Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Free-Wheeling Thoughts to Finish the Year

It has been so long since I wrote here. In the past few weeks, I've had fleeting shots of brilliance, inspiration for new posts that I promptly forgot as I slipped back into the conversation and game-playing that comprises an O'Driscoll family holiday.

At one point, we renamed the girls Chaos and Mayhem because they got into the habit of staying up until 2:00AM giggling in their shared room at Grandma and Grandpa's house. I wondered whether it was the magic of the holidays or if they would have the same fun if they shared a room at home.

There was much cousin-love - piles of teenagers like puppies on the couch, sharing headphones and listening to each others' music, playing games on their phones in competition and cooperation, both. At other times, the littlest cousins joined in, playing Candyland - the never-ending game of Candyland - and building gingerbread houses and Dance, Dance, Freeze! There was more delicious food than anyone could have imagined with decadent chocolate mousse and macadamia nut pie for dessert. Oh, that pie!

There was a photographer who came to do family pictures that we will all forget about until the proofs are emailed two weeks from now and the warm memories of that week flood our brains and bodies. It was a glorious time with rest and games, squeals of delight (none louder than my own Eve's when she opened the bag she has had her eye on for months), and then a return home to a bit of discombobulated priorities. We have one more week outside of our routine to figure out how to spend our time and I am vacillating between thoughts of organizing and purging, finding a quiet space to work for hours, nesting and cooking healthy hot meals, and feeling so overwhelmed I just want to lie on the couch and nap.

And then there is the world outside, with its flooding and tornadoes, refugees still pouring out of their home countries desperate to find some safety and security, and Tamir Rice's family. There is some part of me that wishes January 1 was truly a reset button - a way to clear the mistakes of the past the same way the dog's tail swipes the contents of the coffee table with one clean motion. I often wish we could start from scratch; instead of patching policies with "additional training" and "stopgap measures," couldn't we just scrap the whole tax code, the immigration rules that exist now, the biases and built-up fears of police officers from the last several decades? If we had a way to design humane, equitable, compassionate systems of care for those who are ill, to deal with finances, paradigms of authority, I might feel as though it were possible to change things more quickly.

But then I remember that the only way out is through, and that the best way to make a positive change in the world is to start with myself. And so I will continue to work on being compassionate, open-minded, leading with my heart, and listening, listening, listening. And instead of making grand, sweeping proclamations that an entire year will be "the best ever," I will focus on each step I take, each day as it comes, and set the intention that today will be a good day.

May you find happiness in many moments of today and every day.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Free Speech and All That

Twice this week I've heard stories of hateful verbal attacks in public. I am quite certain that there have been dozens and dozens and that these are only two that I have encountered in the news, but it  makes me think about how we ever came to the place where we believed in our inalienable right to share every trivial opinion loudly and vehemently.

The first incident was a woman (I confess, I can't recall whether she is Muslim or not) traveling on a bus who endured much hollering from a white man, telling her to "go back home" and "get out of our country." Of course, as it turns out, she was born in the US but, apparently because she is half-Iranian, this man assumed she was both a foreigner and a terrorist, and none of the other passengers on the bus intervened on her behalf. It was only when she could take no more and decided to yell back at him and defend herself that the bus driver finally kicked him off the bus. The second involved a woman in Southern California who was driving her two small children somewhere during the day as she wore a hijab. A man in a large truck sped up next to her car, flipped her off and began spewing curse words at her, intimidating her by swerving his truck next to her car and honking before he finally turned a corner and drove away. She made it clear that the things he was hollering were in regards to her hijab and not her driving skills.

As I think about these stories and consider the number of times I've been spoken to in a rude or hateful way by a total stranger, I am left wondering who ever told us that it was okay to talk to other people like that? I am a supporter of free speech, but to me, free means that we are open to expressing our ideas and beliefs in a way that encourages discourse, understanding, and education. Free doesn't mean unfiltered, unnecessary blathering. I frankly don't care if you, man-on-the-sidewalk, like my outfit today, or the way my ass moves in my skirt. It isn't important to me whether you think someone's Spandex shorts are "gross!" or that guy's purple mohawk is "faggy." I'm pretty sure nobody else cares, either. Even if you're going for a laugh, it isn't funny. It's just obnoxious.

What makes us think that our opinions are so important that everyone needs to hear them all the time? Even if you are a person who is nervous around those who practice the Muslim faith, I don't think it's important to share that on a bus, especially not in a way that feels threatening to others. I even feel like it is your prerogative to share your off-the-cuff thoughts (and true beliefs) in your social media feed - fine, go ahead. But directing your snotty or disparaging opinions or, worse, propositions or hate speech, at one particular person or group of people does nothing but make you a bully and a narcissist. Maybe you like Donald Trump enough to emulate him in public, but it is really unnecessary. The world doesn't need more of that.

Perhaps two simple guidelines can help here.


  1. You don't need to say every single thing you think. Honestly. If it isn't going to make the world a better place, if you haven't been asked for your opinion, if it isn't kind or supportive, maybe it ought to just stay inside. 
  2. Your thoughts are not facts. I know, sometimes that's hard to wrap your head around, but just because you think something doesn't make it right. There are many, many things we can't know about other people's lives and circumstances, and if you're at all unsure of whether or not you know for certain that there even IS a "right" and "wrong" in this particular case, maybe it ought to just stay inside. 



Monday, December 07, 2015

The Birthday Celebration to End all Birthday Celebrations

I have just had the most extraordinary experience, and despite the fact that I'm sitting in an artificially-lit room with rain showering down from charcoal-grey skies outside, I am absolutely glowing. 

My oldest turned 16 yesterday and, to celebrate, she and I spent three days in New York City touring around and indulging in all of her fantasies. We poked around Barney's and Bloomingdales, stood with the hordes outside Rockefeller Center and snapped photo after photo of the tree and the ice skaters. We wandered across the campus of Columbia University, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and stood underneath the Manhattan Bridge on a sunny, bright day. We perused the wares at holiday markets from Union Square to Bryant Park and walked through Times Square at night people-watching. Perhaps her favorite experience, though, was seeing Wayne Brady in a production of Kinky Boots. She was hardly able to sit still from excitement and when we stood outside the stage door afterward, shivering, she barely felt the chill in the air. The star himself came out to greet his fans and promptly wrapped her in his wool trench coat and offered her a warm "Happy Birthday!" as I took photos of them together. She floated back to the hotel and couldn't get to sleep, she was so thrilled. 

These moments together, whether they be tiny ones like sharing a delicious snack or huge ones like meeting Wayne Brady, lifted me up to a place I won't soon come down from. I know that I have only two more years before she is off to college and I see her much less often (especially if she chooses to go to school in New York, which she says she will), and while I feel as though I ought to be sad about that, I was really just very honored to be part of the joy that she had this last weekend. Watching her face light up in a grin as big as I've ever seen when she spied the window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue and hearing her exclamation of bliss at the first bite of New York cheesecake are some of the things I was so lucky to be witness to that I will never forget. 

There is a song in Kinky Boots called "Not My Father's Son" that reminded me of a piece I wrote a few years ago called The Fallacy of Belonging, where the two lead characters sing about feeling as though they disappointed their fathers because they couldn't "echo what he'd done." All of the singing was exquisite, but as I sat and listened to that particular song and turned to watch Eve, I knew in my heart that the best thing I can do for her is to let her travel her own path in life, wherever it leads her. No matter how many instances I can recall that point to our similarities, she is herself, and it is not my place to convince her of anything, to hold her back because I am afraid or don't understand. My gift to her is to lift her up, help her believe in herself and trust her own gut, and revel in the things that she enjoys and desires. I could no more imagine myself at 16 wanting to go to school in NYC than I could have imagined myself being abducted by aliens, but it doesn't matter. The simple fact that she and I can share these moments together, with her driving the agenda and feeling free to explore possibilities for her own life means more to me than anything. 

On the flight home, I sat next to a woman whose daughter is a senior at Columbia University. She was on her way home from a visit and she confided to me that she never could have prepared herself for how hard it was to have her daughter go away to college (they live in Anchorage, Alaska - almost as far apart as you can get and still be in the same country). She confessed to having gone through a deep depression when her daughter was gone, and said that even now, she visits her 2-3 times a semester just to reconnect. For a moment, I panicked and started to wonder what it might be like for me to have Eve so far away, but then I made a decision to stay in the glow of this weekend. It will probably be very hard for me if she goes across the country to college, but all I have to do is conjure up the memory of how happy she was to be feeling grown up in the big city, exploring all it had to offer, and striking out with a confidence I never had at that age, and I think I can find it in myself to be happy for her. She is not me, and I am so honored to be given the opportunity to see her for who she is without placing my own filters on her. That would only limit her and goodness knows I don't want to do that.  Happy birthday, sweet girl. Thank you for being in my world. 
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