"The human spirit yearns for goodness as the eye longs for beauty." ~ Felix AdlerAmanda Poppeihttp://firstname.lastname@example.orgBlogger107125
Updated: 5 hours 48 min ago
The other day I mentioned, out of nowhere, to my five-year-old child that I loved her. I just happened to be thinking of it, and it seemed like a nice thing to say out loud. She came up to me and said, "Mama, you're filling my bucket!" Turns out her class at school has read a book about the invisible buckets we all carry, which are filled up with rainbow sparkles when people are kind, or hug us, or show us love. And they are tipped over when people are hurtful, or hit, or push us down (this is preschool, after all, although I'm afraid the same exact lesson could be taught in the adult world). I was delighted, of course, that she felt I was "filling her bucket," and had a little moment of gratitude that my own bucket is filled so frequently by my children (and only occasionally tipped out by them). But it got me thinking more deeply about the image of the bucket, filled with rainbow sparkles, and how valuable having images like that can be--not just for children, but for adults too. My daughter confirmed the next day that the bucket was invisible, and I don't think she believes it exists in any real sense, but it's very clear that she understands it existing, truly, in a metaphorical sense. Images and metaphors have been deeply important in my life--often when I think about that big concept of inherent worth, I find myself imagining it as a glow, or a spark, an aura that I can see around people's bodies and selves if I try hard enough. I'm not suggesting there's something there, but that I want to engage in the practice of imagining and seeing something there...that the visual, metaphorical "something" is important to me as I try to live the bigger concept. How about for you? Are there images or metaphors that help you to understand concepts, or help you to live in a way that makes you proud or happy?
Yesterday I was lucky enough to be part of the WES contingent at the DC Pride Parade, marching alongside UU congregations from around the area. It was my first DC Pride with WES, because every other year we've somehow managed to schedule the Board retreat on the same weekend. The day was perfect: sunny without being oppressive, a little breeze, and the fabulous Pride theme of "Unleash the Superhero Within" (featuring grand marshall Lynda Carter). The WES group had a great time, and I wanted to share just a few of the highlights of Pride for me. The kids: WES marched with five children, in outfits ranging from Ethical Culture t-shirt and rainbow beads to full tiger costume and "superhero tiger" sign. They were the hit of the parade...cheers and high fives all along the route. And, most poignantly for me, appreciations to the parents for bringing them out, for carrying signs about loving all families, for showing with our children's presence that this isn't just a drag queen parade or a Dykes on Bikes parade (although both of those contingents rocked, too) but an everybody parade. And from the kids' perspective, it was an hour and a half of thousands of people telling them they were awesome. So, win-win. The adults: we had two superhero capes in our contingent, one on a 6 year old girl and one on an always-beautifully-costumed adult. Every time the parade rounded a corner, both of them took off, soaring around the parade route in the open space, capes flying out behind them. It's not often you get to see unbridled joy in action, and yesterday offered it in abundance. The other marchers: I sometimes hear complaints that Pride has gotten too corporate, and I can see the concern--what started as a counter-cultural action about deserving to live openly has evolved into what can often look like moving ad space. But then I think about the fact that LGBTQ rights have moved forward enough in this country that companies actively WANT to be in the Pride parade, that it's not about corporate responsibility to do the right thing but about smart business. And that makes me happy. The spectators: Everyone is happy at Pride. People are cheering and hugging and throwing candy and catching beads. Our WES contingent saw a bunch of other WES members, including two of our fabulous teens, along the parade route--and nothing is more fun than slowing down your marching so you can hug someone standing on the sidewalk, someone who is proud to be there and proud to know you are there. And, I think partly because we were marching among other faith based groups and with kids, I saw a number of spectators crying too, clearly moved by the experience of affirmation. It's hard to get better than that. The impact: But my very favorite moment of Pride came not from a crying spectator but from a shouting one, screaming even. As we came around a bend, a fair amount of space ahead of our contingent and our banner, a young woman suddenly ran out from the sidewalk where she was watching with friends. She looked to be in her 20s, short spiked hair, tight white muscle tee, cut off jeans, plenty of piercings. She ran toward our banner, jumping up and down. "That's where I'm getting married!" she screamed to her friends, "That's where I'm getting married! YES!" And that was Pride for me: the experience that WES and WES' commitment to inclusion and welcome touches so many more lives than we know--with our officiants, with our building, with our words, with our actions. Happy Pride, everyone. It was an honor to walk.
Yesterday was my 7th wedding anniversary--a day of celebration and good memories. I was tempted to post something on Facebook like, "7 years ago today I made the best decision of my life," but then I wondered...was it the best decision? Or rather, have the last seven years really been about that one decision? Don't get me wrong: I think I made a great decision marrying my husband. It's just that more and more, I resist the idea that we have these huge decision points, and that everything follows from having picked the right, or the wrong, path to follow. It seems so much truer to me that we have lots of little decisions (some of which, like marriage, certainly carry big consequences), but that the way we experience life is really what happens after those decisions. I think we can get awfully wrapped up in the two roads diverged metaphor of life, and forget that whichever road we choose, we have more choices to come about how we interact in that part of the forest. From a marriage perspective, that means that my husband and I don't "have" a good marriage (or a challenging marriage, or a fun marriage), but rather that we create one. Of course anytime I write something down I immediately see all the disclaimers to the idea. And of course there are marriages that, no matter how much you work to create something good, just won't get there--and there are decisions that truly are forks in the road with no going back. But I'm at the very least intrigued by the idea that some of the urgent, do-or-die decision points are in our minds, while the little ways that we choose to live might go unnoticed but ultimately have a deeper impact on what our lives really look like. How about for you? Have there been big decision moments that defined you? Or have you found that a fork in the road can lead to paths that you still shape yourself?
Sometimes you have to hear something you know in a new way to really understand it. This past Sunday I was chatting with a member of WES, waiting for the line to the post-Spring Festival brunch to get shorter. Like most Sundays in my life, it was a hectic morning: getting the family ready to go, arriving at WES and helping people find what they needed to put the morning together, attending to some of the little details that make a Sunday "happen." And at that particular moment I was hungry for brunch myself, and worrying about whether people were finding places to sit, and trying to focus on the conversation. The conversation in which this member, gesturing around him, said something like, "Look at all of these people, choosing to be in community together. It's so great." And you know, it was! It is! All of the details of a Sunday, all the details of any day in a congregation's life, really boils down to something as simple, and remarkable, as people choosing to be in community together. It's common for clergy to complain about consumer culture, about the way that people choose this congregation or that church or this synagogue because they want to get something, because they like this music better, because they've heard this one has great donuts. The idea behind the complaint is that American society has lost its staying power, that we have choice in so many aspects of our lives that we bring it to our religious lives too, and expect the congregation to mold itself around our interests. And there's something to that (in fact, I gave a whole platform about that once). But this past Sunday, I thought instead about the power of choice, and that a culture of choice makes it all the more wonderful when what we choose is to be together, to be in community. So here's a shout-out to the WES member who reminded me that there's a reason we run around on Sunday making sure all the details fall into place--and that, even more amazingly, we choose that reason, every week.
Again I turn to writing as I grapple with the news from Boston today. I have been thinking about gun safety so much over the last few months, and the events today remind me that although I do want legislative changes passed--and I think they are vitally important--that what I want even more deeply is for the culture of violence to shift. I want that not just for America, where in many ways we have less violence than in other places (and in other ways we have more). I want it for the whole world, for humanity, for us to begin to wake up to the violence we do to ourselves when we live caught in the cycles of so many kinds of violence: physical, mental, emotional, inflicted on those we know and those all the way across the world. When I was growing up, my minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany took a non-violence pledge and encouraged the congregation to do the same. She vowed to try to eliminate all conscious acts of violence from her life, including thinking violent thoughts--thoughts of negativity or harm or even ill wishes toward others. I was a middle schooler at the time, so I'm not entirely sure how it went over, but I remember the congregation resisting the pledge. It was too unrealistic, they thought, and they didn't want to vow to something they could never really do. I understand the sense of integrity they might have been holding onto, but I wonder whether we can't do better, whether aspiration isn't more important than the likelihood of success. So many of us find, I think, that with all the violence in our culture we end up feeling numb when yet another report comes through the news. I admit to feeling that way sometimes. And then I read about the first-responders, the police who run toward danger instead of away, the parents who shield their children, the citizens who try to save each other. Mr. Rogers called these people the helpers, and he reminded us that they were always there, in every terrible story and every terrible image. I can't feel numb at all when I hear those stories, when I am confronted with this wonderful, awesome reminder of our shared humanity. We have a natural instinct to care for each other, to save each other. That's what gives me hope in times of violence, what makes me think that not only could we take that vow...we might even be able to fulfill it one day.
I spent the morning with five other folks (at least, that we could find!) from the Washington Ethical Society in front of the Supreme Court. We were there in a sea of red, showing our support for marriage equality as the Court began hearing arguments in two cases: one on Prop 8 and the other on DOMA. I love rallies, so it was a great morning for me, and the whole first part felt like a big reunion: colleagues from a variety of faith traditions, members of other congregations I've worked with over the years, all getting together to cheer and hoot and smile at each other. Of course then the opposition came in. Or maybe we were the opposition? Anyway, a big parade of folks with "One Man + One Woman" signs marched along the street that we were lining on the sidewalk. The interaction was pretty respectful, from what I saw; lots of chanting on both sides, a little bit of singing, and all of us trying to figure out each other's signs. But what I noticed most was that my folks seemed to be having so much more fun than the other side. They were angry, or scared, or just present. We were--well, at times the mood bordered on jubiliant, although this was not a celebration of anything. We chanted about love, and all our signs had hearts on them and rainbows...and aren't love and hearts and rainbows just inherently happy? But mostly it felt as though we had won already. Now I may be an optimist, but I'm not stupid. I know that there is a long road ahead, with likely setbacks, before we see marriage equality throughout America. But as the polls shift, and the legislators have gay sons who make them realize that people just want basic rights, well, it's hard not to see where this is heading. And it's heading (in my opinion) somewhere good. The WES contingent came up with a few new chants while we were together, often in response to the signs the opposition was holding up. They speak, I think, to the sense of possibility that I felt, at least, rallying there with all my compatriots in red. "2, 4, 6, 8; Kids do best with love not hate!" "We have love, we have pride; history is on our side!" What would you be chanting? Or singing?
My five year old daughter is...a creative dresser. That would be the polite way of saying it. Most of the time I'm really pretty welcoming of that creativity but every once in a while I just reach a limit. This morning, for instance. She appeared in the hallway wearing a sleeveless summer dress over a turtleneck (of course they weren't the same color, not even the same pattern), with horse-themed pajama pants underneath. In an attempt to thwart this outfit, I told her the pajama pants were too long and she couldn't wear them to school. No problem: she gathered the bottoms together and stuffed them into her socks, so that they kind of billowed out over the socks like bizarre, pink pony harem pants. So what did I do? Did I support her creative mind? Complement her on her use of color? Bite my tongue and remind myself that her individuality is important? Nope. I told her I thought the outfit looked weird. And she changed. Technically it was because she didn't like how the turtleneck fit, but I did notice she changed into a much more socially-acceptable outfit. And while part of me was pleased, the other part of me was overwhelmed with guilt. Why was I the fashion police? Her preschool doesn't care what she wears. Her friends likely wouldn't comment. Officially, our rule is "modest and seasonally appropriate" and that's it. Why did I care so much that my child looked normal...and what's normal, anyway? I don't have answers, but I'm curious about the questions. Is this about how I'm perceived by other parents? Would I feel differently if my child were a boy? What does my investment in her outfits have to do with my own internalized understanding of gender, of culture, of societal expectations? How do I balance what I see as two parts of my role: both to help her navigate society successfully, and to teach her to deconstruct and sometimes rebel from that same society? How about you--what rules do you have, or don't have, for your children's clothing choices? How about for yourself? Is allowing creativity to flourish always the highest goal? For me, the reassurance is that even though I chose society over creativity this time, I feel very confident my daughter will present me with plenty more opportunities to come down on the side of creativity!
My family and I--that's me, husband, and two kids, ages 5 and 20 months--headed to downtown DC today for some museum hopping. We couldn't decide between Natural History and American History so (perhaps totally unwisely) we went to both. And we hadn't realized there was a marathon in DC today, so we ended up bailing out of our car early and taking the metro part of the way. The whole thing was a lesson in...having no goals. It started in the traffic, which was horrible even by DC standards. Still in the car, my husband and I furiously pecked away at our phones to try to find a clear route downtown. Finally we gave up and then had to map a route to the closest metro with parking. We got out, then had to find the elevator, then go stuck on the platform because the train was single tracked...all while increasingly stressed about all the museum time we were missing with this terrible delayed journey. Finally I looked at the kids and realized they were SO excited about the elevator and then the train, that perhaps the length of time getting down there was not such a bad thing. We finally made it down to Natural History, and started wandering around. Usually I start a museum with a map, checking off the must-see exhibits, the rotating exhibitions I don't want to miss, plotting out snacks along the way. That is not, it turns out, how a 5 year old approaches a museum. So we saw some butterflies quite briefly, a whale from the balcony only, and early humans in a very non-linear format. I was doing pretty well with my type-A self, I thought. Of course then we needed a nap, lunch, and time at American History...so we had to hustle between the two museums. My husband and I split up with the girls, and I had the 5 year old, rushing her along so we could get something to eat. But she was so slow! She wanted to look at the popcorn vendor's truck. At the tents set up on the Mall. She wanted to walk on the little riser instead of the sidewalk. But it wasn't until I snapped at her for taking too long smelling the daffodils that I realized I needed to get a grip. It's fun, really, when the universe offers you a particularly obvious message. Allowing your 5 year old to, literally, stop and smell the flowers is a good goal, I realized, just in and of itself. If it meant that we didn't see a single thing at the American History museum, it would still be a great day. So go ahead and have a goal-less day. See if you don't accomplish something even more important.