Charlottesville

Like a lot of folks in Charlottesville, I awoke early on Friday with a mild sense of dread. At the end of a long, hot summer, the weekend we had all been fearing was finally here.

We were like a community waiting for a hurricane – we’d brought in all the supplies we could think of, boarded up the windows, and were hoping for a Category 1.

But we all knew this was tracking at a Category 5.

This was not our first encounter with these people. They first came in May and crashed our Cultural Festival, which was also held in Emancipation Park. Then they came back on the 8th of July and had another little rally.

But these were just the warmups, the test runs to see how municipal leaders and the community would react. On those occasions, we didn’t react strongly enough.

In preparation for Saturday, local organizations and activists held various training events, everything from street medic preparation to non-violent action. For those who wanted to participate but perhaps not risk life and limb, there was a need for trained legal observers and, believe it or not, folks on standby to go to the city lockup to post bail for anyone who got arrested.

Yes, we were expecting a shit show. And it’s a good thing we did, too, because this community was ready.

Local clergy put out a “Clergy Call” and Rev. Traci Blackmon, Dr. Cornell West, and Brian McClaren (among many others) all showed up. And that’s what kept me sane on Friday – the promise of spiritual guidance from some of the best in the business.

And frankly, I thought we’d be safe at church.

God, how naive.

While sitting in a packed church across from the UVA grounds, Unite The Right were descending with tiki torches, chanting “Blood and Soil!” and “Jew will not replace us'”. ©KateyCarston

After the most inspiring of services that featured texts from the Quran and Hebrew songs, as we were slowly walking out to a rousing chorus of “We who believe in freedom can not rest”, we were told to please take our seats. The police were concerned for our safety.

It wasn’t until I got home that I would fully understand why.

When we were finally allowed to leave, we we’re asked to stay in groups for our own protection. Lee and I walked with a small group for a couple of blocks to our car. Someone saw a young woman wearing a hijab walking alone – they asked her to be careful, the Nazis we’re up to something on grounds, and invited her to walk with us. Thankfully her husband was there in a parked car, and we walked on together, discussing our respective neighborhoods and the start of school in a few weeks.

Normal human conversations on a surreal Friday night.

Saturday morning dawned and my daily prayer of “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad of it” felt stiff on my lips. I got up, put the kettle on, then began a few hours of nail biting and hand wringing.

What the hell were we supposed to do today? As a white person, this felt like a hot mess of our own creation and I had some responsibility to help clean up. Unlike events in Ferguson or Baltimore, this was not an outcry in the face of injustice. This was planned. By other white people. By other people who believe in racial superiority, fascism, and legalized rape (these Neanderthals think a woman’s only role in life is to procreate).

But didn’t I, as someone who has benefited from white privilege, have a responsibility to step up and be counted? To look this ugliness in the eye and say that enough was enough? Shouldn’t it be white people sacrificing our bodies for equality and justice? Why do we always expect the poor, people of color, and the marginalized to do all of the heavy lifting?

I have to admit, I was not originally in favour of a counter protest. Like many white people, I wanted everyone to avoid Downtown – if a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make a noise?

The other part of me wanted to be at UVA participating in the activities and workshops planned for the day, covering a range of topics from the history of Black people in Charlottesville to the rise of the Alt-right. In times of trouble, a good class discussion can really steady the nerves.

In the end, after we thought the event had been cancelled by the authorities and the Nazis sent away, Lee and I decided to head to a third park downtown (McGuffey), to be present for the art, music and non-violent resistance program of events.

We parked on South Street, two blocks from the Mall. There were few cars about and fewer people. Then, as we began walking toward the Mall, a group of counter protesters marched toward us. They seemed young, full of life, and relatively harmless and there wasn’t a Nazi in sight!

What an opportunity to stand in solidarity. To say we were there, to do the right thing without fear of getting pepper sprayed.

And we saw a lot people we know, other “normal” people. No harm in falling in line when the person in front of you is a vegetarian, right?

One block after we joined the march, a second group of counter protesters coming down a nother street intersected with ours. These were fellow counter protesters who, rumor had it, had gone to defend a low income housing community a block away. When it appeared that no Nazis were marching on Friendship Court, this second group retreated and joined ours.

For one short block, we all marched together, taking back our streets, arm in arm, almost festive in our mood – it felt celebratory. We the Citizens of Charlottesville had driven off the anti-semites and it felt good.

Not on our watch!

And then there was a noise and a surge of bodies that turned into a tidal wave as the crowd turned and fled from an unspeakable horror.

I jumped behind a concrete pillar to avoid getting trampled. Then it was over.

Within seconds the walking wounded began to emerge from the crowd. At first it was just people hyperventilating. Then it was skin abrasions. And then the first responders were there. Thank God. It felt like it was ambulance after ambulance, stretcher after stretcher. I saw ankles and other limbs swollen beyond all recognition, torn clothes, blood.

It was horrific. I didn’t know how horrific until a few hours later.

Sunday morning I went to church. Four pastors cried from the pulpit. Our local clergy had been so brilliant – right on the front lines, bearing witness and trying to hold a moral high ground while shielding counter-protestors and victims (literally, at Water Street they formed human shields to shelter the wounded).

The message on Friday night had been one of love and resistance, a call to spiritual arms. We must all become David and face down the Goliath of hate and racial superiority.

Friday has a symbolic meaning in the church. We were told to remember that after a terrible Friday, Sunday must come. Sunday, full of the promise of the Good News, that life is everlasting and that love can defeat even death.

And here we were, on Sunday, bloody and broken. And two troopers and one of our own were dead.

We did the only thing we knew we could do – we lifted our hearts to the Lord in songs of praise. Like the Who’s in Dr. Seuss’ tale of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the folks of this Wooville also came together in song.

I don’t know if it did me any good. Honestly, I’m still angry, still saddened, and still resentful that I have to find a way to love these enemies who came to this sweet little town with the express intention to start a race war.

I’m still struggling. It’s after midnight and my nerves are still jumpy. I fear the Nazis are still around, laying low until the state troopers pack up and leave so that they can jump us when we least expect it.

This is what terrorism feels like.

I kept my kids home all weekend because a crazy white supremacist crashed his car into a crowd of people. These white supremacists all proudly carry guns. What’s to stop them coming to our local park, just 2 miles from downtown, and trying to take out more of us?

Am I crazy to think this? I’ve read their websites. Their ideology is sick and twisted. They can and will do anything to anyone who stands against them.

I know I have to get past this. But I don’t think it will be easy. And I know that practicing my faith, a faith that calls me to extend love to all, even those who would do me and mine harm, just got a little harder.

I also know that this is a mess only white people can fix. I am very conscious that one of the markers of white privilege is a sense that this is “all about me” and that this matters because for one moment, it impacted my life. I can go back to my world and recover – people of color and other targeted groups cannot.

But in this case, we are the only ones who can dig out the plank of wood that is rammed into our eyes. I grew up with people who, though not white nationalists, certainly harbored many similar views about immigrants, Muslims, and people of color. We have to call them out at every church potluck, at every PTA meeting, at every high school basketball game.

We have to watch our own and make sure they aren’t being radicalized – because make no mistake, the people who came to Charlottesville are radical white supremacists, no different in many ways to the other radical terror groups like the IRA and ISIL.

When we stand by and let our sons, daughters, brothers and friends fall into ugly talk and radical ideology, we are complicit.

The Bible tells us that we are all one in Jesus, all part of the same body of Christ. When one part hurts, so do all the others.

So this is our challenge: how do we invite those who hate us to come, sit at our table, and hear the Good News, that on a glorious Sunday love triumphed over death and redemption is ours for the asking?

I’m still trying to figure that part out.

I remember moving to Charlottesville several years ago. I didn’t know anyone but my family and often felt alone and isolated. Sensing my need to connect, many people invited me to church.

If radicalization is the result of isolation and disconnection, maybe one first step we can take is to invite our haters to come and worship with us.

This is the time to hate the sin but love the sinner, and it sure as hell ain’t gonna be easy.

The picture I included here is of the Downtown Mall we all know and love, a place of family and community and joy. It helps if you know what we’re fighting for.

Keep us in your prayers. It helps, more than you know.

And remember that we still have a lot of work to do. Until we can all look in the mirror and know without a doubt that we have removed every shred of anger, hate, and bitterness from our hearts, our work is not done.

Peace to you all.

Advertisements

The Endurance of Wild Flowers

A year ago today, I was fired.

Despite what all of the experts on LinkedIn say, this is not something easily managed. It is a stain that refuses to be cleaned. I still can’t write those words without feeling the pain and humiliation of that day rise up like bile in the back of my mouth.

Why was I fired? I am glad you asked. I was on vacation when I got the call and while I know that I was fired for retaliation, when asked directly for the reason for my termination, they refused to give one. This is perfectly legal in a “Right to Work” state like mine.

I will say only this: in deeply disturbing circumstances, I am proud of how I handled myself. I left that organization knowing that in all my interactions and in all of my words and deeds, I conducted myself with honesty and grace. My integrity is intact.

That being said, to say that this last year has been devastating is like saying the ocean is immense. I remain unemployed despite a severance agreement that guarantees positive reference language. I have applied for well over 100 jobs and have had dozens of interviews but no offers. The pain of this level of rejection and the self doubt it has bred has been, at times, crippling. As a result I am financially ruined for the foreseeable future and have suffered from serious bouts of anxiety and depression.

And yet.

I have come to see this awful experience as something more than a an unmitigated disaster. Strange as it may sound, my faith is more unshakable today than it was 13 months ago. I have been brought low, deep in the valley of the shadow, and I am still here.

My family, especially my parents, have been rock solid. My father is still my guardian and I could not love him more. Few friends know of my plight but I am so grateful for the support of the ones that do and who have supported and encouraged me.

Opportunities have arisen that would not have but for me getting the sack. As a result, I love my community all the more because I know her so much better!

And, once again, I can look myself in the eye and know that I did the right thing. I stood strong in my values, I did not take the easy road. I did not abandon doing what was right for what was expedient. I passed The Test.

Actually, I have passed many tests, none more important than staying rooted in my faith despite the length of time of this ordeal. I have never once been angry at God. Never once have I insisted that he prove His love by ensuring my gainful employment or that he reward me for making me and my family suffer for such a long time.

“This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad of it.”

Yes. Yes. Yes! There is still food to eat and miraculously, the lights are still on. There are people to love and children to raise. The sun shines. And the wild flowers, despite heat and draught and the lack of a manicured garden, are glorious.

I am a Wild Flower. I endure much, do without more, and in spite of everything, all is right with my soul. This is where true beauty is cultivated and this garden is bountiful.

It is a glorious world and I am blessed to be in it. So today, Day 366 of my Great Trial, I rejoice and give thanks and know deeply, intuitively, impossibly, that all will be well.

On Birthday Magic and the Origins of Family

Today my sister would be celebrating her 50th birthday. 50! And my dad is celebrating his birthday, too. The date is intermingled – an event that was always a dual celebration in our house. I thought it was a special kind of magic that two people not related by blood would share such an important date. It’s like they were destined to be family.

This may surprise some people who know my family – my dad is not Aimee’s genetic father. Dad met my mom in Christchurch, New Zealand when Aimee was but a year old and adopted her when she was…Maybe 6? These things took a while back in the day. I know that my dad, in his inimitable way, decided to marry my mom within days of meeting her and that my mom, badass that she was, made no bones about the fact that she was a proud single mom and that to love her was to love her daughter. This was 1968 – she was staking out her ground and daring a man with vision and courage meet her on her own terms.

Dad was the man for the job. A young naval officer at the time stationed in Antarctica (he got an island in the Antarctic named after him for his efforts – imagine that!), Dad accepted the challenge and went to battle for her hand and her daughter. 

I mean this literally. My grandmother, Dorothea, was the most badass warrior woman God ever created. She fought on Burma Road in WWII and no half-witted, soft-lad Yankee was going to steal her beloved Granddaughter and spirit her off to the God-forsaken wilds of America. Let’s just say that woman knew how to wield a machete and was not afraid to use it.

In my father’s usual quiet way, once he set his mind to something, he went and did it. He won my mother’s hand with his keen mind and sense of humor then he won over my grandmother with his courage under fire. 

And my sister? He won her heart with his willingness to enter her world and search for Christopher Robin and the Hundred Acre Wood. I think they found it somewhere near Morgan Hill back before there was silicon in our valley and orchards still covered the land. I’m sure wherever it was it smelled divine – like cherry blossoms and old oak trees.

And that was the start of our family – Mom, Dad and Aimee. I came along a few years later, and then, pulling up the rear, my brother.

And here we are, 50 years after her birth. We carry on without our beloved daughter and sister. But the link between us all, the invisible thread that ties us together is still there. This is one of the secrets you learn when you lose someone before their time – if you keep telling their stories, they are still with you. Until the last story is told. 

Here’s to more stories and more memories. Happy Birthday Dad. And to Aimee, wherever you are  💙💙💙

Fearless

Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:

– I shall not fear anyone on Earth. 
– I shall fear only God. 
– I shall not bear ill will toward anyone. 
– I shall not submit to injustice from anyone. 
– I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.

Mahatma Gandhi

This quote has rather dominated the last 5 months of my life. I have always loved it but I don’t think I ever truly understood the courage it takes to resist submitting to injustice, nor the resolve required to resist untruth and endure all suffering as a consequence of that resistance.

When you speak truth to power, there may be immediate rewards and even glory. And let’s be honest – it can feel downright liberating to let people know exactly what you think. 

Just as easily, there may be other consequences that do not feel so wonderful. There are often real, painful, and harsh penalties that do not feel as satisfying, including humiliation, rejection, and betrayal. In fact, you should probably count on it. Most folks don’t respond well when you call them out and hold them to account and they will take their pound of flesh, make no mistake.

This is why I love Gandhi’s quote so much. It reminds me that I must expect to be faced with these harsh and often unjust consequences, to anticipate them and be ready to pay the price. It is part of being a wayseeker. 

One of Gandhi’s other lessons is that suffering is part of living and those who can accept this and embrace it can find peace. It is when we resist suffering, when we rail against it, when we wring our hands and gnash our teeth, that we dispair. Suffering can be endured. Dispair, however, is soul destroying.

When we suffer for the right reasons – because we stood up for truth or beauty or to preserve human dignity – we might lose friends, get fired from our jobs, or face arrest or imprisonment. Recognize this, and accept these as the price for walking this path. 

Like Gandhi, Jesus understood what it meant to suffer for the truth. No one was better at declaring the truth and calling people out when they denied it or acted in ways that were not in alignment with the truth. And no one was more willing to suffer pain, humiliation and eventually death in defense of the truth and beauty of God’s Kingdom.

I am currently suffering for the truth. I spoke my truth and demanded that I be treated with dignity and I was cast out and humiliated for it, publicly and in a most inhumane manner imaginable. It has made me question my faith in people and certainly undermined my naive belief that honesty is a policy that is rewarded.

This is hard!

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:12 “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him..” This is such an important lesson. We are one with Jesus when we take up a cross and carry it, willingly, for the right reasons! When we suffer because we fear no man but God and will speak the truth, we may well suffer, but we will also be one with our teacher. 

We are never to suffer needlessly, however, because of things like guilt or shame. Good Lord, put those crosses down! Jesus died for those exact sins so that we would be free from their heavy weight and impossible burden. This is his grace and mercy to us. 

The follow-up to this verse, of course, is a reminder that if we deny Jesus, he will deny us. This sounds rather harsh, but I make sense of it in this way: we are called to walk by faith, not by sight. When we suffer, or when we see others in pain, we may be tempted to impose a timeline on things. We are willing to endure, but only for so long. Then we want it to stop, for things to get better, to be rewarded for our efforts.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. God has his own timeline and it rarely aligns with ours. In those agonizing minutes and months and years of prolonged suffering, we may move from grudging endurance to outright resentment. We knew it wouldn’t be easy but we didn’t sign up for this! And we might be tempted, in our frustration, to believe we’ve been abandoned. We lose faith. 

Remember to keep going. Remember to walk by faith alone. When the reality of your suffering becomes great, close your eyes and keep on moving. This is the path of the wayseeker. You are not lost and you have not been foresaken. You can’t see the end of the road, but God can and it will end. It always does, one way or another, and as long as you don’t lose faith, your place beside Jesus is confirmed.

That is the only thought that keeps me moving sometimes. When I feel my commitment flagging, when I think I can’t go another step, sometimes all I have left is a battered and worn out “Hallelujah”. Yes, in my low moments it even rings hollow to my own ears. But it is better to say that – and hope it rings true in time – then to abandon the Way altogether. And I’ll keep saying it until my faith feels steady once more. 

Supprisingly, even some in Hollywood understand this (and why shouldn’t we embrace Home Truths, even when they come from such an unlikely source. Truth is Truth). In one of the final scenes of the Star Wars epic Rogue One, the inimitable blind warrior Monk of Jedha, Churrit Imwe repeatedly intones:

“I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.” 

Now there is a lesson: if I say it often enough, it will guide my steps and I do not have to see where I am going in order to arrive at the right place at exactly the right time.

Truer words were never spoken.



Raising Chaos

image
Visiting the Eco Village

My husband and I are house hunting. We are not in complete agreement about what we want to buy, or even where, and the search is in its early stages which means we often find ourselves in rather unexpected places, all in the name of “checking things out.”

Today we found ourselves in a new eco co-housing community, mostly because, like all good progressives, we like the idea of a strong sense of community combined with sustainability. So we traveled a mile out of town to see what was cooking at the proposed eco village.

It took me about 30 seconds to realize this was never going to be a welcoming place for our youngest sons. This place was crawling with senior citizens in Birkenstocks and hemp clothing. These folks are slow and steady, calm to the point of inertia, unless they are gardening or composting their healthy and pesticide free leftovers, or forming singing groups called “The Green Grannies” who sing about saving the earth and dress in wildly flamboyant green clothing.

Everything moved at a relaxed and deliberate pace, and inside voices were used outside because, like all worthy people, shouting, along with picking one’s nose, is seen as vulgar in the extreme. There is plenty of energy, but it is for things like potlucks and community gardens, not games of capture the flag or sword fights (always plastic or wood swords, just in case you were worried).

My boys ran at top speed from the parking lot to the play area barely missing the perambulating seniors and toddlers who had arrived earlier in the day, made heart-shaped mud pies with the sand toys, and climbed everything not surrounded by an electric fence. They whacked low hanging tree branches with the aforementioned plastic sword, as well as probed ground holes with its tip, and ran and tripped and leaped across the uneven ground, skidding in the mud, all with voices in a decibel range only a NASCAR enthusiast could appreciate.

They stood out like a couple of hyper, dirty and noisy sore thumbs.

Outside the community building where a lecture on the proposed design plans for the community was being held, signs were posted asking latecomers to remove all shoes, not just the muddy ones. That strategy would hardly last through breakfast in our house. Mud is our middle name. So the boys, who have an inherent knack for slamming doors and filling a studious quiet with shouts of, “I need to poo, RIGHT NOW!” were invited to stay outside.

We missed the lecture, but I didn’t really need it to know we didn’t fit in at this place.

In fact, we don’t fit in many places any more. Even in places where there are other children. Our boys are notorious for their high energy and imaginative games. These games often revolve around nature exploration, but they could equally involve super heroes and Power Rangers. They always involve climbing, running, water, mud, and a high degree of unintended destruction. If it can be thrown, jumped on, pounded, pulled apart, flung, stacked, soaked, dug up, pulverized, or propped up, it will be.

We deal in a constant whirl of negative impulse control and bad outcomes. I have had to teach my boys about mens rea – the legal concept that a crime requires intent – and that having a reckless disregard for the outcome of one’s actions makes one just as guilty as if one had intended the outcome right from the start.

Raising boys is a study in living life on the edge with a reckless disregard for the consequences.

And the more boys you have, and the closer they are in age, the more accute this experience becomes. Mothers of twins and “annuals” (my word for those of us whose kids will be just one year apart in school) know exactly what I mean. The phrase “partners in crime” was developed to describe our kids. Together, they are far greater at causing chaos than a simple sum of their individual parts would indicate.

My Aunt Carol had 6 boys. The first 5, thanks to a set of twins, were very close in age. At one point, she had 5 under five. I shudder at the very thought. Like imaging the death of a loved one, I just can’t go there.

Some say I am following in her footsteps, but the truth is, she is a bloody miracle of Motherhood because she SURVIVED. And I admire her for how she did it – with grace, humor, and a move to a ranch where her boys could run wild and free and indulge in all things boy, in a way that suburban living will never tolerate.

And this is where I will follow my Aunt’s lead. If I have learned one thing during my initial house search it is that my boys need space, with mud that isn’t in a flower bed or covering the squash and bean crop, trees that aren’t the fragile but attractive Crepe Myrtle at the front of the drive, space to fling rocks and hurl sticks, and enough distance between them and everyone else so that their imaginations can run wild and free without causing property damage or personal injury.

The truth is, society today no longer appreciates boys or boy-like behavior. We like to see kids playing imagination games so long as those games don’t involve competition, or God forbid, fighting, wrestling, or any other physical, risky challenge. Earlier in the day, in fact, we were hounded out of the outdoor restaurant where we were enjoying lunch because our youngest, Jacob, was open carrying his plastic sword, and was running with two other boys. The other dads took offense and hollered at Jacob, then told my husband about the transgression. All Jacob was doing was running with a sword. It kept falling out of its “sheath” (his belt loop on his trousers), so in order to keep up with the kids, he had to hold it. And that was enough to condemn him in the eyes of the other parents.

As we drove away I noted that the other boys were now armed with larger, rapier-like sticks. My boys are leaders of future men, if nothing else.

Boys need time to be boys. They need space, and patience, love, and lots of understanding laughter. It is a hard, messy, job to parent a boy. And in those moments when I am not tired, trying to clean, or it is early in the day and the list of transgressions is still short, I can appreciate them in all their filthy, fun and physical glory.

For the other times?

Wine. And a Bible. And a padded cell. But hopefully the wine and Bible are enough.

I sometimes see my boys in the future. They are strong, fearless, and full of adventure and high spirits. They make me laugh and keep me young.

All will be well, I tell myself, if only I can survive these Wild Years. And of course I will. For who wouldn’t want to see what becomes of all this energy and what order will be brought to this chaos?

I used to think I was supposed to be a mother of many daughters. I have a degree in Women’s Studies, after all. But now I see the wisdom in God’s mysterious ways. She knew what She was doing when She sent me these last two boys, my change-of-life sons, Brothers in Arms, worst of enemies, and fiercest of friends.

And I am grateful.