An All White Town

I grew up in rural Wisconsin in the 1970’s and 80’s in an all white town, except that it wasn’t, all white that is.

I don’t know exactly when I realized that little bit of information. I just know that even today I hear about rural communities being “all white” and I wonder.  I know that was the story of the area that I grew up.  That’s how we, at least we who identified as white, spoke.  “Those people” whoever “those people” were lived somewhere else, maybe in Chicago or Milwaukee or up north on the reservations, but certainly not in our area.

While I was busy living in that White Town fantasy world, some of my friends were living the reality of being bi-racial, Latino, or Asian in a community that didn’t, and probably still doesn’t really recognize them for who they are.  Instead, it asks that they pretend to be White or better yet, just be invisible or don’t be.

Well, these days I hang my hat in west central Minnesota.  I’m still in a small town and I work with small towns around the state.  Our rural communities are changing.  The White population is slowly shrinking and the population of people of Color is growing.  It’s going to continue that way into the foreseeable future.  It wasn’t ok for us to expect people of Color to pretend to be White or to try to be invisible or to just not be thirty years ago.  It’s absolutely unacceptable today.

Do we want rural communities to survive?  If we do, then we need to take a look at ourselves and ask some questions.

  • Am I seeing everyone who lives here for who they are or am I asking them to reflect me?
  • What am I doing to honor the experience and gifts that People of Color bring to the table?
  • How am I perpetuating racist systems and how am I tearing them down in my every day?
  • Who do I welcome and how?
  • What do I want my community to look like in twenty years? What will it take to get there?

I am sure there are many more questions to consider, but these give us a starting point.  The key thing is that the fantasy White Town has always been a nightmare for some and is becoming a nightmare for all.  If we want the nightmare to end, we need to look racism in the eye and tell it no more.

Who Am I?

My friend Walt used to tell a story.  He’d tell people of an Anishanaabe elder who spoke of the fire at the beginning of the world, “No” he’d say ,”before the beginning.”  All the people sat together around that fire with the creator.  One by one we went off to populate the world.  The Anishanaabe were the last to leave.  They liked it there by that fire, telling stories, swapping jokes, and just having a good time with the creator.  Finally, the creator had to chase them away.  That time by the fire has left a memory, a connection that others have forgotten.

The elder in Walt’s story was approached by people from all over world; African, Asian, Latino, Caucasian all asking for their stories.  The elder always responded the same.  “I don’t your story.  I can only tell my own. But, if it’s true that we all come from around the same fire, our stories must be similar.”

I think about that often.  It’s told me who I am.

I grew up a Catholic, white, farm girl in southeastern Wisconsin.  I always wanted to see the homeland of my ancestors.  A little over a month ago that dream came true.  Some of my family and I went on a tour of Luxembourg.  That’s where my understanding of who I am got a reworking.

It turns out that it’s likely my ancestors were Jewish.  Quite a thing to find out during a week of touring WWII museums and cemeteries!

I am left now to wonder who they were.  Jews were first recorded in Luxembourg in the 13th century.  They were largely wiped out and returned several times over the upcoming centuries.  By the time my family left in the mid-1800’s there were several hundred in the country.

What happened?  What made this group so persecuted so consistently throughout the centuries? What pushed my family to deciding to leave behind their identity and claim something new when others didn’t?  What does that identity mean for me?

These are all questions that have just begun to float in my mind.  I don’t know yet what to do with them or where to seek answers.  It is probably enough for now to simply name the questions.

It is my walk back to that fire to find out who I am.  That is where we find ourselves, in the journey back to the fire, in that time to sit and visit and come to know each other, ourselves, the created, and the creator.

 

 

 

 

Remembering What’s Important

Image result for St. Coletta School

I remember, as a little girl, watching “Facts of Life” on television.  I always wanted to be one of those really lucky, smart kids who got to go to a boarding school.  It seemed so special, almost magical to have that kind of freedom.  It’s funny looking back at it now.  My older brother actually went to a boarding school, St. Lawrence Seminary,  and I visited him quite often as a young child.  I saw his boarding school first hand often.

I also saw St. Coletta’s.  I was thinking of it today, remembering how I loved to visit St. Coletta’s, how I was really kind of jealous of the people that I met there, how I wanted to live there in that wonderland.  I had no idea, as a young child, that the people who I met at St. Coletta’s had severe developmental disabilities.  I just thought they were happy and having fun.  Maybe they were.

St. Coletta’s is a special place in my memory because of a special woman who left the world this morning.  Sr. Phillip was my aunt.  She did laundry and care giving for residents of the school.

There are many of us in the world who hold that title “I grew up Catholic.”  It seems a lot of us hold an anger about that experience especially about the nuns and priests in our lives.  I don’t.  I don’t hold the same beliefs I did when I was younger, but I look back at some of the believers who’ve taught and guided me and I am inspired.

Sr. Phillip was one of those.  I remember her hands, scarred from years of work.  Her smile and twinkling eyes, her walk that really was just like a penguin.  Her hips and legs had to have caused her great pain.  For the last several years she depended on an oxygen tank.  But, she never complained.  She was truly happy.  So often we’re running from here to there acquiring stuff, seeking accomplishments, trying so hard to be greater than we are and falling short, disappointing ourselves and just being lost.

Sr. Phillip just smiled and laughed and enjoyed the people she was with.  She lived over 90 years.  I knew her half that time.  I don’t remember ever seeing her angry for more than a moment.  I think back now and know that she spent decades of her life working and living with individuals facing huge challenges in their lives.  She lived with a vow of poverty.  She also lived within a loving community, with a faith that meant a great deal to her, as a part of a family that she loved.  She had it all.

I thank her for reminding me what’s important.

The Detox Day 20

I did something a little out of the ordinary a few weeks ago, 20 days ago to be exact.  It was my friend Bob’s fault.  Last summer I had some allergy testing done to see if changing my diet might help with my epilepsy.  I’ve made some significant changes to how I eat and it’s been great!  I’ve lost nearly 40 lbs.  I feel so much healthier and I think my seizures have decreased as well.

Among my allergies are cane sugar, olives (olive oil), green pepper, and black pepper as well as a few other things.  That brings us to the incident of 20 days ago.  I’ve said goodbye to ice cream, cakes, and cookies without too much sadness.  I’ve just figured out ways to replace them with things I can eat.  There is one thing that I’ve not successfully said goodbye to though– pizza.   I still fall prey to the mediocre pizza buffet.  I can successfully avoid the slices covered in green peppers and olives for the most part though every once in a while one slips in covered in cheese.  But, there’s just about always cane sugar, olive oil, and black pepper hidden in those creations.  Plus, the pizza buffet is one of the few places that I have a glass of pop anymore as well.  20 days ago I was on Facebook pondering a trip for pizza when Bob responded by telling me that I’m an addict and need a 120 day detox.

Well, whether or not addict is the right word I don’t know.  But, I am nothing if I am not stubborn.  Bob seemed to be questioning if I could go 120 days without pizza.  I thought about it and realized that since my mom died in 1984,  I’ve probably never gone more than two weeks without a slice.  I was twelve when she passed and had quite limited cooking skills.  When Dad was at work and I was home I ate a lot of frozen pizza, potato chips, and coke.  Now, all three are gone from my diet.

In college, my housemate had a piggy bank in the shape of the Sesame Street character Bert.  We used it to save our change for a trip to Europe.  We never got to Europe because every time we got enough we bought pizza.  I’ll be making my first trip to Europe this summer.

Today is a day of celebration.  I think it may be the longest I’ve gone without eating pizza since I was 12 years old.  I am treating my body with the love and respect that I deserve.  Feeding myself good and healthy food that I enjoy and that makes me feel good.

Only 100 more days to the pizza detox.  I am asking myself how I will celebrate my accomplishment when it’s done.  Will I go out for pizza? Stay tuned to find out.

How are you caring for yourself today?  You deserve the best.  Treat yourself with love, caring, and respect.

Challenges and Gifts

My father will turn 90 in just a few days.  Family is gathering for the party tomorrow.  I’ll be 500 miles away.

That wasn’t the plan.  The plan was that I’d drive home yesterday, spend a little time with friends along the way, then head for a weekend with family.  My body, well actually my brain, changed the plan.  I have epilepsy.  I was diagnosed in 2013.  My seizures have been well under control, but one showed up a few days ago and I had to set down the car keys for the next few months.  And, I had to take a few days to just rest and recover.

The good news is that it encouraged me to pick up the laptop again.

I don’t know why I have epilepsy.  I come from a large family and I am the only one with this challenge/gift.  I can hypothesize a list of possibilities, and I have many times. But, the reality is that it’s here and I get to live with it.

Why write about it?  Well, because it is a gift and gifts are good to share.  What? Epilepsy is a gift? No way!

I will admit it’s not a gift I would have chosen and if I had the receipt I would most definitely return it, but it is a gift.  Here are just few reasons why I consider my epilepsy a gift in my life.  I wonder what unexpected and perhaps unwanted gifts life has given you?

  1. It’s helped me look at the temporary nature of life to better understand that there was a time without me and there will be another time without me.  That’s ok. Now is my time to be alive.
  2. It got me to take pause to take care of myself.  I’m now a whole lot more conscious of when I need to just relax.  I’ve totally changed my diet, lost a lot of weight, and feel much better and happier.
  3. It’s helped me empathize with the experience of others.  Seizures scare people.  They also sometimes limit some of the things that I am able to do.  Epilepsy is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  So, I am told, by the law, that I now have a disability.  Some days I agree.  Some days I don’t.  But, I do know that I have a better understanding of how both my brain and societal rules create limits.
  4. I have found great support.  I am a lucky one.  I have a strong family and friends that don’t run when they get scared.  I’ve also been able to find some excellent online support groups that have added to the group of people that I have that understand.  How amazing is it when people stay with us through the our rough spots?
  5. It’s continued to inspire my work to encourage healthy living both as individuals and as community.  My experience simply reminds me that we need to take care of ourselves individually and as a community if we’re to survive and thrive.

What challenge/gifts inspire you and carry you forward?