The Child-Catching Monster

A tall, thin man with dark, stringy hair, hollow cheeks, and a long nose haunts my childhood nightmares. He gleefully goes about his job catching children. Once captured the children go into a cage and are spirited off to parts unknown. As a kid, I was terrified of this monster and comforted in the knowledge that such an evil creature only existed in the movies. I am not alone in my assessment of the evildoer. Entertainment Weekly placed the depiction of the child-catcher in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, on their “50 Most Vile Villains” list.

So how did this monstrous fiend rise to the surface of my current nightmares? I turned on the news. My country, the United States of America, has an entire team of child-catchers who take children away from their parents, put them in cages then sends them to hidden locations.

These children are living the terror that I could only experience at the movies. And the response from the lawmakers in power has been a deafening silence. Even worse, from my fellow Americans who look away or shrug and say it’s the law. Some (Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders) even try to justify their actions using the Bible.

I’ve always wondered how regular people in Nazi Germany stood by while atrocities took place all around them. But the more relevant question is what am I doing? How am I any different than those who stood by eighty years ago. They too probably felt helpless to do much. Maybe some felt indifference and some even felt a sense of national pride.

I’m not trying to compare the Holocaust to events taking place at the U.S. border. I am only looking to this time in history as a means of trying to understand human nature. Anyone who has studied this period has asked themselves what they would do in similar circumstances. Well now’s your chance.

Here are some concrete things, short of building a flying car that you can do right now.

First, make your voice heard. Call or write your representative. You can call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard directly at 202-224-3121 or follow the link to get their name and address.

You can also donate to organizations that are actively working to help. Here are just a few:

American Immigration Representative Project fights for due process and justice for detained immigrants as well as trains and coordinates lawyers willing to donate their time:

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights champions the rights and best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Kino Border Initiative provides humanitarian relief on both sides of the border

The National Immigrant Justice Center provides comprehensive legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers

Removing children from their parents and siblings is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s a human issue. We can point fingers and debate who’s to blame for laws and policy, but the monstrous treatment of innocent children at our borders is being done on behalf of all Americans. If you don’t like the message, it sends, speak out, donate or protest. Children should be afraid of monsters, flying monkeys, giant lizards, or clowns, not Americans.

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Praying For Nazis – How Loving the Lowest Can Lift Your Spirits

Candle in the hands

In this world of divisiveness and false equivalencies, it’s easy to get pulled along with the tide of hatred. There are days when I want to scream at the television. I want to shake the people who seem blind to the injustice taking place. I can feel my blood pressure rise. I am drowning in hopelessness and cynicism when I hear a calm voice inside my head offering these words of advice, Pray for them.

“But I don’t want to pray for Nazis!” I scream to nobody in particular.

Days later, more horrible events unfold, which leaves me wondering how people can commit such atrocities. Again I hear the call to pray for them.

I argue, “Absolutely not! I won’t pray for members of ISIS or Al Qaeda.” Neo-Nazis, the KKK, ISIS, Al Qaeda I’m certain there are important differences distinguishing one hate group from the other. But, does it really matter? It seems to me, if you can look another human being in the eye and purposely take their life, you’ve lost all humanity and are beyond redemption.

Yet there is the voice, “Pray for them.”

Angrily, I concede. My jaw tightens as I muse. My inexperienced, half-assed prayers are about what a Nazi deserves. I mean, it’s not like my prayers are anything special. I don’t have a lot of experience with prayer. I mostly pray when I am in trouble; when I can barely croak out a feeble cry for help. Or when I see others in even worse situations, I pray for them. But my favorite time to pray and often the most effective is when I can’t think of anything else to do. I give up my struggle and plead to God or the Universe or whoever will listen, to please take away my burden because I simply can’t carry it anymore.

That’s how I feel now, as I read the news about the hatred in the world. I am powerless to do anything and it makes me miserable to know it’s going on. So I release my anger and frustration and sense of helplessness.

The only way I can imagine God fixing things is if He or She could somehow enter the hearts of these wretched creatures and ease their pain long enough for them to consider the possibility of another way. Maybe if I can see these unfortunate, disillusioned, young men as my brothers, they too can see their perceived enemies as fellow human beings who deserve the same happiness we are all seeking.

I picture their angry faces and try to envision a softening. I like to imagine them as children before their heart and their face became hardened by life’s circumstances. Part of me believes this is an exercise in futility. It’s probably naive of me to think praying for Nazi’s does a lick of good. But I notice my jaw isn’t set quite as tightly. My pulse seems to have slowed. I feel a sense of peace returning to my body.

Wouldn’t it be something if somewhere right now, an angry, misguided individual was feeling the same thing? Imagine if we all did this. It couldn’t hurt, even if we did it out of selfish reasons— to feel our own heart ease a bit, to feel the softening that comes from surrendering.

Why not pray for a Nazi or two? Why not pray for a terrorist or Kim Jong-un or Donald J. Trump? Why not pray for the people who are so miserable they’ve become hell-bent on destroying everyone around them? If anyone needs our prayers. It is them. And the process of doing so will help us far more than cursing them.

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Here’s To A Non-Grinchy, Non-Scroogy, Christmas

My son, just home from college, asked if I was excited for Christmas. It was a reasonable question as I was in the middle of addressing Christmas cards. I thought for a minute, wanting to be honest without sounding Grinchy. The truth is my favorite day of the year is December 26; my personal “Hallelujah, it’s over” day. I reply, “I’m working on it.”

He raised one eyebrow – a genetic gift passed down from previous generations. Neither his father nor I have the ability to move our eyebrows independently.

I take a deep breath and respond to his one eyebrow question. “I’m really trying to be excited. I want to love Christmas, but it’s a struggle.” This makes me sound like I’ve suffered some personal tragedy; the holidays being difficult because of grief. That’s not the case. Although, now that I think of people who are legitimately struggling for those reasons, I get even more depressed and Christmas joy moves further from my grasp.

I add, “It’s just that Christmastime has become the epitome of what I hate about our overly commercial culture.” Images of our newly elected leader, the king of capitalism, flit through my head. Grumpily, I continue. “Everything is about buy, buy, buy. People have ridiculous expectations.” I flung my arm in the direction of the TV indicating an ad I’d seen. “We’re supposed to run out and get a Mercedes with a big red bow on it for Christ’s sake. When is enough, enough?”

My Ebenezer is Showing

My son smirked taking a sip of his hot chocolate. “So, Scrooge was right?”

I sigh, “No. It’s just that I feel like in order to get the warm fuzzy parts of Christmas, it should be more about spirituality and less about superficial stuff you know? I mean, If Jesus came down and walked around a mall for ten minutes he would say, ‘WTF?'”

Can you imagine what the man, who above all else, wanted us to love one another, would think about our rushing past a homeless guy in order to buy a chia pet for someone on our gift list? Then, we tell him we are doing it in celebration of his birth. Which, by the way, was in September. But, no one remembers the actual date, so December seems as good a time as any.

Jesus would want to throw his hands in the air and say, “I give up. These people are idiots.”

Luckily, I believe Jesus, or God, or the Universe, or whoever you like to think of when you need to believe there’s hope for humanity, forgives us for our many faults. I turn my internal rant down a notch and look at my son. He is genuinely looking forward to all the holiday traditions that I helped create. My Grinchy heart softens a bit. I look at him and say,

“I just want Christmas to be more about love and less about love of stuff. You know what I mean?”

He nods.

I return to the Christmas cards. I think about my image of the mall-cruising Jesus and his frustration over our methods of celebration. What would he have me do? He’d probably tell me to chill out, maybe take a sip of wine and reflect for a moment.

Checking My List Twice

I gaze at my never-ending list of things to do before December 25. Why am I doing all this? It’s not like someone put a gun to my head and said I had to do it. This is a list of my own making. I created it out of love; love for the people in my life and my desire to show them how much I care about them.

Mall Jesus looks at my list and says, “Do it or don’t do it. Your people won’t love you any more or less for having done it. But please, don’t do it on my account.”

its_a_wonderful_life_everytime_a_bell_rings_an_angel_gets_his_wings-clarenceSomething shifts within me. I notice my son grabbing a chocolate out of the advent calendar hanging on the wall. He held up the candy and said, “Only twelve more days.”

I remember buying the decorative countdown piece to help my kids manage their gleeful anticipation of Christmas. It had become a ticking time bomb to me. But now, seeing my grinning son, I see it for what it is; a holiday decoration filled with wonderful memories.

I look at my list with new appreciation. It doesn’t seem quite as unmanageable. I say a silent prayer to the heavens and thank Jesus for opening my Grinchy, Scroogy, heart. I breathe into the newfound openness. And, to my surprise, I feel a slight buzzing sensation. It’s the buzz of excitement, for Christmas; joyful, gleeful anticipation, not dread, for Christmas. I might even have time to watch a holiday favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.

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Support Humanity!

I realize the title of this post paired with the image seems a like a stretch, but bear with me.

I needed a new sports bra and popped into Dillard’s to pick up a new one. When I entered the lingerie department, I realized I had forgotten to check the size and brand of the tired one I was wearing. This meant I would have to go into the dressing room and try one on, or at least take off the one I was wearing to check the label. A woman asked if I needed help and promptly insinuated herself into the process.

She asked my size and when I threw out my best guess, she eyeballed me and said, “I think you need a fitting.”

I really didn’t want a fitting, but she followed me into the dressing room and before I knew it she was making me take my bra off. If you’ve never experienced a real bra fitting, let me say, you probably should because it really does make a considerable difference to have a properly fitting bra. But, I should warn you that it’s not for the faint of heart.

I once went bra shopping with my daughter who was still young enough that she didn’t yet need one. When the lady came into the dressing room with us and proceeded to relieve me of my bra and show me the proper way to “place my girls” into the cups to ensure a good fit, my daughter was mortified. As we left she said, “Remind me to NEVER ask for help in the bra department.”

I thought of this story as I held my hands over my breasts to provide a modicum of privacy as she told me to slip my arms underneath the straps, then she fastened the back clasp for me. She did all this so quickly that I didn’t have time to be embarrassed about the fact that my current bra was so old, the size information on the label had long since worn off, or wonder when I had last waxed my underarms.

After trying on several bras of various styles and sizes I settled on a few favorites. As I admired my new silhouette with my old T-shirt over a new bra, the woman said, “You see, you should listen to Latifah, when she tells you that you need a fitting.”

I’d been so focused on the task at hand that I hadn’t realized the woman had a rather thick, Middle Eastern accent. I looked at her name tag, barely visible through her long, bleached blonde, wavy hair, which cascaded over her chest, to confirm she was referring to herself. I said, “Latifah, that’s a pretty name. Where are you from originally?”

She seemed a bit shy, which was ridiculous since I had just spent the last twenty minutes half-naked in front of her. She said, “Well, Persia originally, but I have lived in many countries before this one.”

I surprised myself with my forward question asking, “Oh, did you leave Iran after the revolution?” I tried to guess her age and jog my memory of when Persia became the Islamic Republic of Iran. I had interviewed a man who had escaped Iran during the revolution and wondered if she had a similarly harrowing story.

Latifah, dismissing her Iranian background said, “I was quite young when we left and then we went to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan. Then we had to leave there. Oh, so many places and so many languages to learn. It was hard you know?”

I tried to show her that I did know by giving her a quick rundown on the Iranian I knew and how frightening his escape from Iran had been. His family had been persecuted for their non-Muslim beliefs. They had to sneak into Pakistan or face prison leaving everything they owned in the place they had called home for generations.

Latifah shook her head and said, “I know. So many people all over the Middle East, they just want to live and be happy, no matter what their religion.”

“Yes.” I said earnestly, “Of course.”

“Did you see that picture of the little boy on the beach?” Latifah’s accent seemed to grow thicker as she spoke, her “th”s sounding more like “d”s.

I knew the photo she was talking about. The corpse of a little three-year-old boy had become the image of Syrian refugee plight. I wondered what her Syrian connection was.

She shook her head said, “I went back there you know?”

I was getting lost in her accent and rapid manner of speech. Before I could figure out if she was talking about Syria or Iran or Pakistan she clarified that the home she fondly remembered; the one where several family members still lived, was Afghanistan. She told me that the mountains there were similar to Colorado, “Very cold with many places for snipers to hide.”

This was such an incongruous image for me to wrap my head around standing in the safety of a department store dressing room; surrounded by dozens of discarded bras; each with a price that could probably feed someone for a month.

Latifah replaced several bras back on hangers as she chatted conversationally about the atrocities of war, “The people there, they are just trying to survive and they are so shocked after many years of bombs, and rockets, and guns. They have seen so much and their homes and the buildings and the roads are destroyed. They don’t know who to trust, the leaders are all so bad and there’s so much greed.” She emphasized the fact by rubbing her two fingers and thumb together. “Last time I visited, this little boy, no more than four or five, tried to come up and wash my car for to earn some money. He couldn’t even speak, he just looked at me and held up a rag as if to wash.” She pantomimed the boy making a washing movement, but had to stop to compose herself before continuing. “I gave him some money even though my family tell me not to. I have to you know? How could you not help this child? My cousin told me about the soldiers there. They are all such babies and they all cry for their mothers when they are scared.”

I wondered if she was referring to American soldiers occupying Afghanistan or Afghani soldiers or the Taliban. Who were we fighting there? I was embarrassed to admit even to myself that I didn’t have a firm grasp on what really went on in Afghanistan, other than to think it was all over. Right?

Latifah asked, “Why do they send such babies to fight?”

I shook my head, dumbly replying, “I don’t know.” I concluded that it didn’t matter which soldiers Latifah was referring to, children are children. I tried to shake the image I had of my own eighteen-year-old son, still in high school, technically old enough to join the armed services, but still a child in my eyes. The thought made tears well up. I glanced around looking for my original undergarments.

Then Latifah told me another story she had heard during her visit back to Afghanistan. It was one of a family trying to flee a war-ravaged area. They had to hike through mountainous terrain, fording rivers, doing their best to keep their tiny son out of the water by lifting him overhead as they waded through the water, only to realize that the exposure to elements had been too much for his little body to take. He died on the way. From where? To where? I wasn’t sure, the devastation was the same. Latifah’s tears were getting harder to hide now, as were mine. No wonder that the image of the Syrian boy had affected her so.

It was so strange to cry with a complete stranger.  It’s one thing to do it in the darkness of a movie theater during an emotional scene, but here I was exposed, literally.  I tried to imagine a graceful exit, but couldn’t come up with much of a plan since I still needed to put my old bra back on.

Latifah continued, “All we can do is help where we can you know? Even here, I try to help anyone I see. If I see a homeless man, I always roll down my window and give them money. My friends say I am stupid; that they will just use the money for drugs or something, but I have to try to help anyway. We are all here living under one God so it doesn’t matter where we come from or what religion we believe in. We could all do so much you know? I see people come in here and they bring their little dogs with them in a little purse and spoil them like a child. I think of that little boy on the beach and wonder why can’t we help those children when we have so much; so much that we can pamper little dogs as if they are human. Working here I end up with so many clothes; one time I gathered up a bunch of my clothes and put them in my car. I drove down to where I had seen this woman and asked her if she wanted some clean, like new clothes and she was so grateful.”

I had, by this time, given up all hope that I could hold back my tears. This woman’s generous spirit was a thing to behold. There was a reason this woman had crossed my path. I didn’t know exactly what that reason was yet, but I was glad she did. If nothing else than to reassure me that no matter what the heartless, political rhetoric indicated about the fate of our country, I could still be optimistic about our future with citizens like Latifah. I was grateful to have met Latifah, her support for her fellow human beings, not just in the bra department at Dillard’s, but everywhere she saw a need was an inspiration.

 

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