Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I Can't Change the World. But I Can Rebound.

My heart and my mind spin in turmoil today. I ache for law enforcement officers and their families, who live daily with the fear and the threat of violence. I ache for the disenfranchised, who live daily with the fear and the threat of violence. I ache for those caught in the crossfire of that fear and violence. I ache for internet commenters spewing attacks on one side or the other, defending their position with fear or violence.

I know and love people from all corners of this turmoil. I count law enforcement officers among my family and close friends. I hear their struggles and their frustration with the ugliness, the violence, the evil they face daily. I have worked daily and now spend time regularly with the disenfranchised: refugees, those in the child welfare system, those agonizing under minimum wage with few resources, those for whom despair lurks around each corner. I counsel those whose lives have been marked by senseless violence, who struggle under the weight of those hurts. My dearest friends and family members proclaim staunch right-wing conservatism on one side and bleeding heart liberalism on the other, all firmly committed that their ideals are best.

I hear them all. It seems impossible that connection could exist in such disparity, but I believe it must be there, under the fear, under the misunderstanding, under the shroud of our differences.

Maybe finding that connection means not just walking a mile in someone else's shoes, but sitting a spell in someone else's seat.

Nathan Pyle at BuzzFeed recently posted this article  to illustrate privilege and social mobility. Each student got one wadded up paper "ball" to toss into the recycling basket at the front of the room indicating the opportunity to move into an upper socioeconomic level. In theory, everyone had the same opportunity to make a basket, but of course such a shot was much more difficult for those in the very back of the room than in the front.

What if we understood what it felt like to sit in the back of the room?

My daughter is a junior in high school, so we are in the midst of college visits and standardized testing and scholarship applications. She recently completed an application for a summer scholar program that ended up being something like forty pages long. It required countless hours of work to document her grades and activities and service and awards. My daughter has been blessed with an intelligent and creative mind, an empathetic heart, athleticism, and an inspiring artistic talent. She works incredibly hard to develop those gifts and to serve others with those gifts. I have no doubt she will be successful in college, and it is likely that scholarship opportunities will come her way.

But I also know that by nature of her socioeconomic status and family support and educational opportunities that she is sitting in a front row seat, relatively close to the basket. She is surrounded by peers who all value higher education, by teachers who mentor her through the toils of AP classes and college applications, by parents with the means to provide nutritious food and extracurricular opportunity and a safe, nurturing, respectful environment and the knowledge to navigate those roads that lead to success.

My daughter and I serve with Kentucky Refugee Ministries to tutor recent immigrants to the United States. These are refugees fleeing war and persecution in their home countries who have been given the opportunity to settle in the United States. They arrive with little to no English, minimal schooling and deep trauma. The children are at significant risk for dropping out of high school. Not only do they face the difficulties of English language learning and the cognitive difficulties resulting from trauma, but often they must choose between school or helping their families pay rent, put food on the table. They are sitting in the back row.

Many of our black brothers and sisters are telling us of the discriminations they face in their daily lives. They are telling us of their fears for their black sons. They are sharing how generations of racism and abuse and discrimination have left scars in communities and families and psyches. Many feel the unfairness of life in the back row.

I've learned enough about trauma and neglect in my work with child protection and in daily parenting to know that hurting people are in pain. And pain makes people irritable, anxious, aggressive, even violent. There are millions of hurting children in this world, children who don't feel safe or respected or cared for, and as a result don't know how to respect or care for others. Our biological makeup predisposes us to mirror those around us. Violence breeds violence. Empathy, respect and compassion are traits that must be taught through relationship. Yes, those exist in the back row, but they are often overshadowed by poverty, ignorance, injustice, addiction, assault, isolation.

I don't know how to change the circumstances of the back row - the big picture problems of privation, inequality, discrimination, neglect, abuse. But what I can do is walk to the back row and connect with one person. I can hear his or her stories. I can offer respect and love and nurture. And when he's worn out from the ostensibly fruitless endeavor of shooting that paper ball what seems an impossible distance, I can offer to rebound.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Eaglets learn to fly by observing their parents. It isn't instinctive. They watch closely until, sometime between two and four months of age, they lose their baby down and grow their flight feathers.

Not all eaglets are eager to leave the warmth and safety of the nest. For those reluctant babies, the parent eagles tempt the young by flying with choice bits of food just out of reach. The parents engage the eaglets' curiosity - and hunger - encouraging them to spread their wings and fly.

I doubt the mama eagle gets all emotional and sappy about this process. I don't know much about reading the facial expressions and body cues of raptors, but somehow this look does not convey, "Oh, I can't believe my baby's all grown up and flying. Sniff, sniff, cry, cry."

Rather, I'm interpreting this as, "Girl, get your tail feathers out the house! Seriously! Thinkin' I'm the maid and the cook and the chauffeur all the time. Nuh unh!"

Today, in one small sense, my baby girl left the nest. Her flight feathers are in. She's been watching and practicing. We've been eagerly preparing for this day - tempting her curiosity (and hunger). "Once you get your license you can go to your friend's…the movies…the store…drive yourself home from practice… whenever you like, but right now I'm busy so you need to wait."

I have been EXCITED about this rite of passage because in many ways life just got easier. The 70 minute round trip plus one hour wait time I endured on Monday evening so she could catch pitching lessons for a friend? No more. The text on Tuesday at 4:50 that the practice that was meant to end at 5:30 is over so could you pick me up NOW (when we live 20 minutes away)? Done. The how to get your brother to Rock Creek and you to English Station at the same time? Not a problem!

So, yes, we've been encouraging this. But there was still a clutch in my heart when, after successfully passing her driver's test, she dropped me off at home and drove away, alone, to school.

I hope we've been good teachers - that what she's learned from observing us will carry her through the challenges of navigating tight merges and road construction and crazy drivers.

I hope home will always be a safe place to land, but not so safe that it stifles her curiosity or desire to explore what's around the next bend. (And I hope she takes that bend at a slow, steady speed on dry pavement, easing into the turn.)

I hope she soars.

But it's still hard to watch her drive away.

This Subaru commercial nailed it. "Daddy, okay!"