On A Journey

This is an unplanned post – skipping my next installment of the Confederate Flag/Bobby story for a moment – to take you through a quick jog to review a journey I’ve been on for a couple weeks. I hope, by doing so, it encourages you.

Without going into too many personal details, my life has gone through a dramatic change which was unplanned and somewhat from left field. It included lies or at least promises that never existed in order to “blind” me, and it included being told descriptions about myself that had not occurred, or at least did not occur in the way I was told they did. For two weeks, I have been assessing myself, my recent past, asking for honest feedback from various people, going through the last couple years with a fine tooth comb…….and during that process I began to take on the yolk of a person I didn’t know. There was the horrible person I was introduced to two weeks ago, and the person those who provided feedback and who I more recognized. As is most often the case in life, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

But here’s the thing – I just accepted the horrible definition of me that I was given two weeks ago. Even though it didn’t really resonate with me. Even if it didn’t really add up to my daily approach to life or the ethos I thought defined my existence. Like a baby elephant that is chained to a stick as it is trained to be in captivity, I was slowly accepting this definition of me. Had I stayed with that acceptance process, my theoretical trainer would have been able to remove the chain from my leg and I would not wander off.

Instead, I’ve turned to focusing on my personal strength and noting how my actions align with them. You too can do this by doing to VIA Character Survey and seeing your core strengths.

My goal is doing this was to seek alignment and my true identity and not let others define who I am. To note my behaviors that feed those characteristics, the evidence that feeds those characteristics, and also to build up aspects of my character that may need some attention. To better use my character strength to overcome challenges and to remind myself I HAVE STRENGTHS. This process has been a fruitful endeavor.

You all have strengths and I encourage you to take the quiz. I am sharing my top 5 here as part of my own exercise as well as to show you that when we focus on our STRENGTHS, great things happen!

  1. Love Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing & caring are reciprocated; being close to people. VIRTUE CATEGORY: HUMANITY
  2. Honesty Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions.VIRTUE CATEGORY: COURAGE
  3. Humor Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.VIRTUE CATEGORY: TRANSCENDENCE
  4. Social intelligence Being aware of the motives/feelings of others and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick. VIRTUE CATEGORY: HUMANITY
  5. Bravery Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what’s right even if there’s opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it.VIRTUE CATEGORY: COURAGE

And just for reference, my last place character, which I confirm should be there ha:

24, Prudence Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted. VIRTUE CATEGORY: TEMPERANCE

Do not allow others to define who you are by using your character to suggest you are horrible.

For those that personally know me, I’d love to hear if you think these make sense!

The Beginning

Bobby sure appeared to mistrust me; I didn’t exactly blame him. I mean, I was a stranger, drove onto his driveway, and started talking to him about his history. When he realized the core of my questions related to his Confederate Flag, his response was what I had pretty much expected; distrust, defense, even a little scruffy anger. I quickly tried to explain myself, admitting I had been judging him for months but that I truly and sincerely wanted to understand from his point of view why he flew that flag. That I no longer wanted to be ignorant, or rely on my own perception, to paint my world view of his yard.

He didn’t immediately put his guard down.

Our first conversation was more of a harsh dance, colored heavily by today’s rhetoric of distrust and anger. References to free speech, the right to bear arms, and even trespassing were repeated more times than I could count. At one point, I seriously thought Bobby would spray me using the water hose he held in his hand menacingly. For my part, I tried to seem safe, almost casual, but the truth is – I am my mother’s daughter. I am pretty confident my words said the right thing, but my face was clearly displaying a message that was closer to “eat sh*t and die!”

But we made it through those moments.

That day, the lesson I learned was that education can be hard work. It can be scary. It can even be difficult to ignore your own “truth” that pulls you back so hard, it is almost easier to give into it than push through to seeking clarity. I learned that we, as humans, are too often controlled by opinions and rage, which comes much more naturally than by logic and calm. But despite all of that, I learned that succeeding in pushing through brings a goldmine of opportunity.

Introduction to Robert

Note: Throughout this post I refer to the “Confederate Flag”, it is in fact the Confederate BATTLE flag. I assumed everyone would picture that one, but stating it just to be safe.

I have lived in my current house just over two year. About 4 months after moving in, the location of my work office changed, thus changing my route to work. It is common to see Confederate Flag fly in the area I live in, but one house I started to pass was different; it was a beautiful house, with a super-well kept lawn, a nice large RV parked in a sizable driveway, and curb appeal that didn’t fit the stereotypical characteristics of “southern pride”. You know what I mean, I am sure….

The tall flag pole, since the first day I drove by, has always had its Confederate flag hung up, and as I usually do, I shook my head in dismay. “Why would ANYONE display that flag?” I mean, to me it was waving a cloth of betrayal – of treason – not to mention the racial overtones that come to mind to many people in this country. Each morning and evening I’d pass the beautiful yard and grimace as I’d see that damn flag hoisted as high as it could go, and I imagined the people that lived in the house. “Racist” was often at the list, followed often by “buddy, you lost the war!”

Week after week, the process repeated, until one day I wondered about the family a bit differently; I will admit I kept going back to the pristine appearance of the house and yard, and wondered how a person could make such beauty could also be so proud of what I perceived as a racist, hateful object. That train of thought lead me to wondering if their view of the flag was something all together different than mine. Could it be?

Then, about 4 months ago, I saw Robert for the first time as I drove by. I wasn’t surprised to see a white man appear in the yard, nor did his age – which I guessed was over 60 – make me immediately think nice thoughts about him. I assumed he disliked blacks, was an avid Trump supporter, and probably had more guns in his house than I had toilet paper. But still I wondered if I was viewing him through just as narrowly as I accused him of viewing the world through the white man’s world.

About 6 weeks ago, he was outside again, and something came over me. I admitted to myself that I was being somewhat racist in my opinions of him, based solely on his Confederate Flag. And, before I could talk myself out of it, I pulled into his driveway, exited my car, and introduced myself. I complimented him on his beautiful yard, and admitted that I was “a Yankee from Southern California” and would sincerely love to find out about his history, that of his family, and how it related to his beautiful home and the flag he flew.

Yeah, that went as awkward as it read!

But, it started a conversation that I will be sharing with you in this series, about all I learned from Robert, call him Bobby. Bobby is a retired engineer, he’s in his late 60’s, has been married a long time, has always lived in this area, and has dashing blue eyes below his bright white hair. He is fit, enjoys the outdoors, is very articulate, and didn’t think I was completely crazy, just maybe a little. Over the last few weeks, we had some interesting discussions, and I can’t wait to share them with you!

What I Would Say If I Could

Today, it is calm, though rainy, where I live. I have been enjoying the day move from sunny and warm to overcast….and still warm. The rain started and somehow its building rhythm distracted me from the book I am readying to thoughts of my Mother.

Most of my life, I felt a disconnection from my mom. She defined what I didn’t want to be, while I found comfort and security in my dad. She was loud, had huge mood swings, while he was always even keeled and calm. She pushed me to want to scream, and he soothed me. I always considered myself more like my dad, and I would emphasize that in numerous ways, year after year. I wasn’t ashamed of my mom, really, but the things I recognized in her I wanted to minimize, and the things I saw in my dad I emphasized.

Having the benefit of age, of days like this that allow me to gaze back on the years that brought me here, I realize so many years were wasted with my myopic view of my parents. I don’t mean to suggest the hugely important and real impact my dad has had on my life; but like many things we humans do with people, I created a fantasy of my own truth that I suppose I needed, but nonetheless fractures upon inspection. I cannot separate from the goodness and love my dad provided for me, but my mom was not the woman I believed her to be, at least not the extent I manufactured in my mind for too many years.

My mom, born in a generation where many words used were not considered racist, was the first person I really knew who accepted all walks of life without hesitation. She raised eyebrows by having friends that were black, Chinese, Jewish…..the list goes on. I don’t recall her ever saying a certain race was bad or anything negative. She never said I couldn’t have a friend due to their race. She divorced an abusive man when the stigma for being a single mom was worse than being a prostitute. She bore on her shoulders the thought that her own mother did not love her and was often a shadow in her own family history (distant relatives I’ve come across through Ancestry knew of her brothers/my uncles or even met them, but never knew they had a sister). She always seemed to want to be loved, but somehow built scenarios in which even the strongest love didn’t work. She definitely had her demons to content with, many of which I witnessed throughout my years and often ran from in dismay, but somehow always offered unconditional love and acceptance no matter how heated the last exchange might have been.

I see now that the woman I defined mostly as negative for most of my life was not this angry, irrational being. No. Instead, she was supportive. She was fearful. She was hungry for love. She was confident. She was intelligent. She was resilient. She didn’t step on those beside her, fighting to survive as she was. Instead, she shared what meager tools she had to assist them, too. Most often, she’d make a friend while doing so. I thought hard today, trying to remember when she spoke badly about someone or uttered words of judgment; I couldn’t. Even during the prolonged years of my own parent’s tumultuous divorce, she’d focus on the issues she was fighting for and never once spoke badly about my dad. Even as our own strained relationship ebbed and flowed as I grew into adulthood, trying so desperately to be anything but like her, she never told me I was not her daughter. She never made me feel like I’d failed her. She always spread her arms wide and welcomed me. Even when I exposed how broken I was, or how hurtful I could be, she loved me and shone with pride.

So I sit here, regretting the time I lost with her. How I failed to come to this realization completely when she was alive. How I failed to ask simple questions like how it felt as a little girl during World War II, or what her favorite meal was as a child, or how she reacted to her first period, or what country she always wanted to visit. How she survived such a hard life (and it was very hard) and yet come out loud, emotional, but always loving. How, in the years when she was home bound and fighting COPD, she avoided becoming a bitter, mean old woman. How, even as I overtly fought being like her, she never once said she was disappointed in me or suggested I lacked in anything. How, in fact, she built me up even if I was too ignorant to notice.

So today, I looked up at the cloudy, rain soaked sky, and spoke to her. I apologized for not asking those questions. I apologized for sitting days after her death, listening to horrible things be said about her, and doing nothing to defend her memory. I said I was proud to look so much like her, and yes, even act a lot like her, and admit I am glad that I do. I thanked her for all the unrealized gifts she provided throughout my life, feeling their weight like a gift and not regret. I thanked her for creating a model that I am just now embracing wholly, instead of as an example of what I should avoid.

I am forever thankful that she knew my love, that she heard from my mouth that she was a great mom to me before she died. I am thankful that I could feel her love once more before she left. And I am thankful that I am so much like her, even if just realizing it.



Our American Ethos

Having just celebrated the USA’s 243rd birthday, combined with the fact I just finished two weeks in Europe, I have been thinking much about what makes my country of birth great. Our constitution is pretty amazing, for sure. The freedoms it promises I often take for granted and explaining differences abroad to the kids made me feel proud. The diversity we have also makes me smile, especially when I consider the bulk of my life was spent in Southern California where dozens of countries were represented with my neighbors alone. And, as much as I love pasta, it’s nice that within 20 minutes of my home I can eat at least 6 different ethnic meals. The list could go on and on.

However, being abroad also made me see outside of my “normal” in many different ways. Throughout my life, but most especially in the last few years, living in the US has started to expose our collective need to separate, to divide while also highlighting a patriotism that seems like a stranger to me. In sometimes tacit fashion, the definition for a “true American” has become blurred to me. We have all seen the viral videos of white Americans confronting others who are not speaking English (here is one such incident but there are many, many more https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/412647-woman-demands-to-see-passports-of-spanish-speaking-family-at). Many of us are either decrying the “dangerous people storming our borders”, or are watching in pain as hundreds of children are being held for weeks at a time without basic necessities such as water, toothbrushes, and compassion. But that is another post in itself.

In our country, there is this “rule” that you must speak English to be truly American, at least it feels that way. While no language has been designated as official for this country, most agree that English is needed for success in this land. In the 1980’s, a push was made to make English the official language, originally so that federal funds could be allocated for language classes for immigrants so that they’d have an easier time getting work and establishing themselves in American society. Shortly thereafter, it was morphed from that to a way to “keep America great” but assuring that English (aka “white Americans”) would retain its place in this country. That push was influenced by Nationalists (some of the racist bent, but not all). It went from a way to help immigrants to succeed to forcing immigrants to turn their backs on their heritage and, yes, even give room for English-speaking Americans to confront and belittle anyone who dared to speak another language on our sacred soil. Had I read that information a few years ago, I’d have scoffed. But the reality is, today that is abundantly true.

So it is with great disappointment that I’d like to share that this American Ethos is quite literally BS. Not only because I believe our country was meant to be an amazing experiment in democracy and DIVERSITY, but because it is extremely hypocritical. In the last two weeks, I have been to Paris, Florence, Pompeii, Positano, and Rome. THE MAJORITY of every person I interacted with spoke at least some English. Deana and I tend to avoid tourist stops when shopping and eating, and we were often off the “beaten path”. You’d think that we’d encounter people who did not speak English. We were surprised. Even years ago in a small town about 8 hours from Moscow, we met many people who could converse with us in English. Our own ability to speak the local language recently and in Russia was horrible, at best.

I’ve even met some people at my work’s Buenos Aires location that have never been to England or the USA who speak English. When I am there, I try my best to speak Spanish, but let’s be real – had the tables been turned and I moved there to work, I am confident that if I spoke to my family in English I would not be confronted or ridiculed.

Some of you reading this might be thinking, “well, the USA is important so it makes sense that the world speaks our language.” I don’t disagree with you. But what I AM trying to say is, we are a lazy bunch. Somehow we’ve moved from patriotism to Nationalism. Nationalism is ” identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.” In doing so, we want everyone to bow to us (or our language, our preferences, our definition of anything) while we also expect to be accepted “as is” when we enter into other nations. We don’t put our own requirements on ourselves and hold onto our language of birth in arrogance and maybe even defiance. We want to say we are better than others because of where we were born while paying big bucks to visit other countries for vacation. We often don’t even invest much of our time to learn other languages and just expect them to be able to meet our needs on our terms when we are there.

This was a humbling lesson to experience in real time, to discuss with our youngest kids, and to remember that all humans have a right to live in this world. I am a Proud American, but that does not mean pride is exclusive to me and mine. We are better than that people!

Peace.




The Day I Met Grace

Many of you may not know this, but my family and I moved to North Carolina in late May.  While the move has been a positive one, it took place when – for lack of better words – this country has been in a mess of turmoil.  Racism, political polarization, social media bullying, and religious noise seemed to be the norm……and for me, it meant my personal life and attitude was being hugely impacted negatively.  Day in and day out it was becoming harder to find something positive to focus on, and for me that meant despondency was my first and strongest thought on most days.

de·spond·en·cy
dəˈspändənsē/
noun
  1. a state of low spirits caused by loss of hope or courage.

I pretty much had lost hope and did not demonstrate much courage in my life.  Day in and day out.  It sucked.

While this was happening, something else was occurring as well.  For, on each drive from my new home to work, on the corner of Midway School Road and Thomas School Road, a black woman stood each morning waving to passing cars.  As she waved, her face was alive with the brightest and most sincere smile I had seen in quite some time.  At first, my reaction was to think, “gah, that woman is crazy.  Doesn’t she know how screwed up we humans are?  Her mornings would be better spent somewhere else.”  But as each day passed, and no matter if I passed at 7am or 8:45am, she’d be out there waving and smiling brightly to each and every vehicle that passed.  Her arm would be raised high and with confidence, as if attempting to throw out the joy that was so evident on her face.

This daily event was “no big deal” to me, at least I convinced myself of that fact at first.  She was just doing something that made no sense, and while my attitude moved from the idea of her being crazy to more like apathy towards her actions, I could not shake her beaming, smiling face.  The only time I would not see it would be on rainy days, and when that would happen I realized I would actually feel disappointment.  Maybe even concern……I wondered if she was okay……until I realized she never came out if it rained.  And slowly, with each passing day, I realized I was trying to smile at others more as the residue of her smile seemed often to be reverberating in my own mind.  “Gosh, that smile is contagious…….maybe I should wear one once in a while, too……”

The truth is, my friends, after weeks and weeks of passing this person, I had to acknowledge something – she was changing my life.  Day after day, she was sending love to me in a world where hate seemed to reign.  No matter her religion, her social standing, her race, her gender, her sexuality, or her political affiliation, she waved and smiled and connected with strangers all morning long.  She connected with ME.  Sincerely.  Physically.  Consistently.  She seemed to care SO MUCH about this, she invested hours each non-rain morning spreading this message with no expectation of return.  And it was working out a miracle in my heart and thoughts.

When I finally formed these realizations in my own mind, I was shocked.  And, in that shock, a flicker of hope sparked in the depths of my soul……and it felt good.  Courage began to spread deep in my gut and I could not contain it.  I felt energized for the first time in months in a way that reminded me of the Gina that used to exist; one that knew it was okay to believe in a future that was not all bad.

So, the next day I decided I had to meet this person “for real”.  When I got to that corner, I pulled over, shut my car off, and began to walk toward the woman that initiated this change in me.  As I got closer, almost feeling the power of her smile as cars passed by, I was surprised to see she was much older than I had expected.  Her raised arm was so feeble and aged, I was surprised it could sustain the hours of waving it accomplished everyday.  She was also tiny, MUCH smaller than she appeared as I flew by her day after day.  I started to feel a bit nervous as I took each step, something my extroverted personality rarely feels, and also careful not to scare her.  I quickly introduced myself and as she turned her gaze to me, she shook my hand and said, “Hello, I am Grace.”

grace
ɡrās/
noun
          1.
          simple elegance or refinement of movement.
         2.
         (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

 

To be continued……….