When Cable is a Necessity

I happened upon a Steve Harvey video on YouTube that was more serious than most I’d seen of his.  (Yes, watching those have become a sanity-feeding thing.  I don’t question it if it works.) I watched it, and the title said it all–“You Can’t Watch This Without Getting Emotional.”

Absolutely right.  I got emotional.

And I stood corrected.

Over the years I’ve worked with people from many different socioeconomic statuses.  I’ve heard all kinds of opinions expressed and judgments made.  To be perfectly honest, I’ve made some myself over the years, and while I try to keep them to myself, I’m still guilty.  And I’m sorry for that.

Over the years I’ve heard folks who have enough judge folks who maybe don’t for the choices they make in how they spend their money.  Interesting that having enough keeps folks from doing that about you, but when you don’t, suddenly it’s everyone’s business how you spend the little you have.

In this video, the Dad, who had recently finished his prison term and was trying to turn his life around, talked about having a job, and how now he could afford to turn the cable on.  Now he and his children could sit together and watch TV so they’d stay inside, instead of wanting to play outside.  Outside, where their lives could be at risk.

See, this man and his family live in a rough neighborhood, and they can’t afford to get out.

So they watch TV together.  As a family.  And they stay inside, trying to be safe.

Y’all.

All these years, I’ve told my children that watching TV is a privilege, and I dole it out sparingly.  I’ll send them outside in a heartbeat.  “Y’all put that down and go outside.  Now!”  I’ve said that more times than I care to count.

After watching this video, I’m humbled.  I’m humbled about all the times I’ve wondered about people’s choices and what their priorities are.  I HAVE NO IDEA what life is like for folks who live in fear of their children being outside.  None at all.

All these years, I thought satellite TV or cable was a huge privilege, since we grew up without it (or a color TV, but that’s another story).  Turns out, that for far too many families in our very own country, in our very own communities, the thing I grew up taking for granted, the thing my children get to do almost any time they want, is a HUGE privilege.  Something almost unattainable.

So cable becomes a necessity of sorts.

Oh my stars, how have we let our world get to this point?

Tonight my heart is heavy and filled with awe and thanks.  There but for the Grace…..go I.

And with that heaviness comes the realization that I can’t sit back and let this be okay.

Our children shouldn’t have to sit inside and be captives in their own homes, in their own neighborhoods.

And make no mistake, these are OUR children.  They will grow up to be in community with the ones we are raising in our own homes, and they will need to work together to fix so many messes.  Isn’t it up to us to give them a leg up by starting to do what we can now?

I have no answers.  But if you do, please share.

Thanks for thinking on this with me.  In the meantime, please join me in holding these families and neighborhoods where violence is the norm in your heart and in the Light.

Love to all.

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This is the video I watched on YouTube.

the bird who knew no time

It was 1 a.m. and the dark house was filled with the quiet of the hour.

Only I moved in the house from one room to the next until I sat on the edge of my bed, the side closest to the window my own.

I squinted in the darkened room to see if there was much moonlight outside, and that is when it startled me.

Eerily piercing the darkness, the silence, as though it were noon and not the wee hours of the night, a bird’s melodic offering.

Again and again, over and over, he sang.  No one else joined in, with me as his only audience.

And I wondered why.

Was he practicing for the luring of his love on the morrow?

Was he seeking solace for some sadness he’d suffered earlier in the day?

Was he pontificating about things only he seemed to understand in a language that far too few bother to learn anymore?

Was he cheerily telling the young ones asleep hours ago of stories from his youth?

Was he from out of town and jet lagging like so many when arriving to a new place?

Was he without vision and the darkness could not pierce his spirit?

Did he sense me there on the other side of the bricks, sitting all alone and lonely in the darkness?

I’ll never be quite sure why he sang, but I listened to his offering, unable to sleep.  I wanted to hear his story, to hold it in my hands.  I wanted to know why he had to sing despite everything conventional saying he should not.

Thank you for piercing the darkness with your song and opening my eyes to the light, sweet one.  Your song reminded me of brighter days and evenings lit by lightning bugs.  Your song soared among the clouds and landed on my heart.

Sleep well, little friend.  Until we meet again.

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upon encountering a frog on a mid-winter evening

walking along on this winter evening that has dressed up like spring
meandering really, not counting steps or time or headed anywhere
in particular
just giving her a moment to sniff and smell and do
all the dog things she does
it’s different somehow in the dark
the world seems quieter
calmer
and while there’s so much I cannot see,
somehow it all seems clearer

and that’s when out of nowhere really
the little frog hopped in our path
and surprised both of us

where on earth has he been?
a week ago the earth was frozen
frigid temperatures closed everything
the cold and bitter winds called for hunkering down,
preparation and survival were the code words for the day

and where were you then, little one?
had you yet grown your legs a week ago?
where were you hiding when the world said
there is no life left here, nothing growing
only this harsh world suitable for no man nor beast,
how did you survive the freeze when all else was lost?

and yet you show up
as if you are not the most amazing thing in this world
something that should not be, that logic cannot fathom how–
there you are
hopping across my path
unafraid, not to be veered from your destination
by person or dog

intent on doing what you do

a small miracle, defying all reason

much like the hope that comes out of the blue
when least expected
during the dark and coldest of times
surfacing just in time to tie the knot at the end of the rope
and whisper
“hold on”
and carry us through the dark, cold night
to witness the glory of a new day

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sing with the sparrows

when you left this world

whose troubles weighed you down

and whose darkness made you weep

as you held hands with those in the shadows

 

I hope you were given a moment

to dance with the fireflies

and sing with the sparrows

 

before going on to where

the brokenness could no longer find you

To Have the World Stop Spinning

So we’re having some work done here at the house.  Good work.  Nothing wrong.  Just taking one more step to make it ours.  I’m very much like my Daddy, who, in conversation with his brother-in-law one time, said something about Blackberry Flats finally starting to feel like home.

I was grown y’all.  They had been living there at least twenty years.

And we’ve only been here seven.

Slowly but surely, it’s starting to feel a little more comfortable.

Home.

Last night I had a dream that the guys didn’t come today.  That I didn’t hear from them, wondered what had happened, if they were okay.

And then this morning, I got a phone call.

It was who I guess folks would call my “contractor.”

I prefer dream builder.

I dream it, he makes it happen.

He’s kind of magical like that.

Or at the least very talented.

And when I told him I like things “old-fashioned,” he Wrote.  It.  Down.

Win.

So yes, he called.  One of the guys who has been working with him had a death in his family–his uncle.  It sort of threw things off on them being able to get much done today, my dream builder explained.  So he thought they’d take today to get little things caught up on, and they’d plan on being back here tomorrow.

Oh bless him.

All of them.

His tone was somewhat apologetic.

But it was I who was sorry.

Sorry for this new friend of mine–the artist with the wood and tile and putty–who lost someone he loves.

My heart aches for him and his mother, with whom he is spending time helping her through this right now.

My house was quiet today.  No sounds of power tools or good-natured bantering.  No doors opening and closing.  No barking by Miss Sophie to “warn” me that someone was on the premises.  Over and over and over.

Just.

Quiet.

Oh, we had school.  Math.  Ah, well.  That is not usually a quiet exercise around here anyway.

But overall it was quiet.

And there was a bit of Fall teasing us today too, if I’m not wishful thinking here.

I am thankful for it.

Every time the oddness of the quiet reminded me of who wasn’t here, it also reminded me of a life lost.  Of the sadness in a family’s heart.  Of the burden of being the ones left behind that they carry now.  Of learning how to live all over again–without this person in their world.

Tonight I give thanks for the quiet.  For the opportunity to grieve alongside this family.  I think too often we pass over deaths that affect others more and move on, back to our lives and our schedules and what comes next. Or we are altogether oblivious of the loss. We don’t mean to be insensitive or unkind and unfeeling.  It’s just what we do.  We skim the obituaries with our morning coffee. We pull over to the side of the road when a procession goes by.  If we knew them or someone close to them, we plan to go to the visitation between supper and our program at 9 pm on TV.  We take leave or a long lunch break to go to the funeral.  We pass the folks in the hall a week later and ask them how they are doing.  We listen, do the side tilt nod, and pat the person on the shoulder, saying something to the effect of “I’m thinking about you” or “It will get better” or “Call if I can do anything,” not even being able to fathom what that might look like. We try.

But sometimes what those who grieve really need it to look like is life ceasing for a moment or twelve.  For the world to pause for a little bit.  I remember feeling shocked after my Daddy died that the grocery store was still open.  My world had fallen, collapsed around my heart, and the grocery store was OPEN?!?  I could still get gas? As bad as my heart felt, with pieces scattered hither and yon, how did this world keep turning? I used to tease my Daddy that I guess the world stopped turning when his glass was empty–and after I got up and poured him some more water or tea, I sat down and slapped my hands together.  To start the world back to spinning.  It was our joke. But after he left this life?  No.  There was no way it should still be spinning.  Inconceivable.  And yet–

It was.

So today was a precious and raw and beautiful reminder to me about sitting with others in their grief.  In the quiet moments of this day, I thought about this young man whom I barely know, whose personality is delightful and who is a hard worker and a skilled and talented craftsman.  I remembered his uncle, whose name I don’t even know.  But a candle has been extinguished, and the world is a different place than it was before he died.

Before any of them died.

The world is different.

And sometimes that is what we need most–to have the world acknowledge that the world is different without this person we love so dearly.

And miss so much.

To have the world stop spinning for a moment or two.

That.

I’m thankful for the moments that mine stopped spinning today.  It wasn’t of my own choosing, but I give thanks for it.  And for the reminder that we all are a part of each other’s story, even if on the periphery.  And we can give each other the gift of pausing and pulling over to the side of the road, literally and figuratively, when someone dies.  Each one who leaves this world matters.  It changes us all.

Love to all.

Still afraid of the dark

Growing up I was afraid of the dark.

It was bad.

If it was my turn to feed the cats after dark, I was a nervous wreck, certain that someONE or someTHING was out there waiting to “get” me.  Even the flashlight did not ease my worries.  As I got a little older I grew to appreciate the moon and stars and enjoyed gazing, but I still didn’t venture too far from the back stoop, within an easy dash to safety.  And my Daddy, whom I was sure could take care of anything that came along.

So it was ironic that I roomed with my sister who loved the dark.  We’re talking pitch black.  If I even tried reading with a flashlight under the covers, she was not happy.  I could not relax in the dark enough to go to sleep, so I would beg her to let me leave the hall light on and crack our door.  Mama and Daddy would turn off the lights when they went to bed anyway.  She usually put her foot down, but there were nights she’d be so tired, she’d acquiesce and I could fall asleep in peace.

Oh the nights when Mama and Daddy turned in early and they turned off all the lights in the house.  Those were hard.  The darkness held an unknown factor in it, and that is what I was afraid of.  What I didn’t know.  What could be out there. What might be.  My mind would crank up, and some nights it was hard to shut it down.

I don’t remember when things changed, but now I find it hard to sleep if there are any lights on in my room.  There can be an extraneous light from the kitchen or living room that might send a ray or two into the room and I will probably  be okay.  But if there is a lamp or booklight or phone lit up, I find it difficult to sleep.  Wouldn’t Sister find that poetic justice?  I haven’t had the nerve to tell her, after the hard time I gave her all those years.

So yes, I like to sleep in a dark room.  Winter or summer, air conditioning or heat, it seems to me  if a light is on in a room, it is hot.  I find comfort sleeping in the dark.

But I am still afraid of the dark.

This occurred to me early in the wee hours of this morning.  Miss Sophie had her “female” surgery yesterday, and I stayed up with her making sure she was comfortable and could sleep.  While we cuddled, I read a few stories on the internet, and it hit me as I settled down for the night about 2:00 a.m., I am still very much afraid of the darkness.

First I read the article about the shooting in the FedEx in Atlanta yesterday morning.  And I did what I do when faced with the Darkness.  It’s automatically what I do for comfort, like my nephew who rubs a corner of his shirt or my niece who sucks her thumb.

I immediately went through a checklist in my mind–how can I be sure not to be caught in this Darkness?  How can I keep this from happening to me?  How far removed am I from what happened?

I know.  Sad, right?

I mean, my heart goes out to those affected.  And I want to cry.  But then those old anxieties at the unknown and uncertainties kick in and I’m trying to make sure somehow that I won’t be caught out in the dark.

Then later I came across this article.

“After Two Weeks, 234 Nigerian Schoolgirls Are Still Missing: A terrorist group opposed to education is thought to be behind the kidnappings”

What?!  Two weeks?  How had I missed this story?  Was it not getting coverage?  Or was I just in my own little world?

Oh the tears.  Those poor young women.  Seeking an education.  A different way of life.

And it hit me–

How is it possible that we, these young women and I, are living on the same planet?  This past Saturday while I celebrated with other women who attended our all women’s college and honored our heritage–one that began in 1836–these young women were going through unknown terrors at the hands of their enemies in a land far away.

And yet not so far away really.

It makes me think again, wondering how I wound up here and they wound up there.  There are no words, no explanations.

And through my tears, I realized that I am still very much afraid of the Dark.  The Darkness in this world that is responsible for things like this happening.

As I went to my old soothing standby to calm my anxiety–my running through my checklist of–can this happen to me?  Or, am I safe from this?–I realized it has happened to me.  All of these things of the darkness, they are happening to me. To all of us.

I’ve shared this one before, but it came to my mind and heart again this morning.

Another version of the "Many leaves, one tree" line that's been running through my mind.  So true--we're all in this together, aren't we?

And the words of Tayari A. Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and other novels, also spoke to me:

This is very important.

I am not sure what we can do to help, but you have to at least care.

234 girls, stolen from their families, all because they went to school.

She is right.  We have to care.  I may be afraid of the dark, but I cannot continue separating myself from what is happening to cope, to soothe my anxieties.  The truth is that the shooting in Atlanta, the young women kidnapped and reportedly being married off to their captors, my friends who are sleeping on the dock to stay out of the terrible storms of the past two days, the children across town who are hungry, the college student who doesn’t have a stable family to go home to over summer break–they all matter and it all affects me.  Affects all of us.  In this world so filled with darkness, even if we are unsure of what to do, we can begin by caring.

I remember a book I read years ago.  I ordered it off my Scholastic book order form.  I was allowed to spend a dollar occasionally on those book forms, so when I found a 95 cent book, I was excited.  It was Light a Single Candle by Beverly Butler.  I remember how much I loved that book.  But tonight I’m remembering a quote from the beginning of the book–the first time I ever heard these words (which have been attributed to Adlai Stevenson, Eleanor Roosevelt, W. L. Watkinson and a Chinese proverb):

It is better to light a single candle

than to sit and curse the darkness. 

Words that have stayed with me all these years and came home to roost this afternoon.

I am still afraid of the Darkness.  After all the years.  Of that someTHING or someONE who might be out there full of evil intent.

But I can no longer sit and figure out my six or twelve or twenty degrees of separation to bring me comfort.  Life is too short and the world is too small.  What is happening right now affects us all, no matter how scary it is.

And so tonight, as I tuck Miss Sophie in for a good night’s rest and I crawl into my bed on clean sheets in my home where the sidewalks seem safe and the birds sing in the trees behind my house, I will cry over a part of me that is broken.  The part that is connected to those immediately in the line of the Darkness.  The river flows and touches all of us.  Their brokenness is a part of me and always will be.  I cannot live in peace until we are all at peace.

And for tonight, that’s where I’m at.  Tearful, broken, but caring and hopeful.

A veritable paradox.

Love and caring to all.  It’s a start.

After Two Weeks, 234 Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls Are Still Missing

A terrorist group opposed to western education is thought to be behind the kidnappings

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/two-weeks-234-abducted-nigerian-schoolgirls-are-still-missing-180951236/#0dBcu2vogr1T2shs.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

After Two Weeks, 234 Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls Are Still Missing

A terrorist group opposed to western education is thought to be behind the kidnappings

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/two-weeks-234-abducted-nigerian-schoolgirls-are-still-missing-180951236/#0dBcu2vogr1T2shs.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

On what Compassion really is

So this has been messing with my mind.

Created by Love Wins Ministries www.lovewinsministries.org

Created by Love Wins Ministries http://www.lovewinsministries.org

Many thanks to Love Wins Ministries for posting this quote by Pema Chodron.  I had never heard of this woman, and so with a little digging, I found that she is a notable American figure in Tibetan Buddhism.  She is also a prolific writer.  She is a thinker and a mind blower.

At least she has blown mine.

See, she’s speaking to me on a couple of different levels here.  First of all, trying to fully wrap my brain around this–the darkness I have walked through, still find myself in at times, it all helps me to be with someone else who is struggling.  Because I’ve been there. Maybe not on the same path, but I’ve been lost, hurt, confused, overwhelmed.  I get it.  And this suggests that I need to know my darkness well, not just rush through it, looking for the quickest way out of the pain, the grief, the loss, the hurt.  I must acknowledge it, process it, and work through it, or it’s of no good to me or anyone else.  Darkness worked through can shine light into the lives of others.  It brings with it hope and the knowledge that it can be done.

And that part about compassion being between equals?  I love it.  I can sit and offer a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, not because I have a degree in therapy or because I’ve been trained to do so, but because I care.  One is not looking down at another, holding on to all the compassion, doling it out as though bestowing a gift to the less fortunate.  Instead it’s an equal playing field between two people who each needs the other.

It IS about recognizing our shared humanity, isn’t it?  I mean what else is there?  It’s why we love, why we care, why we are motivated to step outside of our little boxes of comfort everyday and risk our hearts at all.  Because we are all on this journey together.

All day when I have thought of that quote, I’ve had this vision in my head.  I think my Cousin put it there, but for a totally different reason.

Remember that moment in “The Wizard of Oz” when the Wizard “head” makes them all tremble and ask for what they need?  He is so mighty and powerful, looking down upon them, telling them what they must do to find their way into his favor to get his assistance.

But then, we all remember what happens later, don’t we?  Daring little Toto pulling the curtain back to reveal that instead of a great and powerful “being,” the Wizard is a person just like Dorothy, and actually he needs her as much as she needs him.

And that’s it in a nutshell, right?

We need each other.

Relationships.

When we recognize what we have in common–the darkness, brokenness, hope-filled hearts, our need to be loved–and what we share–this world, dreams, plans, our humanity–we can truly be present for each other.  Offering love, forgiveness, a hand to hold, a friend to sit with–compassion.

This week has been Spring break for the children in our neighborhood.  We have pushed through for the most part.  We’re smelling the barn, seeing that light at the end of the tunnel, you might say if you didn’t mind mixing metaphors.  However this week, after our experience on Sunday when I realized we needed more togetherness in our own family, I have added in a new course of study.

Exactly that.

Compassion.

Bonus points and praise and a big hug from Mama when I catch someone being compassionate.  (Okay, just kidding about the points.) Doing something kind for someone else.  Showing understanding and grace.  Using loving words.  And *whispering* I think it might be working.  Yesterday Cooter carried in his sister’s loom bands without anyone asking at all.  He saw them and just thought of doing it.  I almost cried.  I did clap my hands.  And he beamed.

When we accept what we have in common and what we don’t, we are in a better position to love and understand and offer those things to another.  We aren’t going to make the world a better place by trying to change others to be like us, to share our views.  We will make it a better place when we allow others to be exactly who they are and love them all the more for it.

It’s just too short to settle for anything less.

Love to all.