Gratitude Sunday: What’s The Difference?

Gratitude * Sunday

Quote of the Week – “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday Haiku
Japanese pine, long
needles wind-riffled pompoms,
nature’s cheerleader.

Sunday Musings
When I entered first grade at the age of five back in 1959, I did not know the blind girl was different until the teacher explained she could not see with her eyes. I didn’t know the little girl with shiny straight black hair and slanted eyes came from a place far away known as Asia. As I grew older I was didn’t know the boy with the beautiful dark skin had been brought by his parents from a far away place called Cuba to escape the Castro political regime. One of my dad’s co-workers who lived in our neighborhood adopted a little boy with black skin who was developmentally delayed, though the word we used then was retarded and we didn’t think anything about it; he was just slower mentally than the rest of us. We thought he was the cutest thing ever, as all littler kids are cute.

By the time we got to high school we took turns reading for the new blind boy in our class and guiding him to his next class. These kids were just kids, classmates whose parents worked, dads mostly outside the home, moms inside the home and who also volunteered in the classroom as room mothers, and youth group leaders, who gardened, and canned, and made their kids’ clothes. Their families had interesting names like Shirashi and Enriquez and their families worked as hard as the Browns’ and the Jones’ (whose families were only a generation or two from their original Braunstein and Johann surnames) to have clean, peaceful neighborhoods free from crime and hate. We didn’t know from color or difference. We were all kids who grew up together and played together.

My suburban neighborhood was predominantly white. We were not a wealthy suburb, we were not even a middle class suburb. We were on the lower end of middle class, families who were enterprising, lived simply, and made do with what we had. Families who were working toward the American dream of home ownership in an America that supported the myth of hard work resulting in success regardless of difference. There were nicer neighborhoods in my community, but not near us. There were poorer neighborhoods as well and they were closer.

Here we are 60 years later and America is a hotbed of racial tension, worse than I’ve experienced in my adult life. Portland, Oregon history is not pristine. We have a legacy of isolating black families who came to help in the shipyards during WW2 on an island in the Columbia River assuring them they’d be safe during a flood, that there was an early warning system. When the levee broke, the system failed and killed hundreds of people. Portland then restricted which areas black people could live in, the loans they could(n’t) get, the jobs they could have, the kinds of businesses they could own. There was a firmly established KKK; it’s not a pretty history.

In the 1960s we were starting to be woke to the plight of people of color and the poor. The Vietnam War highlighted some differences, but in all the protests I stood in blacks and whites, rich and poor, male and female stood side by side to protest an illegal greedy war, just as our American young people, black and white and Asian and every other heritage, served in the military. We worked together, partied together, danced at the bars together, had potluck together. Neighborhoods began to integrate.

So this isn’t to say our neighborhood was so nice nothing ever happened. Bullying went on all the time. Usually the popular white girls would bully the less popular, that mean girls syndrome. Boys were rude to girls and got slapped for snapping our bra straps. Behind closed doors there was alcoholism, drug and sex abuse, incest, adultery, premarital pregnancies, and every other problem that plagues any low-to-middle income neighborhood. I remember being bullied for being friends with the blind girl in first grade, for being “fat” (round, plump, sturdy, whatever adjective you want to use, I wasn’t any bigger than 95 percent of the other kids), for being smart, for being uncoordinated, for getting glasses in 4th grade, for championing underdogs, for standing up for kids who had less, for crying in history class when I found out about Hiroshima and the Holocaust, for jumping with excitement when I was given an award.

I’ve been bullied by bosses, co-workers, classmates, neighbors, teachers, doctors, strangers, and friends. I have a feeling this is a common experience for most Americans. Wealth does not isolate one from being bullied though it can perhaps give one more tools for being a bully and for retaliation. In many cases people are not believed when they tell of being bullied, and the bullies prevail. I can only imagine the stories of others, as we each have one to tell. How do we begin to try to understand if we cannot even share our stories without anger or hate?

Sitting in 5th grade class in 1963 a boy burst into our classroom yelling JFK had been killed. This boy was from a poor home, wore threadbare ragged clothing, and sometimes smelled like his own body fluids. He was a “trouble-maker,” meaning he didn’t always do as the teacher said, and when she said it. He was routinely bullied because of his clothes, his body odor, his slowness in learning to read, his frantic behavior; we might call this dyslexia or ADHD or poverty these days. He wasn’t in the class where he belonged at that moment and nobody believed what he said. I had spent some time knowing this boy, reading with him and encouraging him to read, and I believed him right away because I knew he had neither the wits nor the imagination to invent such a story. For once in his life he had the privilege of departing exciting new information and everybody paid attention to him only to scoff at him. I’m not sure he even understood the impact or importance of the news he delivered. Though he told the truth, teacher sent another student to the office to report the behavior of this young man, and before that student returned the principal came on the intercom to ask for a moment of silence on this shocking news. Maybe this boy didn’t always follow the rules, but I will always remember him as a messenger.

I recently had a woman of color (a stranger who does not know me in any way) tell me my concerns about social justice are worthless and to butt out because I will never understand. Racism goes both ways as does resolution of differences. The difference between us is I was willing to listen to a stranger without judgment and she dismissed me out of hand. I think she’s wrong in thinking I won’t ever understand, but that part might be eminently irrelevant. Be that as it may, I may not know her story, but neither does she know mine, and I can say the same to her: you might never understand my story, especially if you pre-judge me. No one story is “right” or “wrong”; your story doesn’t carry more or less weight than mine. Not understanding does not preclude social justice. I know what is right; I know what is wrong. If it is wrong, it doesn’t matter who you do it to, it’s wrong. No matter the differences between people, if it is wrong to do it to one person, it is wrong to do it to the next. Another difference between us is I don’t have to know her to stand up for her, and she isn’t thinking any further than herself when she dismisses me.

It’s wrong to bully people or to treat them as inferior. It’s wrong to not believe people because they are different, whatever the difference. It’s wrong to dismiss people because their stories vary from yours. It’s wrong to use your difference as an excuse to perpetuate difference. It’s wrong to refuse allies because you judge them unworthy by their difference; you could be losing great value through dismissal.

It’s not wrong for me to stand up for you, whether you think I understand you, or whether I think I understand you. It’s not wrong to want to hear your story. I don’t want to compare or contrast (the ghost of English literature essays, I know). We are only as good as the least of us, and the more we share the more we know we are more similar than different.

Like Martin Luther King Jr, I have a dream, and mine is similar to his. I want our differences to not matter. I want our similarities to prevail. I want people to respect each other. I want us to think beyond ourselves, to help and care for each other. I want elders to be revered and I want young men and women to grow into adults who experience love, and making and supporting families of their own with less struggle than my generation. I want it to be easier for each generation to achieve success in living a comfortable life, to have roofs, and beds, and food, and warmth, and satisfying employment however that looks in the future. I want it to make no difference how our names are spelled or pronounced, what color our skin is, how much money we make, or whatever spirituality we espouse. I want us to know history and to work together toward better communities. I want to celebrate the difference of our strengths and how our individual strengths can come together to make a stronger community and global world.

America is a wealthy nation. We are capable of making a life better for all of us. With technology and progress such as it is, we best be thinking this through and look past our differences toward how we are going to live this comfortable future.

I don’t get to control the nation. I don’t get to control others. I control me, and only me, so I get to be curious; I can listen because my story is different; I can imagine and empathize with the pain or joy of your story if you share. I don’t have to listen to or condone the current stream of divisive racist vitriol coming from the mouth of an ignorant fraud in the highest office of the United States of America; I see his story, I understand his difference, and a story and a difference doesn’t give anyone the right to hurt other people. I can stand up for you, stand beside you, take a knee in solidarity, tip a hat to you, or give you a two fingered peace sign. Thanks to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, with a nod to civil discourse, I get to say.

And if that offends you, go f… (deep breath, gasp, expletive), I mean, hwell, thanks for reading.

Color Watch – colorful attractions in my neighborhoods this week – Soft sagey green of lamb’s ear. Pretty pink rose. Roses going to green hip already. Creamy white sweetly fragranced jasmine. Hot pink and purple fuchsia shares space with purple starbursts.

Current View – {These are only my opinions about movies and books, but don’t let me stop you from trying these reviewed items yourself; your opinion may differ.} The Dead Zone (1983, rated R), from the novel by Stephen King. A man wakes from a coma with an unusual power. I like to test horror films in the summer to see if they are benign enough for me to watch during the dead of winter, and though this is an older film, I’ve not seen it before. Stamped safe for Halloween or dead of winter viewing. * Deliver Us From Eva (2003, rated R), a rom-com from the school of over-acting. An older sister, who has been responsible for her three younger sisters after the death of their parents, is a bit too controlling for the men in all their lives.

Currently ReadingThis Side of Home (2015, fiction) by Renée Watson (American author). Set in Portland, Oregon, twin teens entering their senior year of high school contemplate changing their long-established plans for the future after gentrification of the neighborhood they’ve grown up in. I don’t like to differentiate colors of characters (people are people, skin is skin), as I think it creates more division but the experiences of people of color are still to this day different than the white experience and I found this novel to be pertinent to current discussions regarding race. If I were a 7th or 8th grade English teacher I would use this as a required text. Quick young adult summer read. * All the Single Ladies (2016, women’s studies) by Rebecca Traister (American author). A study of unmarried women and the force of nature they are.

This week I have been grateful for:

  • That odd little thrill every time I walk into my room and I remember I have a new bed. And a few clean corners.
  • The brain trying to make me think the fragrance in my new mattress is dissipating. Probably just going nose-blind to it.
  • Maxfield Parrish and William Henry Margetson.
  • The treasures I’ve forgotten I own that I find while looking for other treasures I know I own and put away so well I cannot find.
  • A neighbor from years past who stopped in to say hello and is doing well for himself, in a steady job, lost weight, purchased eyeglasses for the first time, and drinking less. All pluses for him, and grateful he is taking better care of himself.
  • The two young men of alternate appearance, tattoos everywhere, scruffy beards, missing teeth, sharing my hot tub who were regular, decent, honest, hardworking, accountable, American family men. My heart was all fuzzy squishy watching them when they moved to the pool to play with their wives and babies. The pure love look on their faces when holding their children. Priceless.
  • Skin. Everybody has it. Everybody needs it. It comes in so many luscious shades. Some of us even mark our skin for the difference of it.
  • Having faith we will have and use the science to keep our oceans clean.
  • Summer salads.
  • Cold, creamy cottage cheese and fresh cherry tomatoes when it’s too hot to cook.
  • Another satisfying batch of tzatziki, boosted both the garlic and the mint. Yum.
  • Fresh Oregon strawberries.
  • Water.

Hoping you have a lovely week.

Namaste. Peace. Blessings.

Floral ribbon border by Laurel Burch

This entry was posted in abundance, Aging, Education, GRATITUDE, Grief, Health, History, Nature, Photography, Poetry, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Gratitude Sunday: What’s The Difference?

  1. Tee says:

    This week I have been grateful for:
    Losing 17 pounds so far, gaining flexibility and muscle and losing some pain even though I’ve been lazy this weekend
    Fresh fruit salad with a bit of honey drizzled on it
    A pot of beans and rice that that turned out absolutely delicious. It made enough for a couple of meals and 4 lunch containers for hubby to take to work.
    The paycheck and benefits my job provides. We’re under new leadership and I’m not happy with some choices that they made, but I can live with it. Sometimes I really struggle with gratitude when I disagree with things that impact me personally but I’m only human and I am working on it.
    More deep work – recognizing a particular unhealthy thought/feeling pattern and finding a way to combat it that works


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