Finding Humanity: A World of Women for World Peace

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I was invited to attend an event about peace called “A World of Women for World Peace” run by a familiar name, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson from the 30th district in Dallas, Texas.

The idea of learning what peace means and represents to others intrigued me because I grew up under the threat of gun violence and conflict.  Peace for me has become a compelling internal and social need, and I struggle with how to use it to impact myself and others.

After I attended the 3-hour event in downtown Dallas, a couple of things stood out. First, the idea of peaceful conflict resolution, a skill most of us want and lack.  We understand the word, but it’s more idea than a practice.  Secondly, where does one go to learn healthy conflict resolution?  It’s not talked about or taught really, and it would certainly have helped me at work, at school and in my personal relationships.

As introductions were made, I googled for info and was surprised to find so many peace groups — Women For Peace, J Street, Seeds of Peace, Women Wage Peace, and more. With so much turmoil in America, I am weary of even turning on the news to see who is out of a job, who is being investigated, who is getting the short end of the stick. I can hardly listen to all the folks jabbering let alone separate fact, opinion and marketing. It makes me want to tune out and binge-watch Netflix.

I had heard of one of the speakers before, but not the others and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.  As an American, the idea of peace was more about helping other countries and not myself or America.  So, as the speakers were seated, my curiosity peaked.

Hamutal Gouri, represented Women Wage Peace and she shared how about 4000 Palestinian and Israeli women all dressed in white made the trek to the top of a mountain to sing and celebrate peace together.  I heard her say something about using social media and writing to wage peace.  Waging Peace has an interesting sound when spoken that makes you pause. I was mesmerized by her modest, soft-spoken manner, and was suddenly hopeful after hearing her say that writing was a form of activism.  I was encouraged to continue to share my own experiences with violence in an effort to find peace of mind and a peaceful life as part of serving others and supporting peaceful activism.

Next up was Mr. Yousef Bashir, a Palestinian Peacemaker.  He described growing up in Gaza with soldiers living in his home, having only sections of their home to use and requiring a pass for many basic things such as a visitor was troubling.  He was incredible, and he looked like he could be a coworker of mine, just an average guy.  He told us about his father, an English teacher, who responded to his concerns about soldiers and their life by saying he believes in peace.  I can’t imagine how this life would feel, but when a journalist came for a 15-minute interview that went well, and Mr. Bashir was shot by a soldier as the reporter and crew drove away, one would expect him to be angry or resentful.  Instead, during his more than two-year recovery and learning to walk again, he connected with his father’s belief in peace on a profound level that had me holding back tears of joy for his courage and wisdom.

I recognized two faces from an interfaith service the Sunday before, at a South Dallas church where both Imam Omar Suleiman, a local Muslim Community Leader, and Rabbi Nancy Kasten spoke along with other Muslims, Christians (Catholic and Protestant) and Jewish people gathered to sing and pray.  I had been so discouraged about my nation and the fate of American women, and that Sunday provided unexpected joy that nourished a hunger I wasn’t aware of until that moment.  Imam Suleiman and Rabbi Kasten each spoke about how we all grow up with a particular narrative, and only in hearing other stories can we expand that narrative in the name of peace.  The term “politics of confusion” was discussed because sometimes, being confused can help us understand things differently than we were taught so we can learn without condemnation.

When the Imam said, “Victims feel like they have to justify what happened to them”, it awakened a recognition in me that I have been justifying my experiences with gun violence, domestic battery, and stalking before I even felt free to say how it impacted my life. It was a final nudge that opened a heavy door sealed decades ago that was now beginning to reveal a hidden truth.  Again, words fed a hunger I didn’t know was there. Hearing that people often ask him about ISIS and the assumptions that those questions reveal made the revelation that ISIS targets him personally all the more stark.  And yet, e remains kind in the face of a conflicted reality that forces him to tell yet another person who he is and what he believes.  It made me grateful again to know people of different faiths well enough to ask my ignorantly bigoted questions without causing offense and still learn that what I thought I knew was skewed in some way.  I had to wonder how others can come to same place as me and see that we’re all just trying to pay rent and manage our lives as best we can.  The obvious answer is getting to know people and, of course, peacefully.  But how?

The final speaker was the Reverend Vonciel Jones Hill who spoke in a soothing cadence about being involved, getting to know others and participating as citizen by getting away from the computer and getting together with people.  I learned she’s on the Dallas City Council and a lawyer, and I had to wonder with all of that how she found time to also preach.  It reminded me that there’s no substitute for a gathering to make you feel connected to others, to help understand their struggles, or to achieve a goal.  She affirmed what the other speakers had – that PEACE is possible.

As the talks wrapped up, I managed to thank two of the speakers despite being overcome by the beauty and pain in their stories. When the possibility that my voice mattered in the peace equation registered, I began softly crying as I shook the hand of Hamutal Gouri and thanked her.  Unaware of my own words, I headed back to my vehicle feeling refreshed by the white light of God that had bathed the room and left no longer questioning what humanity is demanding of me.

#Wow4peace #WomenForPeace #PeaceIsPossible #Love4All #WomenWagePeace #Texans4Peace #DallasPeace&Justice

 

ALS – From Wasted Water to Watershed

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I was scrolling through Facebook seeing all these videos of people pouring water on each other and naming people to “the challenge”, except I noticed the “challengers” never explained the challenge.  As Texas endures another serious drought, this seemed like a huge waste of water just to “call someone out”.  I mean… what’s worth increasing drought conditions?  As the challenges went on… it seemed like people used more and more water, not even caring to dump it on grass or gardens. 

I was curious. I kept watching, and even agreed with a post I thought was lamenting the wasted water.  I didn’t know what ALS was and freely admitted my ignorance.  The reply was a clearly irritated, “how hard is it to look up ALS”?   Uhm… not hard at all, but why be cross?  We ARE in a drought, and pouring water out without explaining the challenge seemed extravagant.  I can hear mothers everywhere screaming “turn off the water”!  The more videos I saw, the more of a gimmick it became.

Eventually, the challenge made the local news where I finally learned it was supposed to be to educate people about a disease called ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease and raise money for it.  You either donate OR pour ice on your head to raise awareness.  I’d seen dozens of these videos and no one mentioned ALS, so I had to wonder is this really educating people about ALS?  Are these people affected by ALS?  Donating to ALS?  Remind me again, what is ALS? Even the news focused on ALS donations which hit an unprecedented $50 million as of today. I still didn’t know what it was.

OK, I looked it up.  It means Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and it’s a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. 

And then I saw “Uncensored and Sexy” Anthony Carbajal

It starts off rather cheesy.  I almost turned it off.  Then, this handsome, funny man trying to raise awareness for ALS starts talking and through his grief, fear and frustration he tells you about his inheritance.  And ALS became human.  My mind went back to the definition of ALS…  “affects” is not even remotely close to a definition….. “affects”!!!??? 

I seized on my former childhood neighbor’s angry retort.  We clearly missed an opportunity – of him to educate me about ALS – of me to offer kindness.  This definition was hardly a tangible explanation of the human cost of ALS on those afflicted and those supporting them.  I accepted with great sadness my inability to do more than offer words to my former neighbor and I felt his anguish.  My childhood neighbor’s relative had ALS along with 30,000 people in America.  Through Anthony Carbajal I understood the response to my ignorance. My friends’ brother is slowly losing the ability to have his body function properly, there is no cure…. and enduring this devastation, your mind as sharp as ever knows what the body no longer undertakes.  ALS diagnosis forces you to …..  HEY!  Did you watch the video?  All of it? 

It’s beyond definition. From wasted water to a watershed moment I waded through the wasted water becoming grateful for all the goofy videos and hopeful for Mr. Carbajal, James Rudy and my childhood neighbor. 

So please, if you’re taking the challenge, NAME it. Consider a donation so we save the water … and a life.  To those dealing with ALS, please let our ignorance of this disease be an opportunity to share the human story of ALS.  Anthony Carbajal, you are a walking miracle of love; James Rudy…. you’re a brave and witty man; and to my childhood neighbor…thank you for helping me understand the human definition of ALS.   

Classy Ice Bucket Challenge / ALS Donations raise $50 million / James Rudy ALS Survivor

 

Undisclosed Signs

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Undisclosed Signs

Undisclosed Signs

Robin Williams comic genius stunned the world, as did his premature death. If you’re wondering how such a funny, intelligent person who touched so many lives in such a favorable way could be so depressed that he would commit suicide…. you’re not alone. I think anyone who experiences a loved one killing themselves (or attempting to) is left with many unexpected feelings and questions.

Robin Williams had it all yet stayed grounded, he was honest about his struggles and exemplified the best of humanity, and still he is gone. Fame and fortune offer no protection from life’s struggles, and social media gives voice to keyboard cowards who delight in being divisive and judgmental.

As we scratch our heads in disbelief over suicide, or someone who attempts it unsuccessfully, I am reminded of my own brushes with this unmentionable topic and found myself asking questions.

I lost a friend to suicide about 20 years ago, and as a child had a family member who attempted suicide several times. Both experiences left me befuddled and still can make me sad and angry if I think about it too much. It’s a strange combination to experience when contemplating the value of a life.

My second experience was with a young couple who lived separately in the same complex as me about 20 years ago. We met at the pool and often hung out while playing water volleyball. It was a happening place bustling with pool parties and people. “C” (as I’ll call her) and I grew close over time and often visited while her boyfriend “K” played water sports virtually every weekend at the pool.

K was a smart, friendly, handsome guy who always had a kind word for anyone. One day in about my 3rd year living there I was getting the mail and ran into K. I asked how he was, talked about his job search, meeting up at the pool, and he mentioned I wouldn’t be seeing him anymore as he was moving to Austin. It was a friendly chat and I hugged him, said I would miss him alot and asked him to stay in touch. He seemed a little down, but he was out of a job and moving. It was an ordinary conversation you’d have with anyone you are fond of that’s moving and out of work. I remember telling him I’d love to visit once he was settled, and off we went.

About a week later, I was heading to the mailbox again and saw C heading there as well. She didn’t respond when I called her name, her perky disposition was markedly absent. As I got closer, I noticed her normally jet black hair had gone grey in the front, which was odd on my 26 year old friend. I asked where she had been and she still didn’t respond. She was vacantly staring at the ground as she walked toward the mailbox unaware of my presence. I stopped her and said, “Are you ok?” She looked up and slowly replied, “K’s dead” …. followed by the strangest, small noise I’ve ever heard come out of her. The light was gone from her eyes, she was morose and fearful. The walking dead.

She explained how K had shot himself. He’d gone to his church and, at some point, the police arrived to prevent his suicide … as did she. K sat inside talking to them and clutching a tiny piece of paper with C’s name and number written on it. The police found it on him along with detailed plans to kill himself that began over a year ago. She said she thought they had finally made progress when they all heard the shot. She stood there holding the paper covered in his blood stained fingerprints, and shared his plans that detailed how to hide his actions so no one would notice. One line said to tell everyone he was moving so that no one would miss him afterwards…. and suddenly I comprehended my last conversation with K very differently. It was gut wrenching. I know my last words to him were kind and I hugged him and said I’d miss him.

I never saw a hint of depression, but that’s what he wanted. I knew he was looking for a job, but had no idea he’d had to give up his apartment or sell his things or couch surf. I knew he stayed at C’s often and had recently sold his car, … but suicide? Was he so convinced it was time to go that even kind words went unnoticed?

C then explained that K’s family blamed her for his suicide despite the police finding a detailed list of K’s plans that no one was aware of. He’d had another friend who visited often for long hours, and it seemed like he might break things off, so any secretive behavior was likely cheating, not a plan for death. I was baffled at how happy he appeared and distressed that I had detected nothing. Now C was vulnerable to suicide and someone blaming her could push her over the edge. K’s family continued to call with questions she could hardly answer and accusations she did not deserve. Then, someone killed her cat and later her apartment was ransacked.

I pictured him clinging to hope staring at her number, talking to police while sitting in a church. The causticness of him reaching for God in such desperation while concealing his true intentions from everyone did not escape me. No one could believe it, but why blame her? I visited regularly to offer comfort, but her perky personality was forever altered.

My first experience with suicide was quite different. I was a child and indirect witness to a relative who tried to commit suicide several times. I can’t say that I really knew what was going on, just that we all knew something was wrong. As a teen, I was asked to come help after an attempt and was ill prepared. My words were poorly stated. I was scared and frustrated, and found myself angry. She was so sad she could hardly speak or look up, she seemed embarrassed to be in this condition. I felt responsible and helpless. I imagine C felt the same. And even though this person didn’t succeed (thankfully), their struggle was palpable. Once that moment passed, it was never discussed. If they sought or got help outside of a prescription, it was never known. Everyone behaved as if nothing happened…..but something did happen. How does a suicidal person move on or “act”? I could hardly move on myself and I was on the sidelines!

In both cases, both persons convinced everyone things were fine when they were not. Was it easier to pretend? Whatever they were dealing with was undoubtedly overwhelming. How does one ask for help or offer it? If they are acting, how does one intervene? Will responsibilities pull you into or out of depression? Greater minds than mine may know, but I do not.

These experiences are a part of why I firmly believe in having a respectful dialogue about all issues. I don’t like leaving things unsaid or walking around a topic/person on eggshells. You don’t need to rip the bandage off or pick the scab, but it should be safe to say “how is the band aid”. 

Even though lots of people go to therapy… depression and family issues are still very taboo. No one wants to be labeled as mental and there’s always some moron who says the wrong thing on purpose or a jerk who read something and is suddenly qualified to diagnose you (unwanted or not). It’s hard to know the proper course of action.

While both people needed far more support, it’s compelling that they both felt the need for secrecy. The cyber bullying of Robin Williams family alone magnifies the reasons why people often mask their true feelings, especially those of depression and suicide. The fear of attacks, of being labeled, handled or controlled, the need to be “on” for everyone else … it seems very taxing in a healthy state of mind, let alone someone who is thinking (incorrectly) that they don’t matter, that the world is better without them, or one unable to go on the same way.

I remain shocked by the suicides of Robin Williams and K. When I see someone being unkind, I kindly speak up …. you never know who may need a smile or kind word, it might save a life or just make the day a little brighter. Be kind to one another, you never know what burdens someone is carrying.

My Texas neighbors

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Although businesses are stepping up, please keep in mind that those who cannot do now can do something later. Every little amount of your time and donations are needed now or later, one hour or one dollar. Please give locally first.

Here’s some good things happening…

Gallery Furniture, a Houston-based chain store, opened two of its nearby locations to residents seeking shelter.

HEB Grocery, which has more than 150 stores in Texas, sent its mobile kitchens to Houston to provide meals, pharmacy services, and ATMs.

Wal-Mart is delivering nearly 800 truckloads of supplies to the region. It plans to send another 1,700 next week.

KL Outdoor in Michigan is paying the shipping costs to send 2,000 kayaks to the region. Bass Pro is providing 80 boats. The Texas armada and Cajun navy along with coast guard are still rescuing thousands, most out of their own pocket.

Duracell is sending free batteries to anyone impacted by the storm.

Anheuser-Busch InBev sent more than 155,000 cans of drinking water.

Airbnb activated its disaster response program, called “Urgent Accommodations,” which lets evacuees find lodging, with all service fees waived. Those with rooms to spare can use Airbnb to offer their bedroom or home space for free.

Mobile carriers are issuing waivers and credits to customers in the area.

The owner of the Kansas-based Vapebar sent a truck load of diapers, nonperishable food, telling a local news channel that ” a lot of bad things are happening down there right now and we need to help them out.”

Volunteer Houston launched the Virtual Volunteer Reception Center on Monday, which lets those who want to help get matched with relief organizations and agencies.

A multitude of businesses are donating large sums of money for relief efforts, including Aetna, Amazon, Boeing, Caterpillar, Wells Fargo, Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Lowe’s.

Waffle House has become an indicator of how bad a weather disaster is because the restaurant chain is so determined to keep operating in the worst conditions.

True world supply is using their disaster relief network to gather donations in North Dallas for evacuees in Dallas and Houston.

Texas Baptist men are sending their portable kitchens and clean up service crews to the affected areas to help pourest areas and feed people.

Many schools are allowing children from anywhere to attend due to all the displacement. Easy registration.

It’s just the beginning folks. People will need simple things like shot records, ID and many will have no car, home or face lengthy repairs and forced relocation. People will try to scam others, and it will be tiresome at times and frustration will rise.

So just know that you are all necessary and you will have time to fill a need, big or small, in the coming months. Let us lift each other not merely in word but in deeds. #peace #Harvey #texasneighbors

Mrs NewWithTags, the Volunteer

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I witnessed a little white privilege in action tonight while packing and sorting items for Hurricane Harvey evacuees.  There are literally 500 bags of stuff left to open, sort and repack and the pile is growing by the hour with not enough hands to sort by more than gender/adult/child. It’s overwhelming in a good way, […]