Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2017 Post-Election Faith Goals: Study More, Serve More

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." -- Galatians 5:22-23

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." -- Ephesians 4:2


Here is what I think, which I know goes against the prevailing sentiment in my part of the country. I am concerned that next month will usher in a period in our nation during which my children will be less safe, human life will be less valued, and the proud shall use their power to taunt the meek. Many people I respect and love disagree with me on my assessment. I get that, and I always appreciate the opportunity to have civil and informed conversations with friends and family who look at things differently. I usually learn something from these discussions, and learning is one of my favorite things. Mine is but one perspective and I would never presume I'm always right. 

However, despite exit polls that showed a clear majority of Christians voted for the incoming administration, I know I'm not alone among followers of Christ in being concerned. Right? But what can I do? What can we do? A lot. This election and its resulting unrest (and whether you are a fan of the incoming president or not, I hope you can agree that we have some unrest right now) has led me to feel even greater conviction to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ. 

I fail in my Christian walk on the regular. In fact, every day. I do not always treat people the way I wish to be treated. I do not always have a servant's heart. I do not gather with my brothers and sisters at every opportunity to pray and to worship. To be painfully honest, there are times that I hide from the interaction, especially during the holidays for reasons I cannot quite determine. I don't want to do that anymore. I have spent the closing weeks of this year reflecting on these shortcomings and how I can and will do better in the new year. Correction . . . how I need to do better starting right now.

I believe that the next four years will require men and women of faith, no matter who received their votes, to be bolder than ever in their love and their service and in a call for unity among all people. I'm both invigorated and overwhelmed by the challenge! I have determined that being active in this pursuit must be one of my primary acts in the months that lie ahead (Just behind this resolution in importance for the new year? Getting more than three hours of consecutive sleep at night and actually hanging curtains and/or photographs and/or artwork in my home of six months.).

There are men and women in my life who I have watched put their faith into action for years, by sending kind notes and volunteering with children and feeding the hungry and offering their construction skills and going on mission trips and just sitting with people who need a friend. Their names are running through my head as I type. I can count supporters of Trump and Clinton and "None of the Above" among them, as no political party or campaign holds the claim to good people. They have done so without expectation of recognition and I am inspired time and again by the people they are and the example they set. But I've done too much watching and not enough following of their lead.

So, whether it's my feelings about the election or the way that my family is constantly surrounded in love at our church or how I have read countless stories about people who affect positive change through simple acts of kindness that finally have motivated me to action, I know that I need to do more.

So, in 2017, I plan to do the following when it comes to my spiritual life:

Spend more time with the refugee families who are finding their way to our church family in greater numbers every week. I will tutor the children and sit with their mothers. I will attend the service they hold in their native tongue and worship with them. And I will go beyond my church walls to help the organizations here in Nashville who are welcoming refugee families and helping them acclimate.

Read more with my children about what boys and girls their age experience in different parts of our city and different parts of our world.

Watch and read enough news so that I stay informed but shut it off before I become disheartened or distracted.

Study a different religious leader or scholar every month, from different backgrounds and of different perspectives. Learn from his or her writings and actions. If you have a woman or man you believe I should study, please share with me as I would love your suggestions.

Embrace the congregation-wide effort that our church is making to read the entire Bible over the course of the year. Really value the time I spend in God's Word and discerning what He means for me to learn and do in 2017.

Spend less time on social media and no time on reality television and instead spend more time engaging with actual humans and consistently doing so in ways that take me out of my comfort zone . . . which won't take much.

Attend a worship service at a different congregation in the Nashville area at least every other month, not instead of worshiping with my church family but in addition to that time.

Be consistent in keeping a gratitude journal. I need to remember when I get frustrated or impatient or sad, there are always reasons to be thankful.

Talk more with people with whom I disagree and with whom I allow myself to get annoyed.

Clear the slate of all grudges. Or at least work on doing so.

Pray for our President-elect and other members of his administration, and pray for the candidates who will come forward to over the next four years to offer their ideas and leadership to local, state, and national offices.

Hug people a lot.

Not mention any of these things after today and just do them.

I share these plans not to boast with claims of "look at all I plan to do next year" but for two other important reasons. First, to hold myself accountable. I've written publicly about my plans in other areas of my life as previous years have come to a close and it's helped me greatly. Second, I want to encourage others to walk with me. Will you link arms with me so that we can be the armor for one another and for the rest of our brothers and sisters? Whether or not we share a faith or if you even proclaim a faith at all, I consider us family and I would love to have you beside me. My faith is what is motivating me right now; it may be different for you. I would love to learn from you and your efforts. I would be grateful to have you join with me in any of the ideas I've proposed or if you would allow me to come alongside you in outreach efforts you are contemplating.

Love and kindness will be needed in greater supply and more than ever in the days ahead. Who am I to complain about its absence if I'm not willing to affect the change, however small my part, that I wish to see in our community and the world? So, will you join with me?

I want to imprint the following Scripture on my heart for the new year and then take it from there:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." -- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Friday, December 2, 2016

Seven Years Single

"If there is no man in your house when you leave for work in the morning, there isn't going to be one there when you get home at night if you don't do something to make it so." - wise counsel from a co-worker

This week marks seven years since my divorce was finalized -- and seven years of being very single. I must admit that I'm somewhat surprised to have found myself in this position for the better part of a decade. I just figured that I would have dated at least a bit in the 2,555 days since I started checking "divorced" on registration forms at the doctor's office. Well, let me be fair. I have been on three dates. In seven years.

Do you remember how easy dating was in your teens and twenties? I mean, not the part where you lock yourself in your room and listen to Sinead O'Connor or The Cure or Indigo Girls for hours during a furiously tragic break up. Instead, I just mean the environment was there. You hung out with a group of people comprised of mostly young and single men and women and went to places where there were other single people. And you would talk to these people. When you really liked one of them, you would make arrangements to hang out without all those other people. Sometimes the other person would show up ten minutes late and then scream obscenities at a very pregnant woman struggling to get out of a cab because she was moving too slow and he didn't want to miss his dinner reservations in Georgetown. and then he would wonder why you didn't want a second date. Or, another time with another person, when you offer to pay for your part of dinner, maybe the other person would say something like, "You can pay me now or you can pay me later, if you know what I mean." And then wonder why you didn't want a second date. But other times, you would laugh and have a lot in common and want to spend more time together . While I didn't have any really serious boyfriends for more than a few months while in my early twenties, I went out on lots of dates. And it was lots of fun.

Maybe I just don't know how dating is supposed to work anymore. After all, the last person I dated was my ex-husband . . . sixteen years ago. This was before Facebook or text messages or smartphones. It was during the waning days of the Clinton administration. I was twenty-five years old. It was a different time and I was a different person. One good thing is . . . I like who I am now a lot more. So I've got that going forward!

Truth is, though, that I'm a smart woman and I probably could figure out how to date in the new millennium and within the context of a social media world. Instead, I believe my chronic singledom can be explained by five "S" words -- selective, sources, sleepy, sitters, and scared. Let's explore, shall we?

Selective -- The more appropriate word choice here is probably "picky," but that doesn't really fit with the whole S theme I'm creating. Between my work schedule and my kids' activities and school stuff, I have very little time for dating. Time is precious to me and I've become very protective of it. More importantly, any person I date could potentially meet my kids someday. Theirs are hearts that I hold much more tenderly than my own. While my daughter tells me on a regular basis that I need to get out more and find a boyfriend (last night she actually said, "get out of your robe once in a while and go meet some people!") and my son wants a dad "who will live with him and play with him" (I can feel my heart break into a million pieces every time he says that), I am wary of anyone stepping into our family unit. We have (on most days) a good thing going.

Sources -- Where do you meet single men when you are in your forties? I know the whole "easier to get killed by a terrorist than find a husband over the age of 40" theory put forth by Newsweek and then Sleepless in Seattle has been debunked. There are single people out there. I've had multiple friends find success with online dating, resulting in great relationships or even new marriages, but it didn't work for me. I've been told I must have done it wrong, which is quite possible. I also know of several relationships between people who knew each other in high school or college and reconnected over social media. I love how Facebook has allowed me to keep in touch with friends and former boyfriends from 20-25 years ago, but I don't see romance blossoming through that venue, either. And, I honestly cannot think of too many single men I've met in person over the past seven years, be it at work or church or the kids' schools. I probably could count the number on my hands. But then again, have I really tried?

Sleepy -- I'm worn out by Friday night. After a week of work and school and activities and cleaning (kind of) the house, I'm ready to crash (see the aforementioned robe . . . it's so comfortable!). The idea of gearing myself up for a night out, besides with someone other than my girlfriends I've known for a decade (with whom I must say I'm super fiercely in platonic love), is exhausting. But, as my co-worker shared in my quote to open this post, things aren't going to change if I don't do something different. And that something different just might be giving myself a pep talk, drinking some caffeine, and leaving my home on a Friday or Saturday night.

Sitters -- Sometimes I tell myself that I just wasn't meant to date in this season of life, that I need to focus on raising my kids and bettering our financial security. My kids aren't old enough to leave home in the evenings quite yet, but in a couple of years they will be. Maybe that will be my time. They probably will be happy to have the house to themselves for a few hours at that age. And it's not that I'm opposed to using sitters now. I've left my kids with sitters since they were infants and currently have several high school students who are great babysitters. So, I have no qualms about letting others care for my beloved offspring. But sitter costs can start to add up if needed often and it would be months before I would introduce anyone I date to my kids and have us all spend time together. So, yep, sounds like I'm pretty good at coming up with these excuses.

Scared -- In the end, it may very well be that you can toss all the other reasons aside and park my excuse bus right here. Because, as I look back on what I've written, they really are nothing more than excuses if I really want to making dating a priority (and honestly I'm not sure that I do, so there's that . . . I am friends with several single moms who have little or no interest in dating right now). After all, there is nothing wrong with being selective and I'm sure there are wonderful men out there (right?) who would make the cut, it would do me good to have more nights on which I dress up and go out instead of putting on pajama pants and watching Real Housewives or C-Span (maybe there's a guy out there who would love to watch C-Span with me . . . there's a small niche!), and I know I have friends who would help with watching my kids if the costs of a sitter are prohibitive. And maybe being scared is the hardest issue to admit. I feel like I've worked though my "stuff" but what if I still end up making a poor decision and end up in a bad relationship? What if my kids get attached to someone and it doesn't work out? What if upon actively trying to find someone, I discover there is no one to find?

Please don't let this post leave the impression that I sit at my desk all day lamenting the fact that I don't have a man by my side. My life is filled with amazing friends, a job I find challenging and fulfilling with co-workers who are like family, and two kids who I tell every day that it is such an honor to be their mom. Wanting to date is not something that crosses my mind every day. It's just that this "divorce-a-versary" has prompted some reflection on where I am and where I thought I would be. And I think that having an adult social life would be nice again. Along those lines, I don't think I will be single forever. I believe I'm date-able. I'm smart, independent, and kind of hilarious given the appropriate audience. If I do want to date in 2017, though, I will need to work on getting past some of the excuses above. Because that's all they are. Then maybe, next year, I won't be the reason yet again that we need to make reservations for an odd number of people at the office Christmas dinner!

If you went through a divorce and have young kids, how did you get back into dating? Was it an intentional effort on your part or something that happened unexpectedly? If you aren't dating, is that a choice you made? If you grew up in a single parent home, do you remember your parent dating? What was that like for you? I would love to hear your thoughts! 

Or, maybe you are reading this and thinking, "Sarah, why would I share the answers to any of these questions publicly and what made you think you should write about all of this to begin with?" I get that, too. 

And, if you know a great single guy in his late-thirties to around fifty or so who likes children but doesn't want any more kids, who can appreciate or at least tolerate my obscure historical and pop culture references, who likes to learn from books and people and new places, who lives within 50 miles of the greater Nashville area, and who likes long walks on the beach (I feel like that always should be included, don't you?), let me know!


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Today, I Mourn. But I Will Not Linger Here.

I was not going to write anything. Especially not today, when it is all so fresh. What if I feel differently once emotions have tempered? (And, of course, I will. At least to some degree.) But writing is what I do. It's how I process and it's been that way ever since I learned to spell. I wrote a blog post the day after the elections in 2004, 2008, and 2012 (and after prior elections I'm sure I wrote a journal entry or passed a note in class or something). So I decided this occasion should be no different. And what I have to share is this . . .

I'm giving myself permission to take a couple of days to mourn. I cannot pretend that I don't need it. I ache for our country today.

I mourn that I held one child tightly in each arm this morning as they cried, after staying awake all night and wondering what I would say. That I had to tell them, "The president does not get to define who you are or what you get to do. Don't give him that much power. He is one man. You are kind and strong and worthy of respect. You will continue to be kind and deserving of respect and you will be strong for others. This family is going to show love more than ever. You will keep playing ball and running around with your friends and being a kid. None of that will change. I am sad, too. But I love America and the people who live here and I know that goodness is going to rise from this."

I mourn that I almost lost it when I held my daughter's face in my hands, looked her in the eyes, and made sure she understood that what our future president thinks of us means that she must all the more loudly proclaim the intelligent and powerful young woman that she is.

I mourn my belief that our national security is now at greater risk. That we now face more danger from threats both domestic and abroad. That our nation just voted for a greater chance of war. That we voted for an authoritarian regime.

I mourn that as a Constitutional conservative who values small government and liberty and the beautiful system that is federalism, I am struggling to figure out where I belong in this political landscape.

I mourn what this election appears to say about our nation's character -- that understandable anger at being left behind or ignored or used by the established ruling class for so long can justify voting for someone with a long track record of thinking very little of his fellow humans and who has shown a frighteningly minimal interest in, or knowledge of, policy issues.

I mourn that I have heard from black friends and Asian friends and gay friends who feel like the country they are living in today is different than the one in which they fell asleep last night.

I mourn that some people are gloating or laughing about how the election turned out. I mourn that some others would have done the same if the results had been different.

But I'm not going to stay in my grief. I'm leaving my points of concern in this post and then moving on. And I promise I won't be a sore loser or engage in name calling. There really is no part of me that wants to do so. I don't have any animosity toward Trump specifically. I recognize that he is just a symbol of a country with some hurdles to face. Besides, grief and anger create a helpless place to be and certainly do not lend to going forward. I've already been encouraged by so many today speaking up and proclaiming that love is still going to win, that this election must be countered by kindness. As one of my friends said, though, "This must not be just words. We must put our words into action."

With that in mind, here are some actions that I pledge to take --

Have a conversation with anyone who disagrees with me on any of the points for which I have written that I mourn today. I promise to listen.

Plant a flower garden in my backyard that will bring me great joy when it blooms next spring.

Make even more of an effort to talk with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, especially those with whom I assume I will disagree.

Visit different houses of worship with my children.

Celebrate that we live in a country in which I was allowed to vote for president without fear of persecution and that every four or eight years we witness a peaceful transition of power.

Put all the carts back in the holding stall at Target when I see they've been left scattered across the parking lot.

Wish for Mr. Trump to surround himself with wise counsel.

Build closer relationships with the growing number of refugee families who have come to call my church their home over the past couple of years. 

Let a driver in front of me when I'm on I-440 at 5:30pm and he comes zooming down the I-24 lane and cuts over at the last moment. However, I can't pledge not to honk at people who throw cigarette butts out the window. I'm not there yet and need some outlet for my driving aggression. 

Talk to strangers.

Choose one of my many friends who voted for Trump and buy her a drink while we sit and not talk about politics at all. 

Put at least one handwritten note in the mail every week.

Be more committed to attending the weekly meetings of the leaf collecting club started by a sweet second grader across the street from me, particularly because I'm the only registered "grown up" member and these kids are counting on me!

Stay engaged in in the political process from the local to the national level and speak up for causes in which, and candidates in whom, I believe. But . . .

I will not let politics consume me. No more talk radio and no more clicking on shared "news" links on the internet -- they are both poison. No more ending one election by starting a conversation about the next. 

Find more reasons to compliment people.

Spend more time playing basketball and board games with my children.

Hug more. Laugh more. Listen more.

There are Clinton supporters and Trump supporters and "Other" supporters who I love dearly. And I truly think we have more in common than we have to separate us, if we get past the labels and the assumptions and instead really get to know one another. I tell my children that most people are good, and I believe that sincerely. So that will be my focus. My kids and I are going to (try to) be the good, to look for the good, and to reinforce and thank the good whenever we see it. That will be our mission.




Thursday, November 3, 2016

Our Collective Soul (Not the 90s Band)

I have a habit of listening to talk radio every day at my office until I feel sufficiently irritated or sad, then I put on some Tracy Chapman or Sarah McLachlan or Indigo Girls and relive my Lilith Fair days for an hour or so, and then I go back to talk radio.

Earlier this week, Dan Mandis, a host on Nashville's conservative 99.7 talk station, invited the owner of a gas station on the outskirts of the city onto his program. Why the interest in this local entrepreneur? He recently had gained some national notoriety when he chose to use the electronic sign outside his store to proclaim "#TrumpThatB**ch" and "The only pu**y Trump ever grabbed was Paul Ryan." So sweet. These messages were a long line in a series of political statements the owner made on his marquee, but this time Shell decided to pull its gas from the store. Understandably, the company did not want to be associated with such vile language.

Dan Mandis saw things differently than those liberal America-hating Communists at Shell. He brought the owner on his program to offer support, to encourage his listeners to patronize the restaurant that is connected to this gas station and that (sadly) already was serving a record number of customers in the wake of the controversy.

This gas station proprietor presumably wants to "Make America Great Again." Can you IMAGINE this type of sign being considered acceptable in the society of the 1950s or any other time in our country's history that the owner thought was "great"? No way. (Side note -- America is great. And was great. It was founded with flaws and continues to have them, but it's an amazing and beautiful experiment.)

There was not enough Natalie Merchant on my playlist to wipe my mental palate clean after that interview.

Where has the civility gone?

If this gas station owner has a daughter . . . or a son . . . or basic human kindness . . . how can he find it acceptable to call someone a bitch? How are there customers laughing about his sign and supporting him with their dollars while also proclaiming Christianity as a cornerstone of why they vote like they do? It doesn't make any sense to me.

And there is certainly blame to be had on both sides of the aisle in this twisted election. I'm not a Trump supporter. The thought of him being president with access to the nuclear codes keeps me awake at night and troubles me for my children. (To be fair, I don't get that much more sleep with the thought of Clinton being president.) But, I would never call him an "orange baboon" or a "f**king Nazi" or an "a**hole" like I have read from his detractors time and again. Because why does that make sense? How does this forward any kind of useful dialogue? For me, any constructive arguments you may have get lost in the name calling.

It is clear that this campaign has allowed the ugliest parts of both the left and right to come bubbling to the surface and the view is terrifying. I'm sure we all could provide dozens of examples of the ugliness of this campaign, so here are just a couple.

I visited Governor Kasich's Facebook page this morning and read his post thanking the Cleveland Indians for a great season and congratulating the Chicago Cubs. The comments section (which, I will give you, is widely accepted as the home for the worst our computer keyboards have to offer) was filled with statements calling Kasich a traitor and a pu**y and a douche and a lying sack of s**t. So you disagree with his decision not to support Trump. Fine. But this is how you express your objections? (By the way -- Kasich/Hogan in 2020. Let's make it happen.)

Juan Hernandez of Santa Clara, CA earned a broken nose and mild concussion back in June after getting attacked and beaten by protesters simply because he had decided to attend a Trump rally and learn more about the candidate . Many dismissed his injuries, saying that it's Trump's fault that his supporters are getting hurt because he encourages this violence. Isn't that victim blaming? And isn't that a bad thing?

A 62-year-old man was hit several times with a crowbar outside a Friendly's (ironic) restaurant in New Jersey. The perpetrator was a passing motorist who felt the need to get out of his car and confront the victim, who was wearing a Donald Trump t-shirt. I don't like who you are supporting for president . . . for that reason, I'm going to hit you with a metal stick. Makes sense.

At a rally last month in Virginia, a Trump supporter held up a photograph of Clinton with a bullseye painted over her face and the words "Killary Rotten Clinton" written underneath. At a Trump rally last December in Las Vegas, people in the crowd yelled out "Sieg Heil" and "light the motherf**ker on fire" as a protester was being removed by security. Just sit with those sentences for a moment. If they don't make you at the very least uncomfortable, I don't understand you.

I think these examples and the hundreds more like them speak to a problem much greater than any election but one that this campaign has exposed like never before. The root cause is the same as the reason that populations who have been dismissed or ignored for generations are protesting and sometimes rioting in our cities. The same reason that teenagers are beating one another and putting the fights on the internet. It's the same reason that reality shows in which people argue or hurt one another or fill their hours with the most mindless endeavors receive such high ratings.

Our collective soul is hurting. We don't know how we fit together anymore.

I believe that humans are naturally wired to crave community, to build relationships and to share their talents and interests for the betterment of others. There is a selfish motive behind our charity and our hugs for someone crying and our decision to pay for the coffee of the person behind us in line and our time spent building houses with Habitat . . . it feels good to do good, to have the sense that we are needed. I like how helping someone else makes me feel. I think it's OK to admit that is sometimes part of my motivation.

But, instead of fostering that community, our society has driven full steam ahead to isolation and walls and lack of human interaction. We no longer need to have a conversation with the cashier at Kroger; we just use the self checkout line. We don't have to see our neighbors while out Christmas shopping; we just order through Amazon and everything arrives at our doorstep. We build bigger homes with fancier gadgets and technology that make us need others less and less. We carry on more of our conversations through the screens of our computers and smartphones instead of while looking someone in the eye. We are left feeling alone and unappreciated and disconnected. We are losing the ability to have compassion for our neighbor because we are so out of practice. And the result, I believe, is what we are seeing in this election.

People are angry because they are not being heard, because they are not being respected, because they are not being loved, because they are not told of their worth or to respect the worth of others. I think every story that I shared in this post starts there.

Am I being naive about this? Do I need to stop listening to my Lilith Fair collection?  Why do you think this election cycle is so ugly and violent?


Monday, October 10, 2016

Re: Trump

I've had thoughts this weekend. A lot of thoughts. And as I am prone to do, I decided to write them down.

1. The offense is not with his vulgar words. The language I use when I'm caught in traffic or just stub my toe is not always PG. While the term "p**sy" is not in my go-to vernacular because I think it's gross, I have been known to drop other colorful words once in a while. My issue is not with Trump's choice of words . . . I can handle that . . . but instead with the fact that those words were strung together to brag about his ability to commit sexual assault. He admits that, as a star, he can "do anything he wants" and doesn't even ask first. That was eleven years ago, you might say. He's a changed man, you argue. OK, let's go with that. Combine the leaked tape with the fact that he called a former beauty contestant fat last week and made comments about a female journalist having "blood come out of her wherever" several months ago and last year he tweeted that Bill Clinton had an affair because Hillary couldn't satisfy him and three years ago he blamed sexual assault in the military on the fact that women were now allowed to serve alongside men and so on . . . and so on. To paraphrase the late, great Dennis Green, "He is who we thought he was."

2. The 50 Shades of Gray comparison is ridiculous. Did you see this meme floating around the internet yesterday? (Because politics has now devolved into memes of poorly spelled half truths) Yes, I found the novel offensive. I was offended that something so poorly written sold millions of copies. I wanted to take a red pen to almost every sentence of the eighty or so pages I got through before giving up. But, while not my cup of fiction tea, I wasn't particularly offended by the content. If suburban housewives want to read about painful yet CONSENSUAL sexual practices, then go for it. But please do not compare that to the words of a man who laughs about grabbing unsuspecting women's genitals. It's not the same thing.

3. A condemnation of Trump's behavior is not an endorsement of the Clintons. I am old enough to remember all of the scandals in which the Clintons have been involved without one of those helpful graphics listing Hillary and Bill's offenses over a black-and-white scary photo of Secretary Clinton that I've seen splashed across Facebook. Heck, I was a White House intern in Fall 1995 . . .with Monica Lewinsky! I passed President Clinton in the hallway of the Old Executive Office Building on more than one occasion. I find his long history of how he treats women to be repugnant and I believe his campaign would have gone a lot differently if he had first run for president in the social media age of 2016 instead of 1992. Oh, and news flash on that topic . . . he's not running for president this year.

And with the Clintons, it goes beyond the sex scandals. Sandy Berger does not sneak off with documents from the National Archives and shred them in his office late at night because he is trying to protect a former boss who has nothing to hide. The Clinton Foundation certainly has questionable pay-to-play transactions with world leaders. I was upset when Secretary Clinton rushed to blame the terror attack on Benghazi on a YouTube video with a hastily typed statement on the State Department website. Bill Clinton gets a pass on Osama bin Laden because the evildoer who tried to bring down the towers in 1993 parked his truck of explosives in the wrong spot . . . a few feet in a different direction and tens of thousands of people may have died. I believe Bill Clinton's multiple accusers when they say that Hillary Clinton "strongly encouraged them" to stay quiet.

I find Hillary Clinton to be a calculating and self-serving politician. I just do. She panders and placates. I am not voting for her. I have many friends whose politics and principles I respect who are voting for her, but I just can't get there. However, all that being said, who Hillary Clinton may or may not be and who Bill Clinton may or may not be DOES NOT lessen the deplorable (yes, I used the word) character of Donald Trump. Please stop saying things like, "What Donald Trump said is indefensible, but Bill Clinton was even worse because he . . ." (if you want an example of this, check out Trump's so-called apology speech in which he claims he's embarrassed by what he said but then five seconds later shifts to saying "but Clinton did a lot worse!" . . . it's very elementary school of him).

I have often played the "lesser of two evils" game when voting in an election. I just can't do it this time. But I tell you this -- I'm less worried about the lasting impact that Clinton will have on our country (particularly because I think she will be a one-term president and because Republicans do have a Senate they now can focus resources on keeping) and the example she will set for our children than I am about Trump.

And side note -- is no one else frightened by how little Trump knows about policy and the Constitution? Is this OK? Just last night in the debate, he criticized Clinton for not advocating to change tax laws when she was in the Senate if it was so important to her. Problem is that all tax bills MUST originate in the House, which is why this body is said to have the "power of the purse." And he proclaimed she would be in jail if he was President and in charge of the laws? That's not really how separation of powers works. Details, details.

And side note number two -- Some have said that the Trump tape was recorded in 2005 and why are we judging the man he is now based on old comments. Yet Bill Clinton's behavior towards women is still relevant to this same crowd. Please name for me a woman who has accused Clinton of sexual assault since 2005. I can't, either. Please be consistent.

4. This CANNOT be dismissed as "typical locker room talk." Every time I hear someone say this phrase, I want to throw something. I really do. And I'm restraining this urge at the same time I'm trying not to vomit, which is a tricky physical and mental exercise.

When I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade, a classmate came up to me and said, "You've got a really skinny waist and I've got a huge d**k. We should get together sometime." Two years later, I was a freshman in high school and leaning over at the water fountain when a boy came up behind me and said, "You've got the best ass I've ever seen. I want to smack it!" Please close your eyes and picture your teenage son saying this to a girl. Or, close your eyes and picture your daughter being the recipient of such language. I've done both and it makes me sick. And I'm FAR from alone in having such stories to tell. I bet every woman I know has had similar experiences. I have other examples besides the two I just shared. Was I scarred for life? No. I don't want to, nor do I expect to, live in a sanitized world in which my sensibilities are acutely and permanently bothered by anything that may offend me. But let's not brush this behavior off and normalize it. It's not OK. It's not "boys will be boys" (or 59-year-old men).

And yes, I know in the instance revealed this weekend Trump did not say the words directly TO the woman but instead to the complacent sidekick he found in Mr. Bush . . .  but the culture it promotes is dangerous and the same.

And please don't ever rail about the dangers of a man touching your daughter in a Target bathroom if you don't take the same offense to a presidential candidate claiming he can walk up to any woman and start groping her.

Will my son make comments about a woman's body when he's around his friends? Probably. But if I'm doing my job, he better not touch a woman without her consent. Or just pretend he did for bragging purposes. Or listen to a friend do the same thing without stopping him.

Have I made comments about a man's physical appearance? Yep. Have I made crass jokes? Affirmative. Have I said to my friends, "I really wish I was a rich celebrity so that I could walk up to a hot guy and grab his crotch and force myself on him and get away with it."? Ummm, no.

5. This isn't what finally bothers me about Trump. Many people have rightfully asked why prominent Republicans are just speaking out against Trump now when he is on record saying so many awful things before this recent Billy Bush audio became public. I like to think this is the straw that finally broke the camel's back. I mean, once you mock disabled people and state that you prefer winners over captured POWs and call women fat cows and joke that you would date your daughter and disparage a Gold Star family and show disregard for the freedom of press and freedom of assembly that are guaranteed by our First Amendment and reassure voters about the size of your genitals during a nationally televised debate and advocate taking oil as spoils of war and tout your Christianity but claim never to have needed forgiveness in your life and engage in behavior that runs counter to Christ's teachings to walk humbly and with kindness, patience, and self-control . . . well, eventually those pieces of straw get heavy.

I am proud of leaders like Republican governors John Kasich and Larry Hogan (Go Terps!) who have stood on principle and against Donald Trump from the start. I hope to have the opportunity to campaign for both for them in the future. And to those who have sold their conservative soul to stand by him (Ryan, Giuliani, Christie, Gingrich, etc), you never will receive a vote from me.

In Conclusion. I don't hate Donald Trump. Not at all. I am FAR from perfect and fall short every day in being consistently kind and the example I want to be for my children. But I also cannot be complicit and silent when I witness behavior in an election that I find so upsetting. I have many family members and friends who will be voting for Donald Trump. I love them and value those relationships. I hope they feel the same in return for my refusal to vote as they do. From talking with them, most find Trump's behavior indefensible but still find a greater threat in a Clinton presidency or they simply want to stick it to the establishment no matter what the outcome. I don't agree with that decision, but I understand its foundation.

I'm just sad for the country. I'm sad that campaign information is reduced to tweets and Facebook memes. I'm sad that a good part of the debate last night and media coverage for the entire weekend was spent on a disgusting audio tape. I'm sad that there hasn't been an opportunity to hear any real substance from either candidate. I'm sad that we've all devolved into participants in a boorish reality show. I'm sad that this is going to be the first campaign that my kids really remember and that while I once was so excited to share my passion for politics with my children, now I'm embarrassed that this is what adults have to offer them.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Can a Woman Be President? Of Course!

I had the following conversation with my children over breakfast this morning . . .

Me: "Catherine, do you think that you could be president some day if you wanted?

Catherine: "Yeah. Sure."

Me: "Did you think that before yesterday?"

Catherine: "Ummm . . . yes. Why wouldn't I?"

Me: "Ian, do you believe a girl can grow up to be a president?"

Ian: "Yes! Of course!"

Me: "Have you always thought this?"

Ian: "Of course!"

Maybe I'm missing something, but I did not relate to the notion put forth last night that finally little girls can believe that they, too, can lead our country someday. I did not feel any particular excitement that a human of my gender was nominated by a major political party as its candidate for president. To paraphrase my son -- of course a woman can be president! Heck, I was born thirty years before my daughter and I never once thought I could not be president because I was a girl. I even did the math when I was nine years old to determine the election cycle in which I first would be eligible to run (for the record, it was 2012 . . . I never did file the papers, though).

But, I did not feel the need to sit with my children and watch Clinton's speech last night so that we could take in a moment in history together (to be fair, I haven't wanted to watch a minute of either convention . . . a first for me). My kids know the candidates who are running, including the third-party options, and we discuss each of them and what they believe. They know that all of the presidents up to this point have been men. Still, it has not struck them that there is a woman leading the way this time. It doesn't seem to matter one way or the other to them. And I like that.

It could be that I just take my equality for granted. If Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Eleanor Roosevelt or Shirley Chisholm, women about whom I do and will teach my children, were in the arena watching Hillary Clinton give her acceptance speech last night, I imagine they would have been overwhelmed by the fruits of their tireless years of work. Perhaps I need to stop and appreciate that notion. But any pause would be out of respect for their efforts, which is certainly worthy of such pause, and not anything that I personally feel about barriers being broken for me or the generations that follow.

That's not to say that I believe sexism no longer exists in politics and business and families and media and so on. Of course it does. There is still way too much attention paid to what every female politician wears and how she does her hair. There are still jokes about how a woman's menstrual cycle will affect her ability to make decisions. I remember having discussions with friends twenty years ago in our college dorm rooms about how there would be a man of color sitting in the Oval Office before a white woman because we, however unfair, seem to be more comfortable with the notion of a man being in charge. But seeing Clinton standing on stage last night did not make me think, "Oh, wow! It can actually happen!" I knew it would eventually.

I hope my lack of excitement over the "biggest glass ceiling ever" being shattered is not due to the fact that I do not support Clinton's candidacy (although between the two major party options, neither of whom will be receiving my vote, I do STRONGLY prefer her) and that I have become completely turned off by politics this year. Or that I'm frustrated that the past twenty-five years have brought us first father and son presidencies and now possibly husband and wife presidencies, showing that the ability to lead our country more often than not has much more to do with being in the appropriate class and political circles than it does with your gender.

Really, though, putting those opinions and that cynicism aside, I still think my reaction would have been the same. If a woman had taken to the stage last night who shared my political ideology and put forth a vision for our country that inspired me and accepted her party's nomination for president, I would be excited today to support her and would work intensely to do so. I still don't think it would have given me chills or hope for my daughter just because she was a woman.

So, tell me . . . what am I missing? If you were moved last night and felt like you were witnessing history, I would love to hear more about it. I kind of feel guilty that I don't have more of a reaction. But I just don't.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Prince


I started writing a blog post about Prince a couple of days after his death. But I just couldn't finish it. I couldn't put into words how much influence he had on my childhood and adolescence. I don't think I realized his impact until his death prompted my reflection. But his birthday is this week and the welcome increase in his music on the radio as a result has compelled me once again to try and complete my thoughts. I still don't feel like I've been able to capture what I've been feeling, but I've tried. So, here it is.

But I'm here to tell you, there's something else -- the after world
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night


After hearing the news of Prince's death, I felt for several days as if I'd been punched in the stomach. I had a physical reaction to the news, in addition to the sadness that I would expect. The tweet that was widely circulated around social media explains it perfectly, and I shall paraphrase here -- I never knew Prince and therefore am not grieving a personal friend. However, upon reflection, I see now how much he helped me to learn about myself and I am grieving the loss of that teacher.

Prince has been one of my favorite artists for most of my life, and my childhood into my adulthood is peppered with casual memories for which he offers a soundtrack.

Watching my friend's older sister sing and dance in the car to "I Would Die 4 U" while we were stopped at a gas station on the way to Kings Dominion.

Discussing how amazing he looked on the cover of the Purple Rain album and listening to synopses from my friends who actually had seen the movie.

Walking home from school behind one of the really popular girls and listening to her sing "Raspberry Beret" with her friends.

Wearing my Batman t-shirt and listening to the Batman soundtrack over and over in 1989 during summer school gym class (which you had to take in the summer if you wanted room in your schedule for band at my magnet high school . . . and my French horn would not gather dust in the corner).

Sitting on my bed and listening to "Nothing Compares 2 U" after I broke up with my high school boyfriend.

Serenading my lab partner in twelfth grade microbiology with "Diamonds and Pearls" every day because it was one of his favorite songs and it would irritate him how much I would butcher it.

For some reason, "Kiss" was my go-to karaoke song for most of the late-1990s. I'm sorry, Prince (and Tom Jones) . . . I did not do it justice. I should have stuck with "All Cried Out" (singing both parts or finding a willing duet partner) by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam.

And do you remember the Superbowl performance? In the pouring rain? You can keep your Bruno Mars and your Katy Perry. That entire production was amazing.

But then there are the more powerful, transformative experiences that I do not believe would have been the same without Prince offering guidance and accompaniment.

Prince was the catalyst for some of my earliest conversations about sex and sexuality. I sat in friends' basements or bedrooms at the age of nine and ten and discussed every lyric to songs like "Darling Nikki" and "Little Red Corvette." The women in these songs were powerful and confident. Prince not only respected them, but seemed to be in awe of them. When we talked about what exactly was happening in these songs, it didn't feel wrong or embarrassing to be curious about such things (it's actually more awkward to write about it now, thirty years later). We wanted to talk about what we thought we understood and listen to the same from others -- Prince gave us permission. My daughter is the same age now. What are her equivalent songs in 2016? I know she is starting to talk with her peers about sex, whispering about what each of them knows and trying to figure it all out, but I'm also convinced her background music isn't nearly as good.

Prince also was one of the early reasons I craved to learn more about social issues and world events. As a seven-year-old girl, when Prince sings that everyone has a bomb and we could all die any day, you take notice, even if it's in the context of a great party song. During the Cold War, with stories about those terrifying Soviets who lived on the other side of the wall, it sure felt like Prince's words could become a reality. Prince wrote lyrics to President Reagan and other world leaders in pleas to choose to peace over war as well as songs about domestic violence and race relations and poverty that spanned the duration of his career.

I also think about the times I turned to "Purple Rain" when I needed to hear that aching voice and searing guitar. I laid on my bed and listened to that amazing song at high volume when I felt alone in college and again fifteen years later when I was going through a divorce. I just turned off the lights in my room and let myself be surrounded by his music. I promise you that it is a rare occasion I get through that song without crying. (Side note -- the other piece of music that provokes the same reaction every time . . . Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. Ugh. Hurts in a wonderful way just thinking about it.)

Prince's favorite color was purple and he wore lace and velvet, but I don't think anyone ever questioned his masculinity. He broadened the perception of what that word should mean, at least for me. I remember taking a trip to San Diego with a girlfriend to visit another friend in grad school, staring at the poster of Prince in her bedroom (because apparently 23 years old was still young enough to hang posters on your wall), and having an extended conversation about how Prince was one of the most attractive men walking the planet. He just had that intangible something folded into brilliant music and a knowing smirk. I was drawn like a magnet to both his voice and his image. (The photo accompanying this blog post -- breathtaking!)

I guess, when it comes down to it, Prince's death brought back into clear focus so many life memories and I've now spent time bringing each one to the surface and experiencing those emotions fresh. He was there on the boombox I kept on the street while playing with friends after school. He was there to tell me about heartbreak before I experienced one. He sang about battling with family members, with the pain in his voice sharing that despite it all, he still loved them very much. He puts me right back into times in my life that were awkward and exciting and full of possibilities and confusing and painful and fun. He was at the top of my list of musicians who I hoped to see perform live one day. Or have dinner with. Or just exchange pleasantries with for thirty seconds on a sidewalk.

I don't care where we go
I don't care what we do
I don't care pretty baby
Just take me with u

Rest well, Prince.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Letter to Our Home

Dear First Home,

I stopped by this morning to see you one last time. You know that, of course, because you were there. I just wanted a quiet moment by myself to say goodbye. I'm sorry I cried so much as I walked from room to room. I knew I would be sad to close this chapter, but I wasn't expecting to be so overwhelmed by the memories and by how much you meant to me.

You see, you were my first house ever. I was two years removed from a divorce and had worked so hard to put myself in a position in which I could provide a home for my family. It was such a sense of accomplishment to use my key and walk through your front door for the first time in September 2011. The tears I shed that day were ones of joy and thankfulness. That day and on many other days that followed, it took my breath away when I realized just how fortunate my kids and I were to be living within your walls.

It's because of you that I learned how to fix a toilet and repair a clogged refrigerator drain and understand electrical systems and caulk a bathtub and clean gutters and reset a pilot light. I'm sorry that I didn't always take care of you like I should. I definitely still required the kindness and expertise of neighbors when you experienced some problems. But please know that if I let things slide from time to time, it wasn't due to lack of care.

But even more important than offering me my first chance at home ownership, you provided the backdrop for family memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. As I stopped to take in each view one last time, I remembered some of those moments.

I stared down the block at the bus stop where both of my kids rode off to kindergarten to start their school careers and the road where they learned to ride bikes and played hours of baseball and football and racing and foursquare and where Ian's best friend would come running down to greet us as soon as he saw us come home. You know this about my family . . . if it was above freezing and there was no lightning nearby, my kids were expected to leave your walls and play outside.

I looked at the homes that surrounded us and whispered a quiet thank you to the neighbors who had become dear friends. Over the years, they have removed splinters and fixed my car and gathered chairs in driveways for hours of beverages and conversations and hugged me as I cried during difficult moments and cared for my children and built a basketball hoop and encouraged me and tied a screwdriver to a bunch of shirts that I had tied together and lowered down a window when I was trapped in a second-story bedroom. With these men and women, I was part of a real community. I love them all and I already miss them. (And now I'm crying again)

I walked around to the back of my house and looked at the woods and creek where my kids and their friends spent hours exploring and building forts and pretending that large plastic bins were boats in a foreign land. I then pictured it was pouring rain and how that only would increase the opportunities for muddy fun. I thought about the evenings catching fireflies and how we never grew tired of watching the deer who would graze in our yard every evening at dusk.

Inside the house, I looked at the empty floor on which the kids and I would have family slumber parties, playing board games and watching awful movies. I stared at the kitchen where we made Christmas cookies and dyed Easter eggs and decorated birthday cakes that were decidedly homemade but unique and crafted with love.

I went upstairs and walked into Ian's room. How was he two years old when we moved here and now he's a rising second grader? He mastered the toddler tantrum behind a door in this room. He learned to read in this room and built castles with his Legos for hours on the floor and made homemade posters of his favorite sports to hang on the walls. I walked into this room every night before I went to bed and kissed his cheek as he slept and whispered I loved him so much.

I moved into Catherine's room and I was left even more stunned by how much has changed. My little kindergartener who entered this room is now a preteen with strong opinions and sense of self. Over five years, she transitioned from pastels and butterflies to bright colors and softball trophies. We have cried together in this room as she experienced the reality of mean girls for the first time. We had our first conversations about her interest in boys and what it means to be growing up. She laughed at my dance moves but joined in with me anyway. I walked into this room every night before I went to bed and kissed her cheek as she slept and whispered I loved her so much.

Finally, in my room, I thought about the nights I would lie awake in my bed worrying about my kids and whether or not I was making the right decisions for them. I thought about the thunderstorms and how I really didn't mind when the kids ran through the door and wanted to snuggle up on either side of me all night long. I remembered how I always felt safe in the middle of night, even though I was alone. I reflected on the list of life goals I would sit and make while propped up on a pillow and how I still have a lot left to do!

I know you are a house, an inanimate object . . . you are made of bricks and wood and drywall and other stuff that I don't know enough about construction to understand. But, my emotional connection to you is real. So thank you for indulging me in one more walk through your spaces today. You are in the hands of new owners now. I heard they were moving their stuff in tonight. I hope that already, right now, they are starting to catalog the first of many memories that you will provide.

The kids and I are moving to our own new place in a couple of weeks. It's the right move for our family. I know we will make more wonderful memories there and new relationships will be forged. The house is lovely, and over time I am confident it will feel like home. Life is about change and we will embrace it. Thank you for helping us grow and thrive and for preparing us for what this new adventure will bring.

Love always,
Sarah

Friday, February 26, 2016

256 Days Left to Pick My Write-In Candidate

Last week, my girl and I were discussing Hitler over our breakfast cereal. You know, typical mother and daughter chat stuff. We talked about his atrocities -- how he sent millions of people to their deaths and hoped to overtake the world with his warped ideology. My daughter asked how the people of Germany could elect a person like that and then go along with all he did. I responded as follows:

"Germany was humiliated after World War I. They lost badly. The people didn't feel good about being Germans. They weren't proud of their country, which was in shambles and had to pay money to a lot of other countries after the fighting stopped. Hitler came along and said, 'We need to be proud again! We are going to make Germany great again!'"

And then I fell silent, recognizing the comparison that had just come out of my mouth. Promises made to a disaffected population to make their country great again. Haven't I heard that recently?

Let me be clear. I am not calling Donald Trump a Nazi. In no way do I believe that he will send all Jews or Hispanics or any other group to to death camps. But, I do believe the sentiment that made Hitler's rise to power possible is similar to the emotions that are leading to Trump's likely nomination as the Republican candidate for president.

People are mad. They feel left behind, left out, and ignored. They have been played by the system and taken for granted for too long. They do not care that Trump has no idea what he is talking about, and has no specific plans, when comes to health insurance (or environmental policy or education or foreign affairs or . . . ), is an entitled bully who mocks people and talks in a way that would get my first grader sent to his room, suddenly touts that he is "very Christian" and has "lots of Bibles" in a gross effort to pander, and is hardly a conservative. He is loud and mocks the political establishment and has no filter . . . and in the political (and social and cultural) climate of 2016, that's considered by some to be awesome and presidential.

While popular to do so in many recent articles, to write off Trump supporters as uneducated racists is not fair and instead is "why can't these simple-minded people recognize they are voting against their own interests" elitism at its finest. Sure, there are bigots who like Trump (see the endorsement of David Duke) as he has played that sad card quite effectively. But it does not come as a surprise to me that there is a significant segment of voters who earnestly are trying to decide if they like Trump or Sanders better. Why? Because they both speak to men and women who have been pushed to the outskirts and left there. These voters are angry at how the system has been rigged for certain winners and losers for far too long and they want to be heard. For those wanting to bring voice to this with a protest vote, the difference between Trump and Sanders is just how you prefer the temperament of your messenger.

Here's a problem, though. Think about the times you've made major life decisions (or even small ones) out of anger or resentment. If you are like me, they probably haven't turned out so well. Similarly, for our country, a Trump presidency would be a disaster from which I'm not sure we could recover. I am not being flippant when I state that I truly believe we will see nuclear war under a Trump administration. Someone will offend him, and that will be it. We will lose our allies because he is a blowhard. There will never be an obnoxious wall built at the Mexican border, but there will be an increase in distrust and hate crimes and division. Our economy will suffer. Who would want to do business with us? (I know, I know . . . Trump is going to force the world to buy our stuff and like it.) Schoolkids across America will have President Trump as the most high-profile example of how a leader should speak and treat others.

I love my children and my future grandchildren (if my kids choose to procreate . . . no pressure). Therefore, I will never support Donald Trump. I shudder at the thought of the future he would create for them.

When Tennessee voters have their primary next Tuesday, I will be voting for John Kasich. I'm not particularly excited about that, but he acts like a grown up, remains positive, and has executive experience. So, I've got to go with that.

However, when the general election arrives and my choices are Trump and Clinton, I will be voting for a write-in candidate as I cannot affirmatively choose either of them to lead our country. But, I will be honest. If you make me pick one or the other, I would much rather have Hillary Clinton sitting in the Oval Office come January 2017. I don't agree with most of her agenda (and who knows if she even agrees with it, either . . .  she has no core ideology beyond a sheer drive for power and therefore changes her beliefs and mannerisms depending on her audience), but at least the country is less likely to blow up while she is in charge. Isn't that a wonderful bar to set when selecting the leader of the free world? She won't propose anything too radical, and she will be stonewalled by the politicians who make up the right-wing faction of Congress even if she does. So, she leaves me with the small hope of just waiting it out another four or eight years and somehow getting better choices next time.

And if Trump is nominated, please understand that Hillary Clinton WILL be our next president. People don't like Clinton, but they dislike Trump even more. The negatives in the polling are clear. His chances of victory are not good and I think that analysis stating otherwise is just intended to scare people into action. (It's possible I'm just repeating that over and over to reassure myself, but I'm pretty sure it's actually true.) Do you know who does beat Hillary Clinton in a general election? Pretty much every other Republican candidate still in the race.

Trump's supporters will be able to claim that they threw a load of dynamite at the establishment during the primaries, but at what cost? I'm not sure that in hindsight they will be pleased with the consequences.






Wednesday, January 13, 2016

No SOTU for Me

For the first time since my early elementary school years, I had no interest in watching the State of the Union address to Congress last night. This makes me sad, as it was standard practice for me to count down the hours to this annual must-see TV and to have appropriate snacks at the ready. My decision instead to flip between the Maryland basketball game (which was hard to watch) and Modern Family reruns has nothing to do with the fact that President Obama was the man at the lectern. My feelings would have been the same regardless of who was delivering the speech.

I have spent most of my life following politics and working on campaigns and immersing myself in events at the state and local level. But, it’s all become so ugly. Where is the civil discourse to be found within the yelling and name calling and ten-second sound bites? We’ve replaced hours of standing and listening to Lincoln and Douglas debate the great issues of the day with a comments section on Facebook that is hateful and ill-informed.
I do not like politics in the digital age, as last night friends from one side of the aisle were posting about how it was difficult even to look at Obama on the screen while the other side made fun of Governor Haley’s smile, because that’s what matters, and called her a betrayer of her sex. Instead of this (almost) universal and unprecedented access to information and communication creating bridges for more dialogue and understanding, we instead now seem to take virtual cover with like-minded souls, dig in our heels, and create an increasingly divisive society.

My frustration can be illustrated with another detail from last night’s speech that I did discover today. Kim Davis, the small town Kentucky clerk who found international notoriety for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, apparently was the guest of some congressman and proceeded to look unimpressed throughout President Obama’s remarks. Take a quick trip through social media this morning and you will find thousands of comments making fun of how awful her hair looked and how she was dressed too casually for the occasion in a super tacky outfit and could have at least worn her best overalls. I do not agree with the stance taken by Ms. Davis and believe she should have done her job, but what is the point of mocking her appearance? How am I supposed to take your position seriously when your chosen tactics are to tease and bully? I stop listening when that childishness starts. Don’t you have logical and mature arguments on your side? Yes, you do. But yet this default response to belittling happens ALL. THE. TIME. 
Free speech is important, without exception, and especially must be protected when it runs the risk of offending someone. We do not (or at least should not) have the right in this country to be safe from being offended. I get that and support it. But where is the balance? Where are the thoughtful disagreements playing out in the public arena to counter the name calling and taunts?

There are countless examples of the devolution of discourse and respect in the political arena since the start of the new millennium (and the rise of the internet and cowards who hide behind a keyboard – not a coincidence), but I shall attempt to count a few here anyway:
1. Several years ago, Bush was a fascist and a Nazi. Now, Obama has been given the same labels. Guess what? Neither man qualifies. As someone who used to have such passion for government and discussion of the grand ideas that moved the beautiful experiment that is the United States, I am not exaggerating when I say it breaks my heart that people glibly throw around such horrific terms. It’s absurd and harmful.

2. Bush was drawn as a monkey. Obama was drawn as a monkey. There also has been toilet paper created with both of their images so that a person taking part in private bathroom practices can act on their displeasure accordingly. Some adults find this funny, much like a 12-year-old boy would.
3. The Dixie Chicks were called traitors and exiled from the country music community for years because they spoke of their displeasure with President Bush. Some of the same people who burned Dixie Chicks’ CDs and demanded they be taken off the airwaves ten years ago are now calling President Obama a moron and an a**hole and a global embarrassment. Engage in double standards much?

4. There are thoughtful politicians out there with great ideas for improving everything from our neighborhoods to our national security. You rarely hear them, though, over the voices of those who want to carpet bomb the Middle East until it glows (here’s looking at you, Cruz) and those who label all conservatives as people who want to bring back the plantation economy, make all women walk five feet behind their husbands, and give your entire paycheck to billionaires (hello, Secretary Clinton). Fear, stereotypes, hyperbole . . . both sides use these tactics to get television time and spectators.
5. Bakers who own a private business must be hateful and worthy of financial ruin because their religious beliefs restrict the work they are willing to do. Muslims in this country will have enough power in twenty years to implement Sharia law and adulterers will be stoned . . . and the President is leading this effort. People who are pro-choice hate babies. People who are pro-life hate women. Syrian refugees want to come here and blow up our cities. If you don’t welcome all refugees here without reservation, you are a xenophobic bigot. There is no gray, only black and white. Compromise and deference are considered weak.

6. Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
Let me close by taking it out of the political sphere and summarizing my feelings this way – I want to live in a world in which both Caitlyn Jenner and Tim Tebow can live and express their worldview openly. Maybe this pairing seems odd and not well-thought out, but for whatever reason it’s exactly the sentiment that came to mind as I was driving to work today. You can think Jenner has a psychological disorder (I don’t agree with you), but respect her as a fellow human being. You can think that Tebow is na├»ve and foolish to believe in a mythical creature in the sky and to live his life by those set of morals (I don’t agree with you), but not mock him. Why are so many people afraid or threatened by either what they don’t understand or that with which they disagree? Why do people get SO ANGRY over differences before first trying to have a single conversation?
So, that’s it. When we arrive at a place where Jenners and Tebows live in peace and people actually want to discuss policy differences in a civil and educated manner instead of with absurd memes and graphics that get spread around the internet or through opinions expressed with a lot of capital letters but very little punctuation on Facebook and Twitter, then perhaps I will find my way back into the thick of it all. In the meantime, I will continue to vote (likely third party in the general presidential election if this thing continues to roll as it has been) and I will continue to talk with my children about the important issues and how others will disagree with them but still actually be nice people with valid points. I probably will still write about policy and personalities when a topic strikes me. I just will approach it all from a greater distance than I ever have before.