A House Divided

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What an interesting few weeks we have had lately. It seems only last week I was wondering which poorly coiffed whack-a-doodle was going to depress a button and send us all into nuclear winter and now my thoughts have been spun toward — or backwards — to The Civil War.

Wowsa.

These past few days have been a time of deep soul-searching, deeper reflection, a lot of reading, a lot of listening, a lot of remembering, a lot of learning.

I’m a house divided to quote our 16th president.

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Or, more aptly, I’m a brain and heart divided.

One part of my gene pool stems from staunch Quakers, – you know, those stalwart, pacifistic, lovers of all mankind, seeing that of God in everyone, abolitionists, often confused with Amish, peaceniks — Quakers: some who fled to Indiana during this unpleasantness; some who stayed put and protested and refused to take up arms.

THOSE folk.

THIS is why my heart hurt when I saw the angry crowd in Charlottesville — those individuals from both sides of the argument with stony opinions so plainly etched on their faces that no amount of reasonable discussion could erase.

Another part of my lineage is poor Scotch-Irish farmer stock who DID decide to fight — one of whom, Fielding Kyles, served as a Private in the NC 11th Regiment, NC Infantry, Company E, Confederate Army. Fielding not only fought in and survived Gettysburg, he lived through capture at Petersburg, and imprisonment at Point Lookout, Maryland — only to come home to find his wife had died of smallpox.

THIS is why my heart hurt when I saw pictures of the downing of the statue in Durham — those individuals with righteous indignation and disgust so plainly etched on their faces that no amount of reasonable discussion could erase.

There are few Civil War battlefields in North Carolina and Virginia that I have not visited. As a child, our family adventures needed to be educational and free or cheap. Admittedly, those hilly bumps on the landscape representing battle lines and the black painted cannon facing imaginary foes bored me a little when young. I was more interested in the coolness of the museums with the 15-minute documentary, the fascinating dioramas, and the gift shops. As I grew older though, the stillness of the battlefields with their solemn statuary began to “speak” to me. The earth works and the vast open spaces came alive with “ghosts” of young men fighting and dying for and against…

…well, that’s the debate.

Always an avid reader, I dug into the novel Gone With The Wind for the first time when I was probably nine. Do NOT confuse the long yet abridged movie with this sweeping epic. Margaret Mitchell wrote a captivating narrative of life during that time based upon tales she heard while sitting on the laps of survivors of the war and its trying aftermath. Her descriptions of life, entwined between the love story of Scarlett and Rhett, are raw and at times ugly yet enlightening about the horrors of war, the savagery of the armies from both sides and the deprivations during and after.

Living as I do in rural Virginia, only 30 minutes or so from the site of the Nat Turner Insurrection of 1831 – some thirty years before the firing on Fort Sumter-, I have read a great deal about his story and the effects on Southampton County. A friend with a family connection to a white “supporter” of Turner, attended a gathering several years ago which was supposed to be a dialogue on race, but which quickly turned uncomfortable when one man stood and expressed that “we” should stop killing our own and start killing the whites. Mistrust and open emotional wounds know no color.

Whenever I drive through those backroads where Turner and a group of slaves marched and killed and eventually faced capture, or drive through the sleepy town of Courtland, then Jerusalem, where he and others were jailed, tried and subsequently hanged, I feel the history. The locations “speak” to me — just like those battlefields.

Raised in a home where using the “n” word would be tantamount to dropping the “f-bomb,” I was fortunate to not learn the hate and the “we are better” rhetoric which is still evident today. When integration of schools hit our tiny county when I was in elementary school, a generous benefactor in one of the Meetings my dad was serving at the time, offered to fund my tuition to one of the area private schools because almost all the white families were fleeing the public schools. Dad and Mom politely declined with the reasoning that the world is made up of many different people; isolating our children will not teach them to coexist as adults.

During the week, I have seen social media flooded with memes deflecting the root of this latest issue. Deflection of a topic occurs when an argument is defended by throwing up a “but what about THIS, or HIS actions, or HER actions, or if we take down THIS statue, shouldn’t we take down THAT one.” Whenever I see a deflection theory, admittedly my eyes roll upwards toward the ceiling, my “listening” ears shut down, and I move on.

Deflection is not helpful to swaying opinion nor does it point to a well thought out position on any given topic.

With the exception of the peaceable ones who have attended these rallies with hopes that love can cover hate, with no preconceived agendas of stirring the pot, with peace in their hearts, not revenge, all parties hold some responsibility for the violence.

We are all products of our upbringing and our time. Just as I’ll never know the mindset of either set of ancestors — those who fought, those who fled, those who rebelled — I’m neither equipped to judge their reactions to the stresses facing them in their time.

It’s so simple to play the blame game, to deflect, to stay rooted in our opinions without opening up to self-examination. It’s also so simple to turn a blind eye to injustice.

Have I had a great epiphany as to whether I fall in one camp or the other when it comes to Confederate statues? Nope. I am more in favor of MOVING them than REMOVING them simply because an erased history teaches no lessons and is prone to be repeated.

I also like the quote below by Jefferson — are these statues physically picking anyone’s pockets or breaking anyone’s legs — or have we become a nation of the too-easily-offended?

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Somewhere during the week, I recalled the old Quaker tradition of rarely marking graves because they were resolved against “the vanity and superstition of creating monuments and entombing the dead with singular notes or marks of distinction, which is but worldly pomp and grandeur, for no encomium nor pompous interment can add worth to the deceased.”

And that quickly flowed into an inward debate on the second commandment…are we “worshiping” these idols in the name of our own stubborn sense of historical significance?

The only truth which I can confidently set forth is, we’re still fighting issues from over 150 years ago and resolution of these hurt feelings and complex situations will not be achieved simply by the removal of metal and concrete. THIS is so much deeper than that. Inward reflection, contemplation, education, walking a mile in another’s shoes metaphorically in order to see all sides, is the only mature way to move forward.

*sigh*

That’s how I feel today.

I am still a house divided — brain and heart.

 

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Proud To Be A Snowflake

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In these turbulent times when name-calling has become the new normal, I’ve thought a lot about which of the sizzling nom de guerre classifications into which I might fall.

I think I’ll choose “snowflake.”

If being a snowflake thinks relating off-color stories and pontificating about one’s “superiority” to a group of young men [and women] whose values are the antithesis of everything you’ve shown yourself to be, is wrong,

If believing that our founding fathers really didn’t intend for this to be a nation of “Christians only – others need not apply,” but instead adopted more of a laissez-faire attitude and strove for a state of FREEDOM TO worship [or not] as one chose, not a BINDING contract to one set of government-defined creeds,*

[*Read Jefferson — a self-described deist, who believed Jesus was a good man, but NOT the son of God. Check out the often-debated Article 11 within the Treaty with Tripoli [1796] — some pooh-pooh this, but there is evidence that it was indeed read in front of and approved by the Senate. Read about the horrors in our long ago nations of origin committed in the name of state-sponsored religion.]

If being tired of hearing how classy the new First Lady is compared to the previous one, simply because she read the Lord’s Prayer at an event and wears designer frocks…when you know of her nude and lascivious photos; not judging HER for HER past — but wondering what qualifications my friends denote as classiness,

If thinking this entire healthcare debate debacle all boils down to greed, and votes, and has nothing to do with the welfare of our citizens,

If, while not fully understanding the lifestyle of the LGBT community, yet attempting to see the similarities in their struggle with that of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement [an ongoing personal growth process,]

If being appalled at the vileness and ineptitude spewing out of this administration, yet not being surprised except by those christian-in-name-only folks who keep defending all this, this, this, whatever this is,

If wanting a better world with clean air, clean water, peace,

If being a snowflake means I fail daily in my struggle to be a better person, a better servant, a better American, a better Christian, yet I keep striving,

I’m proud to be a snowflake.

Snowflakes are lovely. Snowflakes revel in their individuality. Snowflakes cover a myriad of ugliness.

Yet remember, a group of snowflakes can be vicious in their intensity.

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Mothers

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Oh. My. Word. While scrambling around for a photo to post for Mother’s Day, I reached into the box of items I last brought home from Dad and Mom’s home place — a box I knew had some albums, but had not had time — that greedy taskmaster — to go through.
 
As I flipped through the slightly mildewy-scented pages, I spied the photo on the left.
 
I HOOTED!
 
Did I even remember this picture existed? This 55-year-old brain had no recollection of the time or the place but I delighted in the finding.
 
Dad captured us — his 4 women — at our finest [and from our best angles 🙂 ]
 
The brave Lelia, Elaine and Judy are leaning out, while our ever cautious Mom is standing back — silently, or maybe not so silently, warning us and praying for us to not fall over the ledge.
 
While careful, Mom was a pioneer.
A brainy woman, she worked on the first computer in Greensboro before she married. Had she the opportunity, I think she would have made a smashing lawyer — perhaps even a Supreme Court judge. It was said she would argue with a sign and then dig it up and argue with the hole in the ground. Even as she was imprisoned in her body by Parkinson’s, her mind was sharp as she kept up with all the news.
 
The photo on the right shows Mom and my dad’s mom. [Christmas and vacations seem to be when cameras are pulled out most.]
 
Mary, my paternal grandma, was a teacher, a farmer’s wife, a quilter, a church-going mother of 5 — 4 rambunctious boys and 1 baby girl. She survived cancer and a debilitating stroke back in the ’70s when medical advances aren’t what they are today.
 
I come from strong and interesting stock.
 
Happy Mother’s Day.

My Tired is Tired

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The old adage, “A man will work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done,” popped up in my head this morning…as I awoke early after a long and tiring public work week…and decided I had just too much to do to be malingering in bed past 6 a.m.
Not to disparage the male gender — oh NO! — not one bit; I have one of the hardest working spouses known to the free world — I just began thinking of the innumerable tasks that must and should be done on my two days off to keep the family unit clicking along…and thought, “whew,”
This will be a “light” weekend of groceries, cooking and meal prep for the week ahead, washing The Dawg, his laundry, OUR laundry, dusting, sweeping, mopping, dishes and finding room for last week’s summer wardrobe purchases. [I’m a seasonal shopper; twice yearly purge and restock.]
There are other household jobs that will be mocking me from their dust-covered, stagnant spots — sorting departed family’s items, photos to be pored over, cabinets which resemble Flibber McGee’s closet when opened, to be cleared, well, you get the gist.
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Yet here I sit blogging — on a long neglected site — I might add.
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There’s more to life than work — Emotional Brain whispers.
There’s work to be done, Missy — yells my Practical Brain.
It’s a struggle.
*sigh*

The Anatomy of Fear [or Walking A Tightrope in Today’s World or Tiptoeing in a Politically Charged Environment or…]

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I’m a child of the Sixties, so I’ve seen a protest or two in my life. Born into a family of readers and open-minded, socially-forward-thinking parents, I was never at a loss for reading material on all manner of current world events. Quakers are especially known for activism and booklets, pamphlets, and half-page, folded, copied and stapled treatises on war, government, environment, civil rights, ad infinitum, littered our coffee table, Daddy’s desk and Mom’s bookshelves. I read. I absorbed.

My favorite reading material showed up weekly in the mailbox with its glossy, come-hither wrappings — the now defunct Newsweek. The other items were interesting, but Newsweek, with its color, current, and sometimes disturbing pictures, brought the protest-fodder to life. The stories ran parallel: Friends against war in Vietnam — photo of “Napalm Girl” running in abject terror; Friends in unity for civil rights  — photos of M.L.King, John Lewis, Emmett Till and the KKK; Sam Levering who stayed at our home on the way to D.C. for FCNL and Law of the Sea business — pictures of Greenpeace rubber rafts vs whaling ships.

I lived Sixties’ and Seventies’ history through my reading and relationships.

While we are currently in an apparent, never-before-seen, turbulent time of “us against them,” I try to recall those days of my childhood when we were also a nation divided.

Memories of driving through downtown Emporia before Highway 58 bypassed the mostly African-American section shortly after King was assassinated, in the summer, with the windows down, in an un-air conditioned car, watching a gathering of protesters chanting in anger.

Passing the entrance to the field in Goldsboro which was to be the site of a huge KKK rally according to a giant roadside billboard and seeing two white-sheet-clad men[?] wave cars onto the grounds.

Attempting to understand how National Guard troops could be ordered to shoot real ammo at college students.

We’ve seen volatility and protest before.

As I’ve struggled to dissect today’s overabundance of national angst and distrust and worry, and at the risk of oversimplification, I attribute all mostly to fear.

We are all afraid.

A few random conversations, which have somehow started out innocently enough and then leaped into the state of our politics, has set me on this path of reasoning.

The young white girl who waters our office plants talking about her excitement over new homeownership,

a non-white lady in the neighboring Belk’s dressing room who sneezed and I blessed her,

my African-American, male coworkers, a couple of whom stop by my cubicle daily to wish me a good morning and make me laugh and their real concerns over the choices of the current administration,

my female friends who fear loss of respect and choice,

my other friends who are fighting for the rights of the un-born,

my white, male friends who were tired of their values being threatened and trod upon over the last 8 years,

all afraid and all wanting their fears to be listened to and validated.

My response, and it somehow sounds Pollyanna-esque, has been that we are being exposed to the two extremes and that here in the middle, where we meet one-on-one, sanity reigns.

We have to continue to meet each other face to face and be kind to one another — that’s where fears can be squashed — in our daily interactions and only in our understanding that we are more alike than we are different.

Just as Newsweek’s pictures brought dry activism topics into clearer focus, these heartfelt conversations with real people, bring me a hope that the world has not gone mad — we are only afraid it has.

Peace.

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Do You Believe In Ghosts?

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My great-grandmother walked past my bedroom window when I was about 7 complete with white hair pulled tautly back in her signature bun and a serious look on her profile. That might have been normal except for the fact that she had recently passed away and I had attended her funeral. That fleeting second or two didn’t really unnerve my young self and I don’t think I gave it much thought because as children, especially a child that reads a lot and daydreams a lot, we tend to take life — or in this case — afterlife — in stride.

As I’ve become older and have experienced many more passings of loved ones, that moment and the accompanying mental picture, keeps cropping up. It has taken on a comforting tone; like an intangible talisman of hope that our selves — our “us-ness” — continues on in some form or another…even doing “float-bys” outside a child’s window.

Imagination and curiosity have been constant companions since birth and I’ve always been drawn to books that delve into the facts about death and what happens to our bodies when we die and even the hundreds of theories about our spiritual landing spots afterward. Energy — and we are energy — cannot be destroyed so it stands to reason that we don’t just “poof” but where do we go, what do we look like, can we communicate/nudge/influence?

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When a friend died under less than ideal circumstances, I was gifted a book of comfort to read by a minister friend. That in of itself was expected, but his accompanying note was not. He shared a story about his life where he lost a brother suddenly and that same brother visited him during the night post-mortem saying nothing, just passing by to give a quick visit. This had the same soothing effect on my minister friend that my great-grandmother’s fly by had on me. He wondered if I would receive a similar visit from my quickly departed friend.

I did not, although I sort of hoped I would — I had a ton of questions — which was perhaps why she stayed away. I could be a pest with questions at the best of times.

The most recent unexplainable occurrence that lends comfort, was as we planned my eldest sister’s service. She had passed without warning during the previous night and we were all shocked, dismayed, grieving and very much at a loss. As we sat around the polished funeral home conference table seriously discussing flowers, casket choices, dates and times, Jimmy Buffett starts singing…from my brother-in-law’s pocket. [Imagine here the furrowed brows, side-eye looks, confused faces.] Judy had decided that she wanted a part in the planning of HER memorial and through her password-protected cell phone, messaged us that she wanted Buffett’s version of “All The Ways I Want You” played. And so we immediately included it.

Even the funeral director was taken back a bit about the otherworldly, yet technologically savvy method of communication — he didn’t know Judy’s powerful personality. 🙂

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All of this rambling and remembrance probably comes from being in the middle of reading Mary Roach’s book, Spook. If you’ve never read any of her work, Roach is a wonderfully funny writer who takes on all types of weird topics — death, gastrointestinal functions, mating — and spins them into quite readable and bitingly witty books. In Spook, she is tackling the topic of the afterlife and the various ways over the years that people have attempted to capture proof. It has been quite a fascinating journey complete with those who only want to trick the bereaved to those who actually seem to be able to communicate with the departed. An admitted skeptic, Roach has so far — as far as I’ve gotten through the book — fallen into the un-believing camp — and I’m curious to see her opinions at the end of the book.

Regardless of her conclusions, I have my great-grandmother’s wafting form and my sister’s cell phone playlist to tide me over until I know what lies beyond.

I’ve also got a list of people to visit.

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