Starbucks, Theta Tau…. Who Art Thou?

I know I need to stop turning on the news, but I want to see what’s happening, and so I watch. Like turning to look at a bad accident on the highway, you know it’s wrong, but you do it anyway. Seems there’ve been more wrongs than rights in the news of late, and it’s getting to me, leaving behind unsettling, unanswerable questions.

Do we even know what wrong looks like anymore?

I can’t imagine that some of us were born separatists who from the get go spread evil, fear, and injustice. It’s the age-old nurture nature debate, but just how do closed-minded beer funneling, latte serving elitists evolve? Do we even know what wrong looks like anymore, assuming we once did? Maybe we’re bored outcasts who need attention but can’t figure out how or where we fit in. Or some of us are just bad people who don’t know better. Should we be blessing our own hearts?

Show me the benefits of ridiculing others — people of color, different religions, mentally challenged or a different sexual orientation — because I can’t see any. Maybe it’s an addictive high you get from onlookers’ laughs that helps you feel you belong, from putting people down so your own status can rise, or scoring friends from daring to go too far, shaming people and mimicking the most vulnerable. Surely you didn’t know what you were doing, someone put you up to it, it was the alcohol, the moment, it wasn’t really wrong. Was it?

Mean people suck. Always have, always will.

Wake up, Syracuse frat boys, it’s time to sober up and be accountable. Look at the chances and choices laid out before you, and then look at others’. They want what you want — a job, a family, security, health, a home and friends – and they want to be happy, but lucky for them they don’t have what you have — the bias, the sense of entitlement, the dispiriting lack of curiosity. They may not know it yet, but in many ways they’re rich from the bits they get, which they savor and, I’m guessing, share. How about you, other than laughs at others’ expense, what do you share? As for the Philly Starbucks manager, was it fear that made you call the police, hoping they’d rescue you from your own prejudices and suspicions? When they came running, did it work? Is it over or are you still scared?

You who poke and prod at society’s most defenseless and then smirking, star in your own social media film, are you just misfits, starved of courage? As you look around for a clean napkin to blot the cappuccino foam from your lip, have you given any thought to where you’re going or what kind of person you want to be? When the barista goes home, the beer runs out, when the party’s over and the guys crash, when the girl moves on and it’s just you standing there, what will you do then? Is it really 2018? Certain we’ve moved farther than this by now. Wake me up when the storm has passed.

Life defined is the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body. Is there no more life in Greek life if some of its members appear so void of it, so dysfunctional? It’s not about tolerance, but inclusivity, not because your campus or workplace says so, but because somewhere deep down, you want it, know it’s right, and learned it long ago. Or maybe you should have. It’s instinctive, it’s decent, but has to be regarded important enough to live it.

What happens when bad news breaks and campus and coffee shop ratings plunge? You enroll in unconscious bias training, of course. That people must un-learn their own biases should tell us something’s not getting done at home, we aren’t being taught the things we should. Calling the cops in two minutes because two black men are waiting in your coffee shop isn’t just unwarranted, it’s outrageous. It’s fear rearing its ugly head. Again. A toxic culture has been brewing, and Starbuck’s isn’t the only place you’ll find it.

What are we afraid of? What were these black men going to do to you or to your customers, or maybe it was your image at risk. Did they have guns, threaten people, or did they do the unthinkable, park their black bodies in your chairs as they sat and waited. Did they look in your eyes like they didn’t belong, or did you first look in theirs and think that? Was the color of their skin all you needed to make that call?

Can this fear be trained out of you?

I’m afraid tolerance alone doesn’t cut it. We’d be wise to stop doling out A+s for human decency that should instead garner a B/B+ at best. Let’s aim higher and no, I’m not talking about firearms. I’m tired of bad behavior filling the news and the occasional acts of kindness applauded at a level as if no one has seen the likes of them before.

I’m referring to a national news segment on a man from my own state getting out of his car during rush hour to help an elderly gentleman with a walker cross the road. While I commend this Good Samaritan for being generous, I’d like to think there are others who would’ve done the same. What if you saw a frail individual like this? Would you stop or just go around him as if you were dodging a pothole? Maybe you’d turn up your music and miss the opportunity entirely. We’re all trying to cross the busy street and get somewhere and on any given day, one of us sure could use a hand. It’s not a story. It’s kindness.

Is it possible the focus on labelling and categorizing each other will one day give way to encouragement, service and support? That this single story of someone helping someone else is such a rare find, something we still talk about weeks later, tells me we’re focused on the wrong stuff, the sensational crap on TV at dinner, sexy sound bites to accompany our own. What if we stopped and reset. There are no do-overs, but there is today and tomorrow and the next.

Mean people suck, always have, always will. With enough practice, this cycle could break across generations, within cultures, on campuses and at work, in homes and places of worship, and we could stop separating ourselves from each other and choose to collectively do more good. We are equals on this earth, different but equally worthy and of worth. It’s a privilege to be connected here on this planet and if we can put down our biases, weapons and fears, maybe that’ll free up a hand for lifting each other up. It’s not all Greek to me. You?

Who’s Behind You?

anneFor as long as I can remember, I’ve followed behind Anne; she’s been my guide, and I’ve always learned something from her outlook and opinion. I still do. Growing up, she was sensitive yet cool, never too tucked, too preppy, too anything. She just flowed – her long lean body and soft voice carried her in a way I liked, which was so different from my own. I may have arrived two years after her, but from the start, she was behind me, my sister and built-in friend.

She helped me in high school, giving my outfits the once over. We’d stand in front of my long mirror and she’d go to work so I could appear less matchy matchy and more put together, without looking like I’d tried. She lifted my tightly tucked-in shirt so it billowed slightly over my hips, pulled my jeans down some from my waist, and suggested I lose the grosgrain headband, and let my hair fall, framing my face. I trusted her in these “what not to wear” sessions, and afterward, left the house more confident. I think she rather enjoyed having me as her project, too.

Years earlier, I remember us standing at the base of the stairs in our house, two little girls with baby dolls on our hips waiting for an elevator at the pretend “Woody Club.” We were always good at improvising and could take the other’s lead, wherever our imaginations took us. The Club’s proprietor, Susan Woody, must have smirked to herself, seeing us lapping up the accommodations since she, unlike her “guests”, filled her day paying bills and folding laundry before heading out in her Bermuda shorts to water and weed. I always assumed that one day Anne and I would live in the same city and raise our kids together, but thanks to photos, phone and email, in some ways we kind of did.

Growing up, we had goldfish that never seemed to live very long. I don’t know why we didn’t add a pump and filter to their bowls, but no one else did, either. Where were our parents during these life and death decisions? The fish invariably died, and we held funerals in our woods. Anne would arrive for the service wearing a stole around her neck, impressively ecclesiastical, and somehow found a prayer book to bring along. We’d have a moment of silence, say a prayer and then something nice about the fish before laying it to rest on a cotton square in a cardboard Rich’s jewelry box. I guess we never dug deep enough because usually after a few days, the fish was gone, risen perhaps like Jesus, cotton strewn at the tomb. It was always a horrifying discovery, but because we both lived it, it was easier.

At night I often sneaked into Anne’s room and into her bed, a double white spool bed with exposed squeaky box springs. It was springy, cozy and familiar, far different than my own twin bed where I felt alone and far away from the family. My mom always said I should sleep in my own room, but I knew what I needed, and that was to be close to Anne, so I usually tiptoed to hers.

Anne and I loved cooking and we made all kinds of things but mostly we made tollhouse cookies, crepes and hand-cut French fries. We let our mom sample the successes, and the failures went straight in the trash. One time we cooked our parents a multi-course dinner — shrimp bisque, cube steak and I don’t remember what for a vegetable and dessert. Shrimp bisque is tricky, or at least that was our experience. We earned Girl Scout badges for our efforts, and for their part, our parents learned patience, waiting hours between courses, smiling politely sipping their bourbon. Even though the meal was a flop, Anne and I still compare recipes, new foods and a shared fascination with cooking.

I’ve never had to explain our family to Anne; she’s lived it all, including wearing those matching outfits we often were dressed in. Like my brother and me, she also died of embarrassment when our friends were over and Lad, our aging, flatulent German Shepherd, released huge silent stinky clouds into the room. At family picnics, I remember shielding her from the dreaded egg-laden potato salad, and even though she liked hoarding boxes of Girl Scout cookies in her desk, she’d usually let me have my own sleeve of Thin Mints. It’s been a shared back and forth, giving and getting.

I’ve been thinking about Anne lately since we spent Spring break together at the beach. I don’t remember us ever having a whole week together as adults, and I don’t think planning our parents’ funerals should count. Our beach week unfolded slowly, doing nothing and talking about everything. We drank wine over stories, laughs and the most remote memories, and cooked constantly and fed people. Our dynamic has refreshingly little push and pull, and is simply comfortable and easy, with wine refills, jokes and continued wonder at how we’ve remembered the things we have.

On the last day, we rode the kids’ bikes, which had seats set super high, and fortunately for 5’10” Anne, she pedaled comfortably for a change. Following behind her, I took this photo of her, 56, ever the young girl, cropped shirt billowing in the breeze, curls trailing down her back. We darted in and out of streets with no agenda, riding beside each another when we wanted to talk and single file when we didn’t. It was like we no longer lived 700 miles away from the other, and were just two sisters out riding bikes, like before.

Anne’s a Gemini full of decisions, sometimes unable to decide, but she’s steady, graceful and always there for me, her chatty loving Leo sister. She wears the moonstone ring I gave her on her middle finger and a pearl necklace we saw and bought together, both birthstones for her June 8 birthday. She’s a constant, my lighthouse, my insides. I trust her and no matter what, she listens and loves me, not in spite of who I am but because of it. There’s a difference.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a sister or someone they can call their person, and maybe it’s because I’m looking for them, but for years, I’ve seen folks who are ready and willing to step up. It’s the grocery store worker who grabs a cart when he notices that my arms are too full, or the hands-on work colleague who selflessly offered to watch our toddlers so my husband and I could get away. It’s the friend who emails job postings to nudge me along, or the person who always texts right back, invites me over, holds the door, gives a hand, a compliment or a ride when I least expect it (and most need it). It’s whoever lifts you up, be it stranger or friend, who notices and connects with you. We all need a reminder that we matter and a place alongside people that feels like home, somewhere we belong. So, look around and find them. Chances are, they’re looking too.