Wednesday, January 28, 2015

pledging allegiance

I am currently going through the process of naturalization to get my American citizenship. I tell you what – you haven’t lived until you’ve been fingerprinted for your FBI file. As someone with a very benign life, I actually think it’s sort of adorable that I have an FBI file! ha!

All of this has got me thinking….about citizenship, patriotism, community, the world… vast ideals! In all of it,  I was reminded of something that happened to me about 7 or 8 years ago, when I was a stay at home mom who spent a good deal of time each afternoon in the carpool line.

5th graders rotated through the responsibility of taking down the flag every day, and I would laugh to myself as I saw them struggle to fold it and keep it from dragging on the ground. It seemed like a very ponderous process. But when my daughter reached 5th grade, I learned that it’s a big deal (remember, not an American). I didn’t know that the flag wasn’t allowed to touch the ground, out of respect. I didn’t know that the way it was folded was prescribed. During her week of flag duty I watched my daughter’s careful clumsiness, the way she took her responsibility very seriously. Clearly, the way the flag was treated mattered.

I don’t know why, but one day, watching the whole process, I was struck by this thought: We treat this flag with more respect and care than we treat the people who pledge allegiance to it. We are up in arms when the American flag is burned, dragged, disrespected, violated, vandalized or ripped down. It offends our patriotism and makes us angry. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that our symbols and how we treat them matter. But it also matters how we treat the people who share them. The people who live under the Stars and Stripes are all too often treated entirely differently than its flag.

All you have to do is flip through the headlines – racism, classism, abuse, murder, rape, crime, poverty. But it is so much more insidious than even that. We are selfish and inward focused. If we bother to notice people outside of our “inner circle” it’s only to take stock of how they compare to us… they are the measurement of our success or failure. We are casually cruel to the immigrants and the poor. There is very little compassion for anyone who falls outside of our tidy guidelines. We don’t see people. We see “dirty (insert nationality here)” or “white trash” or “rich bitch” … the list goes on and on. As a nation and as individuals, we work very hard to keep outsiders out and insiders in. Everyday someone’s dignity and humanity is violated by our unthinking disregard. But the flag never touches the ground.

It’s interesting – when I say ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag…’ I am giving assent to beautiful ideals – the unity of a nation and justice for all of her people – but they are so lofty and so soaring that they are almost vague … too easily disregarded on a personal level. I’ve been thinking lately, what if we changed the words? What if we pledged allegiance to the people of our country instead of her flag? “I pledge allegiance to the people of the United States of America, and to the Republic in which they stand, one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” Now that is a scarily personal pledge. I give my loyalty to my neighbor, I promise fealty to the landscaper, I will live in unity with the woman in the hajib. I will notice the injustice my fellow American suffers for being black, brown, disabled, poor, uneducated, old or young, and I will stand against it and fight with them for equality. There is nothing vague about those things. Imagine what our country would look like if every child grew up pledging allegiance to each other every morning? What if we treated the people in America with as much respect, dignity and care as we treat the flag?

Monday, January 19, 2015


(the year of rachel was briefly interrupted by the martian death flu. we're all up and running now, though - go team!) 

while i was sick, i read 'paper towns' by john greene. it's a story of young adulthood, and an enjoyable mystery/character study. there are lots of small insights on what it means to be human, to grow up and the inevitable changes of our relationships, but this stood out to me as though it were lit from the inside.

"When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.” 

i hesitate to extrapolate too much  - the words speak so beautifully for themselves. maybe it's just worth noting that madly papering over our own cracks and maintaining our facade of wholeness is what keeps us from being truly seen, truly known. and if there is one thing i truly, deeply believe we all need, it is that. nothing is more powerful than knowing someone sees you. sees into your cracks, and recognizes the light that that shines out, however dimly. 

it is also worth noting, i think, that when we are so busy plastering over our chips and fractures we can't rightly see anyone else. if we bother to notice their presence at all, it's only to take stock of whether or not they see us as whole and umarred - they are only the measure of the success or failure of our hasty repairs. we aren't looking for the light in them at all - we are not "face to face" as john greene puts it. 

everything is presented to us whole - shiny and new. and if it's not whole, it's definitely less. we apologize for driving an old car even though it goes from a - b. we are embarrased to wear last years shoes, have 2nd hand clothes, to have a non-hd, non-56", non-apple tv. no wonder we are so ashamed that we are not shiny and new. our life has not fallen out of a magazine, and neither has our skin, our families, our beach bodies. and so we plaster and sand and paint and cover and rearrange the furniture of our lives to hide the stains. but in the long run, all that does is isolate us. keep us alone. keep us from being able to be seen - and maybe even more of a loss, keeps us from being able to be the one who sees. who is able to look into someone else and give them the gift of recognizing their light. 

Friday, January 02, 2015

books! books! books!

so, i have two writing projects on my desk right now. one is a long in the works, long procrastinated on collaborative memior about meeting mark and having the twins, about family and it's weirdness and love. the second is a collaborative effort with friends, a thriller/adventure story, with each writer taking an individual thread of the tapestry, not unlike 'crash' or 'love actually'. it's also long procrastinated on. but no longer! (at least for now) 

** warning - teaser ahead, and you can decide from which book! :)

It was the water. She couldn’t breathe. Oh, God, the water. Bright blue, shimmering in the early morning sun, changing, changeable. She couldn’t look, couldn’t look away. The way a curl of hair was caught up in the current, the fingers graceful and trailing lightly alongside so gently. Only the faintest hint of a red halo as the wide eyes staring into hers slowly sank, until all she could see was the barest hint of pale skin. And then that was gone, too.

She squeezed her eyes shut tightly, fists balled until ragged nails bit into the palms of her hands. Uneven breaths, in and out, trying not to see the water. 

Because it wasn’t water. It couldn’t be. Safe in the passenger side seat of the old SUV, she knew it couldn’t be. In and out. Breathe. Get a grip. With a pounding heart, she opened her eyes cautiously, relieved to see only the vivid turquoise reflection of ten stories of mirrored glass bouncing off the hot asphalt. No water. Thank God.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

the year of rachel

i have decided that this will be the year of rachel! and i have a plan that involves ZERO resolutions!

i (we) make resolutions and decisions that box us in and predefine us. "i am not going to have more than one glass of wine" or "i am going to work out every day" or "we are going to do a date night every friday" or what have you. it seems good & virtuous, but as i started to really think about this, i realized that at any given moment, any resolution or resolve could, in fact, ruin the year of rachel.

for example, if i say i'm not going to eat desserts, and my husband's birthday is in 3 weeks and i eat a huge piece of cake at dinner and save one for breakfast the next day (obviously), i will have days of self-recrimination and shame. 'i shouldn't have done that' and 'i'm so fat' and 'so much for my resolution'. i will be defeated, and my self talk will demoralize and humiliate me.

BUT if instead, i say 'this is the year of rachel! i chose to celebrate my husband and feast and laugh and enjoy the small luxuries of life' it becomes something completely different. it's not a prescribed diet or lifestyle or change. instead, it means that i am going to make my choices and own them... i am going to (try) to be conscious of how i'm living, and then do it on purpose.

if, after a terrible day at work, i want to sit on the couch and watch tv while i eat chinese food instead of exercising, i want to be able to stay to myself, 'i chose this. i chose to relax, not to push myself, not to panic myself at a lack of resolve.' the only way i think that can happen is if as i head into that evening and i'm having that conversation with myself - exercise vs. chinese food - i am mindful and ask myself, 'is this really what i want? is this a choice that enhances the year of rachel?'  i want to be able to look at my day and say, 'yep. that was me today.' it was a choice, not a defeat.

the year of rachel is not  about being prescriptive to my life, but instead actually being present in my life. my hope is that as i start to be mindful of my personal choices, i will become mindful of my choices that affect others. is holding that grudge going to add beauty to the year of rachel, or will it diminish it? is being impatient with my family what i want the year of rachel to look like? i am beginning to believe that it is only by being present to my life that i can be present to anyone else's.

part of this year is that i want to start writing again, and as i enjoy blogging, i think i'll write here when i can. but not every day. or maybe every day. it's the year of rachel, so who knows? :)