Categories
Current Events

Remember

Prior to Wednesday’s desecration of the U.S. Capitol, people were posting about new year’s resolutions, a practice I find both seductive and annoying in equal measure.  I ask people about their resolutions, I read about them, and I consider some of my own and then generally abandon the idea of even writing them down. Now there’s a new riff on the resolution: a word to sum up one’s intentions, a sort of linguistic guiding light for the year to come. I’ve never chosen a word either, until now. The word is remember.

I remember my first encounter with the U.S. Capitol building. I was in high school and was with my mother and one of her friends in the National Gallery’s East Wing café, the Capitol Building virtually next door. After lunch, I got into a conversation with someone dressed in something an ancient Druid might sport who was proselytizing outside the museum. He was argumentative and so was I. And I was delighted to be engaging with someone so different from everyone in my sheltered 16 year old life. My alarmed mother was comforted by her friend, a woman I saw as worldly and sophisticated. “Don’t worry. Let her talk with him. She’s learning.” Later, in my 20’s, I lived seven blocks east of the Capitol. I walked by that dome every day on my way to catch the train to my job in Baltimore. There were Fourth of July fireworks and concerts on the Capitol lawn. I didn’t spend much time in the Capitol building itself but passed it frequently, walking down the lawn toward the Hirschhorn museum or cruising by on a bike toward Rock Creek Park or the Potomac. I remember meeting an ex who worked in the press gallery for lunch, walking through the tunnels that connect the legislative chambers to the House and Senate office buildings. I was starstruck spotting a legislator who had been recently in the news.  There were early morning jogs through the Capitol grounds as I tried to keep pace with a much faster Marine runner, while I waved at the Capitol police in their security boxes. I remember it in spring with cherry blossoms, in winter with snow, in sticky summer, and in the crisp perfect days of fall. I remember the full tableau: the Supreme Court on one side, the Library of Congress on the other, the museums that lined the mall, the Shakespeare Library. All part of a scene so majestic that I felt lucky every day to live there, like some of the magic and idealism embodied in those buildings might rub off on me. 

There have always been marches, protests, and other gatherings in that area. The AIDS quilt in all its devastating tenderness, a military parade during the first Iraq war, the March for Science my son and I attended a few years ago, causes too many and varied to count.  But that space was never one in which I was afraid. There was a generosity there, an inclusiveness; this was a place where ideas and Americans came together in a physical space that transcended the human frailty or heroism that those buildings might contain. As the rioting unfolded on Wednesday, I fell speechless. But in that silence the images tumbled in and I began to remember. 

Apparently, I am not alone. Arnold Schwarzenegger is remembering Kristallnacht and saying that Wednesday represented our own night (or day) of broken glass. Maureen Dowd is remembering her father, once the head of Senate security, and his own siege during another violent incident on the house floor in 1954. Many of us are remembering this summer when police seemed ready for anything except peaceful protest as Black Lives Matter demonstrations unfolded. There is ample evidence that there was advance knowledge that Wednesday’s event would not be peaceful; why weren’t the police preparing for violence on Wednesday as they did for a march intended to uplift Black lives? Did they remember their summer choices?

My word is remember too, because, as this current political crisis engulfs the news cycle, the pandemic crisis still plagues every corner of this nation, vaccines or no. Just this week, one friend lost a parent to COVID; another has a mother in the ICU. Even if deaths have not been directly caused by COVID, so many have had their grief shaped by this virus. My own father died at the end of July almost certainly of COVID, although that is not on his death certificate. He has yet to be properly buried as he will be, finally, in April at Arlington. On May 24th, the New York Times marked 100,000 American COVID deaths with a front page that listed every name with a brief line about their life. There were furniture movers, Holocaust survivors, and World War II heroes. They were 41 and 96 and 74 and 57. One man was described as having “respect for every living creature.” Now there are 300,000 plus dead. Remember.

A year and a half ago, my husband and I sat on the Capitol steps, listening to the Marine band as the sun set. We were relaxed and grateful to have some time together in the midst of what was a complicated and really too busy life, unaware of the difficulties that lay ahead. At that time, neither of us remembered to think about the pandemic of 1918, which bears such striking resemblance to the current public health crisis. Neither of us were remembering the authoritarian who was not fully held to account for his misdeeds following a failed coup attempt only to ascend to power in more horrible form several years later. (That leader would be Adolph Hitler.) We could not have imagined that we would be locked away from caring for our parents, that we would have to tell our oldest son that we could not see him for two weeks when he takes weekend trip or attends a gathering with his friends. We can more than imagine those things now.

There is so much that we still don’t know. How many students have dropped off the grid during online schooling? How many students are safer from school yard bullying and racism because they are at home? How much domestic violence has been hidden from view? How much sobriety or sanity has been lost due to isolation and constant anxiety? These are questions that must be asked, answered, and the answers committed to memory. Now we know what happens when we defund our public health infrastructure. Now we know what happens when we undermine the value of history and science. Now we know what echo chambers produce. Now we know what happens when we become so cynical and nihilistic as to erode our capacity for empathy and generosity. And, oh, how we want to move on from that knowledge, attribute this pain to an aberrant year that has ended. But there is a price for moving on too quickly, to not fully inhabiting what we experience, whether that experience is a personal loss or societal upheaval. That price is forgetting. If we’ve learned anything during 2020 and these first weeks of 2021, it’s that sorrow floats, to quote John Irving. These questions, challenges, characters, and storylines will come back. We will see them again. Unless of course we feel these awful realities, inhabit and interrogate them. Unless, we remember.

Photo Credit for Capitol Building Photo: Skylar Searing. Follow him on Instagram @raelyks.

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Current Events Faculty Life Family

Hey 19

Road maps, off ramps, anxiety, hope, trust, and distrust in equal measure characterize the current mood at UNC. Even as we believe our colleagues in epidemiology, virology, and infectious disease, when they tell us that strict masking, distancing, and hand hygiene can allow for a residential semester on campus, we are deeply distrustful of 19, my shortcut for describing our undergraduate students, most between 18 and 21. They come from all over the country, not merely to get a degree, but to transform and, in so doing, to transform us.  What happens on a college campus is a sort of magical alchemy when the classroom combines with other active elements: the dorm room conversation, dinner with friends in the dining hall, the walk across campus with a classmate, the after class conversation with a professor, or a late-night talk under a starry sky. I well remember 19.

Passport photos, when you were still allowed to smile!

At nineteen I saw my first glimpses of who I would become. I was a sophomore in college and on a lark volunteered for an afterschool program for kids living in nearby housing projects. It was my first recognition of systemic racism, although it would be years before I knew or understood that term. The experience interacted with a sociology class I was taking about social stratification. Because of the classroom, I saw my volunteer experience differently. The head and the heart began to intersect in ways that would lead me to my later career path. That same year, I fell in love and when I took that young man home to meet my parents at a special restaurant for dinner, I had glimpse, although fleeting, of what it would feel like to be part of a grown-up couple equal with my parents, friends instead of subordinates.  By that summer, still 19, I studied abroad, after a heart break from which I thought I’d never recover. I had no enthusiasm for the trip wanting only to wallow in my misery. Yet, as I headed toward the gate, luggage checked, passport at the ready, my mother told me I’d never be the same. She was right. That summer I learned that the world is big, wonderful, and curious. My professors, ostensibly teaching me Spanish, taught me that I was following a “good girls’ script” when I regularly deferred to my male classmates in class discussion. They urged me to find my voice and use it. I’m still working on the Spanish, but the other lesson, I’ve learned pretty well.

James Chapman, Officer of the Deck, LST 222

My father was 19 when he went to war. Upon receipt of his draft letter, he requested and was admitted into the V-7 program that allowed him to finish college as long as he took courses that the Navy required of him. At 19, my dad had never left his home state of Missouri except to cross the Arkansas or Oklahoma border on occasion for a basketball game. His family meals consisted of whatever was fresh on the farm and the catch from the nearby river where he and his brothers loved to fish. At midshipman’s school at Columbia University, he met a fellow 19 in his barracks. An Italian, Catholic boy from Brooklyn whose family invited my father home for a meal so foreign, yet delicious he remembers it to this day. After a send-off at Riverside Church, he marched down 5th Avenue and was sent on to join the Pacific fleet.  He and his shipmates and the Marines they carried, would secure the Marshal Islands while under fire for two years. They would repair their bombed ship with whatever they had at hand.  As 19 turned to 20, my father took full responsibility for navigation when it became clear that the ship was dreadfully off course and that the head navigator could not do the necessary calculations to figure out, quite literally, where in the world they were. Together with so many other 19’s, 17’s, 18’s, and 20’s, they secured your freedom and mine.

Then there is the 19 that currently lives in my house. When we all came home in March for the lock down, he spent the first few days irritable, hard to be around. I remember breathing deeply and contemplating what a long quarantine it was going to be. I should know by now that these moods in my 19 generally mask a deep worry. Finally, he spoke. “Mom, if you and dad get sick and are in the hospital, how do I take care of C… [referring to his younger brother.]” My moody 19 was not grousing about the days lost with his friends on campus. He feared his ability to meet the moment if he had to. A few weeks ago, he announced his intention to protest the murders of George Floyd, Ahmad Aubry, and Breonna Taylor. My husband, who has taken our son to marches since he was 5, was livid. How could our 19 choose to risk our safety this way in a pandemic? Let’s take his car. Drain his bank account. Make him sleep in a tent in the backyard. As mothers do, I stopped my own yelling and jumped, figuratively, between son and father. Remember 19, I said to my husband. He only sees the need for justice. He can’t see your fear. He knows this is his generation’s moment to stand up and be counted. Try to be compassionate toward him.  He’s just 19.

In some ways what I’ve written makes the case that so many of my contemporaries have put forward. We cannot rely on 19 to understand risk and to behave in ways that mitigate it, wear their masks, social distance, and skip the big party. But in other ways, 19 sees what 45, 55, 65 plus cannot. Nineteen sees the future that should be, nineteen sees that the generations behind them have missed the mark. Nineteen sees that unless they carry the torch no one else will and it is then that 19 steps up, in protest to tell us we must be better than we’ve been, in kindness and concern for the responsibilities they may have to carry before their time, and to use the knowledge we give them on campus perhaps to save us all.  Two nights ago, at dinner, my almost 14 said something silly about wearing a mask.  It was 19 that piped up and told him, “Wearing a mask is an act of altruism. You do it because you care about other people.”

Well said, 19. See you on campus.

Categories
Current Events Family

Virus Diaries 2: Texas’ Two Step Reopening and My Father

On April 13th a friend posted that his father, who lives in a New Jersey retirement community, was moving in with a friend. The community had 13 COVID-19 positive staff members and there had been multiple deaths among residents.  He described his gratefulness that his father’s friend had opened his home and lamented our national response: “This is a nightmare.”

Yesterday, a mere two weeks later in a different part of the country, the Texas governor began promoting a two-step plan for reopening the state. It begins this week with retail and restaurants. He didn’t call it the Texas Two Step, but from my vantage point it sounds like a dance with the devil.  Okay, maybe you’re right. Compared to some plans for re-opening, aka Georgia’s, I suppose it could be worse.  In Texas, not everything opens all at once. There are limitations for how many individuals can be in a retail store; there is guidance on being six feet apart, and using hand sanitizer. (Masks are only mentioned for those working with elders.) What’s not to like. People are cheering Governor Abbot as a hero…except for those that aren’t. (https://www.texasmonthly.com/politics/greg-abbott-reopening-texas-too-early/) In reality, his “plan” passes the buck to business owners and individual employees. Open and go to work or stay closed at the peril of your livelihood. Neither your state nor federal government will back you up to do what is best for public health. Without clear guidance, all those Texans longing for a beer at the corner bar or an enchilada they don’t have to cook will be back in circulation.  Haircuts and manicures are just a week or so away. Hang in there, ladies! With this guidance, it is up to individual business owners to decide whether to stick to their social distancing guns or cave to hurried, entitled customers who may defect to a not-so-strict competitor. 

Even on April 13th, well before anyone was discussing the Texas plan, my friend’s post brought up the grief that I have carried throughout this pandemic. It is the loss of certainty in the decisions I made for my father last summer. Finally at age 98, after a series of small strokes and blood clots, my father reluctantly moved into an assisted living facility.  After he had agreed, he started revisiting the decision. With the endorsement of everyone I know, I took the reins and told him, “Daddy, that horse is out of the barn. No going back now.” He knows about barns and horses and accepted the new reality. He’s become beloved in his community, made friends, and has created a little life that consists of bingo, cocktail parties with very weak cocktails, and other small pleasures that are punctuated by my monthly visits. Those visits ended abruptly in March. Now six weeks later, my father asks every day when I am coming. Every day I tell him I don’t know and explain why. Then, he says, “Maybe you’ll know when you call tomorrow.”  I reply, “Maybe I will, Daddy. I hope so.”  It is the best we can do. 

On-line, I see people debating back and forth about the merits of Governor Abbot’s plan. “We can’t stay home forever. We’ll develop herd immunity.” Or the converse, “Re-opening is too big a risk. The models show what happens with 20 percent opening, 50 percent opening, and none of it looks good.” https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/politics/article/UTSA-projecting-different-local-courses-of-15202645.php Thus far, nobody is talking about my dad or others like him. Nobody talks about the fact that the Governor’s Two Step, and other re-opening schemes, only make his and other elders’ lives worse. Not even the most rabid proponents of reopening would suggest reinstating visits in assisted living, skilled nursing facilities, VA centers, or hospitals. Yet, those wonderful staff to whom I am indebted for their tender, daily care of my father will, within days, be going out to dinner or shopping on their days off as will their friends and family with whom they will certainly gather. Who could blame them? Yet, with each human interaction his caregivers have with others, my father’s risk of contracting the virus, dying alone, and, as of this morning, not even getting a proper military burial increases. https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/In-coronavirus-era-it-s-a-funeral-for-one-at-15231887.php To what benefit? His portfolio may improve, but his loneliness extends.

On Easter Sunday, my husband and I talked about what would happen if my father became ill. Unbeknownst to my husband, I had a plan. I found an apartment rental service that operates remotely. I decided I could ask a friend to stock one of those apartments with groceries and other necessities before I arrived. Maybe I could get some PPE from medical friends here to take with me and then I could be with him while he died even if I had to get a step ladder and surreptitiously crawl through his window.  After that, I’d quarantine for 14 days before returning to my family in North Carolina. My husband listened, then said, “And if you get sick? Our family can’t lose you.” I had no plan for that possibility. We tabled the conversation and ate our Easter Sunday cinnamon rolls. But as Texas dances into this next phase of the pandemic, perhaps we have to have the conversation again. 

Categories
Current Events Family

Virus Diaries: 1

When this strange chapter in our collective life is said and done, we will each have our own virus diary. We will have the day we realized this episode was serious. The day we realized we had to change the way we were living.  The day we recognized how this could affect people that we know and the day we realized that we would not come through it unscathed. This is my virus story, even though it is not over.

Almost a month ago, my family was approaching spring break. My oldest son had plans to spend a week off with a “lady friend” in her hometown near mine. My husband was to have a week to himself. My younger son and I would head to Texas where he would help out at a friend’s ranch – which he loves – and I would visit with my 99-year-old father. As we prepared to leave, reports on Covid-19 were growing more dire. My husband and I discussed whether any or all of us should travel. In the end, we took Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, cleaned every surface we encountered on our respective journeys, and off we went. 

The visit began normally enough. We saw my father and his friends who all wanted to shake my son’s hand and give me a hug or a pat. I walked in and out of his assisted living facility with nary a second glance from the wonderful staff that I’ve come to admire. Then, as universities across the country sounded the alarm and told students not to return to campus, our visit took a different turn. 

Between visits with my father, I was all of sudden on daily conference calls with work. I was trying to get his taxes done and when I went to visit him the visiting procedure had changed to include a sign in process and questions about travel. As spring break was extended for another week to prep for remote teaching, entrance to my dad’s assisted living facility became limited to immediate family. I told my older son and his girlfriend not to make their planned visit since they’d likely been exposed to too many potential carriers. On Friday morning, I visited as usual and left with a plan to come back later that afternoon and finish the Sherlock Holmes story I’d been reading aloud to my father. When I returned two hours later, I was locked out.

Hysteria welled up inside of me. That I could not explain to him what was happening, that he would be left wondering why I didn’t return, that my only chance at talking with him would be the five-minute phone calls that he appreciates, but provide precious little in the way of real communication – my mind could not take it in.  Thank God for the hospice nurse who happened to arrive at just the right moment and advocated that I be allowed to visit for another hour or so, to finish our Sherlock Holmes story, to say what might be a temporary or, God forbid, a permanent good-bye.  I was allowed in, allowed to explain, tell him I love him, and walk out the door. 

Two days ago, some public official – I know their name but choose not to mention it here – said that senior citizens would be willing to sacrifice for the country, to risk death so that the economy wouldn’t suffer. And, I suppose if anyone asked him, my 99-year-old father might agree.  Why not? He said yes before when he was 19 years old and marched down 5th avenue before boarding a ship that took him to the Pacific where he was under fire for 2 and half years. What would make any of us think that any of those brave, now old, young men and women would ever say no to what we ask of them?  Has my good, noble, kind father ever said no to me? Hardly ever. But why in the world we would ever ask this of them?  How could we be so selfish, so self-important, so ignorant, and so cruel, as to expect that our elders who have sacrificed in World War 2, in Korea, in Vietnam, and in a million other non-military ways, should have to sacrifice a good, quiet, supported old age and eventual death surrounded by their loved ones because we cannot find it in our hearts to sit in our houses and be bored, or contend with endless zoom meetings in our workplace? If we can afford to have someone clean our homes, keep our yards, help with children, nails, or hair, can’t we, both individually and societally, pay people not to work for a month or six weeks for the good of all? Could we not find an unselfish bone in our bodies that allows us to value our elders, our health care workers, and others who are vulnerable to a virus that, as a society we have no experience with and to which no one, except maybe those who have recovered, has any immunity?

Two weeks have passed since I left my father. It has taken this long for me to even begin to write about leaving him. Locking out visitors was the right decision and my need to be with him was so intense as to make my rational mind fall completely away.  I talk to him every day but have no idea when I’ll be able to read to him again. I keep telling him I’m coming again at the end of April because it gives us both hope that there will be time to read another Sherlock Holmes story, or perhaps Treasure Island, or maybe a Tale of Two Cities. There is no economic gain in such activities, no contribution to America’s business of business. But oh how we love it. The characters, the humor, the turn of phrase, the suspense, the story. When I left him, he said, in a way that you’ll recognize if you know him, “When you come back, we’ll read another tale of danger.” How I hope so. Please stay home so that I and you can have a chance at another chapter with those that are so dear.

Categories
Current Events Recommended Weekly Reads

Reads and Listens: November 3 – 8, 2019

A crisp, lovely morning here in North Carolina and I am back again on my not-so-regular schedule. This week I’ve started enjoying coffee and poetry for breakfast. Every time I run across a poem by Mary Oliver, a find myself awestruck. Six months or so ago, I bought an anthology of her poems entitled, Devotions, and have decided to start the day by reading a few. It is a peaceful, grounding way to begin.

The next two suggestions are on the lighter side. There is so much to be concerned about these days. We need to find ways to balance out the heavy and remember there is fun in the world. Try this one from the New Yorker on the appeal of astrology when we’re feeling of kilter.

Next up is a piece a friend posted on Facebook that had me sitting in the Dallas Airport with tears rolling down my face because I was laughing so hard. The Case for Checking a Bag is by Roxanne Gay. She is a great writer and, in this piece that she published on Medium, very funny! You’re welcome.

Finally, here’s a listen that is serious. Many of you know I am a big fan of the NYT Daily Podcast. I usually listen while I’m getting dressed in the morning. This episode aired yesterday. (11/7/19) and details the case the Supreme Court is considering regarding transgender rights in the work place. The Daily has much to recommend it. Not only does the podcast take you behind the scenes of a particular story to let reporters explain their craft in gathering facts and communicating a story, the host, Micheal Barbaro, also allows the listener to hear directly from the people involved. This episode is a particularly compelling and informative example.

Categories
books Current Events

Weekly Reads, Watches, and Listens 10/7 – 10/14

Have you noticed that the title for this branch of the blog keeps morphing?  That’s because, although I’m always reading something, sometimes it’s the same as the week before.  And, sometimes something I’ve watched or listened to is what is really making me think. So here’s to opening our eyes and perking up our ears.

Reads:

Two books are in rotation right now.  

The Starfish and the Spideris the first.  This is a book about organizations and how they are put together – not a typical genre for me.  A year or so ago, I was at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.  I saw this book in the bookstore there and loved the title so much that I decided to give it a try.  You can tell it’s not my normal cup of tea since its taken me a year or more to get to it.   Anyway, the gist is that most organizations are spiders, meaning there is someone or some set of someones at the center.  If something happens to that center, the organization cannot survive.  Starfish organizations, in contrast, have no central leader and therefore regenerate if an arm is lopped off.  The authors’ contention is that Starfish organizations create situations in which everyone in the organization feels more invested because it is everyone’s job to keep the organization running and healthy. It’s an interesting idea.  I’ll keep you posted.

Next, I’ve started Peter Hessler’s new book, The Buried.  I love Hessler’s writing and have written about it elsewhere on this blog.  I first read him when I began going to China in 2008.  His rise as a writer was tied to his time living in China and he has been sort of a cultural translator for newbie China watchers every since.  I love his writing because he combines his own life experiences and current circumstances as he seeks to understand a foreign culture. In addition, he points out the ways in which language reflects something central to the culture or land in question. Here’s an example from the new book that is focused on Egypt during the Arab spring.  

He describes two different words that ancient Egyptians used to describe different types of time beginning on page 10 of The Buried:

Ancient Egyptians had words for two different types of time: djet and neheh.  These words cannot be translated into English, and it may be impossible for them to be grasped by the modern mind. IN our world, times is a straight line, and one event leads to another; the accumulation of these events, and the actions of he people who matter, are what make history.  But for ancient Egyptians,, time was not linear, and events were suspect.  They were oddities, distractions that interrupted the world’s natural order…

Nehehis the time of cycles…Djet, on the other hand is time without motion.  When a king dies he passes into djetwhich is the time of the gods…

Then he goes on to quote an Egyptologist who relates these two types of time to the physical landscape, the cycles of the Nile river valley versus the endless dessert.   It is beautiful and mysterious and thought provoking all at once.

Here’s a link for more information: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blogs/openbook/article/79346-peter-hessler-s-the-buried-puts-egypt-s-past-in-perspective.html

Listens:

A few weeks ago, I decided that even though I have a parking place on campus, I really don’t need to use it every day and therefore I should walk.  The climate situation is so dire.  I know one person walking to work a couple of days a week is not going to solve it, but I have been looking for little habits I could either change or incorporate in support of saving the planet…

So, on my morning walks, I’ve been listening to Master Classes.  Here’s the link to this service. https://www.masterclass.com  It costs something, but before you write it off, think about all the things you waste money on.  You can choose master classes from a series of interesting people.  They might be on cooking or investing or conservation. Most of my choices have been about writing.  For the last week or so, I’ve been listening to Judy Blume talk about her writing process. And before that I listened to Anna Wintour talk about leadership.  Both have been fun and interesting and given me plenty to think about.  They are set up as videos that you might watch.  But I never do that.  I think it would be boring and I could never sit still for it. But it’s perfect for a morning and evening walk.

Finally, on Friday, I got to hear Nikole Hannah-Jones, the journalist who envisioned  the 1619 series, speak on campus. Here’s her website. https://nikolehannahjones.com She was receiving a distinguished alumnae award the next day.  Really terrific to hear her in person.  If you’ve not read or listened to the 1619 podcast, start immediately.  And, before your write it off, at least give it a try.  The quote of the day from Jones was this, “To love something does not mean you are never critical of it.”  She was referring to America.  And I so agree. We do our children, our friends, and our spouses no favors when we don’t expect the best of them. Why would we feel any differently about our country?

That’s it for now. Let me know what’s perking up your ears or opening your eyes this week.

Categories
Current Events Family Youth Issues

Abortion Stories

As Alabama was passing its total abortion ban, a friend posted a CNN clip that I didn’t watch in which a guest or the anchor seemed to imply that a fetus was akin to an organ in a woman’s body that she might choose do with as she pleases. My friend posed the following question with this post: “Will one of my SANE pro-abortion friends explain this to me?” When no one responded, she took this to mean that her “pro-abortion” friends could not answer something so ridiculous and therefore this meant that they knew deep in their hearts how evil their pro-choice position was. When I tried to go back to the post later, in order to watch the clip and to decide whether to respond, the post was gone. Perhaps things got ugly…Truly, so little good comes from engaging in such conversations on Facebook or Twitter. Against my better judgment, I do engage sometimes but it generally ends with me ghosting out before or after someone dismisses my thinking while telling me how much I mean to them.  Pointless all the way around.  Maybe that is why no one “sane” responded to my friend’s post…

But everyday there is a new threat to reproductive rights, including the choice to abort, in this country. Yesterday, saw the most restrictive law yet move forward in Alabama. Many states now have only one abortion provider and in some cases none.  Yet, the majority of the U.S. population supports the right to abortion in all or most cases. https://www.pewforum.org/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/

My opinions have been largely consistent since I was in about the seventh or eighth grade, approximately four years after Roe was decided. As abortion became a possibility in every state, the public debate came with it. I remember the cover of TIME or maybe NEWSWEEK with a picture of a fetus in utero promoting an article that examined the “when does life begin” question.  I read it and decided that should I ever need to, as long as I could have an early abortion meaning before 10 weeks or so, I would do it. That was my own thinking and for a long time I kept that opinion to myself.

My parents each approached the topic of an early pregnancy differently.  My mother told me around this time period, meaning when I was about 13, that if I became pregnant she would want me to carry the pregnancy to term. I remember the scene in great detail. I was in her room. It was summer and I was wearing my favorite multi-colored short shorts. The memory is probably so clear because I was terrified. Not because I was sexually active, but because I believed that it was up to me to never make a mistake; that if I did, I would have no choice over what would happen to me; and that if I wanted to have a choice, I could not turn to my mother for help. I am sure she would be devastated to hear me say that.  And perhaps those were the beliefs of a young adolescent that did not reflect what really might have happened.  But beliefs of teens are often not articulated and as such parents have no way to correct them.

Several years later, perhaps when I was leaving for college, my father gave me a very different message. He wrote me a letter tucked in the trunk of my car where he often left me a little extra cash. In it, he told me to avoid pregnancy at any cost during my college years. I was shocked by this part of the letter. I never talked about such things with my dad. But I did ask him about it the next time I saw him and he was clearly embarrassed. Avoiding further conversation, he simply said, “A girl has to know when to say no, because when you are pregnant and you don’t want to be there are no good options. But if that ever happens to you, you come to me and I’ll help you.” That statement has been etched on my heart ever since.  In so many ways it sums up my relationship with my father. He has always been the person who could simultaneously clearly state his expectations and his beliefs about how I should conduct myself – “pretty is as pretty does” –and at the same time acknowledge the realities of being human.

Fast-forward another seven, or eight years and I was working in a teen clinic in a hospital located in an extremely high need neighborhood. I did all kinds of things in that clinic and one of my main activities was “options counseling” for teen girls who were pregnant.  I was not so far away from adolescence myself and began this work with the view that an early pregnancy represented a crisis.  Overtime, I learned that an early pregnancy represented as many possibilities as there were young women in that circumstance.  For some, it was a joy, a happy accident of which their family was aware and supportive.  For others it was a secret and they were convinced, as I would’ve been, that they could never talk with their mothers about their situation. It was my practice to encourage them to talk with their moms and many times I helped facilitate those conversations. By then I knew that no matter what mothers say to their teens, when the chips are down, they want to help and they do not want their daughters to go through challenging experiences alone.  And, I knew, that the best decisions teens make – 9 times out of 10 – are decisions that fit with their families’ beliefs and values – not mine and not yours.  But notice that qualifier – 9 times out of 10.  There are exceptions. Families that are hardly families at all, where young people have been raising themselves and making their own way for years. There are families whose belief systems are so rigid and a young person desperately wants something different that to involve the family would be to risk harm to the girl’s life or leave her with no place to live unless she followed their wishes. And, these wishes could go either way.  Sometimes families felt that having a baby was punishment for being sexually active. On the flip side, I had family members call me and yell at me because I would not “make” their daughter have an abortion. Never mind that a forced abortion is illegal in this country; a doctor doing such a thing would be prosecuted for assault and battery.  So what I learned in this role was the wisdom both of my profession, which prioritizes individual autonomy, and also the wisdom of my father: my goal was to help them make a their own decision, not tell them what their decision should be.

And so to my friend and so many like her who cheer these repressive laws and the pre-ordained paths those laws produce, I would ask, who would you want me to be for your daughter or your son’s girlfriend or one night stand?  Would you want me to tell her what she has to do because the government has decreed what that choice should be?  Or would you want me to help her talk to people who are important to her. Maybe you, maybe her minister, her aunt, or her father, so that the decision would reflect something thought through, examined, carefully weighed, and freely chosen. Would you want me to shuttle her off to prenatal care without a second look or would you want me help her know her own heart and mind? These laws take away the possibility that a woman might find a non-judgmental ear, someone to help her talk to others who care about her, or simply some space to consider how to move forward.

The arguments on TV and elsewhere about abortion are all ridiculous in different ways. Of course an embryo or a fetus is not an organ like an extra kidney or an appendix. It is sad that we spend so much of our public discourse on red herrings. Abortion is one of, if not the most ancient of medical procedures. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/abortion/legal/history_1.shtml  Cultures around the world have recognized for centuries that there are times and circumstances in which carrying a pregnancy to term is terrible idea. Abortion was made legal across this country because women seek abortions whether they are legal or not.  But when they are illegal, women are maimed, infected, often made sterile, or sometimes die at that hands of charlatans and mercenaries that prey on their desperation.  That is why a network of clergy existed to help women get safe abortions in this country before it was made legal in every state. https://www.npr.org/2017/05/19/529175737/50-years-ago-a-network-of-clergy-helped-women-seeking-abortion That is why physicians campaigned for legal abortion as a matter of public health.

Are there times that people regret a decision to have either an abortion or a baby? Of course. Are there times they regret a decision to place a child for adoption? Undoubtedly. But that is the price of freedom – the chance to make our own decisions, as long as they do not hurt the wider community, and to live with the consequences, whether they are positive, negative, or indeed a complex web of regrets, hopes, and contentment that make up the reality of our lives.

 

Note about the photo: If you click next to the colon below, you will be taken to the site where the photo originates from, the archive of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Photo credit: 

Categories
Current Events Miscellaneous

San Francisco

 

Just back after four days in San Francisco, a city I don’t know well but that has captivated my imagination since I read Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series in my 20s. For the most part, I spent my time this visit doing pretty standard work conference activities. But the last night, a colleague cum friend sent a text inviting me to join her and her husband at a Market Street wine bar.  After a longer-than-expected walk, I arrived to a quiet scene.  My friends were there along with two gender bending, male-identified men behind the bar and two women, apparently a couple, sharing quiet conversation.

We were enjoying appetizers and a bottle of wine when my colleague’s husband burst into song with a falsetto that let me know this was going to be no ordinary night.  The three of us are in our 50’s and the songs of our youth were topping the playlist. As my colleague and I talked shop, her husband kept singing and befriended the couple to his left.  Soon enough we put away our workplace concerns and let the impulse to sing and dance take over.  At first, it was the three of us.  One of the bartenders began to act as DJ, taking requests. First Journey, Queen, Pat Benetar, then Bye Bye Miss American Pie, The Cars, more Journey….music that took me back. Another colleague arrived and joined the fun. Eventually, one member of the unknown couple decided to dance with us, and with some trepidation her reluctant partner joined in.  Soon enough the bar tenders were strutting their stuff and we jumped into a joyous, raucous-for-me, evening. I’ve been basking in the glow of the laughter and camaraderie ever since.

But there was so much more to that evening than a spontaneous dance party in a far away city.  Our evening stood in contrast to the news story that had broken that afternoon in which a group of boys from a Catholic school in full MAGA gear appeared to taunt and disrespect a Native American elder at a protest in Washington D.C. What actually happened is now the subject of debate and I’ve not followed every nuance. But our current national life is so filled with stories of open prejudice and hatred that the complexity of this situation hardly matters. We hear similar things almost weekly, incidents that are either ignored or celebrated by our leaders.

Indeed at one point in the night, in the midst of the dancing and laughter, one of the women we met began to cry. A Latinx lesbian woman who valued her Catholic faith even though many who share it would reject her, she was dismayed by the boys’ behavior.  (For the record, many claiming Christ would reject this woman. Her Catholic Church is not alone its exclusion.) For her, because the boys were Catholic she hoped that they would choose to represent a message of Christian love. When we saw her sit down and her tears begin, we dropped to our knees in front of her and joined hands forming a circle to share and acknowledge her sorrow. What a gift to share our collective grief  with this stranger-friend for a moment.

The tears passed and we kept dancing, singing, and laughing. Two very young couples joined the mix, and soon thereafter it was time to call it a night. As we said good-bye, one of the bar tenders explained it was his first night on the job and said we had made it great for him. But really we all made it great for each other. For one evening, by tacit agreement, we all remembered what it was like to be young and open to new people and experiences. We agreed to let our stereotypes drop, stereotypes about how 50 plus straight people, and 40 plus lesbian people, and 30-ish gender bending people are “supposed to” act and relate. Those stereotypes would have kept us in our corners, no spontaneous falsetto, no singing, no dancing, no understanding, no joyful connection. For a moment, as the song goes, we belonged to the light, we belonged to each other, and we belonged together.

 

Categories
Arts and Scholarship Current Events Engaged Scholarship Teaching

Preparation

This afternoon I sat in a coffee shop preparing for work later this week with a group of medical fellows. We will be talking about the Latinx immigrant population in our community using an intervention called, “Yo Veo,” meaning “I See.” We will use a series of photographs by the photographer, Janet Jarman http://janetjarman.com to begin our conversation. The images from her story, Marisol and the American Dream, form a jumping off point to consider the ways in which migration experiences shape an individual’s experience with various systems, such as health care or education. As we go through Marisol’s story, we will also spend time with data collected from young people and their parents here in North Carolina. Some of that data comes from studies I’ve done with colleagues through the years and some comes from the good work of others.

Using visual images and the performing arts to promote nuanced and reflective conversation about race, ethnicity, culture, migration, difference, and professional practice is an approach I and others I work with have been refining since 2010. Although we use a particular method to structure these experiences, the conversations are open-ended and unpredictable. Sometimes the mood is tense. Other times the room floods with empathy. Usually, at least at first, there is a mixture of wariness and confusion as participants search for a “right” answer to the questions posed. Gradually, the group grows more comfortable with not knowing, a posture which overtime gives way to understanding, reconsideration, and respect. Although the structure is the same, no two Yo Veo conversations are alike. As a facilitator, comfort with ambiguity, trust in the process, and a willingness to let the images work is key. This flexibility and responsiveness is what gives the approach its power and differentiates it from more traditional “trainings” focused on diversity or difference. Our research indicates that what we do does influence professionals’ attitudes and motivation to engage with clients, students, or patients whose backgrounds leave them open to disparate health and educational outcomes. For those interested, links to some of our published research articles are at the end of this post.
Immigration questions appear to be evergreen in our society, a consistently hot topic. As such, whenever I prepare for a Yo Veo conversation, I end up tweaking the slide deck. Sometimes, I am tailoring for a particular type of audience or a particular timeframe. But usually, I am incorporating images and information that speak to the current moment. A month or so ago, Janet sent me images from her recent time in Tijuana covering “the caravan.” My son was in the kitchen when I opened the file. We stood speechless as we scrolled through the images that she had sent without captions. Utter misery inflicted on desperate people at our Southern border. How in God’s name are we allowing this?

Today was no different. I looked at more images taken by other photographers that document the separation, loss, atrocity, occasional resilience, and faith that characterize the current, shameful chapter in our national immigration story. As I look, I know our Yo Veo conversation this week will be meaningful. But it is hard to focus on the work through my tears…

 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/256198342_How_images_work_An_analysis_of_a_visual_intervention_used_to_facilitate_a_difficult_conversation_and_promote_understanding

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316751923_Making_a_difference_in_medical_trainees’_attitudes_toward_Latino_patients_A_pilot_study_of_an_intervention_to_modify_implicit_and_explicit_attitudes?_sg=S7zdUrG8227FpulXPLcUwk2i40_pBF7TXCnkRG1BQX3yJfFDdkACTP_U4HOG6_K3pFui-4hDRWzYKnLpB_Wrg666VffmqQS-1qxgGs4a.NU_7u7ToJ1VTc0TIDKXbtmKhf54TXaOZyl-7LxuODnrtyrHC_UGQCuLV-wYSyg9pND38LuYGQ-lj16rSoxHTpA

 

Photograph Credit: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2018/12/26/podcasts/27daily/26daily-superJumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp

Categories
Current Events

Pray for the Woman

Now that the shouting is over and a vote is apparently eminent, we are left to try and make sense of what we have witnessed. I believe Dr. Ford. I first read her statement on line the night before the hearing. It has the “ring of truth.” Nothing I saw in the hearings changed that opinion. I identify with her. She, like me, is a professor who grew up with more privilege than anyone should expect. I know the world she inhabited, although mine was a south Texas version. I know about the heavy drinking of that era, the tightropes girls had to walk to seem like “ one of the guys” but still “a lady.” The days at the country club and the loosely supervised nights are familiar. It is also a world I left, like Dr. Ford, to find my own corner of the sky in academia.

What might surprise you is that I was also moved by Judge Kavanagh’s testimony. Not because I believe him, I don’t. Everything we know and hear points to him, in his adolescence being an excessive drinker in a highly male-centric, privileged life, a life that breeds entitlement to fun at women’s expense. To this day, so many assaults between students are aided by alcohol, the un-indicted co-conspirator. But something that happened in the hearing leads me to believe he has a conscience, that he knows the truth of what happened in the summer of 1982, and that he regrets it. His voice broke most notably when he recounted his 10-year-old daughter suggesting that their family “pray for the woman.” His tears at that moment are no coincidence. They are evidence of guilt, a guilt that he does not believe he can confess, take responsibility for, and atone for. Such a situation is ripe for the anguish and rage we saw on display.

Admittedly, this is supposition. But I think Dr. Ford may have told us this too. When she testified about the laughter that haunted her, she seemed to recognize that, at that moment, those two boys were not thinking about her at all, perhaps not realizing how frightened she was, or how outrageous their behavior. They were playing what many women of the era will recognize as an unnamed male game that I’ll call, “scare the girls.” Here’s a much milder version that I remember growing up in the early 80’s.  I’d been studying at our local library and ran into two boys from my neighborhood. They offered to drive me home and I accepted. On the way, a possum ran in front of the car. The boy driving, about 16 years old, stopped, grabbed the possum by the tail and brought it around to my side of the car swinging it into the back seat where I was. The possum, mouth open, teeth exposed, drooling, was now playing dead. I was screaming, truly frightened, and the two boys were laughing at my fear.  After a few minutes, they let the possum go and happily took me home. Scare the girl, have a few laughs, everything back to normal, still friends, no harm, no foul. Perhaps for Kavanaugh and his friend, too inebriated to realize they’d crossed a line, ‘scare the girl’ went too far. Only now, as an adult, with his life’s goal of a Supreme Court seat so close he can smell it, is he confronted with the harm his high school version of “scare the girl,” aided by the disinhibition that comes with drinking, caused. And because he wants his seat on the Supreme Court so badly, he ignores, at least publicly, his conscience.  It’s a Faustian bargain and he is selling is soul.

His little daughter, with the faith of a child, is showing him another path: do what his faith demands of him.  Pray for the woman, do unto others, let the truth set you free.  Given what he and others describe about the outsized role that drinking played in his early life, there is almost no way he can say with certainty anything about his behavior under the influence. The talking points of, “I worked hard. I studied. I played sports.  I would never do this. I remember everything. I like beer. So what?” are simply insufficient in the current circumstance. He diminishes himself and all he has accomplished with his false bravado.

I feel sorry for him; anyone can understand how much someone in his position would want this job and how embarrassed and ashamed he feels having his drinking behavior and his participation the misogyny of the time unveiled before the world. But he is not fragile and he owes it to himself and everyone else to confront and, indeed embrace, an ugly and uncomfortable truth.  “Yes. There was a period of time where I drank far too much and it impaired my judgment. Yes. My friends and I were disrespectful in the way we talked about women, even as we cared deeply about many of them. Yes. There were parties and gatherings in the summer of 1982; I was drunk at several of them; I don’t know whether I did this terrible thing to this credible and accomplished woman or not. It sounds like I could have and she says I did. I believe her. I am sorry. It was wrong. It is not who I want to be or how I’ve lived my life as an adult. Please forgive me.”

What would happen then is uncertain. But the truth is disarming. Dr. Ford showed us that yesterday.  Perhaps such a statement by Judge Kavanaugh would allow us all to put away our arms. Judge, listen to your little daughter. She is showing you the way. Pray for the woman, not for yourself, your position, or your reputation. Pray for understanding, pray for guidance and discernment, and then listen to the still, small voice of conscience that will tell you what you need to do.