Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
It turns out he had spent a significant amount of time living in Bandon, Oregon, the same small southwestern oceanside town that my grandma has lived since the 1970s. Mike served with the coast guard in WWII, and simply loved spending time near the water. After retirement, he'd owned and operated a lobster boat out of Maine, gone to Chinese cooking school, and lived out west in Oregon for health reasons. He had quite a story—the kind of story I hope to tell when I reach that point in life.
We finished up the grab bar without problems and went to work trying to fix his screen door. It was exciting for me, as my family had screen doors back home and I knew exactly what to do, at least in theory. As we worked, he chatted with us about his incredible life, laughing with us as we struggled to implement the plans I had in my head to fix the door. He even asked us at one point if we were more than “work partners,” because “you're just both good-looking young people with a natural chemistry.” We laughed pretty hard at that.
Things got a little more serious after we'd finished repairing the door. He was really grateful for us doing more than he'd anticipated, and really wanted to show his gratitude. He offered us a cup of coffee, despite the fact that we were working in at least a 90 degree day. My philosophy on a client offering me something, no matter what it is, is to take it, because that makes our relationship more reciprocal, rather than me being someone providing something for them without them in turn somehow providing something for me. It builds mutual respect, rather than a dependent relationship. Plus, as Mike said, “I can never make a pot of coffee for me to drink one cup. If you have one, I can justify making it.”
While we were munching on the biscotti Mike kept putting in front of us, and as I sipped my coffee, Mike told us about his summer, when a group supporting veterans paid the airfare for any living survivors of World War II to go to Washington D.C. for the dedication of the new WWII memorial. Mike spoke of the emotional experience he felt, the anguish he goes through thinking about his brothers that didn't make it through the war. And, when he said “Freedom isn't free,” for the first time in my life I didn't cringe at the overused platitude.
Mike had seen on my wrist that I wore many bracelets, one of which simply says, “Peace.” He looked at Amy and me and said, “I hope we have peace. And I hope you young people never have to experience what I did. I was hoping after our war we could have peace. I still hope for you.”
Then he looked at me and told me about a bracelet they gave to all the veterans who were at the memorial dedication. “I don't wear it, but you wear bracelets, and I don't have any children or relatives to give it to—would you want it?”
A million things passed through my head in that moment: I don't support the wars we're in, or think they're justified, nor do I typically endorse my country's actions abroad. I knew that my taking that bracelet was incredibly important to Mike, but I didn't want to take it without really grasping and accepting responsibility for the item I was about to receive. After a pause, I told Mike I would be absolutely honored to wear that bracelet for him. With tears in his eyes, he went to a dresser and handed it to me.
Before we left that day Mike showed us pictures from his computer of the dedication ceremony and the memorial itself. Mike didn't need to say much at that point. We were all in tears—the two young, idealistic young people, fervently anti-war, and the aging veteran, a peace-activist in his own right.
I left that day with a rubber bracelet of the stars and stripes on my wrist. It took some getting used to, especially in relationship to all my other bracelets, but whenever I look at it, I can't help but think of that passionate man living by himself, hoping for a better tomorrow. There are times just looking at it and thinking about the powerful way I received it brings tears to my eyes.
When we meet each other face to face, we find our humanity together.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
I hold no false pretensions that I understand the border. I have only been exposed in a select few situations to what is going on, most tangibly on my trips to Mexico building houses during college. While I've been in Tucson, I've learned a lot about the plight of migrants dying in the desert, willing to risk their lives seeking a better life for their families. I've learned a lot about how recent Arizona legislation affects the lives of all Arizonans, not just those of Hispanic descent. But going down to Nogales and seeing and hearing the perspective of an American citizen with dual citizenship who has grown up on the border, freely traveling and visiting family on both sides, brought out more questions than answers.
I think Socrates was onto something when he said “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” I think the border is an issue that the further you delve into it, the deeper it gets, the more breadth it has, and the more frustratingly complex the system becomes. I left feeling completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the changes that need to take place for all people to live in a just system, and disgusted that I am part of a system that is blatantly disregarding basic human rights. A part of me no longer feels like a small cog in a giant machine that is creating change, but instead like a small pebble simply washed along with the current of the river.
So how do we react?
I think the main thing I can do personally to start removing myself from an unjust system, and eventually changing it, is educating myself as to how my actions are impacting others. How do the foods I buy support companies that are fair and just to their workers, or support companies that are abusing an economic situation and have created an unjust system for its workers? How about my clothes?
This process continues onto larger levels: How does my church support companies that are doing things right? How about my family? Do my friends know the ramifications of buying that coffee from a major manufacturer that pays its workers an unlivable wage?
Finally, and this is where it gets really overwhelming (but also very exciting)—how do we tackle the government systems that enable Americans to live the most extravagant lifestyle in the world while a)millions of our fellow Americans are stuck on the streets without a job or home and b) while workers in foreign countries lose their jobs because the company they are working for was undersold by an American producer? I'd like to think if we really knew the affects of our decisions we would choose differently.
Mostly importantly, how do we handle these issues in ways that give dignity to all involved, both the oppressors and the oppressed? There are no enemies in this challenge. We are all striving to find ways to live, and each of us have the same blessing, the same sacred right to walk this Earth.
I think of MLK. “The nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. Our aim is not to defeat the white community, not to humiliate the white community, but to win the friendship of all the persons who had perpetrated this system in the past. The aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community.”
I am an unabashed optimist. And even in the frustration and bitterness and real, passionate, anger that thinking about some of this stuff brings me, I cling to the belief that we are capable of something more. And I don't think it is possible just because we think we can do it. I think it is the type of community that God intends, and the type of love between people that Jesus spoke of.
MLK shared this hope:
“The arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Thanks for staying on this journey with me. Keep dreaming.
The last few weeks has been a trying time. One of my best friends from college lost his mother in a sudden and tragic auto accident in Scottsdale, AZ. I have been so grateful to be down here and in a position where I can physically be present for my friend and his dad and brothers. I've never lost someone suddenly, and I've found that while I didn't know his mother personally that well, I've been grieving for Kyle and his family. Part of my frustration has been with wanting to help, but knowing there is really nothing I can do to understand what that family is going through. I wrote about it, partially for me, and partially trying to voice some frustrations with the grief process overall.
We all ask:
Reality tells us—this happens to folks everyday
News stations can't even run the stories
they're so common
But the weight on my heart
the agony ripping at my soul
a suckerpunch to my ability to
These things tell me
this story matters
this life matters
So we reach out in the only way we know how
trying to connect
trying to help
trying to ….
feel like we're doing something.
Can I come help? Do you need anything?
I'll send a package! How are you doing?
Do you want to talk? I'm here for you.
For maybe a couple weeks.
And then suddenly it stops
like we've overcome the pain
and life can be normal again.
Are you kidding me?
My grief still feels like an open wound
and it starts to heal when I can be real
with someone and share my sadness
But you all think I'm fine
after all it's been quite some time
I should be recovering
She'd want it that way.
She'd want it that way?
Oh those words always cut to me like the steely edge of a knife
sometimes a comfort
mostly a brutal reminder that
what we are saying is purely conjecture
because we don't know what she'd want
because she isn't here!
This is grief.
This is now life.
We all ask: