The “Perfect” Storm

The muffled sounds of protestors with the buzz of drones and helicopters blanket the night as my toddler sleeps soundly in the other room. I’ve opened up my computer to write about myself but the words seem sidelined by sheer insignificance in comparison to the weight of the world. Before I can return to writing about my tiny life’s big move, I feel compelled to share a personal journey that I’ve been on. 

As someone with such an affinity for sentence structure, I’ve certainly been at a loss of words. Protestors gather for the 17th consecutive night and I’m thankful that so many people have found their voice as I still search for mine. I don’t want my silence to be misconstrued as compliance or violence. There should be no doubt that I believe that Black Lives Matter. But standing behind those three words, without really doing the homework, feels like a copout.

When hard at work, I often spend more time listening than talking. More time sitting quietly with myself instead of taking loudly to the streets. I spent several days in the discomfort of my white guilt, fear, pain and bewilderment. I want to make a good ally. I thought I was already a good ally. 

We’ve each spent our lifetime gathering our own truths and translating them into how we interact with this world. I grew up in New Mexico and my high school was the most diverse in the nation at that time. I didn’t see a significance between the tone of my skin and that of my friends. It’s only 20 years later that I’m realizing that’s part of the problem—not acknowledging race and taking into account the history and the continued disparities in almost every aspect of our paralleled existence. As a woman who has based a lot of my self worth around being empathetic, how have I been so removed from the suffering of my friends? I am devastated and disillusioned and am putting mindful effort into improving. 

I’ve been having lots of aha moments, though they are more of the soul crushing, sob inducing, shock and anger type of moments. I have a lot of catching up to do because I’ve spent the last 3 years purposefully in a protective bubble—carefully avoiding watching depressing news and intentionally steering clear of anything to do with Trump. Just happy thoughts and positive energy while I cocoon, creating my tiny innocent child. Oh, aha, that is White Privilege. Even though I am a single parent, I am “a pretty white girl” and my parents are my safety net, society will catch me, the police will protect me and the “Universe” will always provide. Pardon me while I have an existential crisis over here. 

The mind is an unreliable source. (Side note: have you ever watched the show Brain Games? If you haven’t, you totally should— it’s a fun Netflix series that shows you just how susceptible you are to being unconsciously influenced.) My son turned two in January and we started preschool at the cutest little Montessori/Reggio Emilia influenced school, in a house with an organic garden, 400ft away from our front door. Another 400ft away is a Head Start school in the basement of a church. After my kiddo’s first week of school, as we’re walking by, I see a group of kids outside playing, everyone is having a grand time, not a white face among them. Aha. I hadn’t thought for a second about putting my child in that school, hadn’t even considered it an option. Instead I stuck my white kid in a white school with white teachers and gave it no thought. 

So how’d that happen? I was raised in a non-racist family and have collected and connected with people of all different shapes, sizes and colors. But I’m realizing that society has still managed to whitewash my brain into thinking that I am not a part of the problem. Like somehow not making conscious racists decisions excuses my participation in the continuation of segregation. If I believe that the school that I chose will provide the better education, then shouldn’t that set off even more alarm bells— for doesn’t that mean that we are already setting our next generation up to have the same disparity gap as all generations before? Like so many other white people I thought that being non-racist was enough. But it’s clearly not. We must gather together as mindful anti-racists to actively make changes. 

A Black friend of mine was telling me how jarring it was that all of a sudden all of these white people are so aggressively jumping on the Black Lives Matter movement. A Black guy, walking by at that moment, without missing a beat, echoed her bewilderment. To them it’s hard to see why today is different than yesterday when it comes to the subject of race. There has been COUNTLESS deaths and injustices, so why are white people just now seeming to notice? They are rightfully concerned that it’s just a passing phase; lip service to a bandwagon. 

Well, as one of those whiteys just now REALLY clueing in, I whole-heartedly believe that there is potential for real change, now more than ever. We’ve all spent the last several months sitting alone in our rooms, struggling with fear, loss, sadness and isolation. People cross the street when they see us coming. Many of us have the added stress of financial insecurity and the future feels so uncertain. From what I’ve grown to understand, this is how it has felt to be Black in this country for hundreds of years. They say that the best way to understand someone is to walk a mile in their shoes, and this mile has been excruciating. I’m sure that I am not alone when I say that I feel completely raw, disillusioned and devastated.

We have all been forever changed. And it is this destruction that has primed us to rebuild into something better. To join forces with others, to feel a part of something bigger, something more important than the self. Add in some super graphic videos, heart wrenching photos, a name like “George” that is already synonymous with firsts in American history, an approachable face for the masses and you have the perfect storm for active change.

My knee jerk reaction to the first time I saw the words “Black Lives Matter” was to say “But wait, All Lives Matter!” If you’re still stuck on that you need to learn more and think more. The BLM movement isn’t saying only Black lives matter— it’s not giving something worth by taking away from everything else. It’s about finally amplifying a voice that has been drowned out by white noice. It’s about acknowledging the struggle, the discrimination, the violence and the injustice. It’s about making their fight our fight and actively working toward a better future. Together. Not segregated. Change. Is. Possible. 

**Image of June 2020 protests in East Point, GA. Check out more of his powerful images on his website at www.colehowardphoto.com **

The Storm

The storm hit in the middle of the day, building quickly and dramatically. The wind gave little warning before blowing through and demanding the release of pollen from every single ponderosa pine for miles around. A chartreuse yellow cloud began to grow– blocking out the view and the sun in one determined swoop. The future generation of pine trees tried to get lucky with my eyes and nose, but only managed to tickle out a series of explosive sneezes. Thankfully the build gave warning and I was able to brace myself for impact. Motherhood has many gifts but carefree sneezing is not one of them. 

As dramatically as possible, lightening coupled with thunder to announce the storms proximity— though, I’m sure it already knew that it had everyone’s attention. A few drops of rain to test the ground, then it just let loose and wild. Hail. Loud and rhythmic. Tiny little jawbreakers dancing on the deck, drowning out all other sounds. So deafening that everything felt silent. And dark as night, in the middle of the day. 

The tempest was a welcomed distraction from my packing. In its demand for my attention, it gave relief to my thoughts. To the continuous monologue between my ears. The endless list of preparations and packing and purging and planning. The constant effort to stay focused on the logistics, instead of the self inflicted heartbreak of leaving this good life that I have created for myself in Oregon, for the unknowns of Vermont. 

Tomorrow feels like the first step in that journey into the unknown. Tomorrow I’ll finish packing everything back into my little car–somehow tetrising “the essentials” of a single mom and a 2 year old boy, back in the same way it came out 2 months ago. Small potted plant in the cup holder, little stuffed bat in the door handle, snacks an arm’s length away, and a pile of crates and suitcases so big I have to avoid switching lanes. 

Like the storm, the pandemic hit smack-dab in the middle of Life and demanded our attention. The moments before it hit I was completely content with my life, and if you would have asked me, I was certain that I would be spending the rest of my days in Portland. But the craziest part about a disruption in the smooth sailing, is that it shakes things up. Though I have formed so many priceless friendships, there is now this undeniably strong pull to be closer to family. The sacrifice is astronomical, and I haven’t allowed myself to even imagine how it will feel to pack up my life of 11 years without a proper goodbye. But as the tears start creeping toward my eyes, I must continuously shift my gaze and keep my eyes on the prize. Big family dinners and mundane weekends. New England winters and maple syrup. The land of Ben & Jerry and Bernie! 

I’m scared shitless. 

So I’ll just get back to my lists, and try to focus on one step at a time. First step is packing up the car, saying goodbye to some extraordinary friends at the “Bend House”, and heading back to Portland to face the real challenge. The packing. And purging. And planning. And preparing for this next huge chapter in my life. 

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