Thursday, November 24, 2016

our better selves

I found this quote a while back and decided to take it with us on our annual roadtrip to Utah. I had imagined it taped to our dash and guiding the way. Little did I realize that it would become the focus of a fun photo series and a focus for meditating on why it is that we come here every year.

Because of the recent election, this year more than any other, is a good time to escape extended family and focus on our little family who needed to come together after the devastating events of this year. Several people from both sides of my family (the white Scandinavian side and the brown Indian side) have voted in such a way that emboldens the threat to us all in this country. But I realized that it is not my job to talk with them about it. I will leave that up to my white allies, my white neighbors and my white family. We three will be hunker down and be thankful for the safety and security we have together.

I admit my fear in driving through three three red states just a few short weeks after the election. The fear was great enough to make me consider canceling. But I'm glad we didn't as we encountered many kind people along our journey. We stopped for gas in Nebraska and as we were leaving I saw a sign on the building that said "Safe Here" and from then on the tension eased. The independent store owners in Moab all welcomed us like old friends and asked how life had been since last year. We have been coming here to Moab since 2006 and every year it seems more diverse. But my god, this place has become crowded. It's true that there are two awesome national parks in the area but did we have to let the whole country in on the secret?

Both sides of my family have experienced significant deaths this year. My husband lost his nephew and favorite uncle. I lost my mother. We three lost our cat. It's been a hard year. These losses make me realize that life really is short and impermanent. My husband had pancreas failure just one year before we were married and honestly we both thought he would be gone within five years of being together. But here we are going on 23 years of marriage. For that I am thankful.

And look at HER! Our daughter is the very best that has come into our lives. She fits right in and takes our joy to whole new heights.

I am thankful for so much this year.
I am thankful for the sanctuary within my family and my friends.
I am thankful for the ability to travel our country.
I am thankful for the sun and the light of the moon.
I am thankful for the opportunities to be searching for our better selves.

Because our better selves are always within us. We need to strive everyday to let them out.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

autumn interrupted

It feels weird to post these photos that I took last weekend, in that time between the death of my mother and the death of civility in our country. I yearn to be back but I have to admit I am also terrified. This actually is nothing new to me. I have always been wary of heading out into the middle of rural Wisconsin, putting my brown self in the middle of that conservative region. My early experiences weren't the greatest but they weren't that bad in that it could have been much, much worse. It was mostly ignorant curiosity about me that I encountered and really not that different from what I experience in the city, only in the city it is a bit more mild. Our response was to stay put on our land. It was my husband who would make the necessary trips into town.

These things I'm sharing today I have mostly kept to myself.

I would send him into town, rarely venturing forth myself with the exception of infrequent trips to the farmers market. My husband has a fierce love for breakfast so sometimes we would head in and those trips were full of anxiety for me. Some due to my own doubts but certainly the fear was fueled by the behavior of those around us.

A few years into it I started to notice tons of biracial kid in town. Not many, if any, people color but a rising number of biracial children grown in the early years I spent there.

Then my daughter was born. It is hard to admit my relief in seeing that she was born with light skin and dark hair. I prayed that she would not suffer the fear and indignant threats that I have endured my whole life. I couldn't bear the thought of bringing a person into this world that had the same dark brown skin as I have. 

These are things I am sharing today that I likely might not have last week or last month or last year. But those were times when my mother was still alive. I live differently in my own skin now. While I have very few readers to see these thoughts I do hope that one day my daughter will read my words, maybe from the very region I'm talking about.

My daughter was born and within the midst of new parenthood, I discovered a world of magic full of fairies and unicorns, plants and trees, earth and sky. Everything seemed new and everything seemed possible.

We started going to the farmers market on a regular basis and my daughter struck up a friendship with a little Mennonite girl from a family that lived nearby, who sold preserved goods at the market. My husband struck up friendships with local farmers and a local woodworker. I started talking with a college bound son of one of the local farmers, a son who was headed towards my own city, the city of lakes, Minneapolis.

More recently we have been getting to know a neighbor down the road who moved in two years ago. She is a hunter and an artist, she is woman who grows her own food, and she has two kids just a bit younger than my own. It feels like instant friendship.

It has taken years but we are getting to know the people of this region and many of them are warm and kind, friendly and compassionate, and full of pride for their county and lifestyle.

But there are others who I fear and those fears are getting stronger. Like the people at the house five miles away where we turn the corner to get to the river road that leads to our property. These people fly a confederate flag on a flagpole in front of their house. I wonder if they notice when we drive by. I wonder if they know where my airstream is in the woods.

There is the boy down the road from us who one day decided to drive by in his pickup with an American flag flying. Back and forth he drove by our property a dozen times. Dave had just left for a run into town. I was scared because hardly anyone drives by our property and by the 6th time I knew something was up. So I grabbed my kid and we stayed out of view. The boy finally stopped by after seeing the Jeep that returned with my husband. He wanted hunting rights on our property. I agreed but have yet to receive any venison which was negotiated in return for the hunting rights. Then there was the boy on the property right next to us who raised his rifle in the air as he looked at me when we drove by. It was more bragging than threat, but chilling nonetheless.

I think about what has been unleashed in our nation. What has been empowered? What has been sanctioned? What has been emboldened? What actions will be taken?

What has been done?

Yes, the sun has risen on a new day. And that day holds the same people that have always been there, most are kind but more than a few are threatening. I see them clearly, I always have but now my doubts are stronger. And with the leaves gone from the trees they can more easily see me nestled in my own property, my own retreat.

I titled this post last weekend in an attempt to write about how my mother's death has interrupted the beauty of autumn. Yet at that time I felt I could return and feel refreshed. And indeed I did.

But this weekend is entirely different. And I am more than a little bit fearful. I am expectant.

But I know I will return. Because this is the place where I know I am strong and hardy. This will be the place I teach my daughter to be the same.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

immigration story

It is a relief to set aside the events of this week that rocked our nation. I set these events aside to return to grieving my mother and that is comforting. How bizarre. But then everything that has happened this week is nothing short of bizarre.

This is my mother's first passport photo. When Hema traveled to North America for the first time she brought along her 1 1/2 year old girl (me!). The plane was on its way to Toronto but was diverted to New York because of a snow storm. She did not speak English. She did not know how to set the alarm clock. She would always tell me how worried she was that she would miss her next flight to Canada. It was quite the adventure.

I was born while my father was in Canada and did not meet him until my mother made that journey to North America. My father tells me his earliest memories of me was of my little toddler self with a red ear flap hat sitting in front of the television while the Canadian winter snowed outside. I wonder what I was watching?

During the week of the funeral, many of her old friends and of course, lots of extended family flew in to Florida. And with them they brought stories of my mother, stories I'd never heard before. One of my father's old college buddies told us how she just appeared at their dorm room, sporting a skirt and blouse (she never liked wearing Indian clothes, we cremated her in her favorite dress) and as tiny as she was her presence took over like nothing these five young men had ever seen before. My mother wasn't even 5 feet tall and she weighed a bit less than 85 pounds back then. He said he never did ask her how she knew where they were. My father never asked either. It's that same spirit that kept her going through odd hours working in a Tonka factory and I'm sure the first few hours and weeks of being reunited with her husband in that cold, wintry country. There was nothing else that could have prepared her for it but her own strength.

I wish I had known my mother like they did.


I have a memory from this summer when I went to visit my dying mother. She was lucid at the time because it was only a few months after the surgery to remove her brain tumor. I remember this as the month before the tumors returned. She was sitting up in her bed watching television which was always tuned into some news channel and she suddenly became anxious. My father has installed another door alarm so she could alert us if she needed anything. The bell sat in the kitchen and when my mother became anxious that day, the bell started ringing and ringing like crazy. She was watching that man, the one that over half our nation's people elected.

So I'm glad she is not alive to see what happened this week. But then I can never know for sure if she would have supported him if she hadn't gotten brain cancer. My sister I believe voted for him, she had bragged to my little six-year-old daughter of her intentions. It never fails to amaze me that immigrants, specifically the ones in my family but I suspect many others too, support the Republican party. I think it is because they believe that gives them access to the American dream but they don't realize that many from that party have no intention of opening those doors of opportunity for them.

So I grieve for what I know. I grieve for what I've seen. I grieve for the fact that my daughter thought her friends and mother were going to be banned. I grieve that she came home from school on Wednesday and asked me if we get to stay living in the city that we love, another city soon to be full of cold and snow. Minneapolis, just like my mother's experience in Toronto, will form early North American experiences for my daughter. I want her to always remember the joys of snow and a warm red ear flap hat.

Somehow today found I had the strength to set all that grief for our nation aside and return to grieving my mother, a woman who I never really knew. And that is a relief. I'm sure her next journey is just as adventurous as the first trip to North America. I hope it is far more peaceful.

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