On Being

Come on, baby. Please turn. 15/#100daystobaby

I found this photo from the late days of my pregnancy this afternoon while looking for something else entirely. I was so big, and so tired, and so ready to be done being pregnant, and so scared about what would happen if all of the ridiculous things we were trying didn’t result in the baby turning around. They didn’t work, and he didn’t turn, and I had a surgery that I didn’t want, but everyone was just fine in the end.

On my way to the gym the other day, I passed a young girl with a huge dangly front tooth, and then I realized that my little son would one day lose his front teeth, and that realization made me want to cry because growing those teeth has been so agonizing – so much pain that he doesn’t understand, so many long feverish nights of tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable because bones are poking their way through his tender new gums. And for what? So that he can lose them all and start over?

And then yesterday, I was in the car in the early morning and so caught the beginning of a rebroadcast interview with Thich Nhat Hanh, where he said:

I could not like to go to a place where there is no suffering. I could not like to send my children to a place where there is no suffering because, in such a place, they have no way to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. And the kingdom of God is a place where there is understanding and compassion, and, therefore, suffering should exist.

And it made me realize, again and again, that these are the pieces of our lives that make us human: the fear of the unknown that turns out to be not so scary, the inexplicable pain (physical and otherwise) that comes from growing, the extraordinary experience of releasing your heart outside your body that helps you understand how to love the world.

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We have so much to talk about, always.

In the summer of my first year of grad school, I got back in touch with an old friend. Melissa lived barely 20 minutes away, the closest we’d lived to each other in the 10+ years that we’d been friends. In fact, we had lived closer than that for almost a year, if only we’d had modern conveniences like Facebook to tell us such things. But those would come later – at that time, and for the years before, we wrote letters.

I met Melissa at Covenant Harbor in the early years of our adolescence. We connected in the way that you connect when you are 13 and passionately in love with God and the world – while experiencing the first pangs of independence and angst. We were a part of a tightly-knit group that would return to camp every summer until we finished high school, even as our lives diverged in significant ways. But the passion of adolescence rarely lasts, and we drifted apart, until I passed Paxton on the highway one day and thought about dropping Melissa a note.

I wrote to her about my crisis of faith, how far apart my life was from the life I’d imagined, about the end of my first marriage and the relationship that followed. I wrote about my struggle to reconcile the pieces of my life with the faith and the church in which we’d both been raised. I wrote a long letter to a person I hadn’t seen in years, expecting nothing in response.

This is what I will always remember about Melissa: how when we met for lunch one day not too long after, she looked at me and asked, “Who are you to decide who God loves? Who are you to decide that God can’t love you just the way you are?” And I sat across the table from her and cried because I was so wrapped up in myself, in my hurt and shame, that it never occurred to me that I was shutting out exactly the love and acceptance I so desired.

Our lives diverged again in the years since then, though it was easier to stay in loose contact this time around. The last time I saw her was at her wedding a decade ago. She had family in the city, and her son saw doctors at the hospital on my campus, and we talked several times about connecting when she was here, but it never happened, and now it won’t.

There’s been so much loss this year, so many people gone too soon. I suppose that’s always the case, but it hits closer to home every year. Today my heart is with Melissa’s family, with her young son, with all who loved the wonderful person who was so important to me in those brief but crucial moments.

We have to do better than this.

I am sitting at my kitchen table and I am crying because I can’t even begin to understand what is happening in our country right now. People killing cops because they’re angry. Cops killing people because they’re angry? scared? because they can? People killing each other in the streets and in nightclubs and in cars and on trains and in alleys and in broad daylight for reasons or for no reason, out of hate and fear and inequality and injustice. More than 2,000 people shot in my city so far this year – SO FAR THIS YEAR.

For a long time, I didn’t think I wanted kids because I worried about the state of this world. I wondered whether it was fair to gift a small, defenseless person with a planet as profoundly screwed as ours. Back then, my fears were mostly about overpopulation, about the planet running out of resources, about the environment my child would grow up in being that much worse than the one I experienced.

Now that I have a child, it’s like – how can I even care about that stuff when a three year old was shot close to my work in the last few weeks? When a man was killed by a cop during a routine traffic stop? When a woman was killed by a stray bullet in our neighborhood while sitting in her car talking on her phone? And if I have those fears as a middle-class white woman with a white partner and white son – how much worse must it be for my friends who don’t have the inherent privilege that comes with being born white in America? For my friends who fear every day for the safety of their black husbands and black sons? For my friends who practice other religions, or come from other countries where the hateful expressions of a few color the perceptions of the many?

I’m sitting here at my kitchen table crying because it’s all too much, and I feel too small to do anything that means anything beyond loving my son and raising him to be a good man. There has to be more than this. We have to do better than this.

If you’re feeling like me right now, with your heart in your hands, here are a few places to start:

  • This Twitter thread has a long list of things that you can do RIGHT NOW to learn about police practices in your city, and to start reaching out to people who can do things to change them.
  • Campaign Zero articulates specific policies and agendas that can move us forward as communities and as a country
  • Find your Senator. Call them. Write them an email. Write them a letter. Tell them how you feel and what you want to see changed.
  • Find your Representative. Call them.
  • Find your state legislator. Call them as well.
  • Hold the ones you love closer tonight.