Monday, December 1, 2014

The Pain of the Past

I have not known what to say about Ferguson.  So I've said nothing publicly, and almost nothing privately.  Like many, I am at a loss of words while filled with emotions.  My heart hurts, and my legal training feels turned on its head. Still, I've said nothing.

My mother shared with me the following essay written by Rebekah Bell, a friend of hers from El Paso, Texas.  Rebekah is a professor at El Paso Community College.  Her daughter "Momo" (named below) and her son are multi-racial.  I share Rebekah's words here.

This past Spring Momo had a cognitive awakening related to the history of Slavery in this country.  She was reading about the abolitionist Fredrick Douglass; became fascinated with the Civil War era, and the fight to end slavery.  Somewhere in that process someone taught her how to “do the math” concerning her ethnic composition.  She learned that any amount of Black ancestry automatically made you black.  That led a quiet conversation where she informed me, with tears in her eyes, that if she and I lived 200 years ago… that *I* could have owned *her*.

I can’t express what that did to me.  Much has been written about the notion of “white privilege”, but for me that moment defined it.  I had always thought of slavery as a terrible thing.  But it wasn’t until that moment that I realized how debasing it was and continues to be.  My beautiful, strong, brilliant, compassionate baby.  175 years later, that historical fact could still reach a cold hand through history and define my child… affecting how she thinks and feels about herself.  Someone could have owned her.

I have been hearing a lot of people talk about what is happening now, both in Ferguson and around the US.  What is tragic to me is not what is being said about what happened.  It isn’t the broken judicial system.  It isn't the details of the day. It is that, again, that same cold hand reaches through history.  Defining us.  And it appears that we are powerless to do anything about it. 

I have heard so many people feel that they must defend themselves.  That being white doesn’t mean they are racist.  That being a member of law enforcement they are not bad people.  That being marginalized is a real experience.  That the pain felt is not a conveniant fiction but a real life experience that is being lived by many.

I have lived a life so different from the one I see my children living.  No one ever asked me “where I was from” when I was growing up.  Yet everyone asks my children this question.  No one ever stopped me at a border check point.  Yet there was a time that my husband had to provide documentation, when traveling between states, that proved he was my children’s father.

What does that do to a child?  To see a world that constantly watches and questions?  I see in my children the development of a confusion that I never knew.   I hear my children struggling to define themselves in a world that still sees race first, and personhood second.  When my daughter was in daycare she came home to tell me that she had lost her “best friend” that day.  She was 4 years old.  Apparently they were playing on teams, and one child was excluded because he was “brown”.  When  my daughter came to his defense and announced that she was “black” she lost on the team.  She came home to tell me that until that day, all the other 4 year olds thought she was “white”…  but now she was considered brown.  And that changed things for her.

The events in Ferguson are merely anecdotes of the large story that is being told.  You can switch out the names, faces, towns, and dates with any other person or place, any community in this country.  Because the problem isn’t black or white.  The problem isn’t police or poverty.  The problem is that a long time ago we, and by "we" I mean the white empowered establishment, took away the personhood of an entire group of people.  And regardless of laws passed.  Education provided.  Jobs fought for and gained.  We have never found a way to give back what was taken and that moment in history resonates.  It creates an echo that my child can still hear. 

I know it isn’t popular.  I know people say I have unnecessary guilt.  But I feel that there is a need to atone.  As a country.  For what we have done.  To recognize that institutionalized inequality still resonates. That we have not found a way as a civilization to speak the words, or empower the actions that can heal.  That our past, haunts us.

This, is the tragedy of Ferguson.  That ghosts still walk, talk, and create a darkness that continues to lay claim to our future.  And yet we have not gained the ability, not even hundreds of years later, to have a meaningful dialog on what to do to heal our past.   Pain instead leads to greater pain.  A vortex  that as it expands it evidences all the more that we are losing our ability to talk about our problems and deal with them in a civilized manner.  And a community that cannot do that, cannot continue to consider itself a “civilization”.

I honestly don’t know what really happened between a young man, and a police officer, in Missouri several months ago.  Sadly, I don’t even think that it matters.  Because everything that has happened since has told the story, yet again, of how stereotypes of prejudices can come to define our debates… on both sides of the divide.  But I do know this, I have one child that considers himself to be black.  And if there is even the slimmest of chance that several months ago a young black man faced undo danger because he was black, then everything in my heart screams for reform.

Because the real enemy here isn’t “racial profiling and police brutality”.  It isn’t the “thug behavior of an adolescent.”  The real enemy is older than any of this.  And the words that we are afraid to say allow it to hide.  That day facing my daughter, I realized that the past defines us all.  Until that moment, slavery and institutionalized differences were only concepts to me.  Through my children, I am learning to acknowledge that others have the burden of living with them.  They are far more than distant concepts.    And if we can, as a community, become brave enough to acknowledge that… then perhaps we can begin to address the pain that causes explosions like Ferguson.  And perhaps then we can create a world in which our children never have to live with the pain of our past.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Rabbit

Yes, I named this blog after the guy (or gal) with big ears, whiskers and a happenstance hop.

No, I wasn't thinking of Bugs Bunny when I chose the name.

Accidental Rabbit Trails... I liked the acronym.  ART.

In looking up lore on rabbits, it appears that the Chinese would like that too, since the Rabbit is one of its 12 astrological signs and is known for sensitive creativity, or so I've read.

Personally, I've also always known the Rabbit to tell truth about fear - or the opposite of it.  As I understand it from Native American tradition, the Rabbit teaches us, by negative example, what happens if we let fear take over.  It isn't pretty.  Because the Rabbit shivers, his predators can see him and swoop down on him, for his ultimate demise.  If he had just remained calm, his camouflage would have kept him hidden.  He gives himself away through his own fear.  A rabbit teaches by negative example.  Do as I say, not as I do (says the Rabbit, as he shivers in his paws).

When a Rabbit shows up in my world, I don't look to the sky for swooping eagles.  But I do wonder when I see a bunny, however sweet, what may be arising that will instill some angst in me, that will be mine to conquer.  I take a deep breath - and stay perfectly still for just a moment. 

I'm glad to also see the China version of what a rabbit means.  They are such cute things!  Surely they show up to tell us more than just how not to be afraid.  Think of Thumper - now there's a rabbit who feared almost nothing, wouldn't you say?  He was like a bull in a China shop, that rabbit.

I like this description of the Rabbit:

I thought of all this when a little bunny hopped up to my window the other day, to nibble on some blades of grass.  I thought she was quite sweet, not to instantly hop away when I came to the window to film her for a bit.  Maybe she is getting over her fears, one blade of grass at a time.

Here is a photo of my friend from the other day - I do have a video of her too (why "she"?), but it is not uploading easily.  I'll try to upload later.  In the meantime...

And here is the video:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

and the bus crashed...

... 68 years ago today.

The 1946 Spokane Indians would be glad to know that today's team has a 9-1 record right now.  Funny, I should post that on Facebook, today of all days (before I saw the date).

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Celebrating 25 Years at the Fields of Dreams

I almost didn't go.

I didn't know it was happening.

But last Saturday morning, I saw a headline that the 25th anniversary of the filming of "Field of Dreams" was underway.  A celebrity baseball game would be played at 2:30 that afternoon.  Attendance was by free-ticket only.  No ticket, no entrance.

I made phone calls.  I spoke to the main office for the movie site.  I said I'd been there for a book signing a few years before, and could I have a ticket now, please?

In fact, my baseball novel "Until the End of the Ninth" is reminiscent of the "Field of Dreams."  It is inspired by the true story of a minor league team - the 1946 Spokane Indians - that died in a bus crash midway through that season.  Nine of the 16 men on the bus died.  Eight of the nine who died had served in World War II.  Nine died, so they died as a team - the number on the field at any given time.  When I learned of the story, and of this strong team of men, I could not let it go and so wrote about it.  I wanted to imagine that their spirits lived on, so I wrote it that way.  Had "Field of Dreams" not existed, my more spiritual approach would have been challenged, I'm sure.  But "Field of Dreams" gave people permission to allow for the way that I wrote the story.  I can't help but feel grateful, and a kinship for that film. 

So when the office said that there were no extra tickets for that day and they were not sure how to help me get to the field - if I even could make it in time - I told them I was driving to Dyersville, Iowa anyway.  From Chicago, where I currently am, it would be about 3 1/2 hours.

In a funny way, I liked the uncertainty.  It seemed to bring to life the film's slogan: "If you build it, [they] will come" - even if you can't guarantee them access to the field.

First I went to my 6-year-old nephew's soccer game.  It was his last game of the season.  It seemed fitting to watch him play before going to the field of dreams.

On the way to Dyersville, I called the dream office.  I wouldn't need a ticket after all.  Everyone who showed up for a bus ride to the field would get to the field.

I arrived at the field about 2:15 p.m., just before the celebrity game.  It was the best afternoon.

The roster of players was impressive.  Kevin Costner, Bob Costas, Tim Busfield (who played the doubting brother-in-law in the film), Dwier Brown (who has his own book now called "If You Build It,"  a memoir that includes talking about how he came to play Kevin Costner's dad in the film) - the list goes on and on. The executive producer was there, playing umpire (again, as he did in the film).  Here is a nice article on the event.

Initially I sat by the corn field that serves as the home run fence.  It was pretty far away, but an interesting view.  Later I stood by the first base line - my favorite spot.  It was softball, not baseball, but it was a real game.  There were a few errors of course, but it was basically a good game and fun to watch.  I had not realized this, but Kevin Costner is a good ball player.  He was one of the best on the field (and that field included former Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen).  He played shortstop for his team (the Kinsellas) and got the first and third outs of the first inning.  His first at-bat sent the ball near us - the peanut gallery out by the corn.  Here he is, getting a single and rounding the base, looking for more:

Bob Costas called the last inning.  Fantastic.

I wasn't there the night before, when everyone saw the film on the field.  I wasn't there earlier on Saturday to see parents and children playing catch on the field.  So I missed some of it.  But I did see some of the ghost players (local players who come out of the cornfields on Sundays in July and August every year to reenact the film's intent).  I did meet some folks, helped someone find her particular hero from the film (Dwier Brown)... And I remembered being there before, years ago, for a book signing - it had been a Ghost Sunday that day, and I remembered how magical it was, to listen to the film's music come on over the loudspeakers and then to see the players come from the corn, to the film's music...  I thought about my 1946 team now - wondered if their spirits could know that baseball remains alive and well in Dyersville, Iowa, on a field that was built to remember the game and to remember those we love.

They did build it, you know.  We all should go.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

An Alchemical Key

I lost my keys yesterday.

And then I found them.

In between, I rode on a train for an hour - to my office (I work in an office now) in downtown Chicago.

I already had spent an hour on the train, traveling home from the aforementioned office.  I rode all the way to my car before I realized that I could not find my keys.

And I exaggerate.  The train ride is only 35 minutes or so.  It's the commute - from door to door - that takes about an hour.

As I went back to my office, and sat on the subway, I realized that all I could do was wait.  I looked through my purse 20 times at least, hoping to find them while I rode, but otherwise, all I could do was wait.

And pray.  I could pray, too.  It wasn't much of a prayer.  It was a combination of begging and yelling. (God, god, god, god... please let me find my keys... and why did you let me lose them? Hasn't it been a horrible enough time? Did you have to take my keys too?)

At one point I thought, that's it.  I can't do it anymore.  I'm done.  And then I thought, I am maybe walking a little too close to an edge, if losing my keys sends me over it.

And then I thought, maybe it's just a mood - a mood for this day, the anniversary of the day that Joan of Arc burned at the stake.  I try to remember the day every year.  She is a hero of mine.  She may have been a lawyer, fighting the uphill battle, if she'd been born today.  It's not a surprise that I should admire her, and try to remember her on days like when she was burned at the stake.

I'd even gone to a Catholic church for her that afternoon, near the courthouse in downtown Chicago.  There were many Franciscans milling about the Church.  I think she would have liked that.

So there I sat, hours later, terrified I'd lost my keys, begging God to let me find them, and losing it just a little.

Then I thought of something else I could do.  I could ask God for a sign (at least give me a stupid sign while I sit on this stupid train...)

I looked up for my sign.

Just then, a young girl, about 19, smiled at me.

I was shocked.  Nobody smiles on the train.  But she did.

I hope I smiled back.  I wondered if she had heard me talking to the security officer at my building (when I called to say I had lost my keys and I would need help getting into the office to look for them).  I wondered how pathetic I must have looked in my panic, that I caused her to smile some comfort in my direction.

It was a friendly smile though.  Maybe she was just being nice.  Maybe she was from somewhere else.

And then I saw her shirt.  "New Orleans," it said, across the front. You know, like Orleans, in France - where Joan of Arc died - and like New Orleans, where they have a statute in her honor.

I decided it was my sign.  I decided it was a good sign, too.

But at the office, there were no keys.  Maybe it wasn't a good sign after all.

I dumped out my purse.  I dumped everything out.  And then I realized - there was something in my purse, still.

And there they were.  My keys.

They had gotten between the lining of my purse and its leather.  I had had them all the time - in my purse, but not within reach - not in the normal way.

This is alchemy.  Read "The Alchemist," by Paulo Coelho (1988).  Read "The Alchemist's Handbook," by Frater Albertus (1960).  You'll see what I mean.

So then I was happy, and I couldn't imagine the despair from before.  And maybe this is alchemy too. 

And then I went home.  It was another hour away.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

First Base

Yesterday was a big day for sports.

No, it wasn't due to the aftermath of yet another Blackhawks' loss.  Today will be another day for them, in the midst of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And no, it wasn't due to the NFL draft, though I'm interested in reading articles.

It was Opening Day for the Park Ridge Little Sluggers Baseball League.

My 6-year-old nephew is one of those sluggers.

This is not just t-ball, folks.  This is pitching by the coaches (and t-ball only after three failed pitches).

The first time a player successfully threw the ball to first base to get out a runner, the place erupted.  As one parent said, you'd think we had just won the World Series.

Several times we suggested to my nephew that he put the mitt on his hand, not his head.  He obliged.  For the moment.

He was one of the kids that hit the ball when his coach pitched to him.  He's a lefty, so he ended up hitting down the first base line.  Once he was out.  He was okay with that.  He does have a good, strong swing.  I'd call it his forte, in baseball.

In the morning, he had played soccer - the third or fourth game of that season.  This is the sport where he gets an earful from his mother and me.  This is our sport.  He's got some moves, that boy.  And he plays intelligently, anticipating the pass and that sort of thing.  But we are wondering if perhaps we need to explain the concept of competition, when it comes to this game.  "That's your ball," I feel like telling him.  The guy just took YOUR ball.  Go get it back.  He seems more likely to admire the play of others than to jealously guard what should belong to him.  He does have a competitive edge, we know - he loves video games, and he loves to win.  Perhaps that is the analogy to make.

Throughout it all, my three-year-old nephew, his brother, is attending the games.  He said he wanted to watch the soccer game rather than play in the nearby playground. He picked dandelions instead, for his grandmother.  At the baseball game, the two neighbor girls brought out their princess dolls and reluctantly let him play with a slinky and Cinderella's carriage (and horse).  He did seem content.  I expect the competitive edge will exist in him by the time he starts playing in these leagues.  He certainly will have watched his brother enough for the theory behind sports to sink in.

We did play soccer in the backyard a week or two ago.  I showed the six-year-old how to fall, and showed him my one move (it looks fancy but it isn't).  My six-year-old nephew came up with his own move - stopping the ball with his knee.  Impressive.  I also encouraged the three-year-old not to use his hands when moving the ball to where he wanted it to be.  He listened, nodded, thought, and then grabbed a stick to push the ball to where he wanted it.  Clever boy.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Owl

I was driving south, then east, on back country roads.  As I came to a T in the road - just as I would turn east - I saw movement, an expanse of wings, directly in front of where I was.  At first I thought it was a hawk.  It was an owl.  She settled in to where she was headed - the top of a wooden post, as if she were a part of the post itself.  Had I not seen her fly to it, I would not have seen her on the post.  As I stopped at the T, she stayed still.  Then she turned her head to the east, once, and held it there, directing me to continue, letting me know there was more on the road ahead.  I did drive as she directed, but came back to take a photo.  As I sat in my car before her, a truck (headed east) barreled through between us.  When it had passed, she was gone, as if she were never there.  The shot below is not the best, but it is the only, so it must suffice:

What I had not known until that day was the expanse of wings that an owl can have.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Grand Budapest

I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel yesterday - "GB," as they showed on the logo of the hotel now and then.  It was intriguing, to be sure - a quality all its own.  It was funny and charming.  It was smart.  I appreciated the layers.  A part of me wanted more story, a part of me wanted less.  I keep thinking about it now.  That's how I know it was a special film. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March Madness

Life in this fast lane has been so frantic that I almost forgot what happens this month.

Luckily the Internet refuses to let me forget.

It is March Madness, when men and women basketball players in colleges and universities across the country gather to play in winner-takes-all games, week after week - into April.  It isn't called March/April madness though. I wonder why.  Maybe because the actual madness - the upsets - occur in the beginning.

Usually I have organized my days around watching good basketball during this season of madness.  This year, that has not been possible.  I haven't had time to fill out brackets (though I usually just eyeball them anyway), didn't have the luxury of watching any games during the week (except a moment or two of the Gonzaga game - long enough to assure myself that the Zags would win), and only yesterday was able to sit down and watch some games post-bedtime for youngsters (as I babysat nephews).

Luckily again, I was just in time to watch a repeat of Thursday - or a half-repeat of Thursday - when Dayton took down another sure-to-win opponent (Syracuse).  It would have been something else if Harvard - the other Thursday upset - could have won as well.  But Dayton winning was victory enough.

It's odd, how these low-ranked teams become the darlings of the tournament.  I know little to nothing about Dayton.  But I do know that I want Dayton to win its next game, to get to the Elite Eight, to win the whole darn thing - unless Dayton plays Gonzaga, in which case Gonzaga should win.  Perhaps that is one reason that this is called March Madness - not just because of unexpected outcomes, but also because of an irrational fan base that roots for the teams that should not win, that do not have the internal structure to instill confidence in anyone but team mothers that they will win even a single game.  It is as though we, the fans, are overtaken by our own fever of sorts, a fever that encourages us to act irrationally and root for the underdog regardless of the talent of the other team.

I don't think I'm the exception here.

Did you know that Dayton was considered a "bubble" team?  I don't know how true that is, since the team received a 12th seed (and 16th seeds are your true bubble teams).  But the announcers have been giddy in saying this, over and over - Dayton was thought to be a bubble team this year, for the tournament. It has been 30 years since Dayton reached the Sweet Sixteen.  It was time.  And what a game it was.  (For as much as I wanted Dayton to win though, my heart broke for the Syracuse players.  They are just kids.  They were so sad.)

The Zags play today - both men and women.  The men may not win, playing Arizona as they do.  The women were ranked well, so good for them. I will try to watch both games, or part of both games.

I'm sad this is not true March Madness to me, as I must instead pay homage to the Law Gods who deem it appropriate to keep me too busy at this moment to enjoy this perennial pastime.  But who knows? Maybe I will figure out a way to sneak a peek on Thursday, time TBD, to watch the Dayton game.  Did you know they are the Dayton Flyers?  What a great name for a Cinderella team. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Happy Birthday

On Saturday, my family in Chicago ate some cupcakes.  It was my mom's idea for celebrating presidents' day, two days early. 

There were eleven cupcakes total.  (There would have been twelve cupcakes, but someone had eaten a cupcake already.) 

We had to choose which presidents to honor.  Everyone had one veto.  My brother-in-law vetoed JFK at the outset.  I vetoed Andrew Jackson.  Then we actually got started.

The first two candles went to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. They are, after all, the presidents whose birthdays are the original reason for the holiday. 

That left nine cupcakes.

Someone said Bill Clinton. I said that if we have a candle for Clinton, then we should have a candle for one of the Bushes.  My brother-in-law said, "H.W."  That seemed to work for everyone.

Next we chose Thomas Jefferson.  Then my sister said, "John Adams" (and we clarified - not Quincy).  My mom said, "Teddy Roosevelt."  We all really liked that choice.  I suggested FDR.  He was elected four times!  My brother-in-law acknowledged that he had no veto left, so FDR got a candle. Next, my six-year-old nephew said, "Barack Obama." That was sweet. Then we gave candles to Truman (the haberdasher) and Eisenhower (who appeared to receive unanimous support).

And then we were out of cupcakes.

We lit the candles, sang happy birthday, blew out the candles, and ate the cupcakes.

They were good.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Care Taking

This post is of the sweet heart of my 6-year-old nephew.

A month or so ago, I was babysitting the two boys with my mom's help.  (It is better to stay at least even in the numbers.)  Each morning, I would get each boy to school - the older one to elementary school, the younger one to preschool.  Then I would head back to the condo where I was staying (not anymore) (another story) and hang out with cat Alex all day.  Then I would go pick up the boys from their schools, make dinner, get them to bed, get up the next morning and do the same routine again.

In past long-term babysitting endeavors like this, I had brought Alex to their house with me.  But it just seemed to be an easier cat-care solution to leave Alex at the condo during the school week like this, since I would see him each morning once the boys were off to school.

Also in the past, when I was out of town but had left Alex at the condo, my nephews had helped take care of Alex by coming to the condo with one or both of their parents.  So the boys were clear that Alex had needs to be met.

Saturday was my last day for babysitting the boys.  We were busy talking about their parents getting home, and the events we had planned for the free day.

Suddenly, the 6-year-old stopped in his tracks.  He turned to me and anxiously asked, "Who's been taking care of Alex?"

I assured him that Alex was fine, and that I had seen him every day after they both had gone to school.  He immediately relaxed, said "oh, okay," and moved on to other things.

It is a vivid image in my mind, however - this child who should have no worries, having such a sense of care for others that he took it upon himself the need to remember the needs of my cat.

He has always had this kind of kind heart.

Even as young as a year old, after the Philadelphia Eagles had lost an important game and I was somewhat despondent (you'd think I would get used to them losing by now), he attempted to cajole and entertain me from his high chair, to get me in a better mood.  I remember his mother pointing this out to me.  It made the Eagles' loss a non-event, that day.  What mattered more was this toddler's awareness of my angst and his desire to change things for the better.

He is a very sweet kid.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Knock Knock

My three-year-old nephew tells this knock knock joke.

"Knock, knock."

"Who's there?"


"Owl who?"

"Owl eating carrots!"

It's very funny.  Try it.  There can be variations to the owl.  "Zombie" is pretty funny too.  Though it is possible that these jokes are particularly funny because a three-year-old is telling them.

This kid likes to be funny.  He does something silly and waits for the laugh.  The other night, as I helped him on with his pajamas, he was making silly sounds.  "Funny," he said, as he saw me smile.  I nodded, a bit grudgingly.  "You laughed," he pointed out.  "I did," I conceded.  "It was funny," I said. He smiled.  That's all he was looking for.