(What’s so Funny) About Peace, Love & Understanding

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I took this picture outside of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC July 5th, 2015.

 

“As I walk through this wicked world

Searching for light in the darkness of insanity

I ask myself is all hope lost

Is there only pain and hatred and misery

And each time I feel like this inside Just one thing I want to know

What’s So Funny bout Peace, Love, and Understanding oh

What’s So Funny bout Peace, Love, and Understanding

As I walk on through troubled times

My spirit gets so down hearted sometimes

So where are the strong who are the trusted

And where is the harmony sweet harmony

Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away Just makes me want to cry…”

Songwriters: NICHOLAS ORAIN LOWE; Performed by Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Where are the strong, and who are the trusted – because it is time for you TO SHOW UP. It is time for you to SPEAK UP.

What happened in Charlottesville last Saturday was domestic terrorism. I am baffled to hear our president once again reiterate that he sees “many sides” to what happened and that there were “fine people” on both sides of this. I did not see one “fine person” holding tiki torches and Nazi flags. I am horrified to see David Duke thank Trump today for his support of their hateful movement.

There are not “many sides” to the hate being spewed on my television and my phone since Friday night. There is only one right side of history to be on. And there is only one wrong side.

I wish I could say I am surprised – but in my heart, I believe that Trump is simply revealing himself – ONCE AGAIN. What will it take for the strong and the trusted to say enough is enough?

It is up to each and every one of us to shine our light on the darkness that has come out of the shadows. This is not about politics. This is about our values – the very ideals our nation was founded on – the very values that our “Greatest Generation” fought and died for in a WORLD WAR.  I never thought I would see a time where a white nationalist is allowed to work in my president’s White House – a place I have honored and respected my entire life. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would see Nazi flags on display in my country in this day and age, and that it would take days for my President to tepidly denounce it, to only one day later, unleash his true self like he did today.

I am angry. I am bitterly disappointed. I am terrified. I am trying as hard as I can not to spew hateful words and rhetoric back at these people and at our president. I would like to be able to say he is not my president – but the bottom line is that he is indeed my president. He carries the “football” that contains the nuclear codes that can start a nuclear war within minutes. He has that power until the day he leaves office.

I am trying to not answer hate with hate. I am trying with ALL of my might to channel my anger in some kind of constructive way.

I ask everyone out there who is also upset, angry and frankly pissed off – to please not contribute to the violent rhetoric. Be pissed off – but demand change, resist, protest – but in a peaceful manner and don’t contribute to the violence.

I ask everyone who supported Trump and who is now upset about what is happening – please do not stay silent. It is time to speak up. It is time to demand better. Please be brave and see the truth and authenticity that Trump is showing us about himself each and every day.

We are better than this. We need to ACT better than this. We need to DEMAND better than this. Staying silent implies complacency and even complicity. Doing nothing is a choice our country may not survive.

Stand with me on the right side of history. This is my rally cry for each of you to be the light in the darkness of insanity!!

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The Warrior (Wonder Woman)

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have been a fan of Wonder Woman for a long time. In the 70’s, Wonder Woman was the one of the few shows we watched as a family. For some reason, my dad never complained when our family sat down together to watch Lynda Carter change into the various Wonder Woman outfits to kick some butt and save the day.

Since then, I have been looking forward to her movie for many years. I have seen countless Marvel and DC movies over the years – and enjoyed most of them – and I could not have been more excited to buy tickets for opening night of Wonder Woman this week. Don’t worry – I won’t reveal any spoilers. I don’t intend for this to be a movie review…in short – go see the movie. It’s highly entertaining.

I do feel compelled to explore why I feel a connection to Wonder Woman – and to describe how the movie made me feel…and to find some meaning about my own life in some way. As I often do, I write to try to figure these things out.

Wonder Woman (Diana) stands for peace and justice. She is the first person to fight for it when no one else will. I got goosebumps when Diana says, “I’m willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” Having my step-son Eric in my life has made me become a fighter in this way.

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Eric and my Wonder Woman Bobblehead – a gift from his dad (Jerry) who knows me very well.

 

Let me explain. A little more than four years ago, I was a single, divorced woman who always wanted to have a family. I embarked on a journey to make that happen – exploring international adoption, private adoption, foster care…Today, I have a family made up of my partner Jerry, his beautiful twin 23-year-old daughters (Chelsea and Kaitlyn), and his 18-year-old son, Eric, who has multiple disabilities. There are a LOT of stories in the “…”, and a lot to learn from that journey. However, that is not my focus today.

When I think about fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves, I immediately think of Eric. Eric, who now lives with us full-time, is non-verbal. He relies on us to take care of him and his basic needs – and to also be his voice. Having him in my life has changed me forever. Eric’s teachers wrote me a note on the last day of school this Friday where they called me “an amazing mother, and a fearless advocate for Eric.” I cannot think of a better compliment I have ever received.

No one needs to feel sorry for me. In fact, when people do, I am almost offended – like they don’t really get who I am and what I stand for. Eric has brought so much joy and meaning to my life – I don’t need or want anyone’s sympathy. Instead, I want their support and recognition that Eric and other people with disabilities have so much to offer the world – and they deserve to be an active part of their communities. I fight for that every day as Eric’s step-mom and as a board member at his amazing school, PACE Charter school, a program of Pattison’s Academy.

Another thing that Diane says in the movie is this: “It’s not about what you deserve.  It’s what you believe.  And I believe in love.” I do too.

When we make choices from love instead of fear, we make our relationships better. We make ourselves better. One tiny step at a time, we change the world for the better. I believe that each one of us has the power to change the world, and that we should never give up trying. Anger is a fuel – that is certain, but it is a fuel that leaves us on “empty” – more tired than we were when we started. Love is a renewable fuel that not only keeps the tank full, but fills other tanks. It grows exponentially and will never run out.

Since the last presidential race, I have been overcome by “noise” on a regular basis. I try to deal with this noise by focusing on what I can do to live my values, and to try to make a difference in any small way that I can. I try not to succumb to fear by contributing to the noise. It is not easy, and I don’t always get it right – but this is what I try to do. Loving my family and doing what I can to fight for what is right is keeping me centered and hopeful for our future.

As the movie concludes, Diana says, “I used to want to save the world, to end war and protect mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives inside their light, and learned that both will always be inside them, and that is something no hero can defeat. They must always choose for themselves. So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now, forever.”

This is my mission too. I may not be a superhero, and I certainly don’t have any special powers. But I do have the most important thing – love, because as Wonder Woman says, “Only love can truly save the world.”

 

America

Free,

Only want to be free

We huddle close

Hanging on to a dream

“America” sung by Neil Diamond

I know many of you are both mentally and emotionally exhausted from the constant barrage of “noise” over the last couple of weeks. It’s been hard – even harder than I expected it to be.

Out of all of the “noise”, the immigration ban has brought me to tears numerous times. I am so deeply saddened that America has been forced to shut its doors to people seeking a brighter future here. To suspend immigration is un-American to me. To ban refugees is against everything I believe in.

But while I am sad, I refuse to wallow, because wallowing would be living in my “privilege”. What right do I have to wallow when thousands of people’s lives have been thrown into sudden chaos? Yet, I also refuse to ignore the ban and to pretend I am not affected in some way by it. If each one of us took the time, we would find that we do indeed know someone in our community, in our circles, in our friendships, workplace – somewhere, someone you know is suffering from this ban.

So – what do I do?

Well, I decided to channel some of this energy, and do a little research on my own immigration story. Like each and every one of you that is not Native American, my ancestors came from somewhere else. All of my life, I have proudly said that all eight of my great grand-parents emigrated from Italy. They were not refugees in the way that Merriam-Webster defines it as “a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.” I imagine that all of them did what so many others did in the early 1900’s by coming to America to pursue the American dream – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Using the research my dad has done on our family tree, I subscribed to ancestry.com to see what I could find. It didn’t take me too long to find ship manifests that contained the names of five of my eight great-grandparents.

First is my dad’s maternal grandfather, Salvatore Raffaele, who left from Naples and arrived in New York City on the SS Britannia in 1893 at the age of 21. I am not sure when he married Maria Valenti, my great-grandmother, or when she moved to America. I do know that they had seven children, their fifth being my grandmother who was born in Stamford, CT in 1911.

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Next, my dad’s paternal grandmother, Amelia Maria Lamazzo was only 15 when she sailed from Naples to New York on the SS Lombardia in August, 1903. She married Francesco (Frank) Sessa sometime around those years, lived in Stamford, CT and had her first child (of 10!) in 1906 and then had Samuel (my grandfather) in 1907. According to the 1930 census, my great-grandfather Francesco (Frank) emigrated from Italy in 1900. I found a ship manifest with Francesco Sessa’s name on it from 1909 – so my guess he returned to Italy to visit and came back to CT – because he and Amelia had eight more children after that.

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On my mother’s side, her paternal grandfather, Arcangelo Martino, was 19 years old when he sailed on the SS Romanic from Naples to Boston in 1911.

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My mother’s maternal grandfather, Raffaele Ronzio, was also 19 years old when he left from Havre and arrived in New York City in 1913 on the SS Niagara. He was from a small town in Italy called S. Apollinaire – so I am not sure how France is part of his story. I do know that he married my great-grandmother Maria Valente before they moved to the US because my great-Aunt Lucy (Lucia) was born in S. Apollinaire, and then they had 2 more children (including my grandmother) in North Providence, RI.

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My family history may be a bit boring to anyone outside my family. What I hope happens to all of you reading this is for you to reflect and think about your own family’s emigration/immigration story. Because we are (almost) all alike in that we have one. If you think that immigration has not affected you in some positive way, I ask you to consider where you came from and why you are here.

And if you don’t think immigration affects your community today – well, maybe you are not looking hard enough. This article was posted today called “Meet the Last Refugees to Arrive in Charleston Before the President’s Ban”. The Mufuta family luckily arrived 24 hours before the ban went into effect. If you read this article, you will learn that Bakemayi Mufuta lived in refugee camps since he was seven (he is now 30 years old) when he fled his hometown in the Congo. He met his wife Rose in a refugee camp in Zambia (she also had fled the Congo). They have two children, 6 year-old Promise, and 3 year-old Georgina. They spent 4 years on the resettlement process that led here to Charleston a few weeks ago with the help of Lutheran Services Carolina. I am sure that nothing about that process was easy.

Before the ban, Lutheran Services Carolina had just begun to resettle refugees in our area – four families have come since January. Of course, the refugee program is now at a stand-still.

I have contacted Lutheran Services Carolina to see what these families could use and how to get supplies to them. I am happy to pass along my findings to anyone interested. You can also follow the SC for Refugee Justice Facebook page if you are interested in learning more.

While sometimes I feel helpless, I won’t give up hope – because again, then I go back to living in my privilege because I CAN go about my business if I choose to. While I pledge to myself to speak up and take action, I will try not to add to the “noise” because it’s hard to hear through the noise.

I will continue to write about my feelings because if it helps even one person feel better or inspire them to take some kind of positive action – it’s 100% worth my time and effort.

I will continue to plea with people to practice empathy – to find what you have in common with the immigrants and refugees that are impacted by the ban. To ask those everyone to do the best you can to act from love and not fear. To rise about the political fray and realize this is a HUMAN issue – not a political one.

I will practice gratitude for my great-grandparents who were brave enough to move across an ocean at their young ages in order to pursue the American dream. I will practice gratitude that they were lucky enough to be allowed to do so.

I will continue to pray for the people who are frightened and confused, who are trying to find a better life for their families, and who are stuck somewhere other than here. I will pray that we remember who we are, where we came from, and what the American values are that we sometimes take for granted.

I will do what I can to help the refugees who do live in my community.

I will continue to follow the “real” news and will not be afraid to read the truth, or to share the truth. I will not remain silent or indifferent.

Get up, Stand Up

Today I helped make history…or as Kaitlyn said, “her-story”. From what I have read by Politicususa, today’s Women’s March was the largest protest in US history. However, I didn’t march today in protest of who sits in the White House. For me, today was not about politics, nor was it about one man. It was (and remains to be) so much bigger than that! It transcends politics and the temporary power that one person has. Today’s march was about renewing my belief in humanity, my love for my country, and my commitment to embody my values. I marched to “be the change I wish to see in the world” as Gandhi taught us to do.

I marched today to demonstrate what I believe in:

  1. TRUTH: I believe in speaking the truth. The truth can be a big pill to swallow. Many people will avoid the truth because once they admit the truth, they may have to take some kind of action – or God forbid – CHANGE. I know this because I spent a lot of my adult life avoiding some hard truths of my own. As a result of facing my truth, I have had to make some painful decisions and have experienced a whole lot of turmoil as a result. Now that I am on the other side of that pain, I know in my heart and in my bones that I am a better person for taking the risk to speak my truth.  When I reflect on our recent presidential election (which I have done A LOT), I feel that one of the takeaways is the truth has been exposed. I have been pretty comfortable in my white privilege and could have easily stayed there “on the fence”  as John Pavlovitz so eloquently wrote about recently. Not anymore. I am willing to speak the truth that racism is rampant in our country. That white privilege is a luxury that too many people cling to and avoid having to change. That too many wealthy people hold the power and WAY too many people have none. That women are not treated equally in the workplace. That people with disabilities need more help. That LBGTQ right’s need to be protected. That there were more people at the Women’s March than at the Inauguration. Some of you may think this is political, and that is your right to think whatever you want. But for me, the truth is a fundamental, personal value. Now that I can speak these truths, I am ready to DO something – I am ready to “be the change.” I am ready to take action to do what I can to make my life, my country, and my planet, a better place.
  2. EQUALITY: I believe that all men and women are created equal. I believe in equal pay for women. I believe that love is love and that everyone should be able to get married regardless of their sexual orientation. I believe that black lives matter. Of course I believe that all lives matter, but I am not afraid to say that black lives matter to call attention to the hard truth that racism is rampant (see #1). I will not be afraid to embody this value of equality – even when it may be uncomfortable. I want my actions to reflect my values. That is why I marched today.
  3. CHOICE: To me, believing in choice goes well beyond a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. I believe that choice is a fundamental right each one of us has at ALL times. Each one of us has the power to make a choice every moment of every day. Making a choice is the opposite of being a victim of circumstance. I can’t control my feelings, and I can’t control what happens to me…yet still I have 100% control over my choice of my actions in response. By the way, doing nothing is still a choice. And the only person responsible for my choices is ME. Other people may have an opinion about my choices, but guess what – the older I get, the less I care.
  4. EMPATHY: I believe that empathy is the answer to the division in our country today. I believe that I can change the world one small act of kindness at a time. I believe that empathy makes it possible for me to have very difficult but necessary conversations about very difficult topics.
  5. HOPE: I believe that hope comes from my core belief that we are all connected in some way. I have hope that our country remains to be the best country in the world, and that it is built to last no matter who holds office. I believe that fear is the enemy of hope. I have hope in humanity – and today renewed that hope.
  6. LOVE: I believe that love trumps hate. I believe that love is the most powerful, renewable energy that not only replenishes itself, but can grow exponentially. I believe if our choices come from love and not from fear, that the world would be a much better place. I believe that the enemy of love is not only hate – but more importantly – indifference, like the wise Elie Wiesel taught us.

These are the reasons I marched today. These are the reasons I will not stay on the fence. These are the reasons I will speak up and take action. I welcome difficult yet constructive conversations.