Monthly Archives: March 2017

People are People

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the boxes we put ourselves in and the labels we put on those boxes. 

It’s somewhat amazing that in an era where we devote so much time to ensuring diversity in everything we do, that we actually end up driving people farther and farther away from one another.

My favorite incidence of this phenomenon this week is the idea that no white woman should have the audacity to wear hoop earrings. In case you didn’t know, those are apparently reserved for black women, and it’s wrong for white – or any other non-black woman I suppose – to appropriate black culture.

Huh?

If this is where we’ve come to in our culture wars, it should be clear that not one of us on this planet gets it. By sharing culture – music, art, fashion, food, and yes, even jewelry – we bring ourselves closer together and ultimately can find peace with one another.

Our love affair with technology often takes the blame for the social distance of the modern era. After all, it’s easier to say what we want to say (i.e., be insensitive to anyone and everyone) from behind a screen. There’s truth in that – I know I’m guilty of saying things online I’d never say to a person in the flesh. Who isn’t?

But self-separation really isn’t as new as the latest tablet or phone. We’ve been doing it forever really, so it makes sense to think people are farther apart than they’ve ever been. Society decides who they don’t like, and then they pounce. When we don’t know the type of person we’re attacking, it’s easier to stereotype and “normalize” ostracism. 

I’m pretty sure that now a days, no one really wants equality. Every “group,” be they women, religious, atheist, blacks, gays, trans, hillbillies, millennials, hipsters, liberals, conservatives, married, single, etc, etc, wants to claim some level of superiority over everyone else. Like it or not, equal DOES mean all lives matter. Even unborn ones, old ones, and dare I say it, Muslim ones.

I’ve become sensitive to this lately watching my husband maneuver through life. He is a middle-aged white man. With a beard, who likes coffee, and working outdoors. He goes to church, owns guns and trucks, and likes big dogs. He grew up on a farm and understands American laws at all levels. I guess you could say he’s the guy everyone wants to hate and blame these days.

But like anyone else living under any other label, there’s more. He works long hours at a job he’s good at, but, like so many, he is disrespected everyday. He struggles with his own health issues. He supports our family financially to the point of exhaustion. He’s all about “girl power,” being the biggest cheerleader our two tween daughters have, urging them to strive to be all they can be. He fights the system where he sees it failing people, especially kids. He provided extraordinary end-of-life care for both is his parents, and had been rock solid in love and support for a wife plagued with illness and depression.

Maybe he’s not so bad after all. Like a lot of other plain white bread guys I know, he’s working hard at life with absolutely no time to worry if someone is black or white or yellow or green or purple. Yeah, he’s worn and broken in spots – just like EVERY LAST ONE OF US. 

So it’s this simple : people come in all shapes, sizes, colors and conditions. We’re all here for a reason and we all count. People who do wrong should faces consequences – not because of their “type” but because they have somehow hurt another.  What we should be doing is encouraging one another to do right – in though, word and deed. Because in the end, we are all the same. 

Who would have thought that in our modern, enlightened world that we’d still have trouble understanding this?

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The Melody of Life

My maternal grandfather, who died when I was about two years old, loved music. My mom always talks about how he would play records in the living room when he came home. These weren’t just any records, they were the old glass ones, even before the vinyl we often reminisce about. He also loved movies – he used to set up a screen and play old cartoon reels for the neighborhood kids, who’d sit on the stoop in front of his row house on Pittsburgh’s North Side. 

I’ve been thinking about his this week. I never really got to know him, except through stories, but I think he’ll be smiling with my beautiful grandmother this weekend up in heaven. Saturday afternoon is the Pittsburgh Diocesesan Honors Band concert. Three of his great grandchildren will be playing in the band.

Anyone who knows me, knows my oldest daughter plays the trombone. She has a great talent for it we discovered somewhat accidentally. She plays in her school band, but through the tutelage of a great teacher, she is also active in the Pittsburgh Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s a pretty amazing organization, and she’s played in some impressive youth concerts.

But this Honors Band concert may be among the most special. She’ll have two cousins, daughters of my mom’s nieces, playing flute and clarinet alongside her. I like to think they each inherited my grandfather’s love of music, and through it, are stewards of our family ties, pulling those of us who have scattered apart somewhat through the daily necessities of life, back into the same space again to enjoy something wonderful.

Since I became a parent 12 years ago, I have discovered, over and over again, through the magic embodied in the development of my children, the unspoken, and often unnoticed importance of family. In our world today, family, parenting and the natural sacrifices it entails are often looked down upon, and sometimes ridiculed. I saw a story today in which some “great thinker” decided being a stay-at-home mom should be outlawed. In reality, maybe we should think of requiring it! Remember those days when we agonized over other people raising our kids? But I digress.

Watching a child grow is like watching a thread weave it’s way into beautiful embroidery. I love looking at my children and seeing traits of the people I love emerging in their personalities. Of course there are my habits and those of my husband – somehow they always seem to portray the very worst of mine (which miraculously has helped me to grow in God’s love). But I also see my brother, my mom, my dad, Bryan’s father, oldest sister, and brothers in my girls all the time. I never knew Bryan’s mother, but from what I’ve been told, she’s there as well, turning them into lovely young ladies. It’s a familial collage that makes them who they are, without them evening knowing it.

For me it’s a beautiful song reminding me to be thankful to all the inspiring people in my life whose love I often forget about when I’m in the depths of despair. I’m honored to have the personalities and experiences of each and every family member of mine, near or far, as part of my own. I can’t wait to hear those three girls playing my tune on Saturday.

Who do you think YOU are?

The French existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre had a theme in his writing that unfortunately resonates still today. If you’ve ever read the play “No Exit” you know well what it is – “Hell is other people.”

This idea has been on my mind, as recently I’ve realized one of my greatest challenges in being a true Catholic is learning to love all of God’s people. I wasn’t always this way. I once loved meeting new people, being in the thick of crowds, and so on. As I’ve aged, I’ve found myself doing things to avoid “people.”

I’m not talking necessarily about specific people in my life. We all make mistakes, disagree even with good friends and family, and if we’re honest, know we can be more annoying than comforting at times.  Sometimes we just don’t want to be together. 

I’m talking more about society and it’s ever shifting ideas of what is acceptable. People today truly believe they are personally more important than anyone else, and they act on it. Not when it comes to big things, like political ideals, religion, etc., although we see it there as well. Where it’s really hard to take is in everyday situations.

For instance, I’ve noticed lately people racing each other into restaurants in order to get on the wait list first. Others racing each other to the closest available parking space. I even had a woman race me to the cart return at the grocery store one morning. We want to be first at everything, it seems. 

Lately, I’ve had to fight my way through grocery store isles past people who have stopped to have long conversations with neighbors without stepping out of the thoroughfare. Watched younger drivers honk their horns impatiently at slow-walking elderly people crossing streets and parking lots. Just recently, taking my daughters to an activity, I was amazed to see one parent block half of the entrance road to a sports facility with her SUV, and remain there until her child’s lesson ended, some 45 minutes later. (There was plenty of parking in the lot.)

Have we lost the ability to be considerate of others? How hard has it become for us to be aware of our surroundings enough to be polite to someone else? Or is it that we’re so self-absorbed that we don’t even notice other people?

It seems to get worse all the time. I had an elderly woman going about 80 on a motorized scooter side swipe my daughter on the Boardwalk at Walt Disney World one morning. I’m not sure which was more at fault. My daughter walking in the middle of the nearly empty pathway, gawking at Lord knows what, or the scooter speeder, who refused to move over, even though she definitely saw the child (she was yelling “move! move!” as she zoomed by.)

I’ve always been big on teaching my girls about “presence,” partially for safety and partially out of respect for others. They get it, but don’t seem to understand why they should care when other people obviously don’t. 

We often talk about improving our world, and most people seem to think you have to make the news to be heard. But really all you have to do is be mindful of what’s happening around you. Hold that door for the older person or pregnant woman – or anyone else. Don’t cut in line before someone who you know won’t challenge you. Be patient with an overworked waitress who forgets the ketchup. 

In other words, don’t sweat the small things other people trip over in life. Even when they’re making things inefficient for you. Like the people in airport security lines who never know the rules or wear boots with twenty different closures on them when they travel. I actually got behind a guy one day who had no picture ID. At an airport. After 9/11. 

We all do things that annoy others. Living and breathing in close quarters with the people of the world is trying. We all do things different. I’m trying to lighten up this Lent. Maybe if we all try, we’d see that we can get along on bigger things.

Lent with My Dogs

For Lent this year, I’m going to try to be more like my dogs.

Now before any of you very serious traditional Catholics run for the Rosary beads, hear me out. I’m not talking about eating out of a dish on the floor, barking to go outside or visiting all of the other dogs in the neighborhood like my Great Pyrenees does. No. What I’m talking about is learning from my dogs about some of the amazing things they do that people seem incapable of doing.

People who know me well know I spend an inordinate amount of time with two very white dogs – the aforementioned Pyr, and an aging, yet very playful, West Highland White Terrier. If you don’t know me well, you might guess this from the fact I’m constantly covered in white fur.

I like them better than I like most people. Even when the Pyr drools all over my leg for a pretzel or the ¬†Westie erupts into peels of high pitched barking every time the washing machine switches cycles. Its not because they’re cute and furry, although that does help (especially when one of them just ate an entire birthday cake or switched the gas on the stove on trying to get to an apple pie).

It’s because dogs know how to love unconditionally.

I’ve been observing them now for some time and I’m really not sure exactly how they do this. I know they don’t forget things – like when they’re punished, or dog shamed, or where the treats are. And I know they aren’t stupid – the Pyr can open doors with knobs and the Westie can hide his toys successfully from the Pyr. And I saw a lab on tv last week open an armoire refrigerator and find the peanut butter.

It seems that when they greet me with uncontrolled enthusiasm at the door, watch over me when I’m sick, snuggle with me at night and try to sit on my lap (the big one, not the little one), its truly because they love me and are happy in my presence.

I don’t know a human, even those who I love and love me most, who has never been angry with me, showed me distain, let me down or felt unloving toward me at some point. I have a way of torquing everyone I know off at some point. That’s just me. And I’ve paid for it in human relationships (hence my preference for animals).

But Max and Penny, those white furry angels, forgive me anything – unnecessary vet trips, tripping over them, buying the wrong treats, staying out too long, etc, etc. Sure they’ll show annoyance, but they’ll be back in no time for an ear or belly scratch, or in the Pyr’s case, a full body hug, like nothing ever happened.

I wonder often in their presence about this amazing trait. From what other dog lovers tell me, this is a hardwired thing in almost all breeds. They know how to forgive and forget. They KNOW nothing in life is more important than the power of love. No wonder dogs are man’s best friend. Its too bad we’re not more like them. Or learn more from them. Incredible were the masters.

So, my Lenten promise to be more like my dogs. I will be making more concerted efforts to love people without conditions or limits. To forget about the things that rub me wrong and remember that I myself am broken. To spend more time out of my house and my yard and with other human beings. And to learn more about my own shortcomings in loving other people for who they are – the image of God in a crazy world.