Chasing Inspiration

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Billy Graham: Beloved and Problematic

Billy Graham died today. In all honesty, I thought he passed away some time ago. When I heard the news of his passing, my first reaction was to shrug. My second was to mourn for those who have experienced harm due to his teachings.

Before you jump all over me for crapping on a beloved icon of western evangelicalism, let me state that the man was both great and problematic. He stood beside Martin Luther King Jr during the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. He believed there was no scriptural basis for segregation, and that Christianity was not a white man's religion (source).

He held an inclusive view of God's mercy, believing that God can and will save people in different religions, not just Christianity, and without an individual's proclamation of Jesus, or at least he did earlier in his ministry (source).

There are good things about Billy Graham. There are also problematic things. While he did support desegregation, he was slow to support it. Teachings attributed to Rev. Graham are anti-LGBTQIA. His interpretation and understanding of the Bible lead to the belief and reinforcement of strict gender roles. I know, because I grew up listening to and reading about these teachings. There are some who land these on Franklin Graham's feet (source), suggesting that there was elder abuse taking place (source), and that Rev. Graham's writings and sermons were ghost written (source), and that these views were not his own.

Whether that is the case or not, the teachings attributed to Billy Graham have hurt many. No grace has been extended to those who are gay. Marriage equality has taken far longer than it needed to because of people who took Rev. Graham's teachings and spun them out of control. LGBTQIA children and teens have been traumatized by people who tried to pray the gay out of them. They were told they were sinning, and their identities were denied them. Not all of them made it to adulthood. Girls were denied opportunities that were given to boys because of how far people took Rev. Graham's message of how he believed family was to function. Some took these teachings so far that they stole the female voice.

The very name of Billy Graham has been used as the boogie man in the closet who will sneak out and punish us if we step out of line.

I'm not going to get into what loving our neighbour means. And I'm not going to wish Rev. Graham to perdition. He was a man who had a sincere belief and a platform with which to share that belief. That doesn't make him 100% right. It doesn't make him 100% wrong. It makes him beloved and problematic. On one hand he taught love and acceptance. On the other hand, the very name of Billy Graham has been used to punish and revile anyone who isn't white, cis, and male. No where have I seen documentation that Billy Graham worked to reign in these messages of hate.

Maybe I'm wrong, and there is something I haven't found. I hope I'm wrong. I hope Billy Graham loved people just as they are, and didn't try to change them or vilify them because of their gender or sexual identity. I hope he wasn't as problematic as those who use his teachings as a blueprint for Christian living seem to be.

I hope I haven't offended you, but if you're reading this and you're thinking, "Naomi, you are walking very close to the edge of fallacy here," just remember, God is larger than we could ever comprehend and maybe what we believe isn't correct or right. Are you willing to die on that hill, or are you willing to cast a wide net and expand your definition of God and love? I hope Billy Graham was the latter, but when it comes to Rev. Graham, so many of us have experienced the former.


Gratitudes:
  1. My editor, for being understanding when I can't hit deadlines.
  2. Veterinarians who are kind and resourceful 
  3. Virtue and Moir for being awesome

Friday, January 26, 2018

Shame

Gratitudes:
  1. Vets with emergency hours who can talk me down when Velcro Dog is sick in the middle of the night.
  2. Community. When you find that person/group of people who get you, it feels like coming home.
  3. Sunshine that streams through the windows and creates little pockets of heat for Velcro Dog to nap in. 

shame

I haven't blogged in a while, and that's because I've been tearing my novel apart and putting it back together. More on that on my author blog later. 

I've been thinking a lot about shame recently. I've been doing some research for my short series on what I feel are false beliefs within some flavors of Christianity. I have two more posts to write, and they will happen once my revisions are submitted to my editor. 

In the meantime, I've been thinking a lot about shame.  It's been a theme for me in the last couple of months. Someone may say something to me, something passive aggressive or casually judgemental, and I start to feel a fist close around my lungs. And my spirit shrinks, trying to take up as little space as possible. Any joy I felt prior to that comment leaches away.

The worst is when someone I care about, someone who cares about me, makes these comments and dismisses them because they don't understand why I enjoy certain things, -- Marvel movies for example -- or why I engage in social media. Or why I blog something for the entire world to see. Since they don't understand and their personal belief is that these things are a waste of time or worse, they feel emboldened to use shame to communicate their judgement of me.

And I deflate as shame presses in on me. My entire being feels...lost.

Shame is a powerful feeling. It encompases our entire identity.
Research indicates that when we feel shame, we globally de-value our entire sense of self. It is basically as if our physiology is telling us that (in our heads and hearts) we are a rather worthless person.  (Shame, Shame, Shame) 
That feeling you get where you feel you're completely unworthy and worthless - that's shame. And it eats away at the very core of who we are. So what can we do to counteract shame? According to all the reading and work I've done around shame, one of the keys is to become an integrated and authentic person. 

Shame is ubiquitous in our world. Parents shame children to get them to quickly fall in line. Spouses shame each other, either to mask their own pain or to get their way. Teachers shame students. Employers shame employees. Abusers use shame to make their abuse about the other person and keep them quiet. Christians shame fellow Christians and people outside their faith. Countries shame other countries. It's an epidemic. Why? My opinion, because shame works quickly to get people to shut up and step in line. It's a powerful tool, but one that should never be used.

Shame is all about identity. It cuts to our core and makes us doubt everything we think we know about ourselves. Of course it's going to garner quick results, but it devastates people in the process. There is no building up a person where shame is involved.

I'm learning to connect to my identity and to listen to that quiet voice inside myself that holds the truth about who I am. I'm re-entering therapy with a focus on identity. And to process some of my shame triggers. It's time to untangle the threads of shame from the tapestry of my life. I need to stop shame from eating away at me.

I hope your life is free of shame. If it isn't, it's important to figure out your shame triggers and false beliefs that surround them. You can do this in a few ways:



Photo by frankieleon via Flickr (CC by 2.0)






Monday, October 16, 2017

Of Systemic Misogyny and Politics

Women's Rights

WARNING: I'm about to be political because I can't separate my politics from my beliefs and point of view. There may also be swearing. Skip this post if you want. I won't judge.

I've had some interesting conversations with people lately where the conversation has turned to the 2016 presidential election and why they voted for the current President of the United States (POTUS). I'm going to be honest, the election was brutal and I see a lot of fall out, know many people who are scared they are going to lose basic civil and/or human rights. Who have known this country I currently call home was built on racism and marginalization and the roots of this have never been dealt with. Who are not surprised when racism and Islamomisia and homomisia stepped out of the shadows and into every day life as though we were thrown back into the 50s. I wrote about these things in this post. Today is for a slightly different post.

When I have had these conversations a few things always bubble up:
  • Misogyny 
  • Perceived persecution against Christians
  • Illegal immigration

These are not the only reasons some of the people I know voted for POTUS. They are the reasons I've heard over and over again. These have been gnawing on me, poking at my spirit until I couldn't contain it any longer and this post came spilling out. I'm going to try to organize my thoughts, for myself and for you, my reader. So I'm going to break this into three different posts. 

First, misogyny. If you look in any dictionary you will see a simple and yet complex definition which basically states misogyny is a hatred of women. Men can hate women. Women can hate women. Nonbinary people can hate women. It's a systemic result of a culture and society that is based on patriarchy, which is basically a society where men have ultimate power. The USA is based upon a patriarchal societal and political system. 

I'm not going to go into a historical breakdown of how governmental, social, and religious systems have evolved to create an environment where this is normalized, nor am I going to go into all the ways women have fought to change these very systems. What I am going to try to do is give you something to consider and think about. 

When men make the rules they get to make them in such a way that benefits them first. They may not be consciously thinking they want to treat women like second class citizens, but it's often what happens. Why? Systemic misogyny and social conditioning. Think about it. How many women are in positions of leadership in your religious institution? How many are making decisions that impact everyone, not just women's or children's ministries? How many women represent your congressional district or state at the state and federal levels of Congress? How many women are in positions of leadership and make policy decisions where you work? 

Growing up who made most of the decisions in your home? At school how many girls were encouraged to take STEM courses? How many boys were encouraged to take traditionally female courses like home economics? If you are a gamer, how many women do you game with? 

When you're together with the "guys" what type of language do you use? Do you mock women? Is the language you use when referring to women language you wouldn't use if a woman was present with you? Do you tantalize with tales of sexual exploits? Do you use terms such as pussy as a put down toward men? Are you aware this type of speech is derogatory and actually puts down women? 

If you identify as female are you competitive around other women? Do you judge women who are different than you as being less? Do you consider women who choose to not have children as not living up to their biological imperative? Have you engaged in "mean girl" behavior? Do you believe that women have no place in leadership? In the sciences? Sports? When you are out with your female friends does conversation often turn to tearing down a fellow woman of your mutual acquaintance? 

If you're a parent, do you treat your daughters and sons differently? Do you tease your daughters about being sensitive (or your sons for that matter)? Do you tell your sons to man up, that real men don't cry, don't throw like girls, aren't sensitive? Do you encourage all your children to learn more about the things that interest them, even if these things aren't traditionally male or female dominated? Do you teach your sons how to sew, cook, and clean, empathize? Do you teach your daughters how to change their oil, do yard work, build things? Do you divide chores along more traditional gender lines? If your daughters are athletically included, to you encourage them to play sports? If your sons are artistically inclined, do you encourage them in the arts? 

When women shares stories of sexual harassment or assault, do you point out ways she contributed to her own assault? Do you laugh it off? Do you wave of predatory male behavior as boys being boys? Do you wittingly (or unwittingly) teach boys that no doesn't really mean no? That women really mean try harder? That male aggression in relationships is appropriate? 

Do you believe that a woman does not have what it takes to lead a country? That a man, no matter his character, would be a better fit than a woman because a man would be able to make the difficult decisions without emotion or sentimentality? 

You may want to think about your answers and the beliefs behind them. Especially any beliefs that seem to place inequality between men and women. Or make women seem less somehow than men. Are these beliefs you have because it's always been that way? Because it's what you've been taught at home, at school, by your religious leaders? If the answer to this is yes, congratulations, you've just uncovered some systemic misogyny. And now that you're aware of this, you can do the work of soul searching and research to determine if these are beliefs worth holding. 

How is this playing out in light of the 2016 election? Many men and women voted for a man who had never held political office before in his life over a woman who, politically speaking, was far more qualified for the office of president. The reasons for this are varied - racism, fear, misogyny, greed, to name a few. But misogyny did play a part. 

The other way we are seeing this play out is with the ACA health care repeal bill. Don't believe me, check pages 196 to 209 of the Congressional Record for the latest Senate amendment to the proposed bill H.R. 1629 - American Health Care Act of 2017, submitted on 9/13/2017 by Senators Cassidy and Graham. If you're able to slog through both the bill and the latest proposed amendment (which I believe was voted down by the Senate), and if you've read the latest executive action you'll notice that a woman's right to birth control to be covered by health insurance provided by her employer is at risk. You'll also notice that there are broad restrictions proposed for reproductive health. Specifically female reproductive health.  

Birth control, maternity care, new born care, the ability to use Medicaid to cover family planning and reproductive health services at Planned Parenthood (which does not and never has included abortion). Notice that these directly impact people who have a uterus? To some degree this impacts anyone who may have children, male, female, nonbinary. But by and large if you have a working uterus these impact you. Why? Some have said it's because not everyone should have to subsidize another person's birth control. Some have said it's because these types of services impose upon their religious beliefs. 

To the first I say, you have no idea how insurance works. We all pay into the insurance pool. This is how it works for homeowner's insurance, renter's insurance, auto insurance. We all pay our premiums and we all hope we don't have to use our coverage to cover an accident or a fire. Someone will need to use the monies paid into the insurance pools, and we hope to god it's not us. So just because you're a sixty year old man who is no longer planning on having children doesn't mean you don't have to pay into a pool that covers individuals who are using birth control for family planning or to regulate health issues. If that were the case, I would want to opt out of paying for your erectile dysfunction medication. No one ever died because he couldn't have an erection, after all.

To the second I say it's more complicated than imposing upon your beliefs. We live in a social system and it is to everyone's best interests that everyone within this system be given access to what they need to be healthy. This means offering the broadest health coverage that can be offered. And educating yourself on the medical benefits as well as societal benefits of these types of services. For example, birth control is used for treating severe acne, regulating menstrual flow, treating health conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis. Access to birth control can lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies and better quality of life for women and nonbinary people who live in poverty. 

Also, did you know that there wasn't a single woman or nonbinary individual on the committees in the House and Senate who wrote the new healthcare bill and who penned the current amendment? Not one single woman or nonbinary individual who has a uterus. Our health care decisions are being made by men. And the message I walk away with is that women matter less. This may not be their intent, but that's what's being perceived. Because if men and women were truly equal in all ways there would be an equal number women to men involved in making policies that impact all people. There would be no need to debate which services should be mandatory in health care coverage because services that impact women would be just as important to the the services that impact men, that impact nonbinary people. 

These are all symptoms of systemic misogyny. I'm not immune to my own internalized misogyny and have had to take years to unpack my beliefs. Am still unpacking my beliefs and values in light of what I learn. I know this, however, for politicians to serve everyone in this nation equally, systemic misogyny needs to be routed out and replaced with true equality. We aren't there yet. I thought we might be getting close but now, not so much.  


Gratitudes:
  1. Timothy Omundson for his amazing acting, dancing, and singing. I watched two seasons of Galavant just to hear you sing!
  2. The quiet in the house right now. The only sounds I hear are the furnace and the clack of the keyboard as I write this post and the stillness and quiet is like oxygen to a starving soul.
  3. Unexpected gifts, be they words, pictures, tokens, time. I am honored every time I receive one. 

Photo by elenghan via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

    Monday, September 11, 2017

    Of Blogs and Habits


    Pomodoro-välineet

    I'm a sporadic blogger. I've come to this conclusion many times over the last decade. While we were on vacation last week I brainstormed things that could help me blog on a more regular basis. 
    • Write a series of posts on a single topic, where I sit down and write all the posts at once and schedule them out one per week.
    • Post daily gratitudes and a picture representing the gratitudes. 
    • Blog about the book I'm currently reading - as in blog my reactions to the book, kind of like live tweeting during a TV show.
    • Link to interesting websites/blogs/articles I've read and share why I thought they were interesting
    • Do nothing and blog sporadically and never really develop my blog beyond what it is
    I love all these ideas, especially the last one since it doesn't require any changes on my part. However, I also know my weaknesses and ever since I've quit my job my internal locus of control has been AWOL. Even if I use my calendar to schedule tasks, I have become very good at ignoring them.

    That said, if I'm going to make any type of money as a writer I need to make peace with deadlines and task lists. Earlier this summer I brushed off my Pomodoro Technique notes and purchased a timer for my iPad. This has been helpful for focusing on writing in twenty-five minute sprints. I used to do #1k1h drills where the goal is to write 1000 words in an hour. That worked great when I had an hour lunch break at work and wanted to get in some writing. It's not as doable now. The dog won't let me focus for more than about 25 minutes at a time. 

    So maybe I need to take my Pomodoros and organize my tasks into 25 minute buckets and use my timer. And offer myself rewards for making task goals as well as writing/publishing goals. Hmmm, maybe. 

    And all of this is a way to say I hope to be blogging more often! Don't get too excited. ;-)

    Gratitudes:
    1. My laptop, which continues to plug along with no issues even though she is almost five years old. 
    2. Crisply flavored green tea, the perfect early autumn afternoon beverage.
    3. My dentist. He's gentle and kind and funny and I adore him!

    Photo by Jussi Linkola via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    Wednesday, June 28, 2017

    In Which I Have PRIDE

    Pride Colours


    I've been thinking about combining this blog with my blog on my author website, but I hesitate to combine the two because, well, I rather like the title of this blog. And the fact that I can blog about whatever I feel like, not just things I think will appeal to readers or fellow writers. 

    It's PRIDE month and that causes me to think about the various spiritual leaders and teachers I've had in my life and how being LBGTQIA+ was viewed as a sin. A bad thing. Something people need to be saved from. 

    I have so many LGBTQIA+ friends and acquaintances in my life and when I look at each and every one of them I don't see sinful or bad or people who need to be saved. I see compassionate, caring, and amazing people. I see my friends. I see people who are just like me. I see glimpses of God. 

    It feels as though there is this belief within certain Christian sects where it seems they get to pick and choose who benefits from the great commandment. Specifically loving their neighbour as themselves. Our neighbours are not just the people who live down the street. Our neighbours are the rest of the human race. If it was important enough for Jesus to paraphrase Leviticus 19:17-18, then I think it's important enough for us to take it seriously. 

    We need to love ourselves. We need to love our neighbours. Do we do that by telling our neighbours they are sinful and wrong and in danger of going to hell if they don't stop loving the people they love? I don't think so. I think we show people we love them by showing them compassion, but not judging, by not worrying about whether they are hell bound or not. It's not our call, and if we spent less time worrying about hell maybe we could spend more time worrying about the dignity and welfare of other people. More time getting to know people as just...people. More time seeing the beauty that resides within them. 

    It's PRIDE month and all month I've celebrated with joyful exuberance my friends who are LGBTQIA+. And I have been angered by the machinations of those who will not see these amazing people as people worthy of the same civil and human rights as any straight person in this country has just because they are straight. I love my friends. They are not less. They are not sinning. They are not somehow broken. They deserve a world where they can be exactly who they are without fear of recrimination. Or worse. 

    I haven't believed that God is displeased with the LGBTQIA+ community for a long time. I don't know if I ever believed it. As PRIDE month comes to a close all I can believe is that God loves people in all our messy glory. And so should we. 


    Gratitudes:
    1. Iced tea, refreshing on a hot day.
    2. The cooler summer weather.
    3. Opportunities that seem to come out of nowhere.

    Photo by Mattia Belletti via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    Wednesday, June 07, 2017

    Wonder Woman: Separating the Artist From the Art

    Gratitudes:
    1. Thunderstorms, which would be infinitely more enjoyable if Velcro Dog wasn't freaked out by them.
    2. Writing "The End" at, well, the end.
    3. Friends who believe in you enough to carry that belief for you when you don't believe in yourself.
    Edited on 6/15/2017:
    A reader passed on two more articles that may counterbalance the Salon article linked to at the bottom of my blog post. 
    I also encourage you to read her reply to this blog post as it offers some excellent points regarding why there is a rise of banning films containing Jewish content, the impacts of censorship, and the rise of antisemitism . While my post isn't about Wonder Woman, censorship, or Zionism, they were my jumping off point, perhaps the wrong jumping off point. Yes, we need to make space for people to experience something differently than we do, but we do not make space for hate. And we, I, need to educate ourselves on the issues we use as jumping off points or main thesis in our opinion pieces. This was absent from my original post, for which I apologize. 

    This weekend I saw Wonder Woman. The movie was wonderful. The action was spot on. The sacrifices made sense. The women were bad ass. And Diana Prince is front and center. As she should be since this movie is her origin story. 

    I know there has been at least one other superhero movie which featured a female superhero (Elektra for those who are wondering), but Wonder Woman is a female superhero icon and watching this movie made much younger me so very happy. I grew up watching Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman fighting crime on a weekly basis. I wanted to be Diana Prince. Even made myself bracelets and a diadem out of tin foil. This movie was important. It was long past due. 

    I know people who did not love the movie. Some because of the pacing. Others because it changed Diana's origin story. Still others for a myriad of other stylistic reasons. There are those people who, however, disliked the movie because of the lead actress. Gal Gadot is an Israeli actress. This is why the movie to be boycotted and banned in Lebanon and other countries. Gal Gadot is also seen as a Zionist, in part because she openly supported the Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2010. Some people look at Ms. Gadot and see these things and can't see past them to Diana Prince and Wonder Woman.

    This post is not to debate Gal Gadot, Israel, or Zionism. It's not to debate intersectional feminism. It's not even to debate the movie itself. No, this post is my attempt to answer this question: Can we separate the artist from the art? 

    The answer is both yes and no. Yes, art can stand alone and speak to us as itself.  No, because sometimes the artist has imbued so much of themself into their art that a person may not be able to view the art without overlaying the artists upon it. In other words, it's personal. 

    Why do we forgive certain celebrities for the pain and suffering they cause, but hold others in contempt forever? Maybe it's because some actions don't hit us where we live, while others eviscerate us, even if we weren't the target. Beliefs matter. Actions matter. And when we feel we are being ignored, attacked, gutted by the actions of someone we don't know, maybe that's because those actions trigger something deep within us. 

    Example time. These are from my real life, and while none of these examples are the political and ethical tripwires that are being discussed thanks to the lead actress in Wonder Woman, they both have left long term scars upon me. 

    I once knew a romance author who wrote some amazing stories. She was a bit of a pioneer with sex positivity back in the 90s. I got to know her online and we had some wonderful discussions. She started a web board, as was what authors often did in those days before Facebook and Twitter, and asked me to help moderate it. I was happy to. I loved her books. My interactions with her had been positive and informative. I wanted her social media presence to succeed. Until the day she threw a friend of mine under the bus in a very public and humiliating manner. 

    I cut ties with said author and her board. I couldn't support this brand of bullying (which is what it was). I haven't read a single book of hers since. Not because she's a horrible storyteller. Her books were beautifully written. But when I tried to read her beautiful stories, my stomach would clench and I would be thrown back to that day when she humiliated my friend. I couldn't separate the writer from her books. I still can't. 

    On the flip side, I am a fan of another author who also writes beautifully and I love her books. I had the chance to meet her at a conference. I happened to be in one of the public bathrooms when I overheard her complain about some of her fellow authors. It wasn't her best moment, and I left the bathroom feeling less sanguine about her as a person. I still enjoy her books, though I don't care if I ever meet her in person again and I'm less likely to recommend her books to others. 

    I've thought about why I feel so differently about these two authors. They both said hurtful things in a public forum (public bathrooms are public after all). They both write wonderful books. Why am I still able to appreciate the books of one and not the other? My opinion, it's because the Author A did something that hurt me personally. You mess with my friend, you mess with me. You don't apologize for hurting my friend, that hurts me as well. Author B was cutting in her words, but while she presented herself poorly, she didn't hurt me or mine.

    Can we separate the artist from the art enough to enjoy the art as something that stands on it's own? Yes and no. It all depends on what triggers you deeply and personally. If the artist, actor, author, celebrity does something that affects you so deeply you can't help but think of that every time you come across said artist/actor/author/celebrity, then it's not very likely that you'll be able to set aside your distaste long enough to enjoy the art that individual produced. 

    And because it is so very personal, I think we need to create room for people to both love and hate the art while they love or hate the artist. And we need to listen when someone shares a view that is not our own. If someone feels strongly that Wonder Woman is not the feminist win for all women, we should listen to understand why. If someone boycotts the movie because of their perception of said actress' political leanings, then we need to create space for that. Even if we don't agree with the boycott or the reasons behind it. 

    I leave you with this final article regarding Wonder Woman, a thoughtful opinion piece about the potential implications of the movie: The confused, confusing nationalism behind “Wonder Woman”


    Tuesday, May 30, 2017

    I Met Charles Today

    Gratitudes:
    1. Gluten free vegan cupcakes that are fueling my current story. And my belly.
    2. My husband. When he gets it right, he really gets it right.
    3. Foxes on Twitter. Seriously, check out @hourlyfox on Twitter!

    I met Charles today. 

    He was standing at a heavily travelled intersection near my home. An intersection I use at least once a day. An intersection where I often see people standing with homemade signs asking for a meal, money, a kind word. I'm often in the wrong lane to talk to anyone standing in the median, but today I saw Charles. And I was in the left turn lane right next to the median. 

    Charles is a large man. His sign looked worn and he looked tired. He had set a beat up backpack down at his feet and stood there, patiently, waiting to see if anyone of us who were stopped at the light would wave him over. 

    I had just purchased groceries, but they were in the trunk so I couldn't offer him any of the food I had purchased. But I had money. I pulled out a twenty from my wallet, rolled down my window and waved to him. 

    Charles limped over and when he took the cash from my hand there was a hesitancy in his reach. He canted his head in a way that made me think he had trouble seeing out of one of his eyes. I reached further out of my car window to make sure he had a good grasp on the bill, then I told him I hope it could help. 

     He was profusely grateful, blessed me. Told me to have a good day. I asked him if he needed more. I could come back with sandwiches and water or soda. Did he have somewhere to spend the night? Did he need a ride to a shelter? Cab fare? He told me he had somewhere to stay. What he didn't have was food for meals. And thank you for the offer but he wasn't going to be at this location much longer. 

    I don't know Charles' story. I don't know what events in his life coalesced to create a circumstance where he found himself standing on medians in intersections asking for money. I wish I had time to ask him, but our time was short as the light turned green and I had to drive away. 

    It's easy to look at people like Charles and assume they are lazy or on drugs or scamming everyone. I'm ashamed to admit in my younger years I made such assumptions. Then I met a woman at a downtown bus stop on November afternoon. I was off work early and waiting for a bus to take me to my park and ride. She was sitting in the shelter trying to stay warm. I had a crazy expensive cup of coffee and she looked tired and hungry. So I asked her if she wanted my coffee, set it on the bench beside her. 

    Charles reminded me of her. She was hesitant to take what I had offered. It was like life had held up promises of salvation only to yank them away at the last moment far too many times. I asked her if she worked downtown. She shook her head. So I asked her if she was warm enough. I could see her shivering. I was getting on a bus to head to my nice warm home. I was wearing a warm coat, warm clothes, a hat, scarf, gloves. She was dressed in tattered jeans, a lightweight sweater. Nothing else. So I took off my gloves, hat, and scarf and set them down next to the coffee. 

    She took my offerings, wrapping the scarf around her neck and put the hat on her head. The gloves sat on her lap as she wrapped her bare hands around the coffee cup. Breathed in the warmth and the scent before she took a long sip. Then she started to tell me she had lost her job six months prior, and with only a GED she was finding safe jobs that paid more than minimum wage difficult to find. She had just lost her apartment and was living with friends, but didn't think she would be able to stay long. When she lost her apartment, she lost most of her belongings because the landlord was holding them. 

    Homelessness and poverty are epidemics right now. In my experience most people don't want to see it. We see the homeless and the poor as other, as somehow less deserving. Or as an abstract concept. Most people don't want to believe homelessness or poverty could happen to them. I don't know about you, but my family is separated from homelessness by narrow gap. We have savings. My husband has a job. But I can't work right now. And the bank still owns a portion of our home. If A were to lose his job and not find one for some time, if medical expenses grow the way it looks like they may grow, well, we could use all our reserves. And if not become homeless, we could fall deep down the well of poverty. 

    And I know the well of poverty. I've lived in various flavors of poverty a few times in my life. My dad lost his job in the early 80s and I remember mom using food stamps to get groceries. Dad going door to door selling Watkins. Dad working in bush operating (and fixing) feller bunchers so he could provide for us. Mom and dad talking about the money we didn't have, certain they were being quiet enough that we wouldn't hear. Listening to the hushed tones of relatives who talked about the poor relations and realizing they meant us.

    I remember being on my own for the first time and having barely enough money to afford my car and the room I rented. A was finish college and had a plan at the cafeteria and would often let me use his plan so I could eat. I made $800 gross a month working full time as a live out nanny and counted myself lucky to have a job and a place to live. When we were first married, I had left Canada to live in the United States and couldn't work until I got my green card. A had a barely better than minimum wage job. We purchased a mobile home almost as old as we were because we could afford the lot rent but we couldn't afford an apartment. And we made it work. 

    It took until I met that girl at the bus stop for me to build empathy for people who live in a cycle of poverty. And it took even longer to try to understand why that cycle exists in the first place. 

    I don't know if I'll ever learn Charles' story. Or learn of where his life takes him. I hope Charles is okay. I hope he has what he needs to sleep well tonight. Food, shelter, safety. I hope he is able to connect with the right resources for him. I hope others treat him with care and compassion. He's a person with a story. He deserves dignity. I hope he has more of that then he has judgement.


    Photo by Rob Walsh via Flickr, CC0 1.0