My friend Sarah is 8 years old. One day not too long ago she woke up really, really sad. Things had not been going well for her. Her teacher Miss Smith was going to have a baby and Sarah was really happy about that but Miss Smith was not going to be at school for months and months. Sarah’s best friend Joe was moving away and she worried about who she would sit with at lunch and who she would share recess time with when Joe was gone. And then, she had just learned that the summer camp that she looked forward to all year had been cancelled.
Sarah felt really, really sad.
On this morning, not too long ago Sarah got out of bed and went downstairs. Her brother was already downstairs working on his lego robot. He said to her “Oh Sarah. You look so sad! Everything about you looks really sad.”
She said “Yeah, I’m really sad.”
In Sarah’s family they had a special way of helping when somebody was sad. So, he said to her “Do you want me to try to cheer you up? Or do you want to talk about what is making you sad? Or do you just want me to keep you company?”
Sarah thought. Then she said “I want you to cheer me up and then I want to sing the “Be Well” song.
Brother said alright. Then he made the FIVE mouth noises that he knew how to make. Sarah giggled and giggled. She was still sad but now there were some bubbles in her chest.
Next her brother took her hands and looked right into her eyes and he sang “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things….will be well.”
Sarah breathed for a minute, and then brother went back to his robot and she poured a bowl of cereal, poured some milk on it and started to eat.
Then mama came downstairs and took a look at Sarah and said “Oh Sarah. You look so sad! Everything about you just looks sad.”
Sarah said “Yeah, I’m really sad.”
Mama said “How can I help? Can I cheer you up? Do you want to talk about what’s making you sad? Or do you just want company?”
Sarah thought for a minute and she said “I think I want to talk about what’s making me sad.”
But Sarah knew that mama had to make her coffee first. So Sarah finished eating her cereal and mama made coffee. Then they climbed into the rocking chair and Sarah settled in and mama held her close.
Then Sarah said “Miss Smith is leaving to have her baby and I’m really going to miss her. And Joe is moving away and I’m not sure who I will sit with at lunch or who I will play with at recess. And camp is cancelled and I look forward to it all year long. I’m sad.”
Mama listened and held Sarah close and rocked her back and forth, back and forth for a long time. Then mama said “do you want the Be Well song?”
Sarah said “Yep.”
So they turned and faced each other, and they held hands, and mama looked deep into Sarah’s eyes and sang “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things…..will be well.”
Sarah and mama rocked back and forth, back and forth. Until eventually mama needed to get up and fix her breakfast and get dressed and get on with her day.
Sarah was thinking about what to do next. She decided to color a picture to send along with Miss Smith when she had her baby so Miss Smith wouldn’t forget Sarah.
Now Sarah is one of those really lucky kids who lives with a grandparent. As Sarah was coloring her picture Grandma came in from the back yard. She’d been out gardening all morning and she came in with a big basket of strawberries.
Grandma said “Oh Sarah. You look so sad. Everything about you just looks sad.”
“Yeah. I’m really sad” Sarah said.
Grandma asked: “What do you want me to do to help? Do you want me to try to cheer you up? Or do you want to talk about it? Or do you just want company?”
Sarah thought for a minute and she said “I think I just want you to keep me company. And then let’s sing the Be Well song.”
So, they ate probably more strawberries than they should have. They were quiet for a long time. Grandma just kept Sarah company while she was sad. Then Sarah said “OK, I’m ready for the Be Well song.”
They turned to face each other and they held hands and they sang together “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things…..will be well.”
Sarah went on with her day.
She was still sad, but she wasn’t alone.
Thanks to my colleague Tim Atkins who shared his original story “I Just Need to be Sad” which inspired this story.
This story uses a line from 14th century Catholic mystic Julien of Norwich’s writings sometimes written as “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” I sang it roughly to the tune in the song written by Rev. Meg Barnhouse.
Please feel free to use this story as you wish with attribution. Thank you!
Where I grew up, just past the place where the glaciers scraped the Midwest prairies flat, you can sometimes see a storm coming all day long. A look out the window shows the clouds forming, and you can probably still get the wash out hung out on the line with plenty of time for it to dry.
But sometimes, if it’s a hot day with lots of humidity and lots of sun, you can see the clouds go from fluffy little dabs of cotton floating along to roiling black with lightning zinging between top and bottom, sometimes you can even watch them drop a funnel.
I wish depression did the day long thing; let you know it was coming, gave you time to order your life, get the laundry done, before it hits.
But it doesn’t. It just blows up like rolling thunderstorm on a steamy Minnesota afternoon; shutting things down like a tornado warning.
Here’s the thing though, it also clears the air like a storm. Clean rain, clear thoughts. Hope that there won’t be another storm, for a while anyway now that all that nasty air has been purged.
This weekend was one of those clear times. Busy. Happy errands, happy family gathered. No storms on the horizon. What feels like clear air. And a little time to build the shelter, safe harbor of family, in preparation for the next storm.
Middle aged, middle class, white woman from the midwest. Biggest demographic group around, right? Right.
Except for one thing.
No one in my world understands what it is like to be white and have children who are not white, not really, no one but other white mamas of brown babies.
When my husband finally stopped running hard and fast from his identity as a transracially adopted Asian man it was the loneliest I’ve ever been. My story was such a tiny slice of life, no one else had gone through standing on the sidelines while their spouse stormed and railed like a banshee against all he had been taught and all he knew.
Until I found a comment on an old blog; someone else who had been through this. She gave her email address and invited other spouses of Asian adoptees to reach out to her. By the time I did, her marriage had ended. But we’ve remained Facebook friends for years now. When something comes up for me, she’s on it. No one else would understand what his business trip to Japan would mean for me, but she does. Still. Long since re-married and moved on in her own world, she gets it. She’s the mama of a Hapa kid, trying to do the very best she can.
I’ve met other white mamas of children of color over the years, and when the Trump team and their explicit racism claimed the presidency, I needed the other mamas more than ever. We started a group and a Facebook page. It’s a whole thing. But it sure wasn’t the start.
Years and years ago, I met one stalwart mama of mixed race kids. I think it was through a blog she had about raising mixed race kids; curly kidz. She was a fierce powerhouse. I can’t remember if she commented on my blog or I commented on hers. I do remember we were frustrated with the big systems in our shared faith, Unitarian Universalism, around kids who are mixed race.
It must have been not long after my son was given the option to sit in the circle of white folks or the circle of people of color and my boy, a proud Asian son of his proud Asian father who listed himself as Corean (with a C, there’s a story there….) on his Myspace profile, caucused with the white folks. I didn’t know what to think or do or how to react. It seemed like something was very wrong, but of course I wasn’t THERE, I just heard about it later.
I think I wrote a blog about wondering if they’d take the queer kids and tell them to choose gay or straight and if they weren’t able to pick a circle, would then tell them to sit in the group that society sees them in. Yeah. Not a lot of nuance there from me. But she got it. Mama instinct is powerful. She understood.
This was the start of a nice white-mama-of-kids-of-color Facebook friendship. I watched her kids grow. I watched her fight like hell for justice and against white supremacy, white privilege and racism. I watched her kids break her heart and drink all the milk in the fridge.
On Sunday I learned that she’d been hit by a car while riding her bike. And died.
Funny how you can know someone only online but their loss feels really real. If you know Cyndi Whitmore, or you are a Unitarian Universalist or you are the white parent of your own children of color, or you know if you’re just a human–say a little “thank you” prayer that this woman lived, once. And maybe, if you’re so moved, join me in chipping in to help her very young adult son manage this next stage of family life.
May we remember how blessed we are to live in such a time of connection and to remember how short life can be.
One a week. One middle age woman dies from an opioid overdose every week in Orange County, CA. How many more suffer, losing themselves and all they have worked and hoped for? How far does the pain radiate? Children? Spouses?
And how close is this to you? To me?
One year ago I was diagnosed with a fuzzy autoimmune disorder, meaning the first person I told about the diagnosis said “you know that’s not a thing, right?” Yes, I know it’s a catch all for things that don’t fit in the other boxes. But the reality was that I was in a lot of pain, a lot of the time. It made me nasty mean and tired; my sleep was all topsy turvy.
Somehow the nearest big clinic and my insurance aligned to bring me a great rheumatologist who listened and offered to run interference with my family if needed (it wasn’t) and encouraged me to at least have pain killers and try them to see if it helped.
I filled the prescription, but didn’t take any pills for months. I watch my local paper with articles about people who hurt their back or have a surgery and two years later they are in full-on heroin addiction. I know I’m not good at moderation. I didn’t want to start because I wasn’t sure where I would end.
But the pain continued and one day, before I was going on a trip, with the thought of being stuck in an airplane seat with no way to move and relieve the pain scaring me silly, my husband suggested we just try it. I take one and see if it helped.
We sat watching TV and as the words “there’s no difference” were coming out of my mouth, I could feel the pain lessen. It was like a cloud of relief covered my body. That was better, WAY better.
I brought the bottle of pills with me, but didn’t take any on that trip. I was still scared of them. Once every few weeks or so I would take one, and they worked. But it never felt safe.
I pulled down the bottle the other day, it was a bad flare day. My fault, I taunted the karma fairy by saying “Gosh, I haven’t had much pain at all lately.” That’ll teach me. But here’s the thing; I’m lucky, I was done with my work day, I don’t have little kids. I could just take a few hours. A break. Rest. Distract myself from the pain watching “Catastrophe” on Amazon Video. Drink tea. Wrap up in a blanket. I was not dealing with post surgery pain. Mine is more of a feeling of having rough sand in my joints.
But given what I have learned about being a middle aged woman, and being deemed “unnecessary” by our society, I get why people take these things without meaning to get in trouble but wind up lost. I get how the cloud of relief can be so, so seductive. Who cares if we’re out of commission? No one wants to hire a middle aged woman or advance us or move to the side a little as we walk down the damn sidewalk.
It’s painful to realize that the majority of people around us see us as just not worth an investment of time or money.
A little relief can feel, well, like a relief.
I am lucky that my doctor framed this thing, whatever it is that’s not a real thing but is, as a spectrum. She suggested all kinds of lifestyle modifications that have helped. I am back in yoga, and but for this little setback I am almost ready for the level one classes again, after a long ramp up time of restorative and gentle classes. Until this week, I was using one of those apps to do a slow lady jog that I call RUNNING on my treadmill and while I had one spectacular cartoon like spill I am getting better. I’ll have to work my way back up, but I will. I eat differently and value sleep like a secret health tonic.
Life is good. Mostly.
But I can feel, just on the other side of good, how very dark and bad it could be for me, and how very easy it is to get there for my neighbors.
I am two minutes from turning 50, maybe three. I pictured my post-kid world as full of opportunity and new horizons, but here’s the truth: that’s not the way the system works.
Women, especially middle aged women, are still clawing our way out of the valley of misogyny and trying to pave over the patriarchy.
I’m gonna fill you in on five ways that this tired old system is keeping the good woman down:
The Glass Escalator: Men, especially young men, especially young WHITE men ride the glass escalator to top positions, both paid and unpaid, bypassing women with advanced degrees and decades of relevant experience. Some of us stand two floors down pounding on that glass ceiling only kind of hoping that the whole thing shatters. Kind of.
Silenced: We speak and people look straight through us. I have even swiveled my head all the way around to see what someone is looking at behind me. But no, just straight through. Our opinions are viewed as worthless.
Lumped: OK, I know that some middle aged/older women get opinionated and preachy. But I once saw a young professional post on social media something about being done with all middle aged white women on Twitter, forever. When you name a group and lump us all together, you might be missing some awesome, wise stuff. Or at least some awesome wiseass stuff.
Workhorses: Middle aged women run most churches, political organizations, nonprofits and schools. Yes, sometimes because we can’t get through the damn gatekeeping in other places with higher stature (and PAY!) but also because we know how to get things done and those are the places that NEED us. Shut us out or shut us up and you’re hurting the orgs that need the most love.
OTHER Women: No need to tell a woman “of a certain age” that sometimes the worst enemy is another woman. Threatened? Jealous? Power trip? Marginalized? Whatever the reason, when I see a woman in power turn on me, I know to either run or roll over. There is no good way out. They know the soft spots to aim for and they are lethal.
Change the system? Nah. I’m old enough to know it’s not gonna happen. At least not in time for me. And knowing this is the way it is helps, a little. It’s not just me. There’s a fix on. The biggest proof was the 2016 US election.
Me? I’m staying to the safe zones and hanging with the other crones, making coffee at church, and calling my congresspeople. You know. Doing what we’ve always done. Taking care of the things that need doing and having fun poking at everyone else while we do, and yeah, sometimes all over Twitter! Ha.
I admit it. Black Lives Matter was a hard sell for me. The lives I love the most in this world are the lives of my kids and my husband. Those are Asian lives. Watching pop culture racist jokes hurled by Black celebrities at Asian people just made me angrier. Chris Rock can go suck an egg.
“Why the hell do you get to go first?”
I am also a long time unofficial “keeper of the secrets” for my profession. I have heard years of story after story about powerful ministers who use their status in a gender and power bias dogfight against the religious educators over whom they hold authority: they call in a woman for a meeting and then slide her “pre-written” letter of resignation across the table with a warning to sign or they will ruin her good name; they threaten that a job might “be in jeopardy” if a particular social justice program is enacted; or they just go ahead and order all the supplies for the latest curriculum trend, even though the religious educator has clearly said it’s not the best course for their program, because they are the boss. I have heard from these people who call with tears in their eyes and sometimes a drink in their hand: “What can I do? I have to submit to my minister, I need this job.”
Sexism. Misogyny. Patriarchy. And it’s BAD.
But, I think I get the why behind Black Lives Matter and the need to focus here first, why sometimes we have to focus on a central issue. I get it.
It’s freakin’ triage. It’s the core of it all.
Say you are drinking coffee at your local coffee shop and a bus plows into the building across the street. You run across the street into the carnage of fellow humans who are shaped in unholy angles and bleeding bright red blood. Do you say “well, now, all of these lives matter and so I’m going to serve each equally in turn.”
No. Nope. You don’t. You assess who is in the greatest need. That’s who you help first. Those in the greatest danger of death. You fix the most broken things first. Not that you ignore the other folks, no, you do that too. But priorities, please.
So we focus on #BlackLivesMatter not to the exclusion of other things. We learn about the way we are ALL taught, not just White people, to center whiteness. It’s insidious. We focus on the voices of people who are not the most privileged. Not choosing the one voice that agrees with us over the chorus of voices that don’t, but listening, listening, listening. We try to have compassion for those who feel newly oppressed because losing the center of focus can feel like oppression, but you know what? If they don’t learn to see what’s up, then they gotta go somewhere else. Move on.
We remind ourselves of what my former colleague, Lena Gardner, writes: “…fixing the centrality of white supremacy specifically against Black folks will help lift all boats and is deeply interwoven with other forms of oppression.”
We know that we’ve got to start here. Yes, my Asian family members face discrimination and oppression. Yes, my beloved colleagues face discrimination and oppression. No one is saying this isn’t part of the story.
But there is work to be done, and we need to stop standing on the sidewalk, arms crossed in anger, fighting about who is bleeding. Time to get in and fight for justice or…get the hell out.
I just got home from seeing “Singin’ in the Rain” on a big screen at my local SoCal theater. Or well, what passes for a big screen at those huge multiplex theaters.
I have seen this movie dozens of times; never on anything but a house sized screen. I remember watching it more than once in my childhood home in suburban Minneapolis as thunderstorms rolled through the night. My bedroom was upstairs which was deemed not safe with big trees and big wind. So I would watch, curled up on the couch, in the living room, much safer, the sharp smell of irises in a vase on the coffee table and the flickering lights of what I think was the PBS spring fund drive showing Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and the woman my grandma called “her little Debbie Reynolds” dancing and well, singing in the rain. It feels like it was the childhood sign of the coming summer. Irises, thunderstorms and tap dancing in puddles.
Seeing the movie big and loud tonight I still feel that sting of iris in my nostrils.
We carry pockets of who we are with us as we stumble through life.
I must have watched this movie with my grandmother, my father’s mother, although I don’t really remember it. Maybe it was one of those half-asleep childhood memories that gets imprinted deep and hard on your psyche. My grandmother, she loved Debbie Reynolds and held Elizabeth Taylor as an enemy combatant for stealing Eddie Fisher well into the 1980s. As a child I had no idea what any of that meant. But I knew that my beloved grandmother used all these words: “my little Debbie Reynolds” and that meant she was mine too.
I even felt a sisterhood with Carrie Fisher when I learned that she was Little Debbie Reynolds’ daughter. Now they are both gone. My grandmother has been gone nearly 35 years. My dad has even been gone for more than two years.
Tonight, I saw the movie my grandmother loved with the young starlet she loved. She was almost my age when that movie came out. Seeing it brought me home to irises and thunderstorms and a time when all of those people were still alive. It’s a long time ago, now. But really, not more than a moment.
It’s all right here in this pocket I carry to remind me just who I really am.