Saturday, August 18, 2018
It started so innocently, so spontaneously. I am being trolled and harassed for a comment on Facebook. Oh, yes, this has happened many times with so-called “friends”, so I put a stop to all that. But this time, for the first time, I commented on a national post. I never do because I think who will read it and who will care? Apparently many people care about the opinion of total strangers and have the time to harass mercilessly, all day, maybe for two or three days.
Was what I wrote offensive, political, critical—nope. I was praising my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Horrible, right? How dare I! There was a clip from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I LOVE Stephen Colbert and watch him every night. I had no problem with the clip or the joke, but it was about Cleveland. I’ve noticed that Colbert often uses Cleveland in his jokes as somewhere you’d never want to go. I get it, but the river burned about 50 years ago so it’s an old joke.
I was naive enough to think, “Oh, what the heck, I’ll write something positive about Cleveland.” So I wrote that even though I love Colbert, here are some facts about Cleveland: The world class orchestra and museums, beautiful parks and amazing restaurants and the theater district that is second only to New York City.
Here are some of the things I was accused of: I have no sense of humor, can’t take a joke, I need to get over it, I”m ridiculous and, here’s the best one: Another Clevelander says he’s lived in Cleveland longer than me so what do I know? So I asked how he knew how old I was, and he’d gone on my page and looked at photos of me! Creepy! Then I got unsolicited advice about changing my settings, (which I have done). Another stranger even said I look good for my age, so at least something pleasant came out of this huge waste of time.
Then I was challenged and made fun of for saying we had the largest theater district after NYC. I have to say I got a lot of support on this one. A whole crowd of people validated my claim. This is going on and on, people! Whenever I went on Facebook I was praying there were no more related comments to read, but they continued and my original comment has 259 reactions so far.
As the days went on more and more people defended how wonderful our city is. Several people had visited and mentioned how impressed they were. I mean, this was a major issue! With one comment I somehow have gained access to the time and concerns of complete strangers. It’s amazing! The person who said I was ridiculous required a response from me: “I’m getting trolled for saying something nice about my city. Now THAT’s ridiculous!”
Monday, July 16, 2018
A Sunday in 2018
I love read to read and be informed. I look forward to an occasionally idle Sunday when I have time to read the two substantial newspapers that appear in my mailbox. I am passionate about the world my young grandchildren will inherit someday. Often my brain feels full of information after several hours of reading, but today it was more than that. It was full of despair. I had to stop reading, go into the bathroom, shut the door and cry. Actual weeping for our country. Nothing in the news was making America great again, just more cruel, more hateful, more discriminatory.
The Supreme Court nominee will make it harder for people to have access to voting if he has his way, as if we were in the pre-Civil Rights era. Unions, which I supported and greatly benefitted from may become decimated; poor working conditions and inequity in pay will prevail once again. A story about the WWII Japanese internment camps in America tells of families taken from their homes out of irrational fear. The author reminds us not to repeat history—but we already are. Thousands of children remain separated from their parents at the southern border. Imagine the damage being done to their psyches—all brought on by a party that claims to be pro-family and pro-life. I read that no hugging is allowed in these child cages. An older sister could not comfort her three year-old brother. I cried.
A friend tells me that her Japanese-American daughter-in-law and small grandson were harassed this week and called “F***king Chinks” at a Cleveland Indians baseball game.
In the UK our president is being protested and made fun of everywhere he goes. This is not normal. It is not normal or safe for our country for him to constantly be alienating and insulting our allies around the world. But he wonders why he’s not welcome.
On Facebook a distant relative cannot tolerate my views and harasses me mercilessly on my own post and timeline until I delete the whole thing and him as well. I accept that he has different views than I do, but he cannot tolerate mine. All of this is in my consciousness within two days. Does anyone else become overwhelmed?
After my tears over an America that I don’t recognize any longer I search for something uplifting and find a review of a documentary about Fred Rogers that is doing exceptionally well in the theaters. It says that people still want to see good. Yes, if we all were like Mr. Rogers and practiced kindness, tolerance and understanding our country would be a much different place, and I wouldn’t be crying at the news.
Thursday, June 28, 2018
My dear friend,
After decades of an easy and loving friendship we find ourselves on opposite sides politically. You recently expressed an opinion that you know I disagree with and I said very little in fear of it coming between us. I have strong opinions with cogent reasons too, but I’m not sure you want to hear them. My beliefs do not come from a radio pundit, a political news channel or any particular columnist, but from experiences that slowly changed my views without me even being aware of it. It was a natural evolution for me, based on my life and my faith, so the conundrum is that we are both Christians yet see things so differently.
My own experience of struggling financially for a time (even though I went to college and had done all the personally responsible things), and teaching poor children for 20 years in a diverse district gave me a new perspective. The adults I now tutor often had no choice about leaving high school but were forced to to care for younger siblings or to get jobs. There is so much judgment of those whose lives we know nothing about. The richest country in the world should help their own, but the current administration seems determined to take every good thing away from us: public schools, the EPA (which has greatly improved our lives and health for decades), arts funding, women’s health care, children’s lunch and after-school programs, being irresponsible stewards of God’s creation by allowing pollution to take over again to name a few. They want to reduce food assistance even though it is a minuscule part of the budget. Ohio wants to defund the Positive Education Program for emotionally disturbed youth, to say nothing of defunding Planned Parenthood whose services prevent unwanted pregnancies. I could go on and on.
I am sincerely curious about how Christians reconcile these types of efforts with the teachings of Jesus. Breaking up immigrant families, putting the arguable right to own an assault rifle over the safety of American schoolchildren, unnecessarily raising rent on the poor, are all contrary to repeated commands of Jesus who showed us how to feed and care for the poor without question, to live peacefully and turn the other cheek. He told us not to worry about tomorrow, that all people are our neighbors which includes Muslims, immigrants and the poor. And of course, to love our enemies. The words of politicians and the Second Amendment have superseded the words of Jesus.
You say you need guns because you fear “they” are coming for you. I don’t even know what that means. “Fear not,” is the most repeated command in the Bible, supposedly 365 times, one for every day. The commandment to not kill I take literally and don’t think there are exceptions. I do not find the promotion of guns pro-life. Just the opposite. “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body and not the soul.” Mt 10:28.
I do not oppose a conservative viewpoint but there is one news station that has done great damage to our country. Everyone I know who watches that station seems to live in fear and believe in conspiracies that never materialize. I saw it happen to my own parents. They went from being happy and content to constantly worrying and even obsessing about things they heard on television. Of course, none of their fears were realized. It was sad to me to see that change in them. They had the station on most of the day so I was exposed to it. I heard daily ranting and vicious name-calling of Democrats. Don’t tell me that doesn’t have a divisive effect on people. There may be liberal viewpoints on other stations but I have never heard the ugly vitriol that I’ve heard on that station.
The thought of abortion repulses me, but I also do not judge those who feel they need one. I do not know their circumstances and believe judgement is left to God. There is great hypocrisy in wanting babies to be born, but not cared for after birth. When we remove help for those children, defund public school resources, food programs and the like we are just pro-birth, not pro-life. I have never walked in the shoes of a gay or transgender person so I do not have the right to tell them how to live their lives or what their human needs should be. It is only when we dehumanize people that we insist on our preferences over their civil and human rights.
One of the most divisive ideas is that this has always been a White Christian country and what we saw on 1960’s television was the “way it’s always been.” Think Mayberry. But that is a false image. That was before the civil rights movement when black people were segregated in every way in this society, when Japanese were interned, when what we saw on TV did not reflect reality for many Americans in any way. Life wasn’t great for everyone in decades past so there is nothing idyllic to go back to. Even though I attempt to live my life by Christian principles I do not believe this is a Christian country. It began as a Native American country and for a long time everyone was welcome here. Building a wall to keep people out and travel bans are in direct opposition to the freedom America stands for. I have the right to worship as I want in America, but so does everyone else.
Liberal and liberty share the same root word. It is defined as: marked by generosity, broad-minded, open to new opinions, and believes in political change. I am not ashamed of that and no one has convinced me of any of these views except living the life that God gave me and coming to know people unlike myself. There cannot possibly one right way to live among the billions of people on this planet. If God is the Creator then He made all of us.
So maybe we should find our common ground and stick to that. All over this country relationships are strained by the deep divisions that we are exposed to 24 hours a day. Let’s not be one of them.
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Last week two prominent, widely admired, successful people committed suicide. I heard a lot of misconceptions from people who most likely have never been there. The first thing you think is why anyone with money and fame would do such a thing, but money and fame have nothing to do with what is happening in the depressed person's mind. It's a physical imbalance. It is not rational.
Many years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression (and two other temporary mental illnesses) that occurred for a very specific reason in my life. I had counseling and medication. I got well and it is not a chronic problem for me. I can't really imagine living through it again or what it would be like to battle this disease all of my life. Some people do and this is why they cannot take it any more.
Depression is not sadness or discouragement—it is utter hopelessness. It is not feeling anything, not caring about anything, it is like already being dead. When you are hopeless and cannot feel human feelings your life does not matter to you and you cannot imagine that it ever will. This, of course, is not true. It is not rational thinking.
You will hear things like - remember how many people love you, think about your children, it will get better. The problem with those thoughts is that they involve emotions and reasoning and when you are clinically depressed you cannot understand those thoughts and cannot feel hope in them. If you've never felt complete hopelessness it is almost impossible to comprehend.
I did not seriously contemplate suicide. I do remember wanting to get away from myself, but there was no way to do that. I hated myself. I hated being so weak, so sick, for worrying the people who loved me and I would have done almost anything to end that experience. I thought about how everyone would be better off without me, which is pretty close to life-ending thinking. In my mind I knew hope existed but I could not feel it or sense any light at the end of the tunnel. That's exactly why it's depression.
So when you wonder how someone could do such a thing to themselves or to their family remember that at the moment of their decision it didn't matter at all.
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
There is a cemetery nearby where many of my paternal relatives rest. Four great-grandparents, three great-aunts, and my own grandparents are in one family area. My mother and father are in another place in the same cemetery. I was close to my grandparents because they lived five houses away on my street as I grew up. I could walk to see them any time I wanted. I would bring my grandmother flowers and we'd play board games together. I was also close to my great-aunt Irene. She never married and lived a simple, and I thought, lonely life. My mom and dad took very good care of her in her old age and she was a part of all of our family gatherings. She was 87 when I had my first child and I gave my daughter the middle name Irene so she would be remembered.
Cemeteries are not fun. They make you think about uncomfortable truths. Many people have nothing to do with cemeteries because they say their loved ones are not there. But, in a way I disagree. When you go to the grave of a loved one you can feel their presence. Even though you may think of them frequently you are solely focused on their memory as you gaze at their names. I like to think that when I am there they feel a surge of love wherever they are. It's a time to talk to them, catch them up on earthly matters, and once again, tell them how much you miss them. There are always tears, but it feels important for me to do.
When I go to the Vogel plot of my ancestors I always say "I remember you." I say this because no one else will remember them. Why would you think of them when you don't even know where their plots are? The rest of my cousins were not close to my grandparents and they live in far away. My grandmother and grandfather have been gone since 1970 and 1972 respectively. Who thinks of them now that my dad and his sister are gone? I do.
I am still overcome with sadness to think that all of my many aunts and uncles and even a few cousins are now gone from this earth. My mother was the last of her generation in our family when she died in 2016. So now my cousins and I are the matriarchs and patriarchs. Something you never imagine. It's a completely unique part of life when all those before you are gone. Life takes on a different meaning when you see another generation coming into the family as I do with my three grandchildren and my cousin's grandchildren.
I recently read a novel that took place in post-war Germany. The main character visited a cemetery and inquired why graves were being dug up. She was told that they are dug up and replaced every thirty years because after thirty years no one remembers them. That's not particularly true these days, but it was a shocking reminder of the brevity of life.
I recall my parents devotedly caring for the Vogel gravesites and I will do the same as long as I am able. No one else will. Every time I visit I will say, "I remember you" to each one there who lived and breathed and made it possible for me to be alive.
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Have you ever lost a friend without knowing why? The kind of friend you have everything in common with, the kind of friend who chose you to stand next to her as she married. A friend whose children were your children’s friends and you went on vacation together, made music with, a friend you loved and admired.
Then suddenly one day there was no more communication. No return calls, no accepted invitations, no more best friend for your daughter. Life was changing for both of you, but that shouldn’t have precluded a friendship, in fact, the situations created one more thing in common. You spend years in occasional mental and emotional confusion.
Many years later you see her at a movie theater and exchange a few pleasantries . You discover she lives only minutes from you, and that is a further injury to your heart. But it is clear nothing has changed. You send a letter asking for an explanation, but there is no reply. You must eventually let it go. But the thing is, you never really do. Years pass and it doesn’t come into your consciousness, but all of a sudden something will remind you of the mystery you will never solve. Then the relentless questions begin again, but there is no one to ask. You eliminate so many possibilities, but never come up with a possibility.
Another decade goes by and with no apparent provocation one night you awaken with her on your mind. You have been on Facebook for ages but never thought to look her up. You are sure she is not the type to be on social media, but there she is. You send a message and she accepts the request, but again, does not reply.
Why are some things so impossible to let go, to accept? You only want to know the reason. What unforgivable thing did you do? You don’t really need any more friendships, but you needed hers.
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Many years ago I was in a marriage that was an emotional and financial disaster. I had done all the responsible things in life. I went to college and became a teacher. I took care of my two young children and a large run-down house in a pleasant neighborhood. We were very active in our church and had many friends. We looked like your average suburban family. But I couldn’t support four people and a house on a teacher’s salary alone. We were deeply in debt and our house in disrepair. I was using a second mortgage to buy groceries and ironically, to pay the mortgage. The years of disappointment and stress finally ended in divorce—something I never dreamed would happen to me.
I was raised in the middle class, but now I suddenly had a taste of what it must be like to be poor. I learned that anything that could happen could happen to me. No one is immune to one bad decision changing the course of life. I was certain I would be better off on my own and I would have been, but while going through the agony of divorce my teaching job was reduced to half time with no medical insurance. I imagined living in my parents’ basement with two kids, a dog and a canary.
As hard as I tried to hide my struggles many people from my church family offered to pay a month’s mortgage or help in other ways. I turned them all down. I felt ashamed of my situation even though I had done nothing to cause it. It felt humiliating to accept help.
One day my children and I were in the living room after school and the doorbell rang. The delivery person at the door was holding a large beautiful plant—a peace lily. I brought it in and opened the card. There was no signature, but ten one-hundred dollar bills floated out onto the floor. A miracle and an enormous amount of money at that time. I never found out who sent this anonymous gift, but it carried us over until I was offered a new full-time teaching job on the very last day of August.