On more than once occasion over the last few weeks I’ve joked that “Shannons drive into disasters”. I’ve said this to make light of the fact that while millions of Floridians drove north to try and get out of Hurricane Irma’s path, I drove south. I’ve said it when my sister in Colorado bought an airplane ticket to come help the recovery, practically before the winds had fully died down. And for anyone who knows my family even a little, the notion that Shannons drive into disasters doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary.
But what happens when the disaster you’re driving toward belongs, in part to your own family? What happens when the drone photos are your neighborhood? What happens when you turn onto the street your family has lived on for 40 years and it’s the Red Cross tents and the Rotary and FEMA and Team Rubicon and Samaritan’s Purse and on and on walking your block asking about what folks need to help dig out?
It turns out what happens when it’s your disaster is the same thing as when it’s been someone else’s- you work like crazy. You take one step at a time. You throw away, lay out in the sunshine, wipe clean, pack up, and make jokes, take pictures, and tell stories along the way (and drink some beer). And you also learn to say “sure, we could use a hand” instead of the immediate “oh no, we’re fine”. You welcome total strangers into a mess you’d have never imagined letting anyone see. You get glimpses of remarkable generosity, grace, and kindness from friends near and far.
It turns out, when it happens to be your disaster, you drive into it, head on, knowing that recovery happens one packed box, one trash bag, one step at a time.
I left home to go home yesterday.
Yes, it’s that complicated. The home of my childhood, the home of my parents, the town my family has called home for four generations is my home. And St. Pete is my home. The house I own; the place where my spirit feels at rest; the place where my dearest friends and my love reside.
But as I drove north on I-75, against the flow of traffic headed south, I was completely overcome. This time with gratitude and joy.
Overcome because as I drove north, north to my relatively unscathed home in my relatively unscathed neighborhood, driving south were the convoys. Driving toward the destruction was truck after truck after truck. There were convoys of power trucks from Kansas City, Philadelphia, Oklahoma, and Indiana. There were convoys of national guard
from Florida and Ohio. There were grocery store trucks ready to replenish store shelves. There were hardware store trucks filled with tools. There were caterpillar trucks loaded down with commercial generators. There were Red Cross trucks and Salvation Army trucks and AT&T and Verizon trucks; there was a Tide mobile clothes washing truck. And into the chaos they drove. In the next few days it’ll be Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Mennonite Disaster Service and the Southern Baptist men- who are probably already cooking to feed communities across the state.
I imagine most of us have seen the Mr. Rogers quote about looking for the helpers. Yesterday as I drove from one home to another- a drive I’ll be making a lot in the coming months as my parents and community clean up- I didn’t need to look hard because truck after truck after truck was making the helpers known. These are the people who drive into the chaos and give us a leg up in our slow return to normalcy- and I’m so grateful.
It’s an extraordinary thing to walk away from your home. To go room by room, inventorying your things and determining what simply has to come with you, what can be protected and left, and what is just stuff.
Truthfully, it’s all just stuff. It’s clothes and shoes and books and old magazines and tools and crap I should’ve gotten rid of ages ago. Nothing makes you feel more like a hoarder than surveying your belongings and ascribing emotional value to them. Turns out, almost all of it is worthless. And yet from time to over the last few days I’ve been completely overcome by the act of walking away.
I feel like I’ve abandoned my home. I feel like she knows I didn’t trust her to make it through and so I left. I feel badly about that. But whether it’s the house or the things in it, the only thing that matters today is that the people I love more than anything are safe for now. And this house has seen far more than I can imagine. She’s a tough old bird.
It is the custom at my school, like so many others, to ask incoming students to participate in a “Summer Read”- a common text that lays the foundation for the institution’s common/general education/freshman seminar. One of the unique things here is that we also have a senior level common seminar course that reads the same text as first year students. Half our campus participates in reading the same book and then we welcome the author to campus for public and class lectures.
This year’s common read is “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond. To be perfectly honest, it’s gut-wrenching. In all of our cultural conversations about poverty- from food insecurity, to access to health insurance, to educational opportunities- the epidemic of eviction simply gets left out of the equation when it ought to be the starting place. Professor Desmond asserts in his epilogue, “Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.” (299)
It’s worth pointing out that the snapshot of evictions he presents takes place between May and 2008 and December 2009- the heart of the housing crisis and recession. And yet it wouldn’t surprise me if little to nothing has changed; particularly amidst stagnant wages and the constant attacks on the social programs that can literally save lives.
There’s a troubling voyeuristic aspect to the book. Professor Desmond takes us into a world of pain and hardship and poverty in a way that is honest to a fault and I feel a little uncomfortable being there. Which is perhaps the point. I can’t help but be desperately aware of my privilege to simply read about it. The ease with which he describes bug infestation and drug use and prostitution and unsanitary living conditions right here in what claims to be the wealthiest nation in the world is overwhelming at times. And yet he offers a glimpse of the reality of the lives our neighbors are living and we must hear him. Additionally, he has the courage to offer a solution that isn’t out of the realm of possibility- though I can imagine what members of a certain political party would say to his recommendation.
Now to figure out how to get my students to actually read it.
The Yellow Jersey. It’s a gold medal, it’s a checkered flag, it’s breaking the tape, and hoisting the cup. In the Tour de France it marks the over all race leader throughout the three week event. It’s the guy who’s strong and fast and gutsy and has a great team and is a little nutso. But I’ve noticed something in watching the coverage this year: The rider wearing the yellow jersey goes from being a person and a team member with strengths and weaknesses to being an object.
Whether it’s been Geraint Thomas or Chris Froome or Fabio Aru they cease to be their names and become just the jersey. Protect the jersey; lead out the jersey; pull along the jersey; the jersey attacks. It’s been bothering me. Kind of a lot.
I asked my partner about it, as he knows quite a bit more about bike racing than I do, and he immediately said “well yeah, it’s an asset”- and it wasn’t clear whether he meant the jersey or the person. And that’s exactly what seems to happen, one goes from being a person to a thing, a teammate to an asset, an opponent to a target.
Dehumanizing happens in every aspect of our culture. It’s the print advertisements that cut off the model’s head because it simply doesn’t matter. It’s the euphemisms that have worked their way into our every day language- like collateral damage or enhanced interrogation method or illegal alien. Dehumanizing separates, divides, and even grants tacit approval for violence. It makes being racist, able-ist, and sexist that much easier.
We must live in a world that actively chooses to see one another’s humanity first and foremost; until we collectively make that commitment I’m quite certain our national and global rancor will get worse not better.
I know it’s just a jersey and just a figure of speech and just a sporting event. Except it’s far more than “just”. It’s also the ways dehumanization slips into our every day speech patterns and grants permission for us to not have to see the struggles and joys and pain and triumphs of those with whom we share our common humanity. So I will commit to saying well done Geraint Thomas, well done Fabio Aru, well done Chris Froome, wear your yellow with pride, but know that I see you for far more than just what sits on your shoulders.
Regular readers of this here little corner of the internet (Hi, momma!) may remember the great roof saga of last year. It was ugly, it was expensive, it was ultimately totally doable. Well today’s adventure in homeownership is a new air-conditioner. This transition hasn’t been nearly as ugly or stressful. I’ve known for quite some time that my unit was struggling to keep up with Florida heat and humidity, but my own relatively high tolerance for those things has made it a less pressing issue than it may have been.
But a few weeks ago, graduation day, in fact, we came home from post graduation festivities and both the outside unit and the air-handler in the attic had frozen. They simply couldn’t keep up. Right on schedule, my meltdown ensued, right on schedule. After a nice long rest, the a/c came back (and after a few beers and some time in the pool with friends, so did I). We had it looked at and the bad news came. Not only is the unit too small for the house, but it’s old and dying and sad.
So that brings us to today– new air conditioner day! I find myself sitting in a strange space- I am profoundly grateful that this transition is happening with relative ease. I’m not coming home to a 92 degree house and an emergency replacement; while it’s terribly expensive, I’m not having to choose which bills I can pay this month; and despite the anxiety and inconvenience I am reminded of the remarkable privilege of simply getting it done. And yet, I don’t want to do it- I don’t want to hang out as the house gets hotter through the day; I don’t want to pay for it; I don’t want to think about it.
Michael and I have a rule that only one of us has to “adult” at a time, but if we’re totally honest, I think we’re ready for a bit of a break.
Oh wait… the termite guy is here…
As vice-moderator of my presbytery I sit on what we call the “coordinating team”, along with major committee chairs, the current moderator, the most recent moderator, and then our clerk and executive- that we call the coach and coordinator. A few meetings ago we were given a book by said coach and coordinator and told to read it. She doesn’t often give us homework, but I sure do like getting books as surprise presents, so on both accounts I finished it.
The book is called Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. Essentially it’s a memoir of her journey toward “wokeness”- as the kids are saying these days. Irving is a middle-aged, white, straight, cis-gender woman from New England with seemingly liberal politics and throughout the book she comes to terms with the ways her background instilled in her the notion of being a “good girl” and the very particular connotations of not rocking the boat or causing trouble that go along with that.
It’s a lovely read and most helpfully includes a question at the end of each short chapter for reflection on one’s own privilege, power, white supremacy, and experiences of race and racism. (So if you’re the sort of person who finds themselves needing to pull together a book group, this might be a really powerful option…)
In her closing paragraphs she offers these thoughts:
I can’t give away my privilege. I’ve got it whether I want it or not. What I can do is use my privilege to create change. … Self examination and the courage to admit to bias and unhelpful inherited behaviors may be our greatest tools for change. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to exposer our ignorance and insecurities takes courage. And love. I believe the most loving thing a person, or a group of people, can do for another is to examine the ways in which their own insecurities and assumptions interfere with others’ ability to thrive. Please join me in opening your heart and mind to the possibility that you- yes, even well-intentioned you- have room to change and grow, so that you can work with people of all colors and ethnicities to co-create communities that can unite, strengthen, and prosper. (Irving, Debby. p 249)
I don’t know that I would have thought this book applied to me- not because I don’t always have learning to do about my own racist tendencies and privilege- but because Debby Irving isn’t my usual kind of activist. But what she describes above is exactly the kind of work I’d like the institutions I’m most closely involved with to undertake. This is what I want for my church and my college. It’s what I want for my neighborhood and my country. And so for today, I’m particularly glad that my presbytery is beginning to engage in this conversation and that I’m still a person who does my homework- especially when it involves being given a book.
So I got a haircut today, which next to therapy (which also happened this week) is just the best thing ever. The same guy has been cutting my hair for nearly seven years and he’s wonderful. Typically I don’t trust people who don’t have curly hair, but I trust Frank.
One of the great things about our relationship is that there’s not a lot of pressure to talk. He gets talked at for a living; I get talked at for a living; so early on we decided only necessary talking for us. No need to fill the space. Our days have enough talking.
Frank also knows what I do; he understands the rhythms of my year and the challenges and hard realities of my job. Usually this manifests itself in his taking a careful read of my body language before asking me how I’m doing when I first walk in- I’ve been known to burst into tears because it’s been a terrible week. It also means he knows the importance of a May haircut- this is stress relief as much as basic hair maintenance.
So he’s cutting my hair today and he just finished asking me how many days were left in the semester. There was a pause in the conversation and he very calmly said “resist the pull”. My mind started reeling- resist what pull? The pull to check out before it was over? The pull of student’s stress and anxiety? The pull to buy problems that aren’t mine? OF WHAT PULL DOES HE SPEAK?? WHAT DO I RESIST?!
And again he said “resist the pull”. That’s when I realized he was cutting some layers in the back and he needed me to move my head forward while he pulled the hair back. Perhaps I ought to just resist the pull of over-complicating things and enjoy the damn haircut.
My whole life my mom has said that “while God may love all of us the same, when their time on this earth is through the people God likes the best get to go quickly.” I’m quite sure she’s right. As we learned yesterday of our friend, brother, and colleague Jeff Krehbiel’s death I was even more sure.
Jeff served his family, his community, and his church faithfully and well. And while our grief feels overwhelming, I find comfort in how little he suffered. I find comfort that I am surrounded by my church in this ash heap. And I find comfort that he has joined the great cloud of witnesses where pain and oppression and injustice have no place.
My friend Neely and I have taken it upon ourselves to rank the the place settings of the heavenly banquet- for reference Justice Scalia is far from the dessert table. I’m quite certain Jeff has taken his seat near the dessert, near the guac, near the craft beer, and near the great saints of justice.
Well done good and faithful servant. May your life continue to be a blessing.
It seems as though hardly a week goes by without some article flitting across my social media radar detailing some such study about the extra work women do- in the home, parenting, and at work. That fact that these studies almost always talk about white, heterosexual, partnered women is a different frustration for a different day. But these studies often go into great detail about the expectations around women’s tasks- from recognizing that toilet paper needs to be added to the shopping list, to what Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg described as “Office Housework” in a 2015 New York Times article that has clearly not escaped my memory.
And then we come to Easter morning. Perhaps an odd jump- except we’re back to the women. It was those women- Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, Mary- Jesus’ own mother- the very same women who had stood watch on Friday while the disciples deserted him- who rose early on the first day of the week. It was those women, the few whose names we know, but whose stories and the fullness of their roles have mostly been lost to those who didn’t think they were important enough to include; those were the women who rose early to take spices to prepare the body. It was Mary Magadalene- who the church would later brand whore, who recognized him in the garden. It was the women who ran back to the upper room and proclaimed him risen.
In a society and certainly a church that continues to undervalue women, and especially in those traditions and denominations where they are told they have no place, no voice, no authority- let us particularly remember this morning that it was the women. It was the women who in the midst of their grief and disbelief, rose early, and did the work society expected of them and in doing so preached the Gospel for the very first time.
But seriously, can’t a girl get a break?