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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

birth day memories

mother and nathan at birth 001

Today I celebrate two births: my elder son’s and my  mother’s. Bittersweet, remembering how happy Mother was when Nathan was born on her birthday (the REAL Memorial Day, you know!).

Family. What really matters. More than almost anything, to those in mine. Of course, we define that wider than blood: the dear friend whom I sat by yesterday at a symposium, the man who was too late to join us at the table. The BFF in California, the mentors who have woven their own bright threads through my life’s tapestry. The almost-brothers, the not-quite-aunts.

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And of course my mother, my father. My sons, my wonderful husband. My sisters.

But today? It’s son #1 and Mother whom I celebrate. Today I’m  remembering the ‘real’ Memorial Day. And that there has never been better mother, dearer friend than she was. How grateful I am my mother lives on in her grandson, whose smile is much like hers — wide and spontaneous, if less frequent. And how I wish I believed she could see the great-grandson who is so much like each of them.

Where ever the dead go, where ever their fragile souls wing after death, I’m sending love to my funny, incredibly beautiful, smart and vibrant mother. And to the son and grandson who take after her.

Happy Birthday, Mother. Happy Birthday, Nathan. You are two of my life’s brightest lights.

 

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“Teachers touch eternity”

imageToday for breakfast, I had a large helping of hope. Given the political climate in Oklahoma these days, I needed it.

I had the pleasure of listening to the keynote address for the 2014 John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation’s Symposium, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski.

image

via Time

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When I was in Birmingham last year, attending the National Humanities Councils conference, I had heard Dr. Hrabowski speak. He blew me away with his brilliance, his humour and his compassion. Today was no different. Anecdotes of his week in jail when 12 (he was a marcher in the 1963 Children’s Crusade in Birmingham) studded a passionate testimonial to the value of education, and the need for Americans to work together to help the young.

Today’s jobs require more than high school, he reminded us. They need at least two years of college, and specific training. And yet most of those Americans — black, white, & brown — whose incomes who are in the lower 40% will not get even a 2-year degree. How will they make good?

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During the numerous statistics Hrabowski needed no notes to remember, he told us stories. What I was most touched by was a story he told of his mother, a career teacher. ‘Teachers touch eternity through their students,” she told him only a bit before she died. And yes, the teacher in me knows th is.

But that connection is only possible because of something else Hrabowski learned, he said, from his mother: the importance of relationships. Before a teacher can teach, or a student learn, or those roles switch — as they do in the best of classrooms — there must be a relationship between teacher & student, one based on mutual trust and respect.  And that’s what missing from the discussions of education reform: real people and their very real relationships.

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image

via BatesLine

The tests and mandated texts and accountability we insist on today don’t create those relationships; people do. Given the achievement gap (Hispanic & black students graduate from college at significantly lower rates than do white students), and the reality of teaching as a predominantly white female profession, we need to figure out a way for white teachers to form closer relationships (and to have time to do so!) with their students.

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A city as racially segregated as Tulsa doesn’t offer easy opportunities for interracial friendships. You have to seek them out, get up at 8 a.m. and go to breakfast. Show up. But if you do? You leave with a special present: hope that things can change. That people ARE changing, reconciling an ugly, bitter past where whites swept into the Greenwood area of Tulsa and burnt the entire neighbourhood to the ground. Because it was ‘black.’

Answering a question from the audience, Hrabowski laid out a plan for working with those who fear us, those we do not like or understand: Listen, he said. Listen to those who are different from you. And talk. That’s what I mean — hope. I don’t always believe that people WILL listen, Dr. Hrawbowski. I need constant reminders to keep trying.

Because if the boy who grew up in Birmingham, and was thrown in jail at 12 just because he believed in equal education can reconcile his past, so can we all. Even here in Tulsa.

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swords into plowshares, gas bombs into gardens

via Daily Mail

via Daily Mail

This is total Buddhism, folks. Despite the hijab covering her head, and her Palestinian djellabah, this Muslim woman is practicing the most Buddhist of actions: living in the moment, making it into peace and beauty.

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She has taken tear gas canisters, thrown over several years in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, and converted them into potting containers for flowers. She waters them by hand, in her garden near Ramallah.

My younger son sent me this, Palestinian woman growing flower in gas bomb1saying it reminded him of me. I can’t tell you how happy that made me. Would I like to be this much an instrument of peace & beauty? Of course.

But I suspect I’ve a long, far road to walk before then. In the mean time? It’s a goal for all of us. Make a garden where you are. Turn anger and hatred into beauty. If she can, we all can.

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#yesallwomen

via Google

via Google

If you haven’t read the Twitter site #yesallwomen, eat breakfast first. I didn’t, and won’t be able to eat for a while.

Because it’s true, America: ALL women. N.B.: do men suffer violence? Of course. But today is not the time I’m going there. Today, let’s talk (again & again, until we GET IT) about rape culture. About a crime unlike any other, as one Twitter post noted: bc rape is the only crime where the victim has to prove it wasn’t their fault.

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I woke up this morning in a fine mood — showered, made tea, watched the daddy downy woodpecker feed his baby. Watched the mother downy woodpecker help. And then I sat down to go through my email, as I do many mornings. An hour later? I’m shaking.

I do not know ONE woman who hasn’t been the victim of sexual harrassment, domestic violence, up to and including rape. Some have been the victims of multiple rapes. NONE of this was EVER the woman’s fault. But not one pressed charges. Why bother?

rage3

via Google

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A niece was raped at a party. She DID press charges, a messy process that she eventually dropped. Why? Because the process, as the Twitter post notes, makes the victim the villain. Why bother?

I could re-post from the thousands of women have joined the outpouring of carefully tamped rage at their daily encounters with the rape culture of America. All of this a genuine visceral revolt at the UCSB shootings, by a man who was proud of his misogyny, his own visceral hatred of women. Hatred so virulent that he put his life where his manifesto was, murdering them. Who targeted men because they were ‘luckier’ than he was with women. But what I want to say instead (you can — and should — go to #yesallwomen and read the posts) is what happened to me as I read.

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Rage. Stomach-roiling, head-shattering, white-hot rage.

And a flood of images: the ‘funny uncle’ we never spoke of (but guarded all the little girls from); the uncle whom I never told anyone groped me on the way back to the dorm. The psychopath who stood outside my bedroom window and whispered I can seeee you through the screen, until I ran from the house as he came through the back door. The colleague — a friend, I thought — who forced his drunken way into my house, saying he loved me, and then tried to force his way into me. As my two sons slept in the bedroom down the hall.

rage2

via Google

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Even as I write, more memories surface: ostensible ‘friends’ who made fun of the feminist theory that kept me from suicide one dark year; a ‘nice guy’ who asked why I wore my long hair up, and dressed in button-downs and khakis at work, when I was so ‘pretty’…? The groping of strangers in countries where women are always chattel. Sisters who were groped, beaten, raped.

So yes, America: ALL WOMEN. And it needs to stop. Because now? It’s evident that no protection is enough from some men. They’ll shoot you just because you’re female. We kind of suspected that all along. We just try hard — very hard, and mostly successfully, and mostly every day — not to think about  it. Until they finally kill us. And then? Rage. The same rage that lurks beneath the surface every day. The same rage that fuels #yesallwomen. Go read. We need to remember.

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