Never

I was listening to a colleague of mine talking to day and she said “Never did I think I would be…”  And I smiled to myself because how many times have I also said “Never”.  Not the drinking game “Never have I ever” (although I am always up for that) but those moments you find yourself in the middle of and realize; “Never did I think I would be here”.

If you had told 13 or 16 or even 21 year old Sarah she would do the following things, she would have said…

Never will I… get my masters degree… be interested in politics… want to travel outside of the States… actually travel outside of the states… And these were just the I’ll never’s before I turned 25!

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I have said out loud… Never will I be a college professor.  I have also said out loud… I will never let my children sleep in bed with me… I will never run a race… I will never get a tattoo… I will never get my nose pierced…I will never be a vegan… I will never gain back that weight I lost.

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And there are things I couldn’t even imagine doing that I could even say “I’ll never” too… Travel to 4 different continents… as an expert on a subject… that I train government officials and NGO’s in… with lay overs in Paris… and side trips to slave castles and the largest statue of Nelson Mandela and the oldest church in Ethiopia and the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City…. NEVER!  And never ever ever would I even think about taking vodka shots with the Chinese government…

And speaking of shots… Never will I like beer.  Never will I shoot a gun.  (I do like beer, I have never shot a gun).

Never will I March with 1 million people in  Washington D.C.

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There are some things I would really love to do, that I cannot imagine doing, but a little part of me hopes I can someday…. Never will I write a book… Never will I give a TED talk… Never will I take a year off of work and travel through the US in an RV… never will I live abroad.

And Never’s can also come with regrets… Never will I forget this moment… Never will I regret this choice… Never will Donald Trump become president.  Never will there be another school shooting… never will there be another genocide… Never will I hurt someone… Never will I stop fighting for this cause…Just because you don’t think it is possible, doesn’t mean it isn’t.

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Never is a long time.  And I try to take that word out of my vocabulary.  Because for better or worse, it is possible I will do the unimaginable.

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18

We received a letter from the superintendent of the school today.  He discussed all the district is doing to keep the school safe.  There is a school liaison officer and Ottawa County Deputies assigned to each building.  They have cameras in the hall and by the summer, every school will have a secure entrance.   They have social workers, counselors and psychologists to talk to kids.  The encouraged us to talk to our kids.  To have plan.

We are 7 weeks in to the year and have had 18 school shootings.  That is more than one a week. I read the news and pay attention, I can think of maybe 4 school shootings I have heard of this year.  They are so common they are not even news worthy anymore!

18 shootings at schools in the US.  7 weeks into this year.  As I read the letter from the superintendent (the second one this week because there was also a teacher put on leave for inappropriate sexual behavior with students, another blog for another time) I was initially so thankful for this superintendent who reached out.  Who is being proactive to keep our kids safe.

And then, it hit me.  Why in the world is it the schools job to worry about people charging into the school with guns, semi-automatic guns, pockets full of guns.  People who bypass locked doors.  People who can do massive, life taking, action in seconds.  And I think about the police having to respond.  Police offers, who I know and respect and work with every single day, who are trained to run towards the bullet.  Who know that, when that call comes in, they walk into an unknown den of chaos and death.

Why are all of us having to make changes? Why are we sending our officers into danger? Why are we preparing our children to hide and run? Why are we spending money on extra locks and cameras?  Because school shootings are a reality.  We just know that they can happen and they can happen anywhere.

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We are preparing to react.  Which is much different that preparing to prevent. Because no matter how much money we can put into school safety, the NRA and other lobbing organizations will spend on making sure guns are accessible.  That their right to bear arms is not taken away.  So instead, safety of our children and teachers are taken away.  Instead, our school are spending time on a preventable disaster the same as they do for a natural disaster.  Do you think if we could stop tornados we would?  What about tsunamis? hurricanes? earthquakes?  We would stop them if we could.

But we will not stop gun violence.  We cannot engage in a conversation “gun control”.  I have not one tiny shred of hope that this country will make any impactful or effective changes to keep guns out of schools.  And not only that, I do not have hope that the government will provide adequate funds for services needed to prevent children from living through the trauma, abuse, neglect, and/or mental illness that starts them down the path of terrorism.

So just like women, who are told not to wear short skirts so they will not be raped, we are asking our schools to implement costly and ineffective policies to protect students from being murdered.  It’s backwards.  It’s selfish.  It’s one sided.  It’s something to be ashamed of.

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Wicked

90Tonight will be the 4th time I wall see the show Wicked.  This is a musical that never stops speaking to me.  When I first saw it and dove into the soundtrack, I kept going back to a line in the song “Thank Goodness” when Glinda is rising in her fame and, well, popularity, but at the expense of her friend.  She sings about how she couldn’t be happier with her fairy tail happy ending… “because happy is what happens when all your dreams come true”.  And then, as she realizes what she had to sacrifice to get to this place, and all she learned on the way to the top, she realizes she actually isn’t that happy and she sings:

“thats why I couldn’t be happier, no, I couldn’t be happier, oh is I admit, a tiniest bit, unlike I anticipated. But, I couldn’t be happier, simply couldn’t be happier, well, not simply, cause getting your dreams, as strange as it seems, is a little, well, complicated. Theres’ a kinda a sorta cost, there’s a couple  of things get lost, there are bridges you crossed you didnt’ know you crossed until you crossed. And if that joy that thrill, doesn’t thill like you think it will, still, with this perfect finale the cheers and the ballyhoo, who wouldnt be happier, so I wouldn’t be happier, because happy is what happens when all your dreams come true, well isnt it? Happy is what happens when your dreams come true”

Suzie-MathersoptomisedAnd at 30 years old, with a husband, 2 kids, a house and a great job, my childhood dreams had come true.  Except, I grew up in the meantime.  And my childhood dreams were not my adult dreams.  I wanted to travel, I wanted to live outside Grand Rapids, outside the States!  I wanted to be surrounded by people that were not like me and people with different beliefs and ideas.  I wanted culture at my fingertips.  I wanted a nanny and a maid and a chef.  And somehow, hearing Glinda come to terms with her choices made it easier for me.  It helped me find balance.  I was able to start making more active choices about what I wanted in life instead of waiting.

1a04d7d1784f4b92333c14729ddb4658--wicked-musical-quotes-musical-theatre-quotesThere were times where I had to play “Defying Gravity” over and over and over, channeling my inner Elphaba.  Making sacrifices for important causes.  Giving up the facade of an easy and cautious life to remind myself that “something had changed with in me, and “I was through by playing by the rules of someone else’s game”.  It was “Time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap”  I embraced the line “Everyone deserves a chance to fly”.

And here I sit, 41 years old, in the complete insanity of what America has become in the last year.  Seeing stories of hate and destruction every day.  Watching people get hurt, bullied, scared and dehumanized.  This agenda of fake news and pushing lies that are really truth.  Throwing blame anywhere and everywhere but ourselves.  Righteousness.

Wicked_Birm_1800x900_7-1024x512I listen to the soundtrack of Wicked, and understand with new insights, Elphaba’s road to “Wickedness”.  This powerful group of people, who don’t like different, or unique, or things they don’t understand, can vilify a person.  Elphaba stood up for what she believed in, fought against the mainstream mindset, asked people to see things they did not want to see.  And that made people uncomfortable.  So they decided to change history a little bit.  And the stories grew and were exaggerated, and became the new truth.  The truth people wanted.

I think of the “Muslim Ban” and the skewed news on immigration and the lies that are told so often, everyone who wants to believe them start believing them (“I never said that!” Thats fake news!” “I’m draining the swamp” etc, etc, etc).

But I don’t just see this in politics.  I see it everywhere.  I have experienced it smaller communities, workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, and churches.  And sometimes I am the powerful group.  The one that rewrites history to help my own story.  And sometimes I am the victim of it.  Stories told by others to make it look like I am a part of something bad.  And none of this should be happening.  It hurts to be pushed to the bottom.  The become the excuse so someone else doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable.  Or to feel so uncomfortable it is easier to put the blame on others.

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I think about this need to climb to the top.  To be accepted and popular and loved and held in esteem.  Instead of being vulnerable. Authentic.  (I am listening to Wicked and reading Brene Brown, so that explains a lot of this!). I don’t know how to fix this.  I do know  I don’t want to be a part of it.  I want the courage of Elphaba.  To take on the cause even though it destroys everything for her.  Because it is that important.  And I want to see the Elphaba’s of the world, so I can stand along side them.  So they are not alone.  Like I did with the millions of women across the world who marched together to send the powerful message of equality, love and acceptance.

Because I want to meet people that will change me for good.  And I hope people can say, after they have met me:

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what i keep learning in yoga

First and foremost please note I am writing this from a very crabby place because even restorative yoga makes me want to scream sometimes.  I try to go to a restorative class every Sunday night to start my week off right.  Here is a link to benefits of Restorative Yoga.

Tonight’s class started off really bad when the instructor decided the focus would be on the first of the 8 limbs of yoga. No, I do not know any of the limbs of yoga, but she explained the first limb is “Yamas” and the Yama we are focusing on is “Ahimsa” or non-violence.  More specifically non-violence to ourselves.  Well, it just so happens I am super good at being (figuratively) violent to myself despite over a year of practicing ( i use that word loosely) yoga and reading Brene Brown and meditating and journaling.. you get it.  So the universe keeps sending me this lesson.  And I keep smiling and saying “i know” and then mindlessly scroll through facebook/instagram/pinterest on my phone for 2 hours.

So tonight I was ready.  Game on universe.  Give me an hour where I will be non violent to myself.  Except I was exceptionally not good at the poses tonight.  Many required balance so when I was supposed to be doing this…

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I was toppeling over.  And the worst were the forward folds… sit up tall with legs straight out, pile a bolster and blankets on your lap and just fold in half, resting your head on the pile.

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Nope.  That is not going to work for this girl.  And as I am trying not to me violent to myself as I fail at folding over, the teacher says this:

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Of course that is the case.  It’s no wonder my back hurts and my jaw is clenched and my forehead is crinkled.

But the thing is about yoga, is that no matter how hard it is or how much it pushes me, body and mind, there are these last few minutes.  Where I just lay.  And the lights are dim and a blanket is heavy on my torso, and I realized that I did it.  I pushed through.  The physical discomfort, the mental discomfort.

So the universe wins this round.  I will make my focus this week non-violence.  I will read Brene Brown and try the free Deepok Chopra 21 day meditation challenge and write and take my vitamins and use my focus essential oil.  And maybe this is the week I will listen.  Maybe this is the week I stop procrastinating on loving myself.  Because as Brene Brown says:

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Cheers.

 

“the good old days”

I am teaching a new class this semester: Social Welfare Policy.  Its insanely awesome.  I can’t even handle it.  This week the topic was Historical Influences of Social Welfare Policy.    As I read through it, planned my lecture, and thought of discussion questions, it was very clear to me we should watch the documentary 13th. It has been a while since I watched it.  In fact it was before I thought it even possible that Donald Trump could be president.  (For the record I still don’t know how it is possible).

This documentary is summarized as follows: “Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans.”

I think you should watch it.  And if you already did, I think you should watch it again.  Because in the less than one year it has been out, things have changed.  A lot.   Today, watching it, one phrase struck me.  It was from a Trump campaign rally in reference to African American’s protesting.  Trump said: “In the good old days this doesn’t happen because we would treat em rough… In the good old days they would rip him out of the seat so fast…In the good old days, he would be carried out on a stretcher”.  Just watch this clip.  2 minutes.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/10/14/about-that-viral-video-of-donald-trump-talking-about-the-good-old-days/?utm_term=.e03dcdd2e233

CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA – AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

It makes me ill.  Sick.  Because let’s think about what “the good old days” really means.  It means “Separate but equal” It means Jim Crow.  It means inequality.  It mean sub standard everything for those who are not white and rich.  It means black people and native people could not vote.  It means black people and native people could not own land.  It means KKK and white supremacy. It means slavery.  It means dehumanization. It means killing and beating and raping.  The good old days were only good for a few select people.

How is that okay? Don’t just come up with your scripted defense.  Really think.  How.is.this.okay?   It’s not.  No one. And I mean NOT ONE PERSON is better than or more deserving of human rights than any other.  But when the President says “good old days” he is saying that.  I am better.  And those who support him are directly and indirectly saying “we are better”.

We walked into this country and killed a nation of people.  We took from them what was their’s.  If the Native American’s referred to the good old days they would be referring to pre Columbus.  Pre “Discovery” of America.  Except that is white European language.  We didn’t discover America.  It was here.  Inhabited. Lived on. But Trump isn’t willing to go back that far.  The we went deeper…We headed to Africa, another continent that we had no business invading and took people, who were living their lives, with their families, in their communities in their own countries and kidnapped them.  Stripped them of every single thing.  Every.Single.Thing. And bought and sold them.  And we expect healing to come from some legislation?

No.  We have a lot of work to do.  And the only work being done right now is becoming more divisive, more polarized and hiding behind more fear.  Our National Anthem came from a time of slavery, racism and hatred.  How can we move forward when we can’t see that?  When we pick people apart for asking us to face their truth.  We can’t.  But we need to.  So I am making sure my social work students are ready to take over.  They are going to live out the core values and ethics of the profession.

  • Service.
  • Social justice.
  • Dignity and worth of the individual.
  • Importance and centrality of human relationships.
  • Integrity.
  • Competence.

And it is going to be A.mazing.

Standing in Solidarity. Or not?

Image may contain: 16 people, people smiling, crowdFor 40 years I did not attend any type of public gathering for a cause…. No protests, no vigils, no walks.  This year I am on number 3.  The Women’s March in D.C. will likely never by topped.  What an amazing experience.  I then stood with other protesters in the snow at GR Ford Airport to protest the Muslim Travel Ban.  Immigration is very important to me and I was proud to stand there with my sign (except I had a word spelled wrong on it…shame on me).  Last night I decided to “Stand with Solidarity” in support of Charlottesville.   I hemmed and hawed about going, but ultimately met up with a friend as we both came to the conclusion that we have to stand for equality.  We cannot allow White Supremacy to be tolerated.

 

We strolled into Rosa Park Circle with other “standers” wearing black.  There were signs and flags and a comforting police presence.  There were a lot of white people. There were inspiring speakers who challenged us to keep the conversation going. The first speaker started by saying “We are standing on stolen ground”.  Which is such a hard truth.  There were speakers who talked about love.  In fact the overwhelming message was this: We will not tolerate hate and to combat it, we will love.   But as it is said, actions speak louder that words.

There were two men wandering around, both in full camo, both visibly wearing guns. Now I am 100% not cool with that.  Guns, visible or not, should stay at home.  Or even better, stay with the police.  And I will be the first to tell you, no matter what these guy’s motivation was, I wanted them out.

But I was not at all happy about what happened.  A speaker decided to vote if these guys should leave.  Then people started screaming about these guys leaving.  Then people surrounded them and screamed and chanted at them to leave.  Literally seconds after preaching love, people started to hate.

 

I wanted these guys gone.  Their agenda was not white supremacy, but it was also not Standing in Solidarity.  Not the time. Not the place.  But a perfect test to those of us who showed up and wanted to send a message to Charlottesville, to White Supremacists, to those who don’t see racism alive and well in this community.  And we failed the test. We changed the agenda.  We made it about something else completely.

 

I marched. I walked and contemplated the horror of Charlottesville. But I was dismayed. I lost my zest and  passion for what I was marching for.  My hope was to stand with Charlottesville. Show them the support from our community.  Let them know we are watching, paying attention.  Let them know that we do not tolerate hate.  And that message was drowned out.  Because, you guessed it, hate.

4 voices

A perfect summer night, a chance to see some of my favorite voices in concert in an intimate setting… Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.  I listened to them sing and I sang along.  And there was this moment, a totally perfect moment that I just took everything in…Joan dancing with her shoes off, Mary singing with her incredible raspy voice, Emily and Amy playing background and singing harmony, the sun setting and a breeze blowing.  I just felt.  So deeply. I just felt perfectly me. This moment, this is who I am.

These women and their lives and lyrics, so perfectly embody what I want to say and how I want to say it.  These women who are able to capture my greatest self, bottle it up and sing it back to me.

This brief moment of wholeness gave me a reminder of who I really am.  Underneath all the hats and before all the letters and titles.  Underneath the Social Worker and the Mom and the Wife and the Professor. Putting aside the anxiety and ignoring the pressure, I am something that is so much more than words.

I am thankful that there are four voices out there that can help me find me.  Who can remind me that I am. And remind me to keep finding that sense of self.  Not to hide it or shame it or ignore it or excuse it.  But to live being me.

Although I should end with a quote from one of these amazing women, I will instead ask Dear Evan Hansen to help me close: