There is no ‘Other,’ There is only Us (finding small hopes)

There is far too much darkness in our world these days; too much hate, too much pain, too much anger. We lost track of the common threads that bound us together and now we are lost, traipsing through an unfamiliar place. I grew up believing in a world far better than the one we have made for ourselves; and let there be no mistake, we have created this poor broken thing. I grew up believing in the heart of the words spoken by great humans like Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. When we come into this world our souls are soft and unhindered by the rules and stereotypes that society places on us. As we grow we begin to believe these false narratives that we have been given, seeing the world through a very specific set of eyes and that are not open to the whole picture. We refuse to let ourselves grow because change is always so damn scary. So we lock ourselves into our chosen worldview and close the blinds. We demonize those we call ‘others’ because we do not understand them; after all, they are not like us. Or are they?

We are responsible for the world that we create, for the narratives that we contribute and consume. In the coming weeks I’ll be tackling this topic a lot from a multitude of angles, but today I will start with just this one. There are far too many voices out there to only be listening to ones that are similar to our own. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie states in one of her beautiful speeches, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story… The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.” If we only ever listen to one story, to one narrative, to one side, then we rob ourselves of the beauty that is lost in the unknown. Ignorance is a dark and dreary place in a world that holds so much promise.

In 2017 we saw people rise up and stand together, we saw the opening of deep wounds in a hope to extract the poison, we stood, we clashed, we fought. We saw backlash, we saw anger, we saw fear. I was deeply moved and deeply troubled at the same time. It is true that every important societal shift came to us through a painful struggle. We celebrated one of these battles yesterday when we recognized a man who lost his life in the pursuit of a better world, for tolerance and love. We are living in an interesting time, and we are the ones who control what kind of world we pass on to our children.

It does not always take grand sweeping gestures to invoke substantial change. Sometimes all it takes is turning the tide within a single heart. We are not often aware of our biases and prejudices. The first true step to change is one of brutal honesty coupled with an open heart. To understand what is different from us requires us to step outside of the walls we have built and expose our souls to something new.

In the spirit of change and hope, in the spirit of great men and women who have fought this battle before us with words instead of swords: in this spirit I challenge myself, as well as you, if you are up to the task. Go out and explore the world- do something new, talk to strangers, explore cultures, read books by authors you have never heard of, watch movies you would never see. Discover what is ‘other’ to you and make it familiar.

I am going to start this challenge with something simple: I challenge myself to read about places I have never been to and lives I have never lived. I will immerse myself in their words until I see I see my own truths within them. My diversity reading challenge starts now. Any and all suggestions will not only be welcome, but will guarantee a future post to discuss them. So please- if you have any books, movies, videos, songs- anything at all that inspires diversity or speaks to your own soul- please share.

We owe it to ourselves and one another to hear all of the stories that the world is trying to whisper in our ears. It is only with a view that encompasses the full human experience will we ever find the peace within ourselves that we have always been looking for.

Falling for Change

September is officially here, ushering in the prospect of change that I have been so desperate for. I carry the excited hope in my heart: fall is just around the corner. It’s hard to believe right now; we are in the midst of yet another 100+ degree heatwave. Our forests are dry as a bone, and instead of our usual rain, I have ash falling from the sky into my backyard. The forest fires are raging and we are getting desperate for our summer to come to a close.

I tend to change with the seasons; following an internal rhythm that dances through my veins. I get anxious when I try to fight it, when I become too complacent, too comfortable in my skin. My restless spirit begins to pace; it feels like my soul itself will break through my skin if I don’t do something new. And so I must heed the song of the Pied Piper playing music in my heart, I have no choice.

Some decisions are reckless and poorly thought out; like when I couldn’t stand catching my long hair on everything, so I convinced my fiancé to chop off three inches with kitchen scissors as we stood on the back patio. I simply couldn’t wait a moment longer; I was frustrated and just done with it all. It felt amazing, actually. He did a good job. That was the first change. As it turns out, it was a bit symbolic. I’ve always been one of those people who is all or nothing, zero or a hundred; I’m in or I’m out. Well, my friends, I’ve glanced at the cards, and I am all in.

I took a leap and started the process to get back into school; I stopped before finishing my degree a decade ago. It’s the decision I have always regretted, the one that makes my heart sink every time I think of it. I love my job, but I’m not living up to my potential, I’m not finding the fulfillment that I once did. The problem is, that I don’t really have the tools in my kit to make me competitive in the job market anymore. I grew too comfortable in my niche. It’s time to fix that. It’s time to do what I was meant to do with my life. I have to stop handing out excuses like they’re lollipops. It’s time to invest in my own future and do what needs to be done. I’m older now, I have the wisdom and motivation to do it the right way. It’s terrifying; I haven’t been in school for ten years. But that’s exactly why I need to go back. These regrets I carry; they’ve turned into monsters that hide under my bed and lurk in my closet. I will never be at peace until I turn on the light and confront them.

I’m learning to invest in myself again; to find the core of my personal dissatisfaction and face it head on. It’s painful to shine a light into all of your dark corners. It’s uncomfortable when you turn a critical eye on the choices you have made and recognize why you made them. But it’s necessary if you ever want to grow beyond the person you are today. I’ve found that I get lost in cyclical thinking; breaking these habits is hard, finding the right headspace for change is not meant to be easy. But it’s worth it. I’ve been lost in the usual patterns, treading water in my daily life. I’m not really sure what changed, but I just grew sick of it; all of it. Something inside snapped and I just couldn’t watch myself living the exact same day over and over again. I wasn’t happy with the way I was spending my time, I wasn’t happy with work, I wasn’t happy with my body. I just wasn’t happy. And I wanted to blame circumstances for it. I wanted to point the finger and rid myself of the guilt that was weighing me down. After all, it couldn’t be my fault. I wanted to be happy, it was the world that wasn’t letting me. There just wasn’t enough time in the day, I would say. The muse isn’t with me. I’m too tired to work out. Eating healthy is just so expensive and time consuming. My coworkers take too much time off and I’m burnt out picking up the slack. School is too expensive, it’s been too long, I don’t have time. I had an excuse for everything. And yet I knew that the real culprit was me; I was being lazy. I was depressed and would rather curl up into my rut instead searching for a way to climb out. I went into hibernation and didn’t notice. I made excuses and I let myself wallow in them. Because for a while it was easier. It was easier to stew in my melancholy than to change. I was accustomed to my complacency, it was the easy way out. Until it wasn’t.

My soul grew restless, I felt my heart pulling me towards change, willing me to do something, anything out of my routine. I couldn’t sit there complaining to myself anymore; my words were useless. So I got up, and I did something. I cut my hair, I applied to school, I started working out, I bought fresh groceries, I went and hiked through a cave with my two best friends. I started writing again.

The first few steps were the hardest; getting up to put on my workout clothes was tough, but when I felt the sweat on my arms, when my legs were shaking and my face was beet red; I felt amazing. Because doing something- even something painful- will always feel so much better than sitting there thinking about it. My tummy is still chubby, my muscles are still weak and my arms won’t be ready for tank tops anytime soon; but I’m doing something, I’m trying. And right now- that’s all I need to do.

The world is slowly changing, and I must follow. The leaves will soon wear their masks of bright colors, dressing up the trees in their season’s best. The air will grow cold, crisp and fresh, the morning frost will stain the grass a sparking white. The rain will come and wash away the scorched earth that this summer has wrought. The world will find the gentle peace that comes with the coming season, easing away from the ravenous passions of the last.

Change can be so beautiful when we are willing to embrace it. This is going to be a gorgeous year, built for new adventures, I can feel it in my blood, pounding through my veins, breathing life into my soul. I’m falling in love with this new life I’m creating, I’m falling in love with the season that has always helped me find myself again. I missed this old road, I feel enriched to have found it again.

May you find all that you are looking for, my friends. May you peer fearlessly into your own soul and find the road that will lead you where your heart belongs. This life we were gifted with; it is pointless if we stand here stagnant. Never be afraid of those winds of change. Never be afraid to travel down that road. Success or failure- it doesn’t matter- the point is that you walked that path, you found where it led, and you learned from it, simply because you dared to brave the risks of taking that chance. Embrace the change, enjoy the season; because none will ever be quite like this one.

The Sun, the Moon, and Stardust

I remember hearing a story when I was a little girl about the sun and the moon; two cursed lovers who were destined to chase one another across the sky. I heard stories of how one would hold its breath and sink to the other side of the world just to ensure its dearest love could dance across that wide expanse. Forever they chased, whispering their sweet nothings in the flickering of the light they shared. And yet- once in a great while, the gods granted them mercy. In the rarest of moments, their chasing would cease, they would meet in the sky and share a long kiss, a deep embrace; and all the world would stop, staring in awe as their love eclipsed this lonely place; so powerful it could turn day into night, if only for a little while.

Of all of the stories, the myths and the legends; this is the one I love the most. The years of searching, of chasing, of running across the sky; culminating in a moment that can still steal the heart and take the breath away.

Yesterday I experienced my first eclipse, and it was as magical as I had hoped. My hometown fell just outside of the zone of totality; we sat at about 99%, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to travel to those dreamed-of areas where the viewing would be perfect. But I had an hour, my glasses, and good company. I’ve always been a bit of a science geek, and fell in love with the beauties outside of our planet when I was just a girl. I used to hide under my covers and read textbooks about the stars, sneaking peeks of articles talking about water on mars and what could be found on the moons of Jupiter. At eight years old I was convinced I would go there someday- or at least our moon, that dear little beauty. Losing that dream, stifling that sense of wonder and adventure for the sake of ‘realism’ and ‘pragmatism’ is perhaps one of my biggest retreats. You don’t realize unto you have stomped the budding plant under your feet that it had the potential to grow into a towering oak. That spark inside may have dimmed, but it still flickers. So when the eclipse came, I was prepared, giddy with excitement I didn’t even attempt to contain.

When I woke up, I tried looking out at the world and sensing a difference; were there any cosmic signs that today would be different than yesterday? Was the sun a bit brighter, or was that my imagination? It just felt like a regular Monday. At 9:06, I excitedly peeked up into the sky, wondering if I could see a difference- it looked like a regular day to me. And yet peering through my glasses, there was an entirely different story to tell. Just barely crossing in front of that bright orange glow- there it was, a beautiful orb intersecting in a delicate dance.

Walking outside, there was a buzz of excitement as people stopped every few feet to stare back up into the sky. The shadows themselves grew longer; the light cast between the beaches changed shape, looking for all the world like slivers of the holes you punch out of paper.

The world grew dim, an eerie twilight in the middle of the morning. And the thing that really struck me- it got cold. You don’t realize the power of the universe that we find ourselves in until right in that moment when the moon gains the upper hand and even the sun itself cannot stop it. It was beautiful, inspiring, and somehow managed to remind you of how small you really are. There’s something empowering in that moment, right there when you realize how bold and magical this world really is- and you are right there, a living and breathing part of it. You belong to it just as the sun does, just as the moon, just as the trees cast in those shadows- you belong to something so much bigger than yourself. It was powerful, it was amazing.

As I stood there in the false twilight, I couldn’t help but wonder how our ancestors handled this rare phenomenon; the stories that have been passed down tell a far different tale than my own. Many were fearful of this mysterious force that could turn day into night. The Incas believed that a jaguar was attacking the sun- and they would make as much noise as they could to scare the beast away from their beacon of salvation. Luckily for them- they won that batter every time. The knowledge that science bestows upon us has power. It can turn something that would traditionally inspire fear and uncertainty- and casts it into a new light of understanding. It can empower you, and remind you of your place in this world.

Have you ever heard the quote by Lawrence M. Krause? He said, “Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: you are all stardust.” You can call yourself a child of God, or a child of the stars; it is no matter to me- the point is that we belong, right here. We belong to this universe, the this solar system, to this planet, to this dirt and this water- we belong to each other. We all stood in amazement yesterday staring up into the sky as the sun and the moon shared a loving entrance before traipsing back across the blue expanse. We shared a moment that had nothing to do with ideology, political viewpoints, no sparring between us vs them, no suspicion and no hesitation. We shared a wonder of this world- and in that moment we were finally united, even if it was only transitory, a tiny little breath of time. Strangers were sharing glasses and smiling towards the heavens, thanking one another. Defendants and Judges stood on the sidewalk with rapt attention and shared a moment, all of their differences cast aside as they smiled at one another. Perhaps if we stopped to explore the wonders of this world more often, we would remember what we have in common with it and with one another. We are not so different; we are all stardust. We are all just the moon chasing that beautiful sun across the sky.

These last three photos are all courtesy of NASA- thank you for making me feel like I belong to something much larger than myself.

Beautiful Souls Create Beautiful Worlds

She was 32 years old, her favorite color was purple. She was a waitress and a paralegal. She lived in an apartment with her chihuahua, Violet. She loved people and wanted the best for everyone she encountered. She felt the world so deeply that any story of hate or oppression could bring her to tears. She stood up for the things that she believed in. And because of this, she was killed- one week ago today the world lost a beautiful soul to the hands of hate. Her name was Heather Heyer; she was murdered when a car intentionally plunged into a crowd of counter-protestors who were ensuring that their own voices would drown out the hate spewing from the white supremacists who had charged into Charlottesville.

I didn’t know her, but I’ve known countless like her. Her death strikes a deep chord with me because she could have easily been one of my friends, my family, myself. She was one of us; she had a compassionate soul which left her no choice but to feel the beauty and pain so evident in this world right down to the core of her being. She was one of us; she never hesitated to stand up for those who couldn’t, give help and strength to those in need. She was vibrant and beautiful, inside and out. She followed her heart, even when it led to her death; she was one of us.

She was only a few years older than me. She worked in the same field as I do; and anyone in legal will tell you that it takes a very special type of person with a very odd sense of humor to handle what you see. She got the job because of who she was, because of how hard she worked- she got the job with a high school diploma and elbow grease, as the saying goes; just like I did. She wanted to help people, she went to rallies and protests and gave a voice to the things that mattered to her; it could have been me standing there, it could have been my sister, my mom, my friends. We have all marched in those lines, we have held our signs and chanted those words. We have all looked at this world of our and tried to make it better. She was one of us.

Some days I feel like I’m lost in Oz, in a land full of tin men who have lost their hearts and scarecrows who don’t know how to think for themselves. The only problem is that they don’t realize it. I remember when relatives and friends were posting sentiments to social media about ramming cars into crowds of protestors because “if they are in the street stopping traffic, they deserve it.” I remember being shocked (and from a girl who has spent ten years in the court system, very little still has the power to shock me). I remember trying to have conversations with them about it- every time they deflected with jokes that they thought were so damn funny- until now when they’re not. Jokes and laughter can be an outlet, but they can also normalize behavior and give people ideas that they are better off not having. My heart broke back then, and it’s breaking now because of the silence exhibited by these same people. They were so quick to laugh and makes jokes at the idea, and yet now that it is once again a poignant reality- they view the subject as too serious and taboo to touch. So they are silent.

The other day a woman who I have known and respected for years made a snide comment about the death of this beautiful woman. “You can’t get killed in a protest if you are at work.” I am still in shock at the callous response from someone who claims to be a good, religious woman, someone who is an involved member of her community, someone who used to bring bright smiles to my day when I was running short of my own. How do you respond to that kind of hatred? How do you react when someone shrugs their shoulders and points the finger at the victim? What happened to our hearts? If it had been me- someone she has known for years, I wonder if her reaction would have been different. I wonder if she would have been sad, or lit a candle in my memory. I wonder if she would have decried the hate that took the life of someone she had known for a decade. Or would she have shrugged her shoulders, thinking I was partially to blame for simply being there. Would her response have been different? And if it had- why? Why would one life matter more than another?

People keep telling me that you can’t look at Charlottesville as if it is a microcosm; you must view the whole picture, and the whole picture isn’t full of that much hate. They tell me that there are more good people in the world than bad, and that these people- the ones who marched through a town carrying torches and screaming Nazi slogan- they are rare, and as such should not be given the attention that we have shown. While I agree with this to a degree- I am still too cautious to nod my head and look the other way.

You see, there were lessons to be learned from Charlottesville, and yet a lot of them were ones that did not present themselves until days later. I agree that most people will denounce the type of open racism we saw last week. And yet in the days that followed I still saw a lot of shoulder shrugging, a lot of jokes, a lot of excuses and red herrings, a lot of people who turned away and found something else to distract them. In the days that followed I saw our bigger problem; and it is in the subtle actions that decry our lack of compassion, our biases that reside just below the surface, our heartless responses to moments of pain and fear. It is etched into the complete lack of empathy for anyone who is even remotely different from those we view as being a part of ‘our tribe,’ whether we chose religion, race, sex, philosophical viewpoints, etc- as the markers for that tribe. We have lost our sympathy and our compassion for anyone outside of our bubble. The river does not need to become a tidal wave to cause damage; it is usually the calmly flowing stream that can erode the banks and change the flow of the river entirely. Our problem is not solely with the blatant hate and prejudice that we saw last week; it is the more subtle daily interactions we have with one another. It is the way people respond to someone different, in the way they so easily dismiss another’s concerns. It is in the fact that members of my own family thought it was funny to joke about how satisfying it would be to ram their car into a crowd of protestors knowing that I have been in those crowds. It is in the fact that I can bring this to their attention- and they will dismiss my words and my concern. They will refuse to have a simple conversation; they will dismiss me and say they were only joking. It is a cold world that will find this funny.

There’s this interesting concept in the world today where people seem to think that they can dictate how others should interpret the world around them. You don’t get to tell someone that what they experienced wasn’t racism. It’s not your job to roll your eyes and tell her she was mistaken- that wasn’t sexism. You don’t get to tell people what lenses they need to view their life through. Your job is to ask a question, to open a dialog and figure out why they feel that way. Perhaps both parties will learn something new about the other. You see, our backgrounds, our appearances, our modes of speech and residence will create the life experiences that shape the lenses we view the world through. It’s easier to be blind to racism or sexism- or any other ‘ism’- if you do not have to experience it yourself. It was easy for people to tell me that sexism wasn’t a problem- and yet I remember when my friend’s boss openly told her that they almost didn’t hire her because she was a woman. People rolled their eyes and said that age discrimination wasn’t a thing- but I still remember the day that a customer refused to let me help him because I ‘looked too young to know what I was doing.’ So instead he waited for the older woman next to me to be available- ironically, she was the woman I was training at the time. It was easy for people to tell me that racism wasn’t a problem; and yet they never stopped to listen when I repeated the stories from my biracial cousin. We share the same blood, we were raised the same way- and yet the world treats us in very different ways. The last time a cop stopped me it was to ask if I was okay and if I needed anything. And yet when he would get stopped, he would be questioned and treated with suspicion- every time. Just because you do not see something through the same lens as another person does not give you a right to discount their experiences. That is not a decision for you to make.

Tonight I am angry, I am sad, and I am at a loss for what to do. There has been so much hate; some more blatant than others, but the subtle kind has been just as dangerous. The problem with our problems is that people want to remain blind. Admitting that there is an issue means admitting that we all have a part to play in it. I’m exhausted with the perpetual hate. I am so damn tired of everyone pointing the finger in a hundred different directions instead of where it belongs. We did this, and we have to fix this. We have to look within ourselves and confront our own monsters and biases. We have to own our experiences and accept that there are a million different viewpoints out there; each one as credible as your own. We have to stop dismissing one another and turning our backs to the problems that we believe don’t directly effect us. We have to find our hearts again, we have to have compassion and empathy. We have to start wearing each other’s shoes and walking for miles through their complex and beautiful lives. We have to stand up and speak out when something is wrong. We have to be patient enough to have meaningful conversations, and above all we have to learn how to listen. We have to share our stories so that people can begin to see the world through another lens. We all have something valuable to add to this conversation, we all have a responsibility to one another to speaks our truths.

Tonight I ask two simple things; if there is nothing else you ever take away from me or these words I’ve tossed out into the world, I pray you take these to heart. First: remember those brave souls like Heather Heyer- those courageous lions who got up every single day with their hearts on their sleeves. Remember the people who felt compelled by their own compassion to go out into the world and attempt to make it better than it was yesterday. Remember them tonight- these real flesh and blood people who deserved more than what they got.

And the next thing I ask: emulate them. Just because the world can hurt you, just because the pain can be so overwhelming- please, don’t ever stop feeling. Don’t ever turn your head away- witness this. Both the beautiful and the painful deserve to be seen and remembered. See this world for what it is and also for all of the potential that it holds. Be kind, be compassionate, tell stories and listen, please for the love of all that is good- listen to the words of others. Don’t dismiss them, talk to them. Be kind. Be human. It is a blessing and a curse to feel the world so deeply- never stop feeling it. That is the only thing that will change all of this. We owe it to ourselves and to one another to throw some kindness back into the world, to shine a light into all of its dark places. Be a lightning rod for change, use your own kind words and gentle actions to force others to see you and what you are doing. Remind people that there is hope and good still exists. Don’t ever let them forget.

Summer Solstice and Magical Mayhem

Today the world embraces you with light and radiance. The summer solstice is upon us, up here in the northern realms of this beautiful blue orb we call home. Throughout history, this day was marked as something special; it stood for enlightenment and renewal. It was a time for intensive passions and boundless potential. It was this way for our distant ancestors, lost amongst the ruins of our ancient civilizations; and it is still true today, amidst the distractions of modern technology and all of its many complications.

The symbolism is not lost on me, especially with the direction my life has been slowly leading me this past year. This summer will be one of change, I can feel it down deep in my bones, reverberating through my soul. So much hard work over the past few years is beginning to grow ripe with the promise of impending fruition. I’m terrified and elated knowing that those goals I wrote out so long ago might soon be tangible realities. 

Truthfully, I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not fighting tooth and nail to gain just an inch of ground. It seems that overnight the obstacles that blocked my path suddenly turned tail and ran, leaving the road deserted at dawn the next morning. It felt too easy, and perhaps it was. Then again, these have been things I have been chipping away at for years, slowly and steadily knocking away at the looming mountain, searching for a path through it.

As some pieces are slowly clicking into place, I am reminded that I still have so far to go in other areas. It will be a relief, knowing that I can narrow my gaze and focus on each step that will take me where I want to go. My attention has been pulled in too many directions lately, I zigged when I should have zagged, and I lost my footing. I will be the first to admit that I have let myself get overwhelmed, that I took my eye off the ball. But here I am, rising on my unsteady feet, back straight, muscles tense. I am ready this time.

I am sick to death of my own excuses, bored with my recent complacency. I am done with meaningless distractions that kept me occupied but unfulfilled. I am irritated with the well-intentioned advice from people who think they know the best way for me to live my life. I’ve come full circle and no longer need to listen to to their doubts as they question every decision, attempting to push me in the direction of a path they deem worthy when I was right where I needed to be all along 

I will always be the first to admit that I’m clueless, that I’m making it all up as I go. I will proudly proclaim that I don’t have a damn idea where I will wind up. But for the the first time in ages, I feel like I’m right where I need to be, working towards the things that matter. These small successes- these tiny changes in my daily living- they are all the proof I need that I was traveling down the right road all along. It was not an easy one- I’ve always been the type to take the long way around. But I’m okay with that because my struggles brought me a deeper sense of appreciation for all of those little trivialities we take for granted.

Tonight is the magical night of the summer solstice; and I can carry in my heart my own midsummer night’s dream. This is a time for passions and rebirth, it is a time for crystal clear vision, an enlightened and enriched soul. Tonight is a night for fairy dances and dewdrop dreams. The lazy rays of the sun kiss your cheeks and remind you that the world is still a beautiful place, the shadows that land on your palm rekindle the evocative mystery that still surrounds us. Take a deep breath, you beautiful human being, be present right here in this very moment, and remember the magic from so long ago. Rediscover an old story, breathe life back into an old dream, find the spark that sets your soul on fire. The world is full of infinite possibilities. Let the symbolism carry you away. And remember- this can be a season of change if you are only willing to embrace it. Be fearless, my friend; sometimes the bravest thing is accepting that you are standing exactly where you need to be. You are an ember burning up the sky; dance in the evening rays of this beautiful day and remember the magic that our ancestors celebrated on this night so long ago. You are free, my dearest lovelies, you can do anything, you can be calm serene waters or wild chaos. There is no wrong decision. This is your path, and yours alone to follow. You can do this, I feel it in my bones. This will be a summer of change, this will be a time of growth and discovery. 

The Fears of a Woman

I was raised to be a strong woman. I was taught to demand respect, to be soft when compassion was needed, to be tough when circumstances called for it, to stand my ground when the world wanted to push me around. I was raised to believe that I could do or be anything. So when did it become okay for faceless individuals to decide that what I had to offer the world amounted to no more than boobs, an ass and a pussy? That sounded a bit crude for my usual work, didn’t it? Yea, that’s what I thought too. And yet that is the world that we live in. A place where I am judged by the body parts that I possess and what I am willing to do with them.

My daddy never taught me that boys would be boys and could say whatever they wanted about me as they passed me in the street. My older brothers never shrugged their shoulders at the prospect of a man following me down the sidewalk making lewd comments. My fiancé never mentioned that it should be viewed as a compliment for a man to catcall me or reach out and grab my butt on the street because it meant that I was desirable. No, these were not things that I was ever taught. And yet they are the excuses so easily given and readily accepted. I don’t have daughters, but I have nieces. I have a mother, I have aunts, I have a sister. These rationalizations are not okay, and yet we shrug our shoulders and say boys will be boys. I don’t mean to overgeneralize, I know the vast majority of men don’t fall into this category- the men I am close to in my life- they respect women. So where did this idea come from that this behavior was acceptable?

A comedian once asked a sold out auditorium how many of the women had been sent a picture of a man’s penis on their phone- virtually every hand rose. If you pick ten random women on the street and ask them if they have ever been sexually assaulted or felt in fear because of the aggressive overtures coming from certain members of the opposite sex, I can guarantee you will have almost a unanimous yes. Every two minutes another person in America is sexually assaulted. In the amount of time it takes you to read this- how many people have been hurt, have been scared, have had the fabric of their lives forever altered? One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, and nine out of every ten victims of rape are female.

I work in the court system, and one aspect of my job includes a process known as voir dire, although most refer to it simply as jury selection. During this process a group of random people from the community are gathered together in an open courtroom to answer very personal questions pertaining to the subject of the case that we happen to be hearing that day to determine if they can be impartial. We handle a lot of sex cases, and as such, we have to ask these random strangers to voice their own histories. The court or counsel will ask the question ‘Have you or someone you are close to been a victim of sexual assault?’ I was shocked the first time I saw so many hands raise, and even more disheartened when I heard how many people raised their hands for themselves. And then the next question, ‘How many were reported’- it was like a tidal wave of fingers falling from the sky, leaving a solemn few raised alone.

Is this the world that we want to raise our daughters in? Are these the lessons that we wish to impart on our sons? The justifications of what we call social norms have a profound effect on our younger generations and what they will deem to be acceptable. Most young women believe that sexual assault is common, that catcalls and booty-grabbing in the halls of the high school are normal; and sadly, they are right- but that doesn’t mean that they should be. During a 2014 study, sociologist Heather Hlavka questioned young women regarding their views on sexual harassment and assault. One young woman’s answer speaks a terribly revealing truth, “They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean … I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.” These same young women were also very candid about the fact that they probably wouldn’t report any such events, believing that they would be ‘making a big deal out of nothing,’ many didn’t even view it as assault until it crossed that threshold into the realm of rape. When asked why they wouldn’t report it, they stated that they were concerned that they would be labeled as whores, sluts, or be accused of lying and exaggerating. Their silence, our silence, speaks volumes.

The majority of sexual assault victims are under 30 years of age. Females between the ages of 16 to 24 are four times more likely to be the victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault than the general population, the statistics for those enrolled in college drop only minimally- to a mere three times more likely. This was when it happened to me. And I know that I am not the only one carrying the burden of an untold story. In fact, it is estimated that out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only about 344 are actually reported to the police. How many of your friends, coworkers, or family members have one of these experiences that they simply haven’t told you?

Infographic reads "The majority of sexual assault victims are under 30." Statistic is broken down into five age groups.

All too often the finger gets pointed at the wrong person. It becomes a matter of what the victim did to incite the behavior- as if men are mere animals with no sense of self-control. People assume she must have been flirting, dressed provocatively, over imbibing in alcohol- a million different justifications, as if they excuse the transgression, as if she was asking for it. When I finally told someone about my assault, the response that I received was ‘well, now you know how to not get yourself into that situation again,’ as if it were my actions that forced his hand. When my friend finally found the strength to tell a police office what happened to her, the response that she received was ‘good luck with that.’ My friends, victims of assault find enough reason to blame themselves- and is it any wonder? When we are told that our actions are the cause. Last time I checked, no still meant no, and my body was still mine to decide what to do with. No one has the right to take those decisions from you.

I keep hearing that women objectify themselves; as if dancing provocatively, wearing a crop top and short-shorts or reading a smutty romance novel suddenly invalidates a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. Try reversing this picture: if a man chooses to wear skinnier jeans that show off his assets- I don’t go up and pinch his butt or grab him from the front. If a man opts to watch porn, that doesn’t give me the right to run in and jump on top of him. So how are these examples any different when viewed from the perspective of a woman?

Someone I know recently posted a comparison to a very controversial book relating to some of the political conversations surrounding this topic:

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But you see, there is an inherent flaw in this reasoning. My issues with the statements that he made have nothing to do with the ‘naughty words’ that were said. My issue was the intent of those words- it was in the insinuation that a rich man can grab a woman’s intimate parts and that it is okay, hell, that it is desirable. To me that is a far cry from reading a risqué book about the fetishes of two consenting adults. It is the fact that a grown man believes that this is an appropriate way to talk about women- regardless of whether he is in the presence of only men or not. To compare the two is an attempt to minimize the true intent of the statement and to ignore the truly insidious problem we face as a society.

Most men are good men, this I believe. But that doesn’t change the fact that a large portion of the female population will wind up on the wrong side of this equation at some point in their lives. We have cultivated a sense of rape culture by normalizing behaviors that should not be shrugged away. No more ‘boys will be boys’- they know better. We can teach them better. And no more girls blaming one another or themselves for decisions they were not given the opportunity to make. No more calling names likes slut or whore, no more raised eyebrows as we ask what she could have done to avoid the situation. Our bodies are our own, and until that basic human right is given the respect that it deserves, this battle will continue. I don’t know about you, but I am terrified to have my little nieces grow up in a world where they will have these same fears that I had. I am enraged by the fact that so many of my friends and family have a painful history that echoes my own. We are sisters in our suffering. And it is not acceptable.

How many minutes have you been reading this? How many more people have been hurt? While it is true, that the numbers of sexual assaults have been slowly declining over the decades, that does not mean that the problem no longer exists. These are conversations that must be had, stories that must be brought out into the light, experiences that need to be understood to be stopped. This is not a complicated right to be requesting. What do I want? I want to know that I can walk into a bar with my friends without someone reaching out for a touch, that I can go for a jog in my own neighborhood without clutching a can of mace and keeping one earbud out to hear approaching footsteps. I want to know that my sister can walk down the street without fear from the man that started catcalling her and moved in her direction. I want to know that my nieces will be able to walk down the halls of their high school without being touched or put in fear. I want to be able to go out and dance or read a smutty novel without someone acting like that means I have given away my rights to simple decency. I want to be treated like the lady that I am, the ladies that we all are, not an object to be yelled at, taunted, touched or used. That is the world that I want to raise a daughter in. That is the way I wish to raise a son.

 

This World Will Not Change Me

I am not a hero. I have never run into a burning building or set a broken bone. I have never knowingly charged into danger knowing that I might not make it home when all was said and done. No, I am not a hero. But I was raised by one, though he would never call himself that. My dad is my hero, he is my example on how to live. My dad has run into burning buildings, he has whisked people to safety, he has helped them die as peacefully as possible when there was nothing left to do, he has searched through rubble for the telltale hint of a human soul. My dad has run into danger knowing he might not make it home. He has been hurt, he has been broken, but he has never stopped getting back up and doing it all over again. Because it was the right thing to do, because it was something that he could do. When I was little, I didn’t think much of it; it was just a fact of our lives- other people’s dads went to office buildings wearing suits, my dad charged into burning houses wearing a rather different dress code. I remember special goodnight kisses before shifts, going to visit at the station houses, camping trips with his ‘work family.’ Looking back now, I see the truth hidden behind the smiles, I see the pain and the reward that being the hero can bring. There is not only glory to be found, there is so much more buried below the surface if you only take the time to look.

On April 19, 1995 evil struck in an unimaginable way with the Oklahoma City Bombing. I had just turned six, but I still remember the footage of the building, only a portion still eerily standing. When the call rang out for help, my dad answered it. He flew out with his search and rescue team to assist in whatever way he could. He was never one to stand back and watch, he always had to help.

This is my dad during the search and rescue after the Oklahoma City Bombing:

The second picture where he is sitting on a bucket was a shot taken and used in Garth Brook’s 1995 music video ‘The Change,’ which doubled as a tribute to the victims and rescuers of Oklahoma City. If you ever feel the desire to watch, you can view the original video here: Garth Brooks ‘The Change’ original music video.

When I was a little girl I was so proud of this video- that was my dad! I would pop in the VHS tape and watch it over and over, just to see him right here. Today I found the video again- having a deep yearning to hear this song once more. And when I reached the scene I knew so well, this image hit me like a truck, making it hard to breath. For the first time I saw what it really portrayed. Pain. He never talked much about what happened there, we would get some stories as we got older, but it was nothing like seeing him in that moment of raw heartache and disbelief as the world was falling apart around him. I know they were there primarily as recovery- they flew in after many of the survivors were already rescued. Their mission was to help give peace to the families who lost so much that day, by allowing them to bury those they loved. And it took its toll on all of them. Seeing the devastation of so much hate will do that- it is a side of humanity that no one is ever ready to face. For the first time I saw how much my dad sacrificed to help others.

And then I came across this- a picture he took and kept from that time.

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It’s just a simple sign. But it was powerful. It was a reminder, it was a promise- it was an embodiment of all that we are. When we have no other choice, we find out what we are made of inside, and it is usually so much more than we would have ever anticipated. Through our pain we find strength in one another, we find hope in a lost world.

“The Change”
By: Garth Brooks

One hand
Reaches out
And pulls a lost soul from harm
While a thousand more go unspoken for
They say what good have you done
By saving just this one
It’s like whispering a prayer
In the fury of a stormAnd I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

This heart
Still believes
The love and mercy still exist
While all the hatred rage and so many say
That love is all but pointless in madness such as this
It’s like trying to stop a fire
With the moisture from a kiss

And I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

As long as one heart still holds on
Then hope is never really gone

I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world we know
Never changes me

What I do is so
This world will know
That it will not change me

Today I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head, I keep coming back to the same thing, the words are burning through my veins. I wish I could do more. I wish I had more to give. I am not a firefighter, a nurse, a doctor, a police officer, a soldier- there are so many things that I am not. I am just a girl, just one solitary girl who finds her power with the written word. Some days it seems that is all that I have to give. And in a world that seems to be shattering right before my eyes- I have to ask myself if that is really enough?

Words feel so small in the face of so much pain and anger. But it is all that I have. I would like to think that I would step forward if the opportunity were thrust upon me, that in the heat of a moment I would make the selfless choice, I would do what my dad has always taught me. As the song says, “I do this so the world will know that it cannot change me.” Perhaps the most powerful thing that we can do is prove to the world that it will not make us jaded, it will not stop us from caring, it will not smother the flame of humanity we all started this life with. This world will never be able to create so much fear in my heart that I stop trying to help. If I find myself forever mired in these struggles, facing the choice of giving more of myself than I think I can bear to lose- I would still fight. The darkness of this world will never change me. I will always try live by my dad’s example. I will always try to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. I will always try to be a welcoming smile in a world full of bitter anger. I will always try to be a voice of reason in the screaming crowd. I will always fight- even if it means using the only power I possess- my words. I have spent enough of my life idly standing by. I will not be afraid. I will not be bitter or jaded or angry. I will not be changed.

We let fear rule us all too often, we allow the anger to twist our thoughts into venom that we thrust upon others. We turn our backs because there is so much that we can’t process yet, we think that this world will never change. Fear breeds helplessness, which in turn feeds anger. We create our own vicious cycles by giving into the temptation that is giving up. We turn our backs and wonder where all the heroes have gone, we never stop to look down and recognize ourselves for what we could be. You don’t have to change the world, you simply have to hold your ground and not let it change you.

The news is full of stories and speeches touting hate and segregation. We are afraid of one another because we refuse to open our eyes and search for the truth beyond what the reporters and politicians are telling us. We refuse to discuss the true issues. Our own ignorance will destroy us. People speak of building walls and closing borders, all the while forgetting that the majority of our disasters are home-grown. We forget that these people we are turning our backs on- they are really no different than us. It seems we forgot that age-old rule to treat others as we wish to be treated. My four year old nephew understands this concept, but many of the adults that I know have let it slip away. We have the power to change this, but we would rather blame everyone else. We listen to the fear mongering that has inundated our media- forgetting that they simply want a story they can sell. We listen to the voices that are screaming the loudest without focusing on what they actually have to say.

I refuse to give into the darkness that we have cast ourselves in. I refuse to turn away from someone who needs my help because I am afraid. If enough of us decide to be brave, we can banish any monster. I refuse to let this world change me. I will be soft, I will be kind, I will not scream, but I will not stop speaking. Because my voice is all that I have. Perhaps it is all that I need. I know that we are capable of so much more, I have seen it. Every hero must pay a price. I have seen the cost in my dad’s eyes. But I have also seen the reward. I have heard the stories, I know the price of the choices that I wish to make. That will not stop me from making them. Because I was raised to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is, no matter how many people try to scream that I am wrong. I will not back down, I will not break. I will keep getting up. I will not let this world change me.

What I do is so
This world will know
That it will not change me