Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Love Letter to The Prodigal Child

My Dear Child,

This is Mommy talking. This letter is about love.

You are my very own child and I love you so much.

It has been very painful to see you struggle with your feelings as you try to find solutions to life's most difficult problems, though you have rarely shared with me exactly what it is you have been thinking. I have tried to understand, and tried my very best to provide you with loving support, even as it seems you have insisted on doing everything your own way, independently of what I have tried to tell you. I often feel you are telling me you are not interested in listening to my opinion, that you feel I cannot possibly understand what you are going through, that you believe I cannot help you.

Every person in the world has their own unique set of experiences, but that does not mean they cannot be connected to other people in loving ways. I would hope you can work on removing the obstacles you have consciously set between us, and eventually come to understand that my role in your life as your mother is a valid one, a treasure worth preserving.

I would like for us both to try to heal our relationship, as we move forward.

As I sense that you have pushed me away, I have experienced a broken sense of trust, which may take a long time to restore. It may never again be the open trust I have come to rely on with my other loved ones, friends and family, and this loss of trust between you and me produces, deep in my heart, a profound sorrow.

I have always felt you to be closest to my heart. Your approach toward life and your challenges so nearly resemble my own struggles, as I worked at developing clear thought and an awareness of my own place in the universe, as one of its many unique individuals.

I am rooting for you in your battle for a sense of wellness and wholeness. I want to believe that you are on your way to growing into the healthy adult I have always hoped you want to become. If you ultimately fail in that venture, I want it to be not for a lack of trying, nor for a perception by you that it is not possible or that you are not deserving of success. No one—anywhere or at any time, past or present or future—deserves more of a wonderful life than you do.

It grieves me that I have often been clueless as to your state of mind, as you have not seemed to be able to share with me your thought processes. You did not describe to me what you were suffering, either because you did not want me to know that there was anything wrong, or because you yourself did not understand what was happening to you. I understood more than you think I did, because my own internal struggles during childhood and adolescence were so similar to yours.

We may not have all the answers, but I want you to know that I am here alongside you on this path called life and I would like to walk with you as time moves on.

Please consider my wishes. I believe it is somehow important to a person's sense of being as a whole person, to remain connected with your family who loves you, even as we appreciate that each is a unique individual who is not like anyone else in the world. My expectation is not, that you will become like me, or indistinguishable from any of the rest of us—an invisible, though important, pillar of society—but that you will come into your own and feel you are free to become yourself, in whatever manner you find best suits you. You may then want to share with us, your family, that wonderful person, the "you" who you are. I hope you will share with me, your mother, the person who you are now, as an adult, and continue to share with me the "you" who you are, at every future step of your life. You have grown and changed. You began as a child and were nurtured by me, from within myself, and from within our family.

From the time I first saw your exquisite face, minutes after you were born, when they brought you to me and I could hold you for the first time, I felt a special incredible love and an extraordinary deep spiritual connection with you, my child.

I was then dumbfounded with hurt and surprise when, suddenly, I realized I had been caught unaware by the facts, what is implied in the discovery that one is in the presence of true love. I found myself unprepared for a new and awful sense of worry. The realization hit me, that this fountain, overflowing with joy and unblemished happiness, might not last forever. It was so distressing, my awareness that this bliss could vanish, in any instant, without warning.

I could have wallowed in the misery of my awareness of the inevitability of loss of that which is most precious, but I decided to choose differently, and make my reality one that would continue to contain our eternal connection. Our hearts would forever be as one, mother and child. I felt confident that this truth would sustain me to the end of time, no matter whatever else might happen.

I felt lucky that I had finally been able to enjoy that moment when we first met and we physically touched our skins together, out in the open air, as I had felt your presence while I carried you inside me, before you were born, and had cherished our bonded intimacy. I knew our physical closeness could not possibly last forever, so I steeled myself against the inevitable time of our eventual separation, where our paths would go in different directions.

Yet, I knew the intensity of our connection would be eternal. Through these, my words (if they are preserved), I would hope that this, an acknowledgement and description of our connection, becomes one with the consciousness of "all that is."

Now, back to the present moment.

Today, you are grown up and apart from me, both physically and in other senses of the word "apart." Yet, you are also "a part" of me. We are parts of a unified "one."

I hope to once again be able to hold you in my arms and tell you I love you with all my heart. I would hope to hear you someday echo these, my own feelings, as your own feelings of love for your mother spring honestly and freely from your own heart.

I wish you all the joy love can bring. I want you to never give up seeking love, and I want you to find much love. I want for you to find that it is love that enriches your life, as much as my love of you has enriched my own life.

My love for you will continue to make me happy until I die. I hope my love for you will live forever in your own heart, as you remember me throughout the rest of your own life, even if you outlive me. You will always have my love. Always know how much I always love you. This love and our connection will last forever.


Monday, February 23, 2015


Life is too hard. It's breathe, breathe, breathe, all the time.
~  Barbara

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
~  Gandhi

Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising up every time we fail.
~  Confucius

. . . I reflected that all things happen to oneself, and happen precisely, precisely now. Century follows century, yet events occur only in the present; countless men in the air, on the land and sea, yet everything that truly happens, happens to me. . . .
(The Garden of Forking Paths)
~ Jorge Luis Borges

The trick is, if you really believe the world is going to hell in a handbasket, don't let it upset you.
~  Susanna

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"I Am Not A Racist" from a Small Town

A recent online discussion among former residents of my hometown led to these thoughts:

I think it is important to closely examine our upbringing, and the culture of the environment that had hoped to mold us. There are those among us who demand that we who grew up in Newton, NJ, recognize that that those who most influenced us instilled in us a "white racist" mentality. I admit that, as a white person accustomed to enjoying the benefits of "white privilege," I am not qualified to opine on the correctness of their assessment.

I recall early on many instances where racial and religious difference was celebrated, not just tolerated.

I remember a particularly important incident from my days as a Girl Scout. A girl in our troop had recently moved to Newton from a southern state and was spouting racist ideology, which we junior-high kids found intolerable. We all wished to be close friends and include her in our larger circle of friends, which included the black kids we all went to school with. We talked, behind her back, about the problem of how to address the intolerance expressed by this new girl. We felt sorry for her, since she had grown up in a racist society and hadn't been exposed to any different way of thinking.

A bunch of the girls concocted a plan to teach her exactly what was wrong with her thinking. One afternoon, the scouts formed a close Friendship Circle around this new girl, an activity designed "to get to know her better." They chatted at random about fun things for several minutes, asking her questions about the town she had come from, her old school, and what kinds of things she and her old friends did together for fun. They asked about the people in her town, and whether she had ever thought she might move to somewhere like Newton. They asked what people in her old town thought about the rest of the world, in general. Eventually, one of the scouts asked casually, "So, what do you think about black people? Were there black people in your town?" She answered with her usual racist venom. Immediately, one of the girls put an extremely saddened look on her face, lowered her eyes, bowed her head as if in shame, and walked away from the circle. The other girls all looked as if they would start to cry. This prompted the girl who had made the racist comments to ask, "What's wrong with her?" One of the girls answered, "Her father is black" (which was not true, but that is beside the point. They had selected the one girl to play "the black man's daughter" simply because she had an almost-olive complexion, the darkest of our lily-white crowd). The other girls started saying things like, "But, you still like her, right?" "That doesn't change the way you feel about her, right?" "I think you hurt her feelings. Are you sorry?" One by one, each of the girls left the circle, to go comfort the "girl who had been discriminated against by a racist." The racist was soon left standing by herself, with the circle having reformed itself around "the black man's daughter."

That said, I myself am not immune from appearing to behave as an ignorant racist at times, which probably is a reflection of the fact that I grew up in Newton, in contact with very few black people, and in close conversation with none of them. I do find myself sometimes reflecting on something I have said and finding to my dismay that it may be interpreted as racially insensitive.

Though I broadened my experiences with those of other races while I was in college, and I married a non-white, I know I am still not looking at the world through the eyes of those who grew up inside a different-colored skin. I am as guilty as the next white person in my inaccurate self-assessment, that, since I am enlightened and careful, "I say nothing racist." I cannot accurately assess how my words might impact another person who grew up non-white. I am conscious as I write this, that I am most likely insulting someone inadvertently, and I am sorry the world is like that, to make my experience of my words as that they are written with the intention of bringing light and hope to others, and they do not have the intended effect on everyone. I do not even know where it is that I fail. But I keep trying.

Newton-ites pride themselves on being non-racists, but many simply do not have a clue about how a non-white person sees the world. I agree with those who encourage reading as a partial solution to understanding about racism and the experience of the non-white in America, and in the rest of the world, but I personally think there is no substitute for close friendship and frequent interaction with people of all races and nationalities. It is so important to feel free to dive in and have conversation about very difficult subjects, especially as topics come up in the news, and get the perspective of people whose vantage point is different.

I both love America and hate the fact that living as a black American is different and compares negatively with the experience of living as a white American. Growing up in Newton, NJ, whites and their few black neighbors both shared in opportunities afforded residents of our community by virtue of its reaping the benefits of "white privilege." Newton's blacks might have had it easier than many other American blacks, especially those from the deep South. However, blacks from Newton also experienced many of the horrors of racism, both from interactions with those racists who were living in our town and also when they ventured to explore other American venues, not excluding popular literature, movies, television, and the evening news. Newton blacks still experience the effects of racism when confronted by Newton-ites who claim they are not racists, but who do not understand what white privilege is, or deny its impact.

Because they lived in the enlightened town of Newton, NJ, some white Newton-ites, who truly believe they are not racists, say the blacks living in Newton had it easier that most other American blacks. These "I am not a racist" white people point to much worse discrimination experienced by those blacks who lived in the heart of Jim Crow country. Feeling free to measure the experiences of their black neighbors on the scale of "Bad Things That Happen to Black People," these Newton whites comment casually that they have heard of nothing racist happening in Newton, other than those few instances described by Newton blacks:

  • Being denied service because of their race, and at only one local restaurant, does not somehow seem as bad as having one's uncle tortured and lynched simply because he had spoken to the wrong white person.
  • Hearing that one has been referred to with a derogatory racial term and was targeted for defeat by a classmate in an athletic competition because of one's race does not seem unusually bad, when one's own family was called derogatory names because of their ethnic background, and didn't the black man come out on top in the athletic competition anyway?
  • Having a black teenager's choice in girlfriends limited to those whose parents and friends would not object because of his race does not seem so bad to those whose race did not limit their choice in girlfriends but who found that their choice of girlfriends was naturally limited in other ways. Doesn't everyone have a limited choice in girlfriends?

What other stories have not been told? What stories have the blacks raised in Newton left out, purposefully forgotten, in their effort to heal, to forgive and forget? Are they keeping quiet other terrible stores in order to spare their white friends, who do not want to hear the whole truth, who would not appreciate being painfully shocked into awareness?

I feel I need to stand with Newton's blacks, in calling out those who would discount the experience of growing up black in Newton as "not so bad." That is like saying that a person tortured with only ten lashes of the whip had it easier than those tortured with a hundred. How is it that any white person, spared altogether the whip of racism, dare compare the relative tortures of other men?

Yes, "white privilege" is a thing. However, contrary to the beliefs of those who truly feel they are not racist, white privilege does not extend to allow any white to consider himself qualified to define how blacks "should" interpret their upbringing, or whether their opportunities and limitations had anything to do with race.

Whites cannot know how a person experiences living inside a dark skin.

Whites who feel that they, personally, are not racist ,and who believe they were raised not to be racist, and who further believe strongly that everyone should just forget all about racism and leave it in the past - they are the heart of the problem. I was raised in a town where we were trained to think that way, and that way of thinking does nothing to address or solve the problem of racism.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Always Do Right

Always do right.

It is time to speak of the unspeakable horror of The Holocaust, it is always time to speak of those peculiar atrocities committed against groups of people who had been labeled as not people, of those extreme acts of cruelty performed by those who believed themselves to be good people dedicated to making the world a better place by exterminating, en masse, so many other good people.

Never forget that human beings are capable of being so wrong and so terrible to one another.

Never forget.

Repeat the story of The Holocaust, so that it is not forgotten, so that it is not reenacted, so that The Holocaust is never repeated.

Seek out the stories that exist today, the stories that do and the ones that do not make the news. Where are there horrors that indicate a new The Holocaust is possible, is likely, is happening now next door, is on our doorstep, is happening now and right here, is being perpetrated by well-meaning, upstanding, good citizens who truly believe that they are doing what is right? Bad-deed-doing people who are either unaware or unconcerned that they are doing evil are possibly even... us. You. Me.

Examine society. Examine oneself. Examine neighbors, friends, family, religions, beliefs, ideas, philosophies, cultural norms, laws, familiar practices.

What are we doing? Are we always doing what is right? How do we know?

I truly believe that I live in a society which is dedicated to always doing right and actually succeeds, to the best of its ability, in making the world a better place for all.

Always do right.

Never forget The Holocaust, nor those who were enticed or coerced into performing each one of the independently heinous acts. Those real people acted as they did just like all people do, because the course of action they took "seemed like a good idea at the time" or because the alternative course of action was seen to be worse. This is not unlike so many other activities human.

The Holocaust is the one worst thing that history has, to date, ever recorded. The people who committed these atrocities followed what seemed to them like a normal course of human activity. Doing what each one of them did seemed, to each one of those real people, like making a choice and choosing the best possible alternative at the time. Many had never examined whether or not their society was committed to doing right. Many people might have felt they were stuck living within the society that perpetrated The Holocaust, that they had no alternative way to live their lives, even if they wanted to.

Never forget that it was real people who carried out the individual acts which echo through our collective psyche and scream "Never again!"

You are a real person. Always do right.

Never forget that even good people who believe they are doing right could be very, very wrong.