On Sacrifice and Donald Trump

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“You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

When I heard Khizr Khan, father of an Army captain killed in combat in Iraq, address Donald Trump with those words, I was struck by how close they come to the heart of the problem Trump presents.

I’ve spent the last few months becoming continually more baffled by the words erupting from Trump’s mouth – and even more by the support they have stirred up among his followers.

My initial impressions of him were that he was a know-nothing narcissist driven entirely by his insatiable ego – and that his black hole of selfishness would be so obvious to Americans that it would cause his political demise.

Instead, he has become a true demagogue, with a terrifying horde of supporters ready not only to mimic and defend his rhetoric but to act on his dangerous demands.

Among the most ardent of his supporters, his selfishness is a badge of courage, a sign that he will be relentless in pursing his agenda. And they are right – he has been and will be single-mindedly devoted to getting what he wants.

But they also believe his agenda includes their well-being and the well-being of those they love.

And this is where they are deceived.

There’s no question that some degree of self-importance and personal ambition are motivating factors in the rise of any leader. An when it comes to the American presidency, it takes a pretty high opinion of yourself to believe you are capable of running the world’s most powerful country.

But what most of our leaders – Democrat and Republican – understand is that their success depends on their ability to sacrifice. They have to be able to give their time without immediate reward. They have to be able to suppress their ego when their character or intelligence or patriotism or citizenship are denigrated or denied. They have to be willing to serve, to actively promote what they perceive is a common good bigger than themselves.

Donald Trump has never sacrificed anything or anyone. He has no ability to sacrifice anything or anyone. He doesn’t hide this. He is proud of it.

His agenda is to serve Donald Trump.  He will be relentless in pursuing it. As long as the needs of his supporters and those they love align with the promotion of his own interests, his agenda will include them. But it will go no further than that.

Donald Trump is dangerous in so many ways. He’s thin-skinned and reckless. He has no control over what he says or does. He may be the least diplomatic person ever to run for office in America. He’s cruel and petty. He’s racist and bigoted. He’s unquestionably dictatorial.

But I think his inability to sacrifice is among the most dangerous of his faults. In fact, I think it is the cause of many of them.

His selfishness is patent. He makes no effort to disguise it. It has brought him this far and could bring him even further. What I ardently hope is that the people who recognize the power of his selfishness come to understand that it will never serve them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Death of a Pup

The very first profile picture I used on my Facebook page was of my dog, Fred. I was a little nutty about him back then, when he was my first baby. 

We got him from a West Virginia rescue organization. He was the most unusual-looking dog we’d ever seen. Our best guess was that he was some blend of Husky and Basset hound. When we asked the woman from the rescue what she thought, she said, “honey, this is West Virginia. Everything mates with everything.” 

He came to us with the name Fred. We called him our West Virginia Huskey Hound, a rare breed. We joked that he was the canine equivalent of what a child of Danny Devito and Uma Thurman would look like. 

He was sometimes a very bad dog, but mostly he was very good dog. He was neurotic and stubborn as hell, like everyone else in our family. We were all his people, and he loved us, but he saved his adoration for my husband. 

He got sick suddenly this afternoon. While I took our girls to a swim party, my husband took Fred to the animal hospital. I thought they’d both be home by the time we left the pool. 

If the title of this post is any clue, I was wrong. He didn’t make it through the night. At 12:45 am I got the text that our poor old pup is gone. 

In the grand scheme of all the terrible things happening in our country and in our world, the death of an old mutt is hardly a blip in the radar. 

But if you’ve ever loved a pet you know that isn’t true. 

Rest in Peace, Fred. All dogs go to heaven. 

You were the dog of our hearts.

Your Lives Matter to Me

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Last week I read a Facebook post by one of my favorite writers, Bunmi Laditan, the creator of Honest Toddler and author of Toddlers are A-holes.

She wrote:

“So many times today I’ve started writing a post and stopped. What do I say? How do I even say it? I couldn’t write. I felt like every time The words kept getting caught in my throat.

I envy some of you. You can go through today and not say anything because it doesn’t change your life. It doesn’t affect your people. It doesn’t affect your brothers, sons and fathers. You can talk about fashion, books, and make dinner plans like your entire world isn’t on fire. Like your heart isn’t crumbling and your chest isn’t exploding.

Yesterday, five police officers lives ended out of misplaced, murderous retaliation by a few individuals over the systematic abuse of power in the United States.

Families of police officers are afraid, even more so than usual, to send their loved ones to work. They feel like a target is on their backs. They feel like their lives are more at risk, not because of the person they are, but the badge they wear. When they say goodbye in the morning, they’re deathly afraid they’ll never see them again.

They feel like a black person.

Except for us, at the end of the day we don’t take off our skin like they do a uniform.

I find myself trying to process how much denial it must take to not comprehend that all black people want is for police, and the entire country, to treat them the same way they do whites.

We don’t hate police officers. We don’t want them to die.

We want the bad ones to stop killing our friends and family members. We want the ones who do to end up in jail and not with swollen GoFundMe accounts.

Can you really not wrap your mind around that? Is it so hard? Do you really think all of these deaths and videos show justified killings?Do you really believe that race is not a factor? Are you seriously telling yourself that these people would be dead if they were white?

Do you know how painful it is to see you do mental gymnastics to justify us getting murdered? Do you know how torturous it is to see the victims get re-victimized in the media? Do you know what that does to the psyche of a person of the same color?

Is it so hard to get that when people say “black lives matter” they’re not saying that they matter above white lives?

If women in a country were being systematically mistreated and they began saying “women matter,” would you really respond with “all genders matter”? Can you not get that they aren’t saying men don’t matter, but that they want to be treated correctly? Why is that so difficult? Why can’t you understand that?

Can you really not fathom that after only 152 years since the end of slavery when blacks could be owned as literal property (ie. not being considered a full person with full rights) that aftershocks of that still exist and are deeply entrenched in our society?

Do you really believe that the ending of black people being owned as things 152 years ago, THINGS like shoes or dogs, immediately elevated blacks to the same status as the whites who controlled the entire government, all commerce, and all law enforcement?

Can you not absorb that black people experience racism in their lives on a regular basis and that it can be deadly? Do you not understand that we live with that every day and operate on an entirely different set of rules?

Can you not accept that what we do not hate police officers but want bad police officers to be held accountable? Have you not seen acquittal after acquittal, whether it be Rodney King or a more recent blood-soaked incident? Can you admit that the system is not equal?

152 years ago black people could be bought and sold like food. They could be tortured. They could be raped. They were on the level of animals. Changing the law did not suddenly make things all better. Things are bad. They have always been bad. Not talking about it does not make it better. And they will stay like this, they will stay deadly, until you, YOU, admit it, not just to yourself but to your friends, to your family.

If you’ve been staying silent or safe by throwing around words like “all we need is love” or “stop the hate” when what you need to say it “This has gone on long enough. Black people are being mistreated. Get the bad cops out and keep the good cops safe” it will not end.

Aren’t you tired of this? Aren’t you sick of the same story happening again and again?

You are probably not a bad person but the bad people depend on you to operate successfully. They depend on you being too afraid to confront your friends and family. They depend on your desire to be comfortable and safe.

What you are unwilling to face will never change. If you’ve said nothing about this then you’ve said everything.

That is all. That’s all I wanted to say.”

(copied verbatim from https://www.facebook.com/BunmiKLaditan)

Her words shook me.

I’ve always seen myself in the role of “good white person.” I’ve patted myself on the back for acknowledging that systemic racism exists, for checking my privilege, for agreeing that #blacklivesmatter, for feeling genuine heartache every time a black man is killed by our police and genuine fury that there are people who continually try to justify why these killings are OK.

I’ve seen myself as an ally, as being on the right side of a clear divide.

But reading this raw, angry, pain-filled exposition on what life is like for black people in America, changed my perception of where I stand in this narrative.

As a white woman, I can feel compassion for a community of people who are so consistently faced with injustices perpetuated by people of my own race. Through the power of empathy, I can share a trace of their grief and their anger and their despair.

But what I feel is only a faint shadow of what they experience.

I can separate myself from my vicarious sadness and anger and frustration. I can walk away. The reality I lament is not my reality. It doesn’t define my existence. It hasn’t dogged me my entire life. I’m not branded by the inheritance of hundreds of years of oppression.

There is a privilege in compassion that I hadn’t, until now, understood. And I think we – the “good white people” – need to recognize this.

I also think we need to acknowledge that even though we see ourselves as allies, even though we strive to change an unjust system, even though we feel pain and anger on behalf of the black community, we aren’t the major players in this drama. If we really want to eradicate racism, we can’t be.

White people have defined the narrative for too long. Even our compassion is a sign of the ascendancy of our role. We need to step back, to embrace humility. We need to listen, with open hearts, to the story that isn’t ours.

 

The World Is Too Much

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I began writing this post with this sentence: “whenever our society experiences an incident of extreme violence or injustice or an epic failure of leadership, I find myself feeling overwhelmed; my thoughts scramble and collide; eventually they collapse.”

I deleted it, then I rewrote it, and then I decided to reframe it. What I wrote about myself is true, but the context is  inaccurate– it implies that the violence and injustice and incompetence I’m describing are aberrations, that they come in short-lived bursts, bookended by a beginning and an end.

What we are experiencing now – the near-constant gun massacres, the violent mob mentality rooted in hate and fueled by rhetoric, the rapes that go unpunished, the racism that goes unchecked, the total failure of our leaders to lead, the feeling of impending crisis – these are not “incidents.” They are our norm.

And the fact that this turmoil is a defining characteristic of the age in which we live only serves to intensify the chaos of my thoughts and feelings. My anger and frustration and grief and despair and fear struggle for pride of place until my mind becomes exhausted and defeated; stymied by its own excess of activity.

So as much as I wish I could come up with something balanced and meaningful, or at least coherent, to say about Orlando, or gun access reform, or racism, or Republicans, or the fact that Donald Trump’s face keeps popping up in my nightmares, I can’t.

I just can’t. The world is too much.

All I can do is grasp onto the tiny moments, and listen to the whispers of what is good in our lives.

Like a conversation with my five-year-old, in which she told me that she was BORN to make people laugh, and the pride I feel in knowing that she believes her mission in life is to bring others joy.

Or the “I love you more” argument I have every night with my 8-year-old, and the powerful gratitude —  the sense of awe — I feel that despite my mistakes and imperfections as a parent my daughter loves me as fiercely as I love her.

These moments aren’t much. They come in short-lived bursts, bookended by a beginning and an end. But they are everything. They have to be.

 

Another Day, Another Shooting


I didn’t hear about the shooting in Orlando until late Sunday evening. I’d spent the day celebrating my daughter’s birthday with our friends and family. It was a special day; a good day. 

So the news, when I finally saw it, hit me like ice down the back of my shirt. It was a rapid return to reality. 

I was shocked, but not surprised. Mass shootings in America aren’t surprising anymore. The shock we feel is evidence of our humanity: of our compassion and of our fear. We are struck, forcibly, by the pain of the loss of so many lives, and by the reminder of our own vulnerability. We are both heartbroken and afraid. 

But we aren’t surprised — or at least, we shouldn’t be. Massacres by men with guns are nothing new. Anyone who can still view a mass shooting as something extraordinary, as an isolated tragedy, is deluding themselves. We have become a society in which we can expect to have to conjure up “our thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families” again and again and again. 

Mass shootings are not surprising, and we should be mad as hell about that. We should be mad as hell that nothing is changing. We should be mad as hell that political posturing and pissing contests have taken over the national stage,  shoving any real efforts to make common sense changes into a corner sideshow. 

We should be mad as hell that every time a shooting occurs we shout “enough!” at the top of our voices and it still doesn’t make a difference. That we still don’t know when enough really will be enough — it wasn’t enough when a group of schoolchildren were killed, and it wasn’t enough when a group of men and women praying in church were killed.

I’m mad about all these things, but mostly I’m mad — furious, really– at how impotent I feel. I’m mad that I can’t protect my children, that I can’t expect them to be safe at school, or at the mall, or at church, or in a movie theater. And I’m mad that I can’t conjure up hope of anything changing for the better along with my thoughts and prayers. 

Those thoughts and prayers feel pitiful in comparison with the magnitude of what happened in Orlando and is happening everywhere in our country. But right now they, along with my grief and my anger, are with those whose lives were taken, their families, and the LGBTQ community who, even in this so-called liberal society, continue to be marginalized and victimized. 

I Can’t Not Say Something About This

rape is never a drunken mistake

It’s been a long, not-so-great day. I have a sick kid, an ailing, elderly dog, a leaky roof and my husband is out of town. But I am reading about this Brock Turner DB and I can’t not say something about what I’m seeing.

It’s not that I have any new insights. I’m mad about all the same things everyone else is mad about. My thoughts just keep returning to one infuriating, mind boggling fact: that there are people out there who are able to equate the sexual assault of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster with “stupid shit we do when we’re drunk.”

After admitting that he was “the sole proprietor of what happened on the night that changed these people’s lives forever,” he goes on to say that “I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone.”

There are countless occasions in which alcohol and other external factors lead people to make bad, hurtful, illegal, and even lethal decisions. A drunk driver who causes a fatal accident makes a bad decision that takes a life and destroys many others. He is and should be held accountable for his decisions and their consequences — but he is not fundamentally a murderer.

Assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster falls in a different category. It’s not a bar fight or a drunken lovers’ quarrel. It’s not a mistake. There is a degree of moral agency in the commission of that act that cannot be mitigated.

The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow. I thought maybe I had fallen and was in an admin office on campus. I was very calm and wondering where my sister was. A deputy explained I had been assaulted…On that morning, all that I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for HIV because results don’t always show up immediately. But for now, I should go home and get back to my normal life.

One day, I was at work, scrolling through the news on my phone, and came across an article. In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize. This was how I learned what happened to me, sitting at my desk reading the news at work.

(Excerpts from the statement made by the survivor of Brock Turner’s assault)

A person who, under the influence of alcohol, selects a victim, violently assaults her, and leaves her unconscious, alone, by a freaking dumpster is not someone who made a mistake. He is a predator. Period.

 

 

 

The One Who Makes You A Mother

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Every mother, no matter how many children she has, knows the enormity of the gift she has been given in the form of her first child. That first baby makes us mothers, and there is nothing more precious or more transformational. It’s a gift we share with our future children, who add to it and enhance it and who share equally in our love. But it is our first child who gives us the gift of motherhood.

My first baby, the one who made me a mother, turns 8 today.

I remember the first time I held her with remarkable clarity, and with the same welling up of emotions I felt then. She was tiny – full term, but only five pounds – and swaddled like a burrito.  She opened her eyes to me right away and as I met her gaze, her lower lip pushed out into a pout and an expression of bewilderment came over her face. I remember thinking that it must have been tough for her; that everything she had ever known had changed in an instant.

If I could distill my becoming a mother into one single moment, it would be that one. Not because it was the first time I held her in my arms, but because it was our first time experiencing the world together.

Looking back over the last eight years, the best moments of motherhood have been exactly that– sharing the experience of the world around us. And I have been so lucky to have such an incredibly cool person to share these moments with.

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My girl is deep. She’s complicated. She’s tough and persistent as hell and one of the most sensitive people I’ve ever known. She wakes up in the middle of the night worried about growing up and dying. Life can be a little too big for her sometimes. She is like me in so many ways that I can almost feel my own fears and insecurities within her. Sometimes, that scares me.

She is a one girl justice league, and if I have to tell her a dozen times a day that life is not and never will be fair, I’m proud that she has a strong sense of equity. She gets angry quickly and thoroughly, but her temper is matched many times over by the strength and fullness of her love.

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She tells us stories, with chapters and in series, but she doesn’t have the patience to write them down. There are times when her creativity astounds me.

She takes people as they are, for who they are, which is a rare and precious quality I hope she never loses. Over the years, I’ve imagined her growing up to fill a number of different exalted professions — a famous writer! a dolphin trainer! a CEO! — but as I come to know her better, I think she would change the world as a teacher of students with special needs.

She is a proud Hufflepuff and will not tolerate bullies, but she slayed as Cruella DeVil in her drama class play.

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I love this kid beyond words. She made me a mother and she gave me the gift of herself. She’s not my baby any more, but I am overwhelmingly grateful that she is my girl.

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