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?


The Ornaments in Back

ornaments in the back

This year I decorated the tree myself. My husband was traveling and I wanted to get it done and put all the boxes away in time for his return, in lieu of dragging it over several days, which usually happens. I figured it would be a nice surprise and wanted to take on the decorating solo. He often likes to include slightly broken ornaments he’s patched up or other things he’s attached hooks to and christened tree decorations. This year, I made the choice to leave those behind in the box.

For me, Christmas is for calm and beauty, and a warm relief from life’s cracks and tarnishes, and I like ornaments whole and intact. They say less is more and they are right. Less clutter, less broken stuff, less crowded situations are all more calming, more engaging and uplifting, at least for me.

As I began decorating, I hung my favorite ornaments first and later filled in the back with the others. I caught myself doing this as I have for years and realized that wasn’t exactly fair. They’re all worthy of sharing the tree so why separate them and instead just start hanging them as I pull them from the box? Every year it’s the same and I feel sort of bad for the ones bringing up the rear, as if they feel it too. So I hung some nicer ones in back to balance things out.

I remember junior high PE class and the waiting to get picked for a team. The popular girls got to do the picking and they picked their own kind. The rest of us stood there anticipating who’d make the cut, hoping our wait wouldn’t last long and we’d quickly make the team and move to the other side. I didn’t enjoy standing around, being judged and picked over, yet there was a comforting camaraderie with the girls standing alongside me, also cold and wearing the unbecoming PE uniform.

As a little girl, I used to select a few stuffed animals to sleep with me, some under the covers down at my feet blocking the gap where the sheets are tucked in, lest a monster slither in from under the bed, and the lucky few who would share my pillow. I did this selection each night while the still, stitched eyes of the animals looked back at me awaiting their fate. It was exciting to have such choice and to be able to change things up on a whim, but it was unnerving to be picking who would join my cozy bed and leaving behind those who wouldn’t. I changed up the rotation a good bit but still felt bad for the ones I didn’t choose.

There was that uncomfortable feeling of the haves and have nots and my role in their fates. It wasn’t until I became older that I started thinking more about the animals not picked, whether stuffed ones sealing a child’s bed or real from a local shelter, and those 7th graders who felt passed over during the picking. How can we know a person or an animal, stuffed or real, from its exterior and then go about choosing one, and why does physical appearance seem to weigh in so heavily?

My own dog, a rescue, is often judged by her beautiful cream coat and dark lined eyes. People stop me on the street wanting to get close and touch her, and hope she’ll in some way acknowledge them too. I often wonder if I picked her because she’s so striking; certainly, that played a role. But beyond her beauty, I sensed a gentleness, that she’s an old soul, and it didn’t hurt that she interviewed well.

They say be the person your dog thinks you are. I’m pretty sure my dog can see through any façade I might have created early in our relationship — like the notion that our twice daily walks would always be at least 45 minutes or that she’d get to sleep on my bed when my cat person husband wasn’t traveling. She accepts what she gets and savors every morsel. Yet she also keeps me in check, calls me out with a nudge of her snout or a bark when I say I’m ready for a walk yet am still buried in my computer. I like that she knows me, flaws and all and always chooses to be in the room I’m in. I’m nowhere near as pretty, but she doesn’t see beauty; she only sees love. We need more like her.

When de-Christmasing my house recently, I took a closer look at the ornaments I’d relegated to the back of the tree, and began noticing that I’d added many good ones in back this year. Was it to keep the others company or improve the back of the tree’s second string image? With our tree against a bay window, you could argue the back is the front, that is if you’re walking up to the house or viewing it from the street. It’s interesting what we choose to show and what is actually seen.

What is it about the front line, the first row, that coveted spot which always garners attention? I remember when my second parent died I remarked that the front line had gone down, and was surprised at how vulnerable that felt. I had been in back for years protected by a parental shield and now with it gone, do I step up or stay in back? Without knowing I was front line potential, I largely stayed in back, and one could argue I’m still there.

I’ve come to realize front line potential is mostly about perception. By virtue of becoming a parent you are indoctrinated into the front line club, ready to step in front of a bus, anything, if it means sparing your precious child. Ornaments in the front on a tree are naturally the ones we look at, yet any of them can fulfill that role in front. By merely being on the tree, perhaps they are equally vital to its beauty? We can all step up and be on the front row, on the front line. I’d love to see a reversal and start placing the plainer ornaments in front and the fancier more colorful ones in back. Or randomly co-mingling them one year. The change up would do the tree good. Ornaments too.

When Tuesdays allow, I always try to get to Pilates class at the Y early enough for a space on the front row. I want to shine there and I adore the teacher. There is no trepidation, no hesitation; it’s a safe place and I don’t want to miss a thing in back. As I do for that class and for that teacher, I’d like to step out front more, yet be able to still find satisfaction in back. On an airplane, as I pass the first class who always look so comfy with drink in hand and doting attendants buzzing nearby, I often wonder if they could enjoy the trip in back, stripped of decorations, still on the same ride and to the same destination.

Instead of defining who or what is in front or in back, could we consider that maybe we are all the same — ornaments, people, animals, stuffed and real? We can be confident and shy, bold and reserved, beautiful and plain. The duality within us gives us balance. We’d be better off trying to play all roles well and being comfortable in our own skin and in the places we find ourselves. We are not the sum total of where we are or what we look like, and are far more than what is seen. If we could resist looking around for the better place, we might relish each moment where we are. Imagine.