Wednesday, December 15, 2021
Sunday, March 28, 2021
About a week ago, I got my first COVID shot. Immediately afterward, I sat in a folding chair, as instructed, in the back aisle of a drugstore in Windsor, CT. It’s been over 30 years since I lived in Windsor, and while I waited for the clipboard-wielding woman to give me the all-clear to leave, I couldn’t help but think how right it felt to have come “home” to be vaccinated.
I had fifteen minutes to kill, so I spent the first minute texting my husband the requisite pic of my vaccination card. While I waited for his response, I glanced up at the display in front of me. Turns out I was in the health and beauty section. And suddenly, my hometown didn’t feel quite so familiar anymore. Before me were row after row of smiling Black models. They sported du-rags, satin wraps, wide edge bonnets, turbans, and something called a pineapple cap. I didn’t know what most of these hair accessories were, but I knew I’d never need any of them. I looked to the right and found “silicone cover ups” and “no-show concealers” (for breasts, I realized after squinting at them for a few moments), offered here in “dark skin tones” only. I swiveled to my left to check out the hairbrushes. Unlike every drugstore I’ve frequented for the past 30 years, my go-to blowout brush wasn’t at eye-level. In its place were picks, rake combs, and edge brushes. The message was clear: welcome as I was to receive a vaccine at the pharmacy, in this drugstore, black shoppers matter more.
And that’s when it dawned on me, belated and gradually (as epiphanies tend to dawn on the not-very-bright): I was experiencing in a temporal and trivial and utterly harmless way what Black people have experienced—are experiencing—in pervasive and complex and often lethal ways every day in this country. They are told, explicitly and implicitly, that here, white lives matter more. And it’s not just about space on store shelves. (Though I did imagine, in that moment, what it would be like to be a young Black girl staring at a row of white dolls in another aisle, in another store. To know that if I wanted to pretend, I had to pretend with a baby that looked nothing like me, or with the single black doll I had to stoop to reach at the bottom of the display because in this store, white girls matter more.)
Of course, one might argue it makes good sense for a store to market to its largest demographic. But what if we’re not talking about a drugstore? What if we're talking about our country? And what if the market isn’t hair products or baby dolls? What if it’s employment? Housing? Political representation? What if it’s education? Health care? Human dignity?
All of my life, I will shamefully admit, I’ve walked into stores expecting to find what I need. Expecting that what I’m looking for will be at eye level. Within easy reach. Easy access.
White lives do not matter more. And of course, Black lives don’t, either. But my white friends, that’s not what the yard signs say. They state simply that “Black Lives Matter.” So let's check the defensive posturing. Let's stop responding that All Lives Matter. It’s not about any group mattering more. It’s about basic human dignity. At eye level, within easy reach, and easy access. No stooping required.
Friday, December 11, 2020
“I really like Christmas. It’s sentimental, I know, but I just really like it.”
-Tim Minchin, White Wine in the Sun
Atheists aren’t my traditional go-to when it comes to Christmas, and with good reason. Consulting an atheist about Christmas is a little like consulting a nudist about fashion. They've heard of it, and they may even have friends who are into it. But it’s just not their thing.
I do make one exception. Self-avowed atheist Tim Minchin (also an accomplished Australian comedian, actor, and musician) wrote and recorded one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time. And that song really hits home this year.
I’ll admit I’m not especially discerning when it comes to Christmas music. I'll listen to everything from religious carols to secular standards. The only songs I don’t much care for are those about having sex at Christmas, or more accurately, about not having sex on Christmas, which appears to be a problem of epidemic proportion among pop singers spanning generations.
Note: While I don't appreciate the “sexy Santa” genre, I’m inexplicably fond of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and I do mean the date-rape-y original. It’s horrible and cringey and I fully appreciate why it offends so many…but I just really like it.
Which is borrowing a phrase directly from Minchin’s song, which brings me back to the point at hand.
This Christmas will cap a spectacularly miserable year for many of us. I suppose there are some who will manage, despite all odds, to enjoy the holiday. Hurrah for them! But there will be a larger-than-usual number of us who feel depressed and anxious. Those who are tired, or sick, or missing loved ones. Those who’ve gained weight. Those who’ve lost faith.
This is our 2020 Christmas anthem. And here are just a few reasons why:
It has modest expectations.
Look, 2020 has already turned “lowering the bar” into an art form. If you’re concerned this holiday season won’t measure up to prior celebrations, Minchin’s lyrics will meet you right where you are. He isn’t expecting “big presents” or “a visit from Jesus.” I imagine some of my Christian friends might take offense to that idea: What’s the point of celebrating Christmas if you aren’t waiting for Christ? In response, I ask that you listen to any carol from the aforementioned Sexy Santa genre. If we're doling out points for reverence, this one goes to the atheist.
It’s full of humility.
It’s nice to be reminded that despite the talking heads on cable news and the blowhards on social media, there are still some human beings humble enough to admit they just don’t know. The key note of Minchin’s lyrics is intellectual humility. He offers a series of cynical observations about the commercialization of Christmas (most brilliant: that Jesus has been “press-ganged into selling PlayStations and beer”), but then follows each one of them with a sheepish and apologetic, “but…I still really like it.”
It’s the sort of thing human beings used to do in the old days: entertain two simultaneous and contradictory opinions, and wrestle in the frictional space between them. It’s a good and productive place to be. We’d do well to return to it.
It embraces the wait.
Minchin anticipates a cheerful reunion with his Australian family at Christmas. He imagines them waiting for his cross-continental arrival, and passing their time drinking white wine in the sun. It has to be the warmest, brightest, merriest Christmas image ever captured in words. This year, even as a global pandemic rages, I’m comforted by the idea that across continents and across towns (maybe even across the veil that separates the living from the dead), loved ones are collectively and selflessly waiting it out. The reunions will come, one day. But until then, we’ll raise our glasses and wait.
There’s a baby at the center of it all.
I won't ruin this moment for you. I’ll say only that the “jet-lagged infant daughter” wrecks me every time, in part because she recalls, to my mind, another infant at the center of another Christmas story. I’m not suggesting there’s an intentional (or unintentional) Christ-figure in Minchin’s lyrics; to do so would show blatant disrespect to his philosophy. I know only that the image of adoring adults passing around a baby “like a puppy at a primary school” is about as pure and reverential and awe-inspiring as any church lawn nativity I've ever seen. It lifts my spirit.
And that’s what I love most about my go-to atheist at Christmas, especially in this seemingly godforsaken year. He admits he’s “hardly religious,” but his words somehow reignite my own shaky faith. I suppose it has something to do with his unabashed confidence in the fundamental truth that “wherever we are and whatever we face,” there are people who love us and “make us feel safe in this world.”
That's what I want my family and friends to feel most this Christmas, of all Christmases. Well, that and maybe a little grateful that they took a few minutes to listen to Tim Minchin, the atheist, who really likes it.
And with good reason.
Friday, July 31, 2020
So you're a high school senior.
Congratulations. And my condolences.
For many of you, this was supposed to be the summer you were courted by college admissions officers who showed you state-of-the-art classrooms and impeccably staged dorm rooms. You were supposed to get irrationally excited about That One School You Loved At First Sight and you were supposed to visit the bookstore and buy the sweatshirt, ripping the tags off even before you left the building so you could wear it on the ride home.
You were supposed to go back to school at the end of this month, walking a little taller than your natural height, because you are a senior, dammit. You know these halls like the back of your hand. You were supposed to smile at the teachers and they were supposed to smile back, a secret exchange that suggests you know they’re just fallible human beings, but you promise not to let the freshmen know. They haven’t earned the right yet.
You were supposed to relax into your seat on that first day knowing it was your “last first” day, and you were supposed to soak in the intoxicating feeling of familiarity that breeds (not contempt but) nostalgic affection. Everything would look a little smaller, somehow. And you were supposed to enjoy every fleeting minute of it.
Instead, you’re facing a tough decision. Your parents read an email from the superintendent aloud to you, citing the third iteration of a back-to-school plan that now includes a choice between two-day-a-week in-person learning or staying in your room for another month.
They look at you blankly and ask, “What do you want to do?” because they know you aren’t a child anymore. You’re 18 (or nearing 18) and the decision is primarily, if not exclusively, your own.
You struggle. As parents, we're used to watching you struggle, but we can’t help the way we want to help. The way we’re used to helping. We can’t assure you we’ve been there before. We can’t tell you what we did at your age. These are uncharted waters, and you are a rudderless crew.
Last year's seniors had it tough, no doubt. They missed out on their proms. They missed out on graduation ceremonies and senior class trips and “skip day.” But for the most part, they had their post-graduation plans buttoned up when the pandemic hit. And when it did hit, they didn’t have a decision to make. They had a decision made for them.
As a community, we bent over backward to make them feel special, in every way imaginable. We chalked their driveways and organized parades and painted banners and left pick-me-up presents on their doorsteps.
(Psst...don't expect the same.)
It’s not that we don’t recognize your losses, or love you any less. It's just that we adults (and American adults in particular) have notoriously short attention spans. We are full of compassion in a moment of crisis, but we grow tired and cynical rather quickly. (Consider, for example, how we lauded your teachers as heroes in March, and called them cowards by mid-July.)
But here’s the thing.
You aren’t adults yet. You do not tire quickly, and you are not ruined by cynicism. You are compassionate and resilient and creative. I know this, because I know so many of you. I’ve been your youth leader since you were in 8th grade. I’ve been on mission trips with you. I’ve stayed up overnight with you. I’m raising one of you in my own home.
Ok, so you may not have fully developed frontal lobes, and you occasionally make dumb decisions as a result. But in many ways, you’re smarter than we are. And that’s why you cannot make a wrong decision about the start of school, as long as the decision is yours to make.
If you decide to return to school, it is not because you are reckless or selfish. You’ve weighed the risks and you’ve considered the alternatives and you’ve made an unspeakably difficult choice that your parents and their parents never had to make.
If you decide to stay home, it is not because you are cowardly or lazy. (See the reasons above.)
And if you’re still hesitating, I suspect it’s in part because you're afraid of being judged. Know this: we adults are notoriously judgmental. While you’re busy lifting each other up on Instagram with heart emojis and gushing compliments and unabashed expressions of genuine affection, we’re over here trashing each other over political memes on Facebook (look it up...it's a thing).
Judge you? We cannot hold a candle to you.
I’m effing tired of the word “unprecedented.” But that’s where we are. More to the point, in this moment, it’s where YOU are. You are the class of 2021, beginning a senior year you never imagined, and do not deserve.
For whatever it’s worth, I am rooting for you. But since those frontal lobes are not fully developed just yet, and because that’s the ONE thing I have over you, I’ll leave you with this:
Wear your mask, wash your hands, and do your homework.
You’ve got this, seniors.
Sunday, April 26, 2020
|Come on. I had to.|
Saturday, March 28, 2020
|The "Hope Rock' we selected. And yes, I washed my hands.|