An Inspired Change of Heart

Sunday afternoon we took Mess Cat’s, Bubba’s, and my littles to go swimming.  As I walked back to the gomobile to get my sunglasses I overheard three men talking “golf” talk.

They sounded like high school teenagers, arguing about a person who wasn’t there.  Apparently the fourth guy (not present) was not going to be happy because they wanted to play at this golf course again instead of another one, which apparently was where the fourth guy wanted to play.  Now.

One guy looked something up on his phone. “The last time we played there was July 10th.  So yeah, not quite a month.  We’re okay.”

Another said, “Well, you know what he’s going to say if we put him off another week…..” and then he proceeded to mock the other guy like I have seen my little people do.

Y’all.

For real?

It’s been a long week.  A lot of brokenness in this world coming to the forefront.

When I walked by these guys, whose greatest worries were where to play their next golf game, and who were a bit less than compassionate to their alleged friend and golf buddy, I just shook my head.

Way to share the light, guys.

There’s a whole lot more valid and important things to be stressing over in this life, my friends.

I know young parents who are worn out from parenting and do not have nearly enough emotional support in raising their children.  They need a friendly ear and a big hug.  And lots of backup.  A young man in our community took his own life and left folks with all kinds of what ifs and wondering why.  A friend is struggling with the diagnosis her mother recently received–terminal.  A young woman in college has nowhere to go when the semesters are over, and so she does the best that she can to have a place to sleep when the dorms are closed.  Each day children age out of the foster care system and are dropped off on the street corners with their backpacks full of belongings and little else.  Single mothers go through cancer treatments and do their best to parent the ones in their care with little to no help from others.  People are arguing with each other over children coming to our country in need and whether or not we should help them.  Folks fight over whether or not we should be treating people with frightening diseases in this country.  People are hurting and hiding their stories behind masks and hoping no one sees what threatens to come to the surface.

All the while there are folks who have no greater worries than where to play golf next weekend.

Or do they?

When I first set out to write this post two days ago, it would have ended after the sentence ending “next weekend” just two lines above here.    But tonight, after an evening of great discussion with caring and compassionate and beautiful people, I am compelled to extend the grace I so need myself and say, I have no idea their real stories.  I don’t know what those men are facing when they head home.  What the golf game might be a respite from, or how much weighs on them as they turn out the lights and close their eyes at night.  I have no idea the depths of their real worries and if maybe it’s a relief to stress over something as minute as where to play the next golf game.  I don’t know.

And that’s the lesson in this I guess.  I was so quick to judge on Sunday.  So ready to turn my head haughtily and give them the stare I’ve worked years to perfect.

Sigh.

It’s really never that simple, is it?  Those shades of gray showing up again–and the knowledge that folks aren’t all good or all bad.  We are all just making it the best we can.  The other lesson I’ve learned in this is surround yourself with good and compassionate and thinking people.  The unexpected treat of an impromptu visit with just such folks tonight changed me.  It changed my heart, my attitude.  The grace, the love, the laughter that they shared with me made it easy for me to pass on the same to the golf buddies in retrospect and to the people I encountered after I said goodbye tonight.

Listen to folks’ stories.  To quote Taylor Swift, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  Don’t assume anything about someone else’s story.  And surround yourself with folks who make you want to be a better person and then expect it from you…..and love you anyway when you don’t quite hit the mark.

(You getting all this, Tara?  You writing it down?  Yep.  Got it.  Now to live it out.)

Wishing you all someone to hear your stories with a grace-filled ear and good folks to share the  whole journey–the joys and the heartbreaks.

 

Love to all.

 

 

 

The Word That Punched Me in the Stomach

I was grown before I read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

It was eighteen months ago in fact.  I think Daddy had suggested that Aub read it, so I had gotten it and had it around the house.  After Daddy passed in November 2011, I found it hard to concentrate and read any book.  But I pulled it out in the summer of 2012 and I opened the pages of a book that I will forever and always treasure.

So many lines that touched my heart.  If I put them all down here for you, then well, I’d practically have the whole book written out for you to read.  If you haven’t read it or you only read it as a young person for a school requirement, I highly recommend your making time to read it now.

Because it’s important.  It is an important story whose lessons we must never forget.  We cannot afford to forget them, for to do so would send us back in time to a place that was hard and ugly and broken.  More so than things are today.

Several weeks ago Aub found out that “To Kill a Mockingbird” was coming to one of the local theaters in Macon. She could attend with fellow students as part of a community enrichment program.  She was thrilled and so was I.  I was excited when she made the list to attend.  The performance was set this past Friday.  All of the tickets were sold out, so I was satisfied to enjoy it vicariously through her.  However, she called me in the middle of the day and said the program had an extra ticket and I was going.  What a wonderful gift!  To see one of my favorite books performed in live theater, and that my oldest wanted me to join her.

The playbill from the performance we attended Friday night.  It was phenomenal!

The playbill from the performance we attended Friday night. It was phenomenal!

When we arrived in downtown Macon, it was already dark and the town had a festive feel to it.  The theater was full by the time the lights went down and the play started.  Oh how I do love live theater!  Before the play began, we looked through the playbill to see that we recognized a couple of names.  We knew that one of Aub’s high school classmates was playing Mayella Ewell.  I knit with the stage director, and I had taken a directing class from the director back when I was in college.  What a small world.

I was immediately taken in with the story and the way it was presented.  The choir added a spiritual feel that set the whole story in motion.  The adult Scout as narrator was a talented actress whose voice carried you back in time as young Scout came onto the stage.

It was absolutely wonderful, and I loved every minute of it.  Except.  I’ve read the book.  I know the word is in there.  Much of the book deals with prejudices and the idea of fairness and justice and the goings-on surrounding a trial for a young black man who was accused of behaving inappropriately toward with a young white girl.  So I knew to expect it.

Only I didn’t.

The first time the “n” word echoed across the theater, I sucked in my breath.  I felt as though I’d been kicked in the stomach.  I haven’t heard that word for at least fifteen years.  In my previous life I heard it all too often.  What the use of the word represented is one of the reasons that is my previous life.  I could not and would not raise a child in such prejudice.  And so I didn’t.

Each time during the play the word was said, and it was never whispered, I nervously looked around.  I was surrounded by Wesleyannes, students from Wesleyan College, many of whom were international students.  What must they be thinking, I worried.  Are they offended?  Upset?  Growing up, I knew we weren’t allowed to “cuss.”  But I also knew we were NOT allowed to say that word.  Cussing reflected poorly on you and might could offend someone, but saying that word only served to hurt people.  And we were not ever to do that knowingly.

Such a beautiful and thought-provoking performance.  I mean, it was fantastic.  At the end when the young man belted out a solo of “I’ll Fly Away” and was then joined by the choir and then the entire cast–TEARS.  Streaming down my face.  I really was trying not to embarrass my oldest in front of her fellow classmates, but there was no helping it.  I love that song.  And I thought of Mama and Daddy and so many others.  That song.  Beautiful.

On the way home we were talking about the play, and I shared how hearing that word had impacted me.  “Oh Mama,” Aub said. “Folks say it all the time now.  Like instead of brother or sister or dude.  It’s just what they say.”

That made me sad.  And mad.  “I better not hear you saying it.  Ever.”  And I meant it.

In the past couple of months, I’ve read Ann Hite’s three books, but Low Country Spirit dealt with what happened during the Civil War in the south from the perspective of different slave women.  I know she researched it thoroughly, and there were no exaggerations.  I went from there to reading Whistling Past the Graveyard, which is about nine-year old Starla, a young white girl in Mississippi who winds up travelling from there to Nashville with Eula, a black woman, and a white baby she found on the church steps in 1963.  After finishing that book (an excellent story by the way), I started “Silver Sparrow” by Tayari Jones, which is the story of two young African-American girls living in Georgia in the 1970s and 1980s.  I was nearly finished with that book when I saw the play Friday night.

So much hurt has happened in our country, especially this part of the country, in the name of race and judging others about their outward appearance.

Weighs heavy on my heart.

I believe, as it was said in To Kill a Mockingbird:

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The adult Scout kept talking about something that Atticus wanted her to do.  And that was it.  To stand in someone else’s shoes and walk around a bit.  It’s not an easy thing to do by any means, but it is where grace comes from, and it can make us better people and the world a better place to live.  I now realize this is what my Mama lived by.  Daddy too.

There are so many beautiful words arranged in thought that beg to be heard and lived out.  Like this one:

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The hard truth.  Live it now in this world.  Try bringing a little of the next world into the here and now.  Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

As I heard the closing lines of the play, I thought of another line which brought to mind a song sung by Miranda Lambert and written by Phillip Coleman and Don Henry:

Ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning
It takes all kinds of kinds.

Indeed it does.  Or, in the words of Harper Lee…..

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The final lines of the play were Atticus and Scout talking after the night when Scout finally figured out about standing in someone’s skin.

“Atticus, he was real nice.”

“Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  It takes all kinds of kinds, but in the end, there’s only one kind.  Us.  More alike than different.  If only we could make it a habit of stepping in the other’s skin for a few minutes, I bet we’d be surprised.  To really see the other person.  No it won’t be easy, and yes, my whole being is bucking me on this.  I don’t want to know what they’re like on the inside, I’d rather just keep on not liking them. I’ve seen enough from the outside looking in.  If I take a minute to think about what it’s like to be them, then I might change my mind and my hard heart might soften and I might have to change my thoughts about who they are…..and oh, yeah, we might actually get along.  And my children, who are always watching, will see it too.  What I do counts four times–once for me, and then once for each time it imprints on my children who see my actions and hear my words.  I have to remember that.  It touched me when Atticus Finch talked about how what he did he had to do or he couldn’t raise his children, couldn’t have them watching him do the easy thing, it had to be the right thing.  It’s true.  They’re watching.

And so I re-commit myself to the idea of acceptance and tolerance and most likely I will get my copy of this book back from my oldest and settle in to re-read it for a spell.  It’s one of those timely stories full of good wisdom and I expect I’ll likely find something new every time I revisit Maycomb, Alabama.  In the meantime, if you haven’t already read it, join me.  If you have, I’d love to hear your favorite parts.  And if you are local, good news–the play has been held over and there will be shows on November 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. each night.  You can find out more and order tickets here.

Love to all.

The Ugly Duckling, Honey Boo Boo, and Belinda Carlisle–Oh My!

Disclaimer:  This is the post that won’t go away, keeps insisting on being written. Sometimes these stories do that–demand to be told. I can tolerate a lot of things but not intolerance.  So here it goes.

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Today was Grand Opera House Day.  I love live theater as I have mentioned before here.  So knowing this was coming up, I was excited.  I rarely tell my littles where we are going ahead of time–I learned my lesson one too many times when plans had to be changed.  We made the drive up to Macon with them guessing.  It was funny the guesses they made.  Finally Cooter said, “I bet it’s the Grand Opera House.”  I asked him why.  “Because you made me wear long pants and a nice shirt.”  Ahh, that would be correct.

Photo courtesy of Grand Opera House http://www.thegrandmacon.com/grandkids/

Photo courtesy of Grand Opera House http://www.thegrandmacon.com/grandkids/

The performance was very unique and entertaining.  It was The Tortoise and the Hare and The Ugly Duckling performed in Lightwire, a style I believe was created by the performers.  Performed in complete darkness, the characters were outlined and illustrated (for lack of a better word) with these colored lines that seemed to glow.  The Tortoise and the Hare was hilarious, set to classical music and some classic hits as well, as the hare became so distracted by his cell phone, a tv and remote, and a bunch of carrots.  (One of my favorite parts was that my children recognized and were excited by the tv theme songs from Gilligan’s Island and The Andy Griffith Show–yeah, we’re just that old school.)  In the time between the two shows, a worm came out and danced to “U Can’t Touch This.”  Young and old (ahem) alike were clapping and laughing and dancing in their seats.

It’s been a while since I read the Ugly Duckling.  The closest I’ve come to it lately was watching The Ugly Dachshund with the littles all over again. (Old Disney classic–if you haven’t watched it you should.)  Oh y’all.  This story broke my heart.  To the sound of classical music and songs from The Nutcracker, the little swan was born in the wrong nest and was turned away by the Mama Duck and her four new little baby ducklings.  The baby swan tried and tried to play and be friends, but they all turned their backs and shook their heads no.  In one poignant scene, the baby swan walked around sadly while “I Am Beautiful” sung by Christina Aguilera played.  I was close to tears.

“I am beautiful

in every single way

Words can’t bring me down”

And I guess what broke my heart is that we all know words can.  It seems more and more incomprehensible stories of bullying and the aftermath of it are being shared, and these horrors and heartbreak should NOT be happening.

As I sat listening to the song thinking how we do bring each other down with our words, Facebook came to mind.  Particularly some posts I’ve seen the past couple of days. There is a rumor going around locally that Honey Boo Boo might be moving into the area with her family and possibly attending a local elementary school.  Most of the comments were unkind and unfavorable and may I also say, unfair, in my opinion.  What made me saddest was these were people I know are caring and loving.  I’m just not sure where these comments were coming from but surely it wasn’t from their hearts.  I’ve seen that their hearts know better, but in their words about this, it didn’t show.  For goodness’ sake, she is a CHILD.  They are human beings.  Just like all the rest of us.

Here’s the deal.  Honey Boo Boo is a reality tv show.  She is a “character,” and from what I hear, a lot of the reality shows that fill our living rooms these days are scripted and directed to go in a certain direction.  Here’s what I do know. This is a family of hospitality.  They welcome folks to come see them, and they support their community through food and toy drives for one example.  People who have met them in person have shared how nice they thought the family was.  Can they be crass?  Sure.  Have they made choices different from what I would have?  Okay, yes.  Are they bad people I wouldn’t want living in my neighborhood?  I have to say no.  (Maybe Mama June would be my new BFF forevuh–Aub says I squint like her even with my glasses on.)  I’m afraid we are turning into a hypothetical “Love thy neighbor” society.  Love my neighbor.  Except for that swan that showed up out of nowhere.  And that crazy reality tv show family.  But other than that, yeah, love my neighbor just like the Good Book says.

No one is all good or bad. Not a single one of us. It’s all gray as I’ve come to realize more and more.  I don’t like it anymore than anyone else.  I wish I could put folks in a Good box or Bad box.  But it’s just not reality.  Reality is a family that burps and loves the mess out of each other.  Reality is a swan that is born in the midst of a bunch of ducks and just wants to be accepted.  Yes her honk is a lot louder and not very pretty, but she is strong and brave and cares enough to save the baby duckling from that mean cat (who later worked out his angry issues and changed for the better).

At the end of the play today, they made me a very happy girl.  They closed with the baby swan and a duckling and the cat and Mama Duck all dancing together to Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”

Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth

…………….

In this world we’re just beginning
To understand the miracle of living
Baby I was afraid before
But I’m not afraid anymore

I loved this song when I was back in college.  Turns out I still do.  Today as I watched the glowing critters dancing and making nice together, the words really hit me full force.  We can make heaven a place on earth by loving each other and pushing out the fears–fear of folks who are different and who believe or act differently than us.

The thing is our children are listening.  Those same children who heard Mama or Daddy pitching one more fit tonight that Honey Boo Boo and clan might be moving to town are the same ones who will turn their backs on her or whisper behind their hands at school tomorrow.  Those baby ducklings didn’t shake their heads and turn their tail feathers at that baby swan because they just knew how.  They were watching Mama Duck and following her lead.  And so it goes with all of us.

Our children are watching.  And listening.

Our children are watching. And listening.

I’ve become more aware of how much my children are watching me and what I say I believe and I’m hearing it come back to me as little echoes.  Sometimes I am pleased, but others I am not.  I know better, I’ve got to do better.  I am starting to understand the “miracle of living” and I think it might just be loving all folks, whatever they believe, however they live.  I don’t have to act like them, I don’t have to agree with them, I just have to be kind and to love them.  And if we could do that, we could be well on our way to bringing heaven to our earth.  And wouldn’t that be something?