Saturday, April 29, 2017

This Is Why I Write

I have this book. More like a journal. Where every night before I go to bed, I write a few thoughts about the day. And on each page there's a few lines for each year, accumulating in five years worth of memories.

And today is April 28th.
But on this day in 2015, I was expressing gratitude for one ONE GOOD DAY at my rural school in Korea where I taught English to some particularly difficult 5th grade boys.

On this day in 2016, I got my acceptance letter from the University of Denver's graduate school of social work. And--as you can see--I legitimately did not know how to feel. Because I wasn't expecting to get accepted. I planned on applying for several years before I got in. And then, I got in. I was a little bit upset simply because I didn't feel ready. It took me several months to wrap my head around the idea of being a graduate student.

And in 2017, on the very same day, I woke up at 6am thrilled out-of-my-mind (!) to get to go to class and learn more about the history and applications of gender and feminism in social work practice. And then, I spent the evening with five beautiful women from my program who are kind and smart and funny and absolutely devoted to making the world a better place. We drank wine and made origami cranes and talked and laughed late into the night.

What a difference a year makes.

I suppose that's why I devote so much time to writing. To logging. To journaling. To keeping track. To minding the time. To record-taking. To note-making. To maintaining regular awareness of what's happening and when and how and why, because there's great power in seeing my own sloppy, shaking hand-writing and remembering the fear I felt in that moment contrasted with the peace I feel now. Same hand, different person.

Writing keeps me sane.
It reminds me that it's probably going to be okay.
Because I have written evidence of 13,000 other times I didn't think it was going to be okay.
And then, it was.

I didn't think it was going to be okay.
And then, it was.

Maybe it's a miracle.
Maybe it's a fluke.
Maybe it's a whim.
Or completely by chance.

No matter what you call it, I'm humbled by it.

Some day I'm going to be a therapist. Some day I will reflect on this season of classes, deadlines, hundreds of pages of weekly reading, papers, and group projects. And it will be over. And I will have moved on to something else. Perhaps, somewhere else.

The whole thing makes my head spin like a carousel if I think too hard about it.

And so instead, I sit.
And breathe.
And reflect.
And give gratitude where gratitude is due.
And remember.

How lucky we are to get to do this.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

This is a Time for Casseroles

This is a time for casseroles.
This is a time for asking for help.
This is a time for lending an ear.
And a shovel.
And a skill saw.
And paint rollers.

This is a time for casseroles.
This is a time for flickering candles.
This is a time for music with strings and achy voices.
And comfort.
And baths.
And breath.

This is a time for casseroles.
This is a time for bottomless Kleenex boxes.
This is a time for your favorite song on repeat.
All day long.
All night long.
As long as it takes.
To feel a little less sad.
A little less hopeless.

This is a time for casseroles.
Because you need every caloric bang for your buck.
You need cheese.
And cream.
And potatoes.
And food that will stick around.
Food that will give the impression of wholeness.
If only for a few hours. 
Until you are empty again. 

This is a time for casseroles.
And the people who bring them.
To your doorstep.
To your bed side.
Feeding you one bite at a time.
Because you don't remember the last time you ate.
Because you've been fighting other battles.
And existence is the last concern on your mind.
And so they will keep doing the "existing" for you.
As long as it takes.

This is a time for casseroles.
And the women who make them.
Who know the perfect recipe.
On that yellow-stained card stock.
Who devote the time.
To make the thing.
That soothes what ails you. 
If only for a moment.

This is a time for women.
And sisterhood.
And touch.
And tears.
And a mother's comfort
(regardless of whether or not she's a mother)
To you or anyone else
There's comfort in her bones.
She was made. for. this
And she can Mother you.
Back to life.

This is a time for showing up.
This is a time for remembering the part of you that fears abandonment.
The part that is so viscerally present on her face.
That it makes you want to turn away.
But you keep looking.
Because she needs to see you looking. 
To see you there. 
Not going anywhere.
You keep watching.

Because all you can give is a witness.
A testimony. 
A declaration that says, "I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. 
And I'll never see anything quite like it ever again."
It was terrible.
And it was beautiful.
At the same damn time.

This witnessing is all you can give.
Well that, and casseroles.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Day I Realized Why I'm a Social Worker

The day before the election in November, I got on the train to my internship. It was 6:58am. I sat down across from one of the only people without their head buried in their phone and he looked me in the eyes as I sat down.

"Good morning," he said.

I responded in-kind and proceeded to pull out some reading for class. He continued looking around: out the window, at other passengers, at me. Honing in on the backpack sitting in my lap, he saw the button attached to the front that reads: "I'm a social worker who votes." And said, "What's a social worker?"

I imagined pretty quickly that this was the evangelical equivalent of a "witnessing opportunity" and felt the weight of the question between us. If he legitimately did not know what a social worker was, this seemed a great opportunity to share that with him. But I kind of froze up. I wasn't expecting the question or the conversation at this hour in the morning and said something like, "Social workers take care of people. Especially people who are disadvantaged or marginalized. We help people find things like food, housing, health care, child care, education, and other resources."

He just kinda shook his head and then proceeded to tell me about his job recycling computer parts. Which you might guess I care nothing about, but I listened politely anyway. I got off the train and it kept bugging me throughout the day that I didn't have a better answer for him. Why couldn't I answer a question about the very thing I'm attending school for? Social work.

The next day Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.

And we've all felt a mix of emotions as a result. In the past year we watched someone say things that were racist and bigoted and sexist and untrue. And we shook our heads and figured he'd never get elected. And then, he did. And we were shocked. And confused. And scared.

Because his campaign emboldened a whole tribe of people who now feel justified
-sexually assaulting women and saying, "Trump's elected now bitch, get used to it."
-chanting "You're gonna get deported" at their Latino classmates
-proudly waving a confederate flag and shouting, "White power"
-burning mosques
-desecrating Jewish grave stones and making bomb threats at temples
-using the n-word and telling black people to "know their place again"
-physically attacking gay and transgender people
(Southern Poverty Law Center)

And so many conservative voters are surprised by this onslaught of hate speech and violence and I have no idea why. It's like they didn't think Trump was serious. But as Maya Angelou says, "When someone tells you who they are, believe them."And I'm not naive. Frankly, these things have always been happening. But they were under the surface. They were socially unacceptable and now, they've been invited into the light of day. And it feels like we just re-wound the United State's social progress by fifty years or more. 

In the days and weeks after the election, I watched fellow social work students yell and cry and march in the streets. I watched social work faculty discuss in bewildered tones and console each other with hugs. And most recently, I've seen social workers mobilizing.

It wasn't until Donald Trump was elected that I realized how to answer that man's question on the train. And so for what it's worth, I'll answer it here:

A social worker stands for almost all of the things that 
Donald Trump appears to stand against.

It's not a rule. Notice I said "almost." I do believe that there's a way to talk about what social workers do that is separate from political affiliation. Plus, I welcome the opportunity to be surprised--wrong, even--about what President Trump stands for. If he changes his tune, I will happily change mine.

Until then, so long as the President of the free world continues surrounding himself with white supremacists, enacting travel bans that target Muslims, and taking away policies that protect transgender people, I am becoming a social worker.

Which means that I will stand with:
immigrants and refugees
gay people
transgender people
people of color
indigenous people
poor folks
essentially, people.

And in the social work community, I am encouraged. Not greatly, because it feels like there is so much to fear, but encouraged, nonetheless. Because I am on the side of people who still think racism is wrong. And sexism is not okay. And bigotry doesn't fly around here. And, to be clear, when I talk about "sides" I am not talking about political parties. Because all of us, regardless of how we voted, are making decisions about what is and what is not okay in America.

The day after Trump's inauguration, Jeremy and I woke up unreasonably early to attend the Women's March in Denver. I don't have, like, a lifetime of political activism under my belt. A lot of this is new to me. I've never protested anything because, frankly, there wasn't much to protest. But I made a sign. And I showed up. And as we walked toward the capital building and came over the hill, I stopped and had to catch my breath. Because the lawn was a mass of people who were feeling as concerned and fearful as I was. And I cried. Out of relief. That so many people had showed up to say, "We are better than this." And no, I didn't agree with every sign that I read. And no, I didn't agree with every speaker at every Woman's March around the world. But I went because I needed to feel hopeful that were other people needing hope.

Earlier this month, I attended an annual town hall event held by Congresswoman Diana DeGette who represents my district. As people poured into the events center on a sleepy, Saturday morning, you could feel the energy buzzing in the air. DeGette got on stage, welcomed us, and said, "Usually these events bring out 20 senior citizens. Today, over 1,000 people showed up. In all my years, I've never seen this kind of political turn-out. We see you. We hear you. Thanks for coming."

After Trump's travel ban was enacted, I emailed the mosque in our neighborhood and asked if they needed anything. If there was a way I could get educated about Islam. They invited me to their monthly Open House. Last Saturday, Jeremy and I attended. More and more people flooded into the room as people were scrambling to find more chairs and enough space for all the people that showed up. The speaker said, "Usually we get 1-2 people each month at this event. There are easily 200 people here today. Thank you for showing up and supporting our community."

These things matter.
Showing up matters.

The organizers of these events see us.
The people who show up see each other. 
The news organizations see us.
Our children see us. 
And most importantly, history sees us. 

I do not hope for Donald Trump's failure as president.
He is my president. He is the president of the country I call home. I've been praying for him since November. And I will continue praying for him to have wisdom and a peaceful heart.

But I do hope that his policies that are racist, homophobic, or bigoted fail.
I do pray that he doesn't alienate us from the rest of the world. 
I do hope that his rhetoric falls flat on the ears of people who know better.

And at the same time, I think it's foolish to waste too much energy worrying about Donald Trump. The man. 
The character. 
The entertainer. 
He is only a symbol that has awakened and brought to light an ideology that has always existed in America. One that is based on fear and ignorance and scarcity. 

If there's anything to the Law of Attraction, to this idea that what you focus on you will inevitably receive, I think we should all stop talking and posting and Tweeting about Donald Trump "the man", because he's getting enough attention already. The more stage time we give to "the man" the less attention we give to the actual problem. And what we can do right now. Today. Tomorrow. 

I'm going to become a social worker during one of the most heated and controversial times in our recent history. I don't feel prepared for this. I don't think many of us do. You don't know what to say to your kids or your congregation. We're all trying to figure this out.

But if I've learned anything, it's that we're better together.
That love wins.
That progress probably won't happen on Facebook.
That real change will be happening in the streets.
And in our houses.
And in our places of worship.
And that someday, I will tell my children that I was on the right side of this.

And that somehow, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, "There's reason to hope that we will see a better day," because "the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle, it is the pendulum. And when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back."

Ruth has seen a few things. So, I'm just going to trust her.

Peace to you and yours.
We're going to get through this together.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sharing Silence

Early Friday morning--the morning of the inauguration--I sat in the darkness of my living room trying to breathe. Practicing meditation, as I listened to the following reading by Gunilla Norris.

From my vantage point, eyes closed, my apartment, the middle of the city, I could almost feel Twitter buzzing against my skin--somewhere, everywhere--through the air we're all trying to breathe. I could imagine every Facebook comment. Every one-liner from every political party. Every possible thing to say to every possible person about every possible argument.

This buzzing makes meditation nearly impossible.

And yet, I try. I try, as Norris says, to "remember to breathe, remember to feel, remember to care" for the people on every side of the political spectrum. Just to try. The trying is enough right now, even if I'm not always successful.

Because "sharing silence is...a political act," she says. It brings us back to deeper truths, to more profound ways of being the world. And I so desperately need this right now. I need to be reminded of profound truths when the air I breathe is polluted with sound bites.

Blessings to you and yours.

Here's a truth for your Monday:

Within each of us there is a silence
—a silence as vast as a universe.
We are afraid of it…and we long for it.
When we experience that silence, we remember
who we are: creatures of the stars, created
from the cooling of this planet, created
from dust and gas, created
from the elements, created
from time and space…created
from silence.
In our present culture,
silence is something like an endangered species…
an endangered fundamental.
The experience of silence is now so rare
that we must cultivate it and treasure it.
This is especially true for shared silence.
Sharing silence is, in fact, a political act.
When we can stand aside from the usual and
perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen.
Our lives align with deeper values
and the lives of others are touched and influenced.
Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses,
to our selves. It locates us. Without that return
we can go so far away from our true natures
that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves.
We live blindly and act thoughtlessly.
We endanger the delicate balance which sustains
our lives, our communities, and our planet.
Each of us can make a difference.
Politicians and visionaries will not return us
to the sacredness of life.
That will be done by ordinary men and women
who together or alone can say,
"Remember to breathe, 
remember to feel,
remember to care,
let us do this for our children and ourselves
and our children's children.
Let us practice for life's sake."