Sunday, February 13, 2011

A thank you to Myrlie Evers

Hello, my friends...

Here I sit, on a gloomy Sunday. Alone with my thoughts, and "The Ghosts of Mississippi" in the background - courtesy of the Toronto Public Library. I have watched this movie over and over and over. There is something about it that calls out to me. Demands to be watched; to be heard and to be understood. It holds my rapt attention; yet I can't seem to figure out why.

Is it the cinematography? Maybe. It is a beautiful picture. The acting? There certainly is something captivating about seeing Myrlie Evers brought to the screen. Each and every time the music from the opening sequence brings an ache to my soul and a twist in my gut.

But something tells me that there is more to the way I am feeling than the scenery, the music and the acting. Ms. Evers carried on her husband's fight for equality, peace and justice for more than 25 years after he was killed by Byron de la Beckwith. She and others, stood firm on what was right and fair. For as long as it took. The second time I watched this, I wondered if Ms. Evers felt the hopelessness and futility of her battle; if she ever wanted to just lay down the battle axe and let Medgar rest. I've wondered if she has ever been overcome with despair; thought that the destination just wasn't worth the journey.

I can't comment on that. I don't personally know Ms. Myrlie Evers. I don't know what she felt in the quarter century after her husband's death, and journey to justice.

An "aha!" moment, I think. It's not the pictures, the acting or the music. It's the fight. Taking a hit; falling down. But always getting back up. Toothless and bloody - but standing up nonetheless.

I have had many, many moments in my life where I have felt that the battle is not worth fighting. Its futility is all too clear to me. The challenge is insurmountable - you may as well ask me to cure cancer.

President Kennedy said, "those who act boldly recognize right as well as reality." You must be willing to take bold, and uncompromising steps to stand for what is right.

Does what you do boldly still count when your 'steps' are taken sitting down?

I worry. I worry that it does not, or is at least diminished.

Have you ever wept on a subway train? The hurt becomes so overwhelming that you feel like you'll explode, ripping from the inside out. And yet, you are powerless to push back against the weight holding you down; your soul feels so heavy that you wonder if you will ever feel lightness and joy again.

I have.

Lately, I've felt as though the weight of the world is upon me. I am a strong, educated woman. I am a lucky woman. By most measures, most people would see me as successful. I have a job that I love, a strong and healthy marriage. Our home is a nurturing one where everyone is safe to be whomever they please. I am so proud of that fact, in and of itself.

But in all of this, I feel that my own steps are diminished.

So where am I going with this? I'm not sure that even I know that. But I know that somehow, it comes back to what I thought was "Paying it Forward".

I have thought about and spoken out about the idea of "Paying it Forward". Every day acts of kindness that have the power to change someone's life. Do they really? Or do they have more diminishing and dehumanizing power than we realize? Are we really cognizant of the fact that what we think might be kindness is really undermining personhood?

I didn't think of this possibility until that day, on the train. I was feeling defeated in my efforts to try and leave my mark on this world - to help people help themselves to change their own lives.

Then a young man standing next to me said, "here. Take my mitts." I told him that I already had some, and I "didn't need them". I was overcome with shame.

I remember that man, standing outside of Shopper's Drug Mart when I gave him my gloves and hat on a winter night in 2008. I remember the woman I gave my earrings to...the woman I gave a subway token to in the grocery store...the man I invited in to a restaurant for lunch. Did they feel the same shame that I did?

I will always wonder about that now.

Then, the young man asked me if I would like him to "pray for me". Usually I am quite good at kindly and politely declining requests for prayer. My shame was intensified in a way that I have never experienced before. I could feel all of those eyes on me; each and every one of them filled with pity.

Charles Evers told Bobby DeLaughter about Robert Johnson, the night before the final trial. Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues, was a blues guitar player whom was rumoured to have 'sold his soul to the devil to play guitar like that'.

In that moment, I would have sold my soul. To get up and walk away from that chair; I would give anything. I wanted to die.

It is my prison. I am imprisoned; but part of a world that pretends I am free. That I am equal.

President Kennedy said in his 1963 Civil Rights address, that "if a man cannot enjoy a full and free life, who among him would be content to have the color of his skin changed?"

If I cannot be free to enjoy a full and free life who among me would be content to trade places with me?

I expect that I will receive a great many comments about just how fortunate I really am. I do not turn away from my blessings, nor do I fail to recognize the struggles of others and their own pain. I will be right there with you to carry it, should you want me there.

My struggle is plain. There for the world to see. I have no choice.

No choice but to pick up, carry on, and keep on fighting. To be one of "those who act boldly, recognizing right as well as reality."

No matter how long it takes. I guess I have Myrlie to thank for that.

Goodnight, lovlies. I love you all, very much...xo

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Paying it Forward

Hello, beauties!

Today marks my first official blog of the new year - 2011! Happy New Year to each of you! I trust that the holidays have found each of you well, and that you are taking good care of each other.

Dear Sainted Husband is out at a production meeting for his new play. So, I am taking this time to figure out which of my closest causes warrant space in my very first blog of the year. This, while my rice pudding bubbles away as a soul-warming treat for the man who warms my soul.

Thinking about the wonderful fortune of my love life makes me think about the less than wonderful fortune of others, romantic and otherwise. I often think about people in need, and what I can do as one small person, to make a big difference. It is a daunting thing, really. The idea of one tiny person trying to change the world is enough to make anyone back off and say, "forget it. This really isn't a job for me. There are other people who are better at this kind of thing than I."

My thinking has been greater solidified by a number of things - not least of which is reading Catherine Ryan Hyde's "Pay it Forward" in the last couple of days (seriously - awesome read. Worth missing your subway stop for). Sure, it's a work of fiction, but can you imagine the kind of change we could see in this world if we were all willing to work together to be a part of it?

I have been turning ideas over and over in my head - how do I make myself part of the change for a better world? Is it volunteering? Is it supporting people in their struggle as simply an ally and nothing more? Does it really require the sweeping actions of the Pay it Forward Movement?

There is no easy answer. There are pros and cons for each, and each works better in some situations than others. 

It really is harder than you might think to make the sweeping kind of Pay it Forward gesture.  Consider the example of my friend, "Joe".

Joe lives in a supported living situation, where a governmental organization pays the people he lives for his care. His financial means are limited by his situation and the rules of the organization.

After the failure of my planned European tour, I wanted to take the money that I'd been refunded and give some of it to him; so he could do something really cool with his summer - build some memories in his life that were just for him.

DSH and I discussed this at length. He agreed that it made sense. He would support me. We presented the idea. We were shut down, most unceremoniously. No matter which way you cut it, policy says no.

Policy-schmolicy, right? That's what I thought. No matter who I screamed and bellyached at about how nonsensical this was, it seemed my bellyaches were falling on deaf ears.

I couldn't - and still don't - understand. As a staff member at an organization supporting people with complex needs and never enough money, we struggle to find ways to make people's dreams come true; help them build memories. Never in my (short) career have we had someone do anything like this. I thought it would be easy. Just offer it, and they would take it. Done.

No siree, Bob. We like our terrible and completely unfair system just the way it is, thanks. Move along, and take your silliness with you.

Silly. I know. But that's what it feels like. I can't wrap my head around it. My very intelligent head. No comprendo, senor.

I have turned this over and over in my mind, to try and figure out if there was anything that I could have done differently to ensure a different result for Joe. No matter which way, I work it, I can't find a new solution.

Then I read "Pay it Forward". A new idea - or rather, a very old one - burbled to the surface of my brain. An idea that was bigger than policy and vacation. Or so I thought.

What if, like 'Trevor', I gave someone a safe place? A warm place to sleep, with a hot shower, some clean clothes...a meal? I have the space. Lord knows, I have plenty of food.

I often walk by people on the street and wonder what to say. What to do. I have also walked up to people on the street and, more than once, taken off my hat/gloves/both and given it to them. I have seen the looks on people's faces when I do it, too. Stunned. There is no other word for it.

Riding the subway en route to Pride 2010, a woman commented that she liked my earrings. So I took them off and gave them to her. Dear, Sainted Husband stared at me, incredulous. As did the woman. I can still remember her face; to this day:

"Why would you do that?" Incredulous Woman asks, jaw agape.
"Because you like them."
"Yes, I do. Don't you?"
"Of course I do. I have lots of earrings. You can have these ones."

Why wouldn't I? It was obvious that she was surprised. Clearly no one had ever done that for her before.  But maybe someday, she will think back on it, and remember a complete stranger who did something nice for someone else, just because she could.

I remember when someone did that for me. On the subway. I was having a really awful day. I was not trying to hide it. A woman took off her scarf (purple - my favorite color) and gave it to me. She said, "you look like you could use something to smile about". I smiled all day long after that. Each time I wear it, I think of this woman, who wanted nothing more than to bring a little light and joy to a spirit downcast.

Imagine the implication of saying to someone, "come. Sleep safely. Eat your fill. Take some warm clothes."

I've thought about this many times over the years. Wondering if it really would work. If I could really walk up to someone sleeping on the street and say, "I will not step over you like you are not there. I see you. And I want to share a meal with you. Know you as a person."

Maybe that's all a person would need to scrape up the last bit of fight that they had and push forward. Maybe. Who knows? No one. But nothing happens if you do nothing.

I've only ever shared this idea with one other person (two, counting Dear, Sainted Husband). Her reaction was what I expected. She expressed her concern for saftey - of my self my home and my belongings. She told me that I was noble, but naive and misguided: "you never know what could happen".

It stopped me. I never did act on it.

But she was right: you never know. You just never know what someone is going to do with a chance to change their life.

The thing is: I'm not worried about stuff. Stuff is just stuff. I didn't come with it, and I can't take it with me. There is the potential for great loss on my part.  I know that. But I believe that people are going to screw up no matter what you do - but you should still trust them with the opportunity and choice to do the right thing.

I have talked this over and over: with people at work, late at night tucked into bed with DSH, with people I know will tell me I am crazy (just to see what they say) and now here (just to see what you say).

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Wise men put their trust in ideas and not circumstances."


So I guess the big, Hamlet-esque question is: "Am I completely crazy, or am I 'Paying it Forward'?"

Good night, lovelies. xo