Friday, November 11, 2016

Step Up

I originally wrote this post for my Facebook feed -- which explains the first paragraph -- but am hopeful that by posting it here I might reach a wider audience, however small.
                                                                     ________________________


I realize that this post will seem to contradict my previous one (about everyone needing to calm down as none of us have the ability to foresee how things will play out), but while the presidency is one thing, the reaction of a citizenry already needing little provocation to act on their thoughts is another. 

Some of you know this, but most of you don't:

My child, Emma, is gay and identifies as non-binary, and is in a relationship with someone assigned male at birth who identifies as female and is in the process of transitioning. During election night, I received text after fearful text, was called at 2:30am, Facetimed again in the morning, and texted throughout the day. Emma was so distraught that they (Emma) didn't get out of bed to attend classes. Emma is worried about many things, but right now mostly about their girlfriend who attends school in Michigan and who is terrified to leave her room, as she had been subject to threats long before yesterday. Worse yet, her mother and stepdad moved to, of all places, North Carolina this past summer. Her father lives in Texas and is not part of her or her siblings' lives.

Emma’s own decision not to leave their room had little to do with fear, because they attend a women's college in Massachusetts (Mount Holyoke) that admits students transitioning in either direction (MtF or FtM). It is an outstanding institution not only academically, but for engendering an  atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance that is not to be found in too many places (a women's college is the safest place for a transgender student, and which is why Mount Holyoke doesn't discriminate between MtF and FtM). Emma's girlfriend (who is wonderful and who we adore) doesn't want to change schools to join Emma as she wants to finish her degree in genomics there. Meanwhile, I told Emma that her girlfriend is welcome to live with us here in NY during breaks, but both feel that no place is a safe place any more. Still, some places have got to have less risk attached than others, although it's sad that one has to even think in those terms.

It isn't just legislation that they are both worried about, although that is of great concern on so many counts (health care but one of them). It's the same thing that worries me, and this is it: In a country run by someone who openly mocks those who are "different" (the quotation marks are intentional); who chose as his running mate a person with an anti-LGBT agenda high on his list; and who has never throughout his campaign addressed and condemned those supporters who are proudly racist, xenophobic, and virulently LGBT, his supporters will feel that much freer to harass, discriminate against, and physically assault anyone they want with the belief that they will get away with it. And it’s possible that they just might.

All of us have some amount of bigotry in us, and we can deny it all we want. Some of it, I imagine, is simply a result of the accident of birth; depending what color we are born or what ethnic or religious group we are born into may sharpen our perception as much as it may obscure it. We might not blatantly act on our biases; in fact, we may not even realize that we have them. If we do recognize them, it might be that much easier to justify them especially if we've been on the receiving end of bias ourselves.

Being straight, white, Christian, and U.S.-born (I’m talking all those elements combined, and being male doesn’t hurt, either) is to live effortlessly, moving through society without having to think about what others might be thinking about you. I’ve lived with that realization my entire life. You may think that growing up Jewish in New York City, and in Brooklyn in particular, was considered a norm, and that it wasn’t an issue. You would be wrong. There were adult neighbors who spewed slurs at me and my family. One even tried to hit one of us with a stick as we passed their house. I had to take a circuitous route home from Hebrew school (which was across the street from my elementary school and only a few shorts blocks from my house) to avoid a gang of kids who knew when I’d be passing their street and were waiting to jump me. They called me a dirty jew, a monkey, and lots of other lovely appellations. And even more unfortunate, their street was the one before mine. Once one of them even chalked slurs on the sidewalk directed at me, in case their spoken words and fists didn’t speak quite loudly enough.

Many of us are familiar with the words of Edmund Burke, the Irish-born 18th century statesman and member of Parliament: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

It’s time for all of us to do something. Don’t look the other way because it doesn’t affect you. You just might be next.

Step up.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Trash

About an hour ago, I received from my son's AP Environmental Science teacher a copy of an email sent to all students reminding them to start saving all their trash beginning tomorrow (clearly part of a current or soon-to-begin lesson plan).

Being the reigning Queen of High Sarcasm (more like a Supreme Leader, say, in the spirit of Kim Jong-Un), I feel compelled to somehow respond to her email, because the moment I read it I burst out laughing just imagining the contents of the typical suburban teen's personal trash. Then I began laughing even harder imagining the kind of trash generated by the typical suburban teen in our particular town (which is the real location of what was named "East Egg" in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby). Although not all of us live in homes for which the yearly property tax bill reaches well up into the higher five figures, and for a select few, six figures (we -- my family and I -- live in a very average neighborhood; that is, average for around here), teens here still share many of the same likes, styles, product preferences and spending habits of other teens throughout our nation.

However, most other teens have long stopped believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Justin Bieber and the idea that if you work hard enough you, too, can become anything you want even if you have no idea what a legacy student is or don't have a parent or grandparent who "knows somebody."

So here goes -- a brief list of what I imagine might be found in the trash of these AP Environmental students:
  • Loose change (because coins are so annoying)
  • Crumpled dollar bills ("My nose was running and I didn't have any tissues; I mean, they're only worth a dollar, anyway!" (and at least twice the number of crumpled bills if the student in question is male)
  • This week's busted ear buds
  • A few glass phone screen shards
  • The absence note they were supposed to turn in last week
  • A scrap of paper in their mom's handwriting, with a three-digit number, then a dash, and then a four-digit number, but they can't remember what it was about...is it like, an old morse code thing or something?
  • A used home pregnancy test wrapped up in (ironically enough) a maxi pad, because who would ever touch a used maxi pad?
  • The ignition key that they declared lost three weeks ago, costing their parents $175 to replace and reprogram, so better to throw it out than say that you found it, because now you'll REALLY be in trouble (got that right...)
  • An empty ZigZag or Tops rolling papers pack, torn into the tiniest of unidentifiable pieces...unidentifiable only if one or both parents can remember the excitement when Harry S. Truman was re-elected to serve a second term. Or maybe a partly-used or even unused pack, because who uses rolling paper anymore? Their parents?

You may wonder why I can only imagine what might be found in the the personal trash of my own high school student rather than actually know what's in it. I have some pretty valid reasons, believe me. The first one is that I don't want to know what's in his trash. I don't want to know not only because ignorance truly often is bliss when you're the parent of a teenager, but because inquiring about a questionable item or items will result in a huge blowup (at best) or even worse, could bring about that one eye-roll too many requiring the emergency surgical skills of The Top (of course) ophthalmologist.

Another reason is that except for kitchen trash, I don't actually empty the many small trash baskets throughout the house. That, believe it or not, is my son's chore. Albeit, he only does it (and it usually only needs to be done) once a week, and sometimes after multiple reminders, but no empty, no money. Did I, at his age, have more chores -- or a single but more time-consuming chore -- and did I do them without fail? Yes and yes. One weekday afternoon beginning in third or fourth grade, it was my job to clean all the bedrooms. The rooms weren't large ones, but my mother was a cleaning fanatic who cleaned these same bedrooms and every other room in the house the other six days of the week (as well as worked outside the home) and her standards were high and not to be messed with. They included using damp cotton bud tips to clean every groove and carving in every last piece of furniture; dust and then polish the furniture and make sure not to leave a single fingerprint behind; lift potted plants out of their outer decorative pots and clean the insides of the decorative ones until they were spotless; vacuum the carpets and pick up and discard even the tiniest speck that might remain or appear...the list goes on and on. And I did them, because I was told it was my job and I knew that my allowance was something to be earned, not bestowed. I also carried out these exacting instructions with a sense of dread, which wasn't unfounded, because one spot missed and there was hell to pay. My son often leaves behind a stray scrap or two (sometimes on the floor just outside the emptied trash basket), but other than perhaps mentioning it the first or second time it happened, I have not since made an issue of it. I would say that I wish he was aware that it still happens and yet I don't mention it, but coming from his mother I doubt it will mean anything to him.

Neither one of my kids ever had major chores; Emma was always eager to help out, so if I needed something from the basement or in another room all I had to do was ask. Sam needed a more structured approach, and thus the baskets. Why have neither of them cleaned as my mother did, and as I did for my mother? The answer is because I don't clean as my mother did; someone else cleans for me. I clean up, I tidy up, but I don't clean. At first, it was because cleaning the house myself eventually became something I was fortunate enough not to have to do; now, it has become something I really should be doing with one child in college and another soon on the way. Except now I actually can't do it. At the age of 55, following a lifetime of puzzling symptoms, recurring respiratory illnesses, strange inabilities, anatomical oddities and finally, increasingly diminishing mobility with no answers until I finally left my longtime physician for a new one, I learned via genetic testing that I have a form of muscular dystrophy known as Nemaline Myopathy (or Nemaline Rod Disease). My variant is a rare one within what is already classified as a rare disease in general, but as many are dead by the age of two or spend their lifetimes (long or not so long) in wheelchairs, often trached and on vents 24/7, I'm pretty fortunate. The trajectory in my case is an unknown because it has been so strange and erratic to begin with, so ending up in a wheelchair sooner or later is hardly the stuff of tragedy. And I'm also happy, because I finally know something. I've put up with a lifetime of nonsense, from parents who constantly criticized the fact that I fell a lot, or yelled about my posture or made fun of how I walked and ran, to incompetent doctors who assured me that I was simply de-conditioned because I didn't exercise, despite explaining ad infinitum that I was in pain all the time, fatigued beyond all reason, and struggled to rise from a seat.

How did I manage to go from teen-generated trash to this? I have no idea, but you know what? Trash is trash. Sometimes it's tangible, sometimes it isn't, and sometimes we are equally responsible for generating the latter as we are the former. When examined up close, out in the open and piece by piece, both kinds say a lot about us, and sometimes they even tell a story. Many of us are warned from a young age not to "air our garbage" and pay a heavy price for leaving even a tiny stray bit behind that others might chance to come across.

That was my childhood. It was even a good part of my young adulthood.

And then I kicked over the garbage can.


Monday, January 04, 2016

Not All Huddled Masses are Yearning to Breathe Free

Why is our president -- and so many others, whether in positions of power or not -- focused solely on ISIS/ISIL/Daesh? Attacks have been going on for years throughout much of Western Europe against non-Muslims, by Muslims, whether via spur-of-the-moment attacks against a random target by a bunch of people with no apparent organizational structure, or by groups formed locally and independently for the purpose of attacking individuals or institutions. Are there people out there so naive that the idea doesn't occur to them that among those refugees are those who are taking that long, hard road to immigration just so that they can slip into these countries and continue the violence? Also, do you think the remainder, coming in with no organized agenda, will integrate into European societies en masse, and adapt to their new surroundings, or do you think a good number will expect the countries that are stupid enough to let them in adapt to their desires, as has proven the case for so many? Have the leaders of these countries not learned yet? Or is it just easier to blame "Palestinian desperation" (aka Israel, aka "The Jews") -- as Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallström stated after this past attack in Paris? 

We live in a world in which the word, "refugee," can no longer automatically be associated with the desire for freedom; it can also be a means of destruction, and of conquest. The Tsarnaev brothers were from a family of refugees. Just look what they did. Their parents and sister continue to maintain it was all a conspiracy against them and that they were innocent, and both the mother and sister have sworn revenge. 

Having been born into a people who have been punished simply for praying differently, I have long believed that you have to take people on a "case-by-case basis," assessing them by who they are, not what they are. But the longer I live and the more I see, it's getting harder and harder for me to do so. I refuse the idea that this is some kind of shortcoming on my part. It's called waking to reality.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

An Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg

I sent the following letter to Mark Zuckerberg, fully realizing that he is unlikely to ever see this, even if he has staff members who check his mail and messages, so I decided to post what I had written on my own blog. I am hopeful that whoever reads this will share my url/link with others on Facebook and other social media, and that it will be passed on to more and more people, eventually gaining some notice. I'm sure this also stands a good chance of gaining attention and threats from those who would love nothing more than to see another Jew (and family) killed -- in fact, as many Jews as possible -- along with Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and adherents of any religion other than Islam, with the exception of those who dare practice it in any other way except as they see fit. It is a risk I am willing to take. It is a risk that all good people of conscience should take. Why? Because, as the saying goes, "I would rather die on my feet, than live on my knees." There are times when doing nothing is far more detrimental than doing something. We are living in one of those times. The second worse thing you can do is doubt this.

________


Mark, I have no idea if this message will reach you or not, or whether you have the time (or inclination) to check your messages either personally or through an associate, but I find it extremely distressing that you have vowed to make Facebook a "safe space" for Muslims, but have failed repeatedly to give the same consideration to Jews. 

The fact that you are Jewish is not my issue; my issue is that when reporting anti-Jewish groups and posts, every single individual I know (along with myself) has received back messages claiming that the group or post does not violate community guidelines. In my case, it was a group that promoted the myth of Jewish ritual murder, including the time-honored story that Jews kill non-Jewish children by draining their blood for use in the making of matzo. It seems anti-Jewish groups and posts don't violate community guidelines, but speaking the truth about how so-called Palestinians have continued to perpetrate the greatest hoax of all, and that Europe WILL, in fact fall, and that America -- finding itself with no allies -- will eventually fall as well, is considered hate speech against the Muslims who spread terror like wildfire, and that this automatically merits all Muslims a "safe space." That Facebook has proved to be among the greatest social media weapons in the Jihadi arsenal seems to evade you. Clearly, you aren't ignorant; after all, how else did you get to where you are and all that you've accomplished? My guess is that you are afraid. You're afraid of what's going on out there and are kowtowing to these monsters with promises of protection in the hopes that they will somehow skip over you and your family if and when the time comes. Jews in Germany felt the same way; that if they "made nice" and ignored how they were being treated beginning way before the rise of Hitler, that they would be safe. And we all know how THAT turned out, don't we?

You're also afraid of speaking out in defense of Israel, because that would make you a (shudder!) Zionist -- and there's nothing in the world worse than that. The fact that Muslims by the millions have been murdered by fellow Muslims in all these Muslim countries (not to mention those pesky Christians; Jews who managed to survive were, by and large, expelled from these countries in excess of 800,000, and I'm being conservative) is not a topic to be discussed in so-called civilized circles. In fact, calling these countries what they are -- MUSLIM countries -- is considered a lie, because then Israel will not stand out as allegedly being the only country with religion as its founding principal, even though people of other religions live there, and openly practice their religions, as well. Tell me, what other country in the middle east do you know of that allows this? Yes, that's a rhetorical question, because the answer is ZERO. And the answer is ZERO, even including a business center country like Dubai, who allows in outsiders, strictly for the benefit of profit. Which sounds, strangely enough, just like you.

Frankly, as much as money speaks, I don't even know that a boycott of Facebook, with hundreds of thousands shutting down and causing you a huge loss of revenue, would even move you. Still, I have no problem doing so, and it's my hope that others will consider doing the same. The only thing you can do at this point is the right thing. It's called speaking out, and taking action against, hatred of all kinds -- not just against those of whom you are so clearly afraid, along with the desire to be seen as a "good Jew", and by the wrong people. 

Just grow a pair.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

To P.T. Barnum: Wish You Were Here

A profound and thought-provoking piece has been making the rounds on Facebook and other social media sites for a while now, BUT IT DID NOT ORIGINATE WITH THE DALAI LAMA. There is no denying that the Dalai Lama is an amazing, brilliant, and compassionate man. Still, I believe in giving credit to whom it is due, and it isn't due him.


That it has been attributed to a man born in 1923 named John James (Jim) Brown -- pen name James J. Lachard -- and is said to be part of a piece he wrote, An Interview with God, is also not entirely confirmed, as it was never actually published by him. But at least there are some clues.

The piece was allegedly found by a woman named Reata Strickland, who supposedly posted it in an online Alabama church bulletin in 2001, never claiming to be the writer. She did, though, have it published a year later, but with her name as editor. The piece ended up making its way around the internet, and as the internet is sadly filled with idiots who have nothing better to do with their time than (at their least) attribute actual quotes to people who had nothing to do with them, and at their finest, pass around miraculous "cures" involving cinnamon and honey for everything from ear infections to cancer, these words ended up superimposed on a photo of the Dalai Lama -- and if it's on the internet, then of course it must be true. Even worse, is that these hoaxters (big success stories!) rely on those who don't check facts to perpetuate these myths, and all I can say is that P.T. Barnum sure had it right. And if you were born in this country and still don't understand what I just said about P.T. Barnum, then you're truly a sad case of the stupids. 

In the early 2000s, three former colleagues (from the mid-80s) stopped speaking to me, because one of them -- a journalist and published author of children's books, mind you -- kept emailing hoaxes to a bunch of people to warn them of any number of things, and believe me, even then all it took was a relatively quick search to find out that these were hoaxes. (She also regularly included me in group emails to participate in prayer chains involving Jesus and saints, knowing very well that I'm Jewish.) The only reason I say "relatively" about doing a quick search is because of the load time back in the day of 64-bit processors, and a lot of people even still had 32s. Why did they all stop speaking to me? Because I responded (to all) that not only was the Klingerman Virus a hoax (if you receive an envelope with a small blue sponge in it, RUN!), but that it didn't take much to find this out before forwarding it, and that a journalist -- of all people -- should know this. Oh, and please stop sending emails to me asking me to pray to Jesus, because I wouldn't send emails to you or any non-Jew requesting that you fast on Yom Kippur.

Being shunned after that -- by people I truly loved and cared about, just because I pointed out that it was a hoax and not only easily checked out, but surprising that it wasn't especially from a journalist -- sent me into a spiral of depression that was probably the second worse I ever suffered. Even after I got help for it, the hurt remained. It took a long time before I became at peace with it; in fact, it took well into the Facebook years until I started seeing this kind of nonsense perpetuated on a daily basis, and thousands-fold. I still try to be diplomatic when pointing these things out to people I know who repost them, but I am starting to feel less compelled to even bother as time goes on (really, where did it ever get me, anyway?) Instead, I figured I may as well air my grievances on my own blog -- after a two-and-a-half year absence! -- despite the fact that Festivus is still a good month away. 

Here is the piece in its alleged entirety, or at least as best as I was able to find. Both line and paragraph breaks may not be true to the original. That is, if there is an actual, documented original somewhere out there. Whatever the case may be, I'm glad I came across this even in its abbreviated, erroneously-attributed form, because it led me to an even deeper truth than the truth of by whom it was authored, although the latter still is of great importance.

An Interview with God

“Come in,” God said. “So you would like to interview me?”

“If You have the time,”  I said.

God smiled. “My time is eternity. That’s enough time to do everything. What questions do you have in mind?”

“What surprises you most about mankind?”

“Many things...
 That they get bored of being children, are in a rush to grow up,
 and then long to be children again.   
        
That they lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore health.

That by thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present, and live neither for the present nor for the future.

That they live as if they will never die, and die as if they had never lived.”

God took my hands in His. We were silent for a while, then I asked,
“As a parent, what are some of life’s lessons You want Your children to learn?”

God replied with a smile.
“To learn that they cannot make anyone love them.
They can only let themselves be loved.

To learn that what is most valuable is not what they have
in their lives, but who they have in their lives.

To learn that it is not good to compare themselves to others.
All will be judged individually on their own merits,
not as a group on a comparison basis.

To learn that a rich person is not the one who has the most,
but is one who needs the least.

To learn that it takes only a few seconds to open profound wounds
in persons they love and many years to heal them.

To learn to forgive by practicing forgiveness.

To learn there are persons who love them dearly, but simply do not
know how to express or show their feelings.

To learn that money can buy everything but happiness.

To understand that two people can look at the same thing,
and see it totally differently.

To appreciate that a true friend is someone who knows everything
about them, and likes them anyway.

To learn that it is not always enough that they be forgiven by others,
but that they have to forgive themselves.”

I sat there for a while enjoying the moment. I thanked God for this time and for all that He has done for me and my family.

Then God replied, “Anytime. I’m here twenty-four hours a day. All you have to do is ask and I’ll answer. 

People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

-- attributed to James J. Lachard (Jim Brown) 

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Past Imperfect

Another sign that you're getting old: In the car on the way to school this morning, my son mentioned my father (who died many years before he was born), and we somehow touched upon what he did for a living (he was a sheet metal worker). Sam asked if he liked his job...and when I began to answer, I started to cry. I guess I never really thought much about it before. His life was interrupted by the whisperings of war and persecution to come; he left his parents and brother in Europe, where they perished. He ended up doing whatever he could to survive by himself, and then later, to support a family. I remember hearing him eating breakfast in the dark at 5am, and leaving at 5:30 for a long subway ride into Manhattan, and then another subway back into another part of Brooklyn (we lived in Brooklyn, but the area he worked in wasn't directly accessible from our neighborhood). The shop was freezing cold in winter, sweltering in summer. The clanging of metal on metal was deafening. In 1975, I came across documents showing what he had been making in 1973, when he was laid off after so many years, and also his age, which was always a huge secret (my family had a lot of secrets, one of which later proved to be pretty shattering). His salary was $6.50 an hour (still not a whole lot even in 1973), and at the time I found the documents, he was 65 years old. I was 15. I freaked out at that last revelation, and erupted into the kind of hysterics of which only a teenage girl is likely capable, screaming "I've been cheated!" over and over again.

Now, of course, I realize that if anyone had been cheated of anything, it was my father. But he never complained. I suppose it takes a certain amount of living, along with both parents gone, to realize that our parents weren't necessarily happy with their lives. Certainly, they weren't perfect, and I'm not about to follow in the footsteps of those whose who, looking through the misty lens of nostalgia, tend to find themselves rewriting history. (My family was famous for what one cousin referred to as "throwing another length of footage onto the life editor.") But they did what they had to do, and they did it for their children. Meanwhile, whatever hopes or aspirations they ever might have had receded into the distance, never to be revisited. And as they are no longer here, neither will I be someday. I can taste not only my own mortality, but my own failings, my own imperfections. And they all taste like tears.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Next Stop, Assisted Living

I've been getting mail solicitations to join AARP for a few years, but this recent one in particular caught my eye because it included a free gift with membership -- something that actually looked useful. My daughter saw it laying on the counter, and laughingly asked if I was going to join. I told her I might, because the trunk organizer was kind of neat. "Trunk organizer?" she exclaimed. "I thought it was a diaper holder!"