Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

turning hatred into love, or, the importance of Unabashed Smiles

via flickr

via flickr

Teeth. You need them for so many things, obviously. Eating, of course. But also speaking. And singing. And to present a certain … image, to the world around you.

Imagine all your teeth suddenly gone. Compound that w/ no insurance to replace them (expensive even with insurance. Now? Imagine that this is all the result of repeated beatings for who you are. Vicious beating that, more than 20 years later, come back with a vengeance. And take your teeth, as they once took your peace of mind, your safety. Your innocence. Perhaps your faith in humanity.

A friend wrote me this weekend, asking if I would consider donating to a project she’s involved in. It’s an Indiegogo project, Unabashed Smiles. The purpose of the fund is to replace the teeth of a man in her community, an independently employed singer and choral conductor.

His teeth, she told me — and the website story adds details — were badly damaged as the result of several beatings  gay bashing when he was in high school. Beatings severe and frequent enough that his teeth need to be pulled.

via google

via google

I am so grateful for what I have in my life: my beloved, my sons… And the list stops there, because this man was BEATEN for who he loves. In many states in this country, he can’t adopt children. So the two top items on my gratitude list? They are dreams for him, as evanescent as my dreams of far less visceral wants.

My wisdom tradition stresses lovingkindness, and giving back. So I was glad to donate. As I hope you may be. I can’t make up for the evil done to Christopher, but I can let him know that there is much love in this world. And that just as he was victimised by evil, he can be the recipient of love.

I’m hoping you feel the same way. Just in case, here’s the link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/unabashed-smiles/x/8455396. And thanks for listening.

 

heartsick reprised

via google

via google

I use this image alot in my blog. I wish I knew who first created it — they deserve my undying admiration & gratitude. Because to me, this is beginner’s heart.

It’s what I think of these days, especially, as I try to make sense of my own anger, frustration, and even despair. Anger at the blindness of a white, heterosexist, ersatz Christian culture. Frustration w/ a system of police ‘protection’ migrated from a war on terror, as if wethepeople were the enemy. And despair that nothing has changed since the riots of the 60s…

Today, however, a dear friend and colleague — someone I have nothing but respect and affection for — reminded me that there is more to Ferguson than my raging against the night. There are people who live there, w/ children who can’t go to school.

Children who will need counseling to get this past week out of their nightmares. A QuikTrip that may not be rebuilt, in a neighbourhood with — almost certainly — too few sources for shopping.

And still, I don’t know what to think, or how to process. So I SWORE I wasn’t going to do FB today, or tomorrow. The tragic, racist, thoughtless and downright HATEFUL posts about Ferguson and the other murders of black men & women this past month have me too upset & angry.But to be honest, it’s not strictly Ferguson. It’s a society that believes the death of a black man is ‘collateral damage.’

via google

via google

I understand that the officer in Ferguson may have been afraid. But face it: he did NOT know (at that time) of the robbery, if indeed there was one. So basically, he hassled a guy for living while black, and then freaked out because he bit off more than he could chew. In the BEST of scenarios, the officer is still grievously at fault: he hassled a guy for being black and jay-walking.

I’m just sick of it all. When I go out to eat w/ my (black) friends Ben or Dewayne, it’s SOOOO different than when I go out w/ my husband, or my brother-in-law. Race is such a painful, horrible legacy in this country, and I don’t know what to do except remind people, as often as it seems necessary, that we need to talk.

The response in Ferguson was waaaay out of proportion. And sure: parties on both sides are making political hay out of it. Witness the St. Louis PD, the KKK, the SLPC, etc. I tend to agree that it’s no different, essentially, from the 4-5 other murders of black men & a woman this past month. That doesn’t comfort me.

Somehow, we all have to find a way to heal these grievous wounds. And frankly? I can’t begin to heal myself, and no one has shot at me, profiled me, beat me up, or shot my son. So how on earth can Ferguson ever come to peace…?

heartsickness, the ’60s, and Ferguson MO

via google

via google

I write daily. Often it’s a note to family, or a response to a friend or colleague. Sometimes revising creative work, and usually this blog. Lately, the blog has probably saved my blood pressure (normally quite low).

I write to process — I’m of the Flannery O’Connor (I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say) and  E.M. Forster (How do I know what I think until I see what I say?) school of writing. I need to mess w/ writing before I’m sure what I really think.

But I’m also of the Buddhist school of writing: I write to try to find a way through my anger, my hurt.

This crisis — this murderous collision of race and class and hate and history — in Ferguson, MO makes me heartsick. I don’t use the term lightly: there is hot pain in my chest where normally I’m pretty easy. I find myself unable to move beyond a kind of setpoint of sadness. That too is unlike me.

I want to know how a lovely young man — a former student — can say he has seen NOTHING on the news about Ferguson, or about Michael Brown’s death, or about the city’s dependence on riot police instead of conversation among leaders. Where is the national outrage??

I want to know where the small town of Ferguson got the idea that you can do the following:

via USA Today

via USA Today

  • impose a no-fly zone and virtual martial law;
  • (illegally) require reporters to stop videoing events;
  • slam reporters into Coke machines;
  • refuse to give officer badge numbers (which makes me wonder if the ‘officers’ were even wearing badges?);
  • teargas peaceful protesters (including MO state representative and a St. Louis alderman, surely credible sources?)

I don’t get this. I don’t get any of it. I don’t understand why the 60s are back, alive & well in Ferguson, MO. Police in anti-combatant gear? Teargas for peaceful protesters?  Intimidation and violence by police? This is a city only 6 hours  from Tulsa. And far more similar than many white Tulsans would like to believe.

I’m a longtime hippie kid. Now aging, sure. But if anything, more deeply committed to peace, love, understanding. Because I’ve seen what happens when we let our anger, our fear, and the resultant hatred pool like blood between us.

via Washington Post

teargassing of Ferguson protesters via Washington Post

At the very least, the ugliness goes deep and festers. Until it becomes the worst. And at the worst? People die. As they have in Ferguson. What happened to Michael Brown is only the latest (and most devastating) in a tragic spiral of racial tensions in Ferguson. In a city that’s almost 2/3 African American, fewer than 10% (3 out of more than 50) of the police force are black. No black leadership, either: a white mayor and an almost all-white city council. White school board.

As always, I’m left with only questions, no answers. Answers are never the easy part of the equation, I realise. But in Ferguson, it looks like they are only now beginning to even ask the right questions. And I am breathing for them — trying to write through my distanced grief, for the mother & family of Michael Brown, the citizens — both black and white. And for the spirit of poor Michael Brown, who almost certainly never wanted to be this kind of martyr.

 

#iftheygunnedmedown, or, America’s open season on young black men

via Jezebel

Michael Brown, via Jezebel

The tragic shooting of Michael Brown is only the latest in a series of such tragedies. Unlike in some cases of continued horror, I am not inured. This time, in fact, Brown’s horrible death cries out for more than FB postings, more than the usual denials from law enforcement and the white-washing of the officers involved.

I would use the term murder, but I’m trying — hard — to remain open to further information, even though this looks like Trayvon Martin’s murder, like Amadou Diallo’s murder, like John Crawford,  like the down-the-highway murder of unarmed teenager Jeremy Lake.

Like Bruce Springsteen said, you get killed just for living your American life.

There are so many devastating elements to this onslaught of murders. The way the media publishes scary, probably FB-goofy pics of the victims, instead of their graduation pictures. Instead of pictures of them w/ family. Or the total BS of ‘gun rights,’ for instance. Gun rights are for white people, folks. John Crawford was shot dead for holding a TOY GUN. The white gun rightists who stalk Target, decked out in automatic & semi-automatic weapons? Imagine this picture if the men were black, sporting dreads, dressed in colours:

via google

via google

How many of THOSE men — not these — do you think would leave w/ their purchases? With their lives? John Crawford certainly didn’t. Buying a TOY gun. WalMart ‘defends’ its actions by saying he brandished the gun, and didn’t throw it down when asked. A toy gun, remember.

Whereas, Peter Steinmetz entered an AIRPORT — not to meet a passenger, or fly, just ‘to buy a cup of coffee’ — and scared the daylights out of a woman and her daughter, pointing a gun at them (negligently, he claims, not intentionally — as if the woman & her daughter would know the difference??) and was arrested. Only arrested, courteously, I assume.

Did I mention that Steinmetz is white? And that when questioned, he said he was making a political point? Apparently, that won’t get you killed. But buying a toy gun, or walking home unarmed from the convenience store, or catching the subway, or dating a white girl … will.

Jeremy Lake was unarmed, broad daylight, when his girlfriend’s father shot him. Apparently for … being black? And did I mention that the murderer (yes, I’m calling a man who shoots an unarmed man in broad daylight, w/out provocation, a murderer) is a police officer? And that his wife (also a police officer) helped him get away and hide until he finally turned himself in?

photo by Whitney Curtis—The New York Times

photo by Whitney Curtis—The New York Times

As I write this, news comes of yet another unarmed black man — Ezell Ford – and his fatal shooting by Los Angeles police comes across the wire. Mentally handicapped, 25-year-old Ford was laying on his stomach on the ground, subdued, when he was shot in the back. Murdered by a representative of American law.

I don’t get it, America. What has happened to the police my father was so proud to associate with? The police my beloved nephew is proud to wear the state badge of? Where is the outcry of other officers? Because let me tell you: these are NOT isolated incidents. And if we don’t cry out in rage at this abuse of power, we are complicit.

And it seems to me it’s getting worse, as courts across the country appear to collude w/ white shooters, offering no punishment for the loss of a life, a son, a father.

I have no answers, obviously. Only this howl of a cry: what is wrong with us? What are we so afraid of?? And most of all, to the families of these tragically murdered young men: I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry. I’m just so very very sorry…

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