When the beacon of justice goes out, what will we use to light our way? 

shepard-equal-humanity-greaterthanfearForeword:

I originally wrote the story below in the innocent days of August 2016. Its hard to believe how much hope I had then, and what a contrast I feel now.

For those friends who caution restraint, even in linguistics, who believe that an erosion of civil rights has not yet begun, I ask that you attempt empathy for me, even if you can’t for those currently in the same limbo at airports around the country.

Each one of the detained has a life, a social network, goals, and loved ones waiting for them at home. The vast majority are students and doctors, parents and neighbors, co-workers and friends. We already have a rigorous vetting process for all applications to this country that is proven to be as effective as possible. This type of thing has never happened before, despite claims to the contrary. This policy does not increase security, but threatens our partnerships in conflict regions and is a death sentence to families that risked their lives to support our interests.

I am a deeply privileged white woman with resources of many kinds to help me through my own experience. Please recognize that without all the help I had, my refused entry would have been emotionally crushing and life-altering. Delay of even one more day in my case would have meant an entire year lost because I would have been too far behind to catch up.

I do believe that in times of peace and stability it is helpful to adapt your attitude to hand out happy, but this is not that time. This time our integrity is under threat. This is not a bureaucratic error. Foundational elements of our political system are under threat and ‘not minding’ is not an option.

If you feel this story in any way might help someone understand the human cost of a refused entry, please share. We are all human, we all feel joy and pain and loss. We have come too far to return to tribalism and hatred and outright violence.

The most white supremacist thought to which I have ever been immediately attuned was in the stress of the situation described below. I was in the deportation lounge thinking ‘Can’t they see I’m not a terrorist?’ My second though was ‘wow, that was pretty racist. What does a terrorist look like? Why can’t she look like you?’ I didn’t know until I had that thought how shocking it is to realize you were racist all along. The shame of that self-reflection is not easy to bear and is terrifying to share publicly. Both feelings inform how important it is to share this story. It is critical that we are all a little more reflective, a little more honest, with ourselves and with our fellow citizens.

Any shame I feel is outweighed by the hope that in sharing I might help one person to see a little more clearly. Hopefully some of this speaks to you.

 

The secret to a charmed life is making all the green lights… and not minding the red ones

This popped into my head on a sunny September afternoon while waiting in traffic at an intersection I used to breeze through in SE Portland.

I was considering my helplessness, stuck in Portland while the rest of my graduate classmates were moving in, finding books, meeting each other and beginning class. That was all continuing on the other side of the world while I was waiting for a light, and waiting for my whole life at the same time.

I was supposed to be in London, and I was here, waiting for the British civil service to decide if I was going to be allowed back, if I could live and study in the UK, a place I was pretty sure was integral to my whole future. Looking back, I suppose there was an issue I was a security risk. I thought I was a normal 20 something, just wanting to go back to school. I didn’t think that my constant international travel looked suspicious, although I should have known better after all that time traveling to weird destinations. Student tickets aren’t usually the means of constant global circumnavigation

It started like all my other trips. I packed, printed documents, double checked lists and said my goodbyes. From the moment I stepped on the plane I was on my way to a new chapter of life, expectant, nervous, a little jittery with my soundtrack plugged firmly in my ears.

I hit the immigration hall out of the gate. I was excited to be there and I knew this drill. A lifetime of international travel and I thought I knew it all. Little did I know I had only ever seen one side of that system.

I strode confidently up to the podium, my passport and a print-out of my invitation letter proudly displayed. I tried to keep the conversation short and polite, my goal was to get out of the airport and on the train asap. I guessed I could be in my room in 2 hours, max. My head was already at Paddington station, looking for a taxi.

I was drawn back to the podium by a question “Where is your visa?”

I was confused. They were supposed to stamp that. That is how most visas worked for American passport holders (outside China, at least.) My two previous student visas had been granted that way.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Isn’t that what we’re doing? Did I forget to give you my letter?”

(Always be polite when traveling, it costs nothing and is much more effective)

“I’m sorry, I’ll be right back”

I was left standing alone at the podium while others streamed by me. I had never had this perspective before, I was always the streaming, moving quickly through barriers with a smile and a quick polite word. It was disorienting, to suddenly know something is different and off, but not understand what exactly is happening. I was told to take a seat and wait. My original timeline was now very off and I was very much present in only this moment.

Flights land at Heathrow from all over the world, passengers enter the UK from 3 international terminals. That year 68 million passengers passed through their doors.

After I had been sitting for 20 minutes, a flight landed from Lagos. About half of the African passengers were detained for health screenings. I considered how lucky I was. Mine was probably a simple misunderstanding, his was being born in the wrong place. I was scared but grateful for the reminder to take deep breaths and choose happy.

I was not allowed in that day. I was refused entry, detained and treated suspiciously by a group I had previously barely noticed. I was fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed. I was in a windowless room with a payphone useless to me. It was early Sunday morning GMT, who would be available? Could anyone help? I sat with the other Americans who had made my same mistake. For some it had been a gamble, for some a genuine misunderstanding. There was a quorum of about 5-6 students, constantly shifting, but always about the same size. There was a woman who had been at a conference and couldn’t give up her passport long enough to get the visa. She was kind in telling me to give up hope immediately, but I was still naïve enough to be unable to comply.

There was a VERY highly strung gentleman from New York who kept us informed of the events he was currently missing at his college on an hourly basis, in between lamenting how miserable this situation was. Now was the coach to meet him, now was the welcome drinks, now was the meeting with his advisor. Maybe he could just buy a cheap ticket to Denmark or Amsterdam, and stay a few days. It is the only time in my life I have ever genuinely thought ‘you are killing my zen, man’

I was trying not to panic and so had not begun to focus on how this knot would be unraveled. I kept thinking that when they understood how the mistake happened, and that I was unaware of a rule change, there would be some accommodation.  There was a singular unwillingness to do anything other than process us and send us home to deal with their colleagues in another branch of UKBA.

We went down to the arrivals hall to collect my bags, including the extra I had brought and paid for. I was quickly learning what it was to be accompanied everywhere, treated as a suspect.

My luggage was searched thoroughly in the otherwise empty entry hall as other passengers sailed through ‘nothing to declare’ and searchd again in front of the entire flight I was put on to get me home as quickly as possible. I had a short chance to call my parents to tell them to expect me. I was escorted with 3 guards, all at least a head taller than I was, the most unlikely international menace you had ever seen. They walked either side and behind me, to the van with the cage in the back and from the cage to the secure departure area where they checked my bags again. My rational mind knew it was a shaming mechanism: how could I have any contraband when the bags had been in their possession since they last searched them? The rest of me was mostly numb. The female guard, taking pity, gave me the chance to pull 2 things from my checked bags- a clean shirt and a stuffed dog who was my most constant companion.

And there I was. In seat 47G, on my way to another 30 hour journey back home to figure out what came next. I flew to Dallas, was met and given a hotel room, woke in darkness to the ringing of the wake-up call and stumbled onto a plane to O’Hare, more grief from TSA, probably because I was a mess and easy. Finally, I arrived back where I started, 72 hours later. My parents had hugs and plans and we had a mad rush for the first 3 days while I got a new passport (a whole other story) and sent all the paperwork to the consulate. Apparently, they aren’t kidding when they say ‘check all immigration requirements’ because those suckers change! As an undergrad I needed a letter, as a postgrad (and post 9/11 and 7/7) one needed a bank account, and a letter, and a whole form, and additional photos. We sent everything they asked and called everyone we knew who might be able to help. And then we waited.

The thing that people misunderstand about government, is that there are lots of parts and they function very differently. The civil service is a job for life. It’s a slow but steady rise, as long as you do your job, don’t make trouble, and are good at the tasks assigned you, its possible to have a wonderful life, and contribute to society. People in the civil service are the balance to politics. They keep the trains running, and the security at borders well, but they are also impervious to changing or breaking the rules. They are annoyed by people trying to circumvent a system and they are careful and thorough. All of which meant I was totally helpless, waiting at that light. Hoping a stranger would read my application, including the statement of why I made the mistake I did and got sent back. There was nothing I could do, no levers to pull.

The only option was to wait at that light, and wait for that civil servant and trust that I would be on time where I was going, and that things would work out ok. The only thing I could do was try to not mind the waiting. To decide that there was a reason that things happen and I’m not always in control.

Sometimes we hit all the green lights, and some days there are more red ones. The way to ensure we have a charmed life either way is to make sure to hit all the greens, or just to choose… not to mind the red ones.

 

Afterward:

I was able to have hope because I trusted the system, and I have faith in something higher. I still believe there is an order to the universe, but our system is in trouble. It is imperative that we fight on, using whatever tools we can, until we see green lights for everyone again.

 

 

Advertisements

Emotional labor for my Trump-Voting loved ones

It was my mother, as it is almost always the mother, who kissed my hurts, and taught me slowly the secrets she learned:

That feminism is asking for equality.
That equality doesn’t mean displacement.
That if we communicate clearly there is often more than one way to share an orange.
That I am enough as I am, and Louis IV invented rules of etiquette to keep his court busy.
That hearing my own voice, deep from my own soul, will always point the right direction. Continue reading

Trust

IMG_0024There are people in this world who will save your life

Who throw a lifeline if you are drowning, not caring that the rope will bind you

Who are generous, or loving, or thoughtful, or driven, and say ‘yes’ when you ask for help

 

Saying ‘yes’ saves at least one life every day but saying ‘no’ is so much easier when one is tired

Saying ‘yes’ inspires hope, and a renewed demonstration of commitment;

to each other, to the process, to ourselves

 

There is electricity in these ties that connect us, and healing

Acceptance is a powerful thing; generosity and kindness

A willingness to be wrong, to be vulnerable, to be open

 

The courage to risk, the confidence to fall, the heart to begin again

Life is a hard thing at times, there are monsters in the deep

And sometimes light is hard to come by

 

So we leave signposts, and whisper to the trees as we pass

Breadcrumbs for both me and the birds

if they eat the bread then surely they will sing my way home

 

 

Fathers and Roses

I remember you walking up the stairs at night and checking if I was asleep. It was a comforting game that I only played when I had already won.

I remember basement steps, and doing the hard icky jobs, just so others wouldn’t have to.

I remember the shop and the mysteries it held. I remember a big office and an old pickup.

I remember the scuffed leather chair, a cocked head and a phone resting gently while joking threats conveyed a total sense of safety.

I remember homework at the kitchen table and the red circled commas.

I remember lamb’s brains, and the comforting thought that you were human.

I remember Chapman picnics, and carnivals and T ball and soccer games.

I remember camping, and beach adventures. Hauling the crab pots seemed like nothing to you and the activity was so much more fun than sitting on the spit. I remember measuring and the pleasure of ‘too small, throw it back!’ The scuttling in the bottom of the boat was not scary because you were there.

I remember beer batter pancakes and building fires.

I remember carpools and your protectiveness as you understood I was not a girl who backed down.

I remember the startling idea that you were that kind of parent too, calming babies and changing diapers.

I remember planting trees on hillsides and an I5 Thanksgiving and Rice Hill.

I remember early mornings and the moment I knew what you were thinking by how you breathed.

I remember a sunburn on one leg because you let me drive the whole way to the beach.

I remember ‘hearts were made to be broken’ and ‘hey Carol, we have the back seat to ourselves’

I remember Stanford’s dinners, and early morning RAC visits. Flowers and cards.

I remember hair-cuts and olive groves and field trips with no contingencies.

I remember you saying ‘yes’, to school dances, and rides and every question I ever thought to ask you.

I remember every time you rescued me, and there are many.

I remember kindness. And humility. And a willingness to learn, always.

I remember ‘hands in the water, when I could not swim, I hung on to him’

It was always all right.

 

_MG_0092

 

Always beginning again

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. Drucilla Ileen Curnutt Hamblin was born June 15 1902. She had a first-rate mind and was a certified teacher in a one-room school house to support first her family of origin and then her family of destination. She taught school to support the family while my grandfather attended dental school. After having children she devoted herself to homemaking, raising my mother and uncles to value education, hard work and family. Her sons all became dentists and my mother, well, for those lucky enough to know her, understand how incredible a woman she was.
 
Ileen made three meals a day for years in the Arizona heat well before air conditioning was widely available. She made clothes to outfit her children and grandchildren and did works of public service in her spare time. Her selflessness was expected, that was just how things were. None of us will ever know how she felt about an education cut short, a professional life out of reach and a lifetime of putting others first. She encouraged my mother to pursue an education and find her own self-fulfillment. Ileen sent Carol away so her daughter could pursue a path of actualization and died before they had a language to find common ground.
My mother encouraged me to follow my dreams, often to the other side of the world, and despite missing me terribly, she felt strongly that she was following in her own mother’s footsteps. I’m grateful for that encouragement, even as I mourn the times we could have had together and the delay that meant my mother will never play with or care for my children in my lifetime.
On this day of my grandmother’s birth I am also grateful for all the other strong, selfless, amazing women whom I have the privilege to know. We are all taking different paths through life; some are rearing the next generation with love and passion, some are starting on new professional lives with courage and resolve, most are the glue that hold us together in all our myriad ways. I’m grateful too for their partners and allies in navigating this complex, difficult world. There are so many ways to show love, to let others know we care. There are many things today to fear; the rise of authoritarianism, the hatred that leads to violence, and the uncertainty of what lays before us.
My mother taught me that the only thing that will help us through is to try to love enough to understand and celebrate our differences. So for anyone reading this, I hope you see the love you have in your life. I hope you know that your mother loves you, even if she doesn’t always know how to say it. I hope you have the courage to open your heart to love, and to persist, even when it seems hopeless.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants. I never knew my grandmother, but I know that so many of the ways I am lucky in this world I owe to her tenacity, conviction and persistence. Happy birthday Ileen, today is an important day.LexmarkAIOScan13_4-2

Motherless Mother’s Day

LexmarkAIOScan9_3

There comes a brief glimpse

Of a choice: Happiness or fear

 

When you have the option

Do you choose yourself?

 

How much can you risk?

How open can your heart stretch?

 

When tears flow freely

And you don’t know which are for the bitter and which for the sweet

 

How tight should you pull the thread

When you sew your broken pieces back together?

 

When you set out on a new path

In an unknown direction

 

When you let the dam breach

And the river unleashes

 

What poetry is written in your soul?

In the quiet moments

I am fine talking to myself

But when I think about sharing with you my throat closes up (physiological response)

 

Being public unintentionally becomes just another psychosis

Another ‘you or me?’ moment

 

I reach so hard for ‘us’ and yet

It is something we both have to fall

in

     to

 

Trust is so painstakingly constructed

And it is so easily swept away

 

In tides

And tears

And moments of thoughtlessness or frustration

 

I don’t like ‘you or me?’

It presupposes there is no ‘us’

 

That is what makes this hard

Hard to know when to risk being hurt

Hard to know when I’m strong enough for my heart

   to

  break

 again

 

Its true that only mothers can understand some things

But we all understand love and exclusion

And overwhelming pressure

 

Sometimes we choose to let go

And sometimes we choose to hang on

 

We can only know the fit of our own oxygen mask

And we have to trust that we will be there in the end

 

It is hard

being the same

And different

 

Beautiful in the spaces between the pressures

The moments of laughter

And abandon

 

 

It’s so much harder to negotiate when we just don’t understand the words other people use

Makes the quiet easier in comparison