Monday, December 31, 2018

2019: A Look Back


It really is true that each year seems to go by faster than the last. Before this millennium leaves its teenage years behind, I thought I would take a few minutes to reflect on the past twelve months.

I think I did a pretty good job keeping my resolutions for the year. I'm finally getting seven hours of sleep consistently for the first time in my adult life. Forcing myself to bed at a reasonable hour and keeping my phone out of my room helped with that. I finished a half marathon in April in just under two hours and completed my first (and probably only!) full marathon in September. There may have been 3672 people who finished in front of me, but I finished! The side effect of eating clean and my regular exercise and getting good sleep meant I got rid of those extra twenty pounds that slowly have crept onto my body over the past fifteen years. I'm excited to report that I'm forty-four years old and feel stronger than ever!

Catherine and I enjoyed a fun mother-daughter trip to Chicago in February to celebrate her entrance into the teenage years. It was the first visit to that city for both of us. I only have a few more years with her in our home and the time is going by so quickly. I'm thankful that we had a couple of days to talk and laugh together. And I'm thankful for great friends who took care of my boy (who entered double digits this summer!) while we were gone.

Speaking of travel, our trip to New York City and Boston over fall break was one to remember! The kids finally got to meet their new cousin, who is beautiful and amazing, and then we rented a car and headed up to Boston for a couple of days, which was necessary because I challenge you to name a more beautiful place than New England in October! I showed them my old apartment and we even took bus #57 that I rode to work at BU every day. I love Nashville, but there always will be a part of me drawn back to the history and the seasons and the people of Boston and the too brief time that I lived there.

The Terps shocked everyone with their dominating run through March Madness this spring, beating Tennessee by a convincing margin in the finals! And even I didn't expect for the football team to follow that up with a one-loss season (thanks, Rutgers) and a Big Ten championship. Fear the turtle, indeed! 

I've read a lot this year, which was another goal of mine. I turned off the political talk shows and opted for audiobooks during my commute. I now always have a book in my purse so I'm not tempted to scroll mindlessly through my phone while in line somewhere. And, ending my night with a few minutes of reading in bed instead of dragging myself off the couch after staring at the television too long has helped with the aforementioned sleep improvement.

While I haven't accomplished quite as much with my writing as I had hoped, I did make a lot of progress on two book manuscripts - one about the silent majority of political moderates and how we need to use our voices to bring civility and compromise back to government and the other one a "devotional for doubters." For years, I wanted to read from those who struggled with the Bible and tried to reconcile the seeming theological contradictions but who also felt the call and desire for faith. So, I finally decided to write what I wanted to read. (And shout out to writers like Anne Lamott and Nadia Bolz Weber whose books about their faith journeys changed my life over the past couple of years.)

On the topic of faith, after feeling distant from God for several years, I'm so thankful that 2019 brought a renewed relationship with Him. Making it a priority to spend every morning in silent meditation, reading books that challenged and pushed my understanding of theology, and reaching out for conversation with others who have felt that so much of what they see of Christianity does not align with Christ's love and teaching has been an amazing growth experience for me.

I'm proud of myself for being more social in 2019! My daughter made me promise to "get myself out there and meet more people." That's hard to do when you have full custody of two children, but I finally admitted that perhaps I had been hiding behind my kids a bit. Catherine and Ian are older now, and actually are happy for me to leave the house. It's scary to be single and in your mid-40s and an admitted introvert, but I also knew I needed to expand my circle of already amazing friends. So, starting with a group jog around the lake on New Year's Day with a local running group and then saying "yes" to events with some new social groups even if I didn't know anyone, 2019 has been a great year for meeting people.

I'm excited to see what 2020 brings! We get to elect a new president . . . finally! I'm so glad that Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) stepped forward to challenge Trump in the primary and I look forward to working hard on his campaign. Catherine will be starting high school and Ian will be starting middle school in 2020. That's nuts. I will have to renew my driver's license and I actually really like the photo I got for my license in 2015 so I hope I can use it again.

Well, I guess I will sign off here. One of those people I met this year just let me know that dinner is ready. The kids have been helping him in the kitchen for the past hour. After a decade of being single, I am happy to report that being in a relationship again has been better and a more seamless transition than I hoped. We just fit. I finally know what it's like to have a partner and the kids are thrilled to have a man around who they trust and who loves them like his own. (OK, my son wanted to beat him up for the first month or two, but he has come around and now adores him.) While I usually was just fine being on my own, I will admit there were times I wondered why so many of my friends were able to find new relationships while I continued to remain single. Now I know that every moment was worth the wait and my family is right where it is supposed to be.

Here's to an amazing 2020 filled with love and kindness and community!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The President of My Adolescence

The Velvet Revolution in Prague - 1989
Ronald Reagan was the president of my childhood, but President George H. W. Bush was the man who sat in the Oval Office for most of my adolescence. I was in high school from 1989 through 1993, almost mirroring the presidency of Bush 41. It was a stunning and amazing time to grow in my political awareness and be a witness to history as the global power structure that had held firm for forty years dissolved.

During the summer before I started high school, just a few months into Bush's term, a college student stood in front of a tank at Tiananmen Square in China, declaring in courageous silence the words that Patrick Henry had proclaimed two hundred years earlier - he wanted liberty or he instead was willing to face death.

The autumn of my freshman year, the Berlin Wall came down. My peers and I had spent our entire lives intrigued and frightened by the people who lived on the other side of the "iron curtain." Were Soviet kids just like us? Did they play games and enjoy time with their families? Countless movies had the plotline of facing off against the Commies. Even my favorite sitcoms featured those scary Soviets (anyone else remember when Alex P. Keaton played chess against a Soviet teen and they realized they weren't so different after all?). And now, the secret world was being exposed. As everyone stepped onto the bus to head to school the next morning, we were asking each other, "Did you watch what happened at the Berlin Wall last night?" It was amazing.

Just a month later, hundreds and then thousands upon thousands of students assembled in Prague to demand the same freedoms they saw their neighbors in East Germany now experiencing. Eventually there were a half million people gathered in the center of the city, most of them only five to ten years older than my 14-year-old self, in defiance of a Communist regime that had oppressed them for decades. Their energy and their cause spread throughout Eastern Europe. Absolutely breathtaking.

Only two years later, the entire Soviet Union would be no more. Gorbachev resigned his position and Boris Yeltsin took over as leader of Russia in a world that now looked very different. I remember lying in bed wide awake all night as I listened to news reports of the Communist government's collapse on my radio. I get teary eyed even now thinking about those years of sweeping change. The years of the United States versus the USSR were no more. It's difficult for me to explain to my children what is was like to be their ages and to have an "enemy" like the Soviet Union. As the saying goes, you had to be there.

While Communism fell in Romania and Poland and the Baltics and Yugoslavia, the United States led an invasion to push Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. Some of my friends handed out flyers urging everyone to attend "No War for Oil" protests in D.C. We didn't have cable at my house, but I remember watching 24-hour coverage on CNN with my friends. It was the first war to be broadcast in real time across the globe. We watched the attacks as green streaks shown through night vision goggles. We learned names like Powell and Schwarzkopf.

Whitney Houston sang her heart out at the Super Bowl with a rendition of the National Anthem that is still considered the standard, as our celebration over a quick victory in the Middle East just several months later allowed us to honor and thank our Gulf War troops as well as try to assuage our collective guilt and make amends with our Vietnam veterans who faced a much different homecoming less than twenty years earlier.

Through all of this, the United States was led by President George H. W. Bush. Here is what I remember about his role during this transformative time - not much. And that is a huge compliment. Bush did not, usually, make the moments about him. He did not inject his personality into the amazing events taking place around the globe. He was an even-tempered leader who was taught by his mama not to talk about himself too much.

President Bush guided our nation through these transformative years without comments like "look what I did" and without pushing to be front and center at every photo opportunity. (I actually remember more of his vice president, Dan Quayle, in the media than the president himself. Between the potato"e" scandal and the chastising of Murphy Brown, how could Bush 41 compete with Quayle?) President George H. W. Bush was the right man for the times in which he served. He did not try to overshadow the events that deserved center stage.

This is not to say that Bush was without his faults. As a high school student, I wondered along with many of my teenaged peers if the Gulf War was warranted. I was concerned about what kind of legacy our intervention would create. (My friends and I also discussed in worried whispers the rumor that Iraq planned to send people over here to drive around the Beltway with poison stuck in car exhaust pipes that would kill scores of us.) Bush and his predecessor did not do enough to address the AIDS crisis that swept through our country in the 1980s and early 1990s (and that was the primary reason that Health class became required as I entered high school). He certainly seemed out of touch when shocked by an electronic price scanner at the grocery store. He was unable to maneuver his way out of a difficult economy and his popularity just after the Gulf War was not enough to prevent his defeat to Bill Clinton my senior year in high school.

But he also worked with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to pass the Immigration Act of 1990, which increased legal immigration to our country by forty percent. He wanted to make it easier for people to come here and be a part of an American dream that is better when more voices contribute to its telling. While awkward in his understanding of the deeper issues at play in the Rodney King beating and riots in Los Angeles after the initial verdict, Bush was quick to employ investigators to achieve justice for King at the federal level. He was a commander-in-chief who sent young men and women into battle with the reluctance and with the measured force of someone who had faced war himself. He did not see Democrats as the enemy. In fact, Bill Clinton became one of his most treasured friends and allies for important charity work. He spent his entire life in service to a nation he honored. He acted with humility and class in twenty-five years that he lived after he left the White House. He was part of a great love story.

And, from my selfish and personal perspective, he was president as the world changed around me and as I moved from being a kid to adulthood. I will remember him fondly and wish him eternal peace with his beloved Barbara at his side.

 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Dear Veterans


Maybe you were part of a group of farmers and blacksmiths who fought against the most powerful and best trained military in the world because you knew that taxation without representation was not right. Maybe you wanted to preserve a union that had been fractured due to slavery and changing economies. Perhaps you fought in trenches in the war that was meant to end all others, as mustard gas swarmed around you and the British and French allies standing beside you. It could be that you were a scared teenager sent to fight in a jungle only to return home to a country that didn't appreciate you or maybe even disdained you. Maybe you were charged with providing desperately needed food to a starving nation while warlords violently attacked your every effort. 

Did you decide to enlist because serving in the military is part of a proud family tradition and you were honored to wear the uniform as your father and grandfather had done before you? Did you walk to the nearest recruitment center after you turned on the radio and heard FDR telling the nation about a day that will live in infamy? Did you sign a contract to serve the day after you watched those towers fall on your television screen? Did you join the military out of economic necessity? Or perhaps to choose a life different from the one offered by a family or neighborhood that was steering you down the wrong path? Maybe you didn't want to join at all but your number got called and you answered for duty.

Maybe you look forward to the opportunity to be a guest speaker at Veterans Day programs held at your local elementary school every year so that you can share your important experiences with the youngest generation among us. Maybe you don't like to talk about your service with anyone. At all.

Did you have a large family waiting for you at the base when you returned from your latest deployment? Perhaps even a baby you were meeting for the first time? Or, did you walk off that plane and scan the crowd not to find a single familiar face excited to welcome you home?

Did you walk through the liberated concentration camps and stare at the gaunt faces with the skeletal bodies and understand the full weight of the atrocities you had been fighting? Were you were one of the Marines who survived when your barracks in Beirut were bombed while hundreds of brothers around you died? Did an IED in Iraq claim your leg or arm or eye?

Maybe you fought a Communist regime that starved and massacred its own people or fought with Mexico over the correct southern border for our expanding country. Did you stand opposite your cousin on a bloody field in Gettysburg? Did you fight in the snow or the desert or on beaches or through the streets of a city?

Some of you were sent on a mission that had a clear purpose and with intentions that were noble. For others, perhaps the orders you received sometimes left you wondering why you even were there in the first place. You have served under presidents who knew what it was like to face war and approached sending you into battle or hostile territories with the solemnness that such a decision deserves and other leaders who perhaps were reckless with your lives. But still you went.

The experiences of our veterans are diverse and each story is one that deserves to be known with rapt attention. But despite all of the differences in experiences and geography and outcome, there are few things that are true no matter what.

First, you are brave. So brave. You stand in the line of fire to defend millions of people you do not know. You believe this country and its ideals are worth giving your life, if necessary. Not only that, but you offer your life to build schools and wells for fresh water. You offer protection for the most vulnerable around the globe. You leave your own children behind in an effort to ensure that I can continue to live in a free and safe land where I can hold my own kids closely whenever I want. Many of you were just a few years older than my daughter when you went to Antietam or the Spring Offensive or Omaha Beach or the Korean Peninsula or Saigon or Baghdad or Kandahar. That's stunning.

Second, I don't think about you enough. It's true. I talk about your courage and sacrifice with my children on days like today. When I see you in uniform, I try to remember to thank you for your service. But when I'm sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal with my kids later this month, will I take time to think about the many holidays you missed with your families while serving overseas? When I see the homeless gentleman who stands in the same spot every day on my commute to work with a sign that reads "Veteran. Please help," am I doing all I can to fulfill his request?

Third, I am thankful for you. Just reflecting on the sacrifices that you make and your subscription to the notion of a purpose bigger than self is amazing. And to think about the contributions you continued to make to this country through pursuing your education or raising your families or caring for others who served alongside you and keeping alive the memories of those who did not return . . . my awe and respect grows. Thank you.

In humble gratitude,
Sarah

Friday, November 9, 2018

Meet Me in the Middle - My Next Steps Thanks to Leslie Knope


The morning after the midterm elections, my wise daughter said to me, "I know you are upset today. You need to listen to some good music and stay away from social media."

Her advice was excellent and much needed. I kept a safe distance from my Facebook account and I made sure 90s R & B was coming through my speakers at work, in the car, and at home. I also added my surefire healing activities of watching a ridiculous number of episodes of Parks and Recreation and finding any words coming out of Tina Fey's mouth on YouTube and pressing play on those. Because I love her so much.

I was having a hard time this week not because every candidate for whom I voted on Tuesday lost. That part is OK. It's certainly not the first time I've chosen candidates who were not victorious. But I really struggled to understand how so many in my state could stand witness to the man who has lived in the White House for the past two years and decide, "Hey, I want to double down on that!" with the election of Marsha Blackburn to the United State Senate by a wider margin than most anticipated. Her most widely circulated ad featured her hugging Trump on a stage at the end of a rally during which he mocked her opponent and called him names. That's sweet. Still, she won 93 of our 95 counties.

I wrote on the morning of the election, before I knew the results that would test my resolve, that we must choose to love our neighbors because that is a bipartisan act that surely will make for a better America.  And I believe that with all of my heart. So, I took a few days to regroup. I wanted to let the initial disappointment move through me before I typed any words with emotion that I would regret.

So, I listened to Blackstreet and Dru Hill and Ginuwine.

Then one of my co-workers came into my office and said that Trump had called a CNN reporter a horrible person and an enemy of the state and then told another reporter she should be ashamed for asking a racist question.

I turned up Jodeci and Silk and Boyz II Men.

That same co-worker of mine later informed me that the CNN reporter had lost his White House access and Trump had used that same press conference to call out fellow Republicans by name who had lost their elections and mocked them as being losers because they didn't support him enough. Oh, and Trump just fired ("asked to resign") Jeff Sessions! Actually, he didn't do it. He asked Kelly Conaway to do it. Way to step up there, Mr. President.

My efforts to block out the news were failing! I made SWV and Joe and Keith Sweat even louder but my mind started to spin. Shouldn't we be concerned with these continued attacks on a free press? I mean, I like the First Amendment to the Constitution . . . am I the only one? And, isn't it odd that Trump fired the attorney general the same day that he realized that Democrats would control the House next session and therefore likely would start investigations? Trump now wants a loyalist in that office who will protect him at all costs.

Then, I woke up on Thursday morning to hear that twelve people who just wanted to have an evening of drinking and dancing with friends had been killed by gunfire at a bar in California. And some of them had survived the mass shooting in Las Vegas just a year ago. And I was disgusted that I was not more shocked that this happened. And not surprised when it quickly moved away from having "top story" status on major news outlets because it's just another instance of many innocent people being killed by guns in America . . . nothing unique to report here.

As Mark Morrison and R. Kelly played in the background, I knew I could not remain in my R & B bubble much longer.

And it's not that my frustration is limited to the dangerous antics of the Trump administration. I think Jim Acosta is obnoxious and grandstanding and clearly has an agenda every time he asks Trump a question. The way he was treated by the president is awful and he did not deserve to lose his White House access, but let's not pretend he is a completely innocuous journalist just trying to report the news objectively.

I also did not like the repeated pronouncements regarding how many women and LBGT and minority candidates had won office for the first time. It's not because I don't believe we need diverse representation in our elected bodies - I hold strongly to the idea that we need a variety of experiences and philosophies injected in the political process and that people, especially children, need to see others who look like them or share some of their struggles being active participants in the halls of power. It's just these "electoral firsts" only were celebrated if the winning candidate fit a certain agenda.

I didn't see too many celebrities or media outlets excited to share the news that Republican Marsha Blackburn is the first ever female senator from the state of Tennessee or Republican Young Kim of California is the first Korean American woman in Congress. Because those women do not fit the narrative.

Let's certainly encourage people of all backgrounds to run for office and become more involved with campaigns. We do this amazing, multicultural country no favors when everyone working in the Capitol looks like Mitch McConnell. But here's the deal - there are some fairly awful gays and Muslims and females - I don't want to elect them just because they aren't white dudes. Let's be careful with our identity politics.

And, I have a few questions for the voters who inhabit the far left part of the political spectrum. Why did some of you have hang out and protest in front of Tucker Carlson's home, where his wife and children live? Why give out Sean Hannity's home address and promise the same there? Why do you default to cries of "Nazi" and "fascist"? Why do you insist on asking when "the stupid people are going to stop voting against their own interests"? Why scream at Ted Cruz when he is just trying to eat dinner? You look obnoxious and you aren't going to win over the heart and minds of your fellow Americans with such tactics.

So, here I am. A moderate who is frustrated by the behavior of both of our increasingly polarized parties. And, I KNOW I am not alone. There are so many of us across the country who believe that Republicans AND Democrats have ideas worthy of consideration and debate. We believe that America is better when we work together instead of declaring those of a differing political opinion the enemy or traitors. We want to vote for a person based on the ideas and the enthusiasm that he or she brings to a campaign, not blindly based on a R or a D next to their names on a ballot. We find Trump's behavior and maneuvers mildly troubling and silly at best and antithetical to our freedoms and the Constitution at worst.

What is the moderate majority to do these days, when candidates are forced to steer hard right or left to gain approval of the party faithful? How do we champion bipartisanship once again as being essential to American progress instead of a word that is reviled? Because I will tell you the truth - I shared with more than person this week that a growing part of me doesn't want to vote anymore. Elections are being pushed so far to the extremes that I feel lost. (And this was a moment of temporary insanity on my part. Of course I will vote. Election day is like Christmas to me.)

In a episode of the sixth season of Parks and Recreation, an episode that I watched for the fourth or fifth time just this week, Lesli Knope loses in a recall election. At first, Knope is resigned to sit on the couch and watch television and just not care anymore. She is frustrated by politics and the people around her. But then Ann Perkins, the "poetic, noble land-mermaid," reminds Knope of who she is and how much she cares about her community. And Leslie Knope resolves to keep working and caring. Side bar - if you never have watched Parks and Recreation or you have watched it and you don't think it's brilliant, I don't understand your life.

I turned off my 90s R & B that I had been using a crutch to distract from news swirling all around me (but only for a little while because 90s R & B is the best ever) and resolved to be like Knope. To that end, here are the four goals I have moving forward, at least politically speaking:

1. Advocate for moderate politicians who value working across the aisle and who have track records of success in doing so. Who out there knows Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland? I love him. He is a Republican who just won re-election in a very blue state. That's unheard of. He also consistently holds one of the highest approval ratings in the country. His personal story is compelling. He is a strong leader and a great listener. I very much want him to run for president. It's voices like his that need more attention in America.

2. I've just started a rough outline for a book, working title Meet Me in the Middle. I've wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. I have a couple of other book ideas swirling around in my brain, but this one now takes precedence. I want to speak to the longing that I know so many of us have to find our common political ground. I'm totally not kidding about this and plan to work diligently on this project in 2019 (I need to graduate with my paralegal certificate and get through the holidays first).

3. I want to run for office someday. Not now. I'm a single parent with sole custody of my kids. There is no extra time to devote to campaigning or serving. But I want to run. So, look for me on a local ballot sometime after 2027 when the boy moves out of my house.

(For full disclosure - I ran for office once before. It was a seriously ill-advised Metro Council run in 2003, when I had lived here less than a year after moving from Maryland. In retrospect, I wouldn't have voted for me then. I came in third out of three, with victory going to a crooked good old boy. In going door to door, prospective voters told me that had to vote for him because they grew up with him. He did nothing for his constituents once elected. I did work diligently against his re-election four years later and he became the only incumbent not to win a second term that year. I know when I run again, I will be ready. I will have 25 years of living in a state that I've grown to love surrounded by people who I want to serve.)

4. Love my neighbors. I fall short every day. I get frustrated when people think differently than me. I'm guessing many of us are guilty of that. But, I really want to start every day with the intention of love and kindness. Because that helps us see each other as unique humans with emotions and struggles and triumphs and not Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives. It's harder to lump a neighbor (and I use "neighbor" here to refer to everyone because we all are neighbors) in a category as being "one of them" if we know her children and her fears. And to that end, I wish no harm to Donald Trump. I don't call him silly names and scream personal insults. I would be content for him to live his golden years in a way that brings him peace and happiness. I just really don't want him to be president anymore.

So, thank you, Leslie Knope, for being the catalyst that pulled me out of my post-election slump. And thank you to Shai for being there for me as therapy until I was ready to read the news again.


How do you feel after the midterm elections? Hopeful? Frustrated? Thrilled? Despondent? Do you agree with me that there is a moderate majority out there that feels left out by the extremes on both sides? Or, is that just wishful thinking on my part?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Donald Trump is Not a Nationalist


I want my president to love America. I love this country! There are plenty of places around the world where I could not vote or decide who to marry (or later divorce if circumstances warrant that difficult decision) or get an education or work just because I'm a woman. There are countries in which violence and poverty are all a majority of its citizens have ever known.

We also have mountains and oceans and farms and swamps and snow and heat and deserts. That's amazing. We have people from all over the world who long to live within our borders for the freedoms and the opportunities we provide. That's really amazing. Oh, and the Constitution? Most people who have known me for a minute know how I feel about that document. ALL the warm and fuzzy feelings of love.

And we have football. Not the kind during which the athletes primarily use their feet and the rest of the world really enjoys, but the kind that involves nachos and an overzealous protection of the quarterback and the screen on my television every weekend in autumn. 

So, yes, I want the occupant of the White House to think this place is amazing (while also acknowledging that we always are striving to be a "more perfect Union" and we haven't hit the mark yet).

To that end, President Trump recently has proclaimed at rallies that he is a proud "nationalist," which is met with raucous approval from those in attendance. Merriam-Webster defines a nationalist as someone who subscribes to "nationalism," and nationalism is defined as "loyalty and devotion to a nation; exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests." Fair enough. It's a solid argument to say our leaders should be loyal to our nation and promote its interests above those of other countries.

Critics have derided Trump's embrace of this word, though, as it has come to be associated with notions of nativism and a sense of superiority over other cultures and nations. It eludes to the concept of walling our nation off and just looking out for ourselves. It pits us versus them and insinuates that we are better than our fellow men and women around the globe.

Here's the thing, though. I don't think people who are concerned about President Trump's stance as a nationalist in the worst possible sense of the word really should be upset. Why? Because I don't think Trump particularly cares about America all that much. I don't mean that to sound super negative . . . I don't at all think that he actively dislikes our country. He's not super and steadfastly into her, either. I don't think he knows that much about the United States or offers this nation much time of reflection or critical thought.

So why does Trump state he is a nationalist while speaking to his supporters at the ridiculous rallies he enjoys so much? Because Trump cares about Trump. That's it. His concerns (assuming his internal dialogue occurs in the third person) are "What is good for Donald Trump?" and "What will make Donald Trump happy?" So, he just says whatever will get people to cheer for him. He likes cheering. A lot. And saying "nationalist" at a Trump rally is a great way to hear some cheering. To that same end, Trump likes to throw out a few other proven phrases like "Hillary Clinton!" (to which all rally attendees are required to respond "Lock her up!") or "jobs, not mobs" or "anchor babies" and then just soak in the applause. These moments are ego strokers for him.

Does Trump really believe in the words that he says? Eh. Probably not really. He does not seem to have a consistent belief system, after all. He's adamantly pro-choice and then he wants women who have abortions to face criminal charges. He thinks the electoral college is ridiculous and then it's pretty awesome when it means he wins. He's a Democrat and votes as such and hangs in those circles for many years but now all that has changed. He pledges to repeal and replace Obamacare but then decides some of its components could stay . . . which gets him close to his previous stance in support of universal health care. He claims to be a born again Christian but also cannot think of a single thing for which he needs forgiveness. He's been known to flip flop on an issue multiple times in one day, from immigration to trade policy to who he should fire, based on the most recent person to have his ear.

Without consistent policy to guide him, it comes back to the need for applause and validation. If Trump felt like people would cheer for him, I think he would stand on a stage and proclaim that we need to ban all guns or that Colin Kaepernick is taking an important stance or Nancy Pelosi is an effective legislative leader or we should consider Spanish as our country's official language.

So, I don't believe that Donald Trump is a nationalist in the way that his detractors condemn. I also don't think he is really a racist, as many say. He doesn't put enough thought into his language or his opinions about anyone or anything to be a racist.  (Does he embolden people who are racist? Sure. Because they cheer for him when he says things they like and, as already noted, he likes that so he continues to do it.) He just likes Donald Trump. Very, very much. And he wants to stand in front of adoring people who loudly share how much they like the words that come out of his mouth, whether or not those words mean anything to him at all.  


Saturday, October 6, 2018

When Women Support Women But Only When Those Women Think Like Women Should . . .


In a tweet that went viral through thousands of retweets and shares on other social media platforms by celebrities and "regular folks" yesterday, a woman named Amy Westervelt proposed that Senator Susan Collins props up the patriarchy and is "our Uncle Tom." I think this is ridiculous.

Senator Collins did her research. She studied Judge Kavanaugh's judicial history. She interviewed him for two hours. She discussed his nomination with her colleagues and her constituents. And then, she stood on the Senate floor and shared her decision in a speech that was viewed by millions of people - a speech that she knew would make many people angry and result in threats to her career and her personal safety. But she did it anyway. Instead of being called brave, though, for standing up for what she believes, she is called an Uncle Tom. Instead of getting credit for being an intelligent woman who is capable of thinking about an issue and reaching her own conclusion, she is deemed a pawn of the patriarchy.

Because for some, there is only one correct way to think if you are a woman.

I don't know if I would have made the same decision that Senator Collins did. But, I respect that she came to a thoughtful decision and was willing to proclaim it. (And then Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia only quietly echoed his support for Kavanaugh after Collins loudly announced hers . . . wuss.)

If you do not agree with Collins' speech and her vote, then work to make sure she is no longer a senator after her next campaign. I get it! Go for it!

But also this . . .

If you truly are an advocate for women's equality, for women's intelligence and strength and courage and resilience and beautiful diversity, then shouldn't you be willing to acknowledge that women might possibly have differing opinions that still are of value without dismissing them as Uncle Toms or sellouts or making fun of their appearance or speech (yeah, that happened yesterday, too)?

Are you willing to accept that women have thought through both their pro-life and pro-choice stances (I dislike both of those terms, by the way)?

Are you willing to listen both to women who want birth control offered in the office of every high school nurse and women who advocate for no sexual education at all in schools?

Are you willing to listen to women who don't feel like they are oppressed by the patriarchy on the regular and those who truly see their personal and professional choices being restrained by the men in their lives and society in general?

Do you believe that women of substance and intelligence can believe both women and men when accusations and rebuttals are shared? Is it possible to have conflicted and complicated feelings?

In the six presidential elections in which I've had the honor to vote, I have voted for one Democrat, three Republicans, and two "others." I'm definitely a "vote the person, not the party" kind of gal. (Although I do tend to vote more "D" at the local level . . . it's the staunch federalist in me)  I certainly don't believe that women HAVE to vote Democrat in order to be enlightened or independent or "woke." I think there is room for valuable dialogue and compromise on both sides of the aisle - a waning sentiment, I'm afraid. 

Yesterday, comedian and activist Chelsea Handler took to her Instagram page to advocate voting for women in November, simply because they are women. When asked in a comment about the value of voting for a woman based on her sex, Ms. Handler responded that "until we have equality represented in our government, women will never be treated equally. We need to get women in office in order for that to happen." I don't think she really believes this, though. Not completely.

Question for Ms. Handler: In Tennessee, we have a race for United State Senate that has Republican Marsha Blackburn facing off against Democrat Phil Bredesen. Rep. Blackburn has TV commercials that feature her embracing Donald Trump before Trump mocks her opponent. Blackburn is anxious to "build that wall" and she would not have kind words to say about the abortions you share that you have had. As a woman, should I vote for Blackburn because she's a woman and we need equality of women and men in elected office? I'm guessing that Blackburn is an exception to your efforts.

And, for the record, I will not be voting for Blackburn. I mean, congrats to her on having ovaries but I'm not going to support anyone who opts for embracing Trump as her key to victory. And, I don't base my vote on a candidate's estrogen levels.

When we have smart, capable, confident women who represent a variety of perspectives and experiences and priorities and are willing to engage in our national conversation with others who are willing to listen, that is when our nation will be at its strongest.

I'm not talking about incorporating into legitimate conversation women who spew hate or advocate abuse or engage in racism or other damaging prejudices. I just want women to have respect and appreciation for other women who have something different to say. Of course, this means accepting that some women think other women are Uncle Toms and believing they should have a voice to express that! And I do! It also means that I can say I disagree with you on that point and I think you are selling women short.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just a pawn of the patriarchy, too. But I don't think so. I think I'm a really smart, independent, funny bordering on hilarious, sensitive woman, professional, mother, daughter, and friend who wants to learn from the wide spectrum of thought from the women around me.

With that in mind, I would love to know what YOU think, too!

Friday, September 28, 2018

To My Daughter - It's OK to Have Questions


I had the hearings on all day at my desk yesterday and listened to as much as work meetings and other responsibilities allowed. I thought the entire day was heartbreaking.

Professor Ford's opening statement and subsequent testimony were powerful. She is a woman who undoubtedly has endured trauma and I am thankful for her courage in speaking up despite being, as she admits, terrified. I cried as she spoke of what she endured as a fifteen-year-old girl. Because of her willingness to share her experiences, there was a 147% increase in calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline yesterday. That is heartbreaking but also so important.

I also teared up during Judge Kavanaugh's opening statement. He has daughters who love him very much, who undoubtedly are very confused about the accusations being made against their dad. If he is indeed innocent of the charges being made against him, then his anger and his emotion are understandable. I also will admit that as the afternoon wore on, my distaste for him grew. He was dismissive, arrogant, and really eager to share how much he likes beer. I felt the entitled young man who attended Georgetown Prep was letting himself show. I didn't like him.

Despite my strong reactions, I still have questions. Am I allowed to admit that? To be honest, I'm nervous even writing this blog post. According some on social media, there is only one way to think. If I see the humanity in all parties involved as these tragic events unfold, then I'm a pawn in the patriarchy that hates women and you should feel sorry for my daughter because she is being raised by me.

I want my daughter to know that she is allowed to have her own opinions. She is allowed to find both a woman and a man believable. She is allowed to reach her own conclusions with her own amazing mind. My daughter needs to know that she is no less a woman of worth and relevance if sometimes her conclusions do not align in complete lockstep with other women, as long as her beliefs are reached thoughtfully and respectfully.

I have talked with my daughter about what is happening in the Senate this week. I have told her how brave Professor Ford is for coming forward to speak her truth. I have told her that Judge Kavanaugh just as adamantly denies anything happened.

I have told her that EVERY GIRL AND WOMAN deserves to be heard. I've talked to her about the reasons that some women don't come forward and how waiting for decades makes their claims no less legitimate. She needs to know that so many women are afraid to speak of their own assaults or excuse them away. She needs to know that she sadly still lives in a society in which the man usually will be believed over the woman. She needs to know that one in five women will be raped. She needs to know the number of women who experience some form of sexual assault is much higher. She needs to know that an overwhelming number of women (around 80%) know the person who accosts them, as Professor Ford has alleged.

She also needs to know that nearly 10% of rape victims are male and one in six boys and men experience some type of sexual assault. That matters, too, and their stories also need to be heard.

SHE NEEDS TO KNOW THAT ONLY TWENTY-THREE PERCENT OF RAPES AND SEXUAL ASSAULTS ARE REPORTED TO POLICE. That is so damning of our society and justice system.

I want her to be a friend who listens when other girls tell their stories. (She already has been that friend once, when in fourth grade she listened to another girl's horrific story of abuse. I am proud to share that she handled it with compassion and love and, with my help, got the abuse reported.) I want my girl to be heard and held by a village of women around her if she, tragically, ever needs to share a story of assault herself.

But I also will tell you that my twelve-year-old daughter has questions about all of the parties involved and she needs to know that's OK as well. She is allowed to explore all of her feelings and doubts. I am never going to tell her how she is SUPPOSED to feel just because she is a girl. That notion is as insulting to womanhood as anything else. We will discuss everything, and I will listen more than I talk.

The truth is that at forty-three years old, I'm still working through so many questions. Like this . . .

How many women who are understandably speaking out in anger about the Kavanaugh nomination now also spoke out against Bill Clinton in 1994 when Paula Jones' allegations became public? Or, how many even voted for Clinton's second term in 1996? How many made fun of Jones' hair and accent? I was in college and I remember that happening a lot.

That was more than twenty years ago, you say. We live in a different, more aware culture now, and when you know better, you do better. I absolutely believe all of these things to be true.

However, many people STILL treat Bill Clinton like a senior statesman. We listen to what he has to say on important matters. This is despite additional rape allegations from Juanita Broaddrick and sexual assault allegations from Kathleen Willey and admitted consensual sex with a young woman over whom he held a lot of power. This is despite the fact that just this year President Clinton said he would not have approached any of the allegations against him any differently.

Less than two years ago, a majority of voters were ready to welcome Bill Clinton back into the White House, this time as the spouse of the president. I get that many selected Hillary Clinton as the lesser evil alternative to Trump, and that certainly is understandable. I never, ever could vote for Trump. But did Clinton voters hesitate for a moment when they went to push that button? Does Hillary Clinton have a responsibility to speak out on behalf of her husband's alleged victims as women are being told to speak up and rise up now? Was there concern for the women who Bill Clinton is alleged to have abused and how they would feel having him back in the national spotlight? Does Bill Clinton get more of a pass because he is more charming than Trump and his political stances are more acceptable?

I still have these questions. I have these questions as a woman and a mother to both a daughter and a son and a voter and someone who has friends who weren't believed when they spoke of their own sexual assaults. And my daughter is allowed to have them, too.




Monday, September 24, 2018

Support Survivors and Due Process


When I was a freshman at the University of Maryland, our school newspaper, The Diamondback, ran a full-page ad with a headline stating "All of these men are potential rapists . . ." Then, in tiny print, thousands of men's names were listed - every undergraduate male at the university. I don't remember which organization sponsored the ad, but the intention, I believe, was to bring awareness to the notion that any man could be the perpetrator of sexual assault. There was a great deal of backlash around campus as male college students did not like their names tied to the term "potential rapist" as a generally applicable label. The campus was quite tense for several weeks as a result.

Today, people across the country wore black and shared the hashtag #BelieveSupporters, the reason being to support Professor Christine Blasey Ford and the other accusers who subsequently shared their stories about alleged sexual assaults by Judge Brad Kavanaugh, who now seeks a seat on our highest court.

Like I did with the ad in The Diamondback twenty-five years ago, I have mixed feelings about the effort made today. I think it's important to raise awareness, but I want to be careful with the process.

Let me start with this. I believe that every woman should be taken seriously when she makes claims about sexual assault. I don't care if it happened five minutes ago or thirty years ago. The human race has a poor track record throughout history of not taking seriously the charges made by women, and even demonizing or threatening the women who were bold enough to share their stories. It's no wonder that such a large number of attacks never get reported. We need to listen to these women. We need to look them in the eyes and assure them that their allegations and their emotions are being taken seriously. We do NOT need to ask why they didn't speak up sooner or about their other sexual experiences. We certainly do not need to respond with some garbage about "youthful indiscretions" or "boys will be boys." We definitely shouldn't send death threats because the accuser does not agree with your political ideology.

I have been the recipient of lewd gestures and comments, as recently as last month when two guys in a pick up truck swerved into my lane repeatedly to get my attention, nearly causing me to run off the road, and then made vulgar gestures out their window and laughed. I have experienced unwanted advances and unwanted hands on me. I have a clear memory of sitting with a boy in high school and apologizing to him over and over again because I did not want to go as far as he did. I told him I knew I was being awful and uptight and I was so very sorry. I see now how twisted my reaction was. I have friends who have been raped, who have been pressured into sex, who have endured physical and sexual and emotional abuse.

There is no doubt in my mind that we have a culture that excuses sexual aggression and assault by boys/men. We have an environment in which women are afraid to speak up and in which we choose to repress evenings of abuse or make excuses to convince ourselves what happened wasn't so bad.

All that being said, I think we need to be careful about putting allegations on the conviction fast track.

Due process is important. The notion of innocent until proven guilty matters. And, it matters the most when the accusations being made are highly repugnant. That is exactly when the protections of the Constitution are the most essential. Making sure that the nice guys and the peaceful neighbors are afforded their rights under the law -- that's not difficult.

I am no defender of Judge Kavanaugh. At all. I will not be shocked if every detail alleged by the women who have come forward is eventually, somehow, proven true. And if so, he must step away from consideration. But, do we really want to be a people that replaces a lack of respect and attention for the accuser with a readiness to condemn the accused? I don't.

Yes, Kavanaugh is a white man of great privilege. He attended a high school at which the entitled class got away with plenty of distasteful and even criminal behavior with the (correct) belief that mommy and daddy could make it all go away. But if we do not afford him the right to share his side of the story regarding the allegations made against him, if we do not allow him to state his defense before convicting him and deeming him ineligible for the esteemed office he seeks, then we also must be OK when an Hispanic school janitor is fired because he was accused of stealing jewelry from a girl's locker even though her friend actually took it. We need to admit it's cool for a black teenager to be detained in the back of a police car in handcuffs for hours because he "looked suspicious" in an upscale clothing store. We need to agree that every person ever arrested should have to put that accusation, whether it bears out as true or not, on job applications forever. Because we should want to hope that our Constitution, that our rule of law and due process, sees all of these instances the same.

Should we listen to these women who have come forward and accused Judge Kavanaugh of awful acts and take their pain and their experiences seriously? Yes. Should we stand shoulder to shoulder with every woman who refuses to remain silent in this culture that can be so damaging to our girls? Absolutely. But let us not lose sight of other principles of justice in the process.


Monday, September 17, 2018

Happy Birthday, Constitution!


Dear Constitution,

Happy 231st birthday to you! You look amazing! I thought about making you one of those cakes with blueberries and strawberries and whipped cream to be all patriotic, but I decided that would be cliche. And you are way too cool to be involved with anything cliche.

I thought you might be feeling a little down on your special day, so I wanted to write you this letter to cheer you up.

I know we have a president (whose powers come from Article 2, but you know that, of course) who does not have a lot of respect for you and how important you are to the foundation of our country. Has he ever read you? I'm not convinced he has. At the very least, I know he is a little fuzzy on the separation of powers that you established. He also has shown that he isn't a big fan of your First Amendment or Fourth Amendment or Sixth Amendment or Eighth Amendment or Ninth Amendment or Tenth Amendment (just to name a few). And that's too bad, because your Bill of Rights is one of my favorite parts of you. And he's not alone. I'm afraid there are way too many people on both sides of the aisle who don't know nearly enough about you.

There are people who do not understand your intentions and who think they are protected from consequences from their employer for staging a protest or who think because they are teenagers they can use whatever foul language they want around my kids at a pool that is managed by a private HOA. There are those who argue the Electoral College is unfair and outdated without appreciating that it is in perfect alignment with the federalist system of government you created. There are some who get upset when a Christian club meets on school property after classes are over and others who think it's perfectly fine for a principal to lead a prayer to Jesus before a school concert because most people in the room believe in Him (both are wrong).

Sometimes I feel like people just appreciate your packaging. Oh, isn't she beautiful! Oh, yes, I love the Constitution! But, they don't really want to listen to all you have to say. Or, they only tout your words when what you decree fits their narrative. Freedom for me but government intrusion for you! I don't like when your guy acts in opposition to the Constitution but I'm cool when my guy does because I like the way he talks! Does that bother you? It bothers me. You apply to everyone.

Despite all of these struggles and misunderstandings you forge ahead. You continue to form the structure of the longest, continuous democracy in the history of this planet. (By the way, do you get as annoyed by people who get all self-righteous and scream "We're not a democracy; we're a constitutional republic!" as I do? Yes, we are a republic. I get it. But "demo" means "people" and "cracy" means "form of government" and we do vote for the leaders who represent us and the whole Constitution starts off with the words "We the people," so I'm cool with continuing to call us a democracy.)

You know what else I love about you? You knew from the start that you weren't perfect so you created a means by which you could be amended and improved. In today's political environment, it's hard to imagine anyone admitting that his or her position on any subject is anything but flawless. And listening to others who might alter your perspective? That's crazy talk.

But you did just that - you listened and you changed. As the wise Maya Angelou said, when you know better, you do better. Making slaves 3/5 of a person for the purposes of population counting in determining Congressional representation? BIG swing and a miss. HUGE. Initially deciding that only white men who owned land could vote? Bad move. You blew it there as well. But you fixed it . . . at least mostly. You asked the states to debate and ratify amendments when improvements were needed. You established the Supreme Court (Article 3) so that your words could be tested against the challenges that would come as our nation grew and evolved.

Are we still striving to be the "more perfect Union" that your preamble states you intended to establish more than two hundred years ago? Of course we are. And I think your precise wording meant you knew that a nation made of flawed people never will attain perfection. But please be patient with us as we keep trying.

The kids and I will talk about you today. And not just today. I am doing what I can to make them informed and active citizens. I hope that other families take a moment to recognize you as well. Maybe some people will read a part or all of you today and see the words in a new way. Maybe someone will be inspired to study one of your provisions more to discover how our understanding of a particular situation was in 1787 and then 1861 and finally 2018. Maybe someone will think about the rights and responsibilities that you embody and will carry that thought to Election Day and make sure nothing stops her from voting.

I hope you get a few minutes to celebrate today! Do something that you really enjoy! Maybe watch a criminal trial in which an indigent man has an attorney and a fair trial. You did that! See the checks and balances you set up in action as the Senate deliberates the confirmation of a possible Supreme Court justice. That's all you, too! Peek in on worship at a church or a mosque. Watch others walk by both buildings with no interest in entering. Watch all of them not get in trouble by the government for any of their spiritual choices. Yep, you again! Have a glass of wine tonight! (OK, you briefly messed that one up but soon made it right.) See the people of Texas decide what their state needs and then the people of West Virginia determine that its economy and demographics and geography require something different. You guessed it! You, again! See a man legally purchase a gun and see another man protest that that type of gun should not be legal. Both acts? Yep, you guessed it . . . you are all in the middle of that. Walk along a 25-year-old woman who is the first generation of her family to be born here and is so passionate about our government that she is running for Congress. Can you believe you had a hand in that as well?

I love you, Constitution. You are one of my favorite things ever put on paper. May you have many more years of keeping this country on its rails but also staying out of the way when needed to let us mess up or succeed on our own as well. Here's to you!!

Love,
Sarah

Friday, September 14, 2018

Where Was God on 9/11?


This week, my daughter asked me the question that serves as the title of this post while we discussed the horrendous events that occurred seventeen years ago. She is now at an age at which I can share some of the more difficult events and emotions of that day. She also is now at an age at which she is questioning faith and religion (two very different things), and I encourage her to explore all of her confusion and questions and doubts. I know some believe she is too young for these conversations and needs to be told what our family values are and that's that. I, on the other hand, want my kids to live by the motto - question everything. This comes with an important addendum. Question everything thoughtfully and respectfully. Unless I'm telling them it's time to go to bed . . . then they just need to do that.

I responded to this particular question by telling her that many people were asking that very same thing in the days and weeks that followed the murder of thousands of innocent people along our East Coast. I also told her that I did not have a good answer for her. As a Christian and as the head of my home, perhaps I should not admit to not having a better answer for her. Perhaps I shouldn't be sharing my lack of certainty with all of you so plainly here. But I have found that my faith eventually grows deeper when I test it, when I come to admit I now see an issue differently than I did before, or simply just admit my frustration when some things don't make sense. (And I would like to note that "Losing My Religion" by REM just came on the radio as I typed this paragraph. Well played with that heavenly sense of humor.)

Did God sit back and watch while terrified sixth graders were flown into the side of a government building instead of arriving safely to a field trip in California sponsored by National Geographic?

Did God make sure every stairwell was blocked so that anyone working above the impact of the plane received an automatic death sentence?

Was He listening when one of those trapped workers called his son's high school in New Jersey and asked if his boy could come to the office so he could talk with him one more time?

I have been told that our planet is a fallen place on which evil exists and that we will not experience true peace and a restored heart until we get to heaven.

I've heard that God allowed 9/11 to happen because America needed to repent or because He wanted us to appreciate one another more.

I have read that God collectively held us and wept with us as we were watching the horror unfold and during the grieving that followed.

Others have explained to me that humans were given free will and it's not God's place to intervene in the destructive plans of humans who will have to pay consequences for their bad free will choices.

Maybe I'm more comfortable with the theological notion to which some subscribe that states God got everything set up for us some time ago and now just kind of sits back and lets us do our thing. Otherwise, the seemingly random joy and pain (h/t Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock) that we experience seems so cruel. I never am comfortable when family members of returning soldiers say something like, "I'm so happy that God was looking out for him and protecting him so he could come home safely!" Does that mean God failed to protect his buddy who was twenty feet in front of him and got blown up by an IED? What about my high school friend with brain cancer who has spent her entire life in service to others? What about children who live in homes in which terrible abuse occurs?

But the complication is that I've found the laid-back approach not to be true of the God who has made His presence known in my life time and again. I have found Jesus near me when I've read and reflected on His words in red, when I've been scared or felt alone or when I've felt great peace and joy. The great commandment to love your neighbor just makes sense. Jesus walks and eats with the lepers and the tax collectors and the oppressed and the "others" and the "outcasts." He is inclusive. He is love. He teaches me and make me want to be a better person. But that's New Testament God. It's the Old Testament God who I more can see orchestrating or at least being complicit in 9/11. My problem is building a solid bridge between the two. I get stuck.

I'm not satisfied with the answer I hear a lot - Our human minds just can't comprehend God or His master plan. We just have to be OK with not knowing and maybe we can ask Him all of these difficult questions when we get to heaven.

I can't get to the point where I'm comfortable telling my children, "It's not up to us to understand why those kids were killed on the planes. Or why their parents died at the Pentagon." With that answer, no wonder my daughter has questions about where God was or if He really wants the best for her and her brother.

About ten years ago, at a previous church I attended, one with a massive membership and that is well known in the Nashville area, the senior pastor had the ushers hand out cards to every person in the pews. He simply asked us to select, anonymously, from a series of four or five statements the one that bests describes our current relationship with God. The next Sunday, he started to cry as he shared that two-thirds of his congregants responded that they don't feel close to God and don't consider themselves as having a strong faith. But here they were sitting in service week after week. Maybe some of you would have chosen the same statement on that card. There are some days (years?) when I would.

I yearn for more than that. I don't want to sit in church every Sunday because it's the socially acceptable thing to do or because it makes me feel good. Are you in the same place as me? I come to with you this honest post because perhaps you are struggling to talk to your kids about where God was on 9/11. Or when their friend got sick. Or when you got divorced. I want you to know you are not alone. As much as it made me sad to see my pastor upset, it helped me to know that there were others sitting all around me who appeared to have it all together but who also, apparently, didn't have all the answers and who weren't on a powerful and unwavering path with their faith.

For my atheist friends, I know that events like 9/11 and children getting cancer and hurricanes that leave thousands homeless further justify their belief that there cannot be an omniscient, all-loving God. Believe me, I get it. But for others of faith, do you have trouble answering these questions from your children? Is anyone else willing to share that they struggle with these issues themselves? Or perhaps you can share with me why you do not wrestle with this. I would love to learn from you!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Seventeen Years and a Street Corner


This morning, I stood on my front porch and watched the kids gather at my son's bus stop. Three of them have parents who have spent their entire lives in Tennessee. Two kids have a grandmother who is Native American. One kid has grandparents on the east coast, another kid has relatives out west. Three kids have parents who were not born in this country and mothers for whom English as a second language is still a struggle. I know the parents of the kids at that bus stop did not all vote for the same presidential candidate in 2016. I know the parents hold differing opinions on our country and its promises.

The kids who board the bus every morning bring diverse experiences and cultures and opinions and pain and joys to that corner. But still, every morning I watch as they yell out and greet each other. I watch them all laugh and tease one another. I see the lone fifth grade girl, the obvious beacon of maturity, be as patient as she can be with all of the rowdiness around her. I see the older kids hang back and make sure the young kindergarteners are safely on the bus first. When they get off the bus this afternoon, one of the them will find a soccer ball or a football and everyone will be invited to play a pick up game in the street. 

On Friday, September 14, 2001, I left my apartment in Maryland and drove past the still smoldering Pentagon to my then-boyfriend's (now ex-husband's) apartment in Arlington, Virginia. We went out to eat in D.C. because we wanted to be in the city that we loved so much. We walked by and made eye contact with people who, like us, weren't really speaking much. We listened to the military helicopters fly overhead. We pushed our food around on our plates and didn't discuss the thoughts and the images that we could not get out of our minds. 

After dinner, we headed the couple of short miles back to Arlington and walked to a street corner that quickly was filling with adults who came from a variety of backgrounds - a street corner much like the one my son and his friends now occupy every morning. The people we approached were singing and hugging and crying. Someone brought drinks for everyone. Someone else brought American flags. Several people passed out candles. As the night progressed, the crowd on that corner got larger. There was a desperate need for us just to be together as strangers who still were in shock, who were scared, and who now were in a world completely different than the one we had known just a week before.

As we stood on that corner, we were less than a year out from one of the most contentious elections in our nation's history. Some of us standing there had voted for Bush, some for Gore. Might even have been a few Nader folks in the mix. There were men and women who worked nearby at the Pentagon and were wearing their uniforms. A Metro bus driver joined us, as well as graduate students and a waitress and a grandfather. Black, white, immigrant, veteran, Hispanic, straight, gay, old, young . . . we were all on that crowded corner looking out for one another and focusing on what held us together, again much like the bus stop on my block today.

Maybe on September 11 you were, like me, a high school teacher in Maryland who had a classroom filled with kids who had at least one parent who worked for federal government, some in the Pentagon. These teenagers were looking to you for answers as they all watched the horror unfold on television screens rolled into classrooms. 

Maybe you were like my sister, who taped up her windows in Brooklyn to keep out the toxic dust floating over from Manhattan and who, as a bartender, listened to the stories of the recovery workers at Ground Zero in the weeks and months that followed. What those responders described finding in the wreckage day after day was considered too gruesome for the nightly news. They didn't want to go home. How could they close their eyes just to see those images again?

Maybe you were a young mother in Nashville or a college student in Georgia or in the air force stationed in Florida or starting your shift at a bank in Idaho. Maybe you were the Republican Speaker of the House in Congress or the Democrat mayor of Washington, D.C. 

You know who you were and where you were, and I feel confident that you would have joined me on that street corner three days after the evil attacks on thousands of innocent people. We would have hugged. We would have found comfort in the common humanity we share. We would have felt a resolve that bonded us. 

But what about in 2018?

The attacks of 9/11 occurred just before smart phones and social media changed the way we communicate with one another and the way we get our news and information. It's so easy now to be cruel from behind the screen of an iPhone or laptop keyboard. Check out any comments section online and you will find people using terms like "libtards" and "RepubliKKKans" every day. I promise you, sadly, that you will find such cruelty even on this solemn day. It's so easy to read countless internet articles and watch cable news talking heads who will affirm our worldview 24/7 while validating our conviction that the "others" are dangerous and wrong. So many of us are so angry. We not only dislike our leaders, but we passionately disdain anyone who voted for the leaders we don't like or who support policies different than the ones to which we subscribe. It was not like that in 2001. I know; I remember. Yes, people were angry after that election and continued to be so throughout Bush's presidency. But I don't think it compares to what we are witnessing today. 

Our nation was bitter and raw after the 2000 election, but, at least for a while, we came together in lines to give blood and to be more patient and to volunteer and to offer comfort. What do you think would happen if our nation was faced with a similar crisis today? I'm not asking if we would drape flags on every overpass or spell out USA with red Solo cups in fences. I want something deeper . . . I'm asking if we once again would find our common humanity. Can we be more like the elementary school boys and girls who seek out ways to interact and help each other?

Sadly, I cannot state with confidence that we would come together as a nation in the same way that we did seventeen years ago. And for my part . . . which is the part I can control . . . this 9/11 anniversary reminds me that I can do better. I can be more patient and more kind when I disagree with people. I need to say "I love you" more. I need to look for more ways that were are alike, not different. I should be more welcoming of strangers. I should strike up conversations whenever possible instead of looking for the comfort of my quiet corner. It's a lot easier to find our common humanity when a crisis strikes if we always take a few minutes to humanize whoever happens to be standing right in front of us at any given moment.

On September 11, 2001, it did not matter to the terrorists if you were Christian or atheist or Muslim or Republican or Democrat or a single mom or a cancer survivor or an undocumented immigrant or a investment banker with Cantor Fitzgerald or a dishwasher at Windows on the World or an officer in the United States Army or a two-year-old girl on her way to Disneyland. Death did not discriminate. Let us remember that on this day and, when our nation is shaken to its core the next time . . . because there will be a next time, let's agree to meet on the street corner, check on one another, and go from there.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Essential Opinion of a Suburban White Woman re: Kaepernick and Nike



I know that over the past 24 hours, many of you have been thinking, "So, what does a typical 43-year-old white woman living in the suburbs of Nashville think about Nike's new ad campaign featuring former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick?" I am here to help answer that burning question for you.

Here are some of my initial thoughts on the controversy:

1. I showed my daughter the print ad last night. We talked about the progression of kneeling during the national anthem over the past couple of seasons - why it started, why many are opposed to it, how I feel about it (more on that later), and how she feels about it. I told her that some of her friends may be told they no longer can wear their Nike sneakers or clothing. I told her she is more than welcome to continue to wear hers. I shared that I think it's just silly that some people are burning items already purchased. If you don't want to wear those shoes anymore, at least give them to a homeless person whose feet otherwise will be cold this winter. (Caring for the poor and the marginalized? That is . . . or that always should be . . . American.)

2. I am not a big fan of Colin Kaepernick. I do not think he is the greatest messenger for the injustices on which he is trying to shed light. The "police as pigs" socks were in poor taste. I think that wearing a Fidel Castro t-shirt, particularly while in Miami, showed a lack of understanding of history and political philosophy. I wish I could be a bigger fan of him as a social messenger, but I can't. There are many other players who are leaders of this movement, like Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles, who are incredibly persuasive, sometimes without even saying a word:



3. I think the message that is being sent by those who choose to kneel on the sidelines is an important one. There are injustices in our criminal justice system, our education system, and simply in the way we view one another. These are conversations that need to be had, and the players have been a catalyst for that. Why do the players choose to protest during the national anthem and right before a football game instead of in front of the local courthouse on a Wednesday morning? Because on Sunday afternoons is when millions of people are paying attention. It's the same reason that athletes raised their fists while standing on the podium in front of a global audience at the 1968 Olympics - people were watching. And it became one of the most iconic moments of the 20th century.


Also, many of these NFL players are donating millions of dollars and many hours of their time in their communities when the TV cameras are turned off and we aren't looking. Many of these players have family members who are police officers and members of the military. I believe them when they say their kneeling is not an affront to these groups. I have veteran friends who have told me that the freedom to protest is exactly why they served.

4. That said, I get why so many people are upset by those who kneel during the national anthem and by an ad campaign that promotes the idea that Colin Kaepernick "sacrificed everything."  He didn't . . . he is healthy, he is a millionaire, and he will be just fine. There are millions of men and women who have died defending our flag. There are millions of people around the world who dream of our flag as a representation of the freedoms they wish to have. It is what we fly at half staff to honor our dead and what we wave at parades and on the Fourth of July in celebration and thanks. It's not just a piece of cloth; it is, for many, a powerful symbol of sacrifice and hope. When my friends tell me they are going to visit D.C., I tell them that if they do nothing else, they must visit the US Marines War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial) at night. It takes my breath away every time.


I just wish that those on both sides of this debate would recognize that there is some validity in allowing the other side to be heard. Shouting each other down is fruitless and divisive.

5. The print ad with Kaepernick is visually stunning. I love the photograph and the message. Even if you do not care for the specific messenger, it's a powerful reminder that true belief in a cause or a person is worth sacrificing everything. Well done, graphic design/marketing people.

6. Donald Trump is loving every second of this. The "kneeling issue" essentially was coming to a quiet close a year ago and then our president decided to speak out about it during a rally in Alabama. He yelled that it would be great for an owner to "get that son-of-a-bitch off the field and tell him he's fired!" And the crowd went wild! I don't think President Trump particularly cares about the national anthem or the flag, but he sure loves it when people cheer for him because Donald Trump only cares about Donald Trump. He found some red meat that works with the NFL protests and it since has become one of his favorite ways to get guaranteed applause.

7. I love our Constitution and our First Amendment. I read the entire Constitution at least once a year and Constitution Day is one of my favorite holidays. Kneeling during the national anthem is not a free speech issue. The First Amendment protects citizens from retribution or censorship by the government when speaking. It is not there to protect a citizen from getting fired or facing other consequences from a private entity like the NFL. The owners can choose any restrictions they like, and they do. And we, as fans, have the right to express with our dollars and our television viewing if we like or don't like the decisions being made by both the players and the owners.

8. I love our country. I love her so much and I think often how fortunate I am to live here. I was birthed at a longitude and latitude that has allowed for freedoms and opportunities that women no different than me in other countries can only dream of having. I always stand for our anthem. As the song is played, sometimes I am thinking about the many amazing things about our country. Other times, I am more reflective on some of our current struggles and that we still are striving to be a more perfect union. If others have a different experience when our anthem is played, who I am to tell them their feelings are wrong or less valued than mine? How boring our country would be if we all had to feel the same way about something. How sad it is today that many of us don't want to hear one word from someone who feels differently than us. 

So, those are some of my initial thoughts, and they are borne of my perspective and experiences. I know many disagree with me, and I would love to know your thoughts as well. Because if we aren't listening to each other, than none of this has any point.