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Giving Thanks, Finding Balance 2017

Weird things happen when you get old. Priorities change. Events come into focus. Life is like putting together a puzzle with no picture to guide you. There will come a point when you start to see what it’s probably going to look like if you ever finish it. There is still a lot of trial and error, but you get to where you have a better understanding of where and how the pieces might fit.

“The secret to happiness and peace is letting every situation be what it is, instead of what you think it should be, and making the best of it.” – Marcanangel

I like the sentiment in that quote above, but while the sentiment is nice – appreciate where you are, let events unfold, listen, learn, observe – there comes a time when you need to stand up or jump in and be the “good samaritan.” Much of my life has been busy, chaos, dealing with problems as they came along, mostly as a bystander trying to get by. I let events happen near me/to me for too long, let others fight my battles simply because I hadn’t noticed there was a battle (partly privilege, partly selfishness as I struggled as a poor, single mom) I should have been fighting. I am thankful for the work done on my behalf. I have begun to pay back, and some forward, but owe some pretty huge debts especially to the women who came before me.

I’m not religious; this variation on “The Serenity Prayer” is kind of a meditation for me. It helps me get through these days when I know I am surrounded by hate and malice:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Part of the fun of getting old is you stop taking yourself so seriously. It’s good and healthy to learn to appreciate your strengths and your weaknesses, to keep working on them but know you’re going to fail sometimes, to shrug your shoulders, then square them, and try again.

Looking back on Thanksgiving, my view from the kid’s table was a bunch of tipsy adults laughing and overindulging in an exceptionally good meal. As a kid I didn’t know that Aunt Angela’s cooking was fantastic even though Mom, an exceptional cook herself, raved about Angela’s cooking. Dad was always thrilled when he heard Angela was hosting. What I wouldn’t give for one more of Angela’s turkeys (or her forbidden ham – Mom’s religion – whatever, not important now. . . that ham. . .), her stuffing, her pies. . . mmmmmm . . . For a hug, to tell her all about, well, everything. Life is short, and she was so very special.

This is a photo of Angela as a young woman.

My great aunt Angela as a young woman.

I didn’t know Thanksgiving wasn’t this good for everyone. My family wasn’t wealthy, and we struggled some, but we had amazing cooks. As a little one, how could I grasp the concept of “dry turkey?” (until Dad’s mom cooked – then I got it – her talent was more in the direction of chili). There were rarely any spats; I don’t remember any. All of us crowded into Angela and her husband’s lovely little home off Quindaro – by then the highway had been built right over the lot next to their house, but they still loved it – admiring her garden, basking in the warmth and love in that home.

That was a long time ago, the 1970’s, and I was young. Perhaps there were things going on that I didn’t know about, but looking back I feel a love and a joy I’ve rarely felt since. Maybe it’s the innocence of youth? Whatever it was, my heart is heavy now thinking of Angela (who was actually my great aunt, grandma’s sister) and Grandma and the others gone since those glorious days. Another uncle died this year. I hate saying “good-bye” to these people.

Back then religion was basically off limits (Mom, Grandma, and at least one of Mom’s sisters had joined a cult around 1970, The Worldwide Church of God). Politics was mostly the same goals but differing philosophies on how to get there. Still, people kept politics out of conversation. My family had plenty of other things to talk about then because as white folks, grateful everyone in the family was home safely from the war, mostly ignoring everything outside their bubbles, courtesy was simple.

Understand that I’m all about peaceful relations, letting things go, picking my battles. That said, a lot of what we’re going through, the growing pains, the steps backward as a society, are much more serious than some realize; privilege obscures the view. Many of us have left the safety of our bubbles or, at least, we’ve opened our eyes to see the world is much bigger and scarier than we thought for too many Americans. In ways, the past is coming back to haunt us. We can’t change our past decisions, our country’s mistakes and broken promises, but we can take responsibility for what we do from here.

 

Courage to change the things I cannot accept,

We can say that we shouldn’t be divided over “politics,” blame the volatile disagreements, the hate, on “politics” all we like; that won’t make it about politics, the working together of a governing body to achieve goals. No, these divisions are basic differences in morals, viewpoints on aspects of our heritage recently pulled out into the light after years spent hidden away. It happens that some politicians are exploiting our fear and ignorance, fanning the flames of hate, in order to control what people do, what choices they make, but it’s nothing so useful or helpful as “politics.”

It’s true that a lot of us thought (naïvely hoped?) most of the hate and greed and racism of America’s ugly past were “gone” and that any trace of lingering residue was covered by common courtesy. It turns out they were just buried deep in the back of our closets, in cheap old monuments to racism, in the secrets we keep about what people do to us, in all the ways we don’t expect more, strive for better, from ourselves. In order to get and maintain power, one political party led by a wannabe dictator seems to have dug through our hiding places to find and expose the hate and ugliness that many of us thought was gone. To make matters worse, as far as that bully wannabe and his party are concerned, courtesy is for “fools.”

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.”

Thankfully, and I chose that word intentionally, others of us (collectively called the “resistance”) have picked up the batons for truth, for humanity, for equality, for justice. Hiding this racism and sexism and hate didn’t work so as all of this ugliness is exposed to the light, we seek to exorcise the evil and clean up the rest. Attitudes need to change, but it’s a slow process.

These things we all debate about are civil rights, basic building blocks of society. They are our rights, everyone’s, and they are literally life and death for a lot of people who struggle to survive, to thrive, at a time when society is going out of the way to make it harder for minorities, for women, for victims, for anyone who is not straight, cisgender, white, and Christian. We have reason to fear violence and retaliation for standing for what is right. It’s become common to threaten people with rape and/or murder. These aren’t jokes. And combined with the hate and lies surrounding us all, the threats are not to be ignored.

I’m not even talking about the other things we have to fear now, the threats of nuclear war, of fascism, threats to our retirement savings, our health insurance, our Medicare and Medicaid, of our internet access (truly a lifeline for many), our environment, of another recession when we’re not done recovering from the last one. Practice empathy so you are less tempted to discount people’s concerns or pretend their fears are unfounded or exaggerated. This is about our futures and our kids’ futures.

This hate and manufactured fear of “other” Americans, this greed and lying? I cannot accept these things. They aren’t vague ideas just floating around looking for a host. They exist right now in millions of people, nurtured by members of our own government and by other citizens looking for an easy way to personal gain. The hate and fear and greed feed off each other. These things, the worst parts of us, have found homes in members of our own families. The greed and hate hurt people when they fester in those hosts AND when the malice leads to harmful words and actions, to violence.

I cannot accept this. And I won’t.

 

And wisdom to know the difference.

There was a time when our morals weren’t so obviously different, and when they were, common courtesy kept the difference hidden. Everyone mostly knew better than to express unpopular ideas, talk too much, chew with their mouth open, etc.

It’s become a thing on the internet to “troll” other people, to say things that are rude or unpopular just to get a reaction. It happens in real life, too, sadly. Hopefully on this holiday everyone knows to keep their controversial comments to themselves, but lately, part of the “fun” of being a Host to that hate/fear/greed is that you can trot out your firm belief that “political correctness” stifles progress in political discourse. The object is to bully polite people into keeping quiet, not reminding the Host of Hate that courtesy exists to keep peace and to provide guidelines in a civilized society. Embracing rudeness, claiming courtesy is only for fools, is an excuse and an opportunity for the worst of us to remind everyone that they are the worst knowing polite people won’t correct this deplorable creature. Good news, polite people; we already know what to do to/with rude bullies: walk away.

On a holiday like Thanksgiving, it is best to walk away from the rude and/or ignorant. I’ll agree wholeheartedly that the person in question needs lessons (and probably needs some humility and some sense smacked into them). Unless you’re his/her parent, this isn’t the time or the place. Don’t encourage their rude or shocking behavior or entertain their abusive language or ideas. Walk away.

Unless people are bigots or sexists, their fears are probably very real and very much justified. At least now, anyway. Many of us are afraid to leave our homes especially if our skin isn’t white or if we are in some way obviously “other.” These are confusing and troubling times. Be gentle with each other, and don’t think you have to stand by while someone you’re supposed to love or who supposedly loves you attacks you or others just for who they are. Life is too short to be silent about things that matter. If your family doesn’t respect you, they won’t respect anyone. Think carefully of who you want to go out of your way to give your love and patience to.

Ordinarily, I’d be the first to speak up when someone is insulting another. In the interest of holiday peace, I’m not suggesting you stay silent and let the abuse continue; I’m suggesting you walk away. (In these family/friend situations, I usually say “wow” or “that’s inappropriate” first, but I still don’t fight when I can just remove their audience.)

I’m not encouraging division. I am, however, over suggesting that people should stay in any situation or any relationship – romantic, familial, or otherwise – that means they must compromise who they are or even their own safety or that of their children. Choose your words carefully, and don’t waste them on people who deserve your silence. Instead, walk away.

All this said, I’ll be spending my Thanksgiving with people I love and value and who love and value me, as it should be. I wish I could share the peace of mind I have today with all of you. I wish I could give you all a safe and loving place to be because I know how many times I’ve closed my eyes and tried with all my might to wish myself away from where I was, to just such a place of safety and comfort and love.

Getting old is weird, but there comes a time when the journey isn’t so hard, when you can look back and look forward and see your progress, know you’re where you should be. I’ll never finish the puzzle that is my life. Who does? Does it ever all come together before we kick the bucket? Maybe for a lucky few; I doubt I’ll ever be one of those lucky enlightened. I am comforted knowing that it’s coming together, and I like what I see.

Love and hugs to you all. Happy Thanksgiving.

In a world where you can be anything, be kind. When you can, also be kind to the unkind. They need it the most.

 


I’m thankful for my son and his fiancée, for my wonderful guy, for our families, for the fun and support of good friends, and for the love and hope that comes from the people I’ve met in the resistance. I am thankful for the women and men who came before, who got my rights recognized, who set things in place that I enjoy and appreciate but sometimes take for granted. I miss Angela and Grandma and their hugs, our chats, and the laughter. And the cooking. Grandma was already sick with Parkinsons by the time I started school so our opportunities to share old stories were few by the time I was a teen and could remember the details well. Angela was sharp until she died. She had a terrific memory and the best stories of their big family. She was right: the journey, so far, hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it.


#Thanksgiving2017 #BeKind #MeanPeopleSuck #Resist #Resistance

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