Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Let Freedom Ring

I'm going to write this and then I am going to take a long, long walk in the woods to clear my brain.  I am a nearly 65 year old white grandma who is about to write a very long rant.  It is going to include offensive thoughts and language.  At least I find them offensive, so if you are easily offended, I'd suggest you stop reading this right now. I am the kind of person who wants to fill my space with happiness and love.  Yet right now, I feel surrounded by the opposite; being bombarded with news that can only be described as hate.  I need to speak my piece on this and then maybe I can find the beauty again in the world.  In a few days, in this country, we will celebrate Independence Day, the day that the Declaration of Independence was signed.  It starts with these famous words:

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

Today, there is a church burning down in South Carolina.  Arson?  Maybe.  Why? Well, it's a predominantly black church.  Why would someone want to burn down a black church?  I think, hatred.  Where did the "Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness" go?  Or did it ever really exist?

In our country, right now, there are so many examples of hatred that I think we have no right to celebrate Independence Day.

Let's start with the upcoming race for President.  There are 14 men, at the moment, vying for the Republican ticket.  If you listen to each of them, they are tripping over each other with how they will make this country a better place and waste no time spitting out their hatred for the current sitting President Barack Obama.  It's hard to actually fathom what he has done that could be so horrific, so much worse than any other president, but the haters out there believe he is destroying our country.  "Our country", they say.   Barack Obama is black.  It was such a source of pride, for me and so many others, when he became president.  I though this country of our's had finally turned a corner.  Over his years as president, though, there has been nothing but Republican push back almost smirking every time they were able to through up a wall.  There has been an overwhelming scream for "less government" and yet the things that seem to interest the Republican representatives  the most are laws to restrict freedoms.  Humiliation and degradation of women, poor, black, hispanic have been top of their agenda.  "Our country" appears to be the country of the rich...white...males, unless of course you're gay!  Then, you need to fix that too because you don't need to be gay, you are choosing that. You know, somewhere in the bible, it says that being gay is wrong. "All men are created equal" must have meant all heterosexual white, rich men.

Many of the  church burnings going on around our country right now appear to be arson.  Why?  A few weeks ago, nine people were shot in their church during a bible study. They were shot by a young white male who told them that he had to shoot them before they were taking over the country.  They were black.  Hatred lives loud right now.  The horror, of that shooting incident, caused immediate discussions about the potential that this hatred could be coming directly from a strong hold on the Confederate flag. And yet, the country is divided about that.  To me, the Confederate flag stands for Southern pride in what was a fight for the right to own black slaves. For others, it is simply a source of Southern pride, period.  The twenty year old shooter of nine black people learned his hatred from somewhere.  He felt he needed to preserve white supremacy. He wore that flag along with others on his jacket that day.

Police brutality has been on the news for months, now, as well.  There is a sense that there is  a correlation between the brutality and the fact that the people are almost always black.  While we need to trust law enforcement to be there to protect us, are they really protecting all of us or do they believe some deserve better protection than others?  Over and over again, these officers have been dissolved of any wrong doing, saying they were following procedures.  I drove by a car accident where there was a black man and two white police officers. The black man was screaming at one police officer.  Disrespectful, yes.  Would the procedure, then, be to take this man down to the ground in a chock-hold and handcuff him?  This is what happened to Eric Garner in New York.  Mr. Garner was apparently selling illegal cigarettes.  He was arguing with the police officer.  Mr. Garner died from the chock-hold.  The investigation stated that the police officer was innocent of any wrong doing. He was following procedure. Is it procedure to take down someone who yells at you?  Are we all to be quiet and submissive when confronted by law enforcement?

Recent news also reported the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage was legal - a groundbreaking event to be sure.  It stated that marriage is a constitutional right and "no state shall deprive any person life, liberty, and property without due process of law...these liberties extend to certain personal choices central to personal dignity and autonomy",  and yet there are state officials who refuse to follow the ruling, immediately lashing out that either states have the right to define the word "marriage" or that you can refuse to issue a marriage certificate based on religious beliefs.  While support filled my Facebook feed for the Supreme Court's ruling,  hatred for the ruling lives right  on the other side.  Disrespectful?  Yes. What will the procedure be for those who defy the Supreme Court?

The latest Republican presidential candidate no more than announced his candidacy then went on a rant with derogatory statements about Hispanics.  You don't even need to ask where he would stand of immigration!  His comments were so offensive that he was taken off the television network that he had ties to.  "You're Fired!" His words coming back to haunt him.  Will he care?  No.  He is so rich he could buy the station.

Hatred.  Where does it come from?  When I was growing up, my mother's belief was that, as Catholics, we could only marry others who were Catholic.  She had been taught that it was the only true religion.  All other religions were established by people who had fallen from the truth.  As I grew older, I could see that this was simply her belief and I had the freedom to believe differently.  When my brother lived in Louisiana, he picked up the habit of calling all black people "Nigger" or "monkey".  When I called him on it, he said "What?  That's what they're called".  Since when? By whom?  This, he hadn't learned from his parents.  And yet, it became a learned skill based on his surroundings.  He felt superior to all black people even though he ended up dying a vagrant. A belief does not make it true.  Yet people hold on to their beliefs for some reason.  Why?

Why, in this day and age, are we living in a country that is so filled with hatred?  I say it's fear!  Why do you think gun ownership statistics show that 1 in 3 Americans own at least one gun and the majority of them are owned by white males?  Many state that they own a gun for protection.  Our country is changing.  White caucasians soon will no longer be the majority.  Our countries "freedoms" were based on white supremacy it seems.  "All men are created equal".  Again, this must have meant all white, heterosexual, rich men.  That belief is being challenged by women, homosexuals, increasing populations of other racial groups and those speaking up for the poor.

Now, that I've put this all down on paper, I wonder - What will become of us?

My concern is that this hatred will grow stronger and stronger, fueling a "belief" that this country, our country, really belongs to White Supremest groups. Are we, innocently, blindly, following their fear based logic?  Extremist movements always show themselves, at some point, to be too extreme.  Are we there yet?  Do you see it?  We have an obligation to our country to preserve Freedom for All.  Truthfully, standing by our commitment is the only thing that we can do.  We have to stand up to hatred.  We have look fear in the face.  Call it what it is!  We have to do this or we lose.  We all lose our country.  This is my belief right now.

What would happen if on this Independence Day we celebrated the true meaning of "Independence".  For once and for all, we could take a stand to live by the Declaration that "All men are created equal" and we all have right to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."  You know we can only do this by becoming educated on the "beliefs" of those who want to lead us.  We must be able to sift through their words to determine what is real versus fear versus hatred.  And I think, most of all, Our Country need to really stand for freedom for all.  To do that we must work to preserve real freedom even if we personally don't hold the same "belief" as someone else. That does not mean that I have the freedom to dictate other people's freedom.  It means we have the freedom to live our life free of discrimination, segregation, oppression, and most of all hate.

Let Freedom Ring!

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Beginnings

They say that the daffodil represents new beginnings.  Although a spring flower, it represents my today.    I spent the day with my new grandson.  He is now 40 days old.  I feel so fortunate to be included in his life.  I want to be there.  I want him to know me.  Yet, I think about the me that I want him to know and I realize that I have an awesome opportunity to begin again for this little man.  I want to teach him so many things but know that he will ultimately teach me more!  

Today, I watched as he smiled, over and over again, in his sleep, and I loved the thought that maybe he was dreaming of beautiful things.  He didn't know that I was watching him with such awe.  When he was awake, he looked at me and seemed to be watching me too, and perhaps pondering thoughts like: "Who are you?" "Are you a nice person?"  "Will you take care of me?"  

Then suddenly, he winced as if he was in pain and started to cry; one of those not really a cry kind of cries.  I think he wanted to test the waters.  So, this was a test.  Would I pass?  Well, today, we walked and he quietly settled into the rhythm while I logged the exercise.  It was a win-win for both of us.  He seemed to like the back and forth journey we took from the living room to the kitchen and back again.  It doesn't take much to entertain him right now.  I hope I can keep up the pace though and continue to show him that: Yes, I am a nice person and Yes, I will take very good care of him.

We spent the next couple of hours with him waking and sleeping and me watching his tiny little features and thinking that I have so many things that I want to tell him.  Although, I won't be with him every day, I can write and share stories here.  I love the idea of collecting memories and keeping them in this safe place.  Who knows, maybe he'll teach me more than I teach him.  Whatever it is, I'll write about it here.

Today's lessons from my grandson:  
1.  Smile.  It's an easy thing to do and it leaves people wondering what you're thinking, and 
2.  Walking is good for both of us, so let's do more of that.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Inspiration For The Day


Today's message is:

Be Creative.  
It's time to express yourself through writing.  Don't get caught up in the web of negative thoughts or beliefs that might be a product of judgements and shame that you felt during your childhood.  Write.  Write without inhibition; with no intention that it be for others.  Write for yourself.  Write about anything, real or make believe.  Write whatever comes to your mind.  Write about the words that once hurt you.  Let writing be a way to let it all go.  Trust your creative spark.  Let your words inspire and enlighten.

Two years ago, I sat alone with my thoughts and my computer and I wrote.  I wrote of memories, mostly bad.  I reflected on my life as a journey that had gotten me to the spot that I was in.  At one point, I stopped, cried, and then shut the computer down - not wanting to feel the hurt anymore.  With sleep came a new perspective.  The sun came up on a new day and as I reread my words from the previous night, I made a decision.  I was going to let go of the hurt and the pain.  I was going to search for the blessings that had come from my life's encounters.  As I reread the words, I turned the negative into lessons.  What had I learned from that experience?  How had that event or that person made me who I am today?  I began to write again and this time with understanding and forgiveness.  I wrote and wrote and with each personal story, I found the person that I wanted to be.  I didn't want to be burdened by my past.  I didn't want my past to be an excuse.  Instead, I began to celebrate the strength that I had gained from my lessons and I decided then that I had a choice, a choice to live my life the way I wanted.

Now, as I look at the beginning of another new year, my resolution is to write something, every day.  I want to write something that inspires me to be the person that I want to be.  I find peace and comfort from the woods behind my apartment, so I will walk the paths as often as possible.  I love to capture the changing seasons and the littlest things that add texture to the paths.  I'll share my photos as a reflection on my view of life.

So, let the new year begin.  I am ready.

Friday, May 24, 2013

This Train

Our brother died on March 25, 2013.  In his final days, we spent time remembering things from his past.  We played this song hoping it would prompt happy memories of when he rode the train from New Orleans to home.  Instead, as he listened to the words, all he could do was cry.  After a while, he asked us to turn it off.  The song not only brought back memories of a time he could never have back but also of a life that he was leaving.

As I listen, now, to the words of this song, I think that each life is nothing more than a one way journey with the only sure destination of death at the end of the ride.  In life, we think we are different.  Some claim to be smarter, prettier, healthier, richer.  Some appear to struggle to live this life, making choices that surely put them on a fast track to our common destination.

"Grab your ticket and your suitcase.  
Thunder's rolling down this track.  
Well you don't know where you're goin' now, 
but you know you won't be back."   

My brother cried as he listened and we can only guess what prompted the tears.  He had been one of those whose choices surely put him on the fast track.  At this point, one would think that he would be resolved with his choice. Instead, he cries. It's been a hard journey.

"Well darlin', if your weary, 
lay your head upon my chest.  
We'll take what we can carry
 and disregard the rest." 

We have been quick to judge his past,  and now, click our tongues at his current state. But who are we to judge?  
We are all simple human beings on the same journey to that common destination and we are all doing
the best we can to ride this train.

"This train carries saints and sinners, 
this train carries losers and winners.  
This train carries whores and gamblers.  
This train carries lost souls."

In the end, some would say that he didn't have to suffer long.  Instead, I think he suffered his whole life.   He had wanted what everyone wants.  He wanted to be successful.  He wanted to be accepted.  He wanted to be happy.
He was no different than you or me.  He had hopes and dreams!

"Well, big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams.  
Meet me in the land of hopes and dreams."

He had finally found his way back home but now a broken man.  His independence was shattered. We knew that he needed 
more help then we could provide.  

We called on all the spirits of our family and they responded...

"Well I will provide for you.  I'll stand by your side.  
You'll need a good companion now,  for this part of the ride. 
 Leave behind your sorrows.  This day, at last.  
Tomorrow there'll be sunshine.  All this darkness past."
This imperfect man, riding our train, blessed our life with his stubborn attitude, fierce sense of right and wrong, 
 and insistence to make the journey his own.  

We did not always appreciate his spirit but oh do we miss it now!  

For now, my brother...

"Big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams. 
We'll meet you in the land of hope and dreams."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Color Exploding Around Me!

It's fall in Wisconsin and it seems like, overnight, the world exploded into brilliant color!  It's a celebration!

I sit in a chair, as I type this, looking out a patio door onto golden trees with hints of lingering green and splashes of red underbrush.  I watch the birds and squirrels frantically eating, digging, working to build up reserves.

It's cooler now, making it easier to be outside but also drawing me out because of the certainty of much colder days to soon follow.  Get out there now, while there's still time!

Color and light has exploded all over me!  It's a wonderful time of year.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Pure and Lasting...Joy!

Today was the last day of the Next Steps Academy and I couldn't just go home!  Instead I found myself at this great place in downtown Milwaukee called "Splash" where I could just sit and reflect and paint...this hummingbird!

It had to be a hummingbird, you see because the hummingbird is the symbol for JOY!  There is no other word to describe this week.  There is no other way to show just how inspiring the last five days have been, not just to me but to every single adult who had the honor of working with this awesome group of fifteen students who all have autism.

Today was the "performance" and with that knowledge came a very real sense of fright.  Like that little hummingbird, there was lots of movement in and out of the room, sometimes lighting for a moment but then up again and flitting from one spot to another.  We made it through a very short "dress rehearsal" and tested everyone's ability to be flexible.  Some did better at that than others.  One boy had been singing our daily song loud and clear and at the last minute we asked him if he would like to lead the whole group in that song.  He didn't hesitate and just said "Sure".  And he didn't let us down.  He stood tall and proud and sang out loud and clear, leading us through the practice.

Then showtime arrives.  The room is packed.  The kids are doing the best they can to stay in one location.  One boy sat in a chair reading a book, ignoring the growing crowd, and periodically putting his arm on my leg which was his way of asking me to rub it.  One boy stayed in the hallway until it was time to perform, another started playing a game with the teacher...anything to pass the time.  At exactly 11:30, one anxious student loudly announced, "Alright, it's time for Ms. Jenn to start the show!"

Early on, during the initial interviews, one boy had said that all he hoped for was "two minutes of fame!"  Well, today everyone of the fifteen students got at least two minutes of fame!  The cameras rolled and people smiled until their faces hurt.  And in thirty minutes, we were done!  The kids took a bow, the audience applauded (silently) and all of a sudden it was over.  Although everyone was encouraged to stay and visit after the performance, the kids were anxious to leave, already on to the next thing which was "What's for lunch?"

What they didn't realize is that they left us all today...they left us now with a void!  We were watching these incredible hummingbirds, flitting in and out of a skit or a song or a game, and they not only shared their fears, anxieties and factual (sometimes blunt) view of how things should work but they willingly shared their intelligence, their talents, their unique and profound gifts.  They filled our days with a kaleidoscope of color that brought tears to our eyes.  They filled the time so intensely that we left every day exhausted but unable to stop thinking about them and wishing we could have had just one more week!

I asked one boy if he thought he would come back again in the spring.  He said "Well, yes, I think I will.  Will all the other kids in NS1 come back too?"  "I hope so," was all I could say.  And then a mom reaches out to touch my arm.  She is being hurried to the exit by her son.  As she leaves, she says "We will have love in our hearts for First Stage forever!  Thank you for this week!"

I think from everyone of the adults who worked with this group of kids in Next Steps Academy this week, we too will have love in our hearts... for these kids, forever!

Ok, one last funny story shared:  One of the boys is laying on the floor and won't get up.  The teacher says "Come on, it's time to get up!"  His response "I can't get up.  I have autism!"  And she of course replied "So does everyone else in here and they are all standing right now!"

Thank you to everyone who read through my version of this incredible journey.  I have been truly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate this week.  Writing about it at the end of each day just helped me collect my thoughts and relive the JOY!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

It's Already Thursday!

This week went by fast,  but with each day there was growth. I wish I would have had the opportunity to watch the older group as much as the younger group.  I can only say that something happened today with the younger ones that made it feel like we had mastered an ultimate goal.

  • Monday, everyone was quiet and apprehensive.  
  • Tuesday, silliness reigned.  
  • Wednesday, excessive energy sent some of the students over the edge.  
  • But on Thursday, we reached calm!

We figured out that we didn't need to rev their engines up; we needed to slow them down!

 "Look at me.  Do this (touch your head), do this (touch your shoulders), do this (put your arms up in the air)" - a game that brought focus back to the group - was used over and over again throughout the first part of the morning with group one.  

Then we started the second part of the morning relaxing flat on the floor and rubbing our arms, shaking our fingers, squeezing our shoulders.  The engines calmed down and fun filled the space for everyone again.  Yesterday, by the end of the morning, three of the kids needed to retreat to the quiet room.  Today, everyone stayed and everyone played!

One activity was to come up with a problem that one hero tries to solve but can't and then a superhero comes in to save the day.  These were not long running skits, mind you, but the kids were able to quickly come up with an idea, compromise on the final product, and perform the skit to the rest of the group.  Now, I think there was some influence from certain video game characters but I'm too old to actually be current on all of that so, to me at least, it was amazingly imaginative.

Then we tried making up an info-mercial.  This one was a little harder because not everyone was sure what that was.  In fact, one of the students said "I don't know what that means but I do know what introvert and extrovert means. Can I ask everyone which one they are?"  We told him that he could do that during the break.  Then the question was posed again.  What is an info-mercial?  One young man matter-of factly just said "It's a commercial about a product that you don't really need!"  And that set the stage.

Tomorrow, the kids will put on a skit for the parents.  Yesterday, while trying to put it together, one student left the room because he couldn't deal with the choice of song being played on the piano.  Another had a melt down right in the room because he was worried about how to make a choice of whether he should or shouldn't be the bad guy!  Today, the same song was played on the piano and, this time, noise blocking headphones made it possible for student one to stay.  And the question of to be or not to be the bad guy never came up so student number two just calmly joined the skit as one of the passengers on the train.  Our skit is about a train for very good reason.  One student is continuously sharing departure times of trains to Chicago.  He will be the conductor in the skit tomorrow

The best quote of today though comes from him actually.  Everyone was laughing hard while playing a version of Duck, Duck, Goose, and he said "I laughed so hard I nearly leaked some oil!"

Oh my goodness, I am going to hate to see this week come to an end.

PS - There are 5 extroverts, 4 introverts, and 3 who think they are both!