Monday, October 25, 2010

No More Hiding?

I teach American History and just in the microcosm of my class I see the divisions in political and religious ideology that divides our country. The national divisions come to light as I teach about America in its early days and use contemporary issues to make the meanings relevant. This, in turn, creates interesting discussions that my students engage in and that I try hard to only moderate, keeping my personal opinions undetected.

I am in awe of and often confused by the great divide in perspectives and opinions; how one person’s beliefs can be so different from someone else’s and how convinced each one is in the truth of their convictions. Although I enjoy the debates my students engage in, I am personally very uncomfortable watching debates that involve screaming, shouting, and finger pointing that in the end have accomplished little in the way of swaying the opposition.
I hold my beliefs close and the only way the outside world knows of my stand is in how I live my life. I don’t try to change minds through discourse, and if asked what I think about an issue I try to defer if I feel it will lead to a conflict of interests. On the other hand I have been known to speak up and show my hand, which has given me a “reputation” and has lost me a few fans. Here are some of the issues I’ve dared express an opinion on:

Early on in my relationship with my future second husband I had a conversation with his mother and grandmother, stout Christians who believe the Baptist faith is the one and only true faith. I went no further at the time in challenging them other than to say, “You mean my grandmother, one of the most spiritual women I know is going to Hell because she is a Catholic?” Their response was truly the beginning of my break from association with any organized religion. “Honey,” they both said, “that’s why God brought you to us so we could tell you the truth and you could share it with her.” I could go on sharing many other conversations and encounters with my in-laws that show just how much of a Black Sheep I am in this “you must be born again” family, but for now my respect for my husband’s family trumps my need to relieve myself of deep-seated opinions.

In another case, I have been branded an atheist by a former sister-in-law who had a problem with shielding my children from her aggressive pro-life indoctrination. My young daughter came to me once and asked, “Mom, what’s an atheist? That’s what Aunty is calling you.” This is one time I did place myself in a confrontation; protecting my children has prompted such reaction in me many times.

I am far from the anti-God others have painted me to be. I am a very spiritual being that doesn’t happen to prescribe to someone else’s definition of what it means. I am very comfortable with my religious belief system but have found that others are not.

From EmoticonsOnly 
It’s difficult for me to admit that I would rather not think about politics, being an American History instructor and all, but the topic makes me cringe. I wish I did not have to involve myself at all, nor make a decision come election time, but teaching how significant the right to vote has been for those disenfranchised in our history, I cannot, in good conscience, ignore this right and privilege.

I lean to the left in my politics. I have come to my choice based on my personal life experience, education, and a strong pull towards tolerance and inclusion. I despise the rhetoric of politicians and avoid listening to their agendas as much as I can. Instead, I vote and hope. I put my faith in those that claim to have a common ideology with me, promise to put their ideas into practice, and have the means to do so. I have been sorely disappointed by whom I have put my faith in, but continue to back that faction because the other side is so far from my beliefs.

I stopped being a Catholic because if I could not believe wholeheartedly in everything it represented, I could not stand behind it. In my political backings, I wish I could walk away if I don’t believe 100% in the person I’ve chosen, but it’s a bit trickier than that. So, I hope for the best. As I illustrate to my class, it’s a two steps forward, one step back tug of war in American politics and history. That’s what makes this country and the people who hold their beliefs so wonderful and so frustrating.

Domestic Abuse

I have been banned from associating with a young woman with whom I used to work with and who I admired for her intelligence and work ethic. It was her husband, a man whom I had repeatedly spoken out against that forced her to relinquish ties with me. He is an abuser; she an enabler. How difficult it was for me to lose that friendship but, as a friend, I could not stand by and keep my fears and feelings quiet. When such an issue hit even closer to home I walked a very tenuous line while I tried to, and ultimately succeeded in, helping someone get away from an abuser.

My writing of this blog was meant to help me put together my life in a way that I would eventually publish the story. Some of the posts have been so truthful and revealing that I have felt a twinge of regret at the exposure of my inner-most self, as well as the loss I have endured from some who found my revelations not to their liking. There is so much more I want to say, so much more I wish to share. Finding the courage to do so is taxing, yet I find I cannot resist the pull.

Perhaps it’s time for me to stop hiding behind the veil of non-committal endorsement and allow my true self to emerge. The question is, am I up for the challenge?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Memory Lane of My Mind

What’s your earliest memory? A recent trip back to the town where I grew up set off a storm of childhood memories in my head as any trip down memory lane will do.

While I have my own memories I find fascinating the recollections of people who knew me while I was a baby and child and are willing to share them with me. It’s like this whole other part of myself that I never knew existed is introduced to me for the first time.

I love my memories and I especially love when I have dreams that take me back in time, giving me the opportunity to revisit moments in my past I long for. What are my first memories? A few stand out most prevalently.

I recall being told by my Uncle Paul, one of my mother’s brothers, that I could not go outside with the rest of the family until I learned to tie my shoes.
 I seem to remember that I tried and tried, but don’t think I mastered the task at that time. I know I cried in frustration and perhaps I was given a reprieve because I associate that memory with peanut butter and fluffernutter sandwiches, which I hate the thought of.

Another memory is of me in kindergarten, spurred by a drive past my old school while on my trip home.

East Pembroke Central School where I went to kindergarten
It was naptime. I can still hear my child’s voice saying to my nap neighbor, “There an ant in your hair.” If memory serves me right the little girl screamed, went into hysterics and I got into loads of trouble.

My oldest brother Michael shared one of his memories of me, one I have absolutely no recollection of. Apparently I was sitting on the grass in our grandmother’s huge front lawn. My brother was, in his words “messing around” with darts and through one high and far into the air. He realized too late the flying dart was headed in my direction and took off running toward me in the hopes of avoiding disaster. The dart landed right in my leg just as he reached me and before I knew what had happened, he scooped it out of my leg. Blood and pain followed and in a matter of seconds I reacted the same as my little kindergarten friend; with screams and howls. I have no scar and no memory that I can find but it’s a great little story and I’m glad he shared it with me.

My two daughters have recently given birth and it was wonderful for me to be able to share with them my own pregnancy and birth experiences, comparing mine to their own.

That is one thing I missed out on, talking with my own mother about the things moms and daughters share. I can be grateful that I had the chance to experience the bonding with my girls. Another really great thing I get to do with my children, now that they are all grown up is to share with them books I read and loved when they were little. My girls both share my love of reading and now I get to provide titles of great books I read and was inspired by in the hopes they will like them, too.

It’s the creation of a shared history that really moves me. It’s also the one thing that my brothers and I hold so dear, for while we each have little to no memory of our mother and father, we have one another and in that one connection a true link to who we are and where we came from.

Lisa and her brothers, 1962

Around 1990

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

I am back in western New York for a quick visit. Arriving late last night I didn’t get to see the glorious fall colors from my airplane, but had my first cup of coffee on a damp porch with autumn leaves gently falling all around me. There are people to see and places to visit, but frankly, the only thing I want to do is walk in the woods. I mentioned that to my friend, Kathy, and told her if she doesn’t hear from me later today to send out a search party; not kidding, I have a tendency to get lost easily.

But getting lost in the woods of western New York wouldn’t be so bad because it beautiful and peaceful. Being here and walking among the overgrown landscape, the old growth trees, and seeing wildlife brings back so many memories. I used to spend hours alone in the woods; every season brought a different look and experience. Spring is when everything new comes back to life: buds on the trees, greenery poking through the last pockets of snow and creatures relishing the warmer days. Summer you fight off the mosquitoes but can harvest medicinal herbs and gather material for wild crafts. In the fall, all you have to do is be present; your senses take over and in the winter the snow mutes all sound and you feel as though you are in a fairy land.

I’ve already visited one cemetery; the one where my grandmother is buried.

As I walked among the headstones I saw familiar names, names I recall from high school or people I remember knowing as a child. In an upcoming blog I will elaborate on my hobby of cemetery trolling. After that I went to my favorite out-of-the-way restaurant; Salvania’s in Batavia. Their pasta sauce is as good as mine so my tummy is nice and full.

Next, the Holland Land Office Museum to renew my membership. It’s a great little museum that deserves so much support so it can be showcased the way such a historic landmark should be. Now, I’m at the library checking in with my college students; my vacations are working vacations.

Grubb is the cutie-pie on the left
The rest of the trip is going to be great. An auction today, pizza and wine with family tonight. Tomorrow a estate sale (You don’t know great finds and deals until you’ve been to an auction or estate sale in these small towns!), dinner at an historic home turned Bed and Breakfast, then Friday – Amish Country! Last time I went through Amish Country I came home with my little dog, Grubb. Wonder what I’ll find this time around.

In between all of this place-hopping I need to see some people. I won’t get to see them all and I’ll pay the price for that, but I’ll do the best I can. In the meantime, stay tuned because being here inspires a lot of topics to write about and so I think my blog will have plenty of postings in the next few days.

It’s good to be “home!”

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's That Time of Year Again

What I miss most is autumn. Living in a desert there is little chance to witness the change of seasons. I have habitually gone through depression as the fall season takes hold and I have wondered what it is about this time of year that causes me to go into a funk; is it the memory of the autumns of my childhood, the crisp, cold air, the array of colors as the leaves change or is it the significance of the month of October, the month my parents died and was marked my entire childhood by trips to a cemetery to pay homage to a mom I never knew? It might be a combination of both these things; all I know is that my favorite time of year is one I have not been able to enjoy for many seasons now.

As a child I remember how September was a month I waited for with great anticipation. Rather than January, September was, for me, the start of a new year. My birthday happens in that month and what child doesn’t gleefully await her day? My birthday happens to be on the first day of fall, so it is no wonder I associate such a special day with my favorite season. The new school year starts and although many aspects of school life were difficult for me; I wasn’t the brightest kid and I got into trouble all the time for talking too much - I associate the first day of school with a sense of excitement and promise. And my childhood activities were filled with hours and hours outdoors, where I could breathe in that wonderful air surrounded by a deep blue, cloud scattered sky cut with autumn leaves changing from green to orange, red, and yellow.

Despite some pretty awful experiences (which I have yet the courage to write about), I had a pretty awesome childhood that brings me great joy to remember. That, I believe, is why fall in a dry, arid, white world is so hard for me to go through.

You would think if I just went and visited a place where the seasons change that it would satisfy me, but it just makes the depression deeper. Last October I was in Oregon and the rural countryside looked much like my childhood home with fields of pumpkins ready to be picked and apples and cider sold at roadside stands.

The trip didn’t ease my longing, it just made it worse. I came home wanting so much to be there and not here. My poor husband, who is not ready to make the plunge just yet as our life is pretty secure here, watched helplessly as I cried about wanting to move. He is so sweet; he said to me, “I’ll get us there, don’t worry. I can’t have you crying.” Knowing he cares that much about my happiness makes the wait a little easier.

So how much of my depression is associated with the month of October and the loss of my parents? Perhaps on a subconscious level there is a lot I can attribute to it; but it wasn’t until I was well into adulthood, after having researched my family story, did I begin the process of grieving. Prior to that it was just a story to me; I felt no emotional attachment, much less sadness because I never felt the loss, not until much later. I guess it stands to reason now that I do know the significance of the month that its appearance once a year has to have some bearing on my association of the time of year and my overall sadness.

Whatever it is I am bracing for a month of trying to keep my head afloat and my spirits high.

I am taking a quick trip to New York in a couple of weeks; I haven’t been there in three years and I miss it. Visiting my hometown, the people and the memories especially at this time of year puts a strain on that optimism I have to keep strong, but acknowledgement goes a long way in understanding the cause so I have a jump on keeping the depression at bay. At least I will be able to close my eyes, take a deep breath of the magnificent air and pretend, just for a moment that I am once again that child with no other care in the world than to anticipate what comes next in my “new year.”