Rules, Respect, and Giving a Rip

There was a time when, with a carload of friends, I, as the driver, was caught in a stop-and-go situation in a parking ramp after a basketball game.

“Look!” my friend Kathy said, pointing at another car. “They’re going the opposite direction! Let’s do that!”

We should have, and I had a split second to decide. There was no law, no rule really, against it. Nothing would’ve happened other than getting out of that ramp an hour or so earlier. But I couldn’t do it. The signs told us which way to exit. Going the other way was wrong.

I can’t help myself. I’m a rule follower.

I’ll tell myself and everyone else I’m being respectful, but bottom line, I’m scared of getting in trouble.

You bet I follow the red light/green light rules. Always have, always will.
You bet I follow the red light/green light rules. Always have, always will.

I even make sure I’m going in the “Enter” door when I shop at Walmart, and veer to the other side if I find I’m headed for the “Exit” door by mistake. Keep in mind the automatic doors have sensors on both sides, and no one so much as blinks if you go through the “wrong” door. On your average shopping day, there’s no danger or inconvenience in entering through the exit door (on Black Friday, it is, of course, a different story).

This wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t feel like I was being controlled by these rules. That, I think, is the dividing line for me between what is right and what is compulsive. I do not, for example, compulsively follow traffic laws. I do it for two reasons: safety, and I don’t want to get a ticket.

No, make that three reasons. It’s the law. Following it is what you do.

When I was in college — the first time —

it was a VERY conservative school, and students could receive what were called “minutes” for infractions of a plethora of really stupid rules. I think breathing too loudly on Saturday morning before 10 a.m. was one of them.

You’d get three minutes per infringement, and if you flouted your rebellion to a point of getting 30 minutes, you received what was called a “campus”, and “volunteered” three hours of your time to the school pulling weeds or some such.

In the history of the school, only a handful of students had made it until graduation without any minutes. I could’ve been one of them, except for two things: 1) I didn’t graduate, and 2) one Saturday morning I slipped up and talked to another student in the bathroom before 10 a.m. (I almost wasn’t kidding above).

She talked to me first, but no matter. And she was an RA, so I was screwed.

It would’ve been good for me to blast my radio

after hours a night or two, or (really bad) show up after curfew (there may have been more serious consequences for that. And, oh yes, curfew). It would’ve been really good for me to kiss a guy on campus (again, I’m serious, a violation of school policy), but that rarely was an option anyway.

I say it would have been a good thing for me because I might have understood what I only now am fully grasping: breaking certain rules doesn’t make you a bad person, or even untrustworthy. There are boundaries and I probably held mine closer than was healthy.

Certainly I didn’t need to trap me and my friends in that parking garage for more than an hour. If I’d gone the wrong way, worst case scenario half the other cars might have followed me. As it was, my decision cast a pall on the evening; that’s what we always remembered about an otherwise fun night.

Who's in Charge smStill, old dogs, new tricks. Forget dogs — I should be like my cats. They (reluctantly) follow the few rules I absolutely enforce and don’t give a rip about much of anything I else I ask of them. Somehow they know what really matters. I rarely reprimand them, or think any less of them for their indifference.


Photo credit (stoplight): © Graphic Stock; (Kitty and Candy) © geosap — stock.adobe.com

 

Pages of the World Book

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo

Travel, or otherwise explore the world.

It is easy to dismiss the decisions of others, particularly those of people in other cultures, if one has never traveled more than 100 miles from their place of birth. Brief trips to a large city for business travel are often sheltered, and the annual visit to the family cabin, albeit more than 100 miles away, isn’t truly traveling in the sense I’m speaking of here.

At the age of 19, my brother loaded his backpack and headed for Europe, Australia and New Zealand, hiking and taking odd jobs for about a year, as I recall. I believe that trip shaped him, helped him focus his priorities and exposed him to thinking different from that which he heard while growing up. He has always been a kind and thoughtful person, but traveling alone gave him a perspective he couldn’t get any other way.

He shared with me some of the conversations he had with complete strangers during his trip, and those words have changed me, so I know they changed him. I wouldn’t have survived the last few years without him, and I believe that foundational, transformational experience is part of the reason he has so much to offer me.

Over the years I’ve talked to parents who are agonizing over their son’s or daughter’s choice to travel for a time, giving up their dreams of a college education (or so it seems to mom and dad) for a hobo lifestyle. I tell them not to worry, and inevitably those children have gone on to greater things, some back to school, some not, but they knew that that time away from all that comforted them would be healthy.

The Whole World Kids

Even Prince William took off for ten weeks to volunteer in Chile, where he faced ribbing by other volunteers, such as less-than-complimentary nicknames, among other things, I’m sure. At the time he said, “I’m with a group of people I wouldn’t normally be with and getting along with them is great fun and educational. There are some real characters in the group who don’t hold back any words at all.”1

I imagine.

Several friends of mine graduated with honors from high school, went to a nearby college and moved on to career success in the same city they were raised in. Their standards and norms are measured by the world immediately around them, and they mock others whose lifestyle and thinking is foreign to them, even if those people vote for the same president they do. They are experts in their own world with no grasp of what motivates people outside the walls of their great city.

Not everyone can backpack through foreign countries, or even distant parts of their own country. It isn’t suitable for some to travel extensively. But the world we live in today gives us exposure through traditional and modern methods to pages of the World Book. It’s not the same as travel, but it still is an opportunity to grow.

Take the time to grow.


1 The Telegraph, December 10, 2000, “Hard work and high adventure for William in Chile.”

Image Credits: (World Map) © asantosg — Bigstock; (World Kids) © lenm — Bigstock

The Narrow Path of Middle Ground

Recently I was tempted to very loudly tell a salesperson to shut up and leave me alone.

I’ve worked retail long enough to know management puts a lot of pressure on sales associates to push the company credit card. They provide all sorts of helpful tools to overcome objections, and expect their workers to talk a certain percentage of customers into applying right then and there.

Most of the time, a bored sales associate rattles off a line something like, “Would you like to save ten percent today with a (company name) credit card and receive notices about special sales exclusively for our card-holding customers?” I smile and say thank you, no, and we proceed with the purchase.

Recently, however, my mom and I were shopping, and it didn’t go so smoothly. After the initial question, I replied, “We’re not interested.”

“You’d get special discounts throughout the year, and can easily take advantage of our already low prices.”

“We’re not interested.”

“It would only take a minute to apply. I’m sure you’d be approved.” Seriously? You’re sure?

“We’re not interested.”

“We have so much wonderful merchandise, I’d hate for you to lose out…”

Angry WomanThis was the point where I wanted to shout, “WE ARE NOT INTERESTED. JUST RING UP OUR PURCHASE AND STOP HARASSING US ABOUT YOUR DAMN CARD.”

It was my mom’s birthday, and we were shopping for her, so I stopped myself. Okay, I may not have done it anyway. But I really wanted to let this whiny-voiced woman know how offensive she was being.

Moderation in everything. I can’t say it’s outside the realm of possibilities that either my mom or I would apply for that company’s credit card in the future. If we do, I can guarantee it won’t be because of pushy sales tactics.

Persuasion is a game for diplomats. To truly bring someone around to your side, you need to find some common ground, build a rapport. I don’t know how you’d do that in the above situation, except to say I do know most of us expect the question and know whether or not we want to save ten percent today. Your best bet at winning me over is a friendly attitude and understanding smile.

But what if what you’re trying to sell is something far more personal, something that people feel passionately about? Never discuss religion or politics, the saying goes, and we all know why. You’re likely to end up in a fruitless argument.

Today I (somewhat foolishly) responded to a friend who is a true believer in an Unnamed Politician. Okay, Donald Trump. I’m not. Wisest to stay away from any confrontation, because I won’t change my friend’s mind. But he had written something on Facebook I strongly disagreed with, so I felt compelled to respond.

Flag 2 scI knew what not to say. I laid out the reasons for my feelings in a straightforward manner, and sought the narrow path of common ground with my friend. “I don’t expect any president to be perfect,” I wrote in part, “and I respect that it is a challenging job. I want all of our presidents to succeed, just as I want our country to succeed. I just don’t trust President Trump.”

My friend, who has different ideas than I do about what will make our country successful, replied in a gracious and kind manner, saying (among other things) that while he didn’t vote for President Obama, he was willing to give him a chance, but disagreed about the direction he was taking.

We will never agree about politics, but we will listen to the other, and maybe learn something valuable.

And we’ll remain friends, and that is more important than any argument about politics.


Image Credits: (Path) © studioturburu — Adobe Stock/Fotolia (Screaming Woman) © Igor Zakowski — Adobe Stock/Fotolia; (Flag) © Bigstock

The Truth Within

Three years ago I almost lost a good friend, largely over a misunderstanding.

Another friend stepped in and tried to straighten things out, and in doing so, made the already shaky relationship we had that much worse.

Female figures handmade oil painting on canvasShe chastised me for committing an offense I truly couldn’t see I was guilty of having done, citing a conversation I’d had with her husband as another example. By this time, I’d reconciled with the first woman, so I asked for her perspective about what our mutual friend had told me. I was concerned I might be blind to what would be a fairly significant problem.

She didn’t see the issue the same way, but I remained aware of this potential flaw in my character. Eventually I realized the problem was more likely something I’d already known about my second friend. She will not only defend her husband regardless of what he’s done (and for the most part, I can’t fault her for that), she will lash out at other people who dare to challenge him.

In this case, in my conversation with this man, we’d disagreed about an issue I strongly believe in. Typically with him I let go, even when I know he’s spouting baloney, because it isn’t worth it to disagree. This time, however, I stepped in it, rather than around it. I don’t apologize for that. I should have done it more often.

You can’t trust the “constructive criticism” that comes from a woman who is defending her husband, no matter how sincere she might be, or might think she is being, in trying to help a challenging situation.

Which brings it all back around to my response to her comments about this perceived flaw. I was inspired to write about this after reading K E Garland’s post, Monday Notes: Agreement #2, in which she discusses the second of the Four Agreements (from the book of the same name): “never take anything personally.”

The crux of this agreement is we take neither criticism nor praise personally, because it reflects the other individual’s state of mind, which can change with the wind.

I believe we should weigh what others say, both the good and the bad, but ultimately, we have to decide for ourselves what the truth is in any given situation.

lovely woman handmade oil painting on canvasHigh school was a challenging time for me, and there were plenty of days my appearance showed the depression, anger and hurt I was feeling so deeply. I could always count on my friends Leigh and Sue to compliment my hair or tell me I’d lost weight on those days. Trust me, the compliments reflected their kindness, not the truth about my hairstyle or figure.

Most of the time, our friends aren’t as transparent as Leigh and Sue were (and I’m thankful to this day for their friendship). But, on the flip side of my bad hair days in adolescence, if I know my new haircut is flattering, the faint praise of someone whose opinion I value shouldn’t throw me. She may be sinking underneath some pain she isn’t willing to share.

Trusting yourself is a scary thing. If you’re going to be truly honest, you know you have blinders. Still, that same honesty can save you when others are less faithful to the situation.

Be true to yourself.


Image Credits: (All) © RomanBen — Bigstock

On the Balance, Fear is an Equal Weight

In July 1999, while in New York for my brother’s wedding, my aunt & I stopped to shop in the World Trade Center. She pushed for the $20 elevator ride to the top, but I balked.

“I’m scared of heights,” I admitted. “I mean, it’s not like I think I’m going to fall off the building if we go up there, but I’d be too terrified to enjoy it.”

“Once you’ve had brain surgery,” she replied, referring to a tumor she’d had removed a few years earlier, “nothing scares you.”

As I stared at the Twin Towers, I hoped she’d never endure nothing more frightening than that growth in her brain. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, as her health problems dwindled in comparison to events the following May. Her son, my cousin, went missing, and has never been found. He is presumed to have been murdered.

And of course, just two years later, those buildings we shopped under and gazed upon collapsed under the force and heat of two jet airplanes that had deliberately been flown at horrific speed straight into them.

I don’t live in fear of events like those on a daily basis, although clearly they can and do happen, but living without the awareness and respect for what life can bring you on any scale seems foolhardy.

Is fear holding you back is a legitimate question, but one that should be coupled with, is that fear a safety measure or a roadblock? If you aren’t pursuing your dreams because the risk greatly outweighs the reward, then consider the fear a gift. Not all dreams are golden opportunities waiting for you to have the courage to make them come true. Some are escapist fantasies with little basis in reality.

cat-320536_640-pixabay
Now what?

At different points in our life, when our responsibilities shift and change, we have a greater or lesser tolerance for risk. Some of us, quite frankly, aren’t good at “jumping off cliffs.” There needs to be some stability in our decisions or we fall apart before the outcome of our decision is determined.

Others thrive on risk, the fear is a motivator, a fuel that sends them from one adventure to another.

We all land somewhere on a tolerance spectrum of risk vs. reward, and as appealing as the phrase “let go of your fears” may be, not all of us should do just that. Our fears can be our friend, not because they rule us, but because they guide us.

Respect yourself, respect your fears, but respect the proper opportunities before they go by, as well. Life is a balancing act.


Photos courtesy Pixabay

The Letter (sigh)

Heart drawn on rainy-streaked window

When I was 36, I moved from Minneapolis to Nashville for a relationship. I distinguish “moving for a relationship” from “moving for a man.”

It was a decision I made because it was what I wanted to do, and not because I was one of those women who would sacrifice anything for the man in her life. I’d made big moves before, so I knew what I was getting into. In fact, I was looking forward to the change and opportunities.

But overall I wasn’t content in Nashville. I broke up with that boyfriend a year after my move, and made only one true friend in the three years I was there.

Still, something special did happen, a seemingly small event, but one that lifted my spirits for years. I wish I could go back in time for this simple reason: to save that letter.

It was January,

Sad love heart symbol background

a few months before Mark and I split up, and I knew our relationship was coming to an end. Still, I wasn’t going to go out with anybody else until it was officially over, no matter how appealing he might be.

No matter how appealing he might be.

The apartments I lived in at the time were nice, but they didn’t have a washer & dryer hookup in the units. Instead, there were a handful of washers and dryers in the mail room. To avoid the crowd, I did my laundry early Saturday mornings. I didn’t dress up by any means — sweats, no makeup, my hair looking like a bird’s nest. I think I even wore slippers. I did take a shower and brush my teeth (my concession to public sensibilities), and likely wore my contacts out of habit. But it was not a moment to capture in either mind or photo.

A man started showing up at the same time, somewhat older than me, and very kind. We’d talk, but I’m not a morning person, and generally I was there to throw my laundry in and haul back to my apartment. I barely noticed him.

Then one day I got a letter,

in an ordinary office envelope, written on plain yellow ruled paper. The return address was the apartment in the building next to mine. I was curious, and a little nervous. Who on earth?

adobestock_125247617-convertedIt was the gentleman who’d been doing his laundry at the same time I was. Turns out it was no coincidence he showed up every Saturday morning for weeks on end. Despite my scarecrow appearance and nominal conversation, he wanted to get to know me.

It was the warmest, most heartfelt letter I’ve ever gotten, ending with an invitation to dinner.  It made me feel treasured. I kept that letter for years, and today I have no idea what happened to it.

I spoke to him the following Saturday and told him while I truly valued his letter, I wouldn’t be comfortable going out with him since I was still dating Mark. He suggested coffee, but I knew how Mark would feel about even that casual of a meeting (despite the growing distance between us), and I knew how I would feel about it, too. I told this gracious man if I ever broke up with my boyfriend, I’d look him up.

By the time Mark and I did split, the man had moved away.

I don’t regret not going out with him. I believe in honoring the relationship you’re in, even if it’s rocky. Tempting yourself isn’t wise.

If I could go back in time, I’d travel to the moment I decided to throw away that letter (if indeed I did, perhaps it was tossed accidentally) and save it instead as the rare gift it was.


Image Credits: (car) © James Group Studios Inc — Adobe Stock; (window) © robsonphoto — Adobe Stock; (letter)  © vladwel — Adobe Stock

As Good as a Feast

There is an alarming belief

that if you’re hungry, you’re grateful for anything, even stale or expired food. As long as it’s edible. Maybe, to an extent, that’s true, and certainly I’ve been shocked into reality when I’ve watched homeless men dig for food in trash bins. But our obligation to those in need goes beyond clearing out the pantry of all the old food we’ve finally figured out we’re never going to eat. We owe them dignity.

I was forced to go to food banks a few years ago, and it was appalling, some of the food I brought home. It literally made me ill to eat it. Now, some food banks buy most of the food themselves, and many accept donations of day-old bread and the like that are welcome. However, others rely on donations of canned goods and other food.

I got a jar of peanut butter once that was absolutely foul. It turns out the company had gone out of business many years before. Today, when I donate to food banks, peanut butter is on the top of my list, and I always buy a new jar of a name-brand product.

It is humbling going to a food bank.

It is humbling going to a food bank. You often wait forever, and sometimes have to sit through an interview where they assess your needs and ask you personal questions that seemingly have no connection to getting food. To end up with a bag of dusty cans and long-expired pancake mix is demeaning, heart-breaking. Yet you have to eat, so you end up with tasteless (at best) meals.

The food bank at my church, I’m proud to say, buys much of the food it gives out and supplements what it buys with food grown in a community garden. I’ve spent the last few weeks gathering tomatoes from a friend’s garden (with his blessing). Anyone with a tomato plant or two can tell you, they produce lots of fruit. Wonderful, juicy, fresh fruit that can be used in so many meals.

Vegetables in BasketThey also are known in the area as the food bank that treats the people who come to them in need with dignity and respect. (I must make note that my Episcopalian congregation is currently meeting in a Lutheran church, and it’s the Lutherans who started the food bank and should get credit for its success. The garden was my priest’s idea.)

The people who need help with putting a meal on their table sit next to you at work. They are the families a few doors down, their kids play with yours. Sometimes, it might even be you.

Give the food you would want to receive when you’re making a donation to a food bank. It’s as simple as that.


Photo Credit: © monticellllo – Fotolia


Feast

That One’s On Me

“Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.”
― Mark Twain

news searchBack when I was a reporter, there was a loyal yet somewhat annoying group of readers who picked apart every article and never hesitated to send us a daily critique of our mistakes, real or perceived. Somehow, I’d been lucky enough to miss out on most of their assessments. My fellow reporters, one in particular, made enough errors to keep them busy.

But one day it happened. I got the e-mail, or rather, my editor did. She called me in. “Sorry,” she said. “I don’t even know if he’s right or you’re right. Check your notes.”

I looked at the story. Damn. I’d made a mistake, pure and simple.

“Nope, it’s my mistake,” I told her. “I’ll return the e-mail.”

“Keep it short,” she advised. “Don’t say more than you have to.”

I kept it honest. “Dear Mr. Smith,” I wrote. “Thank you for your e-mail pointing out my error in today’s paper. You were right, it should read ‘this way‘ and not ‘that way.‘ While it’s not an excuse for my mistake, maybe a little explanation would help here. When I was writing the story, I thought the second sentence in paragraph three would work better if I switched it with the second sentence in paragraph two. The problem was, the transition sentence, the first sentence in paragraph three, was then incorrect. I apologize and we will run a correction in tomorrow’s paper.”

“Good luck,” the other reporters told me. “Mr. Smith is a jerk.”

smileys pixabayWell, so be it. I sent off the e-mail. Not three minutes later I received a call. It was Mr. Smith.

“I don’t care that you made the mistake,” he said. “We all make mistakes. But you’re the first reporter to admit it. I usually get a bunch of crazy excuses with the blame placed anywhere but on the reporter.”

I thanked Mr. Smith and smiled. It wasn’t the first mistake I’d made, and it likely wouldn’t be the last. But admitting it gave me the freedom to make more without someone calling me a fool, or losing their respect.

It also kept them off my back.

Image Credit: (Focus on the News) © GraphicStock

Everyday Value

My neighbor died today. Her granddaughter found her on the floor at home, apparently dead of a heart attack.

Her little dog was frantic, as you might imagine, and the granddaughter is taking the pup home for now. She told me she hopes one of her cousins will take him in as she’s due any day with her first child and doesn’t need the additional burden.

maple branch rev c milavas sm shadowThis lady was nice, with a wry sense of humor and countless grandchildren who took advantage of her. The police were at the apartment keeping them out; they all insisted they had things they owned in that apartment, and likely some did, but at this point under the law it all belongs to her and her estate.

I suppose the police would need to wait for the locks to be changed, because you can bet those kids all had keys. This wasn’t an entirely bad group, but one or two were pretty awful. One young man came to my door early on asking for the passcode to my wireless account. When I refused to give it to him, he broke into my apartment and got it off of the wireless box. Of course I changed the passcode and now he’s in jail for breaking & entering as well as felony theft. In my state, you serve time for theft of services.

Now, mine wasn’t the only apartment he broke into; I didn’t report the crime until the police came to me. And I shouldn’t say he broke in, although legally it was B&E. I’d left the door unlocked when I went to get my mail and he ran in then. Creepy. I lock the door now even when I take the garbage out.

But I don’t hold it against my late neighbor. I liked her. She did her best and I know she was struggling financially, or she wouldn’t have been living in these apartments. She didn’t own a car, in fact, she maybe didn’t even drive. She was disabled and couldn’t walk in a straight line very well because of the way her body was twisted. I’m not sure her vision was very good, either.

It’s funny the impact virtual strangers have on your life. I don’t know this lady’s name and I never had much of a conversation with her, but I appreciated her as a neighbor. She was kind and courteous. She loved her grandchildren, and despite what I’ve said so far I’m sure most of them are good people, young, perhaps, and a little thoughtless, but they will miss her. The granddaughter I saw today certainly seemed genuinely upset.

Smileys c Stuart Miles - Fotolia

We wonder about the impact we have on others’ lives, and it can be as simple as being a good neighbor. Earlier this week I was walking into the grocery store and smiled at a woman approaching from a different direction. She smiled back, a genuine, friendly smile that made feel good. I’d been having a difficult day. It made a difference.

“Thank you for smiling!” I told her.

“And thank you for smiling, too!” she said back cheerily. I felt good the rest of the day. That woman is important to me in that small way.

If ever you are feeling unimportant, if ever you wonder your value in life, it is there. It is in the small things and the grand, for life is made of all those things.

But mostly the everyday things.

Image Credits: (Leaves) © milavas — Fotolia; (Smileys) © Stuart Miles — Fotolia

If Only By Example

One of the legacies that has carried from my great-grandparents to me was a respect for all people. All people.

My mom’s cousin, my great-aunt’s son, was as white as I am, a heritage that traces back, some of it, to New York in the 1790s, and from there we aren’t sure which European country our ancestors emigrated from in their search for a new life.

Anyway, he was raised without prejudice, meaning, it didn’t exist in his world.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eaterThen he married a Hawaiian woman. By this point, Hawaii was a state in our nation, and had been for more than a decade. She was as American as he was. But they weren’t allowed in some restaurants because she was Hawaiian. That was how they worded it, even. Now I don’t know anything more specific about her ethnic background; I’m guessing it may have been Filipino. I was a little young, so to me, she was Lena, she crocheted beautiful purple vests for me and my sister, and she served us 7-Up when we visited.

It was a shock to my mom’s cousin to see his wife treated in such a humiliating manner. He was an intelligent, educated man, not generally naive, but this was foreign to him. I’m proud to be related to someone for whom prejudice was that unknown, and I hope the heart of that nature can be found in me.

I know the people who follow my blog by and large are people who respect others, who empathize with anyone in pain, and who ache for the hurt of those who are persecuted, even in our country, by those who should know better. So I’m preaching to the choir and saying thank you at the same time.

I don’t know what it’s like to be black, Mexican or Muslim, or any of the other minorities treated so poorly by so many these days. I stumble and fumble in my efforts to understand the humiliation and anger, and every once in awhile something gets through.

A few years ago I was listening to a woman speak at a conference for those who worked with people with disabilities, as I did at the time. She has disabilities herself, is black, and was a prominent figure in Washington D.C. some time back. I apologize I don’t remember her name. At the end of her speech, I was surprised to hear her say when she’s asked how she wants to be identified, as an African-American, a woman, or a person with disabilities,  it’s African-American first.

It put something into perspective for me. When you’re white, you don’t identify yourself by race. It isn’t an issue. When you’re black, it’s an issue every single day. Of course race is first. I’m embarrassed now it surprised me then.

young swallows sitting on a branchA friend of mine, who’s black, bought a very nice camera, and was struggling to get the settings right so he could take decent pictures of his family. Why? The default settings are for caucasian skin. It says that right in the manual.

I live in an apartment complex with a large Hispanic population, and many of my neighbors speak little English. For my part, I speak little Spanish, but I do know these two words: los gatos. The cats. One of my neighbor ladies was delighted at my response when I caught her once speaking, in Spanish, to my two cats as they sat in the windowsill. Embarrassed, she stopped, but I said, “It’s okay. Los gatos hablamos espanol.” I have no idea if that’s grammatically correct Spanish, but she understood me.

She’s probably my age, maybe a little older, and who knows when she moved to this country. Likely it was as an adult, and likely she’ll never know a lot of English. I had ancestors like that who came over from Poland, and they faced their share of prejudice. Even my dad experienced the mockery and disdainful attitudes a notable amount, and I grew up hearing Poles and Italians were invariably less intelligent. You’ve all heard that sort of thing before, and you get my point.

To my black friends, Hispanic friends, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian, and any ethnic group I’m forgetting friends, I see your race, religion, ethnicity, and anything else that clearly identifies you as you. I don’t always know what it means. I don’t live it. But I respect it as part of you, and I will do what I can to teach others to do so as well. If only by example.

three titmouse birds in winter

 

Photo Credits:  bee-eaters © : panuruangjan — Fotolia; young swallows sitting on a branch © nataba — Fotolia; three titmouse birds in winter © Vera Kuttelvaserova — Fotolia

 

the truth is in there somewhere

It isn’t easy to dispute popular opinion, especially when that opinion is idealistic. Yet those are the concepts that need delicate dissent to understand the balance to the idealism. the pitfalls to the practice. Often, popular opinion fits the era it grows in and goes out of style as the environment changes.

Shine a light on it VPopular thought can be confusing, and become useless. It’s learning to discern the core of truth behind the thinking that’s important, and forget the fluff others will use to distort the issue. When you get down to the foundation of a belief, everything you hear about it becomes easier to sort through.

That’s when you start the debate, the discussions, the conversations with those whose heart is turned to helping you. You’ve created your own basis for belief and can build on it through the wisdom of others.

It’s also the time when you look at that core belief critically. Take a step back and think, “if everyone told me this was a lie, would I still believe it was true?”

At that point, of course, you’d have to consider why they might think it was a lie. Always good to play devil’s advocate with your own thinking. If you don’t do it, at some point someone else will, and it can get really messy if you’re not used to it.

There are multiple reasons for deeming something true, and we each have our own tolerance for these various ways. Experience, science, faith, because your parents told you so are some of them.

Just for the record, hearing it repeated as a fact on a sitcom, or any form of mass entertainment, probably isn’t a good basis for belief. In fact, anytime you hear someone state something that’s clearly intended to evoke a reaction, consider whether the reaction is most important to them, or the response. The motivation behind words is important.

Generations have survived the time & tide of trendy thinking, parental influence and bad polling. Anytime someone gives me a ten- or twenty-word conclusive summary, or worse yet, pithy quote, of their philosophy about an important issue, I consider it worth a penny for every word. Abbreviated comments shouldn’t summarize a belief. They should launch it.

Intriguing debate, courteous disagreement, and the discretion to know when to walk away, literally or figuratively (and sometimes it takes the bigger person to do it only figuratively) help hone thoughts and ideas. A word of caution, don’t act like you’re willing to die for your beliefs unless you actually are, and decide ahead of time what those beliefs might be.

How did I come to these conclusions? I took my own advice, and this is what I’ve come to believe.

Image Credit: magnifying glass © mudretsov; script © orelphoto both — fotolia.com

hold your child’s hand, talk a little longer

Last week, our hearts were broken.

In response, my friend Wanda organized this silent vigil in our community for the victims of the Emanual AME Church shooting.

Silent Vigil at Crystal Bridges Museum
Silent Vigil for Victims of Mother Emanuel AME church shooting, June 24, 2015. Photo by Ali Wingood

Wanda has two daughters, ages 12 and 14. They’re learning what it means to be black in America. They’re black, so there’s that, and then there’s the bigger picture Wanda is helping them understand.

More to teach everyday, no doubt. It’s hard to be a parent.

In November of 1960,

Ruby Bridges made history. Many of you know the story. Six-year-old Ruby was one of the first black children to cross the lines at an all-white school in New Orleans to claim her right to an equal education in the public school system.

U.S. Marshalls with Ruby Bridges, November 14, 1960
U.S. Marshalls with Ruby Bridges, November 14, 1960

U.S. Marshalls escorted her & her mother to the classroom that first day amidst rioting protesters, including one woman who put a black baby doll in a makeshift casket and shoved it at Ruby as she walked by.

Ruby was brave, no doubt about it. But when I saw this picture all I could think was how much courage her parents had, how deep their conviction and love must have been.

Her mama probably didn’t sleep much the night before. She likely ironed and starched that dress until it could stand up by itself. There may have been a petticoat, given the same care.

The little white anklets, perhaps with flowers embroidered on them. The patent leather shoes, polished until light bounced off them at every step. The bow pinned firmly in the hair.

When I picture Lucille Bridges, I see a woman who believed in what she and her baby girl were about to do. Ruby was going to shine, inside and out, as she changed history.

And she did change it. Today, countless doors have been opened for children everywhere, and each of us has benefited at one point or the other from the education they’ve earned.

All in my lifetime

Ruby’s story never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Abon & Lucille Bridges, her parents. I wouldn’t care so deeply if not for my parents, who raised three children in the turbulent ’60s and taught us about equality and justice as best they could.

We stumble through, work together and listen to each other.

That’s all anybody can expect, to teach the best way — and words — we know. Perhaps down the road we learn our lessons were somehow off the mark. Yet we stumble through, work together and listen to each other.

I’ve kept my heart, mind and eyes open for increasing understanding because of the foundation my parents laid. Whatever mistakes they may have made, at its heart, their message was right. They believed in equal opportunity. They saw people as individuals with value. They recognized the problems and knew the solutions were bigger, but would take time.

It’s hard to be a parent, but you make a difference. May it change your child’s world, and that of those around you, for the better.

Thanks to the Ruby Bridges Foundation, rubybridges.com, for facts on her story.