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Rain and Ashes

One thing I do not miss about raising my daughters is the homework. Relearning math in a whole new, convoluted way, dealing with tears and bad internet, early mornings at the Coco’s so they could submit their work, the constant nagging to get it done. Though they have very different learning styles, both of them worked hard, got the job done, and were accepted into the college of their choice.

Whew. 

I still keep a few of their assignments. Because they attended Waldorf schools, there is a myriad of gorgeous art, hand written and illustrated histories of the world or cultures. One day I grabbed for a piece of paper to write a note on, and realized it was my younger daughter’s portrait of her sister for a report on her family. I was horrified that I almost defaced it. So I wrote on a box of cereal instead. Their efforts are precious to me, but they belong to them. It’s their work, their life, their efforts. Sure, I take pride in my girls, but they are both strong individuals, who were allowed to decide who they wanted to become, it wasn’t my job to make them be anything, it was my job to make sure they had a vast array of choices and information.

So I chose schools with diversity, art, and no religious affiliation. When one turned out to favor the rich and famous, (the kids were deciding on friends based on the square footage of their homes) I moved them. Though I’m an atheist, I made sure they had experiences in mosques, churches, nature, and temples, not difficult since both of them had best friends from varied religious backgrounds. They chose nature, enjoyed the Jewish celebrations, were fascinated by mosque, and the only comment they ever made on a christian church was after attending a particularly exteme one with two of their best friend/neighbors. We were driving in the car and I asked them what they thought of it. There was a quiet until the older one said, “Mama, it’s brainwashing!” Frankly, I was impressed she got it in one.

Nothing against honest grace, and I personally know many religious people who have dedicated their lives to helping other, all others, they do not exclude based on differences of race, sexuality, or faith, that is true grace. I salute everyone who lives with love and kindness in their hearts, but I do not believe for one second that attaching oneself exclusively to a particular ‘religion’ makes you one iota more worthy. That speaks to me of exclusivity, separation, presumed superiority. After all, if your belief is the ‘true’ one, then you are calling all other faiths a lie. Not a very nice way to build bridges.

The religion I taught my daughters is kindness and courage. Always err on the side of compassion, stand up against injustice, see through the trimmings and look down at the heart of the message. Do you need a church to participate in charity? No. Do you need a man to tell you what ‘god’ meant? No, that’s absurd. If you try to be patient and helpful, if you don’t tell lies and don’t do what you hate, the world will be an increasingly better place. 

It’s brutal not to be with my magnificent daughters for the holidays. We had planned to spend it together in Venice, but that was cancelled, of course. Then we had plans to gather at my bestie’s house in LA, but I cannot be ‘that person’ who thinks this virus won’t happen to them and might hurt others, so hubby and I will spend the season at home with our cats, who are super excited about it I’m sure. So off I went to the post office with packages to try to alleviate my sadness at cancelling our trip to be with them, just to laugh and make cookies and watch the sea hurl itself at the shore with unfaltering persistence and cheer, when I spotted a tall, handsome person  standing over some folded sheets of paper on the wet asphalt of the parking space next to the one I was taking. My first thought was wounded animal they might be trying to pick up or help?

But you don’t want to assume or intrude so I merely asked, “What’s the fascination?” as I got out of the car.

After an enigmatic glance at me, their regal, calm face turned its lofty focus back to the papers at their feet, “I’m just burning some racist shit someone put on the bulletin board.”

My reply leapt out of my mouth so fast I might have come off as overly eager. “Can I help?” I blurted. 

They said, “Sure, if you’ve got a lighter.”

I did, so I dug it out of the glove box and the two of us went to work trying to get the moist paper to light. Like all racism and phobias, it smoked and resisted, hunkered down trying to deny change, even the most fundamental kind. 

I didn’t try to read what was on it, though I caught a few of the expected words, Trump, conspiracy, (the latter spelled  semi-phonetically) what surprised me was not that hatred and fear would rear their ugly heads at my local post office like Medusa at a tent meeting of snake handlers, after all our country has been fed a steady diet of lies delivered with con man, holy roller perfection for the last four years, that I sadly understand. What surprised me was what the note was written on. The ignorance was scrawled–misspelled, the letters  retraced over and over again with a blue pen to make them bolder, which somehow only served to drive home the frantic confusion of the author, and make them that much more pathetic–across the back of child’s homework.

 

A few years ago printing a racist rant on the back of a second grader’s honest school efforts would have been a strange thing for me to reconcile, but it’s become so obvious that a large part of the darkness in which we find ourselves immersed is being systematically brainwashed into a new generation, and I wonder how these new humans will survive it. How do you make a better world when you insist on repeating the same hateful rhetoric? Repeated and retraced like those wobbly letters. But the fact remains that no matter how many times you try to make your words bolder, or your ravings seem reasonable, they are still feeble, misspelled, and written on very shaky ground.

And I wonder about the kid who had to answer to the teacher for not having the assignment. “The dog ate it,” pales as excuses go compared to, “My white daddy felt threatened.”  It conjured up an image of a parent using their child’s school play costume to clean a shotgun, or the corn from their cafeteria lunch to make moonshine. “Sorry baby, Daddy’s gotta’ meetin’ tonight, now fetch me them sheets and git me another beer before you leave for kindergarten.” 

Perhaps ironically, the homework used as a base for the rantings of a true ‘merican, appeared to be  an elementary civics lesson, with questions like, “What makes a civilization?” Civilization is word that instantly conjures images of humans of all races building a better life through cooperation. So maybe it wasn’t ironic. Maybe the whole idea of humans getting along and possessing even vague similarities sent their caveman daddy off the deep end. Maybe it was the answers the child had written in an uneven juvenile hand, only slightly less proficient than the scrawl on the back, an answer like, “When they use cows and stuff.”

No! I imagine him thinking, what makes a civilization is white people, guns, and Jesus! Or that may be giving them too much credit, after all, the idea of civilization is a fairly advanced one, and this person is unlikely to believe that there was any such thing before nice white Europeans got here and wiped out the indigenous peoples. Of course to someone like this, even Europeans are alien. The concept that there were advanced civilizations ten thousand years before anyone even was ‘white’ would explode their tiny heads. And the reality that Jesus was not a white American has never even knocked at the door of their church. Through that door lies a fantasy land in which a blond, green-eyed ‘savior’ is depicted welcoming the tow-headed children, with nary a dark skinned human in sight. Because everyone who listened to the man on the mount would be heartily welcomed today at a South Georgia country club.  Yeah. Right. I can just envision it, that khaki and plaid swathed crowd, quietly slurping bloody marys and eying each others’ camels to make sure their neighbor didn’t have the newer model as some guy told them it was easier for that camel to go through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to get into heaven. 

I know what I’m talking about because that was my church, that’s the mentality I grew up with in the sixties. Oh sure, in a hail mary act of charity, the church sponsored some boat people, remember them? And every  Sunday, there the two Laotian families were at service, giving all the nice white people something to point at and say, “That’s my purse, I gave them that, aren’t we wonderful? Look how magnanimous we are! How generous and kind!” Do you think any member of that congregation ever made friends with those people? Were they invited into their suburban homes? Were playdates scheduled with the children? Fuck no. Charity, for far too many church-goers and community do-gooders, that I’ve come across anyway, is naught but a claim to bragging rights. “We paid for the big house on the hill, four show horses, seven cars and that family of immigrants.”

That self-aggrandizing I’m familiar with. I suppose what still surprises me that people are so eager to display their profound sense of disconnection and stupidity so publicly. Writing a hate and conspiracy-filled rant and actually posting it on a community bulletin board for the world to see, I mean really. It’s like standing on a rooftop, or swinging from the big F on facebook, shouting at the top of your lungs, “I will not evolve!! I love my ignorance and I will clutch it to my chest with my pearls. If you try to make my life better, I will hit you with this stick.” Of course they don’t know that they don’t know what they don’t know, if you know what I mean.

Because in this country, teachers and politicians and ‘faith’ leaders have lied and misled based on their own fears or need for control since our inception. I was a grown up before I learned that Africa had the richest kings in history, no one taught me anything about Africa, my teachers knew nothing about it. So when I traveled there I took some trouble to learn some history, and it was thrilling! Like discovering a new world that was right next door all the time. Ditto for the the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and anywhere else that wasn’t Christian and white. 

I was that strange child who didn’t believe adults. The veiled racist jokes from even my parents, felt cruel, just…wrong. When, at eight years old, I noticed that all the quarterbacks in my dad’s beloved football games were all white and asked why, I was told it was because, while black athletes were all very well, they just weren’t smart enough to be quarterbacks and coaches.

Wow. Smart, honest children do not believe these lies, they just learn not to trust their parents. If kids simply get a chance to get to know people who look differently from them, there is no other conclusion at which to arrive except that we are all different, all the same, all flawed, fucked up, damaged, capable of different things, talented in different ways, and filled with the propensity to love, hate, hurt and heal.

But some people are freer to do those things than others. Some have to fight for even those simple human rights.

 Don’t panic, don’t hate me, I’m not saying that straight white people don’t have to overcome shit, work hard, get up after being knocked down, they do. I’m just pointing out that they don’t have to overcome racism and or homophobia in particular. They won’t face that obstacle. What’s weird is that they won’t even admit there is an obstacle. They can’t, because they equate it to having their accomplishments, or the lie of their natural superiority, challenged. If you think you are innately worth more, or better than, someone else, being told you had an advantage to get that way will rock your high-walled, well constructed dream world. You will feel, in effect, cancelled, dismissed, your very life and so-called accomplishments will lose value. In other words, it will make you face feeling exactly the way you treat others. Separate, lonely, and discounted. The truth is, you don’t mind dishing it out even unconsciously, but it incenses you to be called on it because it shatters the fiction you created about yourself. 

It’s as though life on our planet is a massive music festival, and some people have chosen to stay, not just in one tent, listening to one artist, but in one tiny few square inches and a brief second of time, their feet nailed to the ground, listening to a single note or drum beat over and over and over again. Of course that would drive anyone insane, it’s no wonder really that these people are so pissed off and unstable. What a bland, restrictive life, if you didn’t pretend with all your might that you remain in that single place and narrow thought pattern because it is ‘the right one’ you would have to shout at the top of your lungs just to drown out the screaming in your head. Only to find, when you collapsed, hoarse and exhausted, that the horror was always with you, it was you. In your ravaged state you might notice that the festival is going on without you in the distance. Too far away for you to join in. The music is still playing, people are still dancing, it is only you who are left out. The laughter and happiness of those who embraced change and diversity taunts you where you lie, plotting and seething in the darkness beyond the edge of the light. Probably, you’ll eventually be eaten by racoons. 

Naturally you’re angry, what did you really expect trying to force the world to your microscopic view? But here’s the deal. It was your choice. The smorgasbord is there for us all, you decided to select your entrée from the cat box.

So this magnificent person and I made a different choice, not just to block out that hateful noise, but to obliterate it. In gesture at least. And gestures can mean so much, but only if they are followed by action. 

Today we found a use for that dichotomy of homework assignments, one side written by a child learning and one side written by a mental child refusing to learn. We lit it on fire and warmed our hands.

Then we smeared the ashes into a gray muddy mush, mixing it with the rotting leaves and the elk poop droppings, (Yes, the elk wander through the post office parking lot every month or so, eating the apples off the neighbors trees.) It wasn’t even worthy of sticking to the soles of our shoes, but the rain would wash even the remnants away before we got back to our cars.

I exchanged cards with the noble-faced note-burner, an artist! So excited to find a kindred spirit in this rural but sometimes small-minded beauty, and we said goodbye, got in our cars, and went back to the festivals of our varied and embracing lives. Leaving that missive of lonely hatred irreparably  altered behind us.

As it should be.

Reduced to ashes.

 

Shari, December 19th, 2020

 

1 thought on “Rain and Ashes”

  1. My name Is Aaron I intended under John Patterson in winter haven Fl . I came acrossed your photo on the internet and remembered seeing your poster in the lobby of Patterson studios everyday of (the spring). I must say your still looking great. Hope all is still well for you.

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