Maybe There’s Hope For Us After All

IMG_5153I believe we all basically want the same things, even if we don’t agree about how we might get them.  Trying to understand each other, giving each other simple respect as human beings, goes a long way.  We all have different experiences which inform how we’ve decided to live our lives.  There are many ways to happiness.  My way works for me, yours works for you, we can agree to disagree.  And if we can, if we can stop trying to tell each other what to do, how to live, if we can be forgiving and generous of spirit, we can be sympathetic, we can hope.

I’m not a religious person.  Spiritual, yes, religious no.  But even so, through my life I’ve been fascinated with organized religion.  I’ve taken classes, studied, and I’ve been exposed to religions of differing kinds through my family and friends.  I have seen people, in regards to their religion, be their best selves, and I’ve seen them be their not so best selves.

I never understood, growing up, why my Grandma on my father’s side played favorites with her children and her grandchildren.  Her choices seemed arbitrary, nonsensical.  There seemed to be no precipitating event or behavior that caused those choices.  I was, without a doubt, a favorite.  My brother was not.  When I was small I didn’t know this, or realize it, but then I grew.  I became aware of the behaviors of adults, of the kids around me.  I started to notice how my grandmother treated my brother.  It wasn’t good.  I was all cakes and smiles and praise and good cheer, he was insulted and degraded and made fun of.  When I noticed this, I started not wanting to go to grandma’s house anymore.  I loved my brother and I knew, innately, that my grandma’s behavior was cruel and mean and not at all acceptable.  I couldn’t get past how she could be so nice to me, buying me gifts, playing games, be so loving, and then be so awful to him.  He’d done nothing wrong, yet she acted as if his mere existence repulsed her.

My grandma was also very religious.  Religious as in talking in tongues, holy rollers, and tent revivals.  This never bothered me in and of itself, though it did scare me a lot when I went to church with her and the preacher was screaming and people were falling down in the aisles.  When I visited she would sometimes tell me stories from the bible, always choosing Revelations and emphasizing how if people weren’t good they would be branded and burn.  Scary stuff for a 7-year-old, but none of that really ever deterred me from seeing her, not even when she took me to a tent revival and had me saved by another screaming man.  I started not wanting to go see her on church days, but really I still loved seeing her.  Until, that is, I realized how she treated my brother.  Once that realization hit I instantly felt an incongruity.  I wasn’t more than 9 or 10, but I remember thinking how she was a person who espoused religious beliefs of love and faith and hope, but acted against them.  She was a hypocrite.  What I felt about religion told me it should be about love and understanding and compassion, not cruelty and judgement and disdain.

The other side of my family, my mom’s, wasn’t religious at all.  I found out later my mom’s mom had grown up in a religious household, but events happened that caused her to turn away from organized religion.  I think they all went to church as a family, for a time, but eventually that faded out for most of them.  When we visited my Mom’s parents religion was never discussed.  Instead we were taught to play chess and backgammon.  The arts were encouraged, books were encouraged, music was all around.  So was laughter and love and a very tight sense of family.

I grew up in a home with an atheist (my step-dad) and an agnostic (my mom).  We didn’t talk about religion much in our house, except when my step-dad mocked it, or my mom would explain that she thought, fundamentally, the tenants of organized religions were mostly good (do unto others, kindness, hope, love, compassion) but that organized religion, in the hands of some, seemed to be used to control, conquer, and judge people.  My mom, who treats people the best of anyone I’ve ever met, with respect and compassion and kindness, was and continues to be a great  role model for me about how to be a wonderful human.

Fast forward several years in my life.  I’d taken many courses on religion, read many religious books (large sections of the Bible, the Tao, Buddhist teachings, tenets of Hinduism, parts of the Koran, etc., etc.) and had formed what is the basis of my own spiritual thought.  No one religion encompasses what I think and feel, but they all actually have things in common, and have in their own way contributed to my philosophy.

I’ve had great experiences with people who are religious as well.  Being gay, this is a tough thing as many religious people condemn me for being who I am.  But, I have some wonderful people in my life, who are very religious, and have shown me, over and over, what love, truth, kindness, and understanding are.  Which is why I want to talk about my friend, Pat.  I met him a long time ago, 17 years or so.  We worked together, were office partners, and ended up loving each other like brother and sister.  He is a super religious guy.  Very much a man of his beliefs, very solid, very sure.  I respect him immensely for that.  As you can tell, I’m not a Christian person, and I’m gay, so our deep and abiding friendship was somewhat of a surprise to both of us.  And yet, it continues.  I have deep love for him, and I know he shares the same feelings for me.  He has been, at times, a youth pastor, a regular guest preacher, and very involved with whatever church he has belonged to over the years since I’ve known him.  He’s moved a bit so has had to change churches more than once, always finding a church home and always getting very involved with it when he does.  I also respect him for that.  He’s a man of faith, and his faith is strong.

Pat and I once had a very long very heartfelt conversation about my being gay, what he thought of it, and what he thinks the bible thinks of it as well.  At the time we had this conversation, which was several years ago now, he was not pro gay marriage.  He is a religious guy and he felt (and probably still feels) that a traditional marriage ceremony is inherently a religious ceremony.  I, who am now legally married to my partner of over 13 years, obviously disagrees with him on this point, but that’s OK, he doesn’t argue it with me.  We agree to disagree, which is OK too.  What he said to me that day, about my being gay, was beautiful.  He said that nowhere in his bible (and he knows it exceptionally well) does he interpret that people should be judged by anyone but God.  He said God teaches judge not lest ye be judged.  Judging, in and of itself, is a sin as great as any other.  He said it wasn’t his place to judge me.  He said it’s his place to love me, be kind to me, be accepting, and let God do what he will.  He believes that man is not God, and therefore shouldn’t think that he/she has the right to act as if they are acting for God.  I love Pat.  His beliefs are strong, and they don’t allow him to condemn me.  He would never do that.  He has often said he wants to bring me to his church and talk to the congregation about love, about our relationship, about how two very different people can form beautiful bonds with each other and how that’s what it should be all about.

This country, that I happen to love, was formed largely by people fleeing religious persecution.  People who weren’t able to worship and believe as they wished without consequence from their government, fled to a place where they could worship and believe as they wished.  We’ve somehow forgotten that.  If a person is not a Christian, in my experience, many Christians now seem to believe they have the right to tell that non-christian person they are somehow less than, and that they should, in essence, be cast out.  When did it become OK to judge?  When did it become OK to feel that because you believe a certain way you have the right to tell everyone else how to believe, how to be, what to do?  When did it become OK, with total arrogance, to feel that condemnation was a right anyone could have.  I don’t tell anyone what they should believe.  My feeling is that what works for you, as a person, as far as your belief system goes, is yours.  Your relationship with God, however you see him/her, is your business, your right.  I will not interfere with that, and I expect not to be interfered with.

I also expect that your religious beliefs, whatever they are, stay out of my government.  There was a reason for separation of church and state.  It was meant to protect us from any one group, who might gain power, from asserting its beliefs and wishes on to the rest of us, who could be in danger of experiencing consequences for not going along.

I know a lot of Christians now believe they are being persecuted.  I don’t see that, but I’m not them.  For all I know, it could be happening.  But here’s the thing, persecution because of religion has been going on for centuries. Since the beginning of religion.  Perpetuated both by and against people of varying religious beliefs.  I don’t think any one group, whoever you are, has the right to tell another group what to believe, how to live based on those beliefs.  Nobody should be discriminated against because of their beliefs, whatever they are.  If you have a set of rules, morals, tenants you live by based on your religion, more power to you.  I have mine, and they are no less real or valuable than yours.  As long as your beliefs aren’t hurting anyone, believe what you will.  We fear what we don’t understand.  When we fear we sometimes strike out.  When we fear we don’t always act as our better selves.  When we fear we create division and anger and hopelessness.  All things contrary to what I believe is the most important part of any religion and/or belief system… love.

I know there’s no answer, and I know some people will disagree with me, may even become incensed or angered by something I’ve said here.  And I guess that’s OK.  You are entitled to your opinion, to your feelings.  As I am.  But if you do get angry, remember this… I’m not angry with you.  I just want us to talk to each other.  To realize we are all just trying to get through it the best we can, with the most dignity, compassion, and love in our lives as possible.  I think, ultimately, most of us want the same things.  To be respected as human beings, to be allowed to believe as we wish without repercussions from our government or our fellow humans, and to live the happiest of lives possible.  If we can just meet at that place, with that realization, maybe there’s hope for us after all.

A Drop Becomes a Ripple Becoming a Wave

Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

I was commenting on a friend’s Facebook post today, trying to put across the message that we need a little more positivity in the world and how positivity catches hold, just like negativity, if we let it.

So, here’s the deal. (Yes, I’m on the soap box again.)  I don’t post negative stuff on Facebook, or this blog for that matter. It’s a conscious choice. I decided that what I put out into the world will try to be positive and beautiful and kind. Not to say I’m not aware of the myriad of things about this country, the world, the way things are politically and spiritually and environmentally, etc., etc., etc., and on, and on, and on, that could be changed. Or frankly, need to be changed. I know there are issues. I know there are things that are wrong. I know we all have varying ideas about what those things are. I’m aware. I just choose, being the person I am on the this planet, to only put out positive energy. At least, that’s what I strive to do.

Here’s why. There’s enough bullshit out there already. There’s enough opinion and doomsday predictions and nasty words and accusations and scare tactics and bullying behavior and finger-pointing and hurtfulness to fill pages and pages for years and years. Frankly, it doesn’t really solve anything, or do us any good. It’s divisive and has about as much impact as spitting in the wind.

I believe in what comes around goes around, do unto others, being kind to our fellow humans and the planet, what you put out you get back 10 fold, I believe in being the change I wish to see in the world. And the change I wish to see in the world is that we all become kinder, gentler, less judging, more helpful, less greedy, not as self-centered, nicer versions of ourselves. We can choose to look at all that’s wrong, pointing fingers and shouting doomsday predictions, or we can look at what’s right, and build on that. We can try for understanding and compassion instead of accusations and tearing people down. Ideas, even if they aren’t yours or mine, are all valid.   None of us have all the answers. Which brings me to the thought that a little less arrogance would also be in order. Thinking we have all the answers is the first step to not getting any worthwhile answers at all. And believing we know, without a doubt, what’s best for our neighbors, our towns, our country, or the world, is crazy thinking.  Just sayin’.  No one knows everything, and the moment we start to think we do, we’ve cut off our nose to spite our face. We can only try our best, try to evolve with our problems, and try to respect each other. We all, whoever we are, deserve at least some modicum of respect. As human beings with feelings if nothing else.

So, I know there’s a lot going on in the world.  I know some of it isn’t good.  I know some of it needs to be changed.  But, I also know that there’s beauty and light and love and kindness and compassion and gentleness and giving and loving and respecting and grace out there.  People are, generally, good.  Most of us want the same things in life.  Most of us want not only ourselves but our fellow humans to be well, to be happy, to be fulfilled and to have joy.  Most of us are good people doing the best we can to get by, to have a life, to make a better future for our children and grandchildren.  We are more alike than we aren’t.

Like I used to tell the kids I worked with, “use your powers (and there are many) for good, not evil”.  You have a choice.  I choose to try to emphasize the love and beauty and light and joy in the world.  Not to say my way is better than any other way, but it’s my way, and this is my blog.  This is the best way for me.  It helps to remind me, every day, that there are good people out there and good things happening.  It helps me remember that we are more the same than different and that there’s so much creativity and goodness in the world.  If I seek out the positive, I find it.

I think of it like this… a drop of light creates a ripple of kindness, which leads to waves of joy and compassion and understanding that flow out well beyond where that one drop started.  Just think what would happen if we all got together and tried compassion and understanding and joy for change.  Think of what could happen.  Think of the huge wonderful waves that shared energy would create.  Think of how beautiful that would be.

 

What Kind of Eyes Do You See With?

Eisenhower QuoteI happened to be looking at quotes this morning, which is something I occasionally do, and found this little gem.

I’ve never been a huge Eisenhower fan, and to be honest, I don’t really know too much about him.  He was a two term president, a conservative who also happened to be against McCarthy, for civil rights and inclusion, and ultimately pretty good a foreign policy.  He adhered to a policy of moderation and cooperation as a means of governance.  Yeah, you got me, I just looked him up and that last bit is a direct quote from Wikipedia.  I just read a bit about him and turns out he was an interesting guy that somehow gets overlooked when we mention presidents.  Probably because he came after Truman, and World War II, and before Kennedy, who garnered a lot of attention.

What strikes me about this quote is how relevant it is today.  We find ourselves in an era of bitter rivalry, and one might even say hatred, toward our fellows.  Our political system is a prime example of this.  Hate, fear, finger-pointing, and a general culture of unkindness seems to prevail.  Individuals, and I see this all the time on Facebook, love to post hurtful, finger-pointing comments full of ridicule and scorn.  Nowhere in that is a thought toward commonality, togetherness, kindness, or even an idea toward actually working a solution to our many problems.  It’s all about how the other guy is an oaf or an idiot or simple-minded.  Sadly, it’s the same behavior I saw so many times while I was working with at risk kids.  People who post these inflammatory things are bullies.  They wouldn’t call themselves that, no.  They would say they are passionate about their topic of choice and are attempting to push change.  They are wrong, just as people who try to bully have always been wrong.  One does not get their way by pushing, cajoling, shoving, and name-calling.  Name-calling… I’m appalled.  Adults, people I know, do this.  It’s like we’re back on the playground again.  Ridiculous.  Arrogant.  Shameful.

If you are a passionate person about, well, anything, the way forward is to promote an idea, not knock someone else down for an opinion that differs from yours.  Find what you feel are solutions and put those forward.  Create ideas or support causes you feel are worthy and promote those.  Stand up and state what you believe in, without saying that someone who believes differently is an idiot.  They aren’t, they just don’t agree with you.  And their not agreeing with you is OK too.  Differing ideas bring different looks at a problem.  We have a lot of problems, we need a lot of looks.  If you must comment on the “other side”, do so by posting actual, honest and real, events or circumstances that happened that you don’t agree with.  Then, comment on those with integrity, and an eye, again, toward solution.

I’m so tired, can you tell, of the trend toward mass posting these ridiculous saying and quotes about how liberals are this or that or tea party members are this or that.  Blanket statements that do nothing to enrich the world.  Mean quips and vicious comments about “those people”.  You know what?  I’m those people, and my mom is those people, my family is those people, and my friends are those people, on both sides.  Before you post something of that nature, think of people you know, picture their faces, and decide if you would say whatever it is you are about to post right to their face.  If you would, well then I guess you aren’t really a friend of mine because true friends of mine aren’t mean.  Friends of mine are kind.  I will, to borrow a phrase, accept no substitutes.  Everyone, and I mean nearly everyone, is entitled to a measure of respect. You choose who you are.  You can rise, be kind, elevate.  Or you can degrade, denigrate, and wallow in the muck.

As Eisenhower, whose quote started this whole little stand on the soap box, said…  “we must avoid becoming a community of dreadful hate and fear” and as the character Lindsey Brigman says in the movie The Abyss, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and…  he sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”  I love that quote.  It’s stuck with me.  We see what we want, we create our world based on what we see and what we do.  We have to be better, for the world and for each other.  If we show a general disrespect for people we don’t even know, we disrespect ourselves, our children, our neighborhoods, our larger communities.  We have to look with better eyes than that.

A Dance of Victory

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I didn’t call yesterday.  Since 1999 I’ve either been there or called.  She was not at home for the weekend.  I didn’t want to interrupt her fun.  Now — I feel bad.  Or better yet, maybe not bad but sort of off about it.

1998… Mom is diagnosed with breast cancer.  She’d had the lump, the biopsy, and then the news no one wants to hear.  I was there when that diagnosis came.  It was storming that day.  I remember it vividly.  What followed is what typically follows.  Surgery, then chemo, and finally radiation.  I was there for the surgery and then after for a few days, then again for her first chemo, and on and off throughout.  Of course I was, she’s my mom and I adore her.

My mom, as I’ve written here before, has so much strength and grace.  She also has the best smile, the warmest heart, and the most mellow of dispositions.  Not that she doesn’t occasionally get angry or frustrated, she just handles that stuff pretty well most of the time.  We’ve experienced so much together, she, my brother, and I.  The three musketeers in a way.  Lots has happened in our lives.  I of course remember all the tough stuff, as a person does, but I also have memories of moment after moment of laughing until I cried with her, with them.  Mom has a great sense of humor and loves to laugh.  She knows how to be silly.  How to have fun.  I think I got some of that from her and I’m so grateful I did.  We have even managed to laugh and smile our way through some hard things.  That’s part of her strength.  I admire her so much for it.

Every year, on diagnosis day, I’ve shown up at her house with brownies and mocha almond fudge ice cream.  Both particular favorites of hers.  She loves her chocolate.  I’ve shown up and lit a candle commemorating the number of years since the diagnosis.  An anniversary of sorts.  A victory dance.  The year she went to Hawaii with my sister I colluded with my sister to provide the goods, I called, and we sang to her together on the phone.  Since my move to Illinois I’ve colluded with my brother to provide the goods, I call, and we sing to her.  K has been a part of this since she’s been in my life.  It’s been something that’s always been important for me to do.  The funny thing is that Mom usually forgets.  She’s busy with her busy life and when I’ve shown up, or my brother has provided the goods and K and I have called her, she is surprised that it’s that time again.  She’s not a person to dwell.  Something else I admire.

So yesterday was the anniversary.  I believe it was 15.  A biggie.  Every year we get to feel that celebration a little more because it’s another year she’s cancer free and here and living a great life.  I kept thinking of her yesterday.  K and I were out exploring a nearby state park, new to us, and even though we were having an adventure, Mom kept popping into my head.  I knew she was up visiting some of her siblings this last weekend so I knew she was having fun, as they do together, and still I kept thinking of her.  I’m blessed to have her.  Blessed.  I know this.

I contacted my brother a couple of days ago, just to check in with him about the whole thing, and was reminded she wasn’t going to be home until today.  She’d told me she wasn’t, but I didn’t really put the two together — she’s not going to be home and it’s the anniversary.  But there it is, there it was.  So I didn’t call.  I should have.  Though knowing Mom she won’t be upset and she probably didn’t even remember what with everything that was going on up with the family.  I’m sure she enjoying herself too much to remember it.  My bro and I, during our email exchanges, planned on doing it today, when she gets home, which is fine and dandy.  We’re not going to forget it all together, we just delayed slightly.  I guess it’s OK.  It is OK.  It’s just that this was the first time I didn’t call or see her on the day.  First time.  But here we are, I remind myself, 15 years later and life has moved forward.  Those facts in and of themselves are fantastic things.  Moving forward, living life.  All good.  She’d say so.  It is so.  So I guess not calling is just part of that whole living life thing.

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2013, yesterday… It wasn’t stormy out.  In fact, it was beautiful out.  Sunny, a fall-ish coolness in the air, but warm none the less.  Leaves changing color, falling, crunchy under our feet.  A beautiful day.  What follows from here is what always follows… love, smiles, laughter, lots of hugging, talks, and more love.  And, later today, brownies and mocha almond fudge ice cream.  Victory.

Lemon With That Water

Location: Mexican restaurant

Subjects: Older couple enjoying a dinner out

I’m perplexed. Ok, maybe not really perplexed. Maybe I’m just shaking my head due to the fact that there was this older couple sitting across the little aisle from us last night and they were so stereotypical of what you might expect out of people who looked like they did. She with her jewelry and pinched expression and he with his izod sweater and khaki shorts. Though I did keep thinking they might be on a date, even a first date, which would make them a bit less stereotypical, and might have explained some of the uncomfortable vibes coming off their table. And I hope I don’t sound too mean, because sounding mean isn’t my intention. I’m not trying to be. It’s just that their behavior was not exactly friendly, or even respectful, and I didn’t think it would be, just based on their attire, their expressions, and their entrance. I wanted to be pleasantly surprised by them… I wasn’t.

First, they sat and ordered drinks… he a beer to go with his food, she some lemon to go in her water. She tried to order a number 13 with chicken without even really looking at the young woman giving them the water and putting the basket of chips and accompanying salsa on the table. The gentleman with her hurriedly said to her, as if embarrassed that she didn’t know the rules, she doesn’t take the order, she just brings the water and the chips. The woman, with a very strong southern accent, said… oh, Ok. She seemed nervous to be there, uncomfortable. But then again, if this was a date she very well might have been uncomfortable because of that. Could be, right…

After they get their beer and their lemon, the waitress comes to take their order who, by the way, is the same one waiting on us and also someone we like very much, and the older gent says to her, we thought you forgot about us over here…. even though it hadn’t been that long at all. Maybe 5 to 10 minutes. He tried to laugh while he said it, but he wasn’t kidding, and the waitress wasn’t laughing. Plus, they already had their beverages, with lemon, and their chips and salsa… what’s the rush. The woman then, in the same voice as earlier, without looking at the waitress, says… number 13 with chicken. The man orders his, I can’t remember what, without cheese. After ordering they make small talk about surgeries and insurance and property left to her by her father that was worth a lot for the good part of the property, but the bad part, all marsh, hasn’t sold yet and how the guy was in Texas and didn’t understand how people could live in mobile homes like that because they, to him, were inhabitable. They stop only to ask for more salsa, because she can’t eat the onions and only dips her chips in the sauce, when a young gentleman came to fill up their water glasses. He brought her more salsa.

Then the food comes, and they pray. After praying they start to eat, and hardly say another word. I mean… nothing. They eat as if they’re sitting there alone, not with each other… and that’s it. Fini.

I wonder… will I be like that? Not really paying any attention to the people working hard to bring me the food I’ve ordered or to fill the water in my glass. Will I not notice them, or when I do will I just give them a bad time about how they aren’t doing their job well, or how they’ve disappointed me by not doing it exactly as I’d like them to. Will I forget to show them respect for just being the human beings they are. I hope not.

I hope I don’t forget that they are just people who, like me, have a job. They go to work, have good days and bad, and then they go home to their lives, their friends, and their families. I hope I never get to the place that I don’t look them in the eyes or talk to them. We had a long drawn out conversation with our waitress, who also waited on the couple next to us, about her former business (she owned a coffee shop we used to frequent that had been fairly successful, but decided it took too much out of her life, that it had become her life, and she didn’t want to live like that anymore. Her solution… go to work as a waitress where she can make pretty decent money working for her brothers who own the restaurant we were in last night and who have mostly family working there… very cool, and good for her). I hope I always remember to smile, and to look people in the eye, and to be gracious. I hope I remember that we are all, to the last of us living on this tiny spinning globe, human beings with feelings, thoughts, hopes, and lives we’re living.

So far, I hope, I think I’m OK with all of that… I’m on point. I’m a person who usually thinks the best of people, or wants to anyway. And in thinking about what happened… the older couple at the table across the aisle from us, well… they too are people, maybe doing the best they could to have a night out. And maybe they were just having a bad day. Maybe they were feeling a bit off or out of sorts. Yeah, maybe that’s why they were a little less than friendly, a little less than respectful. Could be. Maybe…