New and Improved 2017

Four days into 2017, and I’m lying in bed, sick with a cold. I wanted to start this year with bright eyes and a bushy tail, but instead I have watery eyes and a droopy tail. My nose is congested, but my mind is clear, and I might as well be doing something productive and reflective.

It’s been a while since I’ve set formal resolutions for the new year. It’s not that I don’t believe in them; it’s just that I see every day as an opportunity to improve. And that can sound like a copout, so here are my thoughts.

Two main categories stick out most for improvement: My interactions with others, and self-care. I want to be friendlier and kinder. I want to be an exceptional listener and strive to understand all sides of a story. A Christmas card I received said that I work with my team in a service-oriented way. Which I wasn’t aware that I did. But I guess it’s a thing that I do that’s become more or less second nature. I’m pleased about this, and I want to keep doing it.

I want to treat myself better, with higher esteem. This may amount to more concrete actions, such as regular hair appointments, massages; decent bedtimes; more honeytime with my husband; more playtime with my amazing daughter. But I also want to read more books and nourish my brain and body as best I can.

Blog/Write/Brainstorm more!

Stay away from Facebook: I’m on a break. I check in once in a while to see what friends are up to. If they’re up to anything mean-spirited, then I check out right away. I’m finding that I don’t really miss it.

Oh, yeah. Exercise. Do more of that. I’ll say at least twice a week.

But I got to get rid of this darn cold first.

Rest more.

Butter Makes Everything Not Related to Racism Better

We look at the menu, but we both order the buffet. This buffet isn’t like Golden Corral with its vast selection of mediocre food; the heated food island at Lady & Sons carries fewer items cooked to perfection. Workers from the kitchen are constantly replacing empty trays with hot full ones with aromatic food vapors rising from them. All the food represents true Southern cooking: barbecue pork, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, caramelized sweet potatoes. We want to try everything, but we also want to pace ourselves.

Reilly returns from the buffet with a fully loaded plate. We made a reservation that day before, because Lady & Sons often has long lines. Savannah charms with its old houses and trees dressed in Spanish moss, with branches sprawling toward the sky. The town sits along a river with the same name. We had been observing the sauntering citizens and anxious tourists during our walk to the restaurant. It is nice to sit down, and we are starving.

Southern cookin'

Everything I try is delicious. Reilly and I go back for a second plate, and we know early on that we’re almost done. The food tastes so good, but we don’t know if our stomachs have any more space. We start to slow down, but we still want to experience all the textures and tastes on our plates.

We have been on vacation for almost a week; we have been indulging for nearly every meal. Our stomachs should have been sufficiently stretched for a good buffet. But I have gotten to the point where I can barely lift my fork, and all I want to do is put my head down on the table or lie on the floor and wait for someone to step on my stomach and make me barf.

At first, I don’t understand why I got so full that quickly, but then it hits me: butter. If you know Paula Deen’s style of cooking, you know that she uses butter in everything. I tasted it in all the food on my plate. Butter makes everything delicious, but it also coats everything. It adds an invisible layer that makes you think you can eat more than your stomach can hold. The next time we eat at a restaurant like Paula Deen’s, I have to remember that food prepared with butter triples the volume of food without butter.

And then there is dessert. I take a tiny taste of the peach cobbler and the banana pudding, and then I’m done. I’m beyond done. I have packed my digestive system to nearly bursting. We take a few pictures outside and shuffle to a nearby square to recuperate and for Reilly to ask John Wesley for forgiveness for eating too much.

Lucky to lift the camera to take this picture.

Forgive us for eating too much, sir.

Sometime in the weeks after we return from Savannah, we hear news of a lawsuit. Headlines are everywhere. There are sexual harassment charges. There is a deposition with racial slurs.  There is vilification and a crumbling empire.

I feel bad for Paula Deen. She built her company from virtually nothing. She’s best known for cooking everything with butter and she was even coming out with her own brand of butter. She’s tackled her diabetes gracefully in the public, and she has all but completely disarmed America with her thick Southern accent, her strong personality, and her delicious food.

It’s a shame that instead of presenting a mighty dynasty before us, she has now reminded us that racism is alive and well in today’s society. It may be that she testified to saying certain things decades ago, and we may argue that because she said those things a long time ago doesn’t mean she’s racist now. And we can’t necessarily know Ms. Deen’s thoughts from moment to moment.

Yet, the instant that people reacted to Paula Deen’s statements or the media’s treatment of her is when the story became bigger than the icon. Racism is bigger than Paula Deen and her apologists.

A few days ago, I read this blog post that uses deposition excerpts to explain how a lot of reactionaries still hold on to a racist mentality. The author makes a good argument for a civil conversation. Like Ms. Deen’s butter-style of cooking, many of her defenders coat current racism in slippery justification that seems more appealing and more palatable. They ingest each dangerous illusion. Their guts fill quickly with these exquisite excuses, but they eat more. And more. Over time they become diabetic, and they lose circulation, then limbs, and ultimately, sight. They don’t see that Paula Deen has become the whipping boy for racism, and they’re going to keep saying and thinking racist thoughts as if it’s not the same.

Or maybe they’ll learn and improve themselves for a change. Maybe they can take an antacid or something and reduce the bloating and the blindness. Let’s hope.

The Culture of Heart Muscle Memory

I recently read a Facebook discussion thread about a sensitive topic. It seemed that someone disagreed with the majority opinion in that conversation. Then many people in the majority zeroed in on the lone dissenter and poked holes in his argument, very … pokedly. There were accusations and assumptions and underlying hostility all around. The thread’s originator even asked the others to back off, but no one really did. The dissenter didn’t respond. By the end of the thread–some 20 comments later–someone observed that he simply took his comments and left the discussion.

I do not know a few things about this discussion:

1. How the dissenter presented his disagreement

Well, I guess that’s the only thing. I’m probably ignoring other things, which shouldn’t matter, because if people were really willing to have a conversation with two perspectives, I would have been able to read the actual opposing opinion.

The dissenter could have been a bona fide jerk. But his withdrawal doesn’t quite indicate that.

It could be that the dissenter’s argument was particularly specious and he felt embarrassed and removed his comments, but since I only have the remaining less kind comments to use as evidence, what other conclusion am I supposed to draw other than “we will marginalize your differing opinions”?

I mean, the prevailing views in this conversation are held by people who already feel marginalized; they are in a distinct minority. They have felt op-/suppressed and question many things about the culture and traditions that helped form their character. They feel vulnerable and scared and insecure. And I guess this particular conversation felt like a safe place for them. And when they felt threatened–maybe by someone who felt just as insecure and vulnerable–instead of reaching for understanding, they pushed away.

What has changed? To oversimplify the idea, what really has changed from feeling that “If you don’t agree with the Church you can just leave” to “If you disagree with my opinion there’s no room for you in this conversation”?

Can someone help me understand?

At Church Yesterday

All the children stood in front of the congregation and sang two Christmas songs. One of the little boys standing near the pulpit caught my attention. He looked to be around 7 years old. He wore a lime green dress shirt and a dark, pin-striped vest. His lime green striped clip-on tie was slightly askew. He was cute. As his mouth moved while the music played, it became apparent that he didn’t know the words to the song. He just opened and closed his mouth to the beat, ba ma ba ma. It was a little bit funny at first, but then I admired his effort.

During Sunday school, an elderly man stood up and made a couple of seemingly unrelated comments about the Christmas lesson. He’s probably in his 80s, he only comes to church every once in a while. The teachers always do a good job of tying in what he says into the lesson, and yesterday was no exception. He usually talks about his childhood, his time at war; yesterday he recounted the history of man since Adam, and I realized that his comment wasn’t that far off. When we think about our origins, our history, our universal family, Christmas has as much to do with the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark as it does with December and eggnog and gift exchanges. More, actually.

The young and the old. Those who are most childlike shared themselves with their fellow church members yesterday. I am grateful to have experienced it. They reminded me of the spirit of Christmas.

Nine. Eleven. Nine.

If it is
possible
to sigh
and hold
my
breath
at
the same time
I do.

Today
I wasn’t there
eight years ago
but the air
is heavy
as families
read names
but the names
float
more lightly than
our mortal souls.

It was sunny,
then
clear, catastrophic
sudden, solemn
I choke back sobs
today
tears fall
and it feels
like rain.

****

In related news, Sarah Bunting is still trying to find her guardian angel from that day:
The original story on her blog
The radio spot on today’s The Takeaway

1052

Today’s Featured Patty Griffin lyric:

We’ll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us
until there are no strangers anymore

-“No Bad News”

That’s a very cool statement. I mean, consider another song where she mentions kindness:

How hard would it have been
to say some kinder words instead…

-“Long Ride Home”

It seems there’s not a situation that a little kindness can’t improve, if not for all parties involved, then at least for you. That’s your choice.

Kindness is a heart condition. Is it congenital? It is pre-existing. We knew this.

We’re studying the Book of Revelation in Institute class. (This is the adult evening class, not the high school morning class I help teach.) We discussed the four horsemen of the Apocalypse; we talked about the seals of that big ol’ book – seven seals, each representing a dispensation of time of the history of man on the earth.

Anyway, the first seal reveals a people whose leader ruled and conquered with faith and righteousness. The sixth seal, representative of the timeframe where we live, foretells of all the natural disasters that (will) occur. And, a time will come when the wicked won’t be able to stand up to the righteous and that they finally realize Whose sword the righteous are wielding. As in the first dispensation, it won’t be aggressive or violent.

I wish I had the wherewithal emotionally and intellectually and spiritually to complete this idea right now. I mean, there is a distinct difference between being nice and being kind. Great faith supports kindness. How else would be possible to forgive? How else, except through faith, could we overcome what’s hard and cruel in this world? How else will we get to know people’s hearts?

My thoughts are fuzzy this morning. Plodding through …

Sometimes, we can’t help but let life happen to us. I would submit, though, that whenever we can, we should be the first to act. Be the one to help the neighbor carry groceries up the stairs; help a blind stranger find a seat on the subway; not to be so caught up in our own world that we allow a person to pass us instead of having him run us over in his haste. It is harder to think this way sometimes, but if we act first to be kind, others now have a choice whether to return the kindness, and we can accept more easily their choice. It’s copacetic. We become less worried about stuff happening to us, because we took the preemptive strike: We were kind.

Be kind first. Fewer regrets that way.

We’ll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us
until there are no strangers anymore
.

I can’t even imagine.