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I have never seen so many pictures of and words for and references to vaginas, vulvas, ovaries, and uteruses in my entire life.
At the Women’s March in Washington, DC yesterday, of the half-million plus people gathered, thousands of them were holding up signs protesting Donald Trump’s vulgar description of his proclivity for sexual assault, and advocating for women’s reproductive rights.
It’s a good thing we talked to our nine-year-old daughter the night before about why everyone was wearing those pink knit hats. I’ve never been a fan of the word pussy, but I’ve become pretty comfortable saying it lately as feminists have reclaimed the word in recent months with images of angry cats saying “PUSSY GRABS BACK.” So we explained to Zoe what Trump had said and done. We told her no one has a right to touch her or any other girl or woman in a way they don’t want to be touched. We told her that, sadly, that doesn’t stop some men from doing it anyway. We explained that’s one reason we were marching.
I decided we needed to go step by step about everything the Women’s March represented, so I read Zoe the unity principles of the movement. If you discuss reproductive rights, you have to explain what birth control is. When kids have pretty much been taught that sex is for making babies, you have to explain that people also have sex for fun, and sometimes even when they’re not married, and sometimes when they’re teenagers. By this point she was kind of burying her face in a pillow but still listening. Every once in a while I would ask if she had any questions and she would shake her head. I would also ask if she was ok learning all this and she would nod.
We talked about disability rights and how some of her friends wouldn’t have been able to attend public school or easily go to public places before the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were passed. We talked about our friends who live in this country but who the government hasn’t given legal status to even though they work hard and contribute to the economy and pay taxes and are good people. We talked about our friends who are gay and married and how that wasn’t allowed until very recently. Zoe was a little kid when she watched one of our best friends marry her wife, so in her mind marriage has always been between any two people who love each other. We talked about how some people–including parents of her classmates–can’t get good-paying jobs so they have to work multiple jobs and they can’t leave their jobs to come to school whenever they want or they’d be fired.
It was a lot to process.
But then Saturday night when we were all home from the march, I asked her if she saw or heard anything that was confusing or she didn’t understand, and she said no. She said, “if we hadn’t had that talk I wouldn’t have understood most of it, but I did. I’m glad you told me that stuff.”
What we heard:
TELL ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!
Men: HER BODY, HER CHOICE!
Women: MY BODY, MY CHOICE!
WE WANT A LEADER, NOT A CREEPY TWEETER! WE WANT A LEADER, NOT A CREEPY TWEETER!
WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS! WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!
NO HATE! NO KKK! NO FASCIST USA!
WE ARE THE POPULAR VOTE! WE ARE THE POPULAR VOTE!
NO HATE! NO FEAR! IMMIGRANTS ARE WELCOME HERE!
HEY HO! DONALD TRUMP HAS GOT TO GO!
YOU CAN’T BUILD A WALL! YOUR HANDS ARE TOO SMALL!
People led chants from the crowd, from trees, from the top of traffic poles.
You’ve probably seen pictures by now and heard that there were way way way more people there than were expected, so the plans for where the rally and march were supposed to take place quickly went out the window. So for the first several hours we were there, it was a little disorganized and chaotic. But it was the friendliest, most polite chaos I’ve ever experienced. Even during the hour we spent waiting to get on the metro, people were so pleasant. When the Metro employee took the microphone to update us on the wait situation, everyone got quiet. I mean silent. I have never heard people be so respectful to a Metro employee. After he made his announcement everyone said thank you. Seriously. One female Metro employee was wearing a pink pussy hat which she told us a marcher had given her earlier. She was pumping her fist in the air and people were high fiving her and cheering for her.
And everywhere we went downtown, everyone was nice. People shared snacks. People said, “excuse me,” when they tried to get by. We weren’t anywhere near the stage and we couldn’t hear or see anything official that was going on. But we were definitely in the midst of thousands of people who were excited to be there–people wearing pink hats and fabulous shirts and suffragette sashes and all manner of activist accessories. We just enjoyed reading the signs for a while.
After a couple hours my sister and my daughter decided to head home. The rest of our group attempted to make our way closer to Independence Avenue in hopes of joining the march as it went by. We ended up trapped in a throng of people who had the same idea, but we were all stopped before we made it to the street. We were standing extremely close to each other. For over an hour. Finally we got word from a march volunteer perched on something high that the reason we couldn’t move is that the street was completely packed with people. And in fact, all the streets were completely packed with people. We didn’t learn until we got home that the entire route that the march was supposed to take was totally full of people, so there was nowhere to march. But people stayed calm. They passed out chocolate. A guy next to us laughed at my husband’s joke and told him he got an A+. Someone told me she liked me Unitarian Universalist shirt and had gone to UU summer camp in the midwest. Anytime someone felt ill in the crowd, everyone shouted “medical” and people moved out of the way to let the person get to the street where there was a police officer on hand to help. When we heard cheering from the general direction of the stage, we cheered. We read each other the signs we spotted in the distance.
Eventually the woman on the perch instructed us to turn around and head to the mall, so we did. Soon we found ourselves enveloped by the march, which was exciting. I don’t even know if we were on the planned route or if there were multiple routes at that point. In every direction there were marchers as far as we could see. It was incredible. Not only were we in the largest group of people we’d ever experienced, but with all these people who shared our core values. If this is a bubble, it was a freaking enormous bubble that I was happy to live in.
As we approached the Washington Monument, a woman asked if she could take a picture
of our sign with the monument in the background. There was more chanting, more singing (mostly “This Land Is Your Land”) and a drum line somewhere nearby helping us keep the beat. There was a topless woman astride the shoulders of a topless man. Her nipples had black tape across them and she and her partner were shouting “FREE THE NIPPLE” and holding a sign saying “DESEXUALIZE WOMEN’S BODIES.”
When we first got there, Randy asked how many people I thought we would see who we knew. I guessed 50. He said five. He ended up being closer, as we actually only spotted two of his co-workers and the reading teacher from Zoe’s school who I sometimes substitute for. In my head I’d been thinking about the Arlington County Fair, where we always see lots of people we know, because there are only a few hundred people there and we know a lot of people in Arlington. But when you’re in the midst of more than half a million people, it’s statistically unlikely you will unexpectedly wind up marching next to your friends. Thanks to Facebook, I realized later that there had actually been hundreds of our friends and co-workers there. People from our preschool (including the director); our current UU church, previous UU church, and previous Presbyterian church; Zoe’s school; my elementary, middle, and high schools and William and Mary; work; martial arts; my soccer team; and basically any other group I can think of that I was every a part of. I feel like virtually everyone I know was there, although I didn’t see them. I saw the photos and there were those same signs behind them! I also had friends who marched in cities around the country and around the world. The word solidarity has never meant so much to me before.
When we finally decided to head home to see our kids, many marchers were headed to the White House to deliver their message more directly to Trump. I understand that many of them left their signs on the White House lawn as calling cards. It took us a long time to get home, but as we walked through the city people were still chanting, smiling, singing, wearing their pink hats. Everyone was exhausted but inspired.
Rev. Aaron’s sermon today at church reminded us that yesterday was just day 1. It wasn’t the end of the world, but the beginning of our revolution (my word, not his). He talked about how we need to treat Trump’s absurdity like the weather, just be prepared and dress accordingly, but don’t let it stand in the way of doing what we need to do. We can just say, “Oh it’s tweeting outside” and move along.
I have felt better the past two days than I had in a long while, thanks to the friends and family who came over to our house to celebrate kindness so we could forget about the atrocity happening across the river for a few hours, and because we spent the day with more than half a million like-minded strangers yesterday who are willing to fight for what they believe in. Cynics are asking, “but what happens now?” And I know what will happen now. We keep raising our voices.
TELL ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!
I cannot shake this feeling that what’s happening tomorrow is apocalyptic.
Throughout my 42 years many world events have caused me to worry that the world as I knew and loved it would somehow end, but all those scenarios began with bad guys from some other part of the world coming in and taking over, attacking us, poisoning our air or water, and taking away our freedoms.
I never imagined that an orange-haired guy from Queens and his idiotic henchmen would be the culprits.
I can no longer listen to NPR on weekdays because anything I hear about the incoming regime makes my stomach clench. I can’t read the paper. My news is nicely distilled for me on Facebook, which gathers a wide variety of sources, and every time I check my feed my chest tightens and I have to squeeze my eyes shut and turn it off.
I am making calls to legislators when I can, although I’m still not clear about whether that’s effective, especially since I am fortunate to have a Congressman and Senators who hold the same views as I do. I’m giving to organizations that I know are fighting to protect people who need protection and safeguard our rights. I am committed to my church’s movement to live the pledge to end racism and I am facilitating reflection sessions. And of course I’m going to march on Saturday.
I keep thinking about Elizabeth Gilbert’s post the day after the election encouraging us to choose who we want to be, even and especially in the most challenging situations we face. I know she’s right. But it is so hard to feel open-minded and curious and loving and calm and hopeful when these tsunami-sized waves of dread crash over you again and again and again.
Lately I’ve been making a lot of art. I am not an artist, really. I like to glue things together. My kids and I bring home bags overflowing with recycled materials from UpCycle Creative Reuse Center and we create. When I am gluing small things onto other things, no bad thoughts can penetrate my brain. Making art creates a force field around my spirit. I am running out of space to put my art.
Tomorrow I’m going to celebrate kindness with friends and family. We’re going to make art and eat delicious food and listen to music and focus on how we can offer kindness to the world. At least for tomorrow I will put up that little force field around my family and friends. And they will give me strength. We will be kind and we will survive. And the next day we will wake up and march. And those hundreds of thousands of people who will be marching with us, in DC or in other cities, or in spirit, they will give me strength. Maybe I will give them strength too. Maybe our presence and our voices will be art, and all that beauty will sustain us over the next four years.
Maybe we will learn how to live and be brave in a post-apocalyptic world.
This came out of an exercise from my UUCA covenant group. My co-facilitator D suggested, shortly after the election, that she felt motivated to affirm where she stood, in order to be better able to stand up in the face of the insanity we felt was crashing down all around us. At our December meeting we took the opportunity to write statements of belief. I found it surprisingly empowering to do this.
I believe in always going the extra mile. I may get there late, but I’ll always stay until the end, after all the work is done.
I believe in asking good questions, because people are almost always grateful for the chance to tell their stories.
I believe in being generous because why not? Even if I don’t have much I will always share it with you, or with whoever needs it.
I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. Assume good intentions. Despite recent evidence, I have to believe that most people are doing the best they can with what they know and what they have.
I believe in saying yes. I’m going to learn from doing something new. I’m going to push myself. I’m going to make life a little easier for someone else.
I believe in community. I am a better person when I surround myself with good people and I give myself to the whole.
I believe in the necessity of loving yourself and taking care of yourself. You’re the only one who truly knows what you need.
I believe in asking for and accepting help. Everyone can do something and I definitely can’t do it alone.
I believe people know more than they think they do.
I believe in the power of music and words to inspire, to heal, and to make meaning in a chaotic world.
I believe that words always matter and I choose them with care and attention.
I believe that sometimes the wisest and kindest thing to say is nothing.
I believe that it’s never too late to try again and you’re never too old to learn.
I believe kindness is most important of all.
This poem came out of an exercise from the covenant group that I am co-facilitating at UUCA with my friend D. The theme for December is presence, and we were discussing and writing about when we have felt the presence of the holy.
What Holy Is
unfettered, your heart leaps and bursts
your self melts away
unexpected moments of peace, ephemeral
laughter that makes your eyes stream, face wrinkle, belly ache–surrendering to silliness
joining the seven thousand-heart choir on melody or harmony or something else entirely as Emily and Amy sing out
–any music that covers you so completely that you have to close your eyes and dance with your whole body or your two hands or your fluttering soul
reading a book whose wondrous, unforeseen rearrangement of words tears your heart to shreds and tenderly mends it back together
genuine, inspired hugs, even when they are awkward
–maybe especially then
intimate, startling vulnerability–locking eyes, witnessing tears, being understood
Usually I use this space to share my own experiences. Right now my experiences are not the most important ones to share. Instead I want to share some other voices that everyone needs to hear.
This is a letter to four-year-old Dae’Anna Reynolds, who was in the back seat of the car when her mother’s boyfriend, Philando Castille, was murdered by a police officer.
You and I have never met, but I know your little Soul. It is one of bravery, courage, and wisdom – an old Soul, really. I suspect that you get these qualities from your Mommy, Diamond, who displayed such calm and composure when her fiancé, Philando, was killed earlier this week. I watched the video your Mommy recorded, and I was so scared. But it was not as scary as it must have been for you, sitting in the backseat, watching it all happen. I continue to keep Philando, and you, and your Mommy in my prayers. I hope that whatever sadness you feel goes away quickly, so that you can get back to being the kid that you are who loves fireworks!When I heard you comforting your Mommy in the video while in the back of the police car, letting her know that you were there, and that everything was going to be OK, I wept. I wept for many reasons all at once. First, you were so strong. Second, you knew exactly what to say; I was in awe of your ability to console your Mommy in such a loving way – the way she would console you. Third (and this made me cry a little harder), in that moment, I watched you step into your birthright as an African American female, taking on inherited responsibilities that are often a cross to bear. You had to be strong in the midst of hatred directed toward our people. You could not be the child that you are; you had to grow a little faster than most girls. You bore witness to what enslaved women of our ancestry bore witness to – the murder of our black men. At only 4 years old, you experienced what it is like to be a black woman in this country.
Now that you have been initiated, I want you to know that being a black woman is awesome! We come from descendants who were pharaohs, queens, peace activists, tribal leaders and more, with origins from our motherland, Africa. Our history is made up of rituals, customs, and traditions that center on the family unit, spiritual growth, pride for where we come from, strength, and resilience. My favorite thing about being a black woman is that I am supported in our community, and encouraged to be all that I can be. It is also nice to have so many options on ways to style our hair!
I want you to know these things because being a black woman can sometimes be difficult in the country where we live. The oppression our ancestors experienced in the United States has been deeply internalized, so much so that we unconsciously become slaves to this society, by feeding into stereotypes, denying our wellness, degrading our bodies, and working harder to reach a white-Americanized standard of success. We forget to be and live free, because for so long we were never free. We take on the mindset that we must struggle to survive, instead of thriving. We often forget that we are women of worth.
What happened to Philando is something that you will never forget, and I beg you not to let this traumatic experience lead you to believe that because you are a person of color, your value is diminished. Remember what I said above? You are strong, courageous, brave and wise. These are qualities you also inherited, and I encourage you to use them for good in this world. I encourage you to use your gifts to build a life for yourself that reflects your biggest dreams. I encourage you to tap into your wisdom when the racists sentiments that still exist in our society today, lead you to doubt that you are deserving of a life well lived – you are deserving, Dae’Anna. I encourage you to embrace your black skin because it is beautiful; because you are good, and because you are a human being with inalienable rights to all that is good in this world. Remember this, sweetheart. Remember when people look down at you as inferior because of your dark skin, that you can be anything you want – you come from royalty. And know that you are loved by so many people – your Mommy, Philando, me – everyone, because you are you.
You can read the original post here: http://www.traceylrogers.com/empowerment-blog/to-the-little-girl-in-the-backseat. This was written by my friend Tracey Rogers. She has a perspective I do not. Tracey’s letter was read in church today.
The other words I want to share are, in part, those of my pastor, Rev. Aaron McEmrys, but mostly he is using the pulpit to share the words of Black Americans who have the courage to continue to speak out about how our country is not going to treat them like their lives matter until we all wake up.
Today’s sermon was called “Red Rain.” If you don’t feel like watching the whole service, you can skip to around minute 38 to hear Rev. Aaron speak hard and necessary truths.
If the video doesn’t work for you here, you can visit http://unitarianuniversalistchurchofarlingtonva.yourstreamlive.com and click on the archived service from July 17, 2016.
I urge you to learn more. Especially if you are white.
It is not an unreasonable demand to be treated as if your life matters.
One of the many online memes says, “Black people are literally saying, ‘stop killing us,’ and there are people saying, ‘but…'”
None of us can let this go on.
This is some of what Lavish Reynolds, Philando Castille’s girlfriend, was saying in the moments after he was shot.
[To police] Please don’t tell me my boyfriend’s gone. He don’t deserve this. Please. He’s a good man he works for St. Paul Public school. He doesn’t have no record of anything. He’s never been in jail anything. He’s not a gang member anything.
[Praying] Cover him Lord. That you allow him to still be here with us Lord. Still with me Lord. Please Lord wrap your arms around him. Please Lord make sure that he’s OK, breathing Lord. Please Lord you know our rights Lord you know we are innocent people Lord. We are innocent people. We are innocent.
Today our church service was led by members of our worship team, including me. I had the opportunity to share a reflection–like a sermon but shorter. Here’s what I said. If you want to watch, the archived video will be posted here shortly.
Think about Juicy Fruit gum. Do you remember what it smells like? To me it smells like the small Methodist church where my Nana and Papa worshiped in High Point, North Carolina. Everyone knew my grandparents—so everyone knew me—and welcomed me warmly when we visited during every school holiday. Mr. McSwain always gave me a piece of Juicy Fruit gum after Sunday school. That gum, my Nana’s white shawl wrapped around me in the pew, her smooth black patent leather pocketbook, from which she extracted a dollar bill for me to put in the offering plate, my great Aunt Millie singing soprano in the choir, and my mom’s favorite cousin Rhonda playing the organ, not to mention my Nana’s rock solid devotion to Jesus, made me feel at home. I belonged.
For me, church and Christianity had everything to do with those warm, comforting feelings and nothing whatsoever to do with theology.
Meanwhile, back at home, my dad was—and still is—Jewish, and we enjoyed celebrating Hanukkah and Passover as a family. But our annual forays to synagogue for high holy days left me confused. I didn’t understand Hebrew and I didn’t know anyone besides my dad. Judaism seemed remote, whereas Christianity was intimate.
So when I was 12, I became Presbyterian. I helped build houses in West Virginia, and taught Vacation Bible School to four-year-olds. For my first college spring break I went to Florida with my Presbyterian fellowship group, not to lie on the beach, but to build a tent city for migrant workers after Hurricane Andrew devastated the town where they lived. After college, when I moved to Arlington, I joined a wonderful Presbyterian church here and met people who I now know are my friends for life. I was chosen to be an elder—even though I was only in my 20s—the equivalent of a member of the board. In all of these churches, I loved the people, the music, and the opportunity to serve. I admit I glossed over some of the words of the traditional prayers, and didn’t dwell on the scripture. I convinced myself it didn’t really matter if I didn’t believe what everyone else did, as long as I felt at home. Then, when I met my husband in 2003, he asked me a lot of tough questions about my theology, and I realized it did matter.
After a bit of searching, I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church—not this one. I was excited to finally find a church whose theology matched mine. Yet, in the middle of that large congregation, I still felt alone. I struggled to find community and a sense of belonging. I made a few friends there, and improbably sang in one of the choirs, but most of the time I came and went on Sunday morning unrecognized, and the big events in our family were dealt with impersonally or went unnoticed by the church.
In January 2015 my friend Dana Cook, who I’ve known since our now nine-year-old daughters attended preschool here together, invited us to UUCA. I told myself I didn’t have to come back if I didn’t like the service, because I was feeling a little down on church, and braced for disappointment.
But leaving worship that morning I was blown away—completely surprised and thrilled by Rev. Aaron’s thoughtful and challenging sermon, and by the warm welcome I had received here. I knew I would return the next Sunday.
In the year and a half since my kids and I started coming to UUCA, we have been fully embraced by the congregation. Here, I can honor my Christian and Jewish roots but still nurture my own theology. I feel confident that what my kids learn here is in keeping with our family’s values and beliefs and that all of us will be enriched by the variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences that members of our community bring with them.
Brené Brown, a researcher and author whose books and TED talk I highly recommend, wrote, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
What’s been transformative about being my whole self here has been the unexpected opportunities I’ve found to be with your whole selves, when you’re making that choice to show up and be real, creating space for the kind of conversations you don’t usually have with strangers.
The first opportunity I found here to cultivate those connections was with the covenant group I agreed to co-facilitate with Mary Pike last fall. I had only met Mary a couple times when she taught my daughter’s RE class. I had no idea how cool or what an intuitive leader she was. I had never even been in a covenant group before. All but one member of the group were strangers to me in October.
But then we spent time together. Exploring what matters to us and why we matter. Sharing our insecurities, fears, hopes, and joys. Revealing our true selves, knowing that we would be fully listened to and heard, and never judged. If you haven’t been part of a covenant group, this might sound ridiculous to you, or even terrifying. But actually, this kind of openness is a balm for the soul.
At our last meeting, we talked about how often we would rush to church for our meetings after a long day, feeling preoccupied or stressed out. But always by the end of our time together, the feeling was relief. Like sinking into your favorite armchair. It is a relief to be able to bring your true self into the room and be seen and loved. Stone by stone, we were dismantling those walls we usually fortify between strangers and ourselves. The walls around our deep truths crumbled, as we felt safe to share with the group.
Another transformative experience I’ve had here has been in the circles of trust retreat series that Rev. Aaron brought to UUCA last fall. Based on the work of Quaker author and activist Parker Palmer, the premise of circles of trust is that everyone has an inner teacher. Whether you call that your heart, soul, spirit, or some other name, it is the source of strength within. As we all know, however, sometimes the noise of our lives can drown out the still, small voice of that inner teacher. Or sometimes we know exactly what our inner teacher is trying to say but we want to cover our ears and squeeze our eyes shut because we don’t want to hear what we know is the truth. So in circles of trust, you spend time reading, writing, thinking, and talking to enable your inner teacher to find its clear, strong voice. Sometimes this requires the help of others.
To help each other hear the inner teacher with greater clarity, what we practice in circles of trust is asking open, honest questions. When someone is brave enough to share a challenge he is facing, we help him find new ways of understanding or looking at the problem without offering advice, trying to fix his problem ourselves, or telling him about when that same thing happened to us. Instead we ask questions that require him to look within. Questions that don’t have yes or no answers. Questions that use metaphors to help him visualize himself and his dilemma in a new way.
The result of this process is we learn about ourselves. We learn what shadows lurk in our spirits and how we can channel our shadow sides, because they are part of who we are. We can’t ignore or deny them. For me, one of those shadows is the need for control. My internal struggle when things don’t go as planned can be intense, but I have come to understand the silver lining of this shadow is a gift for taking care of business. I’ve also learned that, even if I can’t—and shouldn’t—eliminate my shadow, I can work to modulate it. Fortunately I have the opportunity to do that many times a day as a parent, because there’s a lot about raising kids that you can’t control.
We learn about the ways we stand in what Parker Palmer calls the tragic gap—the space between what is and what could be, and how to hold that tension with as much grace as we can muster, even though we might be tempted to just run away. For me the tragic gap appears both locally and globally. I stand in the tragic gap whenever I don’t talk to my kids the way I should. This often happens in those moments I mentioned earlier when I cannot control their behavior, which is to say, most moments.
I stand in the tragic gap when I read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. I am angry about the innocent people whose lives have been destroyed by our broken justice system, uncertain if creating a fair justice system is even possible, yet still inspired by the dedication of Stevenson and his colleagues at the Equal Justice Initiative.
Exploring ways to handle these tensions and contradictions, and even simply learning the vocabulary to identify them, has been transformative. When was the last time you faced a problem at home, at school, at work, or at church that had a quick and easy answer? To reach real and thoughtful solutions we have to ask good questions. Open, honest questions. Of ourselves and each other.
Not surprisingly, in the course of asking these open, honest questions, we learn about each other. Really learn about each other. We see each other’s true selves and hear each other’s truths. And just as the members of my covenant group experienced, it brings a feeling of relief. Your problems may not be solved. The world’s problems are definitely not solved. But you are not alone. You are held, accepted, and loved for who you are. You belong. That sense of belonging, the profound comfort in a world that can be so uncomfortable, is transformative. When I am truly seen and heard, I am vastly more capable of truly seeing and hearing you. Then I can share with you a measure of that comfort and that belonging.
Our fourth grade class had just returned from recess or PE when a classmate–nominally a friend–looked at me with disdain and said, “Betsy, you sweat too much.”
It’s true, I do sweat a lot. From what I’ve heard, it’s the body’s ingenious way of keeping itself cool while exercising. And at the time, it was perfectly reasonable that I’d be sweaty. We’d just been outside–exercising. But of course I didn’t point that out to her. I was just stunned by the way she’d taken a natural human bodily function–which of course I had no control over–and made it–and me seem disgusting. Thirty-two years later I can still picture the look of revulsion on her face.
Add to that my addiction to books as a kid (which happily continues) and aversion to sports, and that I was made fun of for years for being uncoordinated and lacking any athletic skills. I never joined any teams. I didn’t even learn to swim until I was 12, embarrassed by so many years of taking beginners lessons with five-year-olds.
So what am I doing on a 40+ women’s soccer team now?
When I first met my husband, I joined his co-rec soccer team because I wanted to challenge myself and because I was in love. His teammates were friendly and welcoming but I was consistently terrified at every game because I didn’t know what I was doing and everyone else did. Sometimes they would shout across the field, “Betsy, I’m passing to you!” just to give me the chance to participate (I’m looking at you, Chris Newton), but whether I would make contact with the ball was anyone’s guess.
My husband left the league because too many opposing players were trying to knock him down as if they were in the World Cup, so I joined a women’s team. They were, for the most part, insane. Everyone had played soccer in college and I was WAY out of my depth. I only lasted one season. I had kids. I wished I would someday find a team that was basically soccer moms, who didn’t necessarily know what they were doing, but who maybe had a coach or someone kind and patient to offer guidance.
A year ago I signed up for an adult beginner soccer clinic sponsored by the parks & rec department. Aimed at soccer parents who wanted to be able to keep up with or play with their kids and get a little exercise, it was tremendous fun and no pressure. I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn and play and the fact that I was surrounded on the field by other novices and there was nothing at stake. Not scary at all!
Unfortunately, after the clinic ended I signed up for a parks & rec sponsored pickup game, where I was knocked over twice within the first five minutes by giant steamrolling men who left me with a bruise on my leg that lingered for weeks. I took a hiatus.
During my first game I messed up two throw-ins, prompting the referee to blow the whistle and award the ball to the other team. Playing left defender, I froze as a striker from the other team blew past me and scored. I assumed it was all my fault. I felt slightly better when the same played blew past other defenders when I was subbed out on the sidelines and scored three goals. It wasn’t just me. Still, I felt clumsy and unfocused and embarrassed. After that game I went home and cried. My soccer-loving husband reassured me that everyone has good days and bad days and that I hadn’t humiliated myself or cost the team the game or done anything terrible, really. I decided to go back.
And I got better, and our team got better, and I started having a lot of fun. I was proud of myself just for playing the whole game. Actually I was proud of myself for showing up. And I wasn’t terrified. It turns out these women were extraordinarily friendly and kind. Most, if not all, of the opposing teams told our team that we were nice to play with and that they were glad we had joined the league. Everyone on the team–to a person–was encouraging and patient with everyone else. Only a few of us had serious soccer experience, but it did not matter. Those of us who were new gratefully took direction from those who had more expertise, always offered in the most helpful and constructive way. When players got injured, everyone else rallied around to offer support and see how the person was doing. After one game we celebrated someone’s birthday. We had a family night where all the kids and some husbands and even a dog or two came out to watch us play. We went to a Legwarmers show and got our 80s dance moves on and afterward half the team stuck around to keep me company while I waited for my Uber to arrive. I got knocked down (maybe tripped? Who knows?) a couple times, bruised a rib, but I recovered. I looked forward to playing every Monday night and felt exhilarated afterward.
At the end of the season I wrote an email to my team telling them a little about my previous fear of organized sports and utter lack of confidence in my abilities. One of my teammates–who I’d seen in every game run hard, kick well, evade opponents, and generally play fantastically–said this about her own history: “I was the scrawny, skinny kid who was picked last EVERY DAY on the playground for our daily kickball game.”
Our goalkeeper, who thankfully came to us already armed with mad keeper skills, said this: “I don’t think there are many things more powerful (except for perhaps your faith and your family) – than the sisterhood of a TEAM. You meet, from all different paths, and you work TOGETHER. You figure it OUT. You celebrate each other. You laugh. You help. You are a cheerleader, you are a grinder. You sweat. You hustle, and you try to shine and you try to make you teammates stars. Why?
So that you win together.
You grow together.”
Another player, who ruptured her achilles tendon in the last two minutes of the first game, but nonetheless cheered us on in person or virtually for the rest of the season, offered this: “I am also in awe of the courage all you newbies have shown, and not just because of the, ehem, element of danger involved. I thought it took guts to get back out there after 17 years, but it’s nothing compared with the guts it took to get out there for the first (or nearly the first) time after 40. Your ferocity was a joy to watch.”
Did I mention the team is called Ice & Ibuprofen? And that we had jerseys printed up with nicknames on the back? A self-described intense and perfectionist teammate called Sparkles said this, which I would never in a million years have guessed after watching her energy and tenacity on the field. “I decided to take a risk and play soccer for the first time since college intra-murals. And I was scared.to.death. What if I sucked (I did)? What if it was too hard (it was)? What if everyone was better than me (the majority of you are!)? What if I wanted to quit (sometimes I do because of all the reasons listed before this)? But five minutes into that first game I knew it was exactly the right place to be and this group is like a warm, cozy blanket of positive energy, support and crazy-ass enthusiasm.”
Which reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about and struggling with for a long time–this idea of not being good at–or good enough at–something and therefore not doing it. This is an idea that we grow into as adults. When you’re a kid, you’re typically encouraged to try everything and (until or unless you have teachers or parents or coaches who unintentionally destroy your little developing ego) it’s ok to do something that’s fun even if you don’t excel. But then we decide that if we’re not excelling at it, we can’t do it. Maybe we’re told that or maybe we just turn our back on a thing that may have brought us joy because we’re not the best at it. I was taught to excel, and be the best at whatever I did. In my mind that meant, if I wasn’t the best, I might as well move on to another arena where I could be.
In one of our games late in the season, my teammate Jonisaurus said I’d played the best game of my life. While the bar for me may be low, she was only commenting on what she’d observed and that she’d seen me working hard and playing well. I have to say that felt pretty good. I know I am not going to become some kind of all-star athlete. I am not fast, as Baymax says in Big Hero 6, and I am overweight and I love junk food. But I am also strong, fierce, and determined. And it is so much fun to play soccer with these women.
For the past couple years I’ve been trying to change my definition of myself from the kind of person who…always returns calls and emails, always gets things done by the deadline, always remembers birthdays, always does the right thing, etc etc etc. The more mistakes I acknowledged making, the more I thought, “oh no, I’m not the kind of person who…” I didn’t give myself permission to make mistakes until pretty recently. I am working on eliminating this idea of being a certain kind of person from my identity. I am a human who tries hard to return calls and emails, get things done by the deadline, remember birthdays, do the right thing. But because I am human–and the mother of two kids and an entrepreneur and a daughter and a friend and a volunteer–I don’t always do it right. Things slip through the cracks. If you look closely at the cracks, you’ll find a lot of stuff stuck in there. And that is ok. It does not mean I have failed or am failing as a person.
In celebration of the Summer Solstice, on Sunday (and Monday at a special service) at church we had fire communion, where we symbolically let go of something that was holding us back by lighting it on fire and throwing it into the air. You might think this is dangerous and a fire hazard, but Rev. Aaron has all these tricks up his sleeve, including using flash paper (technically nitrocellulose) in church. This is a little square of translucent paper that burns into nothing after you light it on fire. It’s used in magic tricks and theater. What we did was write down the thing we were letting go of and burn it up. I am letting go of this script that I am a certain kind of person, that there’s any reason to deny myself the opportunity for fun and joy and to try something I might love and never excel at. I am letting go of the absurd notion that I can avoid making mistakes.
The mantra on this t-shirt runs through my head a lot.
Where I’m From
(After George Ella Lyon)
I am from newspapers, from Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies, and garage sale treasures.
I am from the copycat suburbs: nondescript, comfortable, safe for roller skating around the cul-de-sac.
I am from the dogwoods and azaleas, uneven lawns decorated with dandelions.
I am from board games and stubbornness, from Myrtle and Milton Jennings and Rosenblatt.
I am from the bakers and bringers of cakes and the suppressors of strong feelings.
From you can figure it outs and keep your chin ups.
I am from old hymns whistled in the kitchen, Nana’s white shawl over my shoulders in the pew, a dollar from her black patent leather pocketbook for the offering plate, from matzoh, and colored wax melting into the menorah.
I’m from Santa Monica, and a village in Romania that no longer exists, and Hungary and Scotland and Ireland, from deviled eggs and chicken salad and Kraft macaroni and cheese.
From the chewing gum Papa gave Nana as an enticement, which she washed off in case of “love powders,” the trains Papa rode as a child after his mother died and he was unwanted, and the dance in Yonkers where Max first laid eyes on Sally, with her red hair and green dress.
I am from trunks and thick albums and framed, fading collages documenting all the moments from all the decades, and the people who we hardly recognize now.
Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
May 3, 2016
How it came to be:
Because blessing is the theme for May at my church and because he is awesome, Rev. Aaron reminded us that the greatest blessing we can give to others is our whole selves.
At our worship team meeting last week, he shared with us this poem by Kentucky poet George Ella Lyon.
Where I’m From
I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.
I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.
I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.
Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.
Then Rev. Aaron handed this out–like a mad lib for spiritual history.
I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.
I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).
I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)
I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).
I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).
From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).
I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.
I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).
From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).
I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).
All of us filled in the blanks, and then we shared a glimpse of our histories and our souls, visualizing the house on top of the mountain in China where you could watch the storms roll in, tasting the grilled cheese like mom learned to make in the orphanage, hearing the crack of baseballs.
Rev. Aaron invited us to share our poems with the congregation as the call to worship in the service. Also he gave us handmade Bhutanese paper to hand write our poems on. For some reason this was the hardest part of the whole thing–overcoming my feeling that my words were somehow unworthy of the paper. He convinced me that the paper was waiting for my words.
When we give ourselves as blessings, we invite others to do the same. So today I read my poem and I shared my blessing, with people I love, friends and acquaintances, and total strangers, seen and unseen.
You can watch the service here. (Click on Archives, then on Sunday worship 11:15am Sunday, May 8, 2016–you’re welcome to watch the whole service, or you can skip to around 8minutes 30 seconds to find my poem)
If you write your own version of “Where I’m From,” I’d love to read it. Share your blessing!
While I hate to keep Zoe home from school when it’s only the second week, I also don’t think she’ll be in much shape to learn anything tomorrow morning at 8 when she went to sleep just before midnight. Why did she stay up until midnight on a Monday night, you ask? The answer is a repugnant four-letter word: LICE.
Most nights after she showers, Zoe asks me to comb her hair, and tonight when I was combing I observed some small, unwelcome creatures crawling on her scalp. After Randy had taken Zeke upstairs to bed, I told Zoe that I thought she had lice, and she started weeping. I called my mom for advice. I tried to calm Zoe down but I also felt like the need to expunge the bugs was rather urgent. I combed and she cried. I texted friends whose children I knew had dealt with lice. After Randy came downstairs I dispatched him to the drugstore to buy some lice-repellent product. Zoe asked if I was going to be combing her hair for the rest of her life, and I said, yes, I would be combing her hair when she breaks her board this Saturday at the martial arts growth ceremony, and when she goes to the prom, and as she’s walking down the aisle during her wedding. She added that I would be combing her hair while she was giving birth to her first child, and then while she was combing her own child’s hair. By then she was laughing instead of crying.
I did the treatment. Randy stripped the bed and sprayed it with some magic lice-be-gone spray. I did the second treatment and combed again and made the bed. I put most of the stuffed animals in the wash and some pillows in a trash bag where they’re supposed to live until the lice suffocate and die. I inspected Eve, Zoe’s doll who cannot go into the wash, and she looked clean. I didn’t feel like giving her the treatment. Also she doesn’t have hair.
It’s Randy’s birthday too. Fortunately we celebrated yesterday, as tonight was not especially festive. Exciting, sure. Festive, maybe not. Although yesterday was also exciting when the cake we made for Randy caught fire in the oven (marshmallows on top) and Randy blew it out and made a really big wish. That was festive AND exciting.
Before the discovery of the bugs tonight, Zeke had mysteriously melted down at dinner. He burst into tears because Randy cut up his broccoli too small, so he could eat it. He wanted big broccoli. This might not sound crazy, but Zeke doesn’t usually get upset about such things. He usually spends dinner either eating his food, spilling it on himself, or trying to make us laugh. I guess he had a long day. We went to the meet and greet at his preschool today so he could check out his classroom and spend a few minutes of quality time with his teacher. On the way into the school he was so excited that he started sprinting across the parking lot and fell down and scraped up his knees. They were still hurting him at bedtime. We tried to assuage him with Muppet band-aids. So Zeke was feeling a little fragile all day, although when I strapped him into his carseat as we were leaving preschool he had tears welling up in his eyes and I asked him what was wrong and he said, “Nothing. Happy.” Perhaps even he didn’t know what was wrong. But he seems to love his teacher, who was once Zoe’s teacher and as a result greeted Zeke by name last year when she saw him in passing. I didn’t know he even noticed or remembered her, but when I introduced her to him as his new teacher he leaped into her arms and gave her a hug like they were long-lost buddies. It is possible he doesn’t understand why he keeps going to school for brief periods of time only to have to leave again just when he’s getting going. Thursday is his first real day. Hopefully it will be satisfying for all of us.
The report on third grade: so far so good. Zoe says her teacher is awesome. She is thrilled to have a locker, for which she shopped for decorations this past weekend. I still haven’t gotten a lot of concrete details about anything she’s learning, but she’s seemed happy every day when I’ve picked her up, so I’ll take that. Except today when I picked her up, I asked how her day went, and she said she spent most of it worrying. This afternoon she had her green solid belt test at Evolve All, where she had to demonstrate the exercises, techniques, and understanding that green solid belt martial artists are supposed to master. She was nervous. She said Master Emerson reminded her last week that it’s good to be nervous because it means it matters. During the test I kept Zeke entertained with puzzles and snacks and a blue car we rolled to each other, while I watched Zoe out of one eye. She did awesome. I can see how much confidence and poise she’s gained over the past year, even though she still gets nervous. She passed. She wasn’t as pleased with herself as I expected, but she stood on her head in the turf room for a bit afterwards, which always seems to make her happy. Now onto the board break on Saturday. I will remind her again then as I did today, what Rev. Aaron said in his sermon on Sunday, “We got this.”
So watch out, lice. Move on out. We have our combs and our creams. We can run our washer and dryer all night if we have to. We got this.
The worst part of last night, at least for me, was not Zeke’s persistent crying and refusal to sleep horizontally (although that was quite unpleasant) but rather the fact that after I plopped a weepy Zeke on our bed with his dogs Kirby and Uh Oh Dog and woke up Randy to keep an eye on him while I used the bathroom, when I turned on the bathroom light I saw a mouse dash out of the bathroom, across the hall, and into my office (also our guest room), which caused me to pee in my pants. I am not typically one of those people who is terrified of mice (although I don’t love them cohabiting with my family) but seeing a mouse vacate the bathroom in our bedroom and relocate to another bedroom, all on the upper floor of our house, where we sleep, does not sit well with me. Suddenly my mind switched from exasperation over Zeke’s restlessness to fear that the mouse (and perhaps his whole family) would be crawling over our faces if we ever did get back to sleep.
A few weeks ago when our family was suffering from round after round of stomach viruses, twice during wakeful, messy nights, I spotted a tiny slug in the corner of the kitchen. The slug’s presence was disconcerting, but not alarming. First of all, it was tiny. Second, it was as slugs are wont to do, moving quite slowly, so I didn’t feel like I had to attend to it immediately. Slugs are notoriously easy to apprehend and Randy removed both slugs to the backyard without incident. This happened in the kitchen and I never once worried that slugs would crawl over our faces as we slept, leaving poisonous trails of slime. But a mouse. Those things are dangerous. Our exterminator told us to use gloves and masks when he reminded us many times to remove the mouse poop from the utility shed behind our house. You’re not going to want to come over for dinner now, are you?
Not that we can have anyone over for dinner these days anyway, because we are always sick or trapped inside by snow and ice. Not really trapped, Boston-style, but stuck inside because where are we going to go when it’s snowy and icy anyway? Our weeks of isolation began on January 29 when Zeke was first struck with norovirus, which he generously shared with all of us in turn. We were supposed to have friends over for dinner a few days later but had to cancel. And every weekend since then, someone has been puking or feverish or something yucky. School has been closed or delayed. I have postponed and rescheduled work meetings and personal appointments and social events over and over again.
When my mind is forced to spend those days (and nights) home with sick kids, or sick husband, or sick me, it tends to wander off toward dark and dismal destinations. I was fairly convinced throughout February that I was a terrible parent, incapable of compassion or patience, and also to blame for everyone’s illnesses. I was sure I didn’t have any real friends and somehow my children and I were being excluded from all fun things that were happening everywhere. I spend a lot of time worrying about all the things anyone could possibly worry about, and then I create some new things to worry about. I embrace my tendency toward worst-case-scenario thinking. Meaning, I am always on some level planning what to do if I need to take someone to the ER or what if someone never comes back from that errand or that trip, or what if we lose power and so many other what ifs that actual reality has no room to exist in my brain. I’ve struggled to figure out how to extract myself from this hole. Everyone I know seems to have crap they’re dealing with, much of it significantly more challenging than mine. Or everyone is just sick. During one of my doctor visits in February, my doctor said there were three groups of people in this area: people who’ve recently been sick, people who are sick now, and people who are going to get sick soon. He said the virus season this winter is the worst he’s seen in a decade. Still, knowing other people are sick does not at all make me feel any better, or even absolve me of responsibility for our germs. We wash our hands all the freaking time. While toddlers are not known for their hygeine habits, even Zeke loves to wash his hands, wipe up spills, and bring out the dustbuster when there’s a spill. We bleach, we wipe down, we spray. And yet the germs circulate and attack us again and again and my mental and emotional state deteriorates. So it’s been hard for me to reach out. I don’t like to complain (maybe you can’t tell that from this post) and I don’t like negativity. I am an optimist. I don’t like whiners. But the past five weeks, which feel more like five months, my sense of hope and positive attitude have diminished. My creativity and confidence have crumbled. I’ve felt increasingly lonely and isolated. I am an extrovert (or to be more accurate, according to my reading of Susan Cain’s work, I’m an ambivert, but still I need some outside stimulation). It’s not been good.
One bright spot during this time has been the sermons by Rev. Aaron McEmrys at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. I’ve been a member of All Souls Unitarian for nearly a decade, but for a variety of reasons it’s become untenable to attend services there. Recently a friend invited Zoe to participate in the sex ed (appropriate for second-graders) segment of the Sunday morning religious education class, so I figured I would go to services while Zoe was in class. I’d been to UUCA a couple times before in years past and found it pleasant but not powerful. This time, though, I was surprised and moved by Rev. Aaron’s preaching. I find his sermons to be thoughtful, challenging, exquisitely written, and passionately delivered. And this week he challenged the congregation to do something fun or frivolous or whatever it was they needed to do to be more resilient–to live more and work less. By example he told physicians in the room to work five fewer hours this week and do something entertaining or fulfilling instead. But he said he didn’t know what we all needed–we did. And what I needed to do was write this. It is embarrassing to say you’ve felt lonely and sad. I was raised not to feel sorry for myself. But sometimes you just need to say how you feel. I also, as a writer, constantly struggle with reluctance to put words out into the world unless they are fully formed and somehow worthy. Unfortunately, I just don’t always feel worthy. But I still need to put words out there before they burn a hole inside me, as they sometimes threaten to do.
So I am praying for spring. For health. For sleep. For the mouse that is upstairs in our house to move out. For a new show to materialize that makes me laugh as much as Parks and Recreation did. For more books like Wonder, which I read in a day sometime in February and would recommend to everyone. And for you, if you are in a hole, to find your way out as well.