In my vast quantities of free time I am attempting to become a writer. Maybe a frequently-published one, maybe not, but at the very least an honest one. So I’ve joined many on- and off-line groups where writers share their successes, struggles, questions, experiences. I get to be part of larger discussions about issues from ethics and honesty to the mechanics of publishing.
One of the most life-changing lessons I have learned in one such group is the Sit With It Rule. That if you read something that sets you off (either in a book or online as a comment from another member), you are required to “Sit With The Discomfort” for 24 hours before responding and before drawing conclusions. It sounds rather facile and pointless but it very truly has changed my life, both as a writer and as a human being.
The point of the Sit With It Rule (which I prefer to call the Sit On It rule because it is just that uncomfortable) is for you to examine not what the writer said to upset you, but to examine what it is IN YOU that was primed to have that reaction. What is it IN YOU that generated the anger, fear, sadness, confusion, disappointment? And to truly have a conversation with yourself during those 24 hours to unpack the emotions. Are you really angry at the writer? Are you truly outraged on behalf of the people the writer impugned? Are you truly saddened for all the unfairness advocated by the writer? Are you irritated by the cluelessness of the writer?
Or are you mad/sad/confused/frustrated about something that is IN YOU? And are you (perhaps unknowingly) wrestling with feelings that the writer somehow accessed?
I have now had to Sit On It several times over the course of a year, and it has been unpleasant and initially unfulfilling each time. Luckily, it does get easier overall to do the work of assessing from where the feelings are generated, but what does not get easier is curtailing the immediate flight-or-fight response that urges you to tell this person to Eff Off right now. That tells you to bleed your insecurities out all over the comment section. That tells you you have been wronged and you must immediately make it right. That tells you, when you feel the heat of shame and anger or fear rising from your core into your lungs into your tightened throat toward your heated cheeks, that you can stuff these feelings back into their box by demanding a retraction. In one instance I had to take myself offline for the duration because I had The Trigger Finger of Outrage locked and loaded, counting down the 22 hours and 14 minutes until I could verbally demolish this heartless moron writer. But by the time I was cleared to respond I had nothing to write.
Why? Because sitting with your discomfort forces you to address it, if only because the frequency with which the discomfort arrives is in itself an indication that you have work to do. Sitting On It also forces you to ruthlessly inventory the beliefs you sometimes unwittingly hold in your head. Are you a beautiful, worthy human soul? Of course you are. But does a voice in your head make you doubt it? And so, like the guy who yells at the waiter because he can’t yell at his wife, or the woman who abuses the cashier because she feels powerless at home–are you trying to shut down the writer because you can’t bring yourself to shut down the voices in your own mind and heart?
Consider if you have ever reacted to a discussion or writing with the following:
“This person is saying something very hurtful.” Sounds legit. And yet hundreds of other individuals were reading those exact words and seemed to be doing just fine.
“This person should be more circumspect in his words.” Okay, sure. But is every writer to write for the least able member of his audience? Does the writer have any obligation whatsoever to ruminate on how his words might be construed? Certainly if he is penning a political manifesto or the like. But essays? Books? Commentary? How far is it fair to require a writer to go to avoid creating negative feelings for the reader? Is that even his job, since all good writing should generate an emotional response? And is it even realistic that the writer would somehow have the clairvoyance to anticipate every possible reaction from every possible reader?
“The writer should have expressed her views in a more pleasant way. I didn’t like her attitude. How can we learn if we are being disagreeable?” Folks, this point in particular has been a life lesson for me. The notion that I will listen to your message, read your essay, or read your comments, only if you “say it nicer” is White Woman Socialization at its shameful pinnacle. That somehow I am owed a nice tidy discussion that does not challenge me, that does not ask anything difficult of me, that allows me to assert my white lady privilege so I get to ignore you or chastise you like a 6 year old if I don’t like your delivery. Well, newsflash: We are all adults. Sometimes adult conversations and interactions are uncomfortable. Sometimes adult conversations are painful. Sometimes adult conversations involve communicating with people with communication styles that do not mirror your own. Sometimes you will read something and deem the writer “angry” or “mean” or “insensitive.” Sometimes those conversations and readings will make you feel bad.
Which brings you right back to Sitting On It.
Believe me when I say that Sitting On It is the way forward. I have worked to transfer the Sitting On It dynamic to my life. It has been a challenge but it has been fruitful and heartening. It has so far improved my relationships with my family, especially my children. I now try to ask myself in a heated disciplinary moment whether I am heated for a legitimate child-centered reason or whether the misbehavior has created feelings in me separate and distinct from those related to teaching my kid to act better. Am I embarrassed at the behavior? Do I feel like it makes me look bad? If so, why am I concerned with the opinions of the parents looking on? What is it IN ME that is feeding my need to handle this situation in this manner? Sitting On It has forced me to parent from a place that does not center on ME. I now, instead of meting out Mama Justice in the moment, say “I haven’t decided yet what we’re going to do about this situation, but it will be dealt with shortly.” Believe me, it is a daily struggle and I fail frequently. But it has been, for me, a genuine way to stop shifting the blame for what ails me onto others. To stop expecting other people to tiptoe around my sensitivities. To ruthlessly engage with myself on every level to be sure that when my 24 hours is up and I have something to say, that it is worthwhile, meaningful and maybe 80% reflective of my best self (hey, I’m a work in progress).
I recommend trying it for a week. Every time you feel “triggered” or goaded into an altercation, resolve to wait 24 hours to email back, to return the call, to unload online, and resolve to spend the time looking inward rather than wildly flailing angry arms with pointed fingers outward.
I look forward to your comments (in precisely 23 hours and 54 minutes). :)
Just when you are certain Sarah Palin has reached Maximum Stupid, boy howdy, she shamelessly brings more.
Let’s review The Week In Palin. She endorses Donald Trump because…
“He’s got the guts to wear the issues that need to be spoken about and debate on his sleeve, where the rest of some of these establishment candidates, they just wanted to duck and hide. They didn’t want to talk about these issues until he brought ’em up. In fact, they’ve been wearing a, this, political correctness kind of like a suicide vest.”
And disses the President with her usual clarity of thinking and speech:
“And he, who would negotiate deals, kind of with the skills of a community organizer maybe organizing a neighborhood tea, well, he deciding that, ‘No, America would apologize as part of the deal,’ as the enemy sends a message to the rest of the world that they capture and we kowtow, and we apologize, and then, we bend over and say, ‘Thank you, enemy.’ ”
Okaaaay. If you watch the video of the endorsement you can see even Donald Trump himself having a few WTF moments as she is speaking, trying to be all, “This seems fine. It’s all fine. Everything she’s saying is completely normal.”
Sarah Palin is of course free to endorse whichever candidate she chooses. My primary beef with Sarah Palin this week is less her addled endorsement of fellow reality TV huckster Donald Trump and more her later remarks blaming President Obama for her son Track’s arrest for domestic violence.
You read that right. She claims her son has PTSD from his tour in Afghanistan and that his violent outbursts are a direct result of the lack of “respect” shown by President Obama to veterans.
The hockey mom mouthpiece of the Party of Personal Responsibility says publicly that her PTSD-suffering son (who threatened suicide by his AK-15 after beating the crap out of his girlfriend) is in this situation because of President Obama. If she truly believes this–and I think she does–we now know that there is no limit to her irrationality as well as her political opportunism.
Why, if she is so concerned with her son’s mental health, did she not seek assistance for him?
Why, if she is so concerned with her son’s mental health, did she and her husband not secure or remove the weapons in his home?
Why, if she is so concerned with her son’s mental health, does she belong to a party that consistently a) sends our young people to fight wars and then b) cuts funding for the Veterans Administration that seeks to support them when they come home?
(Footnotes just in case you think I’m making this up: http://www.militarytimes.com/story/veterans/2015/05/01/house-pass-va-budget/26691403/ http://archive.militarytimes.com/article/20140227/NEWS05/302270033/Senate-blocks-huge-vets-benefits-bill)
But no. Her son, who is no stranger to run-ins with law enforcement, is in trouble because The President of the United States doesn’t “respect veterans.” Instead of blaming Obama, ask your party why they didn’t fund the VA bill put forth by the White House in its entirety. Ask your party why they consistently claim “fiscal responsibility” as a reason for cutting veterans benefits but seemingly have no trouble finding the money to wage the war in the first place. Examine the voting records of the Republicans in Congress and you will see this pattern clearly: Yeas for acts of war, Nays for funding to assist these broken warriors when they return home. These are facts in the Congressional record. They are there for any citizen to see, and they speak for themselves. “Respect for veterans” doesn’t mean just flying a flag and saying “thank you for your service” to crowds of supporters. It means putting money toward their mental health, their physical rehabilitation, their re-entry into civilian society. It means allocating taxpayer dollars and plenty of them.
Or, you know, it’s because Obama doesn’t respect the military.
That is some shameful shit right there. Shameful AND shameless.
Which brings me to my final point: why are we giving this joke of a woman a single moment of air time? Why are we in the least bit interested in this woman, who wastes no opportunity to personally attack the Obamas, but who conveniently fails to address the fact that her abstinence-promoting daughter has now had TWO babies while unmarried? I personally don’t care if her kids have ten babies “out of wedlock” but I do care about the hypocrisy of slamming “liberal values” when you can’t keep your conservatively-raised daughter’s pants on. Should Malia Obama ever find herself “in the family way” prior to marriage you will be able to set your clocks by the speed with which her parents’ ethics, values and morals will be destroyed by FOX News and its minions. But apparently conservatives just have to say Jesus forgives them and we’re all good here. Time to go endorse someone for leader of the free world.
Well, I for one am not up for another round of Sarah Palin in presidential politics. Her utter unfitness for office was, I thought, spectacularly evidenced back in 2008 regardless of John McCain’s desperate efforts to convince us (and himself) otherwise. The fact that Donald Trump thinks her involvement in his campaign is a plus says everything about him that thousands of column inches couldn’t.
This is going to sound like a bad movie or a cheeseball sitcom, but I got stuck in an elevator yesterday. For real. Like what you see on the big screen but that you assume never really happens in real life. Well, hello. It happened, and it was TERRIFYING.
I want to pretend I was all chill about it. I want to pretend that I was singing Hakuna Matata as I did the downward dog while achieving internal serenity. But NOPE. I was distinctly, unequivocally, unabashedly frightened.
I had just finished my appointment at Dana Farber, victorious in my super near-normal blood counts and ongoing prednisone tapering. I was drunk with the power of my great good luck. My mom had come with me, so I was gladhanding my way around the building like Joe Biden working a rope line, reassuring my mom that while I may be a patient at the cancer facility, I am the COOLEST and least-likely-to-die patient at the cancer facility.
We breezed insouciantly into the elevator, pressed the P2 button and settled in for the 9-floor trip to the garage where we would drive on outta there like the goddamn healthy(ish) bosses we were. And then it happened. The violent jerk of the emergency brake stopping the elevator mid-trip. My exclamation, “Whoa! That was a rough landing!” as I oriented myself toward the doors. My realization that the doors had not opened and the digital floor readout was flashing 2, then blank, then –, then back to 2. Then the electronic voice: “Press the emergency button to summon help. Press the emergency button to summon help.”
Talk about pissing on a girl’s parade.
We reached a lady’s voice on the emergency panel, told her we were stuck in an elevator. “Are we okay? We are fine. I think.
Which is when you come to grips with several facts:
If you need to pee in the next hour you will be peeing on this floor.
If you need to (dear lord let’s not even ponder it) poop, you will be pooping on this floor.
If the emergency brake lets go for any reason you are going to either die or be profoundly and irrevocably injured by the impact.
If anything bad happens, you will have expired IN AN ELEVATOR. This is not the obituary I want for myself. Forty-three years old. Transplant survivor. Pneumococcal sepsis survivor. Aspergillosis survivor. Chronic GVHD survivor and attempted thriver: Death by dumbwaiter.
The entire ordeal lasted about 35 minutes, during which there was much banging and beeping and far-off voices yelling to us to stay calm. Sweet relief as we began moving, the doors opening and us running free into the blessed lobby of our savior. Where we immediately took the stairs to the garage, not being ready to step immediately back into a glorified Tardis of Death.
So what did I learn from this experience that I can pass along to you so that it wasn’t a total waste?
- When stuck in an elevator after a rather violent jerking stop, do not immediately think of all the movies you have seen where bad things happen to people in elevators or people in elevator shafts. Those elevators are old. This one is new. The people repairing your elevator are experts. Yes indeed. Experts. You just tell yourself that. Even as your mind starts to wander and starts to wonder why, if it’s no big deal really, they can’t seem to have it moving 20 minutes in. If it’s all programming and technology these days, how come there is so much noise going on? Try to accept that you know nothing about elevators or elevator repair. Most importantly, do not then fill in the blanks with your imagination. In an elevator and in life, never fill in the blank spaces of your ignorance with offerings from your imagination. It will always be a recipe for failure, fear and heartache.
- When stuck in an elevator and you ponder the duration of your confinement, do not immediately conjure images of you unceremoniously squatting to poop on an elevator carpet, steeped in your own refuse and shame. Recognize that these scatological terrors are a function of two things: 1–The very real reaction of your body to fear and stress. That rumbling in the tumbling is real, but stay calm: it’s likely not a giant steamer that must be expelled. Yet. 2– Recognize that the PAPP (poop and pee panic) is a metaphor for the entire situation, for the very real lack of control and autonomy you are currently experiencing. There is no human fear like the loss of control fear, which often masquerades as the loss of bowel control fear. So take heart: in an elevator and in life, you likely will not shart your pants just because you have no place to “go.”
- As we waited for “the elevator guys” to fix the elevator, a woman above us kept talking to us to see if we were fine. A woman on the other end of the emergency phone button stayed on the line with us just so we knew we were not forgotten. We didn’t really speak; we just knew she was there. The power of knowing these women were present was enormous. They were strangers. Strangers with no more power to alter our physical situation than we had. But what they had was the power of human contact, of empathy, of simply being present in another human’s pain or fear. When you are trapped in a small stuck box with the potential for injury but without the potential for saving yourself, you just want to know you are not alone and not forgotten, especially as minute 18 turns to minute 19 turns to minute 20. So I am reminded that, in an elevator and in life, being present with another person in fear or pain or confusion or worry is non-negotiable. You may not be able to change the circumstances but you can be present, you can witness, you can support by simply being a voice in the distance, a face across the street, or a bystander who resolutely stands by. Simply choose to be present.
So we made it out alive. Lived to tell. And avoided the urge to pretend I was super cool and unflappable when I was in reality not cool and really quite “flapped.”
Next time, I’m taking the stairs.
I have always believed in the political truism that “unless we are currently discussing Hitler, no candidate should at any time invoke the name of Hitler.” It cheapens the truly despicable and evil acts committed by and for Hitler to just randomly throw his name around as a way to score points against an opponent. It disrespects the memories of the 6 million humans annihilated on his orders. In short, it’s a giant act of a-holery, not to mention intellectual laziness, to breezily compare people to Hitler. To wit, Obama is not like Hitler. Rush Limbaugh is not like Hitler. Even the risible Ted Cruz is not like Hitler.
So I am not going to compare Donald Trump to Hitler. I’m just going to post a couple quotes from Mein Kampf and a smattering of Nazis for you to ponder as you look upon the candidates for the highest office in our land.
All great movements are popular movements. They are the volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotions, stirred into activity by the ruthless Goddess of Distress or by the torch of the spoken word cast into the midst of the people.
Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.
As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.
As you mull these words, ask yourself if you have seen the following before (with helpful notations from the Nazi Party’s 25 demands and quotes from Hitler himself):
- Blame a specific “non-American” minority group for all of your nation’s problems. Declare that you have the solution–and it involves expelling them or publicly identifying them (Mexicans and Muslims).
- 4. Only those who are our fellow countrymen can become citizens. Only those who have German blood, regardless of creed, can be our countrymen. Hence no Jew can be a countryman.
- Whip rally attendees into a frenzy. When heckled by a protester, incite the group to beat the protester. Afterwards, double down and say, “Maybe he deserved” it. Say your supporters are “passionate’ people. Refuse to acknowledge this as un-American behavior.
- “The doom of a nation can be averted only by a storm of flowing passion, but only those who are passionate themselves can arouse passion in others.”
- Announce that “we will have to do things that have not been done before” under your leadership. These things include shutting down houses of worship for religions deemed to not meet certain criteria for religiosity, banning people of certain religions from coming into the country–even if they are US citizens.
- 24. We demand freedom for all religious faiths in the state, insofar as they do not endanger its existence or offend the moral and ethical sense of the Germanic race. The party as such represents the point of view of a positive Christianity without binding itself to any one particular confession. It fights against the Jewish materialist spirit within and without, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our folk can only come about from within
People often incredulously ask how Hitler could have come to power. Were the Jews so lame, so weak, that they couldn’t fend off a politician? Were the German people so genetically evil that they were more likely to fall under the sway of Nazism? Folks, THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED. You are witnessing it today, here, in the United States of America. Hitler rose to power because good people did nothing. They allowed his rhetoric to stand unchecked. They believed his “temporary” measures were not part of a larger plan, even though he made no secret of those plans. They allowed their nationalist feelings to trump (ha!) their human decency.
Almost every single one of us has asked ourselves what we’d have done if we had lived in Germany in the 1930s. And we pat ourselves on the back, secure in the knowledge that we’d have done the right thing. Well, this is the time to walk that talk. This is the time to step up for greater humanity. This is the time to rise above nationalism in favor of Americanism. Our country is better than this. We are better than this. Donald Trump is a dangerous, ignorant and very powerful, wealthy man. He has no limits because he has no shame. You cannot shame a person who has none to speak of. And so we must deprive him of his platform, shout him down at every turn, and stand up for the United States of America and the Americans we claim to be. We must reject Donald Trump and everything he stands for. We must not wink and turn away when someone says they support him. We must stand up for this country and its values: freedom, equality, opportunity; values Trump’s supporters apparently have no issue with destroying in order to “save” us. Do not be a party to this cancer on the body politic. Do not be a party to this angry, reactionary movement. Stand up and be counted in the legions of good and decent Americans who outnumber Trump and his supporters. STAND UP.
We face so many challenges as a country to be sure. But we don’t need Donald Trump to make America great again. America already is great. Specifically because we are–and always have been–a nation E Pluribus Unum: from many, one.
From my girl Mo:
*Edited to add: http://deadspin.com/we-will-pay-the-reporter-who-asks-tom-brady-about-his-f-1746846771 I love the Patriots and am second to no one in my admiration for the work of Tom Brady on the field. But this is a question that must be asked. We must discomfit the comfortable, call everyone to account. Do you or do you not support the policies of Donald Trump? Let’s get everyone on the record.
As we close out November as National Adoption Month, I’m serving up some thoughts on adoption; international, transracial adoption specifically. What with the troubling push in some circles to “promote” adoption and the silencing of adoptee voices that don’t confirm the Happy-Happy-Joy-Joy adoption narrative , I hereby offer some hard questions for potential adoptive parents to answer before they decide to pursue adoption as a means of building their family.
- Are you interested in adopting a child for any reason other than it is a method for building your family? To be specific, are you feeling “called” to adopt? Are you feeling that you have “been given a heart for” adoption by a supreme being? Are you motivated by sacred texts that exhort you to care for “widows and orphans?” In short, is there anything other than a burning desire to be a parent pushing you toward adoption? If yes, please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: If your overarching desire is to help widows and orphans, consider all of the myriad ways you can contribute to their well-being without adopting. Are there programs in-country that support family preservation? Are there microlending programs and such that can help a widowed mother keep her children by earning a living wage? In short, if you truly feel called to adopt as a philanthropic gesture, even as a “bonus” outcome, you are adopting for the wrong reasons.
- As you consider adopting a child of another race, from another culture, do you look around at your friends and family and see other people of that ethnicity? Do you see ANYONE of a different ethnicity or race than your own? (NOTE: Your One Black Friend From Work does not count). If the answer is no, please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: Your child cannot and must not be your first (or even second or third) contact with that culture. If you have never in your life met a Korean or legitimately socialized with people of Korean or wider Asian ancestry (meaning, people who would have a key to your house, who have met your parents, etc. Real relationships), you have no damn business adopting a child from Korea.
- As you project yourself forward in time to when your child can hear and comprehend the comments and jokes and attitudes of relatives and friends, are you 100% committed to cutting people out of your life who harm your child? I mean this in the most serious way. Are you ready to tell old Uncle JimBob that he has 5 minutes to get his head right and never tell a racist “joke” again or your relationship is over? Are you ready to have people you love tell you that you are oversensitive or PC or holier-than-thou when you do not allow them to “other” your child with “humor”? Transracial adoptees who are now adults speak painfully of Christmas dinners where jokes and comments were made, relatives shushed, and the awkwardness swept under the rug. Where people who were supposed to love them mocked their birth culture, their appearance, their history. Are you ready to take no prisoners as you protect your child from ignorant if well-meaning relatives? Up to and including cutting all ties with them? If the answer is not a raw, painful, determined Yes, then please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: Some of the worst damage inflicted on our kids comes from relatives and friends who “love” them but who refuse to acknowledge that just because they don’t find something offensive, doesn’t mean it isn’t.
- Are you ready to move to a new city or state for your child’s sake? Do you live in a majority white town? Would your child attend a majority white school? Even among non-white kids who were not adopted, the negative effects of being “the only” in a sea of white people are well-documented. Will people find your Ethiopian-born son adorable when young but a Scary Black Male when he is older? Will classmates’ parents permit him to date their children? Will he constantly have to answer questions about his appearance, his differences, with the effect of chipping away at who he is at his core? If you cannot answer with 100% certainty that you would pack up and move (and in fact, if you are not already planning for it), then you should not adopt a child of another race. Pro Tip: Note that the people who are loudest about “minorities” needing to “get over” issues like this seem to carry the most fear about whites no longer being the majority. You might ask them if being a minority is the no big deal they say it is, why would they be concerned about becoming one? If the one Chinese kid needs to toughen up in a school of 799 white kids, then surely one white guy shouldn’t get so bent about being the only white guy. Right? Just asking (sips tea)..
- Do you recognize that every member of the adoption constellation is more important than you? Do you honestly truly believe it? Adoption is not and never should be about finding a child for YOU. Do you acknowledge that it is rather about finding a family for a child, and that the child and birth mother must always come first? You are not owed a child. You do not deserve a child. A birth mother reserves the right to “change her mind” at any time. A birth country reserves the right to make determinations of parental fitness with zero concern for your beliefs. If you feel, even in some tiny pocket of your heart, that you deserve a child to love because you have so much love to give, then please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: When you speak ill of a child’s birth family or birth culture (even if you think it’s justified), you communicate to your child that her origin (and therefore she) is defective and shameful. Never, never speak ill of your child’s origins, even as a “joke.” Without those origins you would not have this precious child. Speak and act accordingly.
- Finally and most importantly, do you acknowledge that you must change your life to accommodate your adopted child rather than the other way around? Do you commit to the belief that it is never the responsibility of the child to adjust herself in order to function within your life parameters? That YOU will have to do the heavy lifting, that YOU will have to have the difficult conversations, that YOU will have to make the changes necessary for your child to grow up happy and healthy? If you adopt a child, then YOU are taking on the responsibility for ensuring the life, health and happiness of your child. If you don’t fully grasp this, do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: Your child owes you nothing. You will banish the word “grateful” from your vocabulary. You will immediately shut down any discussion by random people of “what her life would have been like” if she had not been adopted, as if to imply she is so much better off now. We have no idea what her life might have been in her home country; it may have been better or worse; who knows? Assuming this life is “best” is the worst kind of self-involved cluelessness.
In sum, there are a million wrong reasons to adopt a child, but there is only one good reason: you want to be a parent, and legal, well-regulated, legitimate adoption is one means of doing so. If any part of you feels like you are saving a child, that you are pleasing a god, that you are healing the world, I beg of you to sit with those feelings and truly ask yourself if adoption is right for you. If you think raising a child of a different race will be more or less the same as raising a child of your own race, I beg of you to sit with those thoughts and truly ask yourself if you have done the research and the work that ethical adoption requires. If you think that life will essentially stay the way it is now, only with a cute little baby added into the mix!, I beg of you to explore those thoughts and root out the inaccuracies. Life will never again be the same. You will no longer be a white family. You will see and hear things about race in our country that only yesterday you would have absolutely vowed were not credible and not happening. You will owe it to your child to address those issues. You will lose friends in the process. You will agonize over how to disconnect from people you thought you knew. You will fear their loss. And then you will look at your child’s beautiful, smiling, trusting face and realize you don’t miss those people at all.
This week the world lost a beacon of light. His name is Bill and he is my friend. I cannot immediately bring myself to speak of him in the past tense, so enduring is the light he brought to his far too short time on earth. All of us who love him are standing broken-hearted, staring into the giant void in the universe where Bill used to be. It does not seem possible that this planet should turn on its axis, that the stars should remain in the firmament, or that the sun and moon should rise without him here.
While trying to comprehend our loss of this beautiful man, I want to shout his name, sing his praises, and dance in the light that he brought to our lives. I want to tell this world that Bill may be physically gone but all of the unique and loveable things that made him so special are not. No matter what happens on this physical plane, Bill is and shall be forever. His spirit, his courage, his humor, his generosity, his faith, his decency, his love for his wife and daughters: All of these are now and will be forever.
Bill and I met in Spanish class in 1991. We all had to pick a Spanish name, and he and I commiserated that we couldn’t come up with anything more creative than Ester and Guillermo. In that first class, Bill let out a laugh that everyone who knows him can identify from 50,000 feet: Part guffaw, part shout, part pure joy radiating from the solar plexus. I heard it and instantly decided I wanted to hang out with any guy who could bring that kind of hilarity to the table. Thank God for that laugh, because it drew me to such a true and good friend. Thank God for that laugh, because it still echoes in my head and in my heart. Thank God for that laugh, because anyone who has been lucky enough to hear it will never be without it. Bill’s laugh will be forever.
We spent our spring break in Appalachia building homes for in-need families. We slept on army cots in a church auditorium, ate donated food from the local Roy Rogers, and showered at the YMCA. One classmate on the trip was not down with the spartan accommodations. She complained loudly and rudely about how the food was terrible, the beds were uncomfortable and the showers inadequate. She loudly harrumphed about the inconveniences she was enduring for charity. Bill was not having it, and he very pointedly illuminated for her all the ways in which she was being an ungracious guest and a terrible ambassador for our school. He did not raise his voice or use one profanity, but he made it clear that her reign of terror was over. Thank God for that sense of decency and good faith, because it called Bill to action when others stayed uncomfortably silent. Thank God for that sense of decency and good faith, because it maintained the dignity of the people we were helping. Thank God for that sense of decency and good faith, because it called on those of us bystanding to do better next time. Bill’s decency will be forever.
I remember complaining one day about something a friend had done or said or whatever perceived fault it was that I can no longer recall. I called Bill to share my latest Airing of Grievances and he stopped me cold. He flatly told me to get over it. Were these my friends or weren’t they? Did the friendship matter more than my irritation? Was I really going to waste an afternoon on this? He told me to chalk these things up to the cost of having friends. Friends will disappoint, but in turn they will love you when you are the one doing the disappointing. Thank God for that generosity of spirit, because it encouraged me to be a better friend. Thank God for that generosity of spirit because it made me want to disappoint Bill less. Thank God for that generosity of spirit, because I later realized that Bill had been showing that generosity to me. Bill’s generosity will be forever.
When I was very sick in 2007, praying I’d live long enough to get my stem cell transplant, Bill flew in to visit me. We talked about all the dreaded what ifs. What if I died? What if my daughter never remembered me? What if I didn’t actually die but never got better? Bill had the courage to walk with me through all of those dark places because Bill himself had been there. Thank God for that courage, because it carried Bill through multiple surgeries and procedures. Thank God for that courage, because it carried everyone who loved him through those surgeries and procedures. Thank God for that courage, because Bill taught every single one of us every single day over many, many years the true meaning of the word. Bill’s courage will be forever.
In Judaism we have a saying: “May his memory be for a blessing.” It utters the hope that the good our loved ones did in life will live on long after they are gone. That the memory of that person will spur someone to do a good deed, and that good deed will inspire another and another, creating a wave of blessings rippling out from the loved one’s existence via all the people who remember him.
This is how I know beyond any doubt that Bill will be forever. Because even as we stand here staring into this incomprehensible void, those ripples are already forming.
The ripple of joyous laughter.
The ripple of uncommon decency.
The ripple of pure generosity .
The ripple of quiet courage.
The ripple of tender kindness.
The ripple of genuine honesty.
The ripple of fierce love.
Every time a person who loved him continues his legacy through actions great and small–it means Bill will be forever. Every action that creates a ripple that strengthens into a current that coalesces into a wave–means that Bill will be forever.
These waves that will create goodness, inspire kindness, and offer support for all that is right in our world. These waves that will lovingly carry, today and into the future, his precious wife and daughters who Bill loved with such devotion.
These waves: Of laughter. Of kindness. Of decency. Of love. These waves, powered by the eternal love of Bill’s friends and family, will crash onto the shores of our mortal world and declare defiantly that today and always–Bill will be forever.
I had a whole post ready to go about the Syrian refugee crisis and the shameful reactions of some American governors toward it in light of the Paris attack.
I was going to point out the particular kind of cruelty that insinuates refugees are likely part of the evil forces they are trying to escape.
I was going to point out that most parents don’t put their children in a dinghy and traverse rough waters risking death in order to become a sleeper cell in Nowhere, Texas.
I was going to point out the rich irony of people simultaneously claiming persecution because Starbucks won’t put Jesus on a paper cup and refusing to acknowledge actual, real, horrific persecution when it is indisputable. All the people who can spot religious persecution when it involves a coffee cup but can’t spot it when it’s a sea of desperate humans running for their lives.
Instead, I’ll just post these photos with some thoughts, both for Christians and Jews. The US has been on the wrong side of such a refugee situation before. Let’s be on the right side of history this time.