Let’s Talk About Money (TCICF Part 5)

 

Let’s talk about money. Let’s talk about how it makes us feel, how it makes our children feel.

During a study hall class period in my room last week I heard students discussing the wealth of one of their classmates’ family.

“His home is called Garrett Manor. Can you believe that?” The tone was sneering, cynical, envious. As an energetically sensitive person, I could tell that this was a recurrent conversation topic & I was glad the 14 year old boy who they were talking about wasn’t there at the time.

Let’s talk about how paranoid I have been about money for so long. It isn’t that I compulsively check my bank account. Oh no, I wouldn’t do something that ridiculous. But often I shake my head when I realize I’ve been lost in a day dream (more like day sweat) about ways to earn more money, to line my bank account.

Let’s talk about how wealthy folks compare themselves only to the even wealthier (similar to how men compare their life to those men who have “everything”. Ever noticed that?), creating a skewed perspective of economic dynamics in society. Two students went to buy chocolate for me from the vending machine (yes, I’ll shamelessly admit this. It was a study hall–of course I didn’t send them to get my snacks during instruction! Have some faith, people ;)). They got back & returned my dollar looking uncomfortable. “You didn’t have enough,” they said.

“How much are the M&M’s?!” I asked.

“$1.75.”

“Oh, I’m not spending that.” They looked pinched now & one sheepishly mentioned having a dollar to loan me. “No way!” I said. “I have the money but I won’t pay that price for a tiny bag of M&M’s.”

That interaction has stayed with me because of how uncomfortable it made them feel that I hadn’t given them enough. I’ve spent time with people whose lives are defined by not enough. More people than not, actually. Yet these children of wealthy families could barely handle the idea of not enough. They would have preferred to give me some of their own, than witness me experience not enough.

Let’s talk about parental concerns about money effect their children. How children will go above & beyond to save their parents pennies — even to the point of stealing or going hungry.

Let’s talk about how if a parent tells their child they will lose all financial support should they come out as gay/trans/bi, refuse to be a member of a specific religious sect, date a certain person, or otherwise act in a way contrary to that parents’ own viewpoint. Let’s talk about the pain that causes the child who is then forced to choose between their own conscience & their physical safety. Instead of being protected they are attacked from within–the dagger of betrayal drawing a line in the sand between family & true self, forcing an isolating choice.

Let’s talk about sleepless nights, years without seeing a doctor (either for lack of resources or due to a paranoic need to conserve resources), and months of eating only what is on the Kroger sale rack–or worse–what is offered cheaply from the closest Fast Food joint.

Let’s talk about feeling inferior for having less money than some, & feeling guilt for having more than others. There is at once the urge to give the money you have away, & the desire to hoard until you too have enough to make you good (enough).

There is a desert created by people who spend their money on immediate external things. It is dry & shallow there, a moment dominated by the dictatorship of pop culture.

The oasis is where people invest their money, able to put away, indulge a bit, & invest continually in education, & a better world. Let’s talk about how that should be the reality for everyone.

Why do we feel wrong no matter how much money we have or don’t have? Why is it so easy for wealthy people to write off & minimize the ferocious dilemma of poverty?

Money is a topic infrequently broached because of the dark emotions it is hidden beneath. Were we to shed those emotions like heavy cloaks we could see that underneath is the same skin. Beneath the costume we face the same questions & fears. We need to look in one another’s eyes & say confidently, “there is enough for you.” Then we need to live it.

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The Cloth I’m Cut From (Part 4)

 

Last Friday & yesterday there has been a homeless man posted on the corner with a limp cardboard sign. He panhandles early in the morning, in the burgeoning Arkansas heat. I encounter homeless folks multiple times every day because of the neighborhood I live in, & because it is nearly impossible not to in Little Rock. According to this site there are 9 homeless folks for every 10,000 members of our general population.

When I passed that man the first time, his hair slightly dreadlocked, I tried to make eye contact but saw that his eyes were unfocused. He was grunting & talking to himself, making jerky movements with his hands & neck. Signs of internal suffering were there as clearly as the dirt under his fingernails.

I won’t say that folks who are not Cut from the Same Cloth as I (any number not 4 on the Enneagram ) would not see this man with compassion. I do, however, know that an innate part of me makes it impossible to not identify a part of myself in that homeless man.

A couple of weeks ago I sat at my parents’ long dinner table with Christian conservative friends of theirs. The opinionated woman of the couple said, “I felt bad coming out of this fancy sushi restaurant while homeless people stood outside.” She laughed, the flab on her arms waving. “A lot of them are crazy, you know.”

That’s a perspective that I have never seen people from, a distanced other-ing. It is clear to me that circumstances beyond our control are what make or break us. Imagining myself in those oversized lace-less shoes on the street corner (pictured above) is easy.

Part of who I am is an active imagination, the compulsive tendency to identify with the suffering of others.

I missed that man when I drove by & he wasn’t there this morning. His suffering (although vastly different from my own suffering) feels familiar; it reminds me of my vulnerability. The Cloth I’m Cut From ensures that I tire of guarded, shallow interaction. The honesty of homelessness breaks open my heart in a way that grounds me. I want every person to have a home, but as long as they don’t, I want to see it on my way to work. 

 The sky was clear this morning, heavenly.

Until Earth becomes Heaven I want to bear witness to what makes it Hell. Probably because of the Cloth I’m Cut From.

The Cloth [We’re] Cut From (Part 3)

If I plan to spend time with someone cut from the same cloth as I, I prepare. Mentally, I rid myself of distractions in order to be able to engage with the waterfall of dialogue that is coming. Emotionally, I check in to be sure that my boundaries are stable. Physically, I get my workout in early because when these folks are in social mode, exercise isn’t the priority.

Connection is.

What we have loved, others will love, and we will show them how. ~ Wordsworth

I had the privilege of traveling with a friend from college named Dolly to her homeland of Puerto Rico in 2016. It was an intimate trip as her three young adult children were there, and we visited her (Puerto Rican) parents more than once. Her kids slept in & were glued to their phones nearly every morning. Dolly & I, however, being Cut From the same Cloth, woke early, excited for the day.

One day, she & I get in her rental & drive to a beach. On the way we attempt conversations in Spanish (my Spanish at the time was very broken), & then I ask questions to lead the conversation somewhere deeper. Once started, she sermonizes about her Capstone paper about Spanish literature. Her long, twisty hair is tinted with blonde highlights, & her voice melodic. The conversation–like most of our conversations– veers toward the spiritual. The passion rises in Dolly’s voice as she speaks of the Divine, of God, & of the relationship she has with “him”. Her perfect fingernails & the thin bands on her fingers reflect the light that sneaks through the trees along the Puerto Rican backroads. She is an intensely beautiful person & I revel in this time together.

That night, we are in the car again, & she talks about motherhood. Yet rather than cookie-cutter, her attitude is comical. Her words are along the lines of: “My son tells me everything about his sex life. I’m like, honey, I don’t want to know this. And then he says he doesn’t have a good relationship with his dad so who else is he gonna talk to.”

She says she doesn’t want to know, yet I see that she is holding space for that information from him. People like me don’t shut others down, especially not those who look up to us. Dolly didn’t want to know about her adult son’s sex life, but she never responded to the information by shaming him, or becoming angry. That’s not how we roll. I love us for it.

While in Puerto Rico I didn’t worry about using her space, her car, her food budget. I knew she wasn’t keeping score–because of who I am, & who I knew her to be. That’s a rare relief to experience: having your needs met in a foreign place without concern of racking up debts or resentment in the hostess.

That ability to be no-strings-attached generous, passionate about spiritual conversations, & a safe sounding board for young people to talk about issues that are often responded to with shame, show a commitment to preserving connection no matter the personal price. It is a skill common in people Cut From the same Cloth as I. 

We live to love & be loved. 

We are sensitive.

We are present (on good days).

We are unique.

We are undercover leaders.  

“…I keep dying because I love to live.” ~Maya Angelou

 

 

The Cloth I’m Cut From (Part 2)

The job I currently hold is at a truly lovely private school on the wealthier side of town, that the children of (almost entirely) wealthy families attend. It’s a great place, & I am thrilled to be employed there. One of the many benefits of this school is a gourmet dining service which sources much of the food locally & is allergy-friendly (meaning a variety of foods free from common allergens are offered & ingredients are listed plainy). So, fridays are pizza day at this school. Always have been, probably always will be. In years before, the school has sold Little Caesar’s cheap, low-quality, crowd-pleasing pizzas as a fundraiser. Now, however, the school buys & re-sells pizzas made by the on-campus dining service. Last week during a study hall in my classroom, a student named Jackson (who delights in playing the role of class clown) wrote a complaint about the pizza on my whiteboard: “[Dining service] pizza is like eating cardboard with ketchup & goat cheese.”

I chuckled, but after three weeks of overhearing students lamenting the pizza, & hearing about a LEGIT PETITION that the students had drafted & collected signatures on (more than 100! These kids need to be in politics, no?!), I could no longer resist the urge to share my opinion on the matter.

“I will spend this weekend crying every tear for the poor students of this school who are forced to eat gourmet pizza.”

I observed them as they read what I had written. Their facial expressions were priceless, a mixture of taken aback &: oh my word, she totally has a point.

I told this story to my dear friend Meghan & she was quick to point out how beneficial my ability to share “realness” with others can be.

Her words were something along the lines of: you make other people feel like it’s okay to be uncomfortable, to acknowledge how absurd life is sometimes. You help people see how off their perspective is without making them feel bad about it.

My other best friend, Emily, is a woman of few words. When I sent her a picture of the white board her response was succinct: Everyone needs your realness.

(Side note: I wish phenomenally encouraging friends like this on every human. They are the biggest blessing of my life, hands down.)

I think that the ability to turn every (perceived) bump in life’s road into an opportunity to know oneself better is an innate human quality. But on my good days, I can access that power better than folks who are Cut from a Different Cloth.

Last night I went to an art exhibit at a gallery down the road from my home. I pontificated to my partner about my (perceived) inability to make friends at such social events, but my desire to keep showing up anyway (I’m fairly certain that only people who are cut from the same cloth as I would complain on the way to an event that they had suggested attending). Three minutes after we entered the bustling space (having snagged snacks, of course), I was engaged in conversation with someone I thought I had recognized, but don’t actually know. It was uncomfortable for me, the whole conversation, yet so lovely. The man was shifting from one foot to the other, lags in the chat between us brought me (and probably him) bouts of panic, but we made it through, & I walked away feeling the glow that follows the creation of new connection. The conversation was another chance for me to learn that my lack of self confidence is almost ALWAYS grounded in unreliable feelings rather than reality. That moment of coming back to reality is part of what I like most about the particular shape of my personality. I laugh at myself & internally celebrate returning home to reality, again.

 

I’m writing this series about what it is like to be in my skin, because I see what is lacking (another superpower ;)) in lots of the texts about folks like myself.

Humans are glorious.

I am no exception.

Neither are you.

The Cloth I’m Cut From (Part 1)

Before I began to type these words, I pulled up Thesaurus.com & searched “deep”, because that’s the Cloth I’m Cut From.

Lisa lays alone in her king-size bed at night & objectively evaluates decisions she has made & will make. She is loyal to a daughter who moved two states away, as well as her aging parents. She has a way of motivating others to operate according to the same level of spinal fortitude.

That’s not the Cloth I’m Cut From.

Erin carries extra weight on her body like a crown. She is dignified, professional, dedicated, quick to self-sacrifice. Her words are measured, often slow. She never picks a fight, but, asked the right set of questions, lets off nearly visible steam.

That’s not the Cloth I’m Cut From.

Paul walks into a room & drafts an unconscious meter of the power at play there. He drives a hard bargain & pushes & pushes & pushes for whichever issue is at hand.

That’s not the Cloth I’m Cut From.

Meghan makes the best jokes. She brings a light-ray energy into the spaces that she enters. She sees things in a black-and-white way but manages to float away from blacks or whites that become too intense.

That’s not the Cloth I’m Cut From.

Hannah works 50+ hours per week, is close to her family, & advocates for the children in foster care in the county where she resides. She knows the needs of a person before they ask, & she believes in her own invincibility: she can meet those needs.

That’s not the Cloth I’m Cut From.

Ryan intermixes theology & stories of need amidst vulnerable populations in such a way that the resources of principled people practically jump into the coffer of social change. He is thin, pious, & committed to perfection.

That’s not the Cloth I’m Cut From.

Emily never says what she doesn’t know for a fact (& have academic citations to prove), but lights up when asked about a subject she has read up on. Her vibrancy is understated, a menorah seen from outside a white-curtained window pane.

That’s not the Cloth I’m Cut From.

Dustin doesn’t just have strong ethical standards, she acts on them. She is the first in her white Christian circle to adopt black children when the dialogue drifts toward what Jesus would do. She has a doctorate, a beautiful head of hair, & lures everyone she meets into awe of her ability to acheive.

That’s not the Cloth I’m Cut From.

I’m a person with iridescent joy. A person whose world is so far inside her that others like her may pass a lifetime without arriving to know themselves. They may cross the entire Ocean in many ways but never arrive to the shore of their essence. Sometimes my joy is so deep within me that no one else can see it.

Some days I wake up under water. I go for entire days without hearing clearly, without a sense of taste, lost in salty bathwater, able to feel nothing but the locks of my hair that kiss my face. On the days when I don’t understand myself, I am impatient with a world that thoroughly misunderstands me.

The most True things are worth saying again:

…before I began to type these words, I pulled up Thesaurus.com & searched “deep”, because that’s the Cloth I’m Cut From.

The Power of an Education

I recently read (read=consumed) Educated by Tara Westover. Several elements of the story she recounts in this award-winning memoir are familiar to me: a secluded childhood, a paranoid father, & fundamentalist religion. However, Westover’s education did not start until she began, as a teenager, to self-teach in order to take the ACT & be admitted to Brigham Young University. This is where my story drastically differs from hers.

My mother spent 14 years curating, delivering, & facilitating an enthralling education for myself & my two sisters. She bought entire curriculum sets with my father’s hearty approval (which I am certain were expensive) that we followed devotedly. As I recall, the middle school & junior high curriculum was heavy with historical fiction that brought Native American customs, the U.S.A. before, during & after the Civil War, & the World War-era to life via narratives about children my age. I peeled through chapters nearly every day, moving freely from my bed, to my desk, to sitting against the wall (this is an important detail as I am a kinesthetic person–sitting still is extremely difficult for me– now teaching children in an environment that offers only tables & hard chairs for 8+ hours a day), as my mind lit up with imagination.

In high school, the curriculum shifted to a classical program that was steeped in WASP ideology (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) & theology. Still, it emphasized reading entire books & I read The Social Contract, The Communist Manifesto, The Last Days of Socrates, & an entire book by Frederick Douglass (I do not remember which it was), among many others. I distinctly remember walking up & down our driveway as I read the entire Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin in one day. Despite the stimulating challenge of deciphering these texts, I rebelled against this curriculum primarily because I found it boring, lacking in diversity, & biased. I like to think that my arguments against it were well put together. The ability to put an argument together well: that came from my education.

Tara Westover’s book ends with a powerful & succinct attribution of all the changes she underwent, that wrought freedom in her life, to an education. That resonates profoundly with me because regardless of the content of the books I read, in reading entire works of classic literature, I learned to see a viewpoint through to its end, to follow lines of reasoning to logical conclusions, among other important skills.

Most of all, the thorough education that my mother brokered (& my father sponsored) for me prepared me for college, where I learned to trust my intellect over backward religious ideas, & to believe in the capability of knowledge to liberate & empower anyone–regardless of their social standing.

To this day, I love to read, to think, to argue. Those are gifts I attribute to my education. I believe every child deserves such an education. This belief is a big part of why I go to work every day. I am a teacher now, of various subjects, & passing on what I have learned–and continue to learn–gives me a sense of purpose. I hope that what I do empowers a new generation to harness their intellect for the sake of true freedom.

This Twilight

 

For the first time since we all found out that the man whom everyone should have known was a pedophile, is in fact a pedophile, I am allowing myself to be true to my memories. He was, of all the wealthy white men in the community where I spent my adolescence, one of the nicest.

When I first heard I guess my memories were buried deep & the shock of considering the abuse from the victim’s perspective kept me from remembering what I do, in fact, remember. The man was mildly interested in my life, far more interested in the lives of the teenage boys in my peer group, but never unkind to me. I remember that he was fun to be around, for the most part, & eccentric. One time when we were on a “mission trip” to Jamaica a little deaf girl was prancing about in front of him, mouthing words to an unknown song or the storyline to a drama played out in her head. Her flip-flopped feet kicked up dust in front of his perch on a concrete curb. Eventually he sat up, brushed off his bum, and said, clipping the end of each word, “this girl is beginning to annoy me.”

I don’t know why but that memory has surfaced & resurfaced in my mind since we heard the news of the sexual (I’m not sure exactly what they are) charges against him. Some part of me wants all my memories to serve as road signs that point to his perversion. I think it might be my ego, striving to reduce him to a sin, an other, rather than a complex human. But that memory is simple, clear, & could have been anyone. Plus, when I look through the photos from that trip, I see him there, talking to a chicken (Henrietta) with a bad leg in one image, holding a large insect & smiling in another.

I went to Jamaica three times as a teenager & each time was enlightening, & impacted me emotionally & spiritually. The second time I went there was a young boy named Ramoye with whom I formed a relationship (children with open hearts can form bonds surprisingly quickly–especially with adults–or almost adults, as I was–whose hearts are equally open). He was probably 11, with a broad nose, heavy brow, &, at the time I was there, a deep scar on his forehead. Just the look of him told me he was one of those beautiful boys who has yet maintained the emotions that society will soon convince him to bury & numb: compassion, shame, surprise, empathy, happiness, etc. (the full spectrum of human experience which males are not socially allowed to display, at least not publicly, after a certain age). We spent hours together, silently, as he was hard of hearing (if not deaf–I can’t remember which). We communicated via wordless yells, chalk drawings, & verbal cues. Our bond was sweet, deep, as were many of the bonds that I formed with students each time I went there (we visited the same school for deaf children 2 consecutive Januarys, & then returned two years after, for another week trip).

The last day of my second trip to Jamaica, those bonds felt like grappling hooks in my heart. I felt that there was more to learn, more connection to feel, more hugs & laughter to share. I was devastated that I had to leave.

The man who we now know is a pedophile–a man who has destroyed years of boys’ lives with exposure to unspeakable inappropriate things, creating wounds of festering shame & pain in them–was the last adult to linger with me near the children before we left. His wife wasn’t far ahead. The bus full of the other white travelers was at the top of the hill that separated the school facilities from the visitor’s quarters. I imagine them all watching me make my way up that hill, my eyes noticeably red. Halfway up I remembered Ramoye, the boy with the scar, & turned around to find him. I hadn’t said goodbye.

There in the school courtyard, he was perched on a metal step, his legs wide, his elbows on his knees, head hung low, great tears falling into the dust. I don’t remember now what I signed or maybe said to him. I’m sure it was “good bye”, “I love you”, “I’ll miss you”, or some combination. We embraced & I ran up the hill behind the man whom we now know has done unspeakable things to young boys.

When I boarded the bus, no one said anything. I felt embarassed by my emotion, but also proud. Proud that my heart was alive. Proud that I felt seen by these children & that they felt seen by me. I felt the treasure of connection in my heart & did not take it for granted.

I remember that the man looked at me & said something truly empathetic. I think it was, “Oh, Lydia,” with a sad face. I can’t remember exactly, yet I knew it was sincere. He acknowledged my emotion, which is more than anyone else did, then, or numerous other times when feelings poured down my cheeks around that group of people. It made me feel connected.

A red-headed man from this same group of people once gave me a warm embrace, the hearty, Santa Claus-esque kind, when I was feeling sad about leaving the children there in Jamaica. That is a sweet memory for me, even though I do not speak to that man or his family anymore. Those gestures of support shown toward me were few & far between. The man on the bus that day, the man we all now know is a pedophile who had lied to his community to cover up his pedophilia for decades, showed me compassion in a way that made me feel just as connected as the hug from the red-headed man had. They were both genuine beacons of support & acknowledgement. Both meant a lot to me.

I miss the children from Jamaica, but I do not wonder about their lives so much as I wonder about the swirl of good & evil that can exist in a man. I wonder whether anyone is all the way bad, or all the way good. I wonder if we have all been victims & abusers, or if abusers are a certain group of people that should be kept away from society’s children. I wonder how long it takes a child who has been abused to become the abuser. I wonder if anything can ever undo the evil that a man can do inside of one life.

We all seem to have darkness & light inside of us.

Isn’t it a breathtaking responsibility to live in this twilight?