Category Archives: Politics

Worth Saving?

Summer Stream

15o.  Wind chill made it feel like 6o.  This was the day my supervisors chose, before they knew the forecast, for a retreat.  The team-building activity?  The same one our students from around the county do some time during their sixth grade year:  Go down to a stream on county park property and conduct tests on the health of the local ecosystem.

Some of my colleagues balked.  One refused to step outdoors and sat inside in front of a beautiful fire while the rest of us were outside for an hour, measuring the levels of acidity, the temperature of the water, the life of the stream.  So what does it say about me that I preferred this activity to sitting at my computer in my windowless office in the DC suburbs?

I wore my flannel-lined windbreaker pants, a knit cap, my down coat with a fur-lined hood, leather gloves with flannel lining, and a warm scarf that my mother lovingly crocheted for me after she saw me without one at my father’s February funeral almost 15 years ago.

I traipsed down to the stream with three of my more cheerful colleagues—one from Belgium who was used to the cold, one who told us with a smile, “I’m from a country near the equator, but I’ll do this if you will,” and one who has lived here most of her life who cheerfully took pictures of all the teams.  We looked for signs of erosion, considered the plant life around the stream, and reached into the freezing water to turn over rocks in search of what the park staff called critters.

Everyone but me got a kick out of saying critters.  And me?  I grew up in southern West Virginia with a father who called all animal life critters, so for me, the word evoked memories of an early childhood of wading in creeks in search of crawdads, of running down banks eroded only by the feet of children.

Born in a suburban hospital in 1986, my daughter never experienced the joy of fishing critters out of a creek.  Her only experience with crawdads was in this same park, where she spent three days and two nights with her sixth grade team.  It made me a little sad this week that I didn’t take her back to a creek in West Virginia while my father was still healthy enough to wade in a stream with her and put a crawdad into her tiny hands.

At our retreat one staff member—from a group of about 25—found a crawdad.  My own team found nothing except a little green wormy creature, whose name I can’t remember now but who was one of the creatures that could live in highly polluted streams.  The one crawdad actually showed that the stream was somewhat healthy.  I told the director of the park staff—one of those rare residents who has lived here all of his life—that finding crawdads was much easier when I was a child in West Virginia.  He smiled sadly and said that I should see how polluted the streams are as they get closer to the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay. And I shared with him that many of the streams in West Virginia are no longer so healthy either—filled with the gray sludge that comes from coal processing plants.  I told him to check out the documentary On Coal River, which chronicles the lives of people who grew up in the shadow of a coal tipple.

So what do we do?  It’s getting harder and harder for those who don’t want to believe in global warming to deny the damage that human beings are doing to this wonderful planet entrusted to us by the Creator of a world too spectacular for human imagination.

Now tell me your stories of a world worth saving—of a world worth leaving to our children’s children’s children—of a world where our descendants can find critters under rocks in a cool, clear stream.  A world where we are only a legend they hear about in stories—stories of their ancestors who saved the planet just in the nick of time.

For Whom Are You Grateful Today?

Omar Teachers

I am thinking of Percy Dillard today.  My second grade teacher, Mr. Dillard terrified me at the beginning of the school year that fall of 1963.  He wore a black glove on one hand, which I think he had injured in World War II.  As if that weren’t scary enough, he announced on the first day of school that we would have a spelling test every Friday—and that for every word we missed, we would get a lick with his long wooden paddle, which still looms large in my mind after 50 years.

For first grade, I’d had Mrs. Fenny, a chubby, friendly woman who mothered all of us.  Mr. Dillard had none of her qualities.  He was a black man, the only black teacher in my elementary school, and I only know now how unusual that was, even today—for a second grader to have a teacher who is male and black.

When I came home in tears on the first day of school, my dad thought I was afraid of him because of the color of his skin.  My father had quit school in fifth grade, and his response to my tears was this:  “That man is just the same as you and me.  But he got hisself an education.  You listen to him.”

When I protested to dad that he was scary, that he wore a black glove and planned to paddle us for every missed spelling word, my dad laughed. “Well, then, I guess you won’t be missing any spelling words this year, will you.”

And I didn’t.  Mr. Dillard became less scary each Friday, and I still remember that he told us that we were all equal in his room and that what would set us apart was how hard we worked.

That November, Mr. Dillard stood at the chalkboard, the classroom door open, when Mrs. Fenny came running to the door, tears streaming down her face, and said shrilly, “The president has been shot!”  Mr. Dillard turned slowly to face her and put the chalk down in the tray.  He stepped outside the door and closed it, and we children watched in silence as they talked.

Mr. Dillard returned, sitting heavily at his desk.  He looked at us sadly and said, “Children, our president is gone.  And we’re sending you home to be with your families.”  He watched stoically as we gathered our things and went home to watch the television coverage of the stunning loss of a leader with such promise for the future.

In the past four years, I’ve heard President Obama’s critics say that Jack Kennedy was the last great democratic leader.  But President Kennedy’s critics said much the same thing about him in the years he was in office before a tragic and early death catapulted him to the ranks of the greatest presidents.  And, thinking of that day, it’s hard for me to breathe when President Obama is surrounded by hordes of people, as he is today for the Inaugural Parade.

I wish Percy Dillard had lived to see President Obama inaugurated, but Mr. Dillard died in 2001.  I would never have called him my favorite teacher—I loved the motherly ones who told me how gifted I was.  But I feel fortunate to have spent a year in Mr. Dillard’s class.  He was the only elementary teacher I had to work hard to please.  And he taught me that effort was the great equalizer.

A few years later my dad lost his job, and my family moved to an all-white town in the next county where another coal mine was hiring.  I would not have another African-American teacher or have classes with people of other races until I got to college.  But because of Percy Dillard, I grew up knowing that diversity is a positive thing and that overcoming discrimination in all its insidious forms is essential.

Mr. Dillard, while spell-check now makes it less important never to misspell a word, I know that you taught me far more important lessons.  And I hope you’re up there somewhere today, watching, and knowing that, like President Kennedy and President Obama, you have a legacy.

Nothing to Fear?

First-year Teacher

“I don’t think there’s going to be a world in ten years,” my student said mournfully, tears welling up in her eyes.

“Yeah, me neither,” said the boy sitting in the next row, slumping a little lower than his usual slump.

My English classes had just finished reading Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, a novel published in 1957, twelve years after the United States bombed Japan to hasten the end of World War II.  Two years later, Gregory Peck starred in the movie version of the novel as the handsome American captain who had brought his nuclear submarine to the coast of Australia as the radiation fallout slowly drifted south.  In the narrative, no life remains north of the earth’s equator, and the inhabitants of Australia know that their days are numbered.

In the real world—the one my students and I inhabited in the early 1980s—humanity lived in terror, and the arms race dominated the evening news and the front pages of newspapers.  After that first class discussion, I grew to recognize the fear in some students’ eyes and the resignation in others’.  I asked my students whether they shared Shute’s view of our ultimate demise.  Few of them believed that they would grow up and fall in love—or even live long enough to go to college and pursue their dreams. I assured them our leaders would find a way to harness our power to destroy, though I was 25 years old and shared their anxiety.

Many of those students wrote arguments about banning all nuclear weapons and felt angry when their arguments, along with a growing movement in our country, fell on deaf ears.  Those students would now be almost 50, and I wonder if they ever think about those days, that novel, our discussions.  You wouldn’t find Shute’s book in most high school book rooms now.  The science is inaccurate and the story somewhat maudlin.

A nuclear weapon in the hands of our own military seemed far less dangerous in the wake of September 11, two weeks after we offered a temporary home to a 25-year-old teacher who had moved to Maryland from a small town in Illinois.  Our daughter was a sophomore in high school, the same age as the students I taught when I was 25.  By 9/11, I had been teaching almost 25 years, and I had never seen anything like the chaos of that day, when students, many of whose parents worked in D.C., found out that the Pentagon had been attacked.  There weren’t enough phones in the building for all the hysterical students and staff to make phone calls to their loved ones—so many that we couldn’t even get calls out on the jammed lines.

Just as we were learning to breathe again the following fall, October 2002, we suffered terror of another kind when, for three weeks, a sniper randomly attacked innocent people going about their lives.  Most of the attacks happened within five miles of our home.  My mother had been visiting from Richmond, and the last attack occurred the day my husband drove my mother to Fredericksburg to meet my brother from Richmond—at the very exit the sniper chose.  They sat for hours in the snarled traffic on Interstate 95 while, at home, we waited for news.

That young teacher, who had her own apartment by then, often stayed at our home during the crises of her first years in Maryland, and she wondered whether she had been wise to abandon the safety of a small town in the Midwest for the dangers of our nation’s capital.  My fears—my students’ fears—of nuclear fall-out seemed almost laughable when I looked into that young teacher’s eyes, into my daughter’s eyes, and tried to breathe deeply enough to assuage their alarm that the world had gone mad.

Today, the arms race we started is rarely fodder for the 24-hour news cycle.  Occasionally we read an article about the danger of a rogue nation, like Iran, being close to having a nuclear weapon, but, for the most part, our demons are different.  Somehow, our leaders have managed to get a grip on the fear that plagued us when I was a young adult.  We still have a nuclear arsenal, and while we worry about rogue nations, we haven’t let that fear loom so large that we are paralyzed by it.

And though September 11 has shaped our character as a nation, we have even found ways to address our vulnerability to make it less likely, though never impossible, for such an attack to happen again.

Yet, still, we fear.  We fear the next mentally ill man who will storm into a school and kill our children.  We fear radical extremists who are willing to strap bombs to their own bodies and become human explosives, decimating everyone in the crowded areas they choose for what they consider a glorious death.  We fear even our own people, citizens who feel they need assault rifles to protect themselves.

We.  I.  I am afraid, and I can scarcely breathe when I think of all the unspeakable danger that could take my children from me in butterfly’s breath.  The world is a scary place.  But the only way we can move beyond our paralyzing fear is to tackle our challenges together.  And maybe, just maybe, thirty years from now one of today’s 25-year-old teachers will be able to say, Oh, yes, I remember when my students were afraid of that.

Tell me your stories of fears that have never materialized and the joy that comes from moving beyond them.

Feeling Safe?

A second-year teacher, I sat alone in my room on the second floor of Park Junior High in Beckley, West Virginia, grading essays stacked 125 high on my desk. The dismissal bell for the day had sounded a few minutes before, but the building was already quiet, empty of the energetic horde of students and nearly as empty of exhausted teachers.

Hearing the wooden floor creak, I glanced up to see a young man I didn’t know standing quietly inside the door, watching me.  What happened next would have been beyond my comprehension up until that moment in time. I was sexually assaulted—not raped—but groped and violated in a way that made me contemplate ending my teaching career almost before it started.

It would not be the last time that I felt unsafe in a school.  Following my instincts, I once stepped between two boys who were fighting, receiving a bruising blow to the shoulder that one boy intended for another.  In another school, we had a year when mobs of kids surrounded fighting students, cheering them on, making it nearly impossible for a dozen teachers to break up the fight.  Another year, we were on lock-down because angry parents, accompanied by relatives, burst into the school looking for a student they felt had wronged their child.

And I taught in a school a couple of miles from the first shooting of the D.C. snipers, terrified, like everyone, by the randomness of a madman.  My daughter was a student at another high school a few miles away, and every time we were locked down that fall, I could hardly breathe for worrying about whether or not she was safe.

Would I have felt safer had an armed guard been in our schools?  We actually did have policemen in the schools part-time during some of those incidents.  And our schools do have a full-time staff of several security guards, many of them former policemen and policewomen.  But their presence doesn’t seem to deter monsters and madmen.

And so, today, when the NRA called our president an “elitist hypocrite” for accepting Secret Service protection for his children while most children have no such protection, I was happy to hear even famous people who usually advocate gun rights condemn such an ad.  I think about the times I’ve felt unsafe in a school and the times I’ve worried about my daughter’s safety, and I wonder how presidents and their spouses can function for worrying about whether a lunatic will harm or kill their children.  And yet these presidents—both Democrats and Republicans—do function.  They give their lives in service to our country in spite of the threats that face them and their families every day.

I don’t think I could do it.  But I’m grateful for all the presidents who have been able to put their fears in perspective to serve the people—even those people who wish them harm.  If it were up to me, I’d even approve Secret Service protection for First Dog Beau.  And so, Mr. President, may God keep you and Sasha and Malia and Michelle and Beau safe in the shadow of eagles’ wings.

Your Way? My Way? A Third Way?

Reunion

We attended school together for seven years, members of the same graduating class.  We both moved out of West Virginia as adults and settled in metropolitan areas.  We both chose service professions—law enforcement for him, teaching for me.  We reconnected at a class reunion two years ago and keep in touch through social media.  We share a love of Washington football and RGIII, consider our dogs members of our families, and treasure our vacations on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
 
But politically, we come from different universes instead of the same hometown.  And even though we respect each other and value our friendship, we sometimes try to change each other’s opinions.  When one of us posts political messages on social media, the other one often comments—though our children tell us this is an exercise in futility.  We have never changed the other’s mind, but we respect each other and value our friendship, and we both believe it’s important to talk about politics.
 
I am a storyteller.  And it’s stories rather than facts or unsupported opinions that make me think.  I challenged my friend to post stories instead of opinions, and he reminded me that, like me, he has an ethical responsibility not to tell the stories of the people he encounters every day on the job.  That leaves us both with only the choice of telling personal stories—more difficult for him than for me because, in addition to my work with students who are often poor, my views are shaped by having grown up poor and having received government help on more than one occasion.  His views have been shaped by dealing with criminals every day who abuse the government help they receive and who have learned to manipulate the legal system and avoid paying the price for their abuses—criminals whose stories he must keep to himself.
 
Yet we have still managed to make each other think.  He sometimes laughs at me and calls me Spunky Girl, but he has recently been posting links to the stories of others that he reads in the news.  He posted one story about a woman who shot an intruder who broke into her home and threatened her and her children.  And while I couldn’t understand how that might justify the right to assault weapons, I can understand the lengths a mother would go to in order to protect her children.  Then my friend posted a story about how people who receive assistance are using their government issued cards at ATM machines in bars, liquor stores, strip clubs, and porn shops.
 
While I don’t particularly care for the news source where he gets these stories, I do know that, just as there are good people who need government assistance, there are also people who do not use the help they receive wisely.  Two of my brothers took advantage of my mother’s all-consuming love for them and drained her life’s savings to support their addictions, and one died of an overdose in her guest bedroom.  Her love and support could not save him.  And my daughter, knowing from watching her uncles that it was never a good idea to give money to the homeless, went into a fast-food restaurant and bought a meal for a homeless man who asked her for money.  When she offered the meal to him, he took the meal but cursed her for giving him food when he’d asked for money.
 
These are stories my friend and I can tell.  And when my friend posted the two stories, he reminded me that love and compassion alone cannot save the broken.  My father turned his life around when he decided to give up drinking, and though we were still poor, we were not destitute as we were when he drank and gambled every payday weekend.
 
So what is the answer?  I don’t know.  I do know that the solutions my friend proposes haven’t worked.  Nor have mine.  Somehow we have to find a balance between extending compassion and demanding responsibility.  Somehow we have to stop operating from the two extremes when the politicians in office shift from one party to another.  Somehow our leaders must learn to find a third way that is better than the ways they champion.  And, perhaps most of all, we must somehow find a way to support our leaders when they give up a little of what they believe for a third way that just might work better.
 
And perhaps sharing our stories is a beginning.

Will You Be a Voice?

1.4.13 on Beach

Although we love the beach in every kind of weather, today was a perfect winter beach day.  The water, which has been gray but warmer than the air all week, today reflected back the crisp crystal blue of the sky, and dolphins played on the surface of the water just beyond where the waves began to crest.  As they leapt above the surface and dipped beneath the water again in an instant, I tried in vain to capture them with my camera in the seconds they appeared above the surface.

My husband, our dog, and I were the only other living creatures in sight, and we reveled in our last full day before returning home tomorrow.  North Carolina is the home we long for—the place we relax and keep in touch with the DC suburbs from a safe distance that allows us to feel a peace that’s harder to find in the hub of our nation’s capital.

But I love Maryland, too—for its beautiful parks and walking paths that encourage city dwellers to remember the earth, for its belief in human equality and social justice, for its closeness to museums that honor our nation’s history, for the way it connects the north and the south.  And I realized, not for the first time, how fortunate I am to call both worlds home.

Watching the perfect way that the sky and the water made each other more beautiful today, I thought, What if our people could work together in that same beautiful way?  And that reminded me of an article I read online in this morning’s Washington Post:  “Faith Leaders Want Americans to Pray for Collegiality.”  The article recounted how leaders of all faiths—from evangelicals to progressive Christians to Jews to Hindus to Muslims—have committed to come together and pray for our leaders between the first day Congress convened on January 3rd to President Obama’s inauguration on January 21st.

So when we finished our walk, I went back to the computer and searched for the group that has posted the pledge, a nonpartisan group called the Faith and Politics Institute, which began in the 1990s by bringing together elected officials from both parties who were interested in nurturing relationships and spirituality that crossed party lines.  I knew that I wasn’t the only one who longs for leaders who can work together.  But I was surprised to learn that there actually are groups that are making some inroads in quietly working directly with politicians to help them come together.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this is not what we read about in the headlines.  This story was buried in the On Faith section of the newspaper, a section that appears in print only once a week, a section that is not updated online nearly as often as the stories about the partisan posturing and bickering.

And so I decided to sign the Call to Prayer with my own:

God of grace and peace, please help our leaders hear one another and work together to find solutions to our problems that are better than any party, advocacy group, or individual can address alone.  Help us, the American people, to pray sincere prayers, not just for our leaders who agree with us, but for those whose views are different from our own.  Help us to pray not that they would be converted to our point of view but that they might have your wisdom—a wisdom beyond our understanding or our ability to imagine.  Grant that we and our leaders may have courage for the living of these challenging days.  May it be so.  Amen.

Though I was only the 80th person to sign the pledge, when I read through the people who had signed it so far, I was thrilled to see that it has signatures from people of a wide variety of faith backgrounds, from leaders and private citizens.  And I was encouraged that our voices can come together in search of the common good.

I’m guessing that if you have enough interest to follow this blog, you, too, long for us to find our better angels.  So you may not feel comfortable signing on to a public pledge.  But will you be a voice—perhaps just a voice to God’s ear if not in the public forum?

Perhaps in being such a voice, we can help our leaders find the courage, even when they disagree, to look for the better angels that will help us be a better people.

And if you know of other groups that are working to nurture civility and to move beyond party and conflict, please respond with your own stories and links.

How Does a Five-Year-Old Live after a Gun?

EsteleneMarcella

 
I know what it’s like to be a five-year-old staring into the face of a deranged gunman.  I know the fear and confusion that paralyzes me still as I close my eyes and see again my eight-year-old sister pushing me under the bed and crawling in after me. I know what it’s like to watch a gunman’s feet as he paces back and forth, waving a hunting rifle recklessly, threatening to kill us and then kill himself.
This is my earliest childhood memory.  It has shaped my life—the person I’ve become, the way I look at the world, the way I think of children, the way I feel every time another human being with a gun comes unhinged.  The gunman was my father, and at the end of a drunken weekend, he would have no memory of terrorizing his family.
 
I am a survivor—one of the fortunate ones.  I don’t know what it’s like to die and look back at this earth at the people I’ve left behind.  I don’t know what it’s like to lose a loved one to the bullet of a gun.  But I do know what it’s like to lose a brother to drug addiction and see another brother become homeless, victims of another kind at the hands of a world that has no idea how to help any of us.
 
No law enforcement official ever even bore witness to the story I’ve only begun to tell fifty years later, despite the fact that our neighbors knew it was happening.  So my father was never challenged for his actions, left to deal with his own demons.
 
But neither does he fit the portraits we paint of deranged people in possession of guns.  He was a coal miner who labored every day so that the children he held at gunpoint would get the education he didn’t have.  He was a complex man, shaped by his own childhood and by parents who allowed him to quit school in fifth grade.  When he was sober, he loved his children and wanted us to have a better life, though he had no idea how to make that happen.
 
The hunting rifles my father owned were legal.  And they put meat on our table when my father lost his job and the food stamps he got from the federal government would only pay for pinto beans and canned vegetables and milk.
 
As I watch the controversy yet again that always unfolds in the aftermath of the slaughter of innocents, I know that angry people on both sides who are shaped by their own stories will shout at each other until their voices are gone.  But I also know that we will never solve the problems that lead to human tragedy until we begin to paint the debate in all the complex colors of human emotion.
 
So don’t just tell me your opinions.  Tell me the stories that colored them black or white.  Then I may understand you.  Then we may begin to hear each other.

If Your Friends…?

 

“If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too?”  My mom stopped kneading the buttermilk biscuit dough only for a moment to look through her thick glasses and stare me down.

Exasperated, I put my hands on my hips and tried not to be the first to blink.  But as a teenager hearing that answer from my mother, I knew the conversation was over.  Though she could sometimes be badgered into giving in, she had the force of my father’s sternness hovering in the air even when he wasn’t present.  And the one point of argument that never once worked for me was that my friends were all allowed to [fill in the blank here].

Now that my mother is in a nursing home, largely silenced by a debilitating stroke, I’ve replayed this scene in my mind often.  All my adult life, when I’ve been tempted to do something because everyone else is doing it, I hear her voice in my mind and know that I should have a better reason for the choices I make and the causes I champion than that everyone is doing it—that it seems to be in vogue.

My mom quit school in ninth grade to care for her ailing mother, though she did earn her GED when she was 52—after all her five children had graduated from high school.  She readily admitted that there was a lot she didn’t know about English and math, science and social studies, but she wanted all of us to go to college.  And she knew absolutely nothing about the college application process.  She entrusted that guidance to our teachers and supported them in pushing us to make good educational choices.

So when I hear the term “fiscal cliff,” I can’t help thinking of my mother and wishing that our leaders had someone to ask them to have better reasons for their choices than that everyone else in their party is heading over the cliff—or at least playing a game of chicken that sends them so close to the edge of the precipice that the force of momentum may make it impossible to stop their forward progress, sending them over the cliff in spite of their certainty that they can stop just short of recklessness.

Like my mother, I’ll admit that there are some things I don’t know.  I don’t fully understand economics or finance.  But I do know that we cannot continue to pile up a steep mountain of debt and leave our children to look over the cliff into the abyss below.  Nor can we continue to leave the least among us tottering over the precipice with no one to pull them back to safety. 

So like my mother, I want to be able to entrust decisions about our budget to those who committed themselves to finding the best solutions when they asked for our votes.  As my mom trusted my teachers, I want to be able to trust our leaders—all of them, not just those in my party—to find objective experts who can help them make solid decisions.  I know that few of the people we elect are economists.  But they do have the resources to engage experts who can help them move in a positive direction instead of just telling them what they want to hear.

But for that to happen, our politicians need to listen more to people like my mother.

‘Til Death Do Us Part?

Wedding

At the age of 90, my aunt left the corporeal world this week to reunite with seven of her nine siblings, including my father, who died in 1998. My sister, the oldest of our parents’ five children, posted on social media that we once had 24 aunts and uncles—27 if you count the three who died before adulthood—and now only three remain with us. And only one of those 24 aunts and uncles ever divorced.

The evangelical church they grew up in taught that divorce ensured their place in a fiery hell. And while some of them endured hell on earth at the hands of abusive husbands, they all adhered to that tenet of their faith. Many of them did move beyond the more stringent teachings of the church, which mostly applied to women—no make-up, no jewelry, no pants, no haircuts. But the wives obeyed their husbands.

My only aunt who divorced moved to Maryland, eight hours and a world away from the hills of southern West Virginia, far enough away to live her own life. What I remember about her from family reunions was that she joined the men in having a good stiff drink, wore red lipstick, and cursed just as her brothers did. The women in the family whispered about her, but she never seemed to care. When she got into the car to drive back to Maryland, I remember her blowing smoke rings out the window and driving away with a grin on her face.

When I moved to Maryland, I lived an hour and a half from my aunt, but my mom told me later that she and my dad refused to give her my phone number or my address. I never really knew her, and as a young working mother, I had little time to give her any thought.

But I think about her and my other aunts and uncles this week as same-sex couples begin to apply for marriage licenses that will allow them to marry in January. These couples have had a long wait for what my parents and my aunts and uncles took for granted—aunts and uncles who didn’t even have to wait past their teenage years for the right to marry—though I’m certain some of them longed for the right to divorce that many of their children would demand.

But though I left the evangelicals behind and chose a more open faith, being married in a church didn’t ensure my own marriage would last. Despite pre-marital counseling where one of the wisest ministers I know encouraged us to explore our common values, despite a marriage at an altar in front of a majestic pipe organ and 150 witnesses, I became the first of four of my parents’ five children to divorce.

And the only one to marry again.

In the eyes of my parents’ faith, I am an adulteress, just like my aunt, living in this godless state that doesn’t believe a marriage is a covenant for one man and one woman, one time, one lifetime.

But this time, my husband and I listened closely to the minister who helped us understand how our personalities shape the ways we love each other. We listened to the little voices, and we learned how important it is to laugh every day, to remind ourselves every day of why we fell in love. And despite coming from backgrounds that disapprove of divorce and remarriage, we’ve found the love of a lifetime. And 21 years ago, we had the right and the privilege of a second chance at happiness in a church with the support of 25 family members and close friends.

Now same-sex couples in Maryland can enjoy the same rights all of us enjoy, even when we make a mess of it. Just like all of us, some of them will make it and some of them will make mistakes. But they won’t have to long for divorce—or death—to part them, as some of my aunts and uncles have done.

So why on earth anyone would feel that same-sex marriage is a threat to the family?

Did You See That?

See That

I’m not always my best self.  I always know this, but I was reminded again this week when I went to the mall for the first time in months to begin holiday shopping. As my husband and I walked toward the mall entrance, two women crossed our path, and we waited politely for a moment to allow them the sidewalk right-of-way.  As they passed us, we looked at their backs and then looked at each other, eyes wide and mouths rounded into an 0 of surprise.

Our eyes locked, and my husband said, “Did you…”

“…see that?” I finished his sentence.  “Oh, my gosh!  How could she not feel the 39o air?” I said and burst into nervous laughter—the same giggle as when I watch a sitcom, embarrassed for the characters who have no idea how embarrassed they should be for themselves.

The women were dressed in business clothes, black pea coats, skirts with slits in the back, and heels.  But one woman pushed the envelope.  She wore stiletto heels and walked with swaying hips…completely unaware that the seam of her skirt had split from the slit to a few inches below her waistline.  And worse, she wore a thong, so her ample hips were exposed to the wind, and we had an uninhibited view of the round of her buttocks.

My head swiveled from my husband to her and back again as I pondered whether to tap her on the arm and tell her that she might want to take off that pea coat and tie it around her waist.  But in the seconds it took our paths to intersect, I decided that since she was leaving the mall and heading to the parking lot, she would figure out soon enough when she got home that she had exposed herself to the world.

But as I turned my head back and forth from my husband to her backside, I wondered whether I really would have told the woman that she needed to cover herself.  And I had a hard time taking my eyes off a sight that I’d never before seen in public.

When I went home that evening, the news was filled with chatter about 19-year-old actor Angus T. Jones’ comments about how audiences shouldn’t watch the show which he dubbed “filth,” the show for which he’s paid $350,000 an episode.

And I was reminded, too, of the recent presidential campaign, of how the airwaves were flooded with negative attack ads from both political parties.  And why?  Because the ads work.  In the first debate the man who has sometimes been referred to as “No-Drama Obama” was attacked for refusing to engage in responding to his opponent’s claims.  And because the public demanded he respond, he circled his opponent in the second debate as if they were lions in the wild fighting for dominance.

We have a long history of such audience behavior, but we seem to have gotten worse in recent years.  We watch talk shows where guests curse and throw chairs at one another.  We glue ourselves to the endless stream of news about actors and actresses whose lives are train wrecks.

Most of us are guilty of such audience behavior.  We have a hard time averting our eyes, and so we either cheer them on or we laugh in embarrassment at their contrived responses to each other.  But as long as we continue to watch, we perpetuate the networks’ attempts to appeal to what is worst in us.

So what might happen if we began to avert our eyes, if we began to turn off the television, if we began to write in votes for more reasonable and rational candidates?

So what if I resolved to be my best self more often?  And what if all of us did the same?