Thursday, April 21, 2005

Dance like no one's watching.

Last night my husband and I went to see Savion Glover perform. He tapped and sang and laughed and brought us all to our feet with a performance the likes of which I had never seen in all my 39 and a half years. His sweat soaked through four shirts several towels that were strategically placed around the stage as he lead his band of four outstanding musicians by the movement of those magnificently jubilant feet. Whenever the audience applauded yet another astounding maneuver, their applause annoyed me because the sound of their hands drowned out the sound of his tapping. I remember being transfixed when he performed with Elmo on Sesame Street years ago. I went out soon thereafter and bought the Elmo’s greatest hits videotape so I could watch that skit over and over. Over the years as I have sorted through our old toys and videos and passed them along to needy friends, I have always kept that tape. With dreadlocs flying, sweating dripping, and my heart on the tips of his toes, Savion Glover absolutely blew me away.

After intermission, he introduced three extremely talented young people, the youngest of whom is only 15, who are literally and figuratively following in his footsteps. The three of them tapped in unison, took turns trying to out-dance each other, and followed Savion’s lead in several numbers. They looked out above our heads the whole time that they performed, swinging their arms, swiveling their hips, and soaking through their own shirts. As I watched them, I predicted that at least one of them will return to Charlotte’s Blumenthal theater 10 or 15 years from now headlining a show of her or his own. (Yes, there was a lone female tapper – and she was white, swinging her nearly waist-length blond hair all around the stage.) I wondered where they would perform when they left Charlotte. I wondered if they practice together daily, if they do any other kind of exercise, how long their road trips last, and if their parents travel with them. I wondered how they met Savion and what he thinks of their talent. Just as he inherited the mantle from Gregory Hines, he is now grooming others to continue wherever he leaves off.

I also wondered what it is in my life that makes me dance, sing, sweat, laugh, and ignore the whole world around me in order to do that one true thing. I felt certain that if no one in the city had been wise enough to buy tickets for last night’s show, he would have danced anyway. He spent more than half of the show dancing with his back to the audience; he was obeying that oft-quoted phrase - He was dancing like no one was watching. I was honored and grateful to be there to watch him do it. The communication he had with his band and with the other dancers was eerie in its silent and, for me, imperceptible accuracy. With whom do I have that kind of intimate communication? Who walks in such lock step with me? Who hears my taps for help, or my taps for energy, and dances with me? Who am I training to carry on when I am gone? Whose taps do I hear and by whose side do I dance and walk and leap for joy?

As I watched them dance in unison, I thought that there are times when we must stand and move together with a common enemy before us. There are times when there is great power and usefulness in marching to the same beat. The allied forces in World War II fought violence with violence in order to win the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. I would argue that often it is more difficult to fight violence with peace, but sometimes peace is the only hope. Martin Luther King Jr. exemplified the power in numbers when thousands stood together non-violently against the most virulent and violent forces of his day.

When the dancers challenged each other to be more creative, when they broke ranks and told their own tales with their taps, when they acknowledged that even when the music sounds the same to our ears, sometimes our bodies respond differently – when they danced their solos, my heart raced right along with theirs as I recalled the countless times I have felt unique responses to identical stimuli. My experience of homeschooling is vastly different than my children’s. I read Greek myths to them and can barely keep up with names and places; they hear the same stories and point out similarities between those myths and The Chronicles of Narnia. I am flabbergasted by their insights. My experience of my marriage is different than my husband’s. I remember conversations and activities that he cannot recall. He plans ahead and buys gifts and plans trips that I have no idea of until the last possible moment. My travels in Spain and Italy cannot be compared to those of friends and family who have seen the very same sights and architecture. There is glorious variety in our diverse experiences. There is great joy in sharing our tales of the road. When we finish our personal recounting of our life stories, when we have compared notes, agreed and disagreed, then we can join hands again, recalibrate our steps so that they fall as one, and march on.

And that young blond woman was certainly a surprise. Images of Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines and Savion Glover danced in my head; I never allowed for the possibility that there are white people who tap as well. Sure, there are tap classes at the Y and at local dance establishments. But I had never seen a woman tap so well, so fluidly, and so ferociously. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing any female over the age of 7 or 8 with tap shoes on. Thanks to Ashley and Savion, my eyes have been opened to yet another of my prejudices.

So of course I wonder: what are the other preconceived notions I harbor in the recesses of my mind and heart that must be uncovered and dealt with? What do I assume about women, men, children, teenagers, people of my own race as well as others, gay people, Republicans, straight people, Southerners, Californians, Northerners, Europeans, Indians, and all the other countless groups of people I know and know about? Will I be willing to tap myself on the shoulder and point out my biases when they arise in the future? A pet peeve of mine is this: I simply cannot stand is when people tell me they aren’t prejudiced. “Me? I’m not a racist. I’m not prejudiced against anybody. I see everybody the same way.” Well, that’s a lie. We all have prejudices. We need only be placed in the right situation, and words we never thought we’d say fly past our lips in record speed. Thoughts we never thought we’d entertain scroll across the screen of our minds without so much as a spell check. It happened to me just last night. It happens to me on practically a daily basis. And it happens to everyone; some are more willing to admit it than others.

Savion Glover never knew I was in the audience. He didn’t come to Charlotte with the intention of teaching a black homeschooling mother a lesson in racism and sexism and creativity and relationships - among other things. But I will not soon forget the many lessons he taught me last night. From Happy Tappin’ with Elmo to Tappin’ Happy in Charlotte, Savion and I have come a long way.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A word of thanks...

Thanks so much to all of you who write to me and encourage me to write more. I have a blog in the works even now. I saw Savion Glover perform tonight, and it blew me away. I've gotta write about dancing. Please keep coming back. Please keep writing. And don't be nervous about coming out of the woods of anonymity. I promise I won't bite. In any case, I wanted to respond to a comment I received tonight.

As for my book group's take on Nickel and Dimed: there was a fair amount of criticism of the style of the book, but not as much discussion on the content as I would have liked. We are a group of very wealthy women by all the world's standards, so it seemed hard to criticize ourselves. It's hard to admit that we too look at people at WalMart or the people who clean houses and make hotel beds with some disdain. I admitted freely that I have prejudices and struggle with biases. I know I have a lot to work on, but I look at it this way: anytime that I read a book or have a conversation or write a blog that motivates good introspection and self-examination is a blessed time. As long as folks are reading, thinking, asking about change, then there is hope for positive change. Even - or perhaps especially - when people disagree with me, there is so much to be learned. To be considered. To be reconsidered.

As for what you can do to make a difference, talk about injustice with your friends. Speak up when you see an employee somewhere doing a great job. Speak to the person, and write a note to the manager. Acknowledge the presence of working people when you see them. Whenever you have the chance, be sure that you pay and treat people fairly. Write letters to influential people you know. Advise them to read this book. Seek justice and right and fairness in all your dealings with people. If you have children or are around children, teach them about fairness and justice. Help them to see that the world isn't always fair, but they can each make a difference in someone's life. Just today, I saw many good bumper stickers. One that struck me a lot was simple: "Praying for peace." Another recent one was: "America, Bless God." And I thought: Yes, we must keep hope alive. In big ways and in small ways - like blogging. Like bumper stickers. Like questions that rock the boat a little. Even when it's the boat we are sailing in at the moment.

If we each make a determined effort to keep hope alive, to speak peace, to be peace, to seek peace and pursue it in all the areas and relationships in our lives, then there is a chance. If we speak up and stand up for the oppressed, for the disabled, for the lonely, and for the depressed - in other words, if we notice the people around us in the world and choose to involve ourselves in their lives and in their pain, then we will each be alleviating injustice.

As for me, I simply refuse to give up hope. That's why I write. I write to recover my lost and damaged dreams, to keep myself aware of my life and alive in the world. I write to analyze, criticize, and synthesize my thoughts in such a way that I can motivate others to do the same. I share it because if I didn't I'd be standing on a corner somewhere with a sandwich board around me shouting at passersby. I can reach a lot more people on the information superhighway. And I don't have to SHOUT! I write because you read and write back. But mostly I write because not writing is no longer an option for me.

Kinda like Savion Glover tonight: that is a man who simply cannot NOT dance. What joy. What energy. He is a tap-dancing, sweating, smiling, singing, force of nature. Imagine how much difference we could make in the world if we each found and honored that one thing in our lives that makes us sweat, smile, sing, and dance - and we did it with gusto? What if we did it until we soaked through our clothes, drew crowds, and launched each other out into the night with renewed strength and joy? Imagine what kind of world we would have. I can only imagine...

Thanks again for your kind words and gentleness of spirit. It means more to me than you know.

Peace, Gail

Thursday, April 14, 2005

What would happen if...

The other day while working on one of my daily collages, I came across a quote I’d heard and read many times before, but for some reason this time I stopped and considered it as I never had before. This is Muriel Rukeyser’s quote: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Perhaps her answer is a bit overblown, but her question is radical.

What if I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in all situations? While I don’t mean to imply that I am a bold-faced liar, I must admit that most of my interactions with other people involve some form of shading the truth. “Don’t you just love this roast beef?” “Well, not really. I find most beef dishes to be dry and tough,” is what I’m thinking, but what I say is, “I really like the sauce. Is that ginger I taste?” Or at the mall where I love to sit down at the MAC counter and have my face made up, the tight-bodied little artiste will adorn me with neon-pink eyeshadow that matches a newly released lip gloss, and then fawn over how bright my eyes look and how full my lips look. "Holy moly. Get this stuff off me. I look like Bozo’s psychotic mother-in-law,” is what I’m thinking, but what I say is, “I was thinking of something a little closer to my skin tone. My make-up colors are fairly modest.” When she turns her back, I grab a tissue and wipe off as much as I can. That's the sort of thing I do often during the course of my day.

But what would happen if I told the truth about my life? What if I told the truth about the fights I had with my three older brothers in the basement of our house on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, New York? What if I told the truth about being on the school bus for an hour each way, the things other kids talked about, the way the bus driver spoke to us, and how many objects were thrown from the windows into the cars of innocent co-travelers on Brooklyn’s streets? What if I told the truth about being the first black girl to graduate from Poly Prep, about the things girls did and talked about in the locker room, about being surrounded by boys and girls growing up in Mafia-connected families, and about the drugs and alcohol that flowed so freely right there on campus? What if I told the truth about my freshman year at Williams, about the Political Science professor who taught me about Argentina, and the Englsih professor who introduced me to the underbelly of American politics as demonstrated by the invasion of Grenada? What if I talked about my rage against corporate America (even though this computer was paid for by two of the world's largest conglomerates), against most manifestations of religion in our nation and around the world, and about how disgusted I am with all the ways that the name of the God I love is dragged through the corridors of politics, power, and even our churches with absolutely no regard for what I understand His name to mean and represent?

What if I finished these sentences out loud, here in this blog, or in the presence of people who know me, trust me, and call me "friend"?
• Even though I love being a wife and mother, there are many times when…
• I really hoped that marriage and motherhood would be more like…
• If I hadn’t married Steve, I would be…
• The decision I most regret is…
• What was I thinking when I…
• If I had the chance to relive that moment, I would…
• If I had a million dollars to spend in any way I wanted, I would…
• If I knew that no one would ever find out, I would …
• If anyone knew the real me, the me that hides behind the image, I would…
• The thing that wakes me up most often in the middle of the night is…
• I think our President is…
• I wish this country would…
• I wish I could live in… because at least over there, the people don’t…
• At church, when I watch the choir sing and the pastor preach, I wonder if…
• How is it that people can call themselves Christ followers when they …
• If I weren’t a Christ follower, I would…
• I thought being a Christ follower would mean I wouldn’t have to deal with…
• Many times when I close my eyes to pray, I’m really thinking about…
• Who does she think she’s kidding when she says that kind of thing? Who do I think I am when I say most of the things I say?

I know that I am not the only one with these sorts of unfinished thoughts, sentences, and questions floating around in the miasma of my mind. I know because when I’ve had a second glass of wine with friends, they divulge similar secrets. I know because after the awkward pause in most conversations, the truth begins to ooze out around the edges of the polite banter. I know because my journal is full of these types of sentences in their completed forms, and everyone else I know who keeps a journal or writes with any regularity gets the same gleam in their eyes whenever I mention the cathartic nature of what Sabrina Ward Harrison calls, “spilling open.” I know because there is a blog (at least one, anyway) dedicated to finishing this type of sentence. Feel free to check it out at: http://postsecret.blogspot.com. The secrets posted there are outrageous and mundane, individual and collective, and each time I surf over there to see what’s new, I am secretly relieved that so many people out there already know so many of my secrets.

What would happen if one woman, one man, one boy, one girl, what would happen if I told the truth? I suspect that the majority of the barriers erected so solidly between spouses, parents and their children, extended families, blended families, friends, neighbors, and neighboring nations would unexpectedly, delightedly, and perhaps even permanently fall. Alas, I will likely never know. After all, I didn’t finish these sentences myself, did I?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Fewer and farther between...

Nowadays when I look back over my six-month history of blogging, I feel like I’ve let up, like I’ve stopped writing as much as I used to. And the truth is that in volume and frequency, I do write less than I did late last fall. When I am drifting off to la-la land late at night at the end of a blog-less day, often I will snap my fingers and chide myself for not writing something, for not reviewing a book, for not analyzing a poignant moment that took place over the course of my day. I certainly haven’t stopped thinking as seriously and carefully about my life now as I was in November or December. I certainly haven’t stopped reading good books. I’ve even taken to rereading some of the juicier ones. At the moment, I’m rereading Nickel and Dimed because somehow I talked my book group into reading it, and we will be discussing it at tomorrow night gathering.

What has changed is this: rather than analyzing and writing about life as much as I used to, I have begun to just live my life, enjoying it to the fullest, falling off to sleep at night completely spent and completely satiated. The surgical slicing and dicing that blogging had turned into is less appealing to me now than it was just a few short months ago.

For example, in the crazy pace of our recent journey to England, I had much less time to write. From morning until night we wandered, explored, toured, examined, and investigated as many sights as we could. We ate at fabulous Chinese, Indian, and Italian restaurants. We took hundreds of pictures. We walked and shopped and gazed and gawked and haggled and strolled, but we filled in precious few pages of our family vacation journal. I didn’t even cut out much time to write in my own journal. And my usual two dozen postcards mailed off to family and friends? Not this time. I spent far more time with my hand on my chin in wonder than with my hand on my pen and paper in reflection.

This past weekend, I made a quick turn around trip to New York City for the funeral of my sister-in-law’s mother. I flew into LaGuardia Airport on Sunday afternoon, rented a car, and drove to Teaneck, New Jersey for the viewing of her body at the funeral home. Four of her five children were there. And there was a stream of friends and family that came through that quiet lounge to see her one last time, but more importantly to talk about the legacy of her life. From there, I drove south to Princeton, New Jersey to spend the night with another sister-in-law and my two nieces. We talked and laughed, shared stories of travel, and ate a wonderful dinner. Up early yesterday morning, I made my way back to northern New Jersey for the funeral service. The stories her family and friends told of her full life, her busy life, her compassionate life were yet another reminder of the importance of giving of oneself to others, of focusing on the wants and needs of loved ones rather than on oneself.

Forget all the third person stuff – as I sat there listening, I was awed by the tales of her generosity of spirit, her love for children, and her determination to make her life as bright and wide-ranging and glorious it could be despite the fact that her husband left her with five children to raise, a mortgage to pay, and no real reason for the abandonment. It struck me that I tend to focus so much on the recording of my life, on the distilling of the facts and the parsing of each day’s events that I don’t just live my life. I don’t simply enjoy what’s happening to me; I gather material. I sort through the evidence of a life well lived and search for details that will fill the lines of a journal page and the paragraphs of a blog with clever witticisms and well-turned phrases. While I certainly would love to be known as a good writer, I would much rather be known as a fearlessly loving, generous, kind, passionate, and compassionate woman. In order to be that woman, I've gotta get up from the keyboard and get out into the world, and be the wife, the mother, the daughter, the sister, the friend, and the truly unique person I've always dreamed I could be.

So I have decided to let myself off the hook. I will no longer berate myself for missing a day or a week or even a month here online. I cannot imagine missing that long in my journal, but if I do miss a few, that’s okay too. When I had more time and fewer demands on my life, when the afternoon skies were dark and there were no soccer practices or other activities to pull me away from my computer, then writing was more natural and appropriate. But with Charlotte’s sunny spring days, with the grass and flowers in full bloom, with friends and neighbors calling regularly, out for driving and walking in the evening, and dropping by unexpectedly, I have found greater joy in relating face-to-face than finger-to-keyboard. As the days lengthen, as the calendar fills up with soccer games, play dates, and nights out with Steve, as the day of our departure for Spain approaches, and with two Bibles studies to prepare for and teach (and one is in Spanish!), these blogs will probably be fewer and farther between. But such is this life of mine… gloriously full.

PS. Only five minutes ago, I came across a quote and an idea that I want to develop for a blog tomorrow or Thursday. I guess these fingers have a lot more typing in them yet…

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I think I might be pregnant...

I recently finished reading a book called Expecting Adam. (Thanks Joanne, for the awesome recommendation.) It’s the story of a woman’s pregnancy and the radical transformation that her son brings to her life, not only during the pregnancy, but also during every moment that has taken place since his birth. While I am not pregnant and hope to never be pregnant again, I would confess that those weeks and months of being with child were among the best of my life. New life growing within me, new souls being incubated before their emergence into the world, my body being all they needed for those nine months and for the six that followed their birth – those sensations will never be forgotten.

But they were also difficult months. Worries about their health, their intelligence, and my ability to birth and raise them raged through my hormone-laced brain on a daily basis. I wondered which of their parents they would most resemble, whether or not they would like me, and whether or not my in-laws would finally accept me once I gave them grandchildren. I rubbed my tummy with oils and lotions in an attempt to avoid stretch marks: to no avail. My midsection looks like the hide of a brown and tan striped zebra. I ate as much protein as humanly possible in order to make big, fat babies who embraced healthy eating from the start; I didn’t want a scrawny pre-mature baby so tiny that I couldn’t hold or nurse her. I needn’t have worried. The first time around, I gained forty-one pounds and gave birth to a nine pound daughter. The second time, I gained a more manageable 28 pounds, and he still managed to be more than eight and a half pounds. Then I took a break from peanut butter, boiled eggs, and spinach salad for about a year.

Even though I won’t be having any more children (Lord, please hear this plea for a child-free future…), I have come to a new understanding about pregnancy as a result of reading this heart-warming memoir by Martha Beck. At many points in life, we are the incubator for something or someone new. We carry within us the potential to birth many new lives. I remember vividly the sudden emergence of one of my 7th grade students when he finally “got” Spanish. One day he asked how it was possible for children in Spain to learn Spanish if they didn’t know English. Everyone in the classroom laughed at his question, but as we collectively came up with the answer, he developed a profound love for the language he had never known before that day. His insatiable thirst to learn more grew daily after that discussion. I hope that Jason is still studying and speaking the language of heaven.

Right here at Silvermine Academy, our homeschool on Brownes Pond Lane, I am thrilled as my eleven-year-old daughter is currently bursting into bloom as a creative writer and confident mathematician. She has doubted her ability for years, but in these past few weeks, along with the daffodils, tulips, and Bartlett pear trees that blanket our neighborhood, she has blossomed brightly and colorfully. Daniel too has finally discovered the joy of reading. He has loved sports since he could stand and walk, and now he realizes that there are equally exciting athletic adventures in the pages of biographies as there are on the cul-de-sac in front of our house. There are no words to describe my joy at seeing their ongoing growth into the young woman and young man they are becoming. I watch them as they do their work, I read their stories, I listen to their excited accounts of what they have come to understand, and I am proud to say that I have given birth to two people who love learning as much as I do.

During the course of Martha Beck’s pregnancy, it was discovered that her son would have Down Syndrome. After the initial shock of the diagnosis, she became a prolific reader and researcher about that syndrome and the possible effect it would have on her life and on the life of her entire family. Of course, there is no way to know the impact of a birth until the birth happens. No amount of reading and research and determination could have prepared her for the amount of criticism she received for making the decision to keep the baby after she was given his diagnosis. She was told by many that at the age of 25, she could easily have more children. She could easily avoid all her own pain and suffering as well as that of her unborn son by having an abortion. She and her husband decided to follow through with expecting Adam, birthing Adam, and giving him all the love they could muster. They have never regretted their choice.

I cannot imagine the pain, the fear, the anxiety that she dealt with during the course of that pregnancy. But I can imagine, and I understand fully, the pain, the fear, and the anxiety of being told that a decision I have made, that a life-long commitment I have made is an ill-advised one. Ridiculed for our decision to marry and form an inter-racial couple, Steve and I made the decision not to abort our relationship. Warned by many not to move our inter-racial family south of the Mason-Dixon line, Steve and I made the decision to come to the most beautiful, most affordable, and most welcoming city we have ever lived in. Advised not to leave the country so soon after the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, I made the decision to go ahead with my plans to travel to Italy in early October of that year, and it turned out to be the most spiritually, emotionally, and personally enriching solo vacation I have ever taken. Sometimes it makes most sense to consider most strongly the option that is most vigorously opposed by others… sometimes.

Expecting Adam is one of the best books I have ever read. The sorrow, the joy, the terror, the transformation, and the numerous encounters with Powers that were beyond anything she could ever have asked or imagined pointed Martha towards caches of strength she never knew she had. They forced her to face an unknown future, embrace the uncertainty, and prepare as best she could for labor, delivery, and raising a son that many people rejected before he was even born. Expecting Adam forced me to consider my own future in a delightfully new light and prepare for whatever is left in me, whatever is left for me to labor over, deliver, and nurture. Perhaps I've got a travel memoir on solo journeys, a book of personal essays, a guide to homeschooling, or a thousand more blogs in me. One never knows. I’m gonna wait and see; I won’t find out early.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Sweet Honey and Salty Tears

Sweet Honey in the Rock sang a song years ago that contains this line: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons.” In the past few days as weeks as stories of death and dying seem to dominate the news more than usual, those words have echoed through my mind. How much value is assigned to the dying in my world? How much value is assigned to the living? Whose life matters most? Why do some lives seem to matter more than others? When a life hangs in delicate balance between life and death, whose business is it to decide who lives, who dies, and when? Who gets to decide?

Last week, a 41 year old woman died after years of love, support, hugs, kisses, and a feeding tube. An 84 year old man died after years of leading one of the most powerful organizations in the world. A few days before that, nine people died in a shooting at yet another school in yet another shocked community in yet another obscure American town. The police chief in Baghdad died at the hands of his own countrymen. Over thirty drug dealing men, women, and children (yes, the children sold drugs too) were shot and killed in a gun battle with police in Rio de Janeiro. Hundreds died after an earthquake in Asia. Thousands died of disease and starvation. Most of those people who died had no one storming the doors of courthouses on their behalf in an effort to prolong their lives. Most of those who died did not have thousands of people outside their windows praying and hoping for a recovery. Most of the hundreds of thousands of people who died during the last two weeks died quiet deaths, unnoticed deaths, unreported deaths, and unrecorded deaths.

On a much more personal note, my sister-in-law and her brothers made the decision to turn off the ventilator that kept their mother alive. There was no fanfare, no media coverage, and no international intrigue. She had been in a coma and demonstrated no signs of brain function for over 24 hours. The agony of that decision is incomprehensible to me, just as it must be to everyone who has ever had to make that decision. When my father died four years ago and we made our way out of the hospital leaving his body behind, I wanted to grab every person I saw in those hospital corridors and tell them that my father had died. I wanted everyone around me to understand that one of the most special, most spiritual, and most loving people that had ever walked the face of the planet had died. When the parents of slain students in Columbine had to make funeral arrangements for their deceased children, they must have wanted to do the same. And the same is true even for the parents of gang members who are shot and killed in their own destructive life cycles. The parents of murderers who are executed on death row weep as much as the parents of their victims. Every death is personal. Every death is tragic.

So why does there seem to be a hierarchy of life value? Does the life of a North Korean soldier count more than the life of his South Korean enemy combatant? What about an American soldier versus an Iraqi rebel? Does the life of a homosexual AIDS victim count less than the life of someone who was infected by a blood transfusion? Does the life of a child count more than the life of an adult? Did my father’s life count less than the life of the Pope? What about the grandmother in Sweetwater, South Africa who had lost all her children and grandchildren to AIDS? Does her sorrow somehow matter less than the wealthy American husband who lost his family in a private jet crash?

I remember very clearly the first time I heard about entire generations of people in various countries who are born, raised, married, become parents, and even grandparents without ever sleeping under a roof. They are homeless all their lives. They never have running water or take a shower. They never know the dignity of privacy to care for their hygienic needs. To this day, that truth causes me to shudder. The accounts of genocide, of decapitations, of lynching, and of utterly barbaric treatment perpetrated by this nation’s forefathers on the natives who were living here when they arrived are often overshadowed by the stories of scalpings and assaults on Europeans and the plundering of their settlements. For some reason, the lives of the Europeans amounted to more than the lives of the “savages” they encountered in their new homeland. In college, I wept openly upon learning about apartheid in South Africa, political repression in South America, and persistent racism in South Carolina. Fellow students who insisted that “those people” wouldn’t know what to do with democracy if they had it, that “those lazy people” couldn’t handle freedom sometimes shocked me more the people we studied. Sadly, the cycles of killing haven’t stopped. Sadly, I don’t expect that they will anytime soon.

But there is a part of me, a teeny, tiny, hugely na├»ve part of me that hopes and prays that someday soon we will begin to see the equivalent value of life in this nation and in our world. There are thousands of people who willingly stand on picket lines, give themselves over to arrest and imprisonment to protect the lives of unborn children but will spend almost no time speaking against the unjust deaths of civilians who lose their lives as “collateral” in war torn areas of the world. There are many who protest the infiltration of drugs into the suburbs and are shocked over the deaths of clean-cut, good-looking, popular high school students who somehow became drug addicts, but have little pity for the thousands of inner-city young people who die because they couldn’t get asthma or diabetes medication due to lack of access to medical help. The shooting at Columbine High School brought this nation to its knees in sorrow over the loss of so many innocent teenagers in a masterminded bloodbath, but a similar incident on an Indian reservation made headlines for just a couple of days. Who decides that some deaths are more tragic than others? Why do some lives matter than others?

When will the deaths of black men, women and children, of Hispanic, of Asian, of Caucasian, of Vietnamese, of Iraqi, of Italian, of Spanish, of Sudanese, of Rwanda, of Haitian, of Cuban, of Nicaraguan, of Nigerian, of Liberian, of Russian, of Chinese - when will all killings and all deaths matter to all of us? Do true freedom and true democracy exist if all lives do not have true and equal value?

Joy, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your brothers as you mourn the loss of your beloved mother, Ida.