Browsing the blog archives for July, 2012
This blog was published on Huffington Post July 25, 2012
The mood in Denver is somber, reflective and resigned. No matter where you are, a nagging disbelieving grief exists about the Aurora massacre. Not since 9/11 has the country experienced such a unifying shared trauma. Ignore your reactions at your own peril or respond to them with the tenderness they deserve.
The desecration of the all-American cultural temple of the movie house littered with injured, dying and dead people, along with bewildered survivors is traumatic – we can imagine being there. We instantly remember the plethora of movies, popcorn, dates and family outings enjoyed in the safety of a theater. Our array of pleasurable memories collides with the mayhem, murder and madness of Aurora. The attack on a universal American pastime of movie going has left us wondering where we can find safety.
There are tools for allowing our grief, fear, heartache and trauma to be healthy instead of debilitating.
Acknowledge your grief and trauma. Denying your reactions causes them to be suppressed which almost certainly guarantee that you will be haunted by them in the future. Find safe environments where you can be authentic about your reactions and emotions without having to filter them. Your reactions are normal so claim their normalcy.
Discuss your fears. Waiting in the departure lounge at Seattle for my flight to Denver the constant theme of every overheard conversation was about the safety of going to the movies. Discussing your fears typically reveals that your fear of fear is greater than the fear itself.
Find community. Seek out a civic or religious vigil or commemoration of what has happened. If you live in a remote community participate virtually by going online. Joining with others in community is an affirmation that we need one another in order to be human. Post your condolences or expressions of sorrow on the online sites offering that and read the postings of others.
Remember. Read aloud the names of those killed or injured – by yourself or with others offering your intentions for them and their loved ones. In the intimacy of verbalizing a name you are reminded of our oneness.
Be honest. If you are around children who bring up the massacre be honest with them that a bad thing happened but also remind them that the world is full of good people. They will intuitively know if you are being authentic or not. Your authentic and heartfelt response will reassure them.
Express love. No one going to the movies in Aurora that night expected to have their life ended or upended. We’re left with the unsettling truth of the fragility of life. Do not take your loved ones for granted. Express your love for them each day out of gratitude and thankfulness.
Notice the unexpected. Old memories and images of violence typically surfaced because of events like the Aurora massacre. Because they have shaped your experience of life and been part of your formation greet their resurfacing with curiosity. They either have something to teach you about the present or they invite you to consider unresolved truths.
In my own grief and trauma about the Aurora massacre I’ve felt a tender empathy for the victims and families who have been subjected to the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas. I’ve been targeted for protest by them on two occasions and have been depicted as a fornicating pig burning in hell on their website. Their tasteless protests are shameful and disrespectful of the dead and grieving. They do not reflect the goodness, generosity and shared grieving of most Americans. Do not give them the attention they so desperately hunger for.
I’ve been surprised by my archive of old images of violence that have shaped my experience of life and which have resurfaced in recent days. I recall the shooting down of school kids in the streets of Soweto and elsewhere in South Africa as they peacefully protested apartheid. The scenes of Columbine have been on constant re-run in my mind. Alongside those old tapes is the remembrance of the kindness of strangers, of justice claimed and communities uniting in their response.
The grief and trauma is as real as our emotional and physical responses to it. Be present to the surprising waves and complexity of your responses. Be tender and compassionate with yourself and others. Become part of the triumph of goodness and hope.
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Coincidentally, just today I experienced a very trying situation- I was enroute to a funeral of a dear friend-had done my homework calling the bus line for directions, times, possible connections, and with all this in hand in the early morning, started my journey. My broken leg was hurting, I was tired, and very anxious to get to the service on time in an area of the city I had never been in. This is what happened;
The first bus was 20 minutes late, so I did not make the second connection as planned. I called Metro three times, and was hung up my call three times. Having no alternatives I decided nothing to do but wait until the next bus- it was 30 minutes late! I asked for directions from the bus driver and he had me walking up a long hill in the opposite direction of where I needed to be. I asked a passerby if they recognized the name of the private retirement home-they assured me “2 blocks down-then make a right”. So down the same hill my cast and I went, until I realized I had to make a right instead. When this was done, the building was there, but no one would answer a security bell outside the door. I finally banged on the glass door and an employee let me in, I asked for so and so’s funeral gathering, they sent me to the cafeteria! By this time, I am very late of course. What to do? I chose to sit down on a cafeteria bench, gather my composure and found myself laughing. I could see other folks looking my way, and surely thinking this babe has really lost it!! I rose up went to the reception desk, insisted on seeing their daily event list, and there it was-the name of my friend and the service.
I got to where I needed to be, trying to slip in quietly, and dropped my steel cane, which clunked to the floor..loudly!
I had a choice to get very angry, decide not to continue the journey, or allow myself to just catch my breath, and try once more.
The family after the service was very gracious, accepted my apology, and asked me to say a few words to honor my friend.
No preparation, no notes, but I decided to agree, and began with my friends sense of humor, and then told them what happened, and that Rachel would have laughed so hard she would have cried! I am happy to say the congregation of friends and family had her sense of wit, for everyone was laughing, tears were dried, and a renewed sense of hope replaced an event of despair.
You know what? I bet Rachel had a hand in all of this! Patricia
This blog first appeared on Huffington Post, July 21, 2012
Beyond the grief and despair over the Aurora massacre lays an invitation – to say “No more!” There is oneness in our responses of disbelief and anger to a massacre of those watching a movie in Aurora, Colorado. What if we believed in the possibility and power we possess to change the conversation about gun control?
Like many I’ve lit a candle for those killed and injured and for their loved ones. I’ve mindfully said out loud the name of each person killed where that information is known. Along with others I keep the grieving and perplexed family members in my intentions.
I’ve been surprised by the responses to my question about why we are still debating the need for tighter gun control restrictions. I know and appreciate that there are a range of views on this issue held by good, decent and thoughtful people. But I’m troubled by the despairing helplessness of so many who say that our political leaders refuse or are too scared to address the issue or that the debate is so polarized with entrenched arguments that their voice is insignificant.
They’re legitimate feelings but they are a cop-out. They are a marker of disengagement and helplessness. Yes the political intransigence and cheap slogans of those on the extremes of the gun control debate are pervasive. But haven’t we allowed that by our silence? Instead be part of creating a new course of conversation.
Speak up. Your reactions to the Aurora massacre are vital. Give voice to them and the urgent need for a rational conversation about gun control. The Constitution is clear about the right of any citizen to bear arms but that is different than the arsenal of weapons that the Aurora killer was able to acquire legally. Your right, and that of every American, to safety and security without fear of being massacred is at issue.
Teach our leaders about civility. The name calling of those with opposing points of view denigrates public debate about issues and is nothing less than an abdication of leadership. Be clear that you expect adult conversation that is civil. Call people out when civility is lacking. Model civility in the midst of different opinions.
Respect differing opinions. Allowing others to be demonized because they do not share your view is the easiest way to cede your voice and power to those who have no intention of engaging in discussion that matches the seriousness of the massacres experienced in Aurora and Seattle among other places. Insist that our leaders frankly address the implications of their position so that the possibility of further Aurora’s become a remote possibility if not impossible.
Assume the goodness of others until proved otherwise. Most leaders are in their fields because they have a desire to make the world a more just and better place. Engage them on gun control with that assumption. Be clear that you need to know how their position and actions will impact public safety and reduce the possibility of another Aurora massacre of innocent people. Keep asking until they can tell you about expected impacts and results.
Our voice and imagination about how things might be are vital to our own humanity and the world needs the voice and imagination of each person – without it we are all deprived. What we say, hope and do matters!
To speak up, model civility to our leaders, show them how to respect different opinions and assume the goodness of others is a life-giving way of honoring those injured and killed in the Aurora massacre and their loved ones. How will you claim the invitation that this tragedy invites to say, “No more!”
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Your “Feasting With Friends” resonated strongly. My husband, teenage son and I are so “plugged in” that we found it difficult to set aside our mobile devices to even enjoy dinner together. We now have a rule – NO CELL PHONES or other devices at the table at meal times. We don’t even watch TV. We use meals as a way to celebrate and be grateful for our lives and each other; and to TALK with each other. This has really brought our family closer and is helping us work through some challenging issues that we’re facing.. as a family.
I am the one who turns off the phone more than turns it on, refuses to Text, Twitter or engage in Facebook, and finds the “cave” more comfortable in than out.
What you discovered in your coffee moment is exactly the cultural behavior I’ve been railing about (and lost several friendships, more or less, over) and find objectionable because it dilutes real face-to-face relationships and intimacy. Technology can become a slippery slope to unabashed distraction if constantly indulged.
Thanks for tackling the issue head on!
Melinda responding to “Feasting with Friends”
This blog first appeared on Huffington Post, July 6, 2012
Seven years ago, in an interview on MTV, Kanye West described the discrimination against gay people within hip-hop culture. “I wanna tell my friends, ‘Yo, stop it,'” he said. Now, Frank Ocean’s courageous, heartfelt coming out is a love-fest shout-out of “yo, stop it!” to the often homophobic world of hip-hop. It’s a striking complement to the much-discussed coming out of Anderson Cooper. From the urban streets to the rarified world of CNN, July’s coming-out stories are pushing aside more vestiges of homophobia.
In his Tumblr posting, Frank Ocean offered the world a striking story of unrequited love for the man with whom he fell in love. While Anderson Cooper offered nuanced and carefully parsed words about privacy, Ocean’s gutsiness in revealing his heart and the surprise of discovering that his first love was a man is more than just transparent. For any of us who remember a first love, it offers a common meeting ground beyond the rhetoric of LGBT rights.
Ocean writes that no matter who or where you are, “we’re a lot alike.” He adds, “Human beings spinning on blackness.” Every person in the world wants the happiness that is discovered in our own well-being; each of us wishes to love and be loved. This is the human story that Ocean chooses to tell. It is an invitation to honor our humanness beyond labels, causes, and issues.
The riskiness of Frank Ocean’s coming out is directly related to his industry. Never mind the fact that he is poised for mega-star status; hip-hop has been marred by offensive and violently homophobic language for years. Last year Brandon “Lil B” McCartney received death threats for planning to release an album expressing support for the LGBT community. The reaction resulted in changing the name of the album from I’m Gay to I’m Gay (I’m Happy). That was not a happy capitulation in the history of hip-hop.
The unspoken truth revealed by Terrance Dean in his memoir, Hiding in Hip Hop, is that there has always been an active gay subculture in the hip-hop world. This week, with his courageous self-revelation, Frank Ocean invited participants in that subculture to name their own truth and set an example.
The immediate reaction to his coming out, from the hip-hop industry and culture at large, has been positive. If that continues to be the case, then that — and not necessarily Ocean’s coming out — is the big story. We’re living in a time of seismic shifts in public perceptions of LGBT people and marriage equality. It would be logical to see those same changing attitudes reflected in the world of hip-hop. Will the artists and the industry match Frank Ocean’s eloquent, courageous love song to the human family? Will Odd Future, the group that Ocean belongs to, reexamine its homophobic language?
Frank Ocean’s coming-out love poem celebrates our interconnectedness and need for one another. He lavishly praises the support of friends and family. The man whose unrequited love he sought “said kind things” and “did his best,” while Ocean’s own mother “raised [him] strong.” He writes to his mother, “I know I’m only brave because you were first.”
“We’re a lot alike,” writes Ocean, adding that he wants to “create worlds that were rosier than [his].” He also leads the charge when he says, “I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore.” When you speak out with authenticity, you diminish the power of those who seek to hate as much as you invite others to meet you as a fellow human being. Because straight or gay, love is love.
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This blog first appeared in Huffington Post, July 3 2012
When I was an illegal immigrant I celebrated Independence Day as if it were a spiritual holiday. In the charged rhetoric about Latino immigration our national conversation could benefit from re-imagining our unalienable rights. Our values and moral compass would be deepened by viewing the pursuit of life, liberty and justice through the lens of our mutual pursuit of inter-dependence.
Now a citizen of this country, my pride in being part of the American enterprise of democracy is shaped by how I experienced the United States as an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1970s. The Carter administration’s emphasis on human rights as a touchstone of U.S. foreign policy filled many of us fighting oppressive regimes with hope and inspiration. Advocating for human rights abroad needs to become part of a seamless approach including the inalienable rights of those within the United States.
After receiving notice that my application for residency had been denied, a seasoned immigration attorney advised me to go about my life in New York while he resolved the issue. He told me that because I was not Latino or a black West African immigrant I had little to fear about being identified as illegal. It was a startling insight to me in the mid-1980s. Sadly it is still true for many whose lives are a vital part of our country.
As my illegal alien status was reviewed I wondered if the “self-evident truths” that all “are created equal” came with a double standard. Today, the twelve million undocumented Latino immigrants who are among the core workforce of the agricultural and hospitality industries continue to live with an abiding fear of the implications of inequality.
The ideal and promise of equality is more than a holy grail. Our founding document galvanizes the aspirations and hopes of immigrants and new citizens. We believe in the promise. Like U.S. citizens, we do not wish for a promised land in some after-life. We expect to be full citizens, inter-dependent with Americans of every stripe in the present, rather than cheap shots for uncourageous hapless leaders.
Foreigners often observe that Americans are self-absorbed and engaged in the enterprise of self. In contrast to many places around the world, from Iran to North Korea, the individual pursuit of life, liberty and happiness is a cherished defining value of being an American. The Founding Fathers had a perspective much larger than libertarianism or narcissism.
The final paragraph of the Declaration of Independence is seldom quoted and not well known. “With a firm reliance on Divine Providence we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortune and our sacred honor.” The signers understood that we are all in this together — this building and renewing of the world’s most envied democratic endeavor. Our collective struggles over slavery, women’s suffrage and civil rights all tested, challenged and enriched the promise of July 4th. The struggles for gender equality, LGBT rights and those of Muslim-Americans along with Latino immigration continue to invite us to a discourse that has the potential to reveal the vibrancy of our democracy.
The “mutual pledge to each other” of the Declaration of Independence becomes more deeply valued, even sacred, when we expand our understanding of who among us is fully included in the American promise. The full inclusion of all probes the promises that undergird our July 4th barbecues and parades.
I was one of the fortunate few provided with a first class immigration attorney whose skill transformed my “illegal alien” status to “resident alien” on my eventual path to U.S. citizenship. It does not matter what sort of “alien” you are called, you are effectively labeled separate, different and not “one of us.”
The mutual pledging of our lives, fortune and honor to one another is how the signers of the Declaration of Independence concluded their vision of who we would become as a new independent nation. That promise is as urgent today as it was then.
Instead of replacing our unique emphasis on individual liberty, we enrich it by seeking a politics of commonalities. In an increasingly diverse United States, a commitment to honor the dignity of our differences deepens the values of our founding principles.
July Fourth reverberates with the promises of many wisdom traditions which speak about the sacredness and inestimable value of every human being. American ingenuity combined with the self evident truths which shape us demand a richer, fuller and more vibrant understanding of who is part of America. The Founding Fathers might be surprised by including Latino immigrants into our common life. They would surely smile on the courage, leadership and vibrancy of revisiting the mutual pledge to who we are in this democracy. What remains to be seen is if we have leaders who are up to such a courageous and fulsome vision.
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