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.

 

 

 

 

Visiting Home

It was probably over twenty years ago that I had the idea of collecting stories from my father of his youth.  My plan was to write a book.

Now, two decades later the story is changing.  I never recorded those stories and the time has gone by.  My Dad turned 90 this past March.  His memories are leaving him.  I got to see him this weekend.  I made the trip home, almost 500 miles, for our family reunion and just to spend a little father-daughter time.

It’s a new time.  I remember when I was a little girl watching Dad tossing the seed corn bags over his shoulder, throwing hay bales, working on farm machines, doing all the work that needed to be done.  I remember him sitting in the recliner reading his Sunday paper, sitting in the hospital room watching Mom die, taking up his place in the kitchen after she was gone.

My Dad never graduated from high school.  He wasn’t meant for the classroom.  He’s always thought that because he struggled in school that he failed, that he was somehow dumb.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Dad’s journey started on a farm in Port Washington, Wisconsin the second of four children.  His father died when Dad was seven.  Within a few years the family had to move to town and Dad was working for neighboring farmers to make a little money and follow his passion as it became clear that school would never be the place for him.

When he grew up he joined the Navy where he served for several years before marrying my mom and starting a family.  He eventually started farming with his father-in-law and went on to continue farming for over forty years while he also worked full time at a power plant and, for many years, sold seed corn.

He knew the fields like the back of his hand.  He knew every road in the county.  This weekend he and I went out for a ride.  We went to visiting and stopped at a couple cemeteries.  We talked about the fields.  He confused the soybeans and the corn.  We drove the roads he’s ridden for nearly a century.  He told me that he didn’t recognize where we were.

But still, we traveled and we talked.  When it was time for me to leave to return to my current home, he held my hand and looked my eyes and smiled.  It was a smile I remembered.  I saw it before.  I saw it on his aunt’s face.  Sr. Christine was in her 90’s when she held my hands for the last time and smiled with such sweetness and love, that combination of wisdom and childlike beauty that age creates.

My being is divided. I would both love to see my Dad again, to hold his hands, to hug him, to take another drive, to talk some more and I am mostly ready to say goodbye.  He’s been and continues to be my hero.  That never changes.  The question remains what to do about that book?

Polo Shirts and American Flags

In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I’d take on a topic I’ve not visited in a while.

Back in college I served in the student government association at my school.  We were a committed crew.  We gathered every Thursday night for multi-hour meetings fighting for students rights, our mix of conservatives, liberals, and radicals each determined to do what we believed was right.

Every Thursday night began with the Pledge of Allegiance which I, and a few others over the years, sat out.  I still remember being taunted by my fellow student senators for choosing not to take part.  What I remember best is the night that the flag wasn’t in the room.  One of the conservatives happened to be wearing a shirt designed like an American flag.  The group began to jokingly say the pledge in his direction.  I exploded.

People who had taunted me for a political statement against war abroad and injustice at home were ready to pledge allegiance to a shirt probably made by slave labor.  The pledge of allegiance isn’t just a poem.  The flag isn’t just cloth.  They were created to mean something.  Sometimes protest is our strongest way to honor that meaning.

Just some thoughts.

 

 

 

 

Is It Control?

Continuing my Turning Toward meditation this morning, I find myself asking if my attempt to look at my need to seek control might not have some aspects of seeking control within it.  Still, it was an interesting exercise and I appreciate what I saw and am left to wonder what might be opening up.

This morning I mentally walked into the meditation acknowledging that I struggle with a need to find some control in my life.  Many years ago it came to life in what maybe was properly labeled as anorexia.  Recently, life has been pretty stressful and I saw, just for a moment, some old tools resurfacing.  Twenty plus years after I thought my battle with my eating disorder was over I found myself thinking about how I could cut my food consumption in some unhealthy ways.  Thankfully, today I have a wealth of other tools in my collection that I didn’t have two decades ago.  I was able to look at myself and say “Woah, I don’t want to go down that path again.  What’s happening here? What do I really need?”  Thus, I meditate, write, balance time with good people and to myself, walk a lot, and with the spring am starting to garden again and eat the fresh veggies that I’ve grown in community with others.  With help, I’ve also been able to address some of the things that have caused the stress.  One by one they’re being taken care of and life is smoothing out again.

Still, I wonder about that control piece.  Why do I need to be in charge? Why do I avoid asking for help? I’ve found some answers in meditation of late, but it feels there is more.  Yet today, the question refused to be acknowledged.  Instead, the meditation took me to the woods.  It was the woodlot on the back of the farm where I grew up, just a tiny patch of trees, but big enough for a little girl’s dreams and firewood for the stove in winter.

I saw the box where we used to store some of wood cutting equipment, at least I think that’s what used to be in that box.  I never did much with it.  The woods was a play place for me mostly.  It was where Hawkeye lived, a chickenhawk who was my symbol of grace, strength and freedom as a child.  It was also home to unicorns, fairies, and an array of other magical beings as well as the creatures of this world.  There were tall trees that had fallen and made wonderful climbing toys.  It was a magical forest.

Hmmm…. maybe this morning’s meditation was simply reminding me of a time and place where I didn’t need control and it was ok

That’s the thought for the day.  Thanks for reading.  And, thanks to Feedspot for adding Sustainablelifeinaction to the to top 75 Sustainability Blogs! https://blog.feedspot.com/sustainability_blogs/

Taking Care

I wonder when I became a care taker rather than someone to be taken care of and what the balance of these things is?  When did I decide that others were more valuable than myself and have I changed my mind?

My meditation of late has led me to a practice of turning toward.  I’m being encouraged to take a look at something in my life that troubles me and sit with it for a bit.  I’ve been recognizing that I am a “wonder woman.”  I’ve known it for a long time, but this practice is encouraging me to look at it and see where it comes from.  I help people.  That’s what I do.  That’s what I do for a living and that’s what I do for a life.  I don’t like being helped though.  I don’t really trust it.  I like to be the one in charge of the process or simply just to do whatever it is myself.

The last two days as I’ve done this meditation laying in my bed I could feel my body tied down and the rock in the center of my stomach as my mind took me back to childhood again.  Doesn’t it always go back to childhood?  We must have all been messed up as kids.

This time it was back to grade school.  I remember being really excited about going to school.  I loved books. I wanted to learn.  I wanted make friends and to have a nice teacher who cared about me.  It didn’t totally work out that way.  I did have nice teachers who cared about me.  I learned a lot.  I had a couple friends.  But, I went to a small school so I wasn’t only picked on by the kids in my class, but by the entire school.

It was the 1970’s and 80’s.  Grown ups didn’t step in much if at all to deal with bullying.  I was just told I needed to get over being shy without being given any tools to do that.  In some sense, it became my fault that I was being harassed.  So, day to day I struggled.  I wanted to have friends.  I wanted to be a part and to have fun at this school that I’d dreamed of.  I wanted to feel safe there.  Instead my stomach was permanently clenched and I dreaded every moment never knowing when my tormentors would get me next.  I tried to hide in plain sight.  It sounds unbelievable to me now, but I don’t think I ever, in six years, asked to use the bathroom during school hours because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.  I just held it until I got home.

That wasn’t ok.  I needed a grownup to help me and the other kids develop our relationships.  There’s nothing to change now about what happened then and that’s ok.  It’s just good for me to acknowledge what I needed and didn’t get and now I can move on.  What happened then isn’t the determinant of what could happen in other situations if I allow myself to be helped or taken care of.  I don’t need to always protect myself by being the one who only takes care.  I can both take and accept.  We each can.

Thank you for reading my thoughts today.

Where are the Lines?

My beginning meditation practice continues to open my vault of memories and encourage me to look at myself asking questions of my experiences and responses.  I don’t believe that there are bad people.  I believe that there are people who are injured and need healing.  I wonder now if that doesn’t make life more complicated?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just be angry and just give up on the possibilities of forgiveness? What hurt and anger do I hold for myself when I don’t give it to others?

Many memories are resurfacing these days, some good and some sad or scary.  One that I was surprised to see again came from sometime after I graduated college.  I was back in town for some reason staying with friends.  One of them had an extra bed in his room where his son usually stayed on weekends.  That was where I was going to sleep.  I felt totally safe.  I’d been friends with this guy for several years.  I was tired from my trip and went to sleep before he got home.  When he came in that night he slid into my bed and began to grope.  I swatted his hands away.  He got up and went to his own bed.  Neither of us ever spoke of what happened.

In seconds I went from feeling completely safe to terrorized with just a touch.  He’s gone from my life now.  We just didn’t stay in contact after I left town again.

For years I didn’t have a name for what happened.  I’ll admit I didn’t know which bed in that room was his and which belonged to his son.  I did blame myself.  I said to myself that maybe I’d gotten into the wrong bed that night and maybe that caused him to think what he did was invited and ok.   He was my friend.  In my mind,  I couldn’t translate the idea that it could possibly be assault.  He wouldn’t hurt me, right?  He walked away when my body stiffened and I swatted his hands away.

I had no name for what happened.  All I knew is that the trust was broken and I couldn’t go back to that place of trusting again.  I didn’t want to blame him, after all I don’t believe in bad people and what happened scared me and emotionally hurt me.

This morning I looked up the definition of sexual assault on several different online sites.  I saw two things that struck me.  It is any unwanted sexual contact.  It is never the victim’s fault.

Maybe twenty years later now and I have a name for what happened.  It was sexual assault.  I can call it that.  I can be part of that ever growing community of women who’ve been assaulted.  No one wants to be part of that community, but a community it is and strength grows there.

It wasn’t my fault.  It was his.  I still don’t believe in people being somehow bad or evil.  But, I will say he was responsible for his actions and what he did was wrong and hurtful and I didn’t deserve it.

Now, it’s time for me to get up from that bed in that room twenty years ago and walk out into the light of a new day.  Thank you for sharing my journey.