Stand

Do you remember when you were really little, before you understood the complexities of the world, and the national anthem would play. You would stand tall and straight, with your hand over your heart. There was such a feeling of pride. America was the good guys. We were a shining light in the darkness, and it felt so good to be on the winning team.

On Sunday night I turned on my TV and just happened to land on the playing of the national anthem for the game that night. Despite intending to watch another show, I stayed on the game for a few minutes to see what the teams would do. I watched the camera pan across the kneeling players, linked arm in arm. What I noticed more than anything, was their faces. They weren’t celebrating their jab at “the man.” They weren’t mocking. If anything, they looked pained. They took no joy in what they were doing.

There’s no doubt in my mind that when those kneeling players were kids, they had the same rush of pride I did. How painful to no longer have that pride. How painful to have your naivete eroded away as you grew up and watched your country let you down, finding out that the light doesn’t burn so brightly for you if your skin is dark.

I’ve heard commentators rail about how ungrateful these players are. They’ve been given an opportunity to make millions of dollars by this country. How dare they protest anything?

I agree that this country has given hem an amazing opportunity. They were so very lucky. Many, not all, but many of these players come from poor families and poor neighborhoods. Their schools are underfunded and overcrowded, so education is not necessarily a way out. They have the option of making a quick buck through crime, and that seems pretty appealing when there are no jobs. But that quick buck will probably lead to jail and maybe even death. Then they discovered they had a remarkable physical talent that rich people love. Suddenly there was a way forward and they paid for it with years and years of sweat and punishing hits that may eventually turn their brains into monsters living inside their skulls.

Now they have reached the pinnacle. They are playing professional sports and being paid very, very well for it. Having achieved so much, what kind of men would they be if they didn’t look back to their friends, families, classmates, and neighbors who weren’t so lucky to be gifted with physical ability. There’s no golden ticket for any of them. Their life will be lived in a cycle of poverty where they can die for wearing a hoodie at night in the rain, or for selling single cigarettes. They aren’t kneeling for themselves. They’re kneeling for the people from home.

But, that Travon Martin kid was known to smoke pot. He was no angel. Yes, and so do a whole lot of white high school kids. Do you think their parents would be cool with a neighborhood watch guy killing their kid and then the media smearing him? Being a teenager is hardly a crime deserving of death. And that Eric Garner was flouting the law by selling single cigarettes. You essentially commit the same crime when you take part in an office pool, pay someone under the table, or fudge a little on your taxes. Those are equal crimes in that the government is cheated out of some of its income, except you’re comfortable with your crimes, but not so much with a poor, black guy trying to hustle up a few more dollars for his family.

How, in good conscience, do you stand with pride to honor a country that leaves your family, friends, and classmates lying dead on the street. How do you feel a part of this country when the very citizens who should stand beside you in unity, mock your children and their deaths? Why are they required to respect military service when we don’t respect their service? Black soldiers, who fought for this country, returned home to find they didn’t have the same rights they fought for in Europe. Or when they get home from Vietnam and discover that cabs won’t pick them up because they can’t see the marine uniform and only see a n*. We refuse to respect their service, but dadgumit they better know their place and respect ours.

There is no disrespect in their protest. They’re not flipping off the anthem, or wandering around talking, laughing, and slapping each other during it. With our history to black people, they’d probably be justified in doing that, but they aren’t. They are doing their best to say, “Yes, I am grateful for this country and the opportunities it’s provided and I’ll do that by being silent and recognizing the anthem is being played, but I am also recognizing that the country could do better to live up to its ideals. And I’m asking it to do better. For my friends. For my family. For my people.” It’s a beautiful compromise in a painful situation.

I have no doubt these players would love to stand with pride when they hear their country’s anthem played. Who wouldn’t? But to do so at this time would be a lie. And they’re so terribly sorry they’re interrupting your entertainment to inform you of the injustice they live with. The thing is, if this country would have united and stood with them when Sandra Bland was arrested for DWB and died in jail, and call out the injustice, they wouldn’t need to kneel. If this country would unite and call for bad cops to be removed, and bad policing practices to end, they wouldn’t need to kneel. If we would unite in trying to find a way out of the cycle of poverty, they wouldn’t need to kneel.

If you want these protests to end, than stand.

Stand with them, so they don’t have to kneel.

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The Rules of Grief

Recently I made a quick trip to South Dakota to attend my best friend’s father’s funeral. I lost my father 13 years ago, and as could be expected, this has brought many of those memories and feelings to the surface. At Christmas I visited his grave and was shocked that the minute I stepped out of the car, tears started flowing like he had died that day. Grief never truly dies down, we just learn to live with it like background noise.

My friend is learning some of the same things I learned 13 years ago. If you’ve never lost someone close, you are simply not prepared for how grief works and it brings shocks and surprised with each moment. There is confusion over how to react, and what the rules are. Here is the rule I learned from losing my dad.

Grief has no rules

Despite this one rule, there are still things to keep in mind when you, or someone you love, is in grief.

Every person grieves differently. Some hold it in. Some let it out. Some lash out. Some retreat into a shell of themselves. Some will move through the intense pain quickly and move back into life almost immediately. Some go for months or years, slow to let the loss go.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief is a combination of who you are, your relationship with the person who is gone, the circumstances in which they died, and your beliefs about life and death. Don’t judge yourself because you aren’t grieving the way others grieve, or get angry that someone else is doing it wrong. It is what it is, and to quote one of my favorite quotes from Tootsie, “I’m going to feel this way until I don’t feel this way anymore.”

Which brings me to the next thing to remember as you grieve – you are going to feel every emotion possible, one right after another. I think most who’ve never been through it assume someone who is grieving is sad for a long time, and then eventually they aren’t as sad anymore. Instead, a person who is grieving finds that one moment they are devastated. Then they feel they’ve worked through it and life is going no to be okay, and then in the next moment they are angry that the person left, and then moments later they are back to acceptance, then back to denial, then sadness, etc. Those 7 steps of grief never flow smoothly from one to another. You are all over the place like a tap-dancer on stairs. Don’t ever let yourself fall into the trap that you have closure, and have worked through the grief. It’s always waiting…

In amongst all the steps of grief, you are also going to experience joy, silliness, and laughter. This is almost immediately followed by guilt. How dare you have a moment of joy when someone you love is dead?!?! However, this too is completely natural and very human. We all have coping mechanisms and humor is one of them. A good screenwriter will sprinkle humor throughout a thriller, a drama, or even a bloody horror movie. The human mind needs moments of levity to break up horrible things, it’s just the way we are wired. Besides, the person you lost also loved you, and just as you wouldn’t want them to be sad, they wouldn’t want you to be sad. Grasp onto those light moments and let them carry you through the dark moments. Laugh with friends and loved ones, and celebrate the good memories you share.

Also, be forgiving – both to others and to yourself. When I lost my dad I kept thinking, “I don’t know what to do, I’ve never lost my dad before.” None of you have likely ever coped with the loss you are all experiencing. Things will come out of your mouth you will wish you could take back. You won’t feel certain as to what to do or say. It’s safe to say those around you feel the same way. Forgive mistakes quickly. Let it go and love those close to you.

There are probably other things to remember, but that is what came to mind during the trip. Hang on during a wild ride, don’t judge, share joy without guilt, and forgive quickly.miss someone

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Death, Grief, and Rejoicing

Today, millions of words will be written about the collective loss we all experienced on 9/11. Friends, spouses, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, parents… all ripped from the people who loved them. We lost our feeling of safety, discovering that oceans and friendly nations could not protect us. In our rage, we lost our way, lashing out at people we could get to, instead of the people who harmed us. We lost some of the lofty ideals our nation stands for, simply because of our fear and pain. There was so much more than 3000 lives lost on this day 14 years ago.

I often wondered if the loss each individual felt was eased by the fact that the nation shared their loss. To anyone who has suffered the death of someone close, it’s confusing that life just keeps humming along. People laugh. They fall in love. They go out to dinner. Inside, the grieving want to shout at the world to stop. The person they loved is gone, and it’s not right that people act as if nothing has changed. But, with 9/11 the world did stop. Almost everyone across the planet grieved in the days following the attacks. Did that help? Or only make the pain worse? And what of those families who had the misfortune to have loved ones die near the 9/11 date? Was it made worse by the fact that everyone was grieving the victims of the day, but grief for their loved one was largely ignored.

Today, some of those confused feelings are my own. Much like 9/11, yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day. The first hint of how the day would go was when we realized a client was waiting and her instructor was nowhere to be found. It’s easy at first to assume it’s a missed alarm, or a family emergency, or something benign. But as the hours ticked by, and phone calls and texts went unanswered fear began to grow. The morning was spent searching online and in our records for contacts that could help. Our work family mobilized, each taking on a role to find our missing member. Despite our fears, there was still a sense of shock and overhwelming disbelief when she was found, likely taken from us by an unknown medical condition. 40 years old. A life only half lived.

Today most people are focused on the lost potential of 14 years ago. Today my community is focused on the lost potential of yesterday. There is a sense of disconnect from the rest of the world.

When thinking about what I wanted to say today, I still feel at a loss. There are no great words of wisdom to share. It is too soon for lessons learned, other than the much repeated phrases that life is short, and the knowledge you should never leave kind words unsaid or kind actions undone. There is no understanding of why a very fit woman got 10 years less than obese me has had. There is guilt in not reaching out to connect more. There is also comfort in seeing that our work family really is a family. We came together with support and love, making sure we were all okay.

One thing did occur to me as I chased sleep last night. Death also gives us the opportunity to rejoice. Pain reminds us that we still live. We still have a chance to say those kind words to those who are here. We still have a chance to reach out with love and caring to those around us who need those gifts. We still have a chance to become the kind of person we want to be. It pains our hearts to be without the people we care about. We can take that pain and lash out and cause damage as our country did on 9/11, or we can use that pain to rejoice at the fact that we have been given yet another day to experience the joys, pains, loves, losses, beauty and ugliness of life. Those we have lost would tell us we should do the later.

As you grieve today, what will you do with your grief? Make a good choice and rejoice that you have it to make.

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