Sunday, September 5, 2021

A Moment of Providence


I've been struggling with feeling out of place the past couple of years, like I don't belong where I live. Just not feeling at home. I go through weeks or a month or two where all is well, but then that feeling that this isn't where I'm supposed to be returns. I'm in one of those valleys right now. I even Googled this morning "how can I be happier where I live?" Because Google is the ultimate advice giver.

One article I read stuck with me with its three pieces of advice:

1. Find your people. Well, I've already done that. I took a few minutes to write down a list of all of the amazing friends we have around us, from our neighborhood and church to my office to the kids' schools and sports teams. Our village is so amazing. I have learned more about friendship and generosity and selflessness in the past fifteen years since becoming a parent and making deliberate efforts to find community than I did in the previous thirty.

2. Get out in nature. I'm going to work on doing this more. Tennessee has so many beautiful lakes and hiking trails and waterfalls. I used to explore state parks or just take a blanket to the lake near my house on a regular basis, and I don't do that as much anymore. Today I pledged to myself to spend more time enveloped in the outdoors, even if that means grabbing a book and relaxing under the willow tree in my backyard. Instead of scrolling social media and reading what my state representative or governor said or did, inevitably raising my blood pressure, I'm going to take a walk.

3. Shop local. The article I read said there is something comforting when a barista at a local coffee shop knows your favorite drink or the owner of an independent bookstore sets aside a new release she thinks you will love. Those connections sound lovely. I don't have any of them. So, I'm going to make a list of ten local businesses that I pledge to visit by the end of the year. Places that require masks as an act of loving their neighbors, of course, because those are my people.

My morning of seeking peace where I am did not end with reading a few articles recommended by Google. I joined my Sunday school class through Zoom (or some similar technological contraption) and saw the faces of many of the people who made the list I mentioned earlier. One of my classmates said that she had been reading Jeremiah over the past week and was struck by the following passage, which was written to a group of people who were in exile:

"Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce . . . Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too shall prosper."

That was a profound moment - to have spent my morning up to that point studying and reflecting on how to be happier where I am, and then to hear words written to others who did not feel at home. It reiterated what I know to be true - I have the choice to seek and find peace and joy wherever I am. I should continue to plant gardens, be those literal or the relationships in which I invest. I should see my home as a place of laughter and community. I know it was no accident that a friend, who gets up early from her home in California to join our class every week, had those words on her heart to share this morning. I've quietly been repeating words of thanks for them all day.

Will I still move in a few years? Yes, because I am still in exile here. Which is OK. It's OK to admit that I miss the Capital Beltway and I-95 and more moderate politics and neighborhoods where you can hear many languages and see different religions being practiced. And I know that one person's exile is another person's homeland. Certain spots would get more crowded than they already are if we all felt called to be in the same place.

Right now, my plan is to leave when my son graduates from high school. I have lived in five states in my life (Virginia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Tennessee) and by that time I will have lived in Tennessee for twenty-five years, longer than anywhere else. I'm not sure where I will go yet. Most likely back to the mid-Atlantic or New England. My parents will be in their early 80s by then. While I plan for them to be healthy and thriving, I want to live within a day's drive so I can see them more often. I want to hang out with my siblings and get to know my niece and nephew better. Also, my daughter is thinking about going to college in DC and it will drive her nuts to have me living nearby for her last year of school. Bonus.

But all that is six years from now. I'm not going to spend my time counting the days and wondering if I should be somewhere else. At least, I'm going to try my best not to slip into that bad habit. Instead, I will build my home and embrace my friendships and plant my gardens. I clipped a couple of flowers from my backyard and brought them to my kitchen table as a visual reminder to keep doing the things that make where I am home, and that will make my next place home, wherever that will be.

As Alanis Morissette so aptly sung in 1998, "Thank you, providence."


Thursday, September 2, 2021

Define Pro-Life for Me Again

In Texas, abortions are no longer allowed after six week's gestation, or approximately two weeks after a missed period (if regular) might even alert a woman to her pregnancy. Here's the twist - government officials are not going to enforce this new law themselves with criminal penalties. Instead, they are empowering private citizens and telling them to file civil lawsuits against women's health clinics or anyone else who assists in any way in the process of having an abortion after six weeks. You can sue the Uber driver who takes a woman to her doctor. Or you can sue the woman who in confidence encourages her tearful sister who was raped to speak with a medical professional about her options. And these lawsuits can be brought by anyone - by a parent, by a neighbor, by a disgruntled ex-boyfriend, by a stranger. Those who sue will be awarded at least $10,000 plus attorneys' costs if they win. 

Oh, if you aren't interested in the attention that would be brought by filing a lawsuit, that's OK. Texas Right to Life has set up a website (www.prolifewhistleblower.com) that you can visit and submit an anonymous tip about a clinic that may be performing abortions after six weeks. That's some next level creepy stuff right there. 

In the 1980s, the Kremlin printed out millions of cards and asked police to distribute them in neighborhoods. They read as follows: "We ask you to report, without mentioning your name, all cases known to you of violations of public order, and the rules of socialist communal life, of persons leading an antisocial way of life, failing to work or abusing alcoholic beverages, of problem families, and of adolescents who have given up their studies." People would right down names and phone numbers of alleged offenders as well as the supposed offenses, but would not be asked to write their own names as informants. 

Texas is pulling from the playbook of the commies over at the KGB. Cool. 

Super late last night, in a cowardly and unsigned statement, five justices of the United States Supreme Court declined to issue a preliminary injunction to stop this Texas law from taking effect, despite the fact that no such restrictions have been allowed under the Constitution in fifty years. They admitted there likely were legitimate concerns about the constitutionality of the Texas law (yep, just a smidge). But they stated that since there haven't been any private citizen lawsuits filed yet, there is no court case to appeal up the court system. The dissenting justices wrote that this late-night move by the majority was an act in defiance of the Constitution and the Court's precedents.

(Quick side bar - if you were mad that the Supreme Court refused to hear Trump's election fraud lawsuits because of procedural issues of standing but are cheering the Supreme Court today for its even more tenuous decision based on procedural issues of standing, you're a hypocrite.)

So, in Texas there is now financial gain to be had by harassing doctors and following women into offices, to eavesdrop on conversations and to interrogate your Lyft driver about the woman who just got out of her car. It's serious gestapo authoritarian stuff. And the women who primarily will be affected by this new law are those who are too poor to slide money under the table to get an abortion or to travel to another state where abortion is still legal. The wealthy Texans, including conservative politicians who get their girlfriends or mistresses pregnant, still will get abortions. Guaranteed. Abortions won't end in Texas. This just will end legal abortions for those who are least likely to have the financial means to care for a child. But the Texas legislature doesn't really care about their lives or the lives of their kids once they no longer reside in a uterus, so it's cool. 

And this will not stop in Texas. Groups in many other states are salivating and eager to replicate what is happening in Texas. I'm sure that Tennessee's own Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais, who urged his ex-wife and his mistress to have abortions even though he publicly opposes any access to abortion, will be encouraging his like-minded legislators at the state level to move forward with this "snitch on a stranger for cash" scheme that Texas has devised. 

The pro-life groups in Texas are proclaiming a great victory, which highlighted once again for me the travesty that the tag "pro-life" is so inappropriately assigned.

The same legislators who passed the abortion ban are the ones who insisted on standalone, de-regulated infrastructure and utilities that resulted in hundreds of deaths during the ice storm last winter. Not pro-life.

The same governor who signed the abortion ban and declared it a great victory for life is standing in the way of every effort by local school districts to protect their communities during a pandemic. Not pro-life.

The same legislators who passed the abortion ban are the ones who also just changed the law so that in Texas you no longer need a background check, a license, or any training in order to carry a handgun wherever you please. Not pro-life. (You think this is fine, then please tell the kids' minister at your church that you don't think she needs to bother doing any more background checks on the people she hires to handle childcare of preschoolers during service. I'm sure they are all fine and pose no danger.)

The same churches in my area who stand outside women's health clinics (and I won't call them abortion clinics - I regularly used Planned Parenthood for my healthcare when I lived in Boston and never had an abortion) are the same ones who have ignored the pandemic that has killed nearly 650,000 people in our country. They gather into crowded sanctuaries without masks and without advocacy for vaccines, even when prominent members of their own congregation die from the virus (although no one will admit any in their congregation ever dies from the virus). Not pro-life.

OK, and yes, I did tell my children that churches in our area that gather together in large numbers in tight quarters with no mitigation efforts while our state ranks number one in the country for new cases of Covid (Tennessee would be number two in the whole world if we were our own country) do not care about them and do not exhibit Christ's call to love our neighbors and are most definitely not pro-life.

Is "pro-life" as it's generally understood in our country today really nothing more than "pro-making sure every conception in a woman's womb grows without impediment and exits the vaginal cavity or by Cesarean section but then that's it"?

Are you pro-life when you show up to school board meetings and scream about masks that could protect an unvaccinated child or a teacher who has asthma or finished cancer treatments last year?

Are you pro-life when you stand against a vaccine that is safe and proven to lower the community spread of a deadly virus, and in doing so endangering the lives of neighbors whom you are called to love?

Are you pro-life when you tell visitors who come to your church that they are not allowed to stay and worship with you if they wear masks? 

Are you pro-life when you silently plead for the light to turn green because the homeless mom standing outside your window asking for spare change makes you uncomfortable all while telling your kids in the backseat that the woman should have made better choices?

Are you pro-life when you weep for the women and children who are starving and abandoned and tortured in other countries but fight against the idea of welcoming them to the freedoms offered in our country?

Are you pro-life when you cut funding for education and preventative health clinics that give women the knowledge to avoid unwanted pregnancies?

Are you pro-life when you don't value the importance of quality childcare or job training programs or extended maternity leave or other resources that put parents in a better position to care for their kids?

Are you pro-life when you dismiss a presidential candidate's claims to kiss women whenever he wants without asking and his proclivity to grab them by the pussy as "locker room talk" or just an example of "boys will be boys" but then act surprised when a boy from your son's fraternity rapes another student and she ends up pregnant? He seemed like such a nice boy.

Advocate against legal abortion. Sure. That's your right in this country. I understand why you do it. I think abortion is heartbreaking and difficult and layered with so much history in economic and racial injustices. But for me, snitching on a scared neighbor like an amateur Dog the Bounty Hunter while ignoring or even mocking countless other opportunities to love your neighbors because those acts are inconvenient or because those acts don't align with the stance required by your political ideology doesn't earn you the label of "pro-life." 


Sunday, August 22, 2021

To My Fellow Christians During Covid: Some of You Have Me All Confused


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"In humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself." - Philippians 2:3

If you look at the list of states with the lowest levels of vaccination or where school systems and local governments are opposing any mask mandates, you are going to find an almost complete overlap with areas that claim the highest percentage of residents who regularly attend church and check "Christian" on forms asking for one's religious affiliation. Conversely, areas like New England and New York have a large majority of their populations vaccinated and still employ other mitigation practices and also are considered to be much more "unchurched" than other areas of the country. 

Why does it appear that Christians are the most reluctant to take steps to extend love to one another and protect "the least of these" during a pandemic? It's a question that has bothered me for over a year now. 

Many Christians will tell you that their faith tells them not to live in fear - that hiding behind masks or staying away from at-risk family members and friends is not trusting God to protect them. They will say that God determines when we all live and die and if they go, they go. They state that their personal freedoms come from God and will not be curtailed by any public official. 

But, if I may speak in love and conviction to my brothers and sisters, I find all of these statements to be  selfish in our current environment. Because our decisions not to wear a mask or get vaccinated do not affect us alone. They affect every other person with whom we come into contact - the elderly, the cancer patient, the kidney recipient, the young child. We are not just making decisions about how to approach our own health or even our own earthly mortality, but forcing these decisions upon others who are at the mercy of whether we choose to protect them or not. 

There are two instructions that trump all others in the New Testament - 1. Love God. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. Christ tells us in Mark that there are no other commandments greater than these. If you are a Christian, nothing comes ahead of loving God and loving others. Nothing.

Not your refusal to wear a mask. Not your insistence that your kid who sat next to a student who tested positive for Covid can stay in school because he feels fine. Not your self-righteous tirade against doctors at a school board meeting. Not your hesitancy to get a vaccine. Not the desire to pack hundreds into an auditorium to worship while telling those who worry about getting sick they just can stay home. None of these acts is offering witness to Jesus and to His call to love one another. In fact, they are the opposite. 

With this Delta variant spreading like wildfire across much of our country, beautiful Christian witness can and should take the form of wearing a mask to protect the six-year-old who is too young to be vaccinated and who may carry the virus home to a diabetic parent or elderly grandparent. It can and should take the form of getting a vaccine that was created through decades of research done by men and women who were given brilliant minds by God to develop this life-saving tool. The more people who are vaccinated in a community, the lower the viral load and therefore the threat of severe illness or death for everyone who lives there. That's some awesome and exponential loving of neighbors right there. 

It can and should tell people, "You matter to me. Your life matters to me. I love you and I want you to feel safe and protected because that is how Jesus makes me feel and if I am the hands and feet of Jesus here on earth, I offer the same to you."

"For you, brothers, were called to freedom. Only do not not turn your freedom into an opportunity to gratify your own flesh, but through love make it your habit to serve one another." - Galatians 5:13

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Watching 90210 as a Parent

I graduated with the gang from the Peach Pit. Brenda, Brandon, Kelly, Donna, Steve, Dylan, and me - all part of the Class of '93. The series was mandatory viewing for most of my high school friends. In fact, we taped the prom episode and graduation episode and promised not to watch until we all gathered together to experience these important moments together. Here is a photo of me with a few of my friends from that night of 90210 viewing (Julie wins for coolest outfit because she's wearing a Violent Femmes shirt, but I want some credit for my shortalls and my Class of 1993 button):


I've recently been re-watching the first season of 90210 on Hulu. So far, the episodes have addressed drinking and safe sex in the midst of the AIDS crisis and both the good and bad influence of friends and racial tensions and being embarrassed by your mom and wanting to look different and staying out past curfew and the pressure to do well in school. When I watched these episodes for the first time at age fifteen, every single one of these topics resonated with my friend group. We talked on the phone and in school about what the characters were experiencing, because they were feelings and fears that all of us teenagers were confronting, not not fictional rich kids in Beverly Hills. I think 90210 was one of the first shows to tackle teenage issues so directly and thoughtfully, and they did it well. 

My viewing of this show thirty years later also has led to a revelation. The show premiered the summer before my sophomore year in high school - the same age that my daughter is right now. So, it makes sense that this time around I'm nodding my head in agreement with Jim and Cindy! I am now the parent in these 90210 scenarios. But it's also helping me to remember that my daughter is a young woman who is tackling these same issues.

This summer is proving to be a difficult one of transition for me. Many of my daughter's friends are now driving. There are boys. There are opportunities to for her to make choices that were not on her radar just a couple of years ago. She wants to be out and be social all the time. And I'm struggling as a parent, particularly as a single parent, to decide how many boundaries to set and how much freedom to allow. (As she likes to say to me, "When you were my age, your parents didn't know where you were all the time. They couldn't call you or track you." And then I like to retort, "Hey, if you want to live 1990 style, we can do that. Hand over your phone." And then the conversation ends.)

But it's helped me to think back on my own high school days via this nostalgic trip down 90210 lane. The emotions and the confusion and the growing that I was doing during those years were very real and intense and serious to me. It did not seem like little kid stuff. I need to remember that my daughter is now in a period of her life where these same moments are very real and consequential to her. Just like I was three decades ago, she certainly is discussing the same topics with her friends that I did after watching them play out with the Walsh family on my TV screen. I did not feel too young to engage in those conversations, and neither is my daughter. 

I am so proud of my girl and so in love with her. She is confident and smart and independent. She stands up for herself. She likes herself, more than I did when I was her age. But it also can be scary and exhausting and confusing to parent through these years. That's when it's important for me to stop and acknowledge that these years are all scary and exhausting and confusing for her, too. I know it might sound silly, but I promise it's not - 90210 has helped me to plug back into those emotions of my own fifteen-year-old self. It's helping me to pause and see things through my daughter's lens. I just wish Cindy Walsh was around for us to talk through it all over a glass of wine, and probably a delicious, homecooked meal that she made from scratch. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Pride Month - Why Do We Need It?

Today marks the beginning of Pride Month, when members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies gather to celebrate and advocate. To acknowledge the progress as well as the work that still needs to be done.  

Some already have complained about the rainbows that will cover many storefronts and be displayed on the logos of sports teams and sold on clothing for the next several weeks. Why do we have to politicize everything? Aren't some businesses just doing this for good PR? Why do we have to make such a big deal out of Pride Month anyway? 

I've thought of a few answers to that last question:

Because gay teens are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers and forty percent of gay teens have seriously contemplated suicide in the past year. 

Because too many people don't know about the raids at Stonewall or how Senator Lester Hunt killed himself in the Capitol building when Senator McCarthy threated to expose his son's sexuality or the names Matthew Shepard or Harvey Milk.

Because the word "gay" is still used as an insult at my kids' schools.

Because sometimes the only parental hugs a teen gets all year are from random moms and dads who stand with signs offering "Free Hugs" at Pride Fest.

Because many churches don't allow gay members but divorced men serve as deacons and women who gossip teach Sunday school and obese people sing in the choir and vain leaders preach from the pulpit.

Because my friend's young son was brought to tears the day after the 2016 election when a classmate told him the new president wouldn't let him live with his two moms anymore.

Because there are eight countries where homosexuality is punishable by death and more than sixty others where it's a crime resulting in prison time and/or violent punishment.

Because too many politicians claim that they don't want government interfering in our lives except when they can use their power to control marriage and families and justify discrimination.

Because hatred is borne of fear and fear is lessened when we understand more. 

Because it's the responsibility of those with a voice and who speak from a position of safety and privilege to be vocal allies and provide a trusted space.

Because I have LGBT friends from childhood and others I just met a few years ago. I have friends with children who have come out in the last few years. I had students in my classroom who are gay. I cry and get angry when I think that they ever are told they are lesser than or treated poorly or feel scared because of who and how they love.

Because now my daughter has friends who are gay (and I'm sure my son does as well). I'm so proud of her for being an ally and offering a space where she listens and loves and I want to affirm her in that.

Because love wins and that's a victory worth celebrating.

"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive." - Dalai Lama

Friday, May 21, 2021

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Turn Your Back on the Republic

This week, the House of Representatives voted in favor of creating a commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Every Democrat backed the idea, but only 35 Republicans did the same. That means that 178 Republicans don't want to learn any more about how and why hundreds of people broke into the building that houses the core values of our democratic republic, stole documents and other items, smeared feces on the walls, injured dozens of police officers, threatened to hang our then-Vice President, and hunted down senators after erecting a noose outside.

But why? 

If some members actually believe that the insurrectionists were members of Antifa and/or Black Lives Matter who changed into Trump shirts and waved Trump flags as a clever disguise, you would think they would want to learn more. Let's hold the correct people responsible and bring to light their crimes against our country! But the truth is, the Republicans who voted against the commission, at least most of them, know that the Antifa conspiracy theory is not a true one. Keeping some shred of credibility to the theory, however, benefits many of these House members in their home districts. So they don't challenge it.

Perhaps there a few members of Congress who worry about being implicated themselves in the day's events. What exactly was said in the phone call between former President Trump and Rep. Kevin McCarthy once the Capitol had been invaded? How did some of the insurrectionists know the exact location of Speaker Pelosi's office? Why did Rep. Paul Gosar tell Trump supporters that it actually was the Democrats who were planning a coup and they needed to "be ready to defend the Constitution and the White House." (Which is ironic, as the insurrectionists themselves were a violent affront to the principles of the Constitution.)

Sadly, though, it seems the primary reason that so many Republicans have abandoned their country and the search for answers is self-preservation and their fear that one man could destroy them. Trump does not want any more time spent studying the mob that was comprised of "very special people" who he "loves very much." He does not want people to keep making connections between the MONTHS he spent telling supporters that the only way he could lose is if the other side stole the election. He does not want people to think about how he spent every day in the weeks leading up to January 6 telling crowds how disappointed he would be if Pence didn't have the courage to "do the right thing" and that those who listened then cried out to "Hang Mike Pence!" Trump is deeply embedded in a tunnel of disinformation that has him convinced he was cheated out of reelection and anyone who disagrees is a traitor.

And Republicans cannot afford to have Trump think they are traitors. His name and his endorsement, sadly, still matter. This is why Cruz still grovels for his acceptance even though Trump called his wife ugly and claimed his father was involved in Kennedy's murder. It's why Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA)  said, "You know, if you didn't know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit." It's why Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) said, "I didn't see any violence." It's why Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said that the Justice Department is now "harassing peaceful patriots" in its attempt to hold the insurrectionists accountable. They cannot risk contradicting Trump's delusions. The political stakes are too high.

In their attempts to whitewash history, to insist that the country needs to move on and forget about what happened in and around the US Capitol on January 6, the 178 Republicans in the House who voted against the commission (including my Rep. John Rose and every other Republican congressperson from Tennessee) have turned their backs on our republic. They have stated with their votes that winning a primary in 2022 is more important than the truth and more important than understanding how some of our elected officials came within minutes or even seconds of violence at the hands of a mob. It's more important than admitting that this very real threat to our country still exists and we need to know how to stop it from happening again.

Next week, we will learn if the Republicans in the Senate have the same priorities. Spoiler alert - they do. There will not be enough Republican senators who will be willing to back this commission and we never will get the bipartisan commission that our republic, our Capitol police, our freedoms, and our elected officials who were threatened that day deserve. 

In November 2002, Congress created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States in order to investigate how the horrific events of 9/11 were able to happen on our soil. The commission was comprised of five Republicans and five Democrats, just as the January 6 commission proposes to do. There was not an overwhelming number of members from one party who opposed learning more about 9/11. In fact, pretty much everyone thought it was a good idea. Our country had been attacked and we demanded answers. While the death toll and the psychological toll on our nation certainly was greater on that awful day in 2001 than what we experienced at the Capitol earlier this year, the attack on our country was just as real and the threat to the vitality of our republic is greater now than it was nearly two decades ago. And the problem should not be ignored just to pacify one man who couldn't care less if the whole place burns. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Pro-Life or Pro-Death? It's So Hard to Tell!

This morning, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a measure that would make abortion illegal in the state after six weeks and also allow for civil lawsuits to be brought against anyone who assists in the abortion process (those who drive a woman to a clinic, doctors, anyone who contributes to Planned Parenthood, and so on). Abbott was very pleased with the passage of this law and offered up the hashtag "#prolife" on social media to celebrate.

This evening, Texas will execute Quintin Jones.

You may be thinking what I've been thinking all afternoon - Texas is having a very confusing day. Pro-life at sunrise, pro-death by sundown.

Governor Abbott's crusade against abortion is founded in his Christian faith. He believes that all life is precious. He has declared a "Sanctity of Human Life Day" in Texas. He has said, "I will always fight for life as your governor." Just today at the bill signing, Abbott declared, "Our Creator endowed us with the right to life." 

With Governor Abbott's theological pro-life stance in mind, let me tell you a little about condemned prisoner Quintin Jones. He admits to killing his great aunt in 1999 in an effort to get money from her, when he was nineteen years old and under the influence of drugs and alcohol. For the past two decades, he has been the model prisoner without a single disciplinary infraction. He has gotten clean. His family, and therefore also his great-aunt's family, is appealing to Governor Abbott for clemency. The actual surviving victims of this crime do not want the ultimate punishment to be carried out. But clemency will not come. despite the fact that extending grace and the notion of being made new again are both pretty important parts of the faith that led the same governor to sign the abortion bill this morning.

Today's bipolar activity in Texas is just another piece in a bizarre week for any consistent message regarding sanctity of life in our country. On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a Mississippi law that outlaws abortions after fifteen weeks. (Texas responded, "Fifteen weeks? Please. That's nothing. Hold my beer. No, really, hold it because I don't want anyone around me to know I drink alcohol.") It has been the goal of conservative state legislatures to pass extreme laws that climb all the way to the Supreme Court to challenge Roe v. Wade and one of them finally succeeded.

But on that same day, "pro-life" Governor Henry McMaster of South Carolina signed a bill forcing death row inmates to choose a firing squad or the electric chair for their executions. Firing squad or electric chair. In a supposedly advanced country. In 2021. I'm not sure how the push for burning at the stake or stoning didn't make the cut as well. Did anyone see this news story this week and wonder if perhaps they didn't take a trip in a DeLorean and somehow forgot?

It's grotesque that the death penalty finds some of its most ardent supporters in the same states where the pro-life abortion agenda is fought the most fiercely. One in nine prisoners on death row is eventually exonerated, sometimes after spending decades behind bars or even already killed by the state. The notion of one person being put to death for a crime he did not commit is horrifying. It is one sentence that is irreversible. 

These days, I'm struggling to figure out what someone means when they claim to be pro-life. Did he pray outside abortion clinics all through this past year but then also attend a packed worship service without a mask every Sunday? That's not consistently pro-life. Did she applaud the previous president's Supreme Court nominations because justices who will restrict abortions are important to her but then also cheer when Oklahoma and Florida passed laws granting immunity for people who drive over protestors and perhaps kill them? That's not consistently pro-life. (And in Florida, "rioters" who you can run over with your motor vehicle are defined as a gathering of three of more people. Seriously.)

Put aside the other important and true arguments against the death penalty - it's more expensive than keeping someone in prison, it's not an effective deterrent, the sentencing is hugely skewed to the poor and the non-white. If you are pro-life, if you are a Christian and therefore have read past the vengeful justice of the Old Testament, if you do not believe it is a human's place to serve as final executioner of another man who was made in the image of God, then I think what is happening in Texas tonight and what was decided in South Carolina this week should be troubling to you. 

"With every cell of my being and with every fiber of my memory, I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe that any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don't think it's human to become an agent of the angel of death." - Elie Wiesel, writer, speaker, Holocaust survivor

"Perhaps the bleakest fact of all is that the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent." - former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan

"Capital punishment is against the better judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God." - Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

My Son Has COVID and We Have So Many People to Thank!

 

My son was diagnosed with Covid earlier this week. I can hear him coughing from his sealed off bedroom as I type. He said he feels like he's played five baseball games straight with only a ten-minute break between each one. His sister is fine for now but is quarantined from school until at least May 6 and I have to stay home from work for the same time. We each have selected a separate part of the home in which to sequester. 

When it comes to my son's diagnosis, let's be honest - there is no way he could have achieved this on his own. We have so many people to thank! Instead of writing each of them individually, I thought I would thank all of them here.

1. Thank you to all of the parents who told their kids that wearing masks at school is pointless and an infringement on freedom. Your kids listened and wore their masks under their noses or even their chins like champs. Special thanks to the parents of the kid who called my son a "liberal" because my son double knotted his masks to make sure they were secure.

2. Thank you to the schools who stopped doing daily temperature and symptom checks a month ago despite the vocal opposition of the school nurses. On a related note, thank you to the parents who sent kids to school with symptoms because they knew the schools no longer were checking. 

3. Thank you to all of the people who don't wear masks while in stores. There are so many of you, but I specifically would like to mention my state representative and my state senator as well as two city council members for their leadership on this detail, as I've seen all of them out shopping without masks. As supposed champions of the private sector, I am surprised that they would be so disrespectful to the posted requests by private business owners. But, hey, my elected officials are full of fun surprises and inconsistencies.

4. Thank you to all of the churches who have welcomed congregants back into crowded auditoriums.  Sure, spreading a highly communicable disease in tight quarters is an interesting twist on the call to love your neighbor, but OK. Special shout out to the church that told those who wanted to wear masks that they could sit by themselves in a separate room and the service would be broadcast to them on a TV. And another special shout out to the church whose members regularly protest outside the women's health clinic in my town but who don't require any masks or social distancing at their services. Being consistent in your pro-life message isn't really needed anyway.

I sat and cried in the clinic when he got diagnosed this week. We mask up indoors. We distance. I haven't hugged my parents in a year and a half. I got teased for sitting away and by myself at the kids' games. So, my tears were those of anger and frustration. I'm mad that my family's health is reliant on others to do the right thing. I mad that friends who have been SO CAREFUL for a year and who have serious health risks in their family also just found out their kids have tested positive due to exposure at school. 

But now that I've gotten those sarcastic notes of appreciation out of the way, I have some genuine thoughts of gratitude to share as we deal with a positive Covid test more than a year into this pandemic.

1. Thank you to those who don't follow Covid protocols . . . really. It has allowed me to have important conversations with my kids about how we should look out for one another and how we are all connected. We have discussed what I expect from them someday as adult members of whatever community in which they choose to live. Think about others. Take care of people. Look what happens when you don't.

2. Thank you for the vaccine. I've only gotten my first dose so far, but that should give me at least 80% protection against Covid. While I'm keeping my son in his own space and we are wearing masks when I need to be near him, at least I know that I'm more safe around him than I would have been a month ago.

3. Thank you to Woodmont Baptist Church for modeling Christian compassion and sense of service to one another over this past year. Woodmont has been my church home since my girl was a baby and although I'm not plugged in like I once was for various reasons, I still love so many of the people there and how they care for our city and continue to care for and check on my family. They waited a long time to reopen, still serving people and worshipping in multiple alternate ways, and even now the church requires masks from the moment you step out of the car and throughout the service. And, families remain distanced from one another in the pews. The result? There has not been a single positive test traced back to the church since the pandemic started. It works.

4. Thank you to the many friends who have offered to bring us groceries or help in any way they can while we are inside and quarantined. The Moore Trio is loved and well cared for. And thank you to the friends and family with whom I've vented and cried over the past few days through calls and texts. It's nice not to feel alone. 

And look, I'm not saying that my son is sick as a direct result of any particular person in my town not wearing a mask to buy groceries. Sometimes people are still getting sick despite the best efforts of everyone around them. And, we haven't been perfect. This pandemic is rough and not over and could strike any one of us. 

But my tears this week stemmed from the fact that my son is one small piece in a much larger collective puzzle we have in our country. They stemmed from resignation to the fact that I can take steps to protect my family but then have to leave the rest in others' hands. I guess it's like that every time my family gets in a car, except that I imagine there aren't multiple other drivers on the interstate voluntarily taking their hands off the wheel or driving with faulty brakes in the vicinity of my kids. As a wise woman with whom I share a lot of DNA said to me this week, humans are a part of an ecosystem with one another and that comes with responsibility. We need to be responsible.

Statistics bear out that my son likely will feel better soon. My daughter avoids her brother as much as possible on most days, so hopefully she is virus-free now and will remain that way. I trust that both kids are getting the schoolwork done that they can at home and will be diligent about getting caught up on the rest when they return. This week and next will be just another part of our experience from this pandemic that we can recount with stories around the table in thirty years. But I would have been just fine without this story to tell. 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Church and the Classroom and the Constitution

When I taught at a high school in the same town where I now live in Tennessee, the social studies teacher across the hall from me had a wooden lectern at the front of his classroom and on that lectern sat a large Bible. He would start every class reading Scripture to his students and then giving a five-minute sermon before moving to the social studies lesson for the day. 

At first, I didn't say anything. I was new to the school, new to Tennessee. I was young and didn't look much different than the high school seniors I was teaching. I sometimes got stopped and asked for my hall pass by school security or other teachers who didn't know me. I was lacking gravitas and afraid to ruffle feathers. But before long, I decided that I could not in good conscience teach the Constitution in my room while that was going on right next to me. 

I asked the teacher about this daily ritual he had with his students and he told me this was a Christian town and no one had a problem with it. I then went to the principal, who said to me, "Well, you just like to cause problems, don't you?" Despite this chastisement, I insisted it needed to stop. Before long, both that other teacher and some of the students were referring to me as the "damn Yankee teacher." (To which I responded that Maryland never officially chose a side in the Civil War but that history lesson did not help to persuade people to my cause.) As a government teacher with a room of seventeen-year-old students in front of me, I wanted them to see the relevance that a document that was written more than two centuries ago had on their daily lives and challenge them to think about its application from perspectives other than their own. (Just as I previously had challenged my students back in Maryland when they insisted there was no way that Lincoln could have freed the slaves because he was a Republican.)

More than a decade later, I was now a parent in the same school system and my daughter's elementary school chorus concert was scheduled to take place in a Baptist church down the street from the school building. That was fine, as church facilities often are used for all sorts of community events. But then, the pastor of this church led all assembled guests in a Christian prayer before the concert started. Not OK. I mumbled under my breath not as quietly as I intended, "This is a public school. Does no one else have a problem with this?" I once again spoke with the school principal, who told me that we were guests of the church and the host had a right to welcome us. When I continued to express my concern to others in the community, people told me how sad they were for me and that they would pray for me. 

In the midst of both of these episodes, I was attending church regularly and participating in Bible studies and engaged in an active prayer life. My objections to what was happening in our schools was not out of a desire to stop students from hearing the Bible or words of prayer, but it was because of my passion for our Constitution and the freedoms both for and from religion that it is supposed to afford for all. I mean, the search for religious liberty was a pretty big reason that this country got started in the first place. And guess what? With church membership under fifty percent for the first time in our nation's history, the Constitution is the same document that will continue to protect Christians in their worship and evangelism. 

These past incidents were on my mind this morning because I still worry that many powerful voices in our communities, from elected officials to school administrators to civic and religious leaders, don't do enough to protect the minority viewpoints, which is the most important reason the First Amendment exists. 

I imagine there are those who would assert that people just should move away if they don't like the integration of the Bible and prayer into the local public school system. It's the old "love it or leave it" approach, which I've always found to be one of the most un-American phrases there is. American history and progress and leadership almost always has been built on agitating and pushing and questioning the status quo. After all, we are still and always striving to be a "more perfect Union." And I love my home and my neighbors and my friends, including the Christians and Hindus and Muslims and atheists who live on and around my block and whose kids sit in class with my children. 

When we really value the Constitution and our founding principles, we need to remember that our most ardent calls to protect freedoms must come in defense of those with whom we disagree. It does not matter if 90% of those around us hold the same beliefs and are comfortable with whatever may be occurring. Because someday, you might need those marginalized individuals who you once dismissed as holding a minority opinion to protect and fight for you. 

"In republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority," - James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, spoken at the Virginia Convention in 1829

Friday, March 26, 2021

My Anxiety Captured in Right Field

Earlier this week, a local Twitter account inadvertently captured my current state of anxiety in a photograph. Do you see that figure in a pink sweatshirt sitting alone with arms crossed? Having a bit of a Bernie Sanders moment? That's me. Sitting by myself out behind the right field fence during my daughter's high school softball game. (And I must state that my arms and legs were twisted up like a pretzel because it was super cold that night, not because I was irritated.)

The truth is, I've long enjoyed sitting by myself or at least away from the crowd of parents at my kids' games. I like the quiet. I like just to focus on the game. (OK, sometimes I read a book AND watch.) I get uncomfortable when adults yell at umpires or get too intense over a certain play. But I also get uncomfortable with a lot of enthusiastic cheering. I know that seems silly, but my introvert game is strong in these environments. And, sports is so much more a THING here than where I grew up. Heck, I was on the tennis team in high school and my parents didn't come to a single match. I don't remember any other parents being there, either. I don't think it occurred to us that they were supposed to come. 

So, over the years, I just got more inclined to carving out my own little spot to watch games. Sometimes I will be joined by a couple other parents, but I am almost always away from the crowd. My kids always know where I am and I absolutely love seeing them play. 

But something changed over the past year and intensified my desire to sit apart and alone. My underlying anxiety that has given me stomach pain since high school and has my jaw often aching from being clenched and that sometimes causes chest pains and unusual EKGs found itself operating on a whole new level once COVID hit. Being around a bunch of people while a easily communicable disease runs rampant? Makes me anxious. And that was compounded by the fact that I spent months separated from any other adults and now only my only regular adult interaction is with my four co-workers and we even stay in our own offices unless we have masks on. This isolation, I see now, has made a lot of "normal" human interaction challenging. I feel like I've forgotten how to do it. 

The problem is, though, that I look at this photo and realize people are not automatically going to see a woman and a mom who is struggling with her own anxieties and with other stuff in her personal world right now about which barely anyone knows. They see someone who looks standoffish and unfriendly. And that's not who I want to be.

My daughter has another game tonight. And I've decided that I'm going to leave my spot in the outfield. I'm going to come closer to the community of other parents, who are lovely people with whom I want to build better relationships. Now don't get me wrong, I'm still going to keep some distance because this pandemic isn't over. But I will be in the general vicinity. Truth be told, I've been anxious for the past two days thinking about it. I know that probably seems weird to some others - days of anxiety just thinking about sitting in or near bleachers during a softball game. But, that's my truth right now. I actually sat in the bleachers for the JV game on the same night the photo above was taken and I could not wait to break out. I kept looking around for exits. Not a super relaxed way to enjoy a ball game. I don't want to feel that way.

If you have found yourself struggling in new ways since the pandemic started, or if your old struggles have been exacerbated by this environment, you are far from alone. As a doctor told me a couple of weeks ago, medical professionals are going to be writing journal articles for decades about the mental health impact of this past year. I want to be open about my own anxiety so that perhaps I can put a little more grace in the world out there for myself and others, and also so that I can motivate myself to face it and push through some of the discomfort. 

Go Hawks! 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

2300 Days (Subtitle - Embracing My People and My Place)


We are all human. Therefore, we all have some wonderful traits and some areas of ourselves that could use improvement. Here is my confession concerning the latter: When I get upset or just don't know how to deal with a situation, I become a hermit. I shut down. I close in my walls. I try to block out what is bothering me but at the expense of also keeping out the good stuff I need to have around me. The lyrics from "I Am a Rock" by Simon and Garfunkel start to sound appealing. I've been going through one of those spells recently. 

The truth is I've felt uncomfortable in my surroundings for the past year. I started looking at houses in other parts of the country. I even looked at the process for transplanting to another country altogether. I asked my kids how they would feel about moving. I called a couple of friends back in DC about possible jobs. And recently while out walking my dogs through our neighborhood, I did some mental math and realized I have approximately 2300 days until my son graduates from high school. I thought, "OK. I can make it that long. I will go to work and take care of my kids and read books and this will be fine."

For the rest of that night, I couldn't shake the fact that I was trying to convince myself to survive more than two thousand days before I could find a place to be happy. How twisted. 

I've tried to determine the genesis of my growing discomfort. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with politics. Some of it has to with the pandemic, which ultimately has to do with politics. Maybe it's realizing that I only have a few years left with my kids in the house and I'm second guessing every decision I've made for our family up to this point. Maybe I'm frustrated that I've only seen my parents once in the past year and a half. It could be that I've never really fit in with the cool moms in town. Part of it is that I'm romanticizing the incredibly diverse, large city environment in which I grew up and I'm worried my children are missing out. It could be that for years my kids and I spent a lot of time with a wonderful church family and now we don't really experience that anymore and that has led to more isolation. Could it be that my kids are older and don't spend that much time with me so my aloneness is more glaring than it was a few years ago?

Whatever the reason or combination of reasons for my discontent, the day after I actually counted the days until my son will be an adult was the day I realized that I needed to change my mindset. Because I was being dismissive of the wonderful people who surround my family and care for us every day. I was focused on what wasn't working instead of turning toward the many ways I have opportunities to be part of a community. I was becoming so consumed with fueling my own pity (gross) and focused on what wasn't working well that I could not see how fortunate I am.

As my daughter, who at fifteen often has more confidence and sense of self than I do at forty-five, tells me when I share my worries with her about how my beliefs are different than many others around us or I feel strongly about an issue that others dismiss, "Mom, don't worry about the opinions or the judgments of those who are not your people. The ones you seem to worry about the most? Not your people. Waste of energy. Spend time with your people."

She's right. I'm somehow raising a pretty incredible and insightful young woman. While I shouldn't ignore what I see as injustices or stark differences in ideologies when they affect my family or community, I also shouldn't let it bother and consume me as much as it does. I shouldn't give other people that much power. It stops me from allowing joy and happiness in the space I inhabit right now. 

Last week, my son was having a rough time. A friend took hours away from his own family on a weekend to treat him to rock climbing and lunch. The next day, that same friend came over again just to check on my son and sit with him a while longer. When my son needed help talking through a problem a couple of days ago, I knocked on my neighbor's door. He came right over and pulled a chair up close to my kid, looked him in the eyes, and spoke quietly with him for a half hour. There are a couple of dads from my girl's softball team who think of her like a daughter. They build her up and hold her accountable and look out for her. The attorneys at my office are like brothers to me. I can ask them advice about parenting or my health or home repairs and I get honest feedback from a place of caring and friendship. I could give so many more examples. These men? My people.

I have girlfriends who I can trust to be there for anything I need. We've walked with each other through births and deaths and divorces and diapers and college admissions essays. I can cry around them. I can tell them my fears as a parent or when my kids have done something that isn't worthy of a shiny social media caption without feeling embarrassed. I don't care (mostly) how my house looks when they visit. A few days ago, one of them brought me a beer as we stood on top of a hill and watched our kids sled. And we laughed together until my stomach hurt. More than decade ago, one of them offered me a bed when my marriage was falling apart and that same year a group of them held vigil at the hospital as I went into labor. We celebrate each other's joys and successes and hold one another through tragedy and confusion. I could give so many more examples. These women? My people.

And the thing is, the longer I spend thinking about all of the amazing people who are a part of my life every day, the more I realize that I'm being ungrateful and shortchanging myself on a lot of joy if I focus on what doesn't look as I hoped it would be. From neighbors to coaches to teachers to friends to the best co-workers imaginable, I have so many reasons to be content right here, right where I am today. Changing zip codes is not going to do a single thing to make me happier if I cannot make focusing on the good of primary importance no matter where I am. I hereby commit to immerse myself more in my current tribe, to expand my tribe, and to release myself from those who may not belong with me but who make beautiful members in other tribes.  

Will I still move someday? It's quite possible. After all, there is a big world out there and want to immerse myself in more of it. I may decide for a dozen different reasons that my kids would flourish better elsewhere in the next few years. Life may hand me circumstances I cannot begin to imagine. But in the meantime, I need to honor and embrace where I am and who is with me while I'm here. I'm responsible for that - for finding my happiness with my people. And for doing a better job of letting them know that I love them and appreciate them and that they are way more than enough to stop me from the absurd intention of marking the next 2300 days off on a calendar. 


Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Homecoming Dress

My freshman year of high school, I was not really plugged into what one was supposed to wear to a homecoming dance. So, my mom took me to some store inside Laurel Mall and I picked out a plaid skirt and a black wool cardigan that had trim to match the skirt. When I arrived at the school, I soon realized that my chosen outfit did not align with the general understanding of "semi-formal." So, I spent most of the evening sitting at a hidden table just outside of the cafeteria with my friend who also had dressed much more casually than most of our peers.

You could argue that my friend and I could have been more confident and walked into the cafeteria to enjoy that dance no matter what we were wearing. And, your point would be a valid one. I would hope my own daughter would have marched onto that tiled floor, started dancing to "Miss You Much" by Janet Jackson, and within a half hour have everyone there convinced that they should have worn a cardigan. But, my friend and I were very shy fourteen-year-old girls who had taken a big swing and miss at our first major social event for high school We chose to lick our adolescent wounds in the shadows while others slow danced to Roxette's "Listen to Your Heart."

The following year, surprisingly undeterred, I asked my mom to take me shopping for homecoming again. This time, I picked out a black velvet number that I knew would make me blend in more on that cafeteria dance floor. And even though it cost more than any any dress worn by a sophomore in high school should, my mom bought it for me. This was unusual, as my mother was not one to encourage spending a lot of money on clothes or other such things. But she must have realized that the dress had more of a meaning for me. 

I loved that dress. After stopping with my girlfriends for Frostys at Wendy's, as pictured below, we headed to school and enjoyed Homecoming 1990. I stayed in the cafeteria the whole time. I remember doing the Electric Slide and dancing with a senior to "Humpty Dance." 


An interesting twist, though, is I never really cared about having a fancy dress again. My junior year, my friends and I opted to dress up in togas and go bowling on homecoming instead of going to the dance. I don't remember what I did senior year. Perhaps another member of the ERHS Class of 1993 can remind me. As for senior prom, I went my junior year because my boyfriend at the time was a senior and my senior year I went with a friend and we hung out in a big group the whole night, Both times, I wore lovely dresses sewn by my mom. Maybe I grew more confident in myself and with my friends and didn't need that expensive black velvet dress anymore.

But I've been thinking about that sophomore year dress a lot this past week. That was an indulgent treat that I still remember as being so special thirty years later. Or the times that my mom drove me to Peoples Drug so I could get the new issues of Teen Beat and Tiger Bear the days they hit the stands. That didn't cost her any money, but it still was indulgent. Or when she surprised me on my walk home from school in first grade with some snacks at a picnic table that I passed every day. (Because in 1981 kids were allowed to walk the mile and a half home by themselves, as it should be.) 

My two children have struggled during the pandemic, both in different ways. I don't want to write more about that now, but perhaps will someday when the feelings and the difficulties are not so tender and fresh. But I want to make sure they have some of those memories of indulgences to break up the nearly year-long lack of structure and time with friends and normal kid stuff. It could be the three-mile run I took with my son just to enjoy some new scenery and talk. Or it could be the special decorations I bought for my daughter's room because she spends so much time in there. Or the night we bought a bunch of junk food and slept in the tent in our backyard. Maybe it is spending a bit more money than I would have and surprising my son with a particular hoodie he's been wanting for a long time. 

It doesn't need to be a black velvet homecoming dress. But while I do have expectations for my kids' behavior and I never want them to expect a "yes" to their every request, it is fun to surprise and indulge from time to time. Especially during a period when so much has been taken from them.


 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

When It's All My Daughter Knows

I have a confession. Before I voted for Joe Biden in November 2020, the last time I voted for a Democrat to be president was in 1996. It's hard to admit that in the environment of 2021, considering what the Republican Party has become. I feel no connection to a party that now ignores rule of law and mocks science and gives oxygen to conspiracy theories and lies and wants to tear us apart. The Republicans I voted for at one time barely resemble whatever it is that the party is now. And that is difficult to explain to my daughter. (I haven't even told her that I once met Sean Hannity. I think I've tried to block that moment out because that's just gross.)

My fifteen-year-old equates voting for a Republican with endorsing Trump. And her perspective is understandable. Trump became president when she was ten years old, which is right around the age when I started gaining a real interest in politics. Trump is really all she knows in any meaningful way of leadership in the Oval Office and of Republicans. And that's unfortunate. 

I tell my daughter that for most of my life, Democrats and Republicans have been able to disagree on the size of the social safety net or our responsibilities abroad or the definitions of crimes and punishments, but that these were policy discussions that took place inside the assumption that all participants valued our republic and had its best interests at heart. I tell her that policy differences and debates are a good thing and they have helped our country evolve and become stronger over the past 200+ years. But healthy debate and a preeminent emphasis on the Constitution and a belief in the innate goodness of people - none of that existed during the Trump administration. There has been no example for my kids to witness. 

I try to explain to her that Trump is not a Republican by traditional definition. I tell her that former national Republican leaders like Reagan and Bush and McCain and state leaders here in Tennessee like Thompson and Frist and Corker were nothing like what Trump and his adherents represent now. I tell her that there are many others like me who voted for Republicans in the past but who are greatly troubled by what the GOP has become. I'm friends with many fellow voters who don't recognize the party we once, at least sometimes, found cause to support - and we lament together often!

I want my daughter to know that I voted for Republicans or Libertarians to be president because that is what my reading of the Constitution and my understanding of our nation's structure prescribed. Small and limited government in DC with state and local officials making their own decisions about the role that government should play in healthcare, education, the arts, infrastructure, wealth redistribution, and so on. That's federalism, after all. 

I also want my daughter to know that the disintegration of the Republican Party into what we see today started when she was a toddler with a woman named Sarah Palin. Palin's nomination was a move that John McCain did not want and I believe always regretted. Palin fed an undercurrent of fear and anger that existed in the souls of many in our country and that finally was brought out of hiding. Palin ushered in the Tea Party who then laid out the red carpet for Trump. In all instances, in that continuum from Palin to Trump, the bend was towards authoritarianism and dismantling of a free republic in the name of "patriotism," which always has been so disturbing and sad to me. Many Republicans discovered that playing to our worst instincts was an effective way to get elected and gain power and now we have representatives like Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene to prove it. I explain all of this to my daughter. 

Now, I need my daughter to know, the only way I ever will vote for a Republican candidate again is if he or she has disavowed Trump and all the damage he tried to inflict on our Constitution and our freedoms. Such politicians are out there, but sadly their numbers are not large. The work that politicians like Rep. Adam Kinzinger in Pennsylvania and Governor Larry Hogan in Maryland are doing to rehabilitate the Republican Party is important. But only time will tell if it bears any fruit. I'm not betting on it. At least not when half of the GOP caucus just yesterday gave a standing ovation to an anti-Semite who believes school shootings are staged and that Muslims shouldn't be allowed to serve in Congress. 

President Biden isn't awesome. He's not the great political savior for our country. But if nothing else, I'm hoping that his term in office will offer my kids a sense of what it can be like to have valid policy disagreements that don't devolve into name calling. That they can see two parties with fundamental differences but with members who want to compromise. I dream that my kids can see political relationships like the one between Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s - the politics that I saw when I was their age. Or maybe, at the very least, they just can appreciate a few years of the machinations in DC being boring again. 

Is anyone else out there struggling to convince their children that politics used to be different? Does anyone else get the "Ugh, how could you?" reply if you mention your previous voting decisions, because what that vote means now is different than what it represented twenty or thirty years ago? 

Here's a photo of me at age twenty displaying excellent posture (while still wearing my coat for some reason) at my White House internship in the Communications Office. I regret that I am wearing white nylons. I'm sure there are some juicy Clinton secrets on those post-it notes. It was a year after this that I would cast my last vote for a Democrat to be president until I did so once again several months ago. The fresh-faced college kid you see here believed in the goodness of both political parties. Will my daughter be able to feel the same in five years?




Saturday, January 30, 2021

I Am a Writer

Several days ago, I participated in a Zoom coffee break with the online community of writers that I recently joined. We took turns sharing what we were reading and writing and how our work was going.  The people on the call discussed how they were rewriting a particular chapter of a book draft or going through notes to flesh out details of a character or exchanging emails with a publisher. 

I felt so intimidated. Out of place. I wrote a blog post and I was reading a really good book. (I just finished the book yesterday, actually. It's titled Writers & Lovers and it's by Lily King and it's amazing. I actually hugged it when I closed the last page. It's the fourth book I've finished in 2021 because reading is bringing me so much joy this year.) Is that what I'm supposed to tell everyone? That seemed so inadequate. I was wasting the time of these real writers by sharing my updates. I didn't belong there. 

But why not? What makes someone a REAL writer, after all?

I have told people that I want to be a writer for as long as I can remember. When I was in second grade, my friend Kimberly and I wrote lengthy petitions asking if she could spend the night or at least stay at the house long enough to watch Silver Spoons. In third grade, that same friend and I used my parents' typewriter to create several editions of our newsletter entitled "People Are Funny." In fourth grade, I won my class' weekly creative writing contest seventeen times. In fifth grade, I founded the newspaper at my elementary school. It was called The Harrison Bugle and I was editor-in-chief with around ten other student writers who stayed after school to work on articles.

As I moved into middle and high school, I would sit in my backyard with a notebook and write about everything - my parents, the girls at school who intimidated me, what would happen when I die, how I felt about my boyfriend. In fact, the name of this blog, "Notebook and a Blanket," comes from those hours spent on the grass in my yard.

In college, writing papers was my favorite. I always started with a legal pad and pen before eventually walking to the nearest computer lab to type it all up (yes, kids - in those days I did not have a laptop in my dorm room and had to go to one of the communal computer labs, either in the basement of the neighboring dorm or in the back of one of the parking garages). I loved the feel of the pen in my fingers and the paper moving beneath my hand. I even wrote my entire senior honors thesis about the fragility of Russia's new openness following centuries of authoritarian rule on paper over the course of many months and slowly moved it to a computer screen chapter by chapter. I wrote letters to the campus newspaper. I worked on political campaigns and wrote material for the candidates. I interned at the White House in the communications department and worked on letters that eventually were signed with the president's name.

When I worked as an academic advisor at University of Maryland and Boston University, I created newsletters for faculty and students and it was one of my favorite parts of the job. As a high school government teacher, I made my students do SOOO MUCH writing and this isn't even English class (imagine that being said in the tone of an unhappy 17-year-old). Being able to communicate your knowledge of any subject in written form was important to me, so I made them develop that skill as well. After becoming a mom, I spent several years doing freelance writing and editing work until my divorce required a job that had a reliable and bigger paycheck every two weeks.

And now? I have this blog. I make lengthy posts on Facebook. I use both of those platforms to write about politics and parenting and music and random observations. In the journal pictured above, I write about fears and hopes and doubts and desires that aren't for public consumption. I read a lot, finding inspiration to write more by spending time immersed in the craft of others. I have four decades of a passion for putting words together. I long for the opportunity to share what I create with more people, and I'm working on ways to make that a reality. 

I don't write all of this to share my writing resume stretching back to 1982. Instead, I want to lay it all out and confront myself with the question of why I still struggle to say out loud, "I am a writer!" Is it because my name is not printed on a book cover or I don't have any articles that have been read by thousands of people? Are those really the qualifications?

And here is the more general question. Why do any of us resist owning our talents? Why are we hesitant to proclaim, "Yes, I am a ________" and not couch it in justifications or then backtrack?

Because here's the thing. I often feel out of place where I live, more so in the past year than the other eighteen that I've lived here. That can be lonely. I question how well I nurture relationships with friends and family. I worry that I fall short in many areas of my daily life. But I know this - I feel most alive and most comfortable when I am putting words together to create a mood or express my opinion. It's art. I think I'm good at it. And that should be enough! 

Even my son, when I told him I was writing a piece tonight about my how I really want to be a writer, said, "Aren't you a writer already?" He is wise. He affirmed me with a question I needed to hear. 

So here it is. I've decided tonight, on January 30, 2021, that it's time to stop telling people "I want to be a writer someday" or "I really wish I was a writer" and take ownership of who I already am.

My name is Sarah Moore. And I am a writer. I guess I've been one for a long time. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Snapshot

 

I took this photo of myself earlier today. It was at 12:27pm to be exact. If I had to give this photo a title, perhaps it would be "Tearful and Temporarily Defeated 45-Year-Old Single Mom in Black and White." Not particularly poetic language, but descriptive. While I took this photo today, I could have grabbed the same image multiple times over the past five months.

Minutes before I took this photo and right before he ran upstairs, I was in an argument with my sixth grade son that went, on my end, something like "you are old enough that I shouldn't have to hover over you to make sure your school work gets done" and  "why wasn't this done yesterday?" and "I don't want to be still asking you to get your work done at 9:00pm." We have had this argument before. It doesn't seem to become more fruitful with repeated efforts. But still I default to it more often than I should. And then I feel guilty and insufficient because my words are not helpful.

My son is home all day Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday and his sister is home all day Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday and I am home all day Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. It's been this way the entire school year. And I'm frustrated because we still haven't figured out how to make it work. Surely by now I would craft us a nutritious breakfast while my children got online and checked on their classes and wrote a list of their assignments for the day. Then, I would sit at my desk and be an awesome paralegal all day and my kids would employ impressive time management and glide through their work and learn so many wonderful things. Nope.

Instead, three days a week, I nag my son about classwork located on multiple online platforms that I still haven't deciphered while worrying that he's playing too many video games even though that's a primary way that he talks with friends these days. He is struggling with the lack of structure and the isolation. And now we can add the onset of adolescence to layer one more piece of his life that seems out of control when he already has control over so little. And three days a week, I text his sister at noon with something like, "Hey, get out of bed and do some school work. It's noon!" She is struggling with essentially missing out on her first year of high school and wanting to socialize and be independent and taking honors courses while being taught only once a week. And I carry their struggles and that shows on this photo that I took at 12:27pm today.

Of course, though, that's not really all that I'm doing at home. In front of me, not pictured in this photograph I took at 12:27pm today, is my work laptop that is open at my kitchen table. And while I was yelling at my son just minutes before, I also had emails going back and forth about depositions in one case and I was trying to answer discovery in another. I feel disconnected from my office and the regular flow of a busy work day. I worry that important details are slipping through the cracks. I love what I do for a living - I'm good at it and I'm confident that I make our office better. But is this still true, really? Some of the tears today were borne of such fears.

But I looked at that photograph I took at 12:27pm and decided I was not going to stay in that headspace. I hugged my son as he whispered, "We've got this, Mom. We'll make it." I took a hot shower. I drank a lot of water. I texted my boss and asked for a meeting tomorrow to talk through some of our cases and get on the same page. Then I allowed myself fifteen minutes to sit outside and take deep breaths and read because we enjoyed unusually warm weather today. 

I also took a few moments to do an inventory of the reasons I'm grateful, which always is helpful when I find myself in a condition like the one in which I landed at 12:27pm. I have a job that allows me to work from home as much as needed during the pandemic. Or, even more simply, I have a job. Multiple friends cannot say as much right now. My kids are older and, despite my nagging, really do not need my constant presence as they do school work. My hair is up and disheveled because this morning I got up and ran (kind of) for three miles (and then didn't bother to shower as I sat right down to work). So, I'm grateful for exercise.

That photograph taken at 12:27pm was just a snapshot. It's not where I stayed all day. But these moments of being overwhelmed and feeling anxious and convincing myself that I'm falling short on all fronts did not end when time expired on 2020. The new year did not change everything. In fact, it often seems the cumulative effect of all the days now behind us since March make these 12:27pm moments come more often. We are exhausted.

I will cry again. Probably this week. Because I don't have the skills needed to work and learn and live in a pandemic all figured out. Living this way, with screens and without hugs and touch and communal joy and grief, with loads of uncertainty and without the comforts of the same daily structures we have known for years, is not natural. And that makes me cry. It may not be at 12:27pm the next time. It could be at 6:14pm while I'm making dinner or at 10:10pm when my son still isn't asleep because he is worried about the condition of our world. My tears are part of inevitable snapshots of the times in which we are living. But if you had a camera on me all day, you also would get snapshots of laughter and peace and comfort and effort and love. And it's those moments to which I will return and from which I will gain strength when another 12:27pm moment inevitably comes.