falling out of bed, nor do I remember my parents worrying about it.
It was just something I did until, one day, I didn’t do it anymore.
Like so many childhood memories, my habit of falling out of bed was locked away in a part of my brain that only opens with the right key. Sometimes that key is a piece of music, sometimes it’s a smell, and sometimes it’s a conversation. But there are times when I have no idea what key unleashed a memory. It just pops into my mind, and I can’t shake it. Those are the moments when I realize my memories have come out of hiding and dusted themselves off because they are trying to teach me something.
And so it was last week with my memories of falling out of bed.
As I thought back to those nights decades ago, I realized they represent all of life’s struggles. Those times I fell out of bed were only a fraction of all the tumbles I’ve taken. And yet, I only remember a very small percentage of them – the ones that left behind scars and a good story.
But almost every time I stumbled or even completely fell, I had the choice to wallow in the pain and humiliation or to pick myself back up. Those few times when my struggles were so great that I couldn’t just pick myself back up, I was fortunate to have someone nearby who heard the thud and immediately responded with a helping hand.
There are so many individuals with no such people nearby. On almost a daily basis, I watch the stream of people coming through my office doors for financial assistance or other social services. I realize that most of them had very few, if any, people nearby listening for their thuds. And I wonder if it’s harder to pick yourself back up when you know that no one else is paying attention to your struggles.
I also wonder if knowing that you are safe and that someone has your back makes it easier to teach yourself not to fall. When you trust that people care and realize that falls are part of the learning process, it’s easier to have the fortitude and the ability to prevent self-inflicted bruises.
My memories were reminding me that I, like everyone else, needs to pay more attention and react to the thuds when someone nearby, no matter who they are, falls.
I try to be a nice person. I really do.
But sometimes, the person I strive to be and the one in my head couldn’t be more different.
O.K. – not some of the time. Most of the time.
In fact, I’ve often wondered if the first verse of “Cell Block Tango” in the musical Chicago was written with me in mind. In it, a young woman explains how the habits of other people can “get you down.” She complains about Bernie, who popped his gum when she was having a bad day. Her bad day turned into his bad day when she shot and killed him.
I can’t say I’ve ever come close to killing another person, but my mind is often plotting revenge. I just don’t act on these thoughts.
But when I’m in a funk, like I was last week, people or situations that are normally just irritating suddenly proliferate as though purposefully torturing me.
The moms who have known each other for years and don’t make an effort to include me in their conversations, even when I try to insert myself, morph into that pack of mean girls from high school.
The people who talk about updating the living room paint to “this year’s color” make me feel completely incompetent and out of touch. (Up until this year, I never even knew that some shades of beige are “in” and some are “out.” I generally feel accomplished when the old, faded living room carpet at my house gets vacuumed a couple of times each month.)
The grocery store clerks who make comments about the food I’m buying completely annoy me. Even though I tend to be a chatty person with almost everyone, I don’t need complete strangers talking to me about my eating habits.
Parents who make sure that they drop a list of their children’s accomplishments into every conversation seem to taunt me for my less accomplished (in their eyes) kids.
And those are just the people who irritate me. I haven’t even mentioned the ones who make me really angry:
- Individuals who don’t take pride in their job. I just don’t get that. If you are being paid to do something, you should never, ever expect other people to compensate and clean up your messes.
- People who compensate and clean up the messes for individuals who don’t take pride in their job. When that happens, the lazy people never learn.
- People who post derogatory comments in social media about low-income people who receive government benefits. No one in this world goes without the help of others. Some people are just fortunate to have family, friends, intellectual gifts and opportunities that helped them overcome difficult situations.
- Individuals who don’t take time to listen to others who may be less educated, less beautiful, less wealthy, less accomplished or less socially connected. We are all on this planet together, and I’m fairly confident that God doesn’t care more about some than others.
- Those same people who flaunt all they have by dropping snide comments or making off-hand remarks that are actually intended to put down others.
- Anyone who makes decisions that hurt my children and cause them to question their abilities or their dreams.
Generally, my antidote for this anger is to make up and play out entire scenes in my head. In them, I say just the right words or take just the right actions to cut down the offenders and put them in their place.
And then I pray to be a kind person and pretend to be the nice person I wish I were.
Usually, that’s enough, and the anger and irritation subside.
But when the irritation and anger continue to linger and the notes from “Cell Block Tango” become an ear worm, I have to do something a littler more dramatic and employ a stronger antidote.
That’s when I write about the people I annoy me. And sometimes, I even make those written words public.
For the last few months, something has been missing from my life. Its disappearance is particularly unnerving because I am given a sufficient supply of the missing element every day. But when I go to bed each night, I am left wondering what happened.
Time is that common yet mysterious element that belongs to everyone, plays favorites to no one, speeds up and slows down at the most inopportune moments and steals the occasions we treasure most while gifting us with memories.
When I was young, 24 hours per days seemed more than sufficient. Now, it’s anything but.
Which is why, on Christmas Eve, I felt as though I’d won the lottery. I had 11
days, or approximately 264 hours, without any significant appointments or commitments. And even though I had a long list of projects I wanted to tackle, part of me that just wanted to escape life as I know it.
Which is exactly what I did on Christmas Day.
After the presents were opened and the Christmas dinner was prepared, I escaped to find evidence that life is more than a series of events or accomplishments that are documented with time stamps and dates to remember.
I took my bicycle out on an unseasonably warm day, and, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t pedal to
cover a specific number of miles in a specified number of minutes.
In fact, I often didn’t pedal at all. Instead, I stopped to investigate. I stopped to listen. I stopped to breathe. Most of all, I stopped to take photos on my phone and to simply appreciate life without the constraints of deadlines or appointments or expectations.
And what I discovered was that, unlike people, most of the world pays no attention to clocks or calendars. While everything is affected by time, only people give it power.
The rest of the world just exists in the moment, adapts to the elements, accepts changes and stays committed to survival.
In other words, the rest of the world can teach us humans a thing or two.
And I’m ready to learn.
I was mad that cancer had taken the life of a good friend. I was mad at a self-serving state legislature that is pandering to special, extreme interests rather than improving the lives of Mountain State residents. I was mad that years of previous hard work had been torn apart by people who care more about touting their own importance than about doing the right thing. I was even mad that I had spent the day fighting with my work computer, which was eventually diagnosed with having either a bad virus or a bad hard drive.
Most of all, I was mad that not one of those situations was within my control.
And so, I lay awake thinking that, since I couldn’t change the random nature of life or the priorities of other people, I could at expose the selfish nature and behavior of others.
But no matter what scenario I imagined, I was never satisfied.
My friend would still be dead. Constituents would still vote against their own self interest and politicians would still prey upon emotional rather than rational voters. All of my hard work would still lie in ruins at the hands of people who never really tried to understand my efforts, and my computer would still be on a shelf waiting for repair.
And I would still be angry.
My mood hadn’t improved by the time I arrived at work the next morning.
Knowing that I had to put my anger aside, I spent the first few minutes in my office repeating one of my favorite quotes, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Saying those words to myself wasn’t sufficient, so I started sharing them with others.
Then something miraculous happened.
The people with whom I shared that quote not only empathized with me, they also shared their own anger.
In doing so, we talked about our values and about not feeling valued. We talked about how difficult people are often doing their best and just don’t know or have the skills to do better. We talked about our own successes and all that we hope to achieve in the future.
And when we spoke, we didn’t use flowery language that made us sound noble. We spoke from the heart with words that are best left behind closed doors (they were) but are sometimes the best way to describe our feelings.
I hadn’t had a complete attitude adjustment by the end of the day, but I did gain something important: perspective.
No one goes through life untouched by anger, and pretending we are above it is ridiculous. Instead, if we share it in the right way with the right people, we can learn more from anger than we ever could from happiness.
With that said, I’m hoping to be much less studious in the next few weeks.
At the same time, I’ve been told that sometimes the behaviors that annoy us most are the ones we revert to when we are at our worst.
I was at my worst this week.
Nothing horrible or life shattering happened. I just had to deal with some difficult and taxing situations at work. By the time I got home each night, I was too exhausted to do much more than complain about how tired and stressed I was.
I deal with people who struggle to meet their basic needs on a daily basis, so I should recognize how fortunate I am to have a warm and safe home to take shelter in each night. I have friends who are struggling with serious health issues, so I should wake up grateful for a (relatively) strong body and mind. I know people who go to jobs in which their only reward is a paycheck, and I should realize that being passionate about my work is more gratifying than any financial reward.
And yet, I forget.
This week I forgot so much and complained so much about my stress that I was even starting to annoy myself.
Which is why, when my cell phone rang at 6:30 on Friday night, I almost didn’t answer it. The caller i.d. showed that a volunteer from my office was trying to reach me, and I thought I had reached maximum capacity for anything work-related. At the same time, the responsible side of my personality (the stronger one that completing despises my whining and self-pitying side) had to answer the phone.
So I answered it, and the call served as a wonderful reminder of why I should be grateful for feeling overwhelmed at times.
The volunteer actually wanted me to speak with his wife, who was also interested in being a volunteer. The couple recently retired in another state and moved to my town to be nearer to their children and grandchildren.
I’d never met the woman who I spoke with on the phone, but on a cold evening in February, she was the only person who was able put my week in perspective.
I initially tried to hurry her off the phone. After confirming when she would come in to discuss volunteer opportunities, I said, “Have a good weekend.”
She wouldn’t let me go that quickly.
“I’m just hoping you can help me,” she said.
That shut me up.
“My mother is 94 years old,” she said. ” That means I likely have 30 years of retirement ahead of me. Everyone tells you that retirement is great. No one tells you that no one values your skills anymore.”
She went on. “I used to take pride in my work. I liked contributing something. I don’t feel as though I’m doing that now.”
I told her I understood.
And I did.
I may complain about all the stress in my life, but that stress means that I’m overwhelmed by demands on my time and talents. That stress means that others depend on me and need me. That stress means that I’m valued and that others recognize how important my contributions are.
In other words, the type of stress I experienced last week is a reflection of what I value most: the ability to make a difference to others.
The woman I talked to on Friday night may or may not decide to be a volunteer at my office. But whether she does or not, she’s already made a difference in my life.
Sometimes, strangers can do that.
In a life that requires me to fully participate on an almost constant basis, I truly appreciate days when I can simply be the observer. At those moments, I have the luxury of recognizing how total strangers are always touching my life.
Sometimes we barely brush against each other – like the shoppers in line at the grocery store or the other patients in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.
But every once in a while, when I have the opportunity to be more observant, complete strangers can provide insight, spark curiosity or simply remind me that sometimes the world is much less random than I generally think it is.
So it was last Saturday.
My son was spending the weekend playing music at a local university, and my husband was working. Recognizing the opportunity, my daughter suggested we “do something.”
What Kendall was really suggesting was that we “go shopping.” But having spent plenty of time and money shopping during the recent holiday season, I suggested we go into the city instead.
In our case, “the city” is Washington D.C., which offers plenty of opportunities to “do something” without having to “go shopping.”
She agreed, and, after dropping my son off for his music audition and subsequent day of practice, we headed to the Metro Station.
As we parked the car and headed toward the entrance, I noticed a young couple walking in front of us. I don’t know why I noticed them as they were quite ordinary. The boy (he looked like a boy to me although my daughter insisted he was at least 20) wore khaki pants and glasses. The girl, who was slightly taller than him, wore boots and a black coat. We lost sight of them as they punched in their SmarTrip cards while we had to purchase Metro farecards.
After changing trains once, our first stop was at the National Archives. As we crossed the street toward the ornate structure, Kendall poked me in the ribs and giggled.
The couple we had first seen as we left our car and headed toward the Metro Station was once again in front of us. I don’t know if I was more surprised that our destination had been the same or that my daughter had also noticed the pair.
Kendall and I soon forgot about them. As we went through security at the Archives, she was incredibly amused by the security guard who tried to put some humor into the “no photographs can be taken” rule.
Or, as he put it, “That also means no selfies, no me-sies, no we-sies, no you-sies.”
While Kendall was amused, his words made complete sense to me. In this day of constant access to cameras, you have to be as clear as possible. Even more importantly, people really understood and heeded his words.
They were also polite as we all patiently stood in line to see the most popular documents on display: the original Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. But that peaceful order was disrupted when a group of young beauty queens (they advertised this by wearing sashes inscribed with their titles) and their mothers entered the rotunda. The girls pushed their way through the patiently waiting crowd to see the prized displays. I was reminded of the spoiled Veruca Salt in Roald Dahl’s classic novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but kept my opinion to myself, even when one of the mothers encouraged her daughter to crowd her way to the glass cases that displayed the Constitution.
The woman behind me wasn’t as reserved and spoke up about their rudeness. “The people who try so hard to be important usually aren’t,” she said. “And the people who don’t try to be important usually are.”
She had a point, and her words made a lasting impression on me.
After getting our opportunity to see the documents (with no pushing involved), Kendall and I were debating where to go next when we noticed that the couple from the Metro were now patiently waiting in line to see our nation’s beloved documents.
Kendall gave me an amused look as we decided to head to the National Gallery of Art. Our short walk there wasn’t without incidence. As we approached the corner of Madison Drive and 7th Street, we heard yelling. The reason soon became obvious.
A man in a pink (yes pink) funnel cake truck was yelling at a security guard to let go of the handle on his truck door. “You are going to break the door!” he yelled. The guard had a bemused look on his face and a hand on holster.
“You need to move your truck” that security guard yelled back. I didn’t know how the driver could move his truck when the security guard was gripping the handle so tightly, but that was none of my business.
The yelling continued when the guard noticed all of us on the sidewalk.
“Civilians stand back!!!” he yelled.
We did. My heart was thumping as I willed the red hand on the crossing light change to white.
We had no such luck and were forced to watch the drama between the funnel cake vendor and the security guard escalate. The funnel cake man got out of his truck, and the security guard drew his gun.
And the crossing light did not change.
Then, out of nowhere, two police officers appeared and told the guard to put away his gun.
That’s when the crossing light finally changed. As we walked away, I could hear the funnel cake guy yelling, “He’s tripping! Did you see that? He’s tripping.”
“They’re all tripping,” Kendall said.
She had a point.Their anger and potential violence were totally unrelated to criminal activity and demonstrated the power struggles that so often precipitate violence.
As Kendall and I walked into the the National Art Gallery, my heart was still beating faster than normal. Fortunately, the peaceful halls soon calmed it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time there. But then, we wouldn’t have had enough time even if we had arrived when the museum first opened. We were awed by the paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Renoir, Monet and Manet.
We weren’t so awed by the work of Jackson Pollack.
“I just don’t get it,” I said as we stared at a painting that looked like paint dripping. I got as close as I could, staring at the paint and feeling a bit like Cameron staring at the painting in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The more I looked, the less I saw. I wasn’t the only person who didn’t “get it.”
Kendall and I were joined by two college-age women, one of whom who was questioning the artistic value. Her intellectually superior friend tried to put her straight.
“What is aesthetically pleasing isn’t the same as what is artistically lovely.”
I’m sure that meant something, I’m still not clear what. Maybe if I understood Jackson Pollock I would understand her words.
But while I didn’t get her point, I did appreciate that she sees the world in a totally different way than I do. Besides, I was more interested in the fact that the couple from the Metro Station was now in the same room in the art museum.
We stayed in the building until a guard announced that the museum would be closing in 2,000 seconds. Apparently, humor is part of the training for Washington D.C. museum security guards.
Kendall and I left, took the Metro to another destination for dinner then finally decided we needed to head home. Our energy level had dropped with temperature – or so we thought. As we got off the train and were headed to our car, Kendall challenged me to a race. Because I was so cold, I was all in. We giggled as we ran to the car.
Then, we both stopped abruptly.
There was a couple walking in front of us. The boy wore khaki pants and glasses. The girl, who was slightly taller than him, wore boots and a black coat. Kendall and I giggled and she took a picture on her phone.
That couple will forever be a part of our lives.
They serve as a reminder of all of the strangers we pass each day. Some go completely unnoticed. Some provide us with memorable quotes or life lessons. And some stay with us forever like the shadows in a photograph. Those are the ones that remind us that life’s best teachers aren’t always the most obvious. Instead, they are the ones that require us to take a backseat and observe all that life really has to offer.
But as I look back on the past year, I find myself appreciating all of the wise women who were a part of it.
These are the women that may not have made a loud splash in my life but instead helped me quietly navigate both rough waters as well as the still waters of day-to day living.
Their experience, intelligence, kindness, humor and support refilled my toolbox with gems I will treasure for the rest of my life.
And just as the following gems have helped me deal with difficult people and tough circumstances, I have no doubt that the wise women in my life would want me to share them with others.
And so I will:
“The older you get, the less and less you care about what others think. That’s the beauty of getting older and the reason we can take joy in embarrassing our children on a regular basis.”
“Sometimes we just have to sit back and watch other people implode when their desire for importance exceeds their ability to actually be important to anyone else.”
“Men will never laugh so hard they pee their pants. That’s kind of sad.”
“Some people are intimidated by a strong woman, but that doesn’t mean you should stop lifting your intellectual weights. Take pride in the fact that they can’t win an arm wrestling contest with your mental muscles.”
“Keeping your mouth shut is sometimes much more powerful than saying anything at all.”
“We rub elbows with delusional people every day. These are people who think they are leaders but never turn around to see that not only is no one is following them, but many are running as far as possible in the opposite direction.”
“Being honest in a resume is far more important to the soul than getting a job based on half-truths.”
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sleeping in a pretty dress if it makes you feel good about yourself.”
“Mean and angry people are actually very sad, broken people who don’t realize how unhappy they are until they are standing by themselves yelling at an empty room or, even worse, standing silent in an empty room because there is no one left to listen.”
“Life is one big choice. Choose to embrace those things you love, forgive the people you don’t love and let go of everything in between. In the end, all that matters is that you weren’t hateful.”
As I review these gems, I can only look forward to yet another year with wise women who can once again fill my tool box.
He was telling my parents about places where he hadn’t been allowed to go.
I couldn’t understand why, so I asked.
“It’s because I’m black,” he said.
I didn’t understand and I told him so.
“Some people don’t like black men and some people are just afraid of us,” he said.
I still didn’t understand, and neither he nor my parents could give me a good answer. Treating him based on the color of his skin made absolutely no sense to me.
I’m not telling this story to illustrate how children aren’t born prejudice. I’m telling this story because it’s not the story at all. Instead, it is the introduction to a more complex story about how children, just like adults, can fool themselves about their capacity for prejudice. It is a story that illustrates how blind some of us can be to the complexity of human beliefs and behaviors, particularly our own, I’m telling this story even though I hate what it says about me. I’m telling this story because it demonstrates how someone can claim not to understand discrimination and racism while they are in the process of developing their own prejudices.
In the early 1970’s, I was one of only a few white families living on an Indian reservation, and I knew I didn’t belong. My knowledge wasn’t a result of the fact that I looked different from most of my peers. They told me I didn’t belong, probably repeating the words they had heard their parents and other adults say.
That might explain why I cried on the first day of kindergarten when I was the only white child in my kindergarten class, even though my teacher was a white woman named Mrs. Short. My tears must have had an impact because schedules were manipulated so the only other white child my age was put in my class.
That was the year of increased concern that my peers were losing their cultural identity. To address this, members of the tribe came to class to teach us native language and traditions. That was the year we had to learn native dance and participate in a root feast. That was a year when I was taught that the white men were the bad guys. That was the year I was taunted, teased, bullied and chased home from school.
According to my parents, that was also the year I began to hate people of a certain skin and hair color. My mother says once we moved off the reservation, I insisted I never wanted to go back. We did, and I don’t remember being particularly upset. Of course, I also don’t remember ever having the disdain for an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to overcome this embarrassing piece of personal history. I like to think I don’t make rash judgments about people and that I treat everyone with the same fairness. But when I’m completely honest with myself, I have to admit that I can be as judgmental as anyone else.
But here’s the thing – I admit that to myself. Maybe that’s because I was raised by parents who expected me to be accountable for both my beliefs and my actions. Maybe it’s because I have personal experience being different, and therefore threatening, to others. And maybe, just maybe, it’s because the young child still in me would be disappointed with anything less.
Whatever the reason, I wish other people would take the time to look inward and realize that any words or posts on social media about an entire race or social class are always going to be wrong because they are based on limited experience.
Groups of people are not an experience or an incident. They are composed of individuals, and each individual is a complicated mix of good, bad, funny, sad, right, wrong and most of all humanity.
This holiday season, I encourage everyone to embrace that humanity and push aside the limited experience.
When we do, the child still in all of us will celebrate.
Of that, I have absolutely no doubt.