Childhood Neighborhood

Lancaster Drive. Ahh, such memories. I remember moving in to our new house, sitting on carpet remnants as mom and dad finished supervising renovations so that we could move out of our rental on Devonshire. (Fingers!)

There was an elementary school just down the road where we went to play on the playground, gliding down the hot silver slide in the summertime, watching the cracks in the mud as we crossed the dried puddles back to the shortcut through the woods. We went to the flagpole at the school once a week to pick up the girls in our Scout Troop so we could go back to the house for our Tuesday meeting.

Tadpoles grew in the gutter puddles after heavy rains and I’m pretty sure I collected a few to see how they would grow. I don’t remember them growing.

An ice cream truck blared it’s music down our road and the idiot driving stopped to ask if I wanted any treats, while I covered my ears hoping he would go away and pass me as fast as possible.

I ran away down to the creek once, because I was so angry as only a nine year old can get, but made sure I packed peanut butter cheese crackers and my favorite doll since I was going to be away forever.

Shortly after we moved in, a family bought the house five houses down and diagonally across from us, and we found our friends in the Fishers. There was a girl for my sister to play with, and a boy just my age for me to run around with. Owen was my first crush, and I never quite got over my love of gangly tall boys. (My husband became one after we were married for a year… extra treats.) They had a pool, so we got to swim during the summer. Owen defended us against the boy next door, Randy, who stole our dolls and wouldn’t give them back.

Dad and Granddaddy built a deck up on the ridge behind our house and strung it with happy lights so we could play outside and see across our whole subdivision. They got it done just in time to celebrate Norris and Janet’s sixtieth birthday, when we had all their friends over to wish them well.

I got my first own room in that house, looking out my window at the tree in our front yard, its trunk divided into three main parts as it stood and guarded the hill. I also got my first camera, where I took artistic photos of the macadam driveway and that tree.

I don’t much remember many other folks who lived around us, either in good ways or bad, though our left door neighbor was friendly even though she had two angry German Shepherds. I was deathly afraid of dogs, and so we didn’t go up to her house very often. We even stayed away from her fence. She also was the host of our first experience with a house fire; she tried to run pillows in her dryer, and they caught flame. Her house was ok afterwards, but we could see the flame from the far end of our hallway.  I remember my sister telling me she wanted to stay as far from the flame as possible, so we huddled there until mom came to find us and take us outside, just in case.

It is the house I learned independence in. I hit the beginning stages of puberty there. It is the only house I’ve lived in that my family owned. It is the only house I miss.

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Love is what you do and what you say

Today is my Grandmomma Janet’s birthday. I’ve had three grandmothers, each very different. Now, only one is still living, Grammy Sara down in Florida. The third was the first one we lost, Sue-Sue. Each of my grandmothers had their own special name. They had their own special way of being. They have their own special impact on my life.

Grandmomma Janet loved to share love with people. She went out of her way to care for others. She set up crafts for the shut-in ministry at her church, she made pear preserves every single year that she could, she hosted our family for Thanksgivings and Christmases and Easters when we lived close enough. I learned table etiquette from her influence. (You cannot eat your dessert until the person serving everyone has been able to sit down and eat their first bite.) I learned that love is just as important by what you do as what you say. She was an artist, though she never quite claimed it. She loved daffodils.

Daffodils
Dancing in the wind

 

My grandmother looms larger than my grandfather, though I have memories of him as well. Granddaddy Norris still loves to work with his hands and build things out of wood. He loves cookies of all shapes and sizes. He always fell asleep while we were watching TV, unless he was watching Jeopardy, because he had to make sure they got the answers and the questions right. He loved to travel with Grandmomma Janet, they made sure that they took each of their grandchildren on at least one trip with them, to share that love.

Memories are funny things. We remember people from different times in our lives, and from different times in theirs. We put the memories together to build the composite of who we loved and who we remember. Some memories fade and some become crystalline, clearer with each year that goes by. It is important to forgive hurts and angry words, but it is also important to remember that the people we love and look up to are as imperfect as we are. Remembering loved ones as whole persons allows us to have grace for the people in our lives now. Norris and Janet at Wedding

Which H Is Appropriate?

I had a migraine yesterday. I realized in the afternoon that I had been livid for the previous seventy-two hours creating the perfect setting for my body to revolt against my constant horrified scanning of Twitter and Facebook.

Livid is not strong enough a word. I wish there were a stronger word. Perhaps fuming or furious, incensed or outraged. I kept waiting for my anger to dwindle, and I kept learning more things that continued to stoke the flames of my rage.

Like I said, my body shut down. I cannot maintain that level of fury for that long.

I am still angry. But I have gone back to the baseline anger that has accompanied me since November 8, 2016 when I realized that the balance had not shifted as far as I had imagined, and that hate would continue to beat out hope. We are not the country I wish we were.

Demons continue to haunt us and tell us that we are only good enough if we can point to a group of people that is not as good as we are.

I hate being part of a “We” especially when the “Them” is unspoken. It is far too easy to label people when the labels are assumed.

So I’ll name it.

I am a white, millennial, Christian, straight, cis-gendered, married, southern woman living in rural North Carolina. (I’m also a mother of one, expecting a second, and currently my husband is the only one who earns money and works outside the home.) I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket, I’ve never had a negative encounter with the police, I’ve earned a master’s degree from a prestigious university, and my family holds no debt. My family has been in the United States for over five generations. Both of my parents earned master’s degrees. I have multiple medical doctors in my family, at least two family members own their own business, and most of my family owns their own home.

I benefit from each and every one of these privileges. (The only thing I’d need to be more privileged is to be a man… and I wasn’t born that way; trans men don’t have the same kind of privilege.)

I benefit from a system where my faith and skin color mean that I am part of the assumed “Norm” of the country. I benefit from a racist system of power.

Hundreds of people have written far more brilliantly about racism than I will ever be able to do, but it is impossible to read everything in the world. I am going to exceedingly oversimplify the issue here, but there are two basic forms of racism: personal and systemic.

Personal racism means that as a white person it is when I have a conversation with a black or brown person and say or think that they are lesser than me because of our different skin color. It is far too easy for me to deny this kind of racism. Look, I don’t do this, I’m not a racist. This can also be called prejudice: a judgement based on a difference between a self-identified people group and one that is different than the self.

Systemic racism is harder to define because it is so pervasive. It involves housing segregation, disparity in sentencing for crimes and prison populations, education access, home ownership discrepancy, poverty and unemployment levels, and a thousand other injustices.

They manifest in myriad ways, but these are the two forms.

It is because of systemic racism that I am a racist. I hold more power because I have white skin. I can’t just say that I don’t have this power. I do.

Racism directly refers to the group or person who holds the power. Those who do not hold the power are not racist. Black people are not racist. They don’t hold the power in this country. They may be prejudiced against others, but they are not racist.

So, why should I be angry? I benefit from the way that the country distributes power. True.

But I was baptized into the Church and I vowed: to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of my sin; to accept the freedom and power God gives me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves; and to confess Jesus Christ as my Savior, put my whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as my Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

Racism is the original sin of our nation and I have to fight it or risk betraying everything I promise in my baptismal vows.

And then I started hearing the news on Saturday. I saw that there were a group of White Supremacists flying Nazi flags and carrying tiki torches and confederate flags and shouting that they needed their land back. I heard that a domestic terrorist drove his car into a crowd of people who were protesting the gathering of White Supremacists and killed a woman.

And my heart broke again. And then I got mad.

And on Sunday I was driving to a vigil honoring her life and reclaiming the power of light in the darkness and as I drive to get on the interstate at my exit I see a newly erected flag pole with a brand new flag flying from it. I’m fairly certain it was erected this past weekend. It was a confederate flag.

img_5210It’s still there.

And I know, I live in the rural south, and I know that there are a lot of people who want to claim that flying the confederate flag is about the southern heritage and not about racism or wishing white people could still own black people as enslaved persons and claim their property. And I know that a lot of people who want to fly the confederate flag say that the civil war was fought over economic freedom and state’s rights, not slavery. Oh, and there were racists in the north, too.

But the confederate flag is a symbol that the KKK reclaimed during the Jim Crow era, after the experiment of  reconstruction had failed, and the confederate flag is a powerful symbol. Yes, it may be a symbol of heritage, but it is a symbol of our heritage of hatred. Shane Claiborne wrote eloquently about his struggle with the flag two years ago for Red Letter Christians.

The confederate flag belongs in a museum, with an explanation that it was the banner flag of the southern states in the Civil War, when good men died on both sides, but after the north won, it was no longer legal to count persons as property.

(And yes, I am aware that the history is muddy, and that some places that were not yet part of the United States of America were slow to catch up with justice.)

By all means, we should keep the flag and with it the confederate statues that were erected during the Jim Crow era reminding every single black person that they were still “not as good” as any of the white people around them. But it all belongs in a museum of hatred.

We should not forget our history. But we should never celebrate the hatred of our past. We must confess it and work to remedy the harm that our systemic hatred continues to inflict on our neighbors.

Part of the remedy work is confessing our own blind spots and privilege.

Part of the remedy work is listening to people who don’t look like us.

Part of the remedy work is me listening to you if you disagree with me. (Honestly, call me and we’ll talk.)

Part of the remedy work is learning about the Black Lives Matter movement and why it is necessary. (And why All Lives Matter twists the issue away from the fact that black bodies are killed at an alarming rate by law enforcement with little to no redress whatsoever.)

Part of the remedy work is educating yourself and looking to multiple sources, not always ones that agree with you.

Part of the remedy work is showing up.

Part of the remedy work is humility.

Part of my remedy work is knowing when I need to be angry and learning when I need to take a break before I get a migraine.

Part of my remedy work is taking time to show my daughter what love means. And when she is older, I will teach her that she holds privilege simply because of the color of her skin, but that she should do everything in her power to help me tear down that system of privilege.

It is not simple work. It is not easy work. It is necessary work.

We Are Marching

On Saturday, my family participated in the largest protest in United States history. Joining with over half a million people, (some estimates put us at a million) we flooded the metro system of Washington DC and the world, with at least three million, possibly five million people protesting globally to protect the rights and concerns of women and all who are vulnerable under our current administration.

I took my daughter, who at a year and a half has participated in five different protests, because it is her future that we are creating right now. We streamed into the metro system, and were on the train so long that I needed to feed my daughter. At one moment I had her bottom balanced on the grip of the stroller, as the train stopped and started, while she was latched onto my breast and her legs were looped over my arm as I held onto the handle bar for stability. Generously, one of the women who was sitting close to me offered us her seat so that I didn’t have to balance while breastfeeding.

After spending four hours in the metro system we finally made it onto the street and by chance ran into the friends we had hoped to meet up with. A mom had made us all pussyhats, even one for our daughter, and we wore them proudly. We tried to hear the speakers, but the crush of people was too dense, so the people around us chanted on our own, crying out: “This is what Democracy looks like!” My favorite exchange was all the women shouting “My body, my choice!” followed with the men shouting “Her body, her choice!”

Word eventually got to our part of the crowd that the march could not move because the march route was full of people. We spontaneously filled up the National Mall and marched in front of the White House in an effort to call attention to the fact that women’s rights are human rights.

Gathering together across all seven continents, in over six hundred cities around the world including Iraq, Qatar, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, we joined together to call for Health, Economic Security, Representation, and Safety (HERS).

It was not perfect. There were many more white women who presented in gender conforming ways than anyone else that I saw, though I do admit that I was pushing year and a half year old in a stroller through at least half a million people. I did see at least four generations. I saw black and white and hispanic standing together. I saw women wearing the hijab. I saw many signs saying “The Future is Female.”

I didn’t hear any of the speakers, but I did see a young person holding a sign that they had made, “be nice” and “be respectful.”

I marched for my daughter who will be learning right and wrong in a world where

lies are called “alternative facts.”

I marched for Raquel who was my roommate in college after her first roommate called her “the girl with the green card.”

I marched for my friends Kate and Kathryn that their marriage may still be legal.

I marched for Maureen who I befriended while I was serving as a volunteer through the United States Peace Corps in Kenya, who is a nurse now raising her daughter alone.

I marched for Maureen’s daughter, that she will not be a victim of Female Genital Mutilation, because even though the Masaai women started “only drawing blood, not cutting entirely” the practice is still horrendous.

I marched for Amanda, who has been working at Wal-Mart for fifteen years and still makes less than fifteen dollars an hour.

I marched for the men who are told that they cannot show emotion or will be called less than whole.

I marched for women who only make seventy percent of what men make.

I marched for black bodies who are killed and feared for existing.

I marched for Syrian refugees who have no home to return to.

I marched for people who will die because they will lose health insurance.

I marched because bridges are better than walls.

I marched for you, even if you don’t think you need it.

I marched because my privilege allowed me to do so, and I want to bend the world towards justice, one step at a time.

 

Photo Credit: Chuck Geary

Creating Our Family Story

My husband and I are preparing to usher a new life into the world in about five months. Baby Bryant is coming. We are getting ready to expand our family and share a whole host of new things with this new little person on the way. Among the host of preparations, considerations, alterations, decisions, and worries associated with becoming parents, I want to make sure that we pass on traditions that we cherish from our own families.

One of the traditions of my family is going to really interesting places. This may be as part of a really long trip on a vacation, or as simple as making a set of memories as we go away for a weekend or as short a trip as a picnic. I remember specific picnics that we took while I was a child on Sunday afternoons, the meal already prepared before church, then carried out to the edge of a lake at a bench on the side of a hill at Callaway Gardens. I remember going on a camping trip to Amelia Island so we could watch the full Lunar eclipse. I remember trips to the High and the Cummer Museums to go look at poignant paintings and sculptures four feet across made of ribbons and feathers dipped in wax.

But there were longer trips that I cherish as well. We loved going to Colonial Williamsburg, more than our trip to Disney. There was more to do, more to see, more to learn, and really, there were not as many people there, which made it all the more better. We were delving into history, learning the steps of the old dances and the stories of the people who created our nation. We traveled to California to learn about the westward expansion of the nation, and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at Big Sur to see the waves, in the forest to walk among the Redwoods, and at Monterrey to watch the seals flop around. We traveled down the Florida coast to the Keys, and went sixty miles west of Key West, to the Dry Tortugas. We camped on the beach (again) and listened to the waves (and the cars on the highway) lull us to sleep.

I want to be able to share these kinds of memories with my child. I want to learn what different things my husband loved to do, what we want to create for our own family, what memories we have to share with this new thing, this new family we are creating. We are creating a family, and a family is held together by its common story, by the narrative that we weave together. We will take our different parts, the memories of each of our families, and create something new together.