A Plea Against Cowardice: Let’s Have Those Hard Conversations about Race   2 comments

This weekend on Facebook, I posted a link to Honoree Fannone Jeffer’s analysis of the angry encounter between President Obama and Governor Brewer.  The response to that post was intense.  People found Jeffer’s ideas correct and sound; others found her divisive and hyperbolic.  Many didn’t, it seem to me, even read the post but simply reacted to the idea that she was suggesting a racial element to the encounter.  It was this last reaction that frustrated me so.

I believe – with everything I am – that the only way beyond pain and hardship is through it.  I don’t believe we can back away from it, or hide from it, or skirt it and make any progress as individual people or as a nation.  Thus, when the subject of race comes up, I want to talk about it.  I don’t want to hide.  I don’t want to pretend I have it all figured out or that race isn’t an issue.  I want to have a real conversation. And to have a conversation, we have to hear (or in this case, read) the other person’s point of view.

No doubt, these conversations are so hard.  They require us to be vulnerable and admit what we don’t know; they can reveal our own undiscovered prejudices and stereotypes; they can make us angry and hurt and sad.  But they can also lead us to more understanding, a deeper appreciation of our individual struggles and our cultural clashes.  They can show us more of who we are and help us become more of who we want to become.

To pretend that race is not an area where we, as a country, struggle mightily is very naive.  To pretend that some of the things we all do – consciously or unconsciously – are racially motivated is willfully ignorant.  For example, do I think  Governor Brewer was doing something that was intentionally racist? No. Do I think that her action may have been spurred by unacknowledged racial attitudes? Maybe. Do I think, after reading Jeffer’s post, that President Obama and other black people in this country might have seen it as racially and culturally insulting? Definitely.

I know other people see this moment in our nation’s history differently, and that’s just fine with me. I would like to talk to those people, hear their opinions, weigh my own, and, perhaps, change my own.  I would like the same respect shown to me and every other person – including Ms. Jeffer’s – who wants to participate in this discussion.

Too often, though, we choose not to have these conversations because they are hard and because, sometimes, we don’t really don’t want to risk having to change our opinions.  That’s really sad and cowardly. We can do better.

What do you think about conversations about race and other tough topics like religion and politics? Are they important to have? How should we conduct them if they are?

By the way, I don’t think Facebook is necessarily the ideal place to have these conversations.  In a perfect world where we spent time with people face to face, those personal, physical conversations would be so much better.  But in our world where we connect so often via social media, maybe we need to learn to be better at having these conversations there, too.  I certainly need to be better at that.


Musings on Quiet and Writing from the Library of Congress   Leave a comment

I wrote this for my other blog Andilit this morning, but then it occurred to me that this lack of quiet, still time is something that women especially seem to struggle with.  Almost every woman I know, myself included, takes on too much and ends up frazzled and exhausted at the end of the day.  So it seemed fitting to post this here, too.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

I’m sitting the gorgeous Rare Book Room in the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress.  I’m waiting for my book to arrive, and I started to think I had nothing to do.

Yet, I have pen and paper – or rather pencil and paper.  Why does it not immediately enter my mind to write.  To take advantage of this quiet still space.  Is writing that connected to technology for me now?

I need more quiet. More time away from technology. More stillness.  I love to hear that silence that makes my ears feel softly empty. To let them rest.

I long for moments like this when I can do nothing but sit and wait. No email to fill the time. No TV or browsing to occupy me.  Just the soft whisper of a pencil traveling the page.

I wrote that yesterday, and as those words spiraled out of me, I found myself at a place that I didn’t now I had left – that quiet, stillness that comes from focus and intention.  Somehow in the business of blogs and Twitter and email and Relay for Life and book research, I had become fragmented, divided against myself as I competed with my own time to get things done.

But in those few minutes when my smartphone was tucked away in a cloakroom with my laptop, when my books were stored in a locker, when all I had was me, a very sharp pencil and some blue-lined paper, I felt myself start to meld back together.  And it felt lovely.

So here’s my challenge for you today, take at least 15 minutes away.  Put your phone and your computer in a room. Trust the kids to a spouse or a friend or a movie.  Leave your books behind.  Take a pen/pencil and paper, and sit somewhere quiet.  Climb into a closet if you have to.  Just go somewhere where there is stillness. Then, stay there until you feel your mind calm down.  If you want, write what comes to mind, but if you just want to sit in the still, do so.  You deserve it.

What makes you come back to that still point?  Where do you find that soft peace of silence?

A Single Woman Spends Time with Families   3 comments

This weekend, I had the absolute honor of spending time with two of my closest friends, their husbands, and their beautiful children.  We talked, we walked, we ate (boy, did we eat), and we just relaxed in each other’s company.  A lovely weekend, and one I really needed.

But it was also a very hard weekend for me in many ways.  For one, I was again the single one in a group of not just couples but families, units that work together to make decisions and build a life.  As much as I truly love seeing my friends with the people that give them hope and security, it is also hard to be the one still alone in that time.

Perhaps, though, the hardest thing was something I have gotten better at over the years but still find very challenging – the complexities of relating to someone else’s children.  I am not a parent, and I am certainly not their parent; yet, I am an adult and not their friend either.  It’s a tough position to be in – to help settle squabbles or not, to calm the legs kicking the cabinets or not, to hold a scared little boy or not.  I’m never sure what my role is to be in those situations.  I muddle through, but it’s a challenge.

Then, of course, there is the pain of not having my own children to muddle through with.  Most days I am at peace with what seems to be a fairly solid reality, but when I spend time with kids, hear my friends talking about schools and books and the gorgeous, unique identities of these people with whom they build their lives – well, it makes me sad.

I also find myself absolutely unable to contribute to entire conversations.  What do I have to say about school choice or discipline strategies?  Usually, I just sit and listen – or check email on my phone.

I love my friends, and I wouldn’t trade them or one minutes with them for the world – not for anything at all.  I wouldn’t want them to have any less of all the glorious people they have (even though I know they are not always glorious).  Yet, sometimes, it is very hard to be in those friendships.  Very hard.

How do you guys negotiate friendships with people who are married and/or have children?  How do you find your place in those relationships? 

Separation – Women and Our Bodies   Leave a comment

Sometimes I act as if my body is not part of who I am.  As Eve Ensler says, I push my body past what it is capable of; I ask of it more than it can give.

I also disconnect things that have happened to my bodies – sex or abuse or judgment – from who I am as a person.

But my body and my mind don’t know that they are separate, and until I – both mind and body – accept that I am not just mind I cannot heal from what has happened to my body.

If I have wounds in my body from my safe, fairly sheltered life, than I cannot imagine the pain that others have in theirs.  I can’t imagine what it is to be raped or beaten to near death.  Or to have cancer rage through me.

Eve Ensler helps me understand. Maybe she will help you, too.

Suddenly, My Body – Eve Ensler on TED

My dear women, I urge you to take a few minutes and sit through this powerful video. Push through the discomfort we have our bodies and see where Ensler comes out, whole, still scarred, but whole.

When the “Least of These” Is Your Own Daughter – A Guest Post by Becky Smith   3 comments

Sometimes being a woman—and a mother—brings achingly, painfully beautiful moments into our lives.

Becky and Her Daughter Now

When our daughter was six, she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.  After her second surgery, Sarah was moved from Intensive Care back to the peds oncology floor and since she was still on morphine and couldn’t walk due to the pain of her incision, she had to use a bedpan.

On one particular night, she called to me that she had to go to the bathroom so I got up to help her.  She was in such pain though, that I couldn’t move her and adjust the bedpan at the same time without hurting her even more; I finally rang for help and one of the wonderfully patient nursing assistants appeared almost immediately to lend a hand.

I don’t know why such a simple act would be so indelibly burned into my memory but I will never forget standing there beside my suffering daughter, looking down at her almost naked, scarred, bruised body, and seeing her stripped of the dignity and innocence of her childhood. Since she didn’t possess the strength to walk to the privacy of the bathroom, she was having to attend to one of the most basic and private of human needs with an audience around her.

She was powerless, helpless, dependent, and miserable—there were no sweet smiles, no rosy cheeks, no golden curls. There was only the sight of a small child too weary for the battle and a weeping mother who could do nothing at all to help except kiss the skin on the top of her head and whisper the comforting words that only a broken hearted parent knows how to say.

It seemed to me that the whole world faded away that night and all that remained were the nursing assistant and me, bound together in an intimate, sacred moment of ministering to “the least of these.”

I loved my daughter more at that moment than I ever had before—far more than I did when she was happy and healthy and gorgeous. I loved her with a deeper love than I ever knew could exist for another human being and I was honored to be standing by her in the middle of the night, being a load lifter and an armor-bearer for the beloved, bald soldier of my heart.

I have gazed into the face of sorrow and pain. I have heard a little girl’s whimpers of fear and discomfort. I have seen the compassionate heart of a medical helper.  I have seen all of life boiled down to a few holy moments in the middle of the night–moments that were holy because even in the midst of great suffering, peace was in the air,  love was in our hearts, and hope was in the room.

Becky Smith is a book addict, cancer mom, blogger, published songwriter, pastor’s wife, thrift store shopper, breast cancer survivor and mashed potato lover.


Sending Christmas Cards in January – A Guest Post by Colleen Elig   1 comment

Despite my best efforts, I was sure that this would be the year I would have my Christmas cards sent out the first week in December.  Heck, maybe even the last week of November.  I was going to beat everyone else and our family’s card, letter, and photo would be the first to arrive in mailboxes all over the country.  I even began buying the Virgin Mary Christmas stamps, one book a week, as soon as they hit the post office.  I wrote my letter early and made copies at the UPS store on the 4-cent Friday.  I found a family photo of us from this past summer and printed it at Ritz during their 6-cent Tuesday-Wednesday.  They even had a cute caption and a pretty white border.  It did not matter that this year I have a toddler running around and this year my husband is coming home from Afghanistan smack in the middle of the holiday season. (Praise the Lord for that one, by the way!)  Nope, I am Mrs. Efficient and Mrs. Thrifty and my cards were going out on time.

Fast-forward a month and a half later and my cards are yet to be sent.  Several times I have quarreled with the idea of throwing all of them in the garbage. (Or the burn pile…don’t want to be a victim of identity theft now do we?)  Regardless of the fact that the letters, family photo, most recent photo of our little girl, and even sticker with info about our new blog are already sealed inside all of the envelopes that are already addressed and stamped.  Enter Mrs. Perfectionist who I am trying so desperately to part with.  You see, I have a massive list of families and friends that I send cards to every year.  And each year I try to check off who has sent us a card and who we have sent cards to.  This also requires updating addresses when someone moves, etc.  That is the daunting task that is holding me back.  Last year this event even turned into a New Year’s letter being sent.

Well today is the day.  I am getting those letters out on January 13th if it means I have to stay up until 4am.  I am also vowing that next year, if the cards are not ready by mid-December, then they are not important.  I have recently begun de-cluttering many things in my life from objects in the storage unit to Internet use and other activities that are taking up too much of my time.  So instead of calling it a “resolution” which only leads to feeling like a failure for not fulfilling that ‘perfectly,’ I’m just going to say that it is a number one goal of mine to focus on what is important and that means more time with my family and less time trying to be perfect.

Colleen Ellig is a proud wife and full-time mom with a degree in Psychology and a certificate in Elementary Education.  She also co-pilots the website Chasing the When alongside her husband.

What Do You Make? – For All the Teachers   Leave a comment

Today, I’m doing something I almost never do – sharing the same thing on both of my blogs. I think this one is important and universal, so please overlook the repetition if I’m honored enough to have you readership here and at Andilit.

This week, many of my dearest friends will start back to a new semester full of faces and papers and syllabi and meetings.  This new start is both exciting and daunting because of its promise of fulfillment and the impending work included.

I know this feeling, even now as I return to teaching at a college for the first time in a year and try to remember how I managed to do everything I did.  Even now as I plan my o<a href=”http://www.andilit.com/classes-and-tutoring/”>nline creative essay writing class</a> that starts tomorrow.  I’m excited and a little nervous.

So on days like this, I turn to Taylor Mali and get a good reminder.  For all you teachers, remember what you make.  For all you writers, this is writing that makes a difference.

<strong>Who is your favorite teacher?  What difference did s/he make in your life?</strong>

Posted January 14, 2012 by Andi Cumbo-Floyd in Life Lessons

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