I Have Watched and Learned

anonymous person with binoculars looking through stacked books
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

 

My mother used to urge me to watch and learn. She would take me into the bathroom and show me that cleaning the toilet was way more than just swishing the most visible areas with some cleaning solution. She demonstrated how to iron a shirt and make a straight seam with a sewing machine. She showed me how to cook without a recipe. All the while my duty was to only observe what she was doing. There were no written instructions. I simply increased my knowledge by witnessing her at work. Before long I found myself watching and learning everywhere I went. I suppose that it was a good trait to have because I realized along the way that there is much information to be gathered by being a “fly on the wall.”

Since the first of March I have been busily noting the unfolding of events during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most interesting of all have been people’s reactions to the various things that have happened in response to the virus. With the killing of George Floyd in May occurrences and the perceptions of them became curiouser and curiouser. From my birds eye view gathered from the comfort of my home here are my random observations:

  • It was much nicer and more comforting when we were all concerned with one another and working together much as we did in the first couple of weeks of the novel coronavirus coming to our country.
  • Conspiracy theories of all kinds are rapidly attempting to overtake the truth.
  • Along those lines it must be noted that the pandemic is not a hoax and it will not miraculously go away in November once the presidential election has been held.
  • Not all persons participating in the Black Lives Matter marches and protests are rioters, looters and destroyers. In fact, of the millions who have marched across the globe all but a very small percentage are peaceful. Portraying them all as thugs who want to pillage and destroy our country is no substantive foundation.
  • Not all of our police and law enforcement officers are corrupt and racist. In fact most of them are good men and women who strive to protect us with fairness. Portraying all of them as evil is yet another ridiculous idea.
  • Defunding police departments is not a means of ridding ourselves of law enforcement.
  • Information from scientists and medical persons is far more reliable than anything one might hear from politicians, neighbors or some guy who has a thing for conspiracy theories. Being scientific in a time of pandemic is advisable.
  • Wearing masks will not make us sick from carbon dioxide build up. If that were true doctors and nurses would be long dead by now.
  • It is a great American right to have different opinions. It is not more patriotic to be a member of a particular party. True profiles in courage usually rock the status quo causing us to think.
  • Those who note and comment on problems within the systems of the United States do not hate the country. In fact, it may be said that they care so much about the country that they want to help repair the aspects that are broken.
  • History is often far more complex that a single point of view.
  • Those of us who are not Black will never be able to completely understand what the lives of Black Americans are like. To ridicule or ignore them when they attempt to describe the inequities that they experience is insensitive and inhumane.
  • Just because someone does not have Covid-19 and does not know anyone with the virus does not mean that it is not a serious illness. 
  • We take precautions for the safety of everyone. Proclaiming that we have a right to be reckless is the ultimate in selfishness.
  • Many, many people are hurting and this is causing great stresses and anxieties that we should not ignore.
  • It would behoove us to find out who among us needs help whether it be financial, assistance finding employment, or dealing with psychological issues. This is not a time to horde our good fortune while ignoring the hurt of others.
  • We should not even be thinking of repealing the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic. Too many people are relying on this healthcare safety net. They need to know that it will be there for them if they need it.
  • We should find a way to keep people in their homes rather than evicting them. To make people homeless right now is the ultimate in cruelty.
  • This is not a time to threaten dreamers that we will finding a way to stop DACA that is Supreme Court proof and eventually send them back to the places where they were born but may not even remember.
  • No piece of cloth, stone, metal icon, or song should ever be more important than any single human life. 
  • We must address the measures we will need to safely open our schools so that both students and teachers will feel comfortable upon returning. We must also be ready to be flexible in the event that Covid-19 begins a second wave.
  • Beware of anyone who tries to focus on our divisions or who revels in the pain and suffering of certain groups. Watch for trigger words and phrases that constantly lay the blame or poke fun. 
  • Covid-19 is an acronym for coronavirus disease of 2019. It is not the Chinese flu.
  • Covid-19 is not political and we should not try to make it so.
  • We should all make a point of being kind. There is enough uncertainty, privation, and sorrow without turning on one another.
  • If we do not work together again, we may fall together. We will all need to sacrifice and understand that going to the beach or a bar or a ballgame or out to eat or on a trip or to a concert is far less important that saving even one life.
  • We demonstrate how much we care by our behavior and by the expectations we have for our leaders. When they seem to be more interested in themselves than in the people it is our duty to call them out, not model their selfish behavior.
  • Remember above all else God loves every one of us and he wants us to love each other.

A Good Thing About Covid-19

girl in red dress playing a wooden blocks
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I have attempted to keep in touch with people that I know during these crazy days of Covid-19. Sometimes I text. Other times I send emails. Now and again I FaceTime or join a Zoom conference. I also make phone calls just to make sure that the people who have been in my life are doing okay.

On a recent day I decided to phone a friend that I have known since I was six years old. We have had long stretches of time during which we got so busy with living that we lost track. Somehow we nonetheless keep circling back to one another. I first met Lynda when my family moved across the street from where she lived. I was not particularly happy to be leaving our old home because I had friends there that I thought I might never see again. I had been pouting on the drive to our new place and seeing the loving house that would be our new digs did nothing to improve my mood. That’s when the Barry family crossed the street to welcome us to Northdale Street.

They were a friendly crew who made us feel immediately welcome to the neighborhood. Lynda, who was my age, was peeking at me from behind her mother and I immediately became curious about her. Mrs. Barry noticed our preoccupation with one another and suggested that we go get acquainted. Somehow it was as though Lynda and I had known each other forever. We began talking and our conversation never really stopped from then on.

We spent every single day together, often laughing and singing on our bikes. We roamed the neighborhood seeking adventure and planning our futures which we assumed would always include being together. We tuned in to the Mickey Mouse Club each afternoon and practiced cartwheels in Lynda’s enormous backyard. I adored everything about her and her family including the nickname that her father gave her, Lindy Lou.

We we two silly little girls who were as happy as can be, so when my parents suddenly announced that we would be moving to California only a little over a year later I was angry and devastated. Somehow I thought they surely should have consulted me before making such an important decision. I cried at the thought of leaving Lynda behind because she seemed to understand me better than anyone ever had.

I missed Lynda every day that we were apart but my family eventually returned to Houston and shortly thereafter my father died. We moved into a house in the same neighborhood as Lynda’s but it was many blocks away from where she resided. We attempted to keep the friendship as wonderful as it had been before but we ended up in different schools and as we grew older we became more and more involved in activities that ate up our time. We always seemed to click right back into our old closeness whenever we had occasion to get together but life just kept insinuating itself into our relationship.

She got married and so did she. We purchased homes in different parts of the city and began our families. From time to time Lynda would invite me to visit for the day and we would have so much fun watching our children play while we gabbed just like we were still those six year old girls. Neither of us were working back then so we had all the time in the world. On some of those charming visits I would stay for hours before reluctantly heading home.

Eventually we both became working women and with that added responsibility we had less and less time for meeting up. Mostly our friendship became confined to occasional phone calls and as the years passed our children grew, our parents died, and we became grandparents. We were more likely to see each other at wakes or funerals but our love for each other never wavered.

Now Lynda lives in another town. We speak of getting together but those plans never seem to materialize. At the moment we are both staying in our homes. Lynda has autoimmune issues that prompt her to be as careful with Covid-19 as possible and I hope to keep the virus from coming into my house and infecting my husband who seems to be a poster boy for those who suffer most from it. Suddenly those long phone calls where we never seem to run out of things to say feel like a lifeline for both of us.

There is something spiritual about the friendships that we forge as children. They are so pure and guileless. Growing up together means that we know all of the good and bad things that have happened to each other. We have shared a journey through all of life’s ups and downs. We know each other without filters and we still like what we see.

I hope to make calling Lynda more of a habit during these days. Talking with her makes me feel young again and seems to be the one good thing about Covid-19. It has slowed us down enough to create time for just being ourselves once again. In those moments I see us as two skinny girls with a whole lifetime of possibilities ahead, finding adventure at every turn. We are quieter now but the joy of being together, even by phone, never seems to dim.

Dear Sir

purple mountian

President Donald J. Trump                                                                                                            White House                                                                                                                      Washington D.C.                                                                                                                          United States of America

Dear Sir,

I am an American who loves this country with every fiber of my being even as I realize that it has problems which must be addressed. I am only a few years younger than you are. When we were  children the world was recovering from a terrible world war. Our elders had been heroes fighting in Europe and the Pacific for the very existence of democracy and justice. We grew up hearing of the horrors of autocratic leaders that lead to the murder of millions of innocent souls. What we heard less about was the unfair treatment of citizens in our own country whose ancestors had once been slaves. We were young and lived in a white bubble with our privilege of freedom to go wherever we wanted whenever we wanted. Only now and again did we witness hints of the inequities in our society and so in our minds the America of our youth was a beautiful thing, a safe and lovely world. We did not yet know of the injustices that some of our fellow citizens with darker skin were enduring even as we reveled in our own safety.

I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. My father was a college educated man who provided our family with luxuries that I took for granted until he died suddenly when I was only eight years old. I quickly learned what it was like to worry that my family’s most basic needs would be difficult to meet, but even in our greatly reduced economic situation I knew that we were better off than many Americans and so I began to better understand the plight of the poor and suffering.

I was mostly sheltered from the racism that existed nearby me. It was only when we would ride a bus downtown to enjoy a Saturday of shopping for sales in the basement of Foley’s department store that I saw the water fountains and restrooms marked with signs for “whites” and “coloreds.” I found myself wondering why the black people on the bus had to sit away from the rest of us. I knew them only from such brief encounters because they lived in neighborhoods segregated from mine. I only saw them when they came to clean the houses or work in the yards of white friends. Even as a child I felt an element of mystery and injustice in their situation but nobody really spoke of such things with little ones. They must have believed that we were too ignorant to see the evidence of prejudice that was so clear to me.

The first I heard of the civil rights movement was just before my father died. We had gone to visit my grandparents in Arkansas and there was talk of integrating the schools. My father and grandfather would sit on the front porch of the house discussing the pros and cons of the situation while I was shuttled away into the kitchen with my grandmother. I suppose they thought I was too young to hear about such things but I got enough information to begin to question so much about what we were doing to an entire group of people who had long suffered from abuse.

By the time I was in high school the civil rights marches, demonstrations and sit-ins were in full force. I watched the progress with great joy and anticipation even as I heard whispers from adults who were worried that the world as they had known it was about to change for the worst. There were great divisions in our country even as a sense of hopefulness began to spread from sea to shining sea.

In college my friend Claudia and I were active in the continuing civil rights movement. We marched and campaigned and lived in the hope that the stains of slavery and segregation would be eradicated forever. We listen to Mohammed Ali speak on our campus. He was still Cassius Clay back then and he would soon be expressing his right to freedom by refusing to submit to the military draft. It was his way of bringing attention to the inequities that were still holding our nation back from the greatness that had been the set forth in the ideals in our Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. We were still struggling to achieve a goal that should have been insisted upon as far back as 1776 but was compromised to satisfy those who used slaves for their economic betterment.

I entered the adult world thinking that we had resolved the problems of our Black citizens. I went about living my life and created my own little bubble of satisfaction. The world seemed to be a very happy place for everyone. I welcomed Black children to my neighborhood and I taught them in the schools where I worked. I shared stories with my Black colleagues and entertained them in my home. It was not until a group of my Black students and I prepared for a school sponsored civil rights tour of the south that I began to hear of the inequities and fears that continued to stalk even the most highly educated and economically secure Black people that I know. In transparent conference after conference they related their experiences and I knew then that we had left so much work undone.

So here we are now in a state of unrest in the midst of a pandemic as people not just in the United States but across the globe insist that somehow we must begin the dialogue and the processes of eliminating racism that is still inherent within our systems. We know that we cannot dislodge discrimination in all individual hearts, but we can and should attempt to eradicate it from our public institutions. The Black Lives Matter movement is not about the exclusion of all other lives but an insistence that we once and for all must admit that too often Black lives do not matter as much as ours. When athletes take a knee during the National Anthem they are not attempting to dishonor veterans but rather to bring attention to the reality that we are often prone to look away when Black lives are undervalued. We do not see such incidents as our problem because after all we are good people who love everyone. Sadly by ignoring the situation we contribute to the abuse. Just as we would report adults who mistreat children, so too must we take action against people and systems that are cavalier with the lives of our Black citizens. 

Mr. President, the throngs of people in the street are generally peaceful and their cause is a beautiful thing. They are protesting for the very soul of this country and in many ways they are more intent on making America great that your supporters. They are not thugs or destroyers or looters. The millions of earnest souls across the country are risking their own safety in an attempt to rebuild and redefine the systems that continue to ignore the facts surrounding the history of slavery and segregation. They are drawing attention to the racism that continues in far too many corners of the country.

If you truly want to make America great then I implore you to set your divisive rhetoric aside and serve as a model of compassion and understanding. We are all hurting and we desperately need a leader who is willing to bring us together, not taunt us to fight one another. This is a powerful moment in our nation’s history when we might once and for all admit to the egregious mistakes of the past and move forward by repairing the institutions that continue to ignore the discrimination that breeds in their midst. Truly loving this country means that we will not enable its flaws to fester and grow. Loving the United States of America means coming together to repair the damage of four hundred years of looking the other way. What a glorious thing it would be for all of us to march into the Promised Land together at last. Seize the opportunity to listen and to hear the cries for what they truly are. 

Your sincerely,                                                                                                                                         A proud citizen of the United States of America

 

(Please Note: For those who may think that my naiveté knows no bounds, I do understand that this letter is a dream but it outlines realities and hopes that I do not think any of us can afford to ignore. We must move beyond sound bites and self interests and insist on doing the right thing. This must also include those in the halls of power. Let freedom ring.)

A Time for Changes, Not Slogans

Critical Thinking

When I was a teacher there always seemed to be at least one person on campus who was not particularly good at doing the job. Sometimes the individual was just lazy, always sitting behind the desk giving the students work to do with very little instruction. Sometimes the person was dispensing erroneous information. The worst of the bad teachers were the ones who were abusive toward the students. It was a well known fact that firing a teacher was almost impossible unless they had stolen money or done something sexual with either another teacher or a child.

It was frustrating to have those kind of people in our midst because they made the same amount of money as the rest of us while also making our profession look very bad. Some of them would last long enough to even earn a pension for the remainder of their lives. There was a hushed practice among principals known as “passing the trash.” They would agree to take someone who was not doing well in another school in exchange for sending away one of their own problem teachers. As a result the troubles continued year after year with nobody able to find a way to clean house. The contracts and unions protected even the teachers who should not have been in the schools.

The same type of system plagued the Catholic Church until very recently. Priests who were discovered to be pedophiles were sent away for counseling and many eventually found their way back into other parishes where they sometimes continued their foul behavior. They were protected and passed from one place to another, usually without any retribution.

Most organizations in at will employment states are able to fire employee who do not meet particular standards. Sadly our police departments exist with systems much like education and the Catholic churches of old. The unions operate more to protect officers than to guide them. Often times when a cop behaves in egregious ways there is a note in his or her file but little is done to remove that person permanently from the force. These bad actors defile the good name of the majority of law enforcement officers who work hard to serve and protect the public. Much of the problematic policing that we see is a result of covering up behaviors that should be grounds for expulsion from the service. Often departments simply pass their trash to other municipalities, creating ticking time bombs in their midst.

We are so divided in this country today that there seems to be a schism that requires us to either be all in for the blue or all in for the Black citizens who are protesting the all too frequent abuse that they receive at the hands of trigger happy police officers. Instead it would benefit everyone, including the truly decent men and women who police our streets to rid themselves of those who degrade the badge. All police officers and their supporters, which include me by the way, should want to create a system of transparency that provides a means of eliminating any cop who is racist or too quick to use force. Just as I was embarrassed by teachers who were subpar, so should all good lawmakers and citizens be ready to clean house.

The most wonderful thing we might do for our police officers is to demonstrate that the bad cops will not be tolerated. We must demand that substandard cops will not be allowed to diminish the dedication and hard work of the many. I worry when I hear blanket statements of support without consideration that there are systemic problems that require needed changes. I get irritated when someone suggests that I am somehow against all police officers if I point out solutions that may help the profession.

It is interesting that the United Kingdom only had three victims of police shootings last year and Germany only had seven. The police in those countries do not carry guns. When fire power is needed they call special forces that are armed. It would behoove us to find out how they manage to make this work. 

There are a number of solutions being offered and many parties with great interest in what may eventually become law. I would like to think that just this once our elected officials will work together and not at odds. Frankly their failure to think of the country first and their own elections last has created a divisive and unproductive environment for years. How can they expect any of us to trust them when they get along about as well as children in a schoolyard with no adult supervision.

These are very serious times. We have to have a willingness to be honest with one another. Showing uncritical allegiance to any group will only result in a standoff. I want the juvenile sound bites  to stop and real critical thinking to begin. Our country does not need cheerleaders with slogans, it needs honest assessment and thought. That means a willingness to question, examine, debate, challenge and evaluate with honesty and a place at the table for all stakeholders. 

Cries of Five Hundred Years

crying

There is a certain type of conversation that is incredibly difficult to endure. We almost all encounter them in our lifetimes. Mine came from my mother, my husband, my children, my bosses, my students. They were presented in moments of frustration, but always with the idea of helping me to understand something about which I was seemingly oblivious. They required a willingness on my part to suspend preconceived notions and judgements and simply listen with an intent to learn. Since they sometimes involved a critique of my actions or beliefs they were humbling and often tempted me to defend myself. All of them ultimately improved my relationship with the person who was in a way giving me the magnificent gift of honesty and an opportunity to change.

My mother often engaged in such soul searching with me. She was never afraid to provide me with a truthful assessment of my behavior. Even though I often was initially  angry with her, upon some sincere meditation I almost always realized that she had helped me to become a better person with her appraisals. Indeed, I might have been a mediocre teacher and wife and mother without her unfiltered sagacity at important junctures in my life.

I have always considered myself to be a peacemaker. I despise conflict of any kind. My life has had enough uproar without my purposely seeking to shake things up. Still, there have been moments when I realized that my silence would fly in the face of the ethics by which I measure the morality of my life. I know that I cannot look away from hurt or pain simply because I want to keep a measure of calm in my world.

I am reminded of two incidents that had a profound effect on who I try to be. The first occurred when I was eight years old shortly after my father had died. My family had moved to a new home and we were just getting to know all of the neighbors. One evening we were alerted that the man two doors down had shot and killed his wife. The police were on their way as we all stood on the sidewalk waiting to see what would happen next. We could hear the children in that home crying in terror but nobody moved to help them. From out of nowhere came Kathleen Bush, a tiny woman with nerves of steel. She marched straight to the house, banged on the door, and ordered the killer to release the children. She threatened to break down the door if necessary. Within minutes the little ones came outside one by one. Without saying anything to the rest of us Kathleen took the babies to the safety of her home.

Years later a man was beating his wife in an apartment in the same courtyard as mine. She was screaming for help and her children were standing in the window crying. Once again someone had called the police and the rest of us stood around nervously hearing and watching what was happening. A woman left the gaggle of onlookers, bounded up the stairs and banged on the front door demanding that the children be allowed to leave. She was unafraid even as the man began to threaten her. She kicked the door and made threats of her own until the children were safely in her arms.

Those two women taught me the importance and power of someone who is unwilling to just be a bystander when a wrong is being done. They never even thought of their own safety and risked being hurt to save those children. I have the highest respect for them to this very day.

I have almost always taught minority children. In my last school I encountered a group of Black students who schooled me on the difficulties facing them on a daily basis. I had rather naively believed that with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the election of Barack Obama that the problems of the past had mostly evaporated. After all, I have Black neighbors and I worked on equal footing with Black educators. I wondered how things could possible be so bad.

It was then they my students opened up with great honesty. They expressed feelings and ideas that made me feel uncomfortable but I decided to listen without prejudice. I did not attempt to change their opinions or explain mine. I just heard what they were saying, knowing that they were not trying to hurt me, but rather to help me understand. It was one of those very difficult conversations that felt quite uncomfortable. In the end I began to realize that in spite of my efforts to be a good and loving person I had missed the extent to which Black in America are still being abused by much of society. The students gave me a great gift. They showed me a truth of which I had been ignorant. Suddenly I saw the realities of what they had told me with eyes no longer blinded by my own experiences. 

The best explanation of the Black Lives Matter movement that I have heard relates it to disease. Right now we are engaged in a battle with the Covid 19 virus. Our emphasis on it does not mean that we do not care about cancer or heart disease or any other illness. It just means that right now it is the source of our biggest health concern. So too, saying that Black lives matter does not mean that Black people are somehow more important than all people but that our Black citizens daily grabble with fears most of us never experience. Even when they are innocently running for exercise they may be in grave danger of being suspected of having criminal intent and lose their lives. It is a concern that few of us have and in our complacency we have too long stood waiting for someone else to come to their  rescue

That is why I am so adamant in my support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests and marches may not be perfect because they have at times been infiltrated with bad actors who have changed our focus with their destruction. That is not what should be most important to us. The emphasis should be on the reason for why Black Lives must matter to us all. Literally millions of Black people from around the world are crying out for all of us to understand their plight. They are screaming to be saved. Through a long line of history they have cried out with in pain for more than five hundred years. Why are so many of us still refusing to listen?