We don’t have the luxury to despair

So tomorrow. Wow. Who ever thought it would really, actually happen?

I keep waiting for someone to leap out of the shadows, yelling, “You’re on Candid Camera!”

If only.

So what do we do now? We gather with like-minded people. We come up with a plan of action. We follow it. We support one another. We support democracy. We ACT. We do not throw up our hands and give in to despair.

This is a critical time for our country. For democracy. We cannot wallow in our grief or cower in our homes.

I’ve always lived, well… loudly. I overshare. I gush. I rant. I laugh VERY loudly. I tell you about every single feeling that I am feeling. There are some who criticize. They say I should tone it down, be more respectable, take the crazy down a notch or two.

Well, too bad. Because I’ve been like this ever since my teen years. I don’t see me changing anytime soon. Especially when raising hell is so much fun. (Also? It’s much more productive than sitting quietly on the sidelines.)

Do I make you uncomfortable? Good. Because we are entering a period of American history that requires that we be pushed out of our comfort zones.

Trump may have (accidentally) coined “bigly.” But I’m stealing it. He’s referring to “big league.”

I, however, am referring to living this life just as loudly as possible. Bigly, in other words. For the next four years, I promise to live bigly… in my devotion to America, to democracy, to freedom of speech, to our future generations.

Bigly? Yep, I’m going to live bigly. Much to the detriment of the man who first uttered the term.






The might-have-beens

The other night, as I sat in the parking lot at Kroger texting a friend, there was a rap on the window.

A too-thin woman with graying, long, curly hair smiled apologetically.

I rolled down the window.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But I’ve got three kids – and you can check this out for yourself because they’re sitting in that McDonald’s over there – they’re sitting just to the left of the door – but I had to leave my husband because he threw the 4-year-old across the room. I need $14 for a cab, and – ”

“I’m so sorry,” I said, and gave her what I had, which was $10.

And then I pulled out, preparing to head to my Zumba class. On the way, I passed the McDonald’s. Impulsively, I pulled in.

Are there kids in there?

I got out of the car and wandered inside. There weren’t any kids. The McDonald’s was practically empty, save for a group of four adults.

Was I indignant? Angry?



Because there might have been three kids in there, one of whom had been assaulted by his father.

Because that woman might have been someone who had summoned the courage to leave an abusive relationship.

And for me, that’s enough.

I was in an abusive relationship from age 15 (almost 16) until the day I fled town and transferred to another college to get away. I was once the kid … well, teenager … who got thrown across a bathroom and into the shower.

In my mid-20s, I volunteered at a Rape Crisis & Intervention Center/Battered Women’s Shelter in the Texas panhandle. Most memorable was the night I picked up a woman and several children from a  gas station parking lot. A police officer was there, and he was clearly impatient to be done with the family standing out front.

The woman didn’t speak English. She had four … maybe five? … children. They were likely a migrant family, as the town I lived in was home to hundreds of people who flocked there each year to help harvest corn, cotton, soybean and any number of other crops.

I drove a two-seater Isuzu pickup. Somehow, however, we managed to get everyone crammed inside. The youngest child, a toddler, sat on the floorboard at his mother’s feet.

I dropped them off at the shelter, filled out the necessary paperwork, and called for one of the counselors. And then I went home, to my snug little house and my dog, Molly, grateful to be independent, on my own, and not living in fear.

I grew up as a privileged white kid. I had no idea what that woman’s background was, but, having written newspaper stories about the migrant families in that part of Texas, I had a pretty good idea of what she was up against.

And that, my friends, is why I freely handed over $10 to a woman the other night who may or may not have had three traumatized children.

Because she might have been in the same situation I once had to flee.

And I might have been the one who gave her what she needed in cab fare to get away from her abuser.

Several years ago, after a day at the pool, the kids and I stopped at Jason’s Deli to get takeout.

Since the kids were still wet and in bathing suits, I told them to wait in the car. On my way in, a tall woman with elegant features stopped me in the parking lot.

I don’t remember what her circumstances were, only that she wanted to know if I would buy her a salad.

“Sure,” I said, and we went inside.

While I waited for my takeout order, she meticulously assembled a salad. Then she asked the cashier for an extra cup for water.

On her way out, she thanked me, explaining that her father was in the car and that she was going to share the salad with him.

When I left a few minutes later, she and an elderly man were huddled together in a four-door sedan, sharing that salad. We exchanged waves as I drove by.

What I’ve learned over the years, however, is that it isn’t the money or food that means the most to those who ask us for help.

It’s being heard. It’s being treated kindly. It’s the human interaction.

So many people live in the shadows or on the fringes of our society. When they venture out, it means the world to them to be able to converse with a friendly stranger. Or to be treated with dignity.

I felt compelled to share this story because of the extraordinary time we now find ourselves in. It’s so, so important to hold on to what makes us decent and human.

2017: The year we find our way

When I was lost in the Chihuahuan Desert, I spent those long, cold nights finding comfort in the night sky.

Out in that part of Texas, there is no light pollution. You can see the Milky Way and falling stars galore.

On the third night, when I began hallucinating, that Far West Texas sky was the backdrop for everything I thought I saw. I truly believe that the reason I survived is because most of those hallucinations and their accompanying storylines focused on being found.

I spent two nights utterly convinced that searchers knew where I was. I just had to make them understand that they needed to come and get me because I was too weak to walk. (I did a lot of shouting at cactus and rocks that, at times, looked like human figures.)

I wasn’t just hoping that I’d been spotted by that helicopter. I believed — no, I KNEW — that all I needed to do was be patient and wait. And that’s what I did — for two days and two nights.

As we usher in 2017, I think back on my time in the desert and long to experience that kind of passionate belief again.

Right now, all these people are wishing one another a happy new year. Exclamation point! Confetti! Yippee! 2016 is dead and gone!

And I’m that petulant, fretting child off in the corner, shrugging her shoulders and rolling her eyes as she mutters, “What’s so great about it?”

Because while 2016 was a hideously crappy year, I fear that 2017 is when our country begins a dark and frightening new chapter of American history. I don’t even want to open the book, honestly.

But I must. You must. Because while a small segment of America is writing this first chapter, there’s nothing keeping us from writing the chapters that follow.

Except, that is, for our despair. We can’t let that happen.

I’m not making any resolutions this year because, fortuitously, I embarked on some new endeavors long before the presidential campaign came to its divisive end. It’s my hope that what I’ve helped start will flourish and provide just one of many safe spaces that will be needed in the years to come.

Yes, years. We’re in it for the long haul, folks. This is not the time to be a commitment-phobe. If we’re to preserve the fabric that makes up our democracy, we have to keep those ragged edges from fraying any further. I compare this election cycle to throwing a daintily embroidered bit of cloth in with the bath towels and turning the dials to “hot” and “heavily soiled.”

Preserving democracy involves much more than making the usual promises at the beginning of a new year.

It involves finding other like-minded people with similar goals. We need to boost one another up out of this pit. And when one weary soul’s shoulders give out, someone else must step in to do the lifting.

It involves refusing to allow others to normalize what emerged from this election cycle. I culled my Facebook friends list yet again because I can’t afford to let people I’ve always liked and respected attempt to convince me that I should get over it and move on because this is “just politics.”

It isn’t just politics. What happened already has allowed hatred, racism and misogyny several new means for insidiously creeping into our everyday lives.

Nothing about this campaign or election was in any way “normal.” We must ensure that 2016 was an anomaly, not help make it the new norm.

I felt terrible about some of those unfriendings. But my Facebook page is MY page. I’m tired of the debates and arguments and attempts to make me accept what has happened over the past year. I’m tired of people trying to cover coal-black hatred with a veneer of supposedly genteel pastels. They can slap on five coats and I will still see through it.

They say “sexist.” But what my teenage daughter heard during the campaign was “pussy-grabber.” Even she, at (almost) 14, knows that “sexist” is a wildly ridiculous (and vain) attempt at a euphemism.

This isn’t about political parties. It’s not elephants vs. donkeys. I know just as many from “the other side” — whichever side you happen to be on — who are horrified by what surfaced in 2016.

This is about defining human decency and what makes us Americans.

This is the time for action. This is when we create safe spaces for those who will need them. It’s when we reach out to those who want to help preserve what we know to be America. It’s when we gather — whether to plan or eat or just laugh together — because we will draw strength from such gatherings. It’s when we donate to good causes and good journalism.

So as we enter 2017, here are my wishes for you, my friends.

I wish you courage. I wish you determination. I wish you the ability to shine and laugh through the dark times. I wish for new and deepening friendships as we work together in the coming years.

And lastly, I wish for you a chance to sprawl on your back and gaze at the Milky Way … and to experience how it feels to truly believe in something — even when all circumstances point toward doom. I want you to know what it is like to be surrounded by chatter and laughter, to be covered in blankets and given water, after being found, alone, in a vast desert.

God bless you.

No, wait.

God bless US.