Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lessons In Listening, Healing in Hearing

Sometimes there comes a moment in life where you just need to listen.

Listen without preparing a reply, listen without being defensive, listen without justification.

The process is not easy, it is actually hard, because each of us has an ego, an ID that is waiting for its "see me, hear me" moment.  This is especially true when your voice has been snuffed out through all the isms that plague everyday life. The many controls and manipulations that threaten to snuff out your existence can make the walls go up and the living thwarted.

Hearing, truly stepping outside oneself and stepping into the heart of the speaker to hear the words, thoughts, and intents they are sharing requires a sacrifice many are not willing to pay.  It is gutwrenching painful to listen to someone share their story, it is even more painful to learn that part of their story involves some damage that what done to them by someone they trusted.  Hearing is therapeutic and triumphant.

Life stories are all everyone has.  Everyone has that one pivotal event that could make or break their existence.  One of the things that differentiates those who overcome is that they were able to be heard, to get the toxic waste of that offense out of them and release it to the world.

It is a lot like that wonder African ceremony where when someone has done wrong, the village elders all the way down to the youngest baby surround them to sing to them their birth song.  In so doing, they are hearing the soul of that person who then releases the toxin of their offence.

Hearing takes many forms, Listen, truly listening is active and engaging.  It can be reading the account of someone who can not utter the words, it can be listening to their composition on the piano or violin or gazing upon their artwork that simply takes your breath away.

Humanity would be a little further along if we stopped listening to respond and start listening to receive.  It is not easy, the ego must be squashed and we must stand firm to be able to send back strength to the speaker.  The speaker can be nervous and a little fearful in sharing their truth, but as they speak in first a whisper and then gain confidence, their cadence becomes stronger and with each word, their heart begins to soar.

When life presents an opportunity to listen and hear, do it, it is healing for both the speaker and for the listener.  To be heard is one of the greatest gifts to give.

There are lessons in listening and healing in hearing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Breaking Out of Neutral

This morning, the sun was streaming through the balcony, bringing with it the promise of opportunity and the rush of misunderstood spring pollen.  It burst forth with the promise of a new graduate and the hopes of a new mother.

Then the morning turned to the afternoon of working and reading and while the sun was shining, it felt less promising as one after another tidbit crossed the threshold of this writer's desk.

As a black woman, well into middle age, and a child of the promise after Brown, after Civil Rights, after so many afters, all I could feel today was a bit numb, like being stuck in neutral.

Overwhelming the sense was first being informed that a well educated Muslim young woman, married, was being ousted from her position as a college counselor because someone was uncomfortable with her pregnancy.  College educated, non-hijab-wearing Muslim married woman, a year out of her baccalaureate studies from the state's top public institution.

Then there was the reminder that a well educated, seasoned professional black woman was replaced with a barely dry baccalaureate blond white woman because the manager felt intimidated by the black woman's confidence.

Finally, swirling around all that was the usual suburban otherizing that happens to many with a browner hue who try to help with the PTO, scouts, school functions, and are put into the servant role of the resident mom club.

There was the commiserating of fellow black females of needing to quiet the voice, tone down the fro, not out-dress the frumpy co-worker, hide talents and skills to make the other one shine because that is what they are expected, used to having.

It means being snarkly addressed as "overachievers" when reporting on what the scouts under the black woman's direction did that year versus what the many mani/pedi's the other troop accomplished in nine months.  It is being called radical because of walking in a sense of self-empowerment and purpose and not Stepford Wife-esque submission.

Neutral means not expressing feelings one way or another, to be expressionless, a lot like they expected of the slaves or servers in a fancy restaurant.  To be there to meet the needs but to be opinion less, thoughtless, achievement-less.

To break out means to care less what they think, whoever the "they" are, knowing they will not hire you anyway, not promote you anyway, will find a reason to "otherize you" whether that means they get to say you were "inappropriate" for pointing out their wrongs to a child of color, whether that means some of them demand an "apology" when their little Johnny's are called out on their harassment of little Jamal.  It means not caring if they stand on one side and look you up and down when you show up at the musical performance in a nice dress and they have on the sweats from early morning drop of.

It means to be original and individual.

Busting out of neutral means boldly walking in the confidence of your purpose even if they are intimidated by your essence and light.

The sun is still streaming through the balcony with a gentle late spring wind tussling the trees.  The rays of shining sun cast a welcoming glow over the empowered soul who decided that neutral is just not hot enough.

Friday, May 16, 2014

In Celebration of Mary

Today would have been my late mother's 90th birthday.

She has been a figure in my life for all of my 50 years, despite being absent from my life for the 46 years that her breath left body.

When I think about her, sometimes I think about her as an image, a shadow, her passing away happened before memory was solid in my mind.  I can not "see" her except through the pictures hanging on my walls and when I look in the mirror.

Everyone, my entire life, has told me how much I look like her, have hands like her, write like her, do so much like her.  She was a creative soul who danced, sang, wrote, wanted so much out of life that convention would not allow her to achieve.

My mother loved deeply, unconditionally, and wanted so much to breathe life into everything around her.

1924 was a different place, so was 1946 when she married young because that is what "good Catholic girls do," even if her aspirations were to be a designer in New York.

When I think about her and women of her generation, of her mother's generation, I wonder about all the dreams they squashed due to convention.  I wonder if my mother would be happy with my accomplishments, while not "Chairman of the Board," as she wrote on my infant picture, I have been on Boards of Directors, taught at major universities, earned more than one degree, have spoken to audiences from Governors to Vice Presidents, have raised beautiful children, and have held onto my passions.  When I think of her, I often wonder would she be pleased with her youngest daughter.

I am sure she had dreams and aspirations for me the same way I do for my two daughters.  I'm sure she would have been my champion and urged me to follow my heart, seek my truth, and advocate for myself, the same way I do for my two daughters.

When I pause to think about 1924 and 2014, I wonder how different we are and how alike we are.

As I pause to remember her, I celebrate the woman she was and the legacy that walks around with her name.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I've Been Robbed

I was looking through my posts the other day and noticed a few things.

Huffington Post has an entry about childless mothers essentially justifying their decision not to have their body stretched to within an inch of it's limit, not to have a grapefruit sized head come through a normally pin sized hole, not to have their breasts engorged and filled with sustenance that some feel is too sexual and want the feeding to happen in a nasty bathroom. They are justifying their choice to continue with their hopes and dreams and not giving into the women-who-are-sexual-without-producing-children-are-sluts mantra that is all over my news feed.

There are the purity balls which scream of pedophilia of the conservative WASP christian type.

Then my home state of Missouri just passed a 72-hour-wait for an abortion after a woman visits a doctor to confirm that sperm and egg met in a sexual encounter approximately 2-6 weeks prior.

If that isn't enough to make me, a woman, feel robbed, then the whole less-than-equal-pay memes, the constant rhetoric around whether black women with natural hair are professional or are authentic; the way people act like stay-at-home mothers checked their brains at the door and dropped their shoes in the
kitchen; the endless misogny, patriarchy, and sexism is enough to make me scream, "I've been robbed!"

In my efforts to raise tween daughters in a way that affirms their personhood, honors their voice,and celebrates their abilities, I've tried desperately to not fit them in a box for someone else to open at their will.

My girls are self-assured and confident.  In watching them stand up for themselves and advocate for the rights of others, in watching them excel in math, instruments, and life, I've felt a bit like I am taking back what was stolen from me.  Taken back to give to the next generation.

Somewhere in the last decade, after the country had their pants scared off, the extreme gained the rhetoric and have been pushing an archaic, early 19th century dogma down our throats, a lot like the gross fathers oogling teenage girls at their prom and having one kicked out because of their impure thoughts.

Women are standing up and speaking out and using all the medium afforded to us.  Like Girl Scout Campaign to "Ban Bossy" and stop the labeling of independent, strong, and intelligent women, many of us have been striving to take back our power that was subtly eroded. I am not teaching my daughters to be stay-at-home moms before I teach them to strive for their dreams of writing, photography, world travel, design, entrepreneurship, and conquering the world.  I want them to know their power without being defined by the "Mrs." and I want them to know they do not have to have their personhood robbed for someone else's agenda.