I Remember …

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Where were you when John F. Kennedy was assassinated? We have seen that question asked over and over again for those of us who are old enough to remember it. That was a big event in our nation’s history. In our own lives events might not be so monumental but yet they stand out as pivotal times in our lives that propel change. Each of us has those moments and these are mine.

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I remember somewhere around seven to eight years ago, going to Grandparent day at my grandson’s school located in a suburb of a large city. Sitting in his classroom I took note of the fact that the class was composed of many different races. In fact, I remember thinking my grandson was almost a minority in this classroom. This was a shock for this white woman from a small community in Southern Minnesota. I made sure I did not mention my observations to my grandson as he was oblivious to all of this. He hadn’t yet been made aware of the differences. All he knew was that they were his friends.

I remember attending a band concert at my granddaughter’s school during the time when suspicion and fear of Somali immigrants were high. I walked past a Somali woman with her head covered in her hijab and I too felt fear and suspicions because of what I had heard. I noticed there were more Somali parents with their children in my granddaughter’s school. Those from the community didn’t give them a second glance because they knew them and that was their normal, but I must admit because of all the attention by media and government, misinformation and haters, and no experience knowing a Somalian, I was afraid. Would we be in danger during the concert? I remember thinking I didn’t have this problem back home in my community. I felt comfortable and safe there.

I remember the first time I came in contact with a gay person. He was a friend of ours. We had known him for years but we didn’t know he was gay because he kept it hidden. He finally came out to us. It stands out in my mind that though we knew of this, someone decided they needed to point out to us that our friend was gay. They thought we didn’t know. Though our friend was our age he was also a friend of our daughters, and the person thought we should keep him away from her, and we should stay away too. They knew we wouldn’t want to expose our daughter to those things.

I remember the first time I met a black man. He was the husband of my best girlfriend from high school and they visited our home in our small white community. We didn’t have qualms about meeting him because if my friend could love him we would too, However, we wondered how our three-years-old and six years old would react and if they would say anything. They didn’t notice his skin was another color.

I remember the first time I met a Morman. The family moved to town and the husband worked with my husband. I was told by many to stay away from them because they would try to convert us to their ways. Some people shunned them. We gained loving friends and surrogate grandparents for our kids and religion was never talked about, though one of them was a leader in their church. Unless we asked a question they didn’t try to convert us to anything. They just loved us as family and spent many hours at services at our church supporting my children.

I remember when my relatives came to visit and stay for a few days when I was a teenager. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The flag went up with many of my parents friends. And my church at that time had taught me to be wary of the evil they may teach. I had already met them from a previous trip to visit them in California so all I knew was the love and caring of family, no matter the difference in religion.

I remember the first time I met a Transgender person. I knew them all their lives, however, I didn’t meet them as who they were inside until the last year because they hid it out of their fear of how we would react. They were family and my reaction when I finally knew, was love.

I wasn’t always tolerant of any of this. I would say in the past ten years I have evolved after a long hard look at myself, what I learned as a child, what I learned as an adult, and what ideals were actually chosen by me to believe, or what was planted in my head without thought and question and that included my religion and my belief in God.

I grew up in a religion that told you to believe and not question. I did that but was always silently not quite sure about what I was being taught. I came from a family where my mom was Catholic and my dad was Protestant. I was told I would go to hell if I believed or changed religions. I was never allowed to go to my dad’s church because it was a sin. We could go for the fabulous church dinners but never for the services. I don’t remember how we worked out attending funerals because we did do that when relatives on my dad’s side died. I wondered how all my relatives on my dad’s side could be going to hell because they were such good people. I wondered in my later years why would my mother marry someone she knew was going to hell because she really believed that. I finally did attend my dad’s church, for his funeral. How sad is it I missed all the years I could have attended church with him when he was alive if it wouldn’t have been for those preconceived edicts from my church at the time? It makes me very sad to think of that.

When I finally changed religions, my mother, to the day she died, told me I would go to hell and when she was in her dementia state she told me she should have disowned me when I changed religions.

I had a good reason for changing. I wanted to go to church as a family and when we got married the priest that presided at our wedding told my husband two things that really stood out during our counseling. The first was that he shouldn’t join the church because they had enough bad Catholics, and the second was that the Vikings were ***** rich and I can’t mention the racial slur here. That cemented my decision. I didn’t feel a man of God should speak that way of another race, or without knowing my husband, make the judgment that he would be a bad Catholic as I knew how strong my husband’s faith was having been through what he had been through in Viet Nam and being raised by a mother who had a strong faith.

I wish I could say that was the moment when I started to question what I totally believed in my life, but it wasn’t the aha moment you might think. It is moments over the years of questioning, experiences, and taking a hard look at myself that has gotten me to old age, and not without many mistakes and acts of prejudice that I didn’t think of as prejudice, and am ashamed of today.

I remember a former Catholic school member who became involved in a cult. This was one aha moment that began my questioning. He came to speak at my church to give us a little parenting advice. At that time I had two young children. When I heard him speak I asked him what I could do to protect my children. He answered, “Make sure they know what they believe and why they believe it.” I know I thought to myself, how can I teach them that when I don’t know what I believe totally either.

Life continued on and I worked on that advice but I switched to prejudice on a different front. If my children friended someone who didn’t have a good reputation I would not let them hang out. I will tell you now that it is the worst advice I could have given my children. Instead I should have welcomed those kids into my home and got to know them. You see, I listened to what everyone else was saying without giving them a chance and not making up my own mind. I am ashamed of that reaction and I try to do better now.

I began to notice in small ways the way prejudice seeps into our lives, even tiny little nudges in my own life.

I remember being told by someone I loved like a daughter, when she found a new religion, that she could no longer be in touch with me because I didn’t believe like she did. That was thirty years ago and to this day we have no contact, though I have tried.

I remember being told by a church council member when I gave an opinion on a decision waiting to be made to allow an LBGTQ support group to meet at our church, that I didn’t give enough money to our church to have my opinion count. My opinion was that if people felt the need for this group we should provide a place, but others did not feel that way and it was denied.

Recently a friend was invited to a girl’s get together. When asked if she could bring me she was told I wouldn’t fit in. I suspect because of my views on many of these subjects along with politics or maybe they no longer like me as a person because I do state my opinions and do not go along with the crowd.

I remember a letter I received from a reader when I started my column telling me how ugly I was and how I was ugly as a child and that I never had any friends. I kept the letter to remind me to try and never be like that.

In no way have I experienced what other friends and family have experienced because of their race, gender, or religious affiliation. In our culture, we seem to overlook the little slights that are there every day and accept them without thought. Little judgements in our own lives that are directed at us or those we throw out to others in the world erroneously that may pave the way for bigger ones

You might now be wondering or saying, “Get to the point.” It is this. I am a sum total of the parts of my past. I had prejudices I didn’t know I had until I was confronted with them. I have prejudices that are still there but I don’t see, especially if I don’t question what I am feeling or where those feelings about others or events came from, or why I make decisions that affect others’ lives.

I thought I knew what I knew until I didn’t, until life and experiences changed my perspective. I would have missed wonderful,caring relationships if I wouldn’t have been confronted with issues I was uncomfortable with, never given them a chance, and shown a different perspective.

This is my story and why what I believed has evolved over the years. I can’t imagine what life would feel like now if I hadn’t questioned, had held on to my rigid views, and boxed myself into a tiny world where I stayed in my comfort zone and there was no growth.

I can only hope that I can keep growing and learning no matter how old I become. I can only hope I still work on those prejudices I have buried inside of me, some that I see, acknowledge, and are working on, and others that will pop up as the world keeps changing. I admit I still judge harshly especially when it comes to hate and discrimination. When I feel judged by others I judge them back. I am a reactor and that is my first reaction. I boycott establishments where I feel employees don’t show respect for others by not wearing masks. I stay away from venues where I feel there is more judgment than welcome. So I too am guilty of the same thing I accuse others of. I know it’s not right but those human emotions are right there under the surface ready to rise up at any moment.

There is not an easy answer for me. Perhaps as in other instances that I mentioned, my perspective will change because of experiences as I will keep questioning and searching, and looking inside of myself to know what I believe and why I believe it.

I am not trying to change your mind on anything here, just sharing my story in the hope that during these challenging times you remember the words of my old school friend. “Know what you believe and why you believe it.” And also these wise words, The right decision is made out of love, not fear. —spiritual enlightenment

A Yearning For My Front Steps

This morning I have an inexplicable yearning to go outside and sit on my front steps and breathe in life.

It is the appearance of the sun in what has been a cold and bleak and cloudy Minnesota which brings to mind spring and thoughts of flowers and warm weather. However, I can’t explain my feeling that I need a front step sit. I have a perfectly good outside porch to enjoy but something in me tells me I need steps.

Though the sun is shining today my front steps and porch are crusted with ice. It is still winter and there is still snow on the ground. I like the beauty of winter as long as I don’t have to haul my old body outside. The pull is real to feel the fresh air on my face so I may dash out, raise my face to the sun and dash back inside to the warmth of my fireplace. Still, I feel the call of the front steps or the back steps for a peaceful sit.

Outdoor furniture awaits my porch sitting so why would I abandon that in place of the front steps? I think it has to do with my past and memories.

Living at my grandmothers and then when my family moved, we didn’t have fancy outdoor furniture. We would go outside and sit on the steps and talk and enjoy the evening. The front steps were better than the back steps because you could chat with those passing by or you could wave at the cars going by. Occasionally they would stop and talk.

There were interesting views. At my grandmother’s house I sat on the front steps and watched the trains go by or watched the animals. My mom or uncles would come in from the chores or the garden and we would talk for hours on the front steps. At our house my dad would sit with me as we watched the neighbor kids play or visited with those in the neighborhood, sometimes calling across the street. There were no cell phones or outdoor phones to distract us.

I do sit on my front concrete steps occasionally in this day and age for a quick moment when I am shaking out a rug or waiting for someone to pick me up, but most of the time I sit on my comfy chair on my outdoor porch or my patio. I have to say that for some reason it isn’t the same. Perhaps because of the front step memories.

I have no good explanation for yearning for my front steps unless it is perhaps missing those that used to share my experience. I also shared many front step conversations with my best girlfriends. If those steps could talk they would reveal so much about the past lives of the step sitters.

Perhaps when the ice is gone I will forgo my porch and patio for an occasional step sitting. I have a feeling it will be a good way to breathe and appreciate the simple life of the past,

“A journey to a thousand miles begins with one step.” –John F.Kennedy

Are They A Real Friend?

When I am In a conversation, face to face, with friends and family I might mention something that happened to one of my Facebook friends, but I don’t say they are a Facebook friend. I can’t tell  you how many times the people I am sharing a conversation with ask me, “Is this a real friend or a Facebook friend?” It as if one of the many people I connected with on Facebook are not real people and don’t have real feelings or real experiences. Can a friend only be a friend if you have met them face to face?

I think of my pen pals who I kept in touch with during my teen years. No one, including my parents, asked me if they were real friends.

When I consider a conventional friendship it means we converse regularly, or when it has been miles and years that have kept us apart and we get  back together nothing has changed. I care about this person. I hurt when they hurt and I rejoice when they have good news. We might exchange gifts or cards over the years. My definition of a friend is someone who I share the good times and the bad times with.

I do that with my Facebook friends. I have those that after we connected on Facebook, we met in real life and continue our friendship in person and online, such as my friends Timya and Barbara. Shopping is always fun with these two ladies. Or Mary, another author whom I meet for coffee when our lives permit us traveling a distance to meet.

Then there is Heather and Andrea who live in Canada. We Skype every so often and keep in touch every night by sending each other our gratitude list. It keeps us grateful.  My friend Sue Ann is a wonder woman on her farm in Ohio. I loved the smell of the lavender she sent me as a gift and also her tales of her life on her little piece of heaven. She should be a writer. Or my friend CeeCee who has been there  when I even mention I might be down. She gets in touch with me privately, helping me get through rough spots and I hope I do that for her. And of course there is sweet Lisa who I met when she reviewed my books, and has a heart so big that she hurts too every time one of her friends is hurting. I could go on and on about those who I consider friends whom I met online and I have only mentioned a few.

Today my heart is grieving for my friend Joanne Kocourek. She died last night and went into the loving arms of our Savior. Her pain is over. I don’t remember when exactly I met Joanne. I suspect it was because I am an author and she read one of my books. But once I met her I found she was one of the most courageous women I have known. She suffered from mitochondrial disease. Her life was not an easy one yet she always had encouragement for those she met. Through her journey of hospitals and pain and setbacks she kept her joyful spirit. She used her disease to help others who were diagnosed navigate the system. The more I learned about her life the more I knew she was special. She adopted two girls with the same disease and raised them to have the same beautiful spirit and attitude. She called herself the chronic conditions survivor and others called her a warrior and she was.  Her faith in the Lord was strong and I suspect she would tell us she couldn’t have done it without Him. I learned from Joanne about compassion and standing up for right and wrong when the system knocks you down. I am going to miss her guiding and encouraging spirit as are so many others. Yes, she was a real friend.

So don’t ask me again if I am talking about a “real friend” when they are from Facebook.  We may never meet in person but these special people have hopes, dreams, are caring and compassionate and because of their friendship,my life is richer and better. I learn about different cultures and I have become more tolerant and accepting of that which is different because they have let me into their lives and their feelings. I am blessed for these experiences.

RIP Joanne. I am sure you are now able to dance and sing with the angels.