live love breathe

sending love on this solemn and sacred of days

by christie shumate mcelwee

Love.

Usually on Valentine’s Day I write a post on love and include some of my favorite quotes on the subject. I’ve collected love quotes since I first began writing. Some dance with joy, others are thick as fog around my old heart. They tug, pulling me towards the light. What is love to me these days? It is decency, respectability that comes from kindness. It is compassion, a true sympathy and empathy for another’s pain. Love is sacrifice, surrendering ourselves for others.

Love.

Love is a life-long learning curve that weaves around corners, stalls at intersections, and often crashes into itself. It can be horrible and exquisite, just like every moment of our lives. Love is making terrible mistakes. It is forgiveness. It is reaching out in times of tremendous grief and walking together when there’s peace. Love gives us hope, even in the bleakest of times.

Love.

So, on this 11th day of September, 19 years after those towers fell and our collective hearts broke, I am sending you love. Pure, deep, true love. Magical love. Love that is our quirky, crooked flaws, yet also celebrates our grace. Love that sees us, naked and beautiful, and, because only love will carry us home.

Love.

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. – Neil Gaiman, The Friendly Ones

You can have other words – chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it. – Mary Oliver

Love is the ultimate expression of the will to live. – Tom Wolfe

My, wasn’t life awful – and wonderful? – Mrs. Soames, Our Town, Thornton Wilder

Where there is great love, there are always wishes. -Willa Cather

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle. Love is a war. Love is growing up. – James Baldwin

Tell me who admires and loves you, and I will tell you who you are. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
-e.e. cummings

day 2: stuck in the middle

by christie shumate mcelwee

I discovered Brene Brown a few years ago when I was drowning in a mire of self-doubt, grief, and oodles of regrets. I dove deep into her trilogy of books: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong. Her words about fear, vulnerability, shame, courage, and doing the damn work saved my life. I often refer her books to friends who are struggling with similar circumstances. 

Yesterday on my walk around the neighborhood I decided to forgo my usual political podcast boys and instead listen to Brene introduce the second season of her show. In thirty minutes she broke down and named what it is to live during these times. She calls it Day 2.

If you’ve ever attended a multi-day conference or seminar, you can relate to Day 2. On the first day, everyone is excited about the possibilities. There are name tags and introductions. Everything is fresh. Day 2, though, is difficult. It’s exhausting. We often find ways to resist. Day 2 can be painful. We ask ourselves, “How long will this all last? Who’s really in charge here? When’s lunch? A break?” We discover that Day 2 asks us to really delve into difficult subjects. Day 2 is messy; we can’t wait until Day 3, which often brings revelations and “Ah ha” moments.

Right now we are squarely in the middle of Day 2. We can’t turn back, yet we don’t know where we are going. Brene compared it to Space Mountain at Disney World, a roller coaster that whips you around in the dark. We’re on that ride now. We can’t get off and we can’t see what is coming. All we know is that we are moving forward.

Day 2 is the muddled part, but it is also an opportunity to learn and grow. Right now we are in the middle of the story. You can’t skip the middle, even though we’d love to find out the ending. The middle is the meat of the narrative. It’s the journey where our hero learns through heartache and mistakes and vulnerability how to solve the problem. Only then does she find redemption. This retired English teacher loves a good storytelling analogy, by the way!

Once we put a name to our story, it is easier to navigate. Dreaming about a vaccine, sitting down to crowded holiday tables, and planning family reunions can give us hope, but we need to face Day 2. Day 2, according to Brene Brown, is when we learn the hard shit. It is how we handle that shit that determines our fate. In order to steer Day 2, we must reach out and learn with grace. Yes, we will stumble, but there are hands to grab along the way. It is the “Messy Middle.”

Brene’s prediction is that fall (Day 2) will be the “long haul.” Yup. Along with the pandemic, there’s a contentious election, a racial reckoning, and a rocky economy. Day 2 sucks, my friends. Yet….we know Day 3 beckons. Day 3 is the last act of a story. It’s the resolution. It’s when questions are answered and the protagonist learns something about herself. But we can’t skip Day 2. Day 2 is where we “own the truth of our story.”

Join me on Day 2. It may be uncomfortable, but it is where the magic happens. I’m willing to take that ride. Are you?

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” ~Joseph Campbell

Brene referred to this quote in her podcast. We all have been gifted this “opportunity to stitch a new garment.” Day 2 is when we discover a new pattern, pin up the pieces, and begin to sew.

Brown, Brene. “Brene on Day 2.” Unlocking Us with Brene Brown. Podcast. 2 September 2020.

a half bushel of hope

tuesday morning musings: september 8, 2020

by christie shumate mcelwee

  1. Even after five years of retirement, three day weekends throw off my internal clock/schedule. Is it Monday morning? Tuesday? Was yesterday Sunday? Wait, what day is it again? Is Friday only four days away? When is garbage day? Once again, what day is it?
  2. I’m working on a few things in my life: diet, routine, hope vs. optimism, my cranky judgment and constant complaining.
  3. I don’t really believe in diets, yet I know I need to do something about this CWG (covid weight gain….another sad new saying born from the pandemic I learned from my friend Lisa). I need to be more accountable for what I decide to eat: more vegetables and fruits, less fats, maybe less wine????? Phooey. 
  4. I am heading up to my office to write for at minimum an hour each day. What will I write? It doesn’t matter. I’m working on my routine, but there are blog posts, prompts, and that book of mine. Maybe some dirty limericks?
  5. We ventured out some this past weekend, which helps my mental health. We’re careful. Mask are worn. Precautions are taken. We need this. I understand, though, those who don’t feel comfortable yet. I also acknowledge the risks, even with all of the protocols in place, but after six months, we need outings. Each step out brings hope.
  6. And…I believe in hope. Even during these murky days, I see hope. Is hope always looking on the bright side, denying reality, and pushing aside the struggles? No. There are times when we need to sit with our pain. Hope is in the darkness. It appears within the cracks. Hope is our strength, our belief, our power. Hope is stronger than optimism. Optimism, an expectation of a favorable outcome, often brings disappointment, but hope hangs on, even during the storms. Hope is releasing expectations. Hope often just floats.
  7. I’m also working on letting go of judgment and complaining. Wow, you say. That’s a colossal undertaking these days. Yup, but it is another task that will improve my mental health. I’m releasing things I cannot control, which is a looooooong list, and focusing on what I can control, a shorter yet more obtainable list.
  8. Still on my anti-racist journey, I’m currently reading me and white supremacy by Layla F. Saad. It’s a squirmy, difficult, and oftentimes heart-wrenching read, but it is necessary. As stated previously, I can control my own path, and this work is part of it.
  9. On one of our outings this weekend we picked Honeycrisp apples at a local orchard. Now we have sixteen pounds of apples (approximately half a bushel – I looked it up) and I’m pondering different recipes. Apple salad? Apple bread? Applesauce? Any suggestions?
  10. One more thing about hope. Hope is not blind. It acknowledges the broken, the messy, the dismal, yet it is the strength of hope that places our feet on the floor each morning, ready to navigate another day.  Where is my hope? It is my favorite pen. A blank notebook page. A book recommended by a dear friend. An unexpected gift. A text sent. A text received. Our cozy house. My snoring cat. That man lying next to me in bed. A half bushel of apples. Hope.

“Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.” ~Anne Lamott

“When hope is not pinned wriggling onto a shiny image or expectation, it sometimes floats forth and opens.” ~Anne Lamott

Hope often comes in the form of an apple and its infinite possibilities.

The first day of September musings

(September 1, 2020)

by Christie Shumate McElwee

I don’t know about you all, but six months into this debacle, I’ve hit a wall. I can’t sleep. I can’t think. I have trouble concentrating on much of anything. Yesterday my friend Marcia sent me a link to an article that helped me define how I’ve been feeling. It discussed an ancient Greek word that encapsulates these days for many of us. The word is “acedia,” defined as “a seizing up or freezing of feelings; spiritual or mental sloth; a lack of care.” Medieval monks cloistered in monasteries often experienced “acedia.” They suffered a sense of listlessness, sighing at their lonely existence, not knowing what to do next. Does this sound familiar? It’s not depression or laziness. It’s acedia, and sometimes it is reassuring to have a name for our emotions. When Marcia forwarded me this yesterday, I was at my desk staring at a blank page. It was almost as though she knew I needed help. It’s the universe (and a good friend) holding out a hand.

I think all of us are grappling with some form of acedia right now. We are stuck in an anxiety-riddled mire, constantly worrying about the impact of the virus, our political climate, hurricanes, fires, racial injustice, voting, our “leader’s” unhinged Twitter rants, the openings of schools, keeping our families safe, and not forgetting a mask when venturing out. No wonder we feel stranded, wishing we had a soccer ball companion named Wilson who would listen to our endless strings of worry beads.

How do I sit with my own acedia?

Place purple mums on my front porch.

Text dear friends my fears and hopes and deepest desires.

Rearrange my office.

Bake an apple pie.

Write cards to my grandchildren.

Read. Read. Read.

Read fiction. Read nonfiction. Read poetry.

Read. Read. Read.

Nap when I can.

Take my mom out to lunch.

Brew good coffee.

Practice yoga.

Listen to music. Always music.

Buy stamps.

Limit time on social media and the news.

Stay out of the comments. Nothing good ever comes from reading the comments. Nothing.

Reach out to our kids. Grateful when they reach out to us.

Venture out from my cloistered life.

Bask in the cooler days.

Hang onto hope.

Look for magic.

Send big messy everlasting love out to the universe.

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver

“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” ~Roald Dahl

“You can only go with loves in this life.” ~Ray Bradbury

And…because I’m still an English teacher in my heart….

Stillman, Jessica. “The Ancient Greeks Had a Word for the Specific Kind of Bad You’re Feeling Right Now.” Inc. 31 August 2020.

storms and rainbows

by christie shumate mcelwee

Yesterday was stifling hot. Hot like 97 degrees, feels like 107 hot. Then in the evening a storm blew in without much warning. The skies went dark. Winds picked up. Temperatures dropped. I quickly gathered all the outside pillows before they were blown to the nether regions. Rain came down in sheets. Lightening flashed and thunder booms immediately followed. Our already flooded neighborhood lakes groaned as they took on even more water. After the storm moved on, I glanced to the western skies. Streaks of yellow and red and orange and purple graced the horizon, reminding us that beauty often follows chaos. But even as I admired the sunset, the rain began again. Too late for rainbows. 

Facebook photo by Terri Steffes

This storm and its aftermath is a metaphor for my (and I’m sure many of your) moods since March: dark, manic, scary, colorful, gray, hopeful, ominous, resplendent. One moment there’s a squall and then suddenly, calm. I’m continuously wobbly, attempting to navigate these circumstances we are in right now. So, I breathe and gather my strength for the next storm, because it’s inevitable. This is the rollercoaster we call being human in the late summer of 2020. The rains blow in and out, leaving us soaked. We stumble in the house searching for a dry towel, hoping it isn’t sour smelling from the last downpour. We scan the sky for rainbows, nature’s most optimistic symbol. Or as my brother Jeff wrote in an Instagram post, “Morning rainbow apologizing for an angry sky.”

Instagram photo by Jeff Shumate, Atlanta, GA

Life is both storms and rainbows, and acknowledging these two are intertwined allows us to pull on our rain boots so we may gleefully stomp in the puddles. 

Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer day could end in a downpour. Could end in lightening and thunder.”

Benjamin Alire Saenz
the power of words

by christie shumate mcelwee

A story about a drunk and the power of words.

Since the Midwest July weather was unusually steamy and I didn’t feel like heating up the kitchen, my husband and I decided to run to the local grocery store to pick up some fried chicken and potato salad for dinner. As we entered, the first thing we noticed was a security guard standing at the door. “Well, I’ve never seen that before,” whispered my husband. I shrugged and said it’s probably because it was a Friday evening. He then went to the deli counter to order the chicken and I wandered around the bakery section, trying to decide on a dessert. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man (one of the few in the store not wearing a mask) weaving in and out of the displays purposely knocking things off tables. He stumbled out of sight, and I, of course behaving like the mom/teacher I am, picked up after him. Rock met me with the chicken, we picked out a dessert and a bottle of white wine, and then made our way to the check out line. I did spy the same man making a small scene in another aisle, so I said to myself, “Please don’t let him near us. Please don’t let him near us.” At this grocery chain, customers must line up and wait for the clerks to wave them over when they are ready. We ended up in the first line. We were just about finished when I noticed this man throwing his beer and charcoal briquets on the belt. The clerk was stunned, so I automatically said, “Sir, you need to wait your turn.” He then bellowed, “What did you say? I need to wait my turn? What?” I then responded with, “I’m just sending peace and love. We all have to take care of one another.” His retort was, “You cunt!” Rock had the grocery bag in his hands attempting to counter the guy’s hateful rhetoric, but as the clerk threw me the receipt, I gave my sweet husband a look that said,” We need to get out of here…now.” So we quickly made our way towards the door. By this time the guy was screaming repeatedly “You cunt!” across the entire store and one of the other clerks had summoned the security guard. I held my peace sign up until we got out of his sightline and then practically sprinted to our car. My hands shook and tears fell the whole way home. 

This man went into the store drunk, itching for a fight. I was just the lucky recipient of his anger. I realize now I probably shouldn’t have engaged him. We would have gone on with our evening undisturbed, but here’s the thing: this is a man who, I’m pretty sure, uses that word whether he is drunk or sober, masked or unmasked. This disgusting word that demeans women with its violent sputter. I spent most of Saturday hunkered down, feeling bruised. I thought of all the store clerks, waiters, and others who have to put up with these types of people, individuals who feel their “liberties” are begin stolen from them with mask requests, who believe they have the right to call out strangers and weaponize language. I pondered all of the women in this guy’s life who have been on the receiving end of his vitriol. I then contemplated the repugnant words that have been lobbed at people throughout the history of man. Words that make stomachs churn and hearts cringe. We humans have immense jurisdiction to strike others down with just a cruel comment. I then decided I would not give this guy permission to break me. I scattered the word’s power and turned it to dust.

The words we choose are crucial. Do we spread love or scatter hate? The names we casually throw around hold tremendous weight, so how do we counter the despicable, the vicious, the evil language that permeates our society?

There isn’t an easy answer, that I know. Repulsive language has been around since humans first grunted. We quickly learned how to force others to their knees through one degrading slur. But perhaps…we counter divisive language with statements that stitch us back together.

So, dear ones, I offer up a few suggestions:

I love you.

You are magic.

Walk in peace.

I admire your strength.

You are a warrior.

What words will you give the world today?

Words: So innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Photo by ATC Comm Photo on Pexels.com
casting off my teacher crown…finally

by christie shumate mcelwee

When I was a little girl, I loved to play school. My friends and I would assemble makeshift classrooms with leftover school supplies from the previous year, and on rainy afternoons when we couldn’t congregate outside for games of kickball or foursquare, we would reimagine the old, dank basements into glorious spaces of learning. We’d practice our handwriting, read out loud from old primers, and sing together from songbooks. I always wanted the coveted role of teacher, but often was forced to sit in the pretend desks while one of my friends wrote the daily instructions on the old chalkboard. It was more fun to be in charge than to solve multiplication tables that looked like undecipherable hieroglyphics. I loved being the boss. I wanted to guide the lessons and, yes, send misbehaving students to the corner.

When I reached middle school, my teacher dream faded. I wanted to become a nurse. I soon realized it was all about the cute white starched uniforms, because after volunteering at the local hospital during my 8th grade year, I discovered something shocking. There are sick people there! Nope, not for me.

In high school I had aspirations of a journalism career. I wanted to write for a newspaper or work at a television station. Woodward. Bernstein. Barbara Walters. After one year of majoring in mass media, though, I rediscovered teaching. I heard the call, and then spent the next 30 plus years in various schools and classrooms. I taught both high school and middle school students the majesty of Shakespeare’s language, how to develop a clear and concise spoken argument, and the virtues of using correct grammar in both writing and speaking. I loved the students, even the ornery ones. I was queen of my classroom and wore that crown with pride.

I retired five years ago, knowing it was time to leave. Yet…I still put my name on sub lists, tutored reluctant students, and even spent some time as an ESL instructor. I couldn’t seem to let go of my teacher crown. Every time I tried to take it off, the sparkling combs got tangled up in my graying hair.

Until now…

After a bungled attempt to teach beginning English learners online last spring, I knew it was finally time to cast off my crown. I was done. I no longer needed to be in front of a classroom. I didn’t crave the attention, the glory, the label of ‘teacher.’ So after I pushed ‘send’ on my resignation email, I carefully removed my glittering tiara and placed it on a back shelf, only to be occasionally admired. I will allow it to gather dust because it is time to finally move on from that teacher persona I clutched to my chest for so long.

So where here do I go from here? That’s the beauty of letting go. The path is not backwards. It’s the unknown, the mysterious, the corner not yet turned. I will attend an Anne Lamott writing webinar in August, and signed up for an online continuing education writing course through NYU in the fall. I would love to go on a writer’s retreat, perhaps in the spring. I’ll read and dive into difficult topics, hoping to unlearn years of privilege and then write about what I’ve discovered. I want to resurrect my often dormant blog and perhaps even submit my writing for publication, which is a terrifying yet exhilarating prospect. There is also my novel, this story I’ve been working on and setting aside for almost five years. Perhaps it is time to finally complete this mother/daughter tale of grief and music and forgiveness.

Now that is something worth dusting off.

The crown I imagine I wore throughout my career. Classic. Vintage. Royal. Not too ostentatious, yet beautiful. I’ll still hold my head high, but I no longer need to wear the crown. (image from
SWEETV Jeweled Baroque Queen Crown)
“that’s what the storm’s all about”

by christie shumate mcelwee

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The world right now is exhausting. I know I am tired. Tired of cruelty and stubbornness and ignorance and injustice. I am drained. When my head hits the pillow at night and tears flow, I know I have over-consumed too much of the bad that is out there. And boy, it is out there, waiting in the darkness, ready to pounce and eat us all alive with its venom.

My heart is drained. What I am mostly tired of is the judgment and shaming, and yes, it is coming from within. I judge. I shame. And it is tearing my joy into shards. I am the Ancient Booer in The Princess Bride who shames Buttercup’s nightmares.

“Boo! Boo! Rubbish! Filth! Slime! Muck! Boo! Boo! Boo!”

The old woman was a manifestation of Buttercup’s conscience. She knew her love was out there, waiting. She was shaming herself because of the decisions she had made.

How do I move from becoming the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence? What is my conscience telling me about love? How do I maneuver this rocky and dangerous terrain and set aside my own judgment and shame? Is it even possible?

I do not have answers to these difficult questions. The sheer scope of the pandemic and the ongoing fight for social justice have presented us with many challenges. The stories in the news can be confusing. Where is the truth? How do we model honor and decency for our children and grandchildren? Whom do we look toward for guidance? Wisdom? Empathy?

Once again, I am not sure I have any answers. All I do know is that my soul needs peace. I seem to be at odds with so many, yet I do know this: I believe in the virtue of love, the dignity of grace, and the importance of our collective humanity. 

I will choose not to lose heart. I will soften my judgment. I will look and listen and try to understand. All of this may sound simple and naive, but it is all I have and I am willing to hang onto these nuggets of hope.

I will get through these confounding days. If I have moments of despair, I will sit with them. When I see magic, I will acknowledge its presence. I will embrace joyful moments. Navigating this complicated labyrinth may be a daily challenge, but I am choosing to live my remaining years with tenderness. I will strive to let go of the sharp edges and learn to forgive others and myself. I will weather this storm.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is for certain, when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.”
~Haruki Murakami

How am I weathering this storm? Through piles of books and yoga and good friends and fabulous food and music and hikes through glorious fields of wildflowers.

there’s one on the way

by christie shumate mcelwee

“And when a small southern town finds a rope in a tree

We’re all once again trapped in the past”

~ The Age of Miracles by Mary Chapin Carpenter

flag (from Merriam-Webster.com)

noun

1: a usually rectangular piece of fabric of distinctive design that is used as a symbol (as of a nation), as a signaling device, or as a decoration

symbol (from Merriam-Webster.com)

noun

  1. something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance
  2. an act, sound, or object having cultural significance and the capacity to excite or objectify a response

The meanings of symbols are often connotative in nature. What visceral response do you have to a symbol? Does it make you proud? Does it give you goosebumps? Does it fill you with dread? fear? pain? What emotions do you feel when you see the Stars and Stripes waving over a ball field? What goes through your mind when you see a swastika spray painted on the side of a building? How about a cartoon drawing of a depiction of a smiling Native American holding a tomahawk? A cross hanging in the narthex of a church? Or a burning cross placed in a yard?

Symbols are weighty in their power. They represent human relationships to cultural ideas. We are drawn and repulsed by symbols, but symbols change as society changes. Some are cast aside. Others torn down. Yet some continue to fly in the face of such change, screeching myths about heritage and tradition.

And when a noose is placed in the garage of a Black NASCAR driver, the power of the symbolism is on display for all to see. It says “Our flag is more important than your body.”

Throughout history, we have carried symbols into battle, fighting over land and religion and ideology. Each side believed in their cause, even if it was later deemed wrong.

What is happening now is a reckoning. We are attempting to face our wrongs and respect the pain of others. Flags, statues, and monuments are coming down. Demeaning stereotypes are being removed from products.

Yet…yet there is still more to be done: the name of a NFL team, a chant emanating from the stands of a MLB team, the state flag of a southern state, and many more examples of antiquated symbolism that no longer represents the collective ideas of its people.

And for every noose there are streets filling with peaceful protesters, rainbow Pride flags waving from porches, and a nine-year old child writing Black Lives Matter in chalk on her street. We are no longer standing still. This is the miracle.

Seems we’re just standing still

One day we’ll ride up that hill

In the age of miracles

There’s one on the way

The Age of Miracles ~Mary Chapin Carpenter

A Journey Beyond What I Have Been Taught: The Uncomfortable Truth of Unlearning and Learning

by Christie Shumate McElwee

As our world marches in the streets, I am sitting with the pain. Not my pain. Another’s pain. I am reading, thinking, and crying. I have no grand plans. I don’t know the answers. But maybe that IS the plan: for those of us who have no idea of the real pain to sit with the the pain of others. 

I sit with my squirmy white cognitive dissonance and begin to unlearn the narratives that have been fed to me since my youth. Those myths of good schools (white and rich), good neighborhoods (white), bad schools (mostly black), bad neighborhoods (black and poor), and the powerful danger in words and phrases like “articulate and well-spoken” and “thugs” and “black on black crime” and “playing the race card.” 

I was raised in a white neighborhood in the sixties and seventies. When the schools were integrated, I sat next to Black boys and girls, but we rarely played together on the playground. Yes, I may have had pictures of The Jackson Five on my locker door, and the Black girls thought that was cool, yet we never really became friends. There was always an invisible yet tangible wall between our worlds.

I was in third grade in the spring of 1968. We had one Black girl, Lisa, in my class, and after Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, she stayed home for a week. We all noticed her absence, but our teacher never talked to us about why she wasn’t there. Now, fifty-two years later, I think of that little girl and her family. I wish my nine-year old self could have at least sent her a card or held her hand or at very least sat with her pain during those terrible weeks. 

I sent my two boys to public schools in our hometown. Even though they had great teachers and had wonderful opportunities, at times, I often questioned my parenting choices. Should we have moved to a better (whiter?) district? Yet both of my boys have thanked me for sending them to these schools. They have told me they possess a wider and more expansive view of the world because of it.

I worked in predominately white upper class districts during most of my teaching career. I have no concept of the struggles that surround urban schools. In fact, I was often smugly grateful I didn’t have to deal with the unique and challenging issues those communities face. I patted myself on my privileged back for choosing a different (safer and easier) path.

I’ve always considered myself an open-minded liberal. I read BIPOC authors! I support the ACLU! I’ve voted Democrat since 1980! I taught books on the history of race in our country such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn! I’m aghast at Trump, Fox News, and what I consider narrow minded thinking. Yet…I have kept my mouth shut when someone has said a racial joke or made a racial slur or used racially charged language. I’ve played it safe with my writing, not wanting to anger or offend my conservative friends and family. I’ve remained silent when family members ranted about how those damn football players shouldn’t kneel during the national anthem, thinking I didn’t want to “rock the boat” or “I’ll never change their minds so what’s the point?”

The upheaval of the past two weeks have forced me to rethink and relearn. I’m listening. I’m reading. I’m pondering difficult questions. I’m examining the troubled and bloody history of this country: the theft of land, the bondage of others, the annihilation of cultures not like “ours,” the lynching of black bodies, the red-lining, the white flight, the “war on drugs,” the prison pipeline.

When I did an ancestry search last year, I discovered family members who owned slaves in Virginia, Kentucky, and the Caribbean. This is my history. This is my reckoning.

My oldest son is a police officer, and we have had deep, difficult conversations about how he is grappling with the role police play in our communities. He is also questioning and reading and pondering the violent, racist history of police in this country. I am proud of his journey.

My youngest son’s significant other is a BIPOC. He is planning a future with her. They’ve attended a demonstration in downtown Dallas in 100 degree heat amid throngs of masked protesters. I am proud of his journey.

Me? I’m a 61 year old privileged white woman whose journey has just begun. The path will be fraught with mistakes, that I know, but I am willing to take the risks. As a writer and former English teacher, I know the power of editing and rewriting, taking that red pen and crossing words out, rephrasing awkward sentences, and deleting entire sections. This is now my journey, looking carefully at what I’ve learned and done in the past and do the formidable work of becoming a better ally, to listen and read and understand. And often that means I will make mistakes, scribble ineligible liner notes, change the syntax, and even start over. I am willing to take this journey. 

Are you?

Here are a few books I have read and Instagram accounts I just started to follow that are shaking up my safe, white world:

Books:

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Between the World and Me by Ta-Hehisi Coates

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Lies My History Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen 

Instagram Accounts:

Ibram X. Kendi @ibramxk

Rachel Elizabeth Cargle @rachel.cargle

Layla F. Saad @laylafsaad

Showing Up for Racial Justice @ showingupforracialjustice

Audre Lorde Project @audrelordeproject

Books I have ordered but are out of stock at the moment:

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

image from poets.org