Truth Is Beautiful

green tree photo
Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com

 

I want to be left alone. I want to fix things that are broken. I want to just be happy. I want to express my anger about the state of the world. I want to turn away from conflict. I want to have the courage to stand firmly with my principles. I want to get along with everyone. I want to speak out when I see injustice. I am caught in a conundrum, a moment in time when I might cling to wishful thinking or face the realities that I witness happening around me. It would be so much easier to turn off the news, ignore my Facebook and Twitter accounts and just live peacefully in my home blissfully unaware of any difficulties stalking humanity. Unfortunately my curiosity would no doubt get the best of me if I were to make such a choice and ultimately I would be compelled to seek information and truth. My delightful ignorance would be interrupted and once again I would begin thinking about the actual complexities of life.

I’ve been watching the bots and the trolls at work on social media and on YouTube and Internet sites that purport to speak the unvarnished truth. They rile us up with doctored images and false stories. I often wonder from what hole in the ground they operate. They take many forms and present themselves with many names and faces and then spread their poisonous ideas like a virus. I wonder if they are laughing at us as we accept their premises. Do they take delight in watching us turn on one another as we share and discuss their often outrageous posts?

Much of our thinking these days is being directed by anonymous souls who live in faraway places. They purposely want to pull us apart and sadly they are quite good at what they do. It does not help at all that even some of our leaders are as addicted to their devious propaganda as we are. Instead of seeking accurate sources of information we too often find it easier to just cling to a single phrase to sum up the knotty realities that daunt us. We prefer quick fixes and quick answers and then divide ourselves into warring camps when there is a strong probability that there is a much better middle ground. We do not have to settle for “either/or” anymore than I must choose to be either uninformed and content or knowledgable and dissatisfied with the status quo.

We rarely have honest discussions anymore. Each side is busily planning a response to conflicting points of view rather than carefully listening to the other side. It is as though we are engaged in a national debate competition designed to find winners and losers rather than to determine ways to find answers. We see ourselves as opponents rather than understanding that we are all engaged in an attempt to make the world a better place. One side is demanding change and the other is worried that change will cause loss of some kind. One side is revealing uncomfortable truths about history and the other is concerned that talking about such things is hateful.

By now my readers know that my mother suffered from mental illness as did her mother. It was a carefully guarded secret in the family with much denial defining the reaction to what had taken place. Since I was the person first charged with getting help for my mom I had to face truths that were painful. For more than a decade I hid my mother’s situation from the outside, pretending that all was well. Whenever my mother needed care I called in sick to my jobs and told my bosses that I had a very bad bug. Nobody beyond my closest family members and confidants had any idea of my mother’s chronic cycle of bipolar disorder. We tiptoed around the truth of the situation.

It was not until I finally hit a concrete wall that I blurted out my story to a random coworker and finally received the understanding that I needed. I no longer had to hide my secret in the shadows and with my openness came valuable information and comfort. While some people looked askance at my new found honesty most began recounting their own experiences with mental illness. I soon learned that I was not alone and I began to develop a network of individuals who supported me in the care of my mother. I doubt that I would have been capable of dealing with her sometimes frightening behavior for decades had I kept the situation under wraps. My openness and the willingness of others to hear me even when it felt uncomfortable gave me the strength to care for my mother for over forty years.

Sadly there were still those who squirmed when hearing about my mother’s situation. They chose to ignore her symptoms and to engage in a game of pretense. They even believed that I was in some ways dishonest and hateful for talking of my mom’s illness. They could not understand what they saw as my betrayal. They preferred to act as though the great big elephant in the room was only my imagination.

In many ways this is what I see happening today. There are many who are unwilling to discuss and tackle harsh realities and others who would rather cling to a rosy picture even if that image is not true. They worry incessantly about changes that will require sacrifices and do not want to hear of skeletons in the closet of history. They simply want to be left alone, be happy, turn away from conflict, just get along in a superficial manner.

Sadly we would all love a utopian way of existence but since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden we humans have had to endure more difficulties and unhappiness. Nonetheless whenever we pause long enough to actually work together everyone improves just a bit more. Even baby steps can make a difference. Perhaps the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement are the concrete walls that have hit us all in the collective face. They are urging us to begin the process of hearing what we need to hear and not just what we want to hear. Even seemingly ugly truths can become beautiful when we use them to make the changes we have needed all along. Truth is beautiful.

Good Trouble

good trouble

I have not said much about the death of John Lewis even though I have wanted to do so. I’ve been a bit too weepy thinking about his life story to be able to put my thoughts on paper in a coherent manner. Losing one of the last of the big Civil Rights leaders has brought back so many memories of a lifetime ago. I had thought or perhaps wanted to believe that the racial animus of my childhood was long gone. I actually believed at times that Congressman Lewis may have been exaggerating the extent of modern day problems  with race. All of that changed in the last few years as I observed an underbelly of our nation that seemed to be festering and growing like a toxic virus. I have been stunned by racism that I have seen and heard that should have died long ago. I knew that we have yet to complete the journey to justice and equality for all that he fought for so courageously for all of his life.

John Lewis was a young man when he decided to join in the struggle for freedom alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jim Lawson, and others. He was so passionate about the cause that not even multiple arrests and life threatening injuries were able to dampen his spirit. He marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday only to be viciously attacked. His skull was crushed but not his fervor. He often admonished all of us to engage in such “good trouble.”

When John Lewis was asked to speak at the famous march on Washington D.C. he prepared a speech that was so incendiary that his elders asked him to tone it down. He learned from them and always lived their creed of nonviolence and persuasion. He became known as a genuinely kind person. People described him as compassionate and sweet but he remained a fighter for the good of all people for the totality of his life.

I once visited Selma with a group of minority students. We stood in front of the church where John Lewis and others had gathered for their ill fated march to Montgomery, Alabama which was short circuited as they went over the rise of the Edmund Pettus bridge. They were greeted by law officers and snarling dogs who set on them with clubs, beating them to the ground. It was one of the ugliest moments in the history of our country and it changed the hearts and minds of people around the world.

As I walked across the bridge with my students so many years later I felt the spirit of those people who fought so valiantly for their right to vote. We were a motley group with our crew of black and brown students being led by mostly white teachers. We attracted a bit of attention and eventually we were even followed by a clearly marked sheriff’s car. When we got to the crest of the bridge I became breathless as I stared down its length and imagined how those brave souls, including John Lewis, must have felt on that fateful day.

Eventually our journey took us to Montgomery, Alabama where we once again reenacted history by walking toward the State Capitol building. I literally felt the living presence of the souls who had endured such “good trouble” to make the rest of us aware of the problems that they faced. I felt honored and humbled to walk in their shadows.

Now one of the greats among us is gone but I believe we can learn from him. I would tell the Black Lives Matter movement that their message is important but they need to be more tactical in the things they do and say. The protests of the era when John Lewis was young always had a specific message and purpose. They were respectful and nonviolent. They were not damaging to communities. They won the respect of the world with their passive resistance.

Today’s protests too often lose their focus. Looting never helps the cause no matter how many attempts there are to rationalize it. Destroying property only plays into the hands of the very people who have racist views. Being distracted by monuments and statues draws attention away from the real issues and results in only cosmetic changes. John Lewis understood all of these things and if the new era of protestors have any thought of honoring him they will study and follow his way of doing things. They will focus on voting rights and other systemic changes, not trivial symbolism.

It’s easy for a city to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee but if they do not also discuss changes that provide justice for Black Americans little will actually change. The Black Lives Matter movement is gaining support all over the world but it must be careful not to overdo. People become easily bored with a continual cadence that is not backed up with a seeable, doable plan. Now is an opportunity to honor a great man, John Lewis, by asking what he would do and then agreeing to make some “good trouble” with a clear goal that everyone can understand.

    

We Are Not the Enemy

aerial photography of house field and trees covered with snow
Photo by Mohan Reddy Atalu on Pexels.com

When the news of Covid-19 first sent warning signals I decided that I would write about its effect on my little slice of the world each day. I have often wondered what life was like for my grandparents who were young adults during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, and it occurred to me that if any one of them had recorded observations and thoughts about the deadly virus our family would have a priceless treasure. I love reading first person accounts of historic events. They provide an emotional context to factual renderings. Hard times come alive with stories of everyday life and survival. Thus I pledged to devote my blogs to our current situation until things simmered down and we began a process of returning to a more normal state of affairs. It never dawned on me that I would still be recording commentaries about the pandemic in the later weeks of July with no real end in sight.

I suppose that I believed that we might somehow slow the spread of the virus by shutting down for a short time. I hoped that the heat of summer would somehow burn the virus out giving us a reprieve until the winter months when hopefully we would have a vaccine. My daughters were not nearly as optimistic as I was but I tended to believe that they were viewing the world as though the sky was falling. They insisted that because we were not working together as a nation things would surely go awry. They witnessed guidelines being ignored, people believing in all manner of crazy theories, and a president who preferred to paint a happy picture of our progress in fighting the virus rather than facing the facts.

I hoped the purveyors of gloom were wrong but even the doctors that I consulted cautioned me that the trends of contagion were still moving in an upward direction. They advised me to hold steady to my isolation and safety procedures until the end of June and then I saw an exponential explosion of positive cases and hospitalizations in my own backyard. I had to face the reality that the new Covid-19 world order would be with us for many more weeks and possibly even months unless we find a way to bury our divisions and work as a united country. Unfortunately I see no way forward with that idea and so I am gravely disheartened.

I hear people turning to prayer and I certainly do my share of talking and listening to God, but I do not think that there will be a sudden miracle to make all of this end. Neither God nor the virus play favorites which is why bad things sometimes happen to good people. God has instead given us our minds to think things through and determine a good course of action. He has taught us to be unselfish, never ignoring the most vulnerable among us. He exhorts us to be loving in our care of one another. These are the things I believe him to be telling us.

My mother and my grandmothers taught me that God is present in every human soul. My mama said that when we ignore or mistreat even the most seemingly deplorable person we are slapping the face of God. I have grown up believing that idea and attempting to be a peacemaker in times of trouble. I believe that we desperately need someone who has the power to bring us together, not drive us apart. When our scientists and medical experts are accused of lies and greed with respect to Covid-19 we are indeed far away from my desire of walking together in our time of great sorrow. When people defy the dictates to dance in a bar while people are dying in nearby hospitals my heart cries out. I wonder where the common sense and compassion have gone.

It should be apparent to everyone that we are in trouble on multiple fronts. There are refrigerated trucks in several states waiting for the bodies of the dead. The military is setting up field hospitals. Our medical workers are being pushed to the limit. Our hospitals are running out of protective equipment. Our teachers are fearful of the chaos that may ensue when schools reopen. Crime is on the rise in our cities. Our minorities are bearing the brunt of essential work and illness. Our criminal justice system is sick. Millions have lost their jobs and will soon see their unemployment checks end, not because they are too lazy to look for work but because they cannot find employment. People are on the brink of being evicted with no place to go. Businesses are failing. Our once strong nation is badly wounded mostly because we have been unwilling to patiently take measures to stop the spread of the virus as a group. It is so widespread now that we cannot even keep track of where it is attempting to go. We fight and bicker and unfriend one another rather than joining in a nationwide effort to stem the tide of Covid-19 no matter what sacrifices it may take to do so.

Now I am truly worried. Politics rather than rationality have overtaken our response to the virus. Our progress has been set back by weeks, maybe even months.Our situation is the worst it has been. Winter is coming and we have yet to speak of what that might mean. I wonder if our lack of a unified effort will result in a destruction of our healthcare system, our economy and our educational infrastructure that will take decades to repair. My happy instincts are being pushed aside by reality. I want to climb to my rooftop and warn everyone of what I see happening but I suspect that I will not be heard. I don’t know what it will take to bring our country to its senses but I believe things will become even more grim before we get there. Perhaps this is a time of reckoning that will either crush us or demonstrate the moral character that we have mustered in tough times of the past. I surely hope and pray that we will sooner rather than later understand that Covid-19 is our enemy, not one another. 

This Is What Keeps Me Awake At Night

insomniac

In the beginning we were mostly very nice to one another. We came together not just as a nation, but as a worldwide community. We worried as much for the people of Italy as we did for ourselves. We applauded our healthcare workers at the end of their daily shifts. We found ways to do good things for people that we didn’t even know. We followed the rules and the precautions for staving off the virus with great care. We marveled at the flights of the Blue Angels as they flew over our city to thank those on the front lines of the battle with Covid-19. We grieved over every death and felt great compassion for those who became ill. We were willing to extend financial help for those who lost their jobs. Our sense of empathy was great and it felt good to be part of a human community that was so loving and caring.

Then some of us began to lose patience. The Lieutenant Governor of Texas suggested that we needed to go back to normal quickly. He blithely announced that he and other older Americans would be willing to die to help the young to reclaim their lives. The President of the United States appeared to grow weary of the daily briefings on the virus and the lack of a miracle disappearance of Covid-19 as he had so hopefully predicted. Armed groups asserted their right to freedoms including not being forced to wear masks in public. States began to reopen even as they ignored the guidelines of health professionals for doing so. Life seemingly resumed and then a Black man attempted to spend a twenty dollar bill that looked suspicious. The police were called and before an hour had passed that man lay dead as a result of overt brutality. Riots broke out first across the nation and eventually across the world. Our community spirit was finally rent in two.

As I sit in my home I number the days that I have been isolated. It is now well over 100 revolutions of the sun that have kept me inside save for a delightful three day interlude in which I drove around the Texas hill country and sat eight feet away from my daughter and her family for some much needed family connection. I have taught remote classes with my tiny band of students and I have enjoyed Zoom conferences with family and friends. Mostly though I have had to find ways to make my days meaningful as I do my best to help in the effort to eliminate the virus as much as possible.

At first I marveled at the kindness of humans but of late I have been deeply saddened by the selfishness and lack of compassion that I witness. I wonder why those who have pensions and savings and jobs that provide them with financial security have so little concern for those who are unemployed. Why are they not urging our president and Congress to continue to provide the jobless with the help they so desperately need during this time? Why does anyone think that it is a good idea to simply abandon thirteen percent of the American people who want to work but can’t find employment no matter how hard they try?

Our Black and Hispanic citizens are literally bearing the brunt of Covid-19. They are getting sick and dying in numbers far greater than the white population. So why would so many among us not even attempt to understand the frustrations that they are feeling? Does this really seem to be a time for accusing them of being responsible for the rise in cases of the virus when we know that people went to crowded bars and beaches? Does it make sense to smear the attempts of our Black citizens to demonstrate their frustrations and only see the small number of dissidents who have made the cause sometimes violent? Should all of those peacefully gathering for justice be viewed as a group of thugs? What is the reasoning for favoring hunks of metal or stone fashioned into icons glorifying people who fought to keep the ancestors of our Black neighbors enslaved over living breathing humans who are in great pain? Does this actually seem like a time to threaten dreamers with a reattempt at ridding our country of DACA so that they might once and for all be deported? What kind of people would celebrate a threat to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic? How has our society become so cruel that a wealthy old white man rides in his golf cart shouting “White Power” and our president applauds him? How can we continue to ignore our elderly who are virtual prisoners in their rooms in nursing homes because some of us refuse to do what is needed to end the rise of Covid-19 cases? What are we doing to help the mentally ill and addicted who have had an interruption of their therapies? These are the things that sadden me.

I honestly care little about myself. My days on this earth have not always been easy, but mostly they have been good. I am happy with my life and the people who have shared it with me. I have been most fortunate. I worry most about those who are truly suffering and feeling so alone. I grieve that my country is lost in a morass of ugliness and selfishness and unwillingness to spread both the wealth and the sacrifice in such a dire time. I see such difficult weeks ahead for our young whose lives are so upended and so uncertain. Their educations and their hopes and dreams and plans are on hold. Nothing is as it once was save for the lucky ones who have the gift of health and economic security that allows them to carry on as though the pandemic is little more than an inconvenient hoax created by forces that want to frighten us. For so many this moment is all too real, and it is for them that I worry. It is about them that I write. It is impossible for me to ignore them as though they do not matter.

I am weary because I feel as though I am shouting into the wind. I do not think that I have changed a single mind with the essays that I hoped would enlighten people to at least think a bit differently than usual. I see the divisiveness of beliefs growing harder and more immovable than ever before and that frightens me more than the possibility of becoming sick. Perhaps this moment in time is only the beginning of a series of events that will ultimately change the world. It may be that we will all have to endure much hardship to reach the other side. This is what keeps me awake at night because I do not believe that it had to be this way.

Become the Helper

mental health

An oft overlooked aspect of our current times is the psychological destruction that is infecting minds as silently as the coronavirus enters our bodies and makes us sick. There is so much happening all at once and the fact that we cannot seem to agree on much of anything only compounds the difficulties of dealing with the anxieties that are plunging many individuals into a state of distress. Any one of the issues that have come to the fore would have been cause for concern. When all of them are blasting our society at once it is akin to a violent storm, an earthquake and a tornado all happening at the same instant. Little wonder that my friends who are counselors are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by the stories of patients who are struggling to maintain a sense of balance and safety.

At the same time there are those lucky individuals who appear not to have been affected by anything that is happening. They have retained their jobs and their fine incomes. Nobody in their circle has become ill with the virus. They have few interactions with minorities so they do not feel the urgency of the Black Lives Movement or DACA. They do not have an elderly parent, relative or friend in a nursing home whom they are not allowed to visit. They have not seen how a preponderance of bad luck can lead to depression, addiction, despair. The people in their world are happy and eager to get back to vacations and all the rituals of summer. They are blessed and enjoy the bounty of their good fortune.They post images of themselves having a good time as though life is as wonderful and normal as ever. They are generally good people who simply do not know how much suffering the pandemic has created because it seems to have little to do with the worlds in which they live.

In truth there are many layers associated with the mental health issues that are making a difficult time even worse for those who are struggling to maintain a grip on hopefulness. There are people who lost their jobs in early March who are panicking because their searches for work have been fruitless. In the beginning they felt confident that the unemployment help from the government along with assistance from in the form of temporary loan forgiveness would carry them through until they most surely would return to their careers, but as the weeks and months have gone by far too many are still unemployed. They see the patience of the nation dwindling for their cause. They have calculated that they are on the verge of destitution and perhaps even homelessness if nothing changes within the next few weeks. Even though they have always been hard working and reliable they are questioning their own worth. They feel abandoned, alone. They are losing the confidence that was once their trademark.

There are elderly individuals who have been sequestered inside their homes for so long that loneliness has overtaken them. They feel forgotten. Worse yet when even the political leaders who should be encouraging them suggest that they are on their own with regard to staying safe from the virus they worry that they will be confined to a kind of homebound imprisonment for an undetermined time. Because they understand that the number of years they have left on this earth are dwindling with each passing month they worry that their final moments will be lonely and secluded from the joy of human contact.

There are those already burdened by mental illness or addiction. They have had to get their therapies remotely. Somehow the positive effects of talking with a caring professional has not the same under such circumstances. Their days have come to feel bleaker and bleaker and their minds play all of the psychological tricks on them that create the kind of chemical imbalances in their brains that cloud their thinking. At times life seems almost unbearable and sometimes they even act on such thoughts.

The problems of our Black citizens have taken center stage but even as they voice the concerns that have stalked them unrelentingly they see that far too many refuse to listen or understand. They wonder why it is so difficult for people to comprehend what they are trying to say. They relate the stories of their lives with honesty and then are accused of overreacting, expecting too much. They see people wanting to wish them away, hoping to sweep their cause under the rug. They wonder how many more years they will have to pay for the sins of slavery, because it is they who have paid the price of a heinous practice that is somehow defended year after unchanging year.

A toxic political climate fueled by those seeking power has divided us so badly that even friends and relatives who love one another are on edge. They choose up sides and steadfastly retain their own beliefs even when evidence suggests that they may be wrong. In many ways we are all being played and we somehow know it but nonetheless deny that we are affected. It grinds away at our sense of security. We question ourselves and each other. Some among are reduced to abject sorrow.

We have drawn back a curtain that has shown us an ugly side of our natures, an aspect that we had managed to mostly ignore before the stakes became so high. While we are grappling with our personal difficulties and with each other we sense that somehow it did not need to be this way. We might have all been feeling confident that together we would solve all of the problems that face us. Instead it feels as though we are engaged in battles on multiple fronts all alone. It is every human for himself/herself and so the numbers suffering from psychological disorders are growing, leaving a toll that is as distressing as Covid-19 and the battles for equity.

It is time we each took a deep breath and eliminated our tone deaf tendencies. People are dying of broken hearts and minds. We need to step back and assess the damage that has been done to them and then begin the process of working together to set things right. Look around you. Find the suffering and become the helper that they need.