Sunday, November 6, 2016

Bonfire Night Virgin

WARNING CONTAINS: fire, fireworks, sparks, wood, gross generalization about whole countries of people, Brexit, effigies of Drumpf, burgers and fries.

You remember the fifth don't you? The fifth of November? Right. You remember. I can tell.

This 5th of November, I experienced my first Guy Fawkes Day, which is mostly called Bonfire Night these days. Probably because explaining to small children about burning a Catholic in effigy is too challenging and it's far easier to simply say - It's a night we burn and blow up a community.

My little village (less than four thousand residents) has it's own celebrations that have been going on nearly fifty years. I missed it last year as I was on a writing retreat and the year before I stayed home with our youngest. This was my first real experience of the celebrations anywhere in England.

It began in the parking lot (that's car park for those American-English impaired) of the local library* and the judging of the Guy competition. This is where people make their own, less anti-Catholic stuffed dummies to be placed on the fire so we can burn them. Nothing like a bit of sadistic role play on a cold night! The one that won the in the children's group was called "Hans Brexit", though I couldn't get close enough to see why. I am assuming that burning such a named object is an expression of dislike for Brexit, and therefore I approve. But I still felt odd about it.

Next came the tractor pull. No, my American friends, not the loud, fun kind. This was three or four tractors, each pulling a hay filled cart behind it jammed with children. The idea being that the walk to the bonfire field is long and the kids can ride. What I found strange was watching several tractors rolling away in the dark with mostly children in tow - as though they were being taken away. Still, no one seemed to mind and my children stayed with me and as far as I know all souls were united at the top.

Then came the lighting of the torches. You have to purchase a torch. They're cheap and the sales fund next year's bonfire and fireworks. It's a lot of sturdy sticks with aluminum cans tied to one end filled with a kerosene soaked cloth. The organizers light a few and the fire is passed along. It reminded me of passing the flame between candles on Christmas Eve except this was more dangerous and smoky. Nonetheless, a huge sea of lit torches is beautiful and stirs something in the caveman brain that's undeniable.

Everyone then processed about a mile to the big field. And when I say everyone, I mean a good three thousand people, two-thirds of which carried torches. It's a lot. It's long. It's kind of intimidating. My husband's cousin said it very well, "I've always wanted to be an angry villager." And that's when you realize that mixed in with wonder is a definite sense of unease. Because if you're most modern people, you associate a long line of people with torches with things like chasing down witches, Frankenstein, storming the castle, and, if you're me, the KKK. That is NOT to say that this procession was like that AT ALL. But I really couldn't help feeling odd! Sorry!

A tip if you are ever chased by a very large mob with fire sticks: I highly recommend zig-zag running. A big group with burning objects can't turn well. Hence at every kink in the path to the field, things backed up for several minutes.

When we arrived at the field, there was the thing, waiting to be lit - the bonfire. This one was three stories high. Yes. Three. Made of hundred of pallets, bits of trees or perhaps whole trees, plus the Guys had been transported to await their fate. Lighting it was a very managed and controlled thing, as you'd imagine. Once ablaze it was stunning and awe inspiring and really, really, really hot. People moved further and further away from it as it went volcanic.

And at last, after the fire settled, there was a really good fireworks display that included firework tanks shooting firework mortars. It was a display any American city let alone small town would be proud to show. I watched it from the huge line for buying burgers though because my youngest was having a meltdown about having something to eat. But they stop making them while the fireworks go off, so I had to wait. And when I got back to my family, certain people were a bit beside themselves due to my absence.

In the end though, once we made it home and raised our body temperatures back above cryo-stasis, we all agreed it was pretty amazing and cool and not at all like a mob performing fake vigilante justice.

What I was most reminded of was Celtic celebration from which we get the jack-o-lantern tradition. Once upon time, on a dark night, everyone in community would put out every fire in their home save small lights carried in hollowed out turnips or gourds. They then carried those lights to a place where the fires were merged into one, large fire, and had a big party. Then you take some of the group fire home and restart all your home fires with the shared flames. So the Brits might keep calling it Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes, but I might just call it Samhain quietly, to myself lest I end up a Guy.

*my local library is run totally by volunteers after being de-funded by the local authority. it's only open three and half days a week, but those are some great people in there!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

This is not a post about taking away your guns.

This is not a post about taking away your guns.

In fact this isn’t a post about how I think guns laws should be overhauled. Because that isn’t a particularly powerful argument, especially not on social media where the moment people think their ideas are going to be challenged profoundly they run away or throw out an insult (I’m including myself here minus the insult part these days).

I’m just going to tell you what it’s like to live in England where the vast majority of people don’t have guns. Because until I moved here from North Carolina, USA, I didn’t really think it would be too different. I didn’t think that an absence of guns would be detectable in the same way I assumed the absence of drive-thru fried chicken would never really cross my mind - but I feel these missing pieces of my in-America life regularly.

When I drive my kids to school in the morning and the news comes on I often change the channel before they even start on the headlines, just as I did in America. But on the days I don’t realize the news is on until it’s too late, particularly if I’m listening to “local” London radio, the lead stories after the international ones are stabbings. On a Monday morning in particular, after a weekend of parties, highly contested sporting matches, and other events wherein people drink too much and argue, there tend to be a fair few stabbings reported. Some fatal, some not.

After I take my kids to school, I go about my day and often hear and/or read the news via local and national sites. I tend to get news on events going in the US that aren’t of international consequence via a news app local to my previous home state, Reuters, and, of course, whatever shout fest is happening on fake-book and twitsville. It didn’t become clear to me how heavily gun violence is reported in the US until I’d been away, without visiting home, for about six months.

If I see a police officer, which I often do, they are usually just walking around. Police here have guns, but beat cops on the street do not carry guns. Honestly, this didn’t really seem change anything as far as I could tell. But last week I heard the police chief who liaisons with the French police explaining why the way the French deal with football hooligans (no, these are seriously violent dudes who pretend to give a shit about soccer), something that apparently had been reported in the press as overly harsh. The chief made the point that because the French police carry guns they cannot speak to hooligans the same way British police do. They can’t approach them. Can’t converse. And I just had the lightbulb moment of “well of course!” I’m not offering this as a model, I’m simply realizing what a difference it makes when dealing with typical rowdy, drunkard issues to not have the implied threat of a gun on your hip and how police can talk - like I’m always scolding my boys to do - about the problem at hand and seek a solution instead of bashing their brothers in the head.

My routine changes slightly day to day and month to month, but since I have been in the UK for a little over two years now I don’t know anyone who has been killed or assaulted with a gun during that time nor do I know anyone who has had a family member or friend killed or assaulted with a gun - the same cannot be said, over the same period of time, of the people I am in touch with in America. My cousin lost a friend in Orlando. A friend lost a co-worker to a domestic shooting.

Note, I don’t watch or read stories from the 24-hour news networks in the US. I knew before I moved away that those guys were just fear mongering berserker machines. So when I did feel like that gun violence was perhaps being over reported in America, I dug around a bit in statistics. Overall, as many people already know, gun violence is actually down in the US by and large from ten years ago along with a down turn in violent crime. But then I looked at gun-death instead of gun-violence and found that basically there’s not been much change there in ten years. Basically, 2 out of every 3 murders in the US is committed with a gun whereas in the UK that number is closer 1 in 10 - yet I pose that all those murdered people are still quite dead.

I feel like when people hear the statistics about gun violence in the US versus the rest of the “developed’ world that it just doesn’t connect. People, and I used to be one of them, say that the UK is so much smaller than America so that comparison doesn’t work. Australia is just as big but has a much smaller population. This is called being terminally unique in my opinion - no one can say they’ve had it as hard or as complexly as us ol’americans *wrist to forehead*. How about bare numbers?

In England and Wales in 2011/2012, with a population of about 56 million people, there were 553 murder/homicides and of those 39 were caused by guns/firearms. (see here) Now that level of population spread of a similar amount of land with similar socio-economic distribution is hard to get exactly in the US but I thought I’d compare Virginia (very wealthy in the north, like London, and also close to the capital) plus North and South Carolina to get the population up and be closer to the rural distribution of people outside London and surrounds. That’s about 24 million people. Total number of murders is 1108, of those 766 were carried out with guns (got those stats from the FBI spreadsheets). I’m just going to let those numbers speak for themselves.

I’m seeing and continue to see or have revealed to me what life can be like without *feeling* like there is the constant threat of gun violence despite being in significantly closer proximity to acts of terrorism but equally further from nearly double the number of gun murders. I feel safer. I feel more at ease about my kids in school and my husband at work and out in the cities near me.

That word _feel_ is very important. Those 24-hour news guys, they want you to feel it. The NRA wants you to feel it. Because it is there. That threat. It isn’t there any more or less really than it was ten years ago though (and I’d argue it was too high then as well). It’s just that Americans have let politicians and news media and lobby groups tell us that there’s only two sides. That there’s only one right America and the other America is wrong. They don’t want you to look anywhere for compromise or negotiation. Because if they can keep everyone with their fists up, they can quite literally get away with just about anything else they want to. They can freeze the minimum wage as was done in North Carolina. They can increase guns sales for the gun companies that fund the NRA by spreading that rumor Obama is coming for their guns and telling you that terrorists are in your backyard and coming for you. Again. They can ignore Supreme Court justice nominees and veterans benefits funding and sexual violence against women. The so-called leaders, of late elected by less than 7% of voters in many places, can pray for victims without reaching out to talk, without threat, to the those “hooligans” in that other America to see if they can quiet down and try to respect the living, breathing lives of the people they claim to represent.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Narrative of Self.

“Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. Life would undergo a change of appearance because we ourselves had undergone a change of attitude.” 
― Katherine Mansfield

I’ve been reading up a bit on how perception impacts behavior and it’s kind of insane how small perception cues can change our behavior. Like the color of the plate you’re filling with food can nudge you to over eat. 

This brought me back to a topic I’ve been mulling for, oh, nearly 20 years - the self-narrative. The story you create for yourself (though rarely in isolation) about who you are and how you fit into the wider world. We all know someone who is “the martyr” and that person who always seems to be “the lucky one.” I’m more and more convinced that, in the Western world at least, these types are often taught and later self-imposed. If you believe yourself to be a victim, someone who is always struggling, then you’re going to find something to be the victim of and search for the struggles. Equally, seeing yourself as someone who overcomes leads you to seek solutions in situations where others give up. There are SO many studies that show this to be the case. It doesn’t mean bad shit doesn’t happen to good people. It doesn’t mean there isn’t VERY real injustice in the world. But it does mean that we have choices in how we face that world. Notice I didn’t say how we face “reality” because honestly that word is just tossed around so much it’s lost all meaning. Your reality is your perception. Which also means that though we do have choices, we often fail to make them because we don’t think that our choices matter since, after all, we are just _______ kind of person - “that’s just who I am.” 

Part of me wants to share research and talk about the ways in which we can change that self-narrative so folks can see all the choices they have and feel empowered. But then there’s that research that shows entrenchment of beliefs occurs when challenged outside of a personal relationship (see fb, ugh) - so go find someone you trust and ask them if they think you can make changes in your life, then do your damnedest to trust their answer. 

What I can actually do is make it my top goal as a parent to help my kids develop a self-narrative that will serve them well. Now, I can hear you thinking that all this pop-culture, let’s raise kids to be winners mumbo-jumbo just leads to entitled teenagers; kids these days need hard work, just like you had going uphill both ways to school with three jobs. Hang on there cowboy. The self-narrative I want to teach them isn’t that they can succeed. I don’t want them to believe that they’re winners or loser or martyrs or saints or cobra-kai or zen masters. Because all of those narratives are secondary to the one that makes the biggest difference in every choice we make; even under the weight of the world’s perceptions of us and the imposition of cultural norms. 

So I am embarking on a mission to teach my two kiddos that the central narrative of their life is that they are loved and worthy to receive love. The power of knowing you are worthy of love isn’t about confidence or ego. It’s about feeling secure that though you may fail, and fail often, there will always be relief, forgiveness, and support. Through this narrative they we will share their love with others, making them feel worthy too and drawing loving people to their peer group. Which means they will always have the comfort, the core belief, that high or low, rich or poor, or if they fall in all ways dreadedly in the middle - love is on their side.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

An Angel in the Globe

WARNING CONTAINS: a lot about a person you probably don't know, angels, a stage, Shaxpeare, ageism, gross generalization about the dead, some tears, and a bit of magic.

Note - I'm going to mention and wax lonesome about a mentor of mine named Pat. For this to make sense you need to know the following about her. She was a firecracker, great goddess of a human being. She was A Teacher in all things, everywhere. And she's dead (for awhile now). Which is no small loss to the world.

On my birthday every year I like to try to do something I've never done before. It might be as simple as a new food or as wild as doing barrel rolls down a hill at midnight. This year, hitting the big but not SO big four-oh, I took a tour of The Globe Theatre in London. It's not really the Globe, because the original burned down and got buried under new things. I learned on the tour that the reason why the current Globe exists today is largely due to the obsession, passion, and pursuit of one man, an actor, who thought that London should have a place where Shakespeare as well as the great British tradition of theater and acting could be honored.

During the tour you go into the recreated and currently, actually used theater. The guide brings you to various spots in the space to see it from different perspectives. Other tour groups are there too, doing the same in other points at the same time. If you're lucky enough to be a student on a tour, you get to go up on stage and there were a lot of school groups there that day. While my group was standing at the foot of the stage, the cheap "seats", a large group of pre-teen girls came out onto the stage with their teacher and guide. She brought them into a huddle and whispered to them. They fanned out all over the stage, taking the whole thing up and, at her signal, all shouted the same line. Some shouted, some delivered, and some kind of mumbled. The teacher walked, or rather bounced her energy was so palpable, over to a girl standing at the front, "Why did you choose to stand here?"

And time stopped. There in front of me was Pat. This British English teacher melted away and there she was, going from student to student, seeing them and asking them and not taking bull-shit answers but demanding truth and thought and reason. It probably didn't hurt that there was some resemblance in body type, in turn of phrase (yes, even between the British and The Southern). But it was as though Pat had just flown down from the sky and appear on that stage to greet me. To say, "Remember this?"

I do. I remember. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Adulting in Foreign

WARNING CONTAINS: me, generalizations about whole nations full of people, slang, possibly poor grammar choices, taxes, and a small entreaty to humanitarian outreach.

As a former teacher, I have often heard adults complain that schools do not prepare young people to do the numerous important tasks you're expected to know how to do out in the real world, e.g. write checks, balance accounts, read contracts, be thoughtful consumers, etc. And they're correct. Most American schools these days have no courses that teach "life skills" or even much practical, hands on anything. In case you're wondering, that's because schools have to get kids to pass fill-in-the-bubble paper tests and also because those adult skills are meant to be passed on by parents (that's bc old white dude govt assumes families are whole and stable wherein children listen to said parents - it's called 1950-never). Often, and I know because mine did, parents do attempt to share this knowledge with their children, but are frequently dismissed; I know because I dismissed mine.

But let's say for the sake of argument that you figure these things out either through family or friends and/or youtube videos (that's the "adulting" channel) . One day, you're a self-respecting, get-things-done, high functioning adult who decides to move to another country. And you think, "I can do this!" If you're me, you think, "My husband is British and I've lived in countries with unreliable electricity and mafia run black markets so England will be lush - I got this!" You, and I it turns out, would be horribly, horribly wrong.

When you move abroad to work for a company or even a school, they give you orientation materials, training maybe, and you might even be provided with housing. When you just pack your bags and step off a plane, into a rental house you've never seen, there is no booklet lying around that reads "Grownups Guide to the UK: everything you need to know about archaic laws and making tea." I've mentioned before on this blog our adventures with estate agents and strange chicken and egg scenarios with bank accounts and creditors. I've wowed you with my alien accounts of napkin wrapped birthday cake culture and other foreign rituals shrouded in mystery. But I haven't mentioned every bump partly because they're small and boring. They also make me appear a bit daft.

When I lived in the PRC, I was once robbed of several hundred Chinese dollars of my own free will through getting "change" from a woman pushing counterfeit bills. But I also bargained the hell out of every stall owner in the blocks around my school until they stopped trying to charge me four times the Chinese price. I have screamed obscenities at bus drivers who refused to pull over so I could puke in the street.

Once, in Prague, I had to find a Chinese restaurant so I could use a common language with the owner in order to borrow a phone to call my local friend after I couldn't find her flat.

Some friends and I found the equivalent of a 7/11 in a shack on Georgian (the nation) hillside in the dark so we could buy cheap vodka and chocolate  instead of triple plus mark-up stuff at our hotel.

I've search Gaborne, Botswana on foot, by taxi, and with the police for a missing student (yes, I found them mostly unharmed).

My move count in America was at least 18 moves across five states in 30 plus years.

So you'd think I'd remember, after moving houses, to change my address with the local council (AKA county registrar) and, you know, pay my property tax. Or that my native hub would. But we didn't. And damn it if they're weren't' really nice about it since they admitted that someone ought to have "chased you up" after a year of unpaid bills.

Paying taxes ought to be a breeze after all of the above and passing the UK driving test. But between assets in two countries and payments from companies in both - we had to give up and hire an accountant and a lawyer, I mean solicitor, or face our brains melting and dripping from our heads.

Over the holidays, while visiting America, I found myself barely able to translate what a tombola is to friends who asked about British Christmas traditions. Why is a place to meet Santa called a grotto? Why are Pantomimes so popular? I got nothin' ladies and gents.

I still face inexplicable terminology and rituals and hoops that must be jumped through in England, two years into our experience living here. And so does my husband after more than 12 years living away.

So here let me stop being silly and self-effacing and say that all this has led me to consider how refugees deal; as aliens in foreign land, as people trying to keep a roof over their heads, get an education for their children, and to learn all their is to learn about adulting in brand new place, regardless of language - it is hard. Really hard. Soul crushing I'd imagine. That doesn't make the challenges I face less frustrating, but it has given me insight and it's made more thankful. I've also become more involved in immigrant issues as a result. Because I'm an immigrant. I'm just a super privileged, English speaking (sorta), monetarily able one.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Turkey Day

WARNING: contains gross generalizations about whole countries full of people, green jello/jelly, creamed soup, Native Americans, anti-capitalist sentiment, and me.

Hello All! Mostly, I write this blog from the perspective of a dazed immigrant in England. But today, on the American holiday of Thanksgiving, I bring you, my fellow British Isles dwellers (and according to my stats - European, Scandinavian, and Asian readers) a perspective from the United States.

Thanksgiving is much misunderstood as far as I can tell. A lot of Brits have said to me that it's bigger than Christmas, which it is not, unless you're a devout non-Christmaser (plenty of non-Christians have decorations and parties and presents at Christmas, just ask the Chinese). Others seem to think it solely food related and that the meal is really just another Christmas dinner. Also wrong.

First, Turkey Day, as many of us jokingly call it, can be quite different region to region, in particular by way of what's on the table. In the north eastern US, things might in fact look a lot like a British Christmas feast though often with some seafood tossed in. But in the rest of the country foods vary wildly and regional differences are sometimes superseded by ethnic background. I have a friend who's family in Korean and Italian - their dinner mixes the two. Where I'm from, in the south eastern US, we have rice instead of any white potato because rice was grown there for so long. We also have a stuffing that is cornbread based. We do peas for our green. And a 'savory' side my family eats is a sweet potato souffle topped with toasted marshmallows. I know that's not savory (I always eat it last), but it's on the plate with the turkey and gravy. Another accompaniment in my family is a 'salad' made with green jello/jelly, pecans, cream, and...horseradish. Yep. Not a salad. One day I'll properly research the origin of the atrocity that is is green jello salad, but for now accept my apologies for making you imagine it. Dessert/pudding in my family is a smorgasbord of diabetic coma inducing delights. Caramel cake, lemon curd tarts, pumpkin pie, plus any number of other things that we 'have' to have because so-and-so is coming and it's their favorite.

But that's not all the holiday is in my family. And here I have to say that I don't think my experience is unique, but obviously there will be differences across class and family issues. People come from far away. I have gone as far as twenty five hundred miles to attend Thanksgiving. On my mom's side of the family, it's my grandparents, all my aunts and uncles plus their kids. Sometimes there are family friends or more distant relations. My grandmother's cousin is a regular guest.

On the day, the kitchen and dining room are a buzz from early in the morning. With anywhere from 8 to 20 people present, it takes awhile to cook for that kind of crowd, even in an American size kitchen and oven. We nibble as we cook and set tables in fine china. We drink, slowly making our way from tea and coffee to wine and beer. There's conversation about things we remember from other Thanksgivings. We laugh over what we have in common and skirt nervously around what we don't. Sometimes tempers flare, usually as a result of trying too hard, wanting too much, or setting expectations beyond reasonable reach.

The day after Thanksgiving - now so well known as Black Friday* - is a mixture of things. Some people do shop. I participated in a few 5am trips to the mall in my teens, but it's never been something I wanted or needed to do. My favorite things on the Friday though are turkey hash (a bunch of leftovers all in one pot of stew-like goodness with extra gravy thrown in for good measure) and going to a movie with the family. On Saturday, we watch American football. It is a big rivalry day for my hometown team (the Georgia Bulldogs). That's a whole other set of traditions. We used to all go to church together Sunday morning, but as my grandmother ages, that's not always on the agenda.

I polled friends on fakeb00k for their faves (note, no one said shopping) and almost everyone has food/indulgence related feelings, a few like to do one of the many "turkey trot" charity runs, but most also said being together. Special mention to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade (and other local parades) as fun family time too.

Key thing though, for all of the above, is that we are together. We are together until we can't stand to be together anymore. We are together in a way that fills up the spaces in between so that we are bonded in ways we don't even understand. We eat too much. We drink too much. We clog the family home's arteries.

It's a good holiday. In some ways, better than Christmas because really, as long as you're willing to eat and chat, there's no pressure to do anything else. The variety within the food traditions, the families that do shop versus the ones that don't, the 4 person dinner or 20 person feast, all have the requirement for togetherness in common. Even if it's only in spirit.

So, do as we do sometime in the coming days and go around the table, each saying something that they're thankful for (besides the good food) and maybe have an extra slice of cake or mince pie; then say cheers to your American brothers and sisters and count yourself lucky, see yourself blessed, or know yourself to be cared about in some form or fashion by this American.

*warning, rant ahead - the shopping insanity that surrounds the Thanksgiving holiday is relatively new. While the tradition of special sales is relatively long standing. I think what international media fails to address, when it covers the craziness, is the issue of commercializing BF and ramping up the stakes of cheap or free mid-price items ignores why people are "desperate" to participate. IMHO this is down to two things, the pressure that middle and lower income people feel to give presents that are commiserate with those of a higher income ("i don't want to disappoint ___." or "i can't have ___ go to school and everyone else have gotten a playstation but him") and the economic decline of the working class in America. Just saying. I have never felt the need to do BF, but I understand why others do, even if I wish they would opt-out of the false ideal of the BIG Christmas gift.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Those Who Can't Do

WARNING CONTAINS: me not trying to be funny or entertaining or writerly.

I've been thinking a lot lately about social media and expression. Also about community. And about how we as individuals understand humanity. By humanity, I mean all people. From a brain function perspective we can't. Our brains are made to stereotype, to create predictable categories, and gloss over details until there's a clear and present need for them. This is why, when distracted, people will walk into walls or telephone polls, or those silly strap fences used to make people form lines as I watched a woman do today.

I've partly been thinking about these things cos-syria-refugees-massmurders-american-politics-BS. But I started thinking about them, pre-paris (yes, I know there were other attacks. If it bothers you that I grieve more for a place I've been than a place I haven't, then my apologies for my human frailty and that's kind of what this is about). I started to ponder because I'm just so f-ing sick of fakebook. I'm tired of all the polarizing, you must chose my side, my way or the highway, left and right exaggerations and willful misunderstandings. I'm part of the problem, I know. I share political stuff. And I, like a lot of my friends, have started sharing less and less actual personal feelings, day to day to events, and what I'm doing. Which begs the question of why I'm there. I remain to share photos and updates about my kids w/family and friends. But even that I'm doing less. Because I don't feel safe. I don't feel, most days, connected to my connections. That's as much my fault as theirs. It makes me sad.

Then yesterday, a former student of mine who is Muslim posted that she was appalled by the hate in her timeline. That all she saw were rushes to judgement, rejections of the basic humanity of people based on religion, and misinformation about her faith. And I thought, that's not what my timeline looks like. As much as there're insane levels of politics, click-bait, strange gifs, fake tumblr posts, and cat videos - there's not a lot of hate. I answered her by posting about all the outpouring of sorrow I'd seen. That I had friends actively involved in trying to bring refugees into their own homes/neighborhoods/communities.

Afterward, I started thinking about why. Why do I have such a compassionate timeline, with rare exception. Why do I know that terrorism isn't part of Islam? Why do I know that compassion and empathy are the cure for conflict?

I think it's because I've been a teacher. In my classrooms, I have spoken daily with Muslims, Hindus, Christians, atheists, Buddhist, and more. I've taught homosexuals, queers, and undecideds. Several of my students during my first year teaching public school are the autism spectrum. One of my students in my second year of teaching was homeless. I've taught drug addicts, thieves, and get-a-way drivers. One of my students is a fashion designer. A few former students became teen-moms. I've taught football players and chess champions. This is partly reflected in my social media. But it is mostly reflected in my world view. That thing where my brain might gloss over the detail stops when I see someone like someone I've known, spoken with, loved. I walk around the wall.

So since those who can't do, teach. And those who can't teach, make laws about teaching. I'm challenging each of you reading this. Not to become teachers (too much work, trust me). But go OUT. Meet some new people. Talk to someone who is unlike anyone you grew up with. Find a moment each day from now until New Year's Day to speak with a fellow human whose view into humanity is in some real way in contrast to your own. In person.* And, now here's the hard part, listen more than you talk. Ask more questions that you don't already think you know the answer to. Report back. Let me know if you can spot the humanity. I'll be praying for you.**

*Dear friends with social anxiety. If this is too much for you, I understand. Can I recommend that you instead read HONY every day. Read the comments too (not all of them, good grief).
**I just mean that I'll be hoping you find more love than rejection, take it easy. It's an expression.