Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hope Is a B!@#*

I watched The Shawshank Redemption for the first time a couple months ago. No…I wasn't born under a rock. I’d tried to watch it a couple of times over the years, but never got very far. I couldn't handle how unfair it was. No matter that Morgan Freeman is a cinematic god or where IMDB ranked it on its Best Movies of All Time list, I couldn’t get through it. This time, my boyfriend (who loves it) razzed me enough that I submitted to sit through the whole movie with him. I cried the whole time. It was all still there—the blunt portrayal of prison brutality, the misuses of power, the miscarriages of justice, the sadness—and I’ve finally figured out what bothered me most. It was the unrelenting thread of Hope, against all reason.

I hate to be a downer, but I’ve been angry at Hope for a long time. She makes it worse and sometimes, I wish she’d go away.

I've seen loved ones disappointed to be living lives off course of where they hoped they'd be. I've seen a friend start a new career with ideals, talent and work ethic enough to change the world, bogged down by office politics, adult mean girls, overwork and the tension of work/life balance. I’ve watched a dear friend watch as those she loved married and started families of their own, while this secret wish of hers hasn’t been granted. I've watched a sister wait months for a call about adopting a newborn. I saw her joy in finally being chosen by a birth mom. I participated as she loved her sweet baby as if she came from her own body and I watched her struggle to survive the pain and disillusion of each day after the child was returned to her birth family, while everybody else in the world went on with their lives. I've listened to a friend try to make sense of the roller coaster that is her new marriage. I’ve listened as a beautiful friend described her hopes for a child that she hasn’t been able to conceive, apologizing for the tears and the naked longing in her voice. To them all, there is nothing to be said, except, “I wish you had what you long for. You deserve it more than anyone I’ve ever known.” I understand longing; I’ve lived most of my life aching with it. Often, I don't sleep for it. I blame Hope for the sleepless nights. Maybe if we didn’t want IT, whatever IT is, so damned badly, we could get some sleep. We could be happy and content where we are, instead of grieving what’s lost, what’s revealed as impossible/impractical/insurmountable or what’s simply out of reach.

As a Christian, I know there are answers to comfort me. I can recite them if prompted and mostly believe what I say, but I'm being as honest as I know how to be when I say this stuff is way harder in practice than in theory. In the real world, marriages end in divorce. Children die before their parents. Mean people win. People cheat, lie and steal from others. People I love let me down and hurt me in ways that leave slow-healing wounds. My mistakes get bigger, and the consequences cast a broader wake. The pain of disappointed hopes sends us to therapy, to the bottom of pill bottles, to affairs, or to religion. But against all odds, Hope hangs on.

When the world says, “Give up;” Hope whispers, “try it one more time.”

Hope had been playing the same broken record in my heart for years and now I have to hear it from Hollywood, too? That’s why I couldn’t stand the movie! But this time, it got through. The message didn’t change; I did. In watching others struggle and looking inward at my own journey of Hope, I am finally developing the depth to see that the redemption part of the story is only possible if you don’t give up Hope that it’s possible. Even since I started writing this post, I’ve grown. Choosing not to give up hope on your heart’s deepest desire might be the bravest thing any of us can do in this life. While theirs are not my stories to tell, I can attest to the beauty that can come from continuing to reach for what Hope tells you is possible. Andy Dufresne’s words are certainly true, when he writes:

Remember…hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

Hang in there, friends.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

If You Only Knew Him

At the risk of being redundant, the Zimmerman/Martin trial shook some things to the surface in me, not because I think I know what the verdict should have been, but because I can't believe we're still here--it's the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century and skin pigment still drives public perception. It's wake is far-reaching and it's undermining what I'm trying to do, here.

You see, I'm an African-American mother trying to raise a 2-year-old, biracial man-to-be and I don't appreciate the roadblock in his way. I wish you knew him. His current favorite thing is to "help" mama and daddy--he throws things away, he unloads dishwashers, drawers and laundry baskets--whether we want him to or not. He gives great cuddles. He delights in taking running starts toward me, lips puckered, then making (often painful) contact with a decisive "mmuah!" to let me know I've been well and truly kissed. While that baby sweetness won't last forever, I will always remember him this way even while I thrill in watching him grow up. As his mama, my primary goals are to encourage him to love God, to work hard, to be kind and to leave a positive impact on the world. That's the most solid influence I have over who he will be and I hope some day to take pride in that measure of his success. What I can't control that will impact his success in life, perhaps unfairly, is the color of his skin.

I'm an African-American sister and aunt who hurts when my loved ones hurt. I wish you knew them. I have a father, two brothers and a nephew who were all raised to say please and thank you, to open doors for others, and to be respectful of people who have different beliefs than they. My heart breaks to imagine anyone distrusting them because their skin is brown. The only legitimate reason I have for distrusting my brothers growing up was my fear of being de-pants-ed in front of company. But regardless of that shortcoming, to judge them by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character cheats them of who they have worked so hard to become. I feel sorry for anyone who misses out on any opportunity to know these quality human beings. They are definitely worth the second look. 

We can talk about race relations in America all day, but the question I need answered will remain the same, as I'm sure it will for countless other parents of little boys at the mercy of the color of their skin. Knowing what I know now, how am I supposed to explain the world to my son and help him to find his place in it, when the rules might not be the same for him, even as they are for his blond-haired, green-eyed father? And how much longer do we have to wait for this particular scale to balance out?

I wish I knew.