When Hate Came to Laguna Beach

I always wondered what I would have done were I a simple housewife in Germany as the Nazis were rising. Or if I had been a young mother during the American Civil Rights era. Would I have answered the call? Like Unitarian Universalist Viola Liuzzo? Would I have given in to fear? Appeasement? Head down, staying busy with my life?

I’m not sure if this “America Great-ifying” time is comparable to those pivotal moments in history; we probably will not know for a while. But it feels different. The Tuesday after the Women’s March a few of my Indivisible Facebook neighbors and I casually plotted to show up at our congressman’s district office.

“I think at 1pm, that’s over my lunch hour.” “We have to be out by 2 because that’s when they shut down Main Street for Taco Tuesday.” “Oh right, OK, let’s meet at Jack’s at 1.” “OK! See you then!”

40 people showed up.

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Suited up for our weekly protests at Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s office.

We’ve been there every Tuesday since January.

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Indivisible OC 48, August 22nd. Huntington Beach Pier. Photo by Larry Tenney

So after violence by neo-Nazi groups killed a young woman in Charlottesville, I knew I could not stand down from a planned “America First” rally two towns down the coast. The ACLU said “Stay Away.” My Indivisible group said “Stay Away.” People commented on social media “Stay Away.”

Nope.

I needed to face this group even if I was the only person who showed up. I am done. No more. No more standing down from HATE.

Mid-week I heard about a faith based response to the hate rally. There would be a two hour deescalation/ non-violence training followed by an inter-faith worship and then a march down to the beach where the rally was happening. Leading? The local UU and UCC ministers. Yep. Sign me up.

I work in a faith based organization, so sometimes going to church for me still feels like a work day. Not this day. This day we were led by trainers from PICO  and local organizers from OCCCO and then Emma’s Revolution came to sing at our worship. We heard from a pack of leaders of different faiths–blessings, song, some jokes. And then we walked down to the beach where the “America First” rally was taking place.

The winding trail of people headed down through the streets of Laguna Beach were met with cheers, cars honking in support, people even honking in time with our chants: “No Nazis, No KKK, No Racist USA” “When Immigrant rights are under attack what do we do? STAND UP! FIGHT BACK!”

We had a plan to march around the racist rally, linking arms to stay in touch, sending messages back through the lines. But none of that was needed.

As we made the final turn off the Pacific Coast Highway turning toward the beautiful Pacific Ocean we were met by the crowd of people. Tears poured down my face. I came ready to face fists or spitting-mad white men in riot gear, ready to face pepper spray or even a deranged man in a car. But I was met with a crowd of my friends and neighbors saying “NO MORE!”

The official count put the “America First” rally at about 50 participants. Our side? 2,500.

A chant that Rev. Ben McBride from PICO taught us “We! Have Already! WON!”

Yes, there is a lot to be done, this is not a time for rest. But at this rally, this night, this time. We had already won.

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The “America First” rally was cordoned off on a specific part of the beach, but this group stood off from the protected group.
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The “America First” rally in the sandy area.

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Pat and Sandy from Emma’s Revolution marched down with us and led the group in song.
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Oh God, Oh God, Oh God! (Or, you know, spirit of life and of love, known by many names…)

Oh God, Oh God, Oh God. I can’t believe what I woke up to this morning. I thought this woman was my friend! Why would she do this to me. I mean, really! Publishing a post to WorshipWeb’s Facebook Page that makes me feel such horrible shame!

Because, you know, submitting a piece for a book and then agreeing to it being published. That’s a good way to hide something. Right?

Yeah. No.

I wrote this piece and submitted it to what has now been published as “To Wake to Rise” from Skinner House. In this piece I tell the story about working in a Unitarian Universalist church with no BA/MA/MS/MDiv/MEd where we might not worship God but we sure do seem to worship advanced education. I was never outwardly shamed, and in fact, the minister I served with was wildly adamant that a degree had nothing at all to do with my worth as a professional religious educator. But still. It was ever present and limited my career in a huge way, not having any letters after my name.

So, I knew people might read this piece. But still, having people, today, this morning, in my daily world, having them KNOW that I didn’t have a degree is a kick in the gut of shame and horror.

I’d love to tell you that shame is just a door to a new awakening and a sense of worth and dignity. But it’s not. It feels like a hangover on top of a panic attack.

OK, OK, the truth is I really do love that WorshipWeb curator, even if she has to go and TELL everyone. And I love the weird life that brought me to this place. And I love the people who are telling their own stories on the WorshipWeb Facebook page that shared my post. Big love.

My story is not over, but there is more. I left that church mentioned in the piece five whole years ago. And while I didn’t talk about it much, the first thing I did after I left was to go and finish that damn degree. My grad ceremony was three days before my oldest son’s college graduation (as well as my middle son’s high school ceremony). Which is neither here nor there.

Except it is. It totally is. 20776442_10155092057369125_6815078458146598201_o.jpg

To Clarify

Last month I wrote a piece about traveling back to the state I come from. I wrote about my experience of hearing the stories from my precious nieces about some of the painful things that have happened to them. Not my stories. Not mine to tell. But mine to hold because I love them.

I wrote about how it reminded me about why we left. I wrote about my regret that over time I wish I would have stopped some of my white relatives with a gentle word when they said something that, in my view, was biased.

After the piece had been out in the little world for a few days I got a phone call from a family member who was upset. They thought I was talking about sitting around a table with them and hearing them be racist. I wasn’t. The stories that made my heart ache were from my family folks who are people of color. Not white folks. The experiences they shared happened because they are not white.

I pulled the piece down, though. Some things aren’t worth a fight. And I apologized. I explained. I shared the words and their context again.

But maybe,  maybe, other folks read it too. And maybe they thought that I was talking about my white family. So I want to be clear. I was not referring to any person at all on my side of the family. I can’t share the stories I heard. They are not mine to share.

Maybe this is still not enough. For that I’m sorry. I wrote about my experience. I wrote about my feelings. But I wasn’t as clear as I should have been.  I’ll share the original words below so there is no confusion about what I’m taking back.

May the healing balm of time help us all move forward.

July 12th

My husband’s family is pretty diverse. His late mom and his dad are both descended from Eastern European folks, but through adoption, marriage/relationships and the children of those folks it’s a pretty mixed group. Somehow sitting around a table after a funeral opens doors for real conversations. My heart is still aching for the stories I heard.

Minnesota nice, the pretense that we are all good people and it’s important to be nice, becomes the cover for some horrible actions. These are not my stories to tell. I wish they were. I wish they’d happened to me and not to these people I love. But, of course, I’m white. They don’t happen to me.

I mourn for missed opportunities to counter things said by some of my white family. I mourn for the missed moments when people might deeply understand one another. I mourn for the time lost fighting this racism we should have destroyed by now. I mourn for lives compressed by bias that is hammered into the walls and stirred into the water.

Tired and tired and tired and tired and tired.

You know the kind of exhausted where you feel like the earth is moving beneath your feet? Even just a kind word or beautiful thing can make you cry?

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No?

I do. That’s me. Today. Right now. I am so wrung out and wrenched empty of every ounce of life or energy or joy I have ever in my life possessed that I think I’m going to split in two. Or take a nap at the back of this exhibit hall booth that I live in now.

The work. It’s not easy. But I love seeing the faces that belong to the names I move around on a screen all the time. And a chance to feed them chocolate or invite them to sit in a comfortable chair for a moment of respite during a very, very busy and fraught time? Well, that’s about as good as it gets.

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Amen, baby. Amen.

Take Care, Now.

I have an EVENT coming up in my work life. An EVENT with travel and multiple meetings and a huge exhibit hall. That plus ALL THE THINGS that go with it is starting to feel like an elephant sat down on my chest to do her nails.

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Heavy.

So today I made a list of things I can do to take care of myself during the elephant time.

  1. Be gentle inside. No hate.
  2. Notice beautiful things.
  3. Listen to inspiring women.
  4. Wear beautiful clothes.
  5. Eat delicious food.
  6. Drink delicious drinks.
  7. Rest.
  8. Go see the ocean.
  9. Breathe all the way to the belly.
  10. Be patient.
  11. Talk to the dog.
  12. Nap.

Soon it will be July and it will all be over.

The Bumpy Ride and the Last of the Lasts

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So many friends are walking through the litany of the lasts.

The last game.

The last final.

The last concert.

The last time you’ll send your child off to high school. The last time you are the mother of a high school student.

And finally, the graduation.

I feel the wrench, the tug, the feeling of tearing apart all that the family has built. The scaffolding around milestones and markers splintering as it smashes apart.

I want to say “I know, I know, I felt it, too.” And I did. I felt called to be a mother the way some feel called to climb mountains or heal broken bodies. It was all I wanted, who I was and all I knew myself to be, or at least that was how it felt.

The thought of that child stepping out to make their way, which of course has been the path they were on from the first breath, first step, first word, first everything, feels like stepping off a cliff. You’re happy for them, exhilarated with the knowledge that obstacles have been beaten down or maybe sidestepped. Troubles navigated. This is what you wanted; a child who was ready for the next thing, whatever that might be.

But oh God, it’s so hard.

My youngest son comes home from his first  year away this week. I have survived this three times over. For me it was different each time; different people, different scenarios they headed off to, different levels of leaving; some thousands of miles away, some closer, some staunchly proclaiming they were not coming home often, some wishing they could just stay but knowing they had to go.

We not only survived. We thrived. We seek time together now, I think, not because they feel obligated but because it feeds us all to be together, whether it’s weekly video chat or the few times a year we can all be physically in the same space. The inside jokes come out, the family roles are tried on, adjusted, discarded, or embraced. We notice that we are connected in bigger ways than any of us, even me, ever expected.

May all those who are reaching a toe over the cliff of the last of the lasts and the first of the firsts know to hang on. Be patient. Stay connected even if that means on the terms set by your offspring for now.

Hold them with great respect, they have worked so hard to grow up and while there is more growing up to do (for all of us, in truth) celebrate this one for now. Go see fireworks and drive-in movies together this summer. Spring for a week at a beach house, or a camping extravaganza. Hold them close and then LET GO. It’s going to be a lovely ride, worth every bump along the way.

Muddy Dust on the Windshield

18485327_10154832302689125_5606031839612231471_n.jpgI drove to San Diego yesterday, roughly a three hour round trip during a quiet weekday. The sky was clear blue and the sweeping turns with nothing but ocean in view made me smile, right there, alone in my car.

The podcasts I chose for the drive were about resilience and connection: two things that aren’t always easy for me. Coming home I was struck, maybe loosened by the wise words of sages or the beauty of this earth. It was as clear as the dirt on the windshield, the spray of the ocean muddying the dust of the hills: this–the connection of earth, sky, planet, people, animals, ocean– is everything.

There is not you and me. No I and thou. There is not a right and a left or a right and a wrong. There is just us. All of us. ALL of us.

We are here, together, for better or for worse. I cannot separate my air from yours, clean water from dirty, it all flows downstream eventually, mingles with what I have breathed in and you have breathed out.

We are one.

I pray for you and me, for our earth and our leaders; both great and wretched. Because there are not winners and losers; we are all them. We are all those people. We are one.

It’s almost too simple. We are one. May we remember this as we fight for justice and equality and clean air and clean water and for people to be awakened to what is right and good instead of what will bring the most money and power. May we remember. May we remember.

We are one.

The Trials of Tramadol

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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.

Expendable.

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.

Women of a Certain Age: Five Ways

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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.

It’s rigged.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

#BoycottUnitedAirlines

I get it. We were an airline family for 20 years; one or both of us working for an airline and flying all over on standby. Safety means that we need clear lines of authority on a plane. But…

If you can’t buy people off at $700 or $800 then you go to $1000 and you keep going until you reach market price.

Don’t assault your passengers.

And you tell me that’s the same thing the damn cop would have done to a White guy.

There is no way in hell. 

I flew United two days ago. Their frequent flyer system will not match my TSA precheck number no matter what I do so I couldn’t use my precheck. 

When I tried to get it fixed I think the ticket agent deliberately changed my aisle seat to a middle seat further back on the plane to punish me for complaining. And then the gate agent would not change it back. The seat I should have had was given to a United employee.

I am glad that United has pissed off their customers in China. They don’t deserve any second chances. They deserve to go the hell out of business.

I’m done.