A Heart Remembers

My heart remembers things my head tries to forget. At least that’s the way it felt this morning when I woke up remembering today marks ten years since I got the call that my mother was failing fast and I needed to get to her quickly.

I made the dash to the care facility where I had moved her just 10 days earlier to find her barely conscious. But as I walked into her room she looked up, managed a weak, but grateful, smile and in her last act shakily stretched her hand out to me. I took that hand and rarely let go of it through the next 18 hours or so that I sat by her bedside listening to her struggle for every breath she took.

Below are the two columns I wrote for the Topeka Capital-Journal during this time. The first I was working on the morning of that call. I hastily finished it and raced to my Mom’s side. The second ran the next week, right after her funeral.  I share them as a way of honoring my memories of my mother.

What I’ve Not Said

I want to tell you what I’ve not been telling you. In the last few weeks my mother’s health has taken a serious downward turn. Mom has been fighting lung cancer in her left lung for the last five years. That would be bad news for anyone, but for Mom it is even worse. At age 92, this is her second battle with this disease. She had her right lung and three ribs removed because of cancer 19 years ago. With only one lung, and it compromised with cancer, it was only a matter of time until the disease would grow stronger than my mother.

It appears the tide of her fight has turned. The cancer is winning. But I’ve learned through the years to never count my mother out. She may not win this battle, but she will be the one to decide when it’s her time to throw in the towel.

Over the last several weeks her pain has increased and she is becoming frailer, but still she gets up every morning and dresses for the day. She greets visitors with as much enthusiasm as she can muster and she hates, even now, asking for help. Mom has told me several times over the last week that this is not the way she ever wanted to live. I can only nod and fight back tears as I say, “I know Mom. I know.” And I do know how much she dislikes feeling so helpless and being in so much pain that even to breathe takes enormous effort and will.

I do know it’s hard, yet I don’t know squat about how this really feels for her. I’ve never felt that kind of pain. I’ve never been 92 and looking at the end of my life. I have been in situations where I had to ask for help, and I didn’t like doing it either.

What I do know are my wishes for my dear mother. I wish her happiness, joy, peace, painlessness, and to feel completely worthy and deserving of love and goodness. But I also know the only way for her to have those things is for her to leave her physical body and make her transition to whatever awaits beyond it.

So, I’m stuck between a rock and hard place. The rock is wanting what’s best for my mother. The hard place is I must let her go in order for her to have those things. But, this is her journey and I can’t slow it down, speed it up, or stop it. All I can do is stand as a caring witness and love my mother through whatever lies ahead.

When she was told the cancer had returned to her remaining lung, just six months after my father died, I promised her she would not go through this alone. I told her I would be there, through it all.

She, after all, was there for my first breath, and I intend to be there for her last.

My Mom, My Angel

There was no way of knowing when I wrote last week’s column that my mother would make her transition from this life to whatever awaited beyond it in a matter of hours. My mother, Loreen A. Thomas, took her last breath April 17, and I was blessed to have been there to wish her well and to love her on to her next great adventure. I like to think she was met with a big, joyous party, complete with balloons, streamers, a Kelley Hunt CD playing, and with my dad waiting to again dance the night away with her.

And when that celebration wound down, I’m quite certain my mother got busy cleaning up the party residue and doing whatever she could to make Heaven more organized than it was before her arrival.

That was my mom. She never wasted a minute. Whether it was keeping the books for the family farm, creating a tidy home, teaching 4-H sewing and cooking, helping with the field work, or contributing to one of the many community organizations in which she was involved Mom was rarely idle.

My mother was one of the most gracious, courageous and bright women I have ever known. Hearing stories from family and friends as we prepared her life celebration I learned that my mother was even more of those things than I previously knew. I never knew that my mother drew up the plans for our house, which was built in the mid-50’s. I didn’t know that Mom had baked the county champion angel food cake for several years running. Mom never talked about those things. In addition to being one of the brightest and most talented women I knew, she was also the most humble.

Reverend Susan Montgomery, pastor of the Belvue United Methodist Church, said at Mom’s services, Mom never thought of herself as anything special. But to me, and her many friends, she was indeed very special, and provided a shining example of a life well lived.

My mom and I shared a love of books, especially well-written biographies. Mom was always more interested in other people’s stories than her own. She loved a good conversation and was not only articulate, but was also a good listener. When she asked about you she wasn’t doing so to be polite or pass the time, she really cared about your answers.

Mom instilled in me a deep love and appreciation for the outdoors and wildlife. She knew the names of every plant and tree, and fed any critter that wandered into her yard. Mom loved picnics and would use any excuse to eat alfresco, which she thought was a rather high falootin’ word to use for enjoying a good meal outdoors. There was nothing pretentious about my mother. What you saw was what you got, and what you got was a compassionate and kind woman who dearly loved her family and friends.

Mom was my rock and I feel untethered without her. She was always my hero. Now, she is my angel.

Posted in As I see it, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tearing down the walls

I want to talk to you about building a wall. Not that wall. I’m talking about the walls we build inside of ourselves. The ones we create believing they will protect us. We feel loss, hurt, deceit and betrayal so we build a wall around that pain trying, hoping, and doing our best to avoid ever feeling that again.

For me, these walls are often accompanied by old tapes so familiar I could recite them in my sleep, and actually do on occasion. When those tapes of not deserving respect or kindness, of not being worthy start looping in my head I know old wounds are being triggered. That pain from the past is no longer valid yet it continues to inform my actions and reactions. When I feel these old hurts being poked my natural instinct is to shut down, run away, close my heart, and build a wall.

But shutting down and building walls of protection and distrust is exactly what created this deep pain that sends out tendrils of despair, discouragement and doubt whenever it is, even by accident, pinged. It’s ironic that in our thinking we are protecting ourselves by not allowing more pain in, we actually create a situation in which pain from old wounds isn’t able to get out. In reality, the wall stops the flow of life and keeps the bad stuff locked up inside and all the good stuff locked out. The walls I build, assuming they will protect me, actually become my prison that keeps me locked up with all that old pain from which I now react, often over react, because I’ve lived awhile and have a truckload of that shit just waiting to be dumped.

That stuck pain can become deeply embedded thorns that are easily bumped, brushed and tweaked during life with fellow humans. Like a thorn wedged under your skin, the only way to heal the wound it causes is to locate it then yank that mother out! Is it painful? Yes, but only temporarily. Once opened up and exposed this pain can move and heal quickly and easily, while the pain created by the festering thorn is ongoing with little hope of relief and can infect self-esteem and the way we relate to others.

It feels counter intuitive when we’re in the midst of feeling any of the old hurts we carry with us, to not close down, to not run away when they are poked. I know this, because going dark is one of my specialties. Often when I feel hurt, I close up and stuff it down inside of me. I’m too fearful to bring it up. What if I make the other person mad? What right do I have to express my feelings anyway and if I do, what if they aren’t accepted? What if I’m wrong in feeling what I’m feeling? What if it is discovered that I am sometimes weird and needy? That last one is likely already known, but it can rejoin the list when I’m on a roll with fear as my frosting. And the other “What if’s”? They too are old stuff that have become habits of thought that may have once felt like protection, but now worrying about what other people may think or do just creates more bricks in our prison walls.

Until we begin to ferret out these old patterns and habits of thought and reactivity, and gradually begin training ourselves in new ways of being and relating, our basic need will remain self-protection and preservation. That’s why I build the damn walls, right? That’s why I shut down.

I spent over 10 years not talking to a couple of my good friends. They pissed me off. And they may have deserved a meeting with Jesus because of their behavior, but I never arranged that meeting. I never brought it up. I went dark instead. As a result I lost over 10 years of time with my friend Phil, who recently died.

And, sadly that is not the only time I’ve done this.

One of my life’s greatest regrets is shutting out my friend Margaret. I met Margaret playing “Old Lady Softball” when we were in our 40’s. We hit it off immediately and soon were cracking each other up with only a look or a glance. We spent hours together playing all kinds of sports – softball, volleyball, racquetball, horseshoes, we did it all – but golf was our favorite. We played in several leagues and tournaments every year together and never failed to make each other laugh so hard leaving a puddle was a possibility. (Did I mention we were middle-aged women? Then you understand puddles were definitely a possibility.) God, we had fun. Finally, in my 40’s I had found a best friend. We were like childhood playmates, getting into more trouble than we could have ever gotten out of alone. I was having the time of my life!

Then we had a silly falling out, nothing more than a misunderstanding really. But we never talked about it. In fact, we never talked at all for almost two years. Two years! I thought about Margaret often; daily on warm days because I knew we should be playing golf. I wanted to patch things up; I wanted to heal our friendship more than anything. Well, more than anything except apparently actually talking about what had transpired between us. I didn’t want to bring it up, I was scared or maybe just self-righteous, so I stayed quiet and kept my distance. Finally, I got very brave (insert whatever emoji denotes sarcasm here) and “friended” Margaret on Facebook; we restarted our conversation and eventually reclaimed the magic of our friendship.

Then, about a year later, Margaret was diagnosed with some serious shit cancer. She fought like the warrior she was and tried many things including a stem cell treatment, lots of chemo, whatever she could to win this battle. But, the cancer won and I am deeply saddened at having lost those two years of laughter, fun and companionship.

The moral of this story could be we’re all going to die, because, yes, we are all going to die and we don’t know when that might be. That too is part of the moral of this story. We not only don’t know when we’re going to croak, but we don’t know when someone we’re not talking to because, whether correctly or not, we feel they did us wrong, may croak either. If we never said the feeling-words then we deprived them of the opportunity to do so as well. We also denied them their chance to clarify, to explain and to be understood, and we robbed ourselves of who knows how long we might have celebrated their presence in our lives.

Those lost years with Margaret and Phil are reminders of what I lost because my fear – of expressing myself, of rejection, of looking at the old wounds – kept me from being present with them and sharing our most precious commodity in friendship and life – time. I built a damn wall instead of taking the risk to trust and open my heart, and to allow our friendships the opportunity to grow even stronger. That happens, you know. Sometimes when you tell someone how you feel, when you risk letting someone else see who you are; when you trust the other and open up letting them in and you out, you find those people who love you even more. It can happen. After all, if you aren’t who you are, does anyone really know you? But if you take the risk and show your authentic self, others can relax into their true selves. It’s a win-win, really.

But there’s no denying that taking that risk to say it, be it and not hide behind the wall feels imposing the first few times. It’s new territory and new behaviors are scary. The other humans may not like it. They may get mad. But instead of closing down in an attempt to protect ourselves, thereby ensuring the wounds remain active, what if we open our hearts so those old hurts can be released, so we can be released, and can welcome all the good stuff in again?

Honestly, these days, I’m not that fond of the impenetrable walls I’ve built. So I’m taking those suckers down. I’m tearing them down by saying the words, expressing my hurt or anger or feelings of being misunderstood. I’ll do my work first. I’ll do my best to determine if this is an old wound being triggered, and if so, I’ll find that thorn and its lesson then set my jaw and wrench that sucker out! I may have to pull some thorns multiple times to become completely liberated from them, but each time I do I allow myself the freedom to act and react from a place of strength and courage grounded in the present. I’ll learn as I go to sort out what part of the hurt is old and needs to go and what part needs me to pull up my big girl panties and say the feeling-words.

Every time I tell my truth without blame, shame or playing the “poor me” game, I gain more balance, harmony and freedom to be who I am now – a grown ass woman with a wild heart, an expanding compassion for herself and others, and a high blue belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Who needs a frickin’ wall?

Posted in As I see it, Health and Well Being, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Again? Yes, again.

“It happened again,” was one of the first things spoken about the Valentine’s Day school massacre at a South Florida high school. Yes, it happened again. And if we don’t get this figured out, it will continue to happen, likely with even more frequency. In fact, we have experienced 18 incidents of guns fired on school property and eight school shootings resulting in injury or death since the first of the year. Please note that we aren’t even out of February yet!

It is heartbreaking to see our youth, our teachers and school personnel, as well as the first responders, law enforcement and medics going through this again, and again, and again. All of them are personally affected by this horrendous violence playing out in our society. The Washington Post, using archival information, has determined that over 150,000 students have witnessed a school shooting since Columbine in 1999. Those students may have survived immediate physical injury, but their mental wounds run deep and the long term emotional and psychological injuries may last a lifetime. Even if they don’t develop symptoms from their experience, their lives changed the minute they heard the first shot and will likely never be the same. How can you retrieve any sense of safety after it has been shattered so quickly and so needlessly? How can you ever forget seeing your classmates or teachers gunned down in front of you in your classroom or hallway? How can you ever shake that fear? Fear of what, you don’t really know, but you do know how quickly and horribly worlds and lives can change.

Having spent ten years teaching high school English and journalism, each time another school shooting occurs I feel scared-sick and wonder how I would feel, react, help, or hide. And I think of the hundreds, probably thousands, of students who passed through my classroom or I passed in the hallways and how they would cope, move forward, and what it would be like to lose some of them so senselessly. It would be devastating! I think of my former students and am so impressed with how they grew, learned, developed and became such amazing people. They are activists, advocates, teachers, lawyers, judges, accountants, artists, mental health workers and business professionals in every sector of our society. They are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, wives, husbands, partners and if any one of them had had their life shortened by such a tragedy as a school shooting we all would have lost big time. Our world would simply not hold all the goodness it now does if any one of them had not been allowed to live their lives of enfoldment, discovery and compassion.

But when I think of the lives we have lost and all the lives altered because of this violence I wonder what accomplishments each of them may have achieved. I do know most of them had aspirations, dreams and abilities that were far beyond our imagination. We will never know what good they were going to bring to our world. What opportunities, what advancements may we now miss because these young lives were snuffed out with such cold-hearted horror? What kinds of miracles were in store for us because of them? Miracles we will never know now.

It’s not just the 17 dead in Florida that saddens me, but the myriad of lives each of those losses affect. There are parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, co-workers – hundreds, if not thousands, of lives have been permanently changed by the actions of a young man with way more weaponry than anyone outside of the military or law enforcement should ever have.

And there’s the rub. Guns are everywhere. They are way too easy to get, way too easy to carry, way too easy to use. Where else in the world are school shootings happening with the regularity and the impact in loss of life than they are here? The rate of people killed by guns in the United States is 19.5 times higher than economically similar countries in the rest of the world.  What sets us apart and makes this even a possibility? Well, the number of guns, for one thing. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there are over 310 million guns in the United States. That means there is basically one firearm for every man, woman and child. And the really sick thing about this is that gun ownership increases after school shootings. Again, according to the ATF, gun manufacturers in the United States produced nearly 11 million guns in 2013, the year after the Sandy Hook massacre. That was twice the number they made in 2010.

Oh, I can hear the gun rights advocates screaming now about how dare I want to take their guns away or challenge their constitutional rights to buy, carry, use and, yes, even misuse, their weapons. The loudest voices always come from the National Rifle Association, which if you really look into their finances and efforts has little to nothing to do with individual gun ownership. The NRA is clearly a lobbying entity for gun manufacturers. With enough guns already in existence that we each can have one, if we choose, gun makers must keep creating a demand in order to stay in business. And they have identified one of the most powerful motivators of human behavior – fear. So they manufacture fear- fear of someone “taking away their guns”, fear of encroachment on their “rights”, fear of not being able to “shoot first”, fear of “rising crime rates”, fear and more fear. And that fear creates demand so they can manufacture more guns. More guns are good for business. However, more guns are not good for the rest of us.

I wish I could end this with a foolproof way to stop this insanity, but I honestly don’t know what the answer really is, other than we need some serious gun reform. Stricter background checks; making it more difficult, if not impossible, for everyday citizens to own large capacity ammunition magazines and assault-type weapons, like the AR-15, which is the weapon of preference of most who have carried out mass shootings, are good and much needed policy changes. We can also do better identifying, assisting and treating mental illness while doing all we can to keep guns out of their hands for their own and others’ safety.

Will tougher gun laws stop mass shootings? No. Most likely not, but statistics do clearly indicate this handful of policies can drastically reduce the number that occur. And who does not want to save lives, especially the lives of our school children? All of those options require a compassionate and reasonable response from our elected officials. We need to remember who put those supposed representatives in that position and for the most part, we did. The voters put them in office, so like our parents likely told us now and then, let’s not forget we can also take them out.

We must vote in alignment with our hearts and what is best for each other. So I urge you to make sure you’re registered to vote, get everyone you know registered to vote, and then we all need to show up to actually vote. In the 2016 election only 58% of eligible voters actually voted. That’s putting control into the hands of others and I, for one, no longer trust most of that 58 % and I don’t want them making decisions for me. So vote!

Until the election, we have to keep calling, writing, emailing our present representatives in Congress. It may feel as though it’s not making an anthill of difference, but we have to keep at it. We do matter. Our children matter, our families matter, our communities matter and most of all, our schools matter. Our voices must be heard. Our future depends on it. We have to take whatever action we can think of for all the kids who have been lost, but also for all the lives that have been permanently altered by these horrendous acts of violence. We have to remain vigilant and LOUD for all the families who must go on with huge holes in their hearts and homes, for all the school personnel who now must feel they are on the front lines of a war for which they did not sign up, and for all the parents who now question when they drop their kids off at school, “Will they be safe? Will they come back home?”.

We cannot give up hope for change. We cannot become complacent regarding gun violence, and especially school shootings. Of the 18 school shootings that have occurred since the first of the year, how many of them do you remember even hearing about? Probably a few, but did you know about all of them? I didn’t and I’m a journalist and news junkie. We cannot afford to become numb to this!

We can no longer sit idly by, sending thoughts and prayers, pointing fingers at others and believing there is nothing we can do to change this ugliness in our society. I will not give up. I will not stop advocating for gun reform. There is something we can do. We can demand decent candidates and vote for representatives who truly represent us! We are the bosses of those yahoos and we need to use our power for change and for betterment! I will call every day for my fellow teachers and I will do it for every student who had to sit in my classroom throughout those years. It’s the least I can do for them. After all, that alone should be punishment enough for anyone! But I am also doing it for their children and grandchildren, who all deserve the opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment.

If you want to join me in holding onto hope and in holding our elected officials responsible, you can find contact information for local, state and federal elected officials here: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

At some point this madness has to stop. And if no one else is going to step up, then it’s up to each of us to do whatever we can with whatever we have right where we are.

I don’t want to ever hear, “It happened again” leading the news cycle, but until we fix what is broken, the likelihood is unfortunately good that I will.

 

 

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Finding our way

I’ve been trying to make sense of the events of the last few weeks. Well, some of the events of the last few weeks. There have been so many!

If your head is spinning too, it may help to remember that in just two weeks we have gone from the ugliness, hatred and division of the events in Charlottesville to the ugliness (floods are nasty), love and unity of the events in Houston. From August 12 to August 26, two long weeks, we have seen the worst of this country’s underbelly and the best of its heart. We are both.

But it is focusing on those hearts that has me feeling more grounded. It is hearing of and seeing the hearts of the men and women who, to the best of their abilities, are responding with whatever is needed in the rescue of SE Texas. It is the sixty Houston Zoo employees who have stayed at the zoo since the rain began to make sure all of the animals remain fed and safe.  It is neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger; of people opening their homes, their businesses, their hearts to each other. That’s who I believe we are. Or at least who we want to be. It is who I want to be.

In all of those search and rescue stories there are no doubt conservatives helping, even saving, liberals. There are also liberals helping and saving conservatives. There are people helping each other who would disagree on many things, but they agree on one of the most important, which is, “You are worthy of saving.” I doubt any of the things that divide us, such as political affiliation, ever comes up. I hope not. My hope is, at that moment, at these moments, we only see each other as fellow human beings – with hearts that beat in both. There are, and I hope continue to be, beautiful stories of helping each other rise from the disaster in Texas. Although it doesn’t make up for the loss and hardship, it does help remind us that we are all worth saving.

The images of a battalion of volunteers taking to the water to rescue people, the stories of people reaching out to each other, friend and stranger alike, reminds me of the quote by Ram Dass – “We’re all just walking each other home.” And, in this instance, trying to save each other’s ass from rain that only Noah has likely seen before. But, yes, we are here to help walk each other home – as well as through a storm.

And Charlottesville was also a storm through which we must find safe passage and solid footing once again. The horror of those events, and aftermath, unleashed an ugliness and hatred that feels toxic – like thick smog. All of that rage and hate is still a dis-ease in us. We need to address what hate and racism looks like in this country. Then we need to decide what we want to do about it.

For now, as heartbroken as I feel about what is happening to the people in Texas, the way the best of our hearts is responding, indicates although there is still a lot of work to do, there is a lot for which that work is worth doing.

It feels good, doesn’t it, like a breath of fresh air, to be reminded of what is kind and good about us? Unfortunately, it took a horrendous natural disaster resulting in great loss and suffering for us to be reminded of it. Sometimes we are just not good learners. Let’s hope the images of both storms help us finally learn what’s really important and find a way to higher ground.

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Calling all Helpers

As I write this, the images of people in Texas and Louisiana fleeing their homes with little more than they can carry breaks my heart and triggers vivid memories of the floodwaters I escaped in 2005.

I know the depth of gratitude felt when, soaked to the bone and in a state of scared shock; a boat finally arrives to take you to safety. I also know the enormity of sadness and loss you feel when, from that boat, you look back at your home with several feet of water running through it and, with nowhere else to go, wonder how you will ever recover.

I was fortunate to have an army of friends who responded quickly and kept responding for weeks afterwards. I wouldn’t have made it without my Helpers, and I see the Helpers in Texas and Louisiana working diligently in rescue after rescue and that gives me hope, but now is the time we must all become Helpers. The people affected by this flooding can get through this, but they need us and will continue to for a very long time.

The floodwaters that ran through my house receded quickly, which aided in rebuilding. But this water is not leaving quickly and with the humid conditions there the longer it takes to get into those homes to begin the nasty, heart wrenching work of clearing them out the less chance there will be of saving anything, including the structures.

Short and long term needs will far outpace what the government can provide, so it is up to us to help. If you are able to give financially, then please do so. There are a couple of good websites that can link you with legitimate organizations working in the affected areas. Check out the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD.org) and Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) websites.

Another option is to contact the Houston Food Bank, Galveston County Food Bank and the SE Texas Food Bank to learn how you might help fill their needs. And donations to the Houston Humane Society, the San Antonio Humane Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas will help displaced animals with food and shelter.If you have more time than money, find an organization or shelter that needs boots on the ground and volunteer to provide comfort to these displaced people who are now facing a new and unknown “normal”.

Our work as Helpers will not be over once the waters recede. That’s when thousands of volunteers providing grunt labor will be needed to help clean out and gut the houses left standing.

Whatever we can do, wherever we can help, we must. We cannot become distracted from or complacent in this battle for survival in which our brothers and sisters are fighting. However we can, we must become soldiers in their army of Helpers.

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The Minister and the Muslim

Here’s a link to the latest installment of a project I do for Manhattan Magazine called The Last Word.

https://issuu.com/sunflower_publishing/docs/mm17sp_singles.

The project involves inviting two people who may or may not know each other to come together for a conversation about a topic chosen usually by me and/or my editor.  I’ve been doing these for almost two years and am always amazed by how the conversation moves and finds commonality, while also offering new insight and inspiration.

This particular installment pairs Rev. Caela Simmons-Wood of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Manhattan with Syed Haroon Bin Farrukh from the Islamic Center of Manhattan.  Although we set this conversation up weeks before, it ended up falling on the evening of the current administration’s first executive order preventing entry into this country from several predominantly Muslim countries.  Talk about perfect timing!!

The actual conversation included much more than could be used in this issue and I want to share one exchange that didn’t make it into print.  I don’t usually insert myself into the conversation, but rather I’m there as witness and scribe.  As this conversation wound down, Haroon and Caela asked me if I had any questions and I used that opportunity to ask Haroon how he and the members of his community were dealing with the fallout from that executive order.  Haroon expressed great hope for America.   He stressed how Americans had some of the biggest hearts of any people on earth and that he trusted “those hearts would do the right thing”.  Here is what else he said, that left not a dry eye in the room:

“We have great hope for America.  Whatever we are seeing here I think it is because of the lack of opportunities for people to interact and understand each other. The moment people have opportunity to interact and understand each other their opinions and views will change. America is not run by just one person. It is run by a group of people who are representatives of the American people. We believe in the potential of the people and we believe in the potential of the Democracy and the Constitution here. We are very hopeful that a single person does not have the power and the ability to outdo the wonders of centuries of Democracy and a very wonderful Constitution.”

After the conversation, we were invited to join the Islamic Center community for their monthly potluck, where we experienced some of their culture, their delicious food and such warm and welcoming hospitality.  Having the privilege to witness this conversation between Rev. Caela and Haroon brought home how we are far more similar than different and if we just take the time to have a real conversation with someone who may appear or believe differently than us, we will likely find common ground for understanding, tolerance and acceptance.

The conversation begins on page 58.  But feel free to browse through the rest of the magazine as well.  I actually have several other articles in it, but am particularly honored to have been part of this one.

 

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Granddaughter of an immigrant

My grandfather loved America with passion and pride. But he wasn’t born here. Grandpa came to the United States from Switzerland as young boy in the 1880’s.  He traveled here by ship with his mother and four siblings with only one trunk of possessions among them.  His father had made the journey earlier and was farming the rocky hills in southern Nemaha County until he could bring the rest of his family to join him.

They were Catholics and at that time the United States was very anti-Catholic. In fact, according to Oxford American History, Protestants in the United States, seeing the large influx of Catholics entering the country, believed that they were a “threat to the very fabric of society.” By the time my grandfather’s family got here, the United States already had a long history of discrimination against Catholics and, according to Kenneth Davis, a prominent historian, “Catholics were lambasted as theological abominations and traitorous. People wanted their religious freedom, but not freedom for others.” This deep hatred for Catholics lasted until John F. Kennedy become our first Catholic President in 1960.

Grandfather and his family left their Catholic religion behind when they came here. It was easy to hide or deny a religion that only consisted of different beliefs and not dress or habits. In fact, most of my family never knew we had come here as Catholics, but my grandfather once let it slip while sharing stories with me about his early days in America. He admitted to me that his mother had told the children to not mention they were Catholic. The family soon began attending the Congregational Church, in which my mother and her sisters were raised.

My grandfather had to drop out school after fifth grade so he could work to help support his family. Farming the rocky land in north central Kansas did not lead to wealth or riches.  But not being able to complete his education only served to make him value it even more and he made sure all three of his daughters received a college education, even though at that time, in the mid-to-late 30’s, it was not common for women to be college educated.

Grandpa became a successful businessman and proudly served several terms as mayor of his town. Decades after he died I continued to hear stories of how he helped others succeed. People, learning that I was his granddaughter, would excitedly share stories with me about how he had paid for their schooling, or had provided a home and work for someone, or how he allowed those down on his or her luck and bank account to carry a loan at the lumberyard he owned, that likely would never be paid. He did all of this despite anyone’s class, creed or color.  He knew what it was like to be poor and marginalized and he never stopped helping those who needed a hand up.  People who knew him describe him as always fair, generous and honest.

Within the family he started here are teachers, journalists, lawyers, artists, musicians, doctors and business people – all contributing members of society and our country, and all descendants from immigrants who came here during a time of hatred and discrimination because of their religious beliefs.

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