Look Closely

I’m on spring break for the next two weeks, so obviously I am waking earlier than usual. This morning I decided to take a stroll around my property. It had rained in the early morning hours and the smell of wet earth and wild flowers was intoxicating. The pup was following me with his ball and dropped it in the wet grass. I bent to pick it up and toss it for him and noticed a ladybug on a blade of grass. It was so tiny, and had I not gotten down to pick up the ball I would have taken no notice. I took my camera and focused in on the little guy and snapped a picture. That’s when I noticed the tiny wildflowers growing all around me. They were so small, so insignificant, and when looking at them from a distance not so remarkable. Yet when I got closer and really looked earnestly I realized how beautiful, unique, and quite extraordinary they were.

I realized that I have a tendency to do that with folks. When I look at someone from a distance they blend in with the crowd and I miss the beautifulness, the uniqueness, the extraordinariness of whom they are. Sadly, it seems, we tend to lump people into groups: men, women, gay, straight, black, white, Christian, Jew, atheist, Muslim, republican, democrat, rich, poor, citizen, alien, refugee… I could go on for days. In doing so we see past the individual and lose sight of them – exceptional human beings deserving of love, respect, and acknowledgment.

There are 7.5 billion people on this planet . (Take a closer look at that number – 7,500,000,000. I was in a room with over 100 people this week and that seemed like a lot of folks.) So many of these people feel insignificant, and overlooked. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we all resolved to connect with just one person each day and said, or did, something that made them feel appreciated. It would take so little time and effort and could make a world of difference.

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Justified Anger

This is my fourth attempt at putting on paper what is worrying my heart and mind. I have written no less than six pages of rambling thoughts, and I still cannot accurately describe how and what I am feeling. All I know is that I am weary of the negativity, the anger, the hypocrisy, the fear, the finger-pointing, the generalizing, and the intolerance that is happening in our nation. I’m upset by the divide I see in my country, my state, my town, my family.

It is no surprise to anyone that I am not a Trump supporter and I have a difficult time understanding why folks voted for him, yet it is what I must do. I must try to understand my fellow human beings. It does not mean I have to subscribe to their way of thinking but if I do not try to understand them, and at least empathize with them then I am no better than the preconceived judgment I have of these people. I must forget what I think I know, put aside my biases, my prejudices, and my fears and look into their hearts and minds, listen to their stories, and try to understand where they are coming from, and I would hope that those folks would do the same for me.

Listen, I get that half of us are unhappy with the outcome of the election. We feel justified in our anger, our hatred, and our disgust of our president-elect. We watch his supporters on social media, and on the news and we are frustrated and angry by the behavior, by the ignorance we see. Those who are content with the outcome are angry, frustrated, and disgusted towards the “crybabies” and feel justified as well. But make no mistake, when the Media creates a story they don’t show us reason, logic, or objectivity. They promote what will be most profitable. They promote the worst that is America and We The People allow them this power. We watch the bias, the fragmented reporting, the half-truths, we share and promote it, and we swallow it whole because it suits our purpose, it suits our cause.

I realize that there are racists, I know there are mysogynists , I know there are folks who promote hatred, but those folks are not limited to a certain, specific group of individuals. When We the People make blanket statements we are the very people supporting and promoting ignorance, hate, intolerance and war. This I know…I do not wish to be judged, or measured, or defined by the actions of women, by the actions of mothers, the actions of teachers, or heterosexuals, or anyone or anything other than who I solely am.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we forget the injustices or that we give up our passion for a better nation. I am not suggesting that we must lay down our differences, join hands, sing a resounding chorus of Kum ba Yah, and pretend that all is well with our soul… not at all. I am suggesting that we address our fears, that we embrace our passion, that we strive for a better world, but without the vitriol, without the anger, without the hatred. “Anger is not your weapon, it is your enemy.” (Steven Garnaas-Holmes)

I do not recall a time when anger or hatred has ever made a positive influence in my life, and so I must move forward forgetting what I think I know, and remembering …“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

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Get The Hell Off My Lawn!

There seems to be a lot of negativity going around on social media lately. I’m not certain why this is. It might be the running of the presidential hopefuls, it might be all the violence being committed, or it might just be simple hatefulness. Whatever the reason, I am (to borrow the words of my parental units from back in the day) ‘Sick and Tired’ of all the whining, complaining, judging, and moaning over silly insignificant things. It seems as though some folks are wearing their negative attitude like a badge of honor; proud of their intolerance, their crankiness – “Get the hell off my lawn, you rotten kids!”
 
Please do not misunderstand. I am not confusing a difference of opinion with intolerance. I welcome the comments and posts of my friends who have differing views and express them in a thoughtful manner. I may not agree or be swayed by their opinions but it gives me clarity and insight on who they are and why they believe the things that they do.
 
In the past few days I have unfriended a number of people on Facebook simply because they: 1) Requested it. ie “If you support (fill in the blank with a political hopeful) then just unfriend me now.” 2) Are extremely intolerant. or 3) Choose to post without fact checking and in doing so are spreading lies.
 
At one time I would have given my opinion, then I began to ignore the comments. Now it’s just easier and more peaceful to click “unfriend”. I really don’t need that kind of ugly in my life. When someone tells me to unfriend them because we have a difference of opinion I am happy to oblige because if they cannot be friends with folks who only believe as they do, only enjoy what they enjoy, only think the way they think, then I sure as hell don’t want to disturb their universe by having a different opinion. And frankly, if their intolerance level over a game is so over the top – I’m certainly not going to stick around to see what they say when they are faced with real issues; like the murdering of innocent people, or mental health care, or prison reform, or homelessness, or… I think you see where I’m going with this. Lastly, lying, whether it be intentional or unintentional is just plain wrong. If you aren’t sure then take 5 minutes to Google it and stop spreading gossip and rumor and lies.
 
Everyone keeps asking, “What is wrong with America?” Frankly, this is it. Everyone wants peace but very few are willing to live peacefully, to extend peace and tolerance. It’s so much easier to be hateful and negative. It takes thought, courage, compassion, and intelligence to be loving and positive. Peace, kindness, love, generosity, understanding… these are all things that need to begin at home.
 
Jill Jackson and Sy Miller had it right when they wrote:
 
“Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.”
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Understanding Matters

When I was a young person I could not understand the folks who would stand on the street corners shouting out their beliefs to any poor soul who happened to walk by. These street preachers seemed unbalanced and ignorant to me. I was thinking about these itinerant preachers today and came to a different conclusion. I get why they were yelling and carrying on. At least I think I do, because I feel like yelling and carrying on about the atrocities that I see happening right now. The hate, the fear, the loathing, the blame, the ignorance, all make me want to stop and yell, “Stop! Stop it now. Stop looking inward for a change and look at your brother, your sister, your neighbor, your fellow citizen.”

The shooting in Dallas, Texas, killing 5 police officers and injuring 12 others, has turned social media into an impetuous frenzy of emotions. Many comments share concern for the families of the stricken officers, offering thoughts and prayers. There are comments from people calling out for peace, and there are comments of disbelief and incomprehension. I understand these sentiments, and I too want to offer comfort and peace. Yet these statements rankle me. We can no longer sit behind our laptop and offer up words. The time for feeling upset and spewing our emotions over FB and Twitter has passed. Now is the time for action.

These comments do not bother me so much as the fear, hatred, and ignorant based comments that I am also seeing. “Black lives are not the only lives that matter, all lives matter.” “Just another black man gone rogue.” “I will not post anything controversial today in honor of the police officers killed.” And many other similar comments that just had me shaking my head and wondering why people get so defensive. Yes, defensive. I am not suggesting that all lives are not important.  All lives DO matter.  I am not suggesting that one race has more value than another. What I am suggesting is that so many folks become defensive and myopic when confronted with reality and truth, simply because reality and truth can be ugly and uncomfortable and we do not wish to be a contributing part of those realities, those truths.

When I talk about equal pay for women and make the statement, “Equal rights for women in the workforce” I never hear anyone state, “Equal rights for ALL people in the workforce.” When I hear folks talk about the 16 million children in the U.S. who go to bed hungry each night I do not hear cries of, “Food for EVERYONE!” When I discuss LGBTQ equality (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) I don’t hear shouts of “Equality for heterosexuals!” Those statements are not made because we obviously want equality and food for all. These are obvious inequalities that we recognize and understand. Why then do we become so defensive and adamant when we hear or see “Black Lives Matter?”

Black Lives Matter was not created to imply that Black Lives are more important than other lives. BLM was created because there is an imbalance in this country, and to deny that is ignorant and racist. American was founded on the principle that all people are created equal and that all people have fundamental rights – liberty, free speech, freedom of religion, due process of the law, freedom of assembly, etc. Despite its founding principles of equality, we have a long and ugly history of denying basic rights to certain groups of people. Most Americans agree that discrimination is wrong and yet when we hear of discrimination we become defensive and start claiming that ALL people deserve equality. YES they do, but until we can address the fact that many folks in this country are still treated like 2nd class citizens we will never be a country with “Liberty and Justice for all.”

For White America to believe that all people are treated equally; that the Black, Hispanic, Native American, LGBTQ, etc, communities are given the same opportunities, the same rights, the same privileges as White Americana is a simple matter of burying ones head in the sand and that only generates more division. So when I see “ALL Lives Matter,” I think, “Yes they do” and isn’t it time to prove that to those we have been discriminating against?

If you believe there is no discrimination I would ask you this… If it were possible, would you be willing to change the color of your skin for the remainder of your life? Would you be willing to grow up as Trayvon Martin, India Kager, or Philando Castile? Would you be willing to take that risk, that chance?

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Slowly But Surely

A few significant events in my life in the past 9 years have been teaching me some valuable lessons. I guess you could say I’m a slow learner… Nine years to figure out simple, basic lessons. Never-the-less I am learning and growing, and hopefully becoming a better person.

Lessons I am learning at 51 that I wish I would have learned sooner:

1) I’m tired of anger… my anger, other people’s anger. It is such a wasted emotion and drives us to do the most inane things.   When I say, “I don’t care ” and follow it up with a conjunction then I obviously DO care and I need to let that insanity GO.

2) Life is short… yep, pithy and trite statement, but TRUE. I have lost too many friends to cancer, suicide, and accidents. Life IS short and I need to be aware of that fact everyday. I need to do what I enjoy as long as I am doing no harm. I will stop worrying about how others perceive me. It matters not if people approve of me. It doesn’t add or take away one moment of my life. I want to live each moment to the fullest and STOP with the regrets. I don’t want to be the “I should have” person. That means: More time on the beach – less time at the computer. More time with my family and friends – less time with social media, and my phone. More time listening to live music – less time with Pandora. More time traveling now – less time saying, “when I retire I will visit….. ” More real hugs – less virtual ones.

3) We are ONE world. Divide and Conquer is one of the worst phrases ever. He vs She, Conservatives vs Liberals, Christian vs Atheist, They vs Us. STOP STOP STOP the madness. We are ONE… yes we have differing views, opinions, and beliefs but those views, beliefs, opinions do not need to be shared by one and all.  Think how boring it would be if the only flower were an orange Gerbera Daisy.  I love those flowers but would tire of them rather quickly if it were not for Asters, Black Eyed Susans, Impatiens, Nasturtiums, Sweet Peas, Zinnias…. you get where I’m going with this, right? Variety is the spice of life.  Stop with the “Liberals will destroy the world…” “Atheists are trying to….”   NO – Stop!  If Joe Schmoe the liberal, atheist, straight,  German, tattooed lawyer, says something you disagree with- then address Joe Schmoe as an individual… his issue. Joe speaks for himself, He does not speak for all atheists, straights, Germans, or tattooed lawyers… There are good and bad people in ALL walks of life…. stop  lumping them all together.

4) Step out of the box. Don’t let fear or laziness keep you from being the best version of yourself that you can be. Take chances, take that risk, go out on a limb. And when I say YOU, I mean ME. Go, Be, Do.

5) Share love, happiness, and peace everyday. Don’t go one day without sharing something positive. “I love you” or “I like your hat” or “Thank you for  _____” or ….. you get the idea. Also, try to do one good thing everyday, it doesn’t have to be some grand sweeping gesture. Instead of walking by the discarded soda can, pick it up and put it in the trash; open the door for someone; take a batch of cookies to the local nursing home; send a card to a friend or family member. Simple, small things make a big difference.

I am looking forward to this next phase of my life.  I do not anticipate smooth sailing but hope for more clarity and grand adventures.

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The Most Wonderful Time

Merry HanuChrismaSolstiKwanzaFestiPosaBoxOmisaLuciaDay

It is the most wonderful time of the year.  The time when I realize that bathing suit season is only 6 months away and if I plan on going anywhere near a beach I need to buckle down, lose some weight,  and get in shape.  Which is why I am enjoying a delicious cup of coffee with flavored creamer, and by cup I mean 3 cups, (70 calories per cup)  and a decadent piece (okay, two pieces) of fudge.

This is also the time of year when Americans will spend approximately 500 BILLION on Christmas gifts, trees, cards, and other Holiday related items. 500 BILLION. I feel as if we are completely slacking in the spending department.  I mean really, only a mere  $500,000,000,000.  To put a little perspective on this, the U.S. federal government allocated approximately 140 billion on Education for 2014.

I’m not really certain how to respond to this information but I feel as though the Grinch said it best: “You want to know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me, In Your Garbage. You see what I’m saying? In your garbage. I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump. And the avarice…The avarice never ends! ‘I want golf clubs. I want diamonds. I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored and sell it to make glue.’”

When did owning and having THINGS become the end all, be all? I recently went through a divorce and the ex and I had to divide up all the things we had amassed in 19 years.   It took one year of sending countless Fredman Forms (schedule of property) back and forth, and finally a forced mediation ordered by the court.  By the time we got to mediation I was willing to give everything away; from the Grandfather clock to a garden rake.   It was very freeing to get rid of so many items, and I’ve been downsizing ever since.  I’m embarrassed at all the stuff I had accumulated over the years… seriously who needs a waffle iron that makes heart shaped waffles? I already had a regular waffle iron. Four shovels, 18 lap blankets, throw pillows I didn’t want, need, or even like. Four desks, 8 bookcases, 3 television sets – I don’t have cable,  3 Futons, 4 cameras that had not been used in years, knick knacks out the wazoo, and a partridge in a pear tree.  STUFF that fills up space… stuff I don’t want or need.

So when I think of Christmas shopping I actually get a bit sick to my stomach and wonder…. “WHY?” I would much rather spend time with my family and friends. Lou Lou Who had a great response: “I’m glad he took our presents. You can’t hurt Christmas, Mr. Mayor, because it isn’t about the gifts, or the contest, or the fancy lights. That’s what Cindy’s been trying to tell everyone…and me. I don’t need anything more for Christmas than this right here: my family.”

“He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

This is truth. What I wouldn’t give to have my Grandparents here for one more Christmas, one more conversation, one more hug.  Time spent with family and friends creating lasting memories.  That’s all I really want for Christmas.

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What Color is Courage?

Courage.  The dictionaries (Oxford English, Merriam Webster, Cambridge) say that the word courage is a noun, an identifying word, and define it in the following way:  Strength of mind to carry on in spite of danger .  The moral strength to speak out against injustice when no one else will.  The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty,danger, pain, etc., without fear.  The ability to do something that frightens one.

Recently, a former Olympic athlete decided to transform from being a man to a woman.  She has been speaking out about her life as a man and her recent transformation.  Her transformation, or rather her ‘coming out’ about her transformation has sparked quite the debate on social media sites.  I’ve been reading many articles lately on ‘true courage’ and what that involves.  Apparently many folks are under the impression that courage only comes in one color, and that color is Patriotic Red.   “Courage?  That’s not courage! Courage is the guys who fought at Normandy.”  “If you want to see REAL courage, visit Arlington Cemetery.”

Real courage, True courage.  What is real? What is true?  When my daughter stood up to the bullies in her school I considered her to be courageous.  When my friend fought diligently with his battle against cancer I considered him to be courageous.  When Jeter and Loving married in 1958 they demonstrated an act of courage.  Mother Theresa’s work in Calcutta showed great courage.   In 2012 Kimberly Wasserman courageously fought to shut down two of Chicago’s dirtiest coal mines.  When people of any color, race, gender, or religion step up and speak out against issues that are relevant to them, they are demonstrating an act of courage.

One of my favorite explanations of courage is from Harper Lee who so eloquently wrote in her novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.”

Please do not misunderstand my words.  I am grateful to the individuals who have served in the armed forces and their courage is not being diminished here.  What I am trying to convey is that my courage is not limited to Patriotic Red… It is Civil Rights Orange, and End Bullying Yellow; it is Defend the Environment Green, and Tolerance Blue; it is Religious Freedom Purple, and Fighting Addiction Pink; it is Human Rights Black, and Stand Up and Speak Out Brown; it is turquoise, and mauve, and gold. Courage comes in many colors; it is a rainbow of humanity.

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