I’m on version three…maybe four of this post. With so much going on, I honestly don’t know where to start. There’s continued concern about the pandemic, piled on top of COVID burnout. A fear of loved ones falling ill, the economic ramifications — to our economy as a whole, and to our families, our communities, here at home. As our anxiety and stress ramps up, Zoom happy hours trail off, and the “new normal” starts to take hold. Of course, no one really knows what that means.
And then we’re hit with another awful reality. The video and images out of Minneapolis…of George Floyd pinned down, begging for the right to breathe. The lessons, I feel, are coming at us from all sides. At first, they were whispers: “Pssst…do you see what’s happening overseas? A mysterious illness. What will you value? What will take precedent?”
Then the whispers grew louder: “You’re not listening, so the tough decisions will be made for you. You’ve got to dig deeper to remember, to understand what matters. This is bigger than you.”
Then the screams: “We will come together or be further divided. You see the inequities with your own eyes. Will you still ignore it? Will you scrounge at the bottom of the barrel for a reason to turn away? Will you blame the looters and point to the riots…cast aside the ugly truth beneath it all? The choice is yours — and the decisions you make, the actions you take, the words you deliver — they matter now, more than ever. What will you do…”
The reality of the daily reality.
If you’re anything like me (and because you’re human, I assume you are), you’ve been doing a lot of thinking. About where you want your life to go. How you would like to use your talents. What type of bread you’re going to make today and how a hair tie can give you more room in your pants.
And then reality comes to visit, and you remember that you need that steady paycheck (or need to find one). For the rent, the mortgage, food, clothes for the kids. It’s the age old battle, isn’t it? How can I possibly move in the direction that feels right, when that move feels risky and irresponsible?
But there’s that little voice in your head, isn’t there? It’s telling you to take note of the signs all around you. “What will you do?”
And if you decide to take a leap — “What pants will you wear?”
A little background (yes, there is a point to this)!
I grew up in a fiscally conservative household, with parents driven to move beyond the lean days they experienced growing up in a small Oklahoma farm town. With hard work and determination, they built a life — for themselves and their children — that was likely beyond what they ever dreamed it could be.
Throughout our upbringing, my sister and I were taught the value of honesty, hard work and empathy. We were lucky, but we were aware. The fear (if I can call it that) that my parents had of returning to a life of struggle, and their passion for protecting their own children from hard times, was admirable and…palpable. And I have great respect, love and appreciation for the life they created for their family. I’m certain there are moments, difficult moments, that we will never know about. Moments that we were blind to, as children, and maybe even as adults.
There is no bubble.
Most parents come to realize that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t protect your children from difficult times. Because, that’s life, isn’t it? It’s part of the human journey. And, really, it’s through the difficult times that we learn the most about ourselves.
When I chose to move to New York City in 1999, it was a decision that I knew would not be received with joy and celebration. I was almost 30 years old, however, and the decision was mine to make. My parents respected my choice, but it was no secret they would have preferred I stay close to home — where they could hold tight, keep me safe and on the right track. The problem was that “on the right track” was also the path of least resistance. One where my decisions would be based more on what others wanted for me than what I wanted for myself.
My decision to head toward the unknown was rooted in a desire to learn and experience more; to find out what I already suspected — that I was stronger than I knew. That I would be challenged by, and find joy and comfort in relationships with people who, on the surface, couldn’t be more different. People who, just beneath the surface, were kindred spirits.
My years in NYC taught me more about myself and the world than I could have ever learned standing still. But just as important, maybe more important, it confirmed something I felt in my bones: We thrive and grow the most in environments where diversity is championed. And conversely, we grow smaller, weaker, less inventive and less creative in environments where diversity is challenged or simply tolerated.
During childhood, I was taught (by example) to treat people with kindness and respect. My parents did not display or allow racist language or intolerant behavior in, or out of our household. But let’s be clear, in the upper-middle-class predominately white, Houston suburb I grew up in, this wasn’t always the prevailing mindset. As with most places in our country in the 1970s and 80s, there were examples of attitudes changing and progressing, and there were examples of deep-rooted racism and superiority.
I’m grateful that, during these years, my mother — a licensed and practicing therapist — exposed our family to the diverse group of friends and colleagues she met and bonded with along the way. Representing a range of sexual orientations, races, religions and political affiliations, they were a loving, interesting and exciting mix of humans, with a range of beliefs, viewpoints and backgrounds.
I think of this time as the beginning of the strip down of stereotypes in my life. Similar to the McFly’s fading from the photo in Back to the Future (yes, I’m dating myself) — assumptions I’d heard tossed around, about entire groups of people, were washed away by my own experiences with individuals whose unique personalities were in direct conflict with the baseless rhetoric. Not only did I begin to form my own opinions, I also became fascinated by our similarities and our differences. I just wanted more. More learning. More experiences with more humans. I could have found that in Houston — an amazingly diverse city. But I needed to challenge myself to be and do better in a new and different place. Hence, the move to NY.
The result? Confirmation. Proof. We are all unique. We are all shaped and molded by our experiences — by the experiences of our ancestors. And together, we are beautiful. In my mind, it’s not about coming to a place where we don’t see color or we all come to believe the same things — it’s about embracing our differences, acknowledging our similarities and realizing how much we can accomplish together. And it’s also about understanding how dangerous our world can become if we move further apart. It’s up to all of us to do better.
I am not perfect. Growing up, I heard things…even allowed behaviors around me that, today, I wouldn’t hesitate to squash. Even now, I know I have so much more to learn. I don’t know or understand the half of it. The struggles. The realities of living in a world that judges me by the color of my skin. I will never fully know what it feels like. But I can try harder to be part of the solution. We can all try harder. And if you don’t want to, if you think what I’ve said here is bull****, move on.
I am a strong, Southern-raised woman — I can be as polite as the day is long — but my “polite-ness” doesn’t extend to turning a blind eye to inequality. As a woman, I’ve seen it first-hand. I will keep pushing myself to better understand the inequalities my friends have suffered. And I will hold their hand as we march toward a better tomorrow. Even if my pants split from all the bread.
An acknowledgment and a thank you.
I want to take this moment to thank you for the outpouring of love, support and beautiful notes, comments, texts and calls I received after sharing my last blog post — This life is full of choices. Putting raw truth and emotions out there was a little scary, but honoring C was more important than my petty fears.
The loss of C and the flood of memories and heartache and regret that followed put so many things in perspective. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t, or isn’t, pain. It just means, for me at least, that the expression of what she meant in my life (and in others’ lives) was more important than the concern about how others would judge my choice to express those feelings. Does that make sense? At that moment, I just wanted the world to understand how important she was (still is), and why.
The unexpected and lovely result of putting those emotions out there, was the wave of emotions that came back at me. Proof, again, that human connection is always better than separation.
I also received comments from a number of people, who, after reading the post, reconnected with old friends and vowed to never lose touch again. Wow. That is powerful. And I have no doubt that C is the puppet master from above, making it all happen. I realize that post was personal and emotional, and out of respect, others who wanted to, were hesitant to pass it on. Don’t be. If it helps one more person open up, or brings two more friends back together, it’s all worth it.
Best to you and your family and your communities during these very important (and difficult) times. Band together. Be the difference.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” Ghandi