It’s December in America…a time of colder temperatures and celebrations with friends and families. Every where you look lights adorn houses in everything from a subtle expression of holiday spirit to a garish explosion of color and sound. Trees are dressed in lights and sparkly bits. Presents are bought and exchanged. Feasts are prepared and tables set with the finest of china and silver.
There was a time, back before we had strings of electric lights and airplanes to whisk us off to visit family, when these traditions were part of a simpler time, when there was a meaning to the lights, to the feasting. We’ve lost that meaning today, and in our modern world those meanings no longer hold true.
The winter solstice no longer represents the mid point of our winter, the time when we can stop rationing our meager stores because spring is coming. The dark of winter is no longer so absolute that we light candles to entice the sun’s return.
Over the years, these traditions have changed, been adopted by people who do not understand their origins, morphed into the versions we see today, with blow up snowmen and Santa Claus, electric lights and nativity sets that depict a scene that would have been foreign to my ancestors.
Every December in America, people try to “reclaim” Christmas, try to remind everyone of the “reason for the season” but they don’t seem to know it themselves. It isn’t about the birth of Christ. It isn’t about Hanukkah. It isn’t even about the Solstice, not really. We’ve come so far, so much has changed…and yet we’re still here.
Traditions change. They grow. They merge with other traditions. The meaning behind what we do can change. We can create new traditions.
This December, Solstice will see me at a gig in LA. I will celebrate music with friends. When I come home, I will continue what has become a favorite tradition of mine. I will refresh my altar, make an offering of whiskey or wine and I will light a single candle and meditate on what I am laying beneath the ground this winter, what I am letting go of so that when spring comes I may rise up strong again.
But even that isn’t what this season is about. That comes on Christmas day, when I gather with my family. It doesn’t matter what gifts are exchanged. It doesn’t matter what food is on the table. It doesn’t matter that some of us are Pagan and some are Atheist and some are Christian and some are undecided. It doesn’t matter that some of us are straight and some of us are bi and some of us aren’t sure.
What matters most is that we love each other. Unconditionally. Fiercely. With all of our differences and all of our similarities, with all of our faults and our sarcasm. Celebrate that. Celebrate love. Stop fighting over stupid semantics and word games. Let love take root in your heart and let it guide you to some new traditions.
Love yourself. Love others. Give your love freely. Consider opening your home to someone with no family of their own. Consider welcoming chosen family to join you. Consider giving gifts to those in need…not just this winter either. Needs are higher in the colder temperatures, this is true. But there are people in need year round.
I challenge you to find the true meaning of the season, the meaning for being here. Carry socks in your backpack or briefcase and offer them to the homeless you pass every day without seeing them. If you knit or crochet, use your yarn ends to make hats, scarves and mittens and do the same, give them to those who need them most. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture to make a big difference in someone’s life.
And, you might be surprised how good it makes you feel.
Happy Holidays, whatever holiday you celebrate…and however you chose to celebrate it.
Today I worked from home until almost 2:30, then headed down to my physical therapy appointment. Today was my shoulders and elbows day. I got cranky when I got there because my doctor didn’t approve the extended sessions my therapists asked for and because apparently my insurance treats PT appointments like an office visit, which means it could cost me $80 per week to get my PT.
Then, while I was waiting to be seen, I was perusing the internet through the filter of things that get posted to my Facebook news feed. I got crankier and crankier. Everything was about how evil they are, how this or that isn’t good for Me (meaning whoever was posting). Obama is evil and the Republicans are stupid and Christians are meanies and gays are abominations and if you don’t agree with me then so are you.
Granted, for a half hour, all of that fell away as I got heat wrapped and massaged and exercised and more heat and electrified and even some ice for good measure.
Traffic sucked on my way home, and I had to stop to pick up a few groceries and as I pulled into the parking lot at the Safeway I was even more cranky than I had been before. There was a woman at the street light begging, and a guy at the entrance I go in to park begging. Near the entrance to the store itself was a woman and two very small kids. The youngest was maybe a year, the older one possibly three. She wasn’t begging, she was just sitting with the children in her lap and what was likely all of her worldly possessions gathered to either side.
I told myself I would pick up some diapers for the baby and offer them on my way out, and in I went to pick up stuff for dinner.
As I grumpily made my way around the store, I kept encountering a woman who was about seven months pregnant with a young girl who was possibly eight or nine years old. The little girl was carefully considering items and getting her mother’s help with math before she would put the item either into her own basket (not her mother’s) or back on the shelf.
At one point, as I was looking at cheese, the mother quietly said, “Remember honey, she probably doesn’t have any way to keep that cold.” The little girl nodded wisely and put back the bologna she had in her hand. They walked away and I wondered what this little girl was up to.
I next encountered them in the bread aisle. I noticed that the little girl had added a jar of peanut butter to the apples and carrots that had already been in her basket. She was figuring out the best bread to get as her mother picked out the cereal that was allowed on her WIC allotment for the month.
“Mommy, is this one okay?” She held up a loaf of the Safeway sandwich bread and her mother nodded. ”So that’s another dollar and ninety nine cents, round up to two dollars.” She made a face as she added that to her previous total in her head. ”That’s eight dollars and forty nine cents, right? And I have ten dollars and eighty three cents. So that’s two dollars and…” She squinted until her mother filled in the the thirty four cents for her. ”Is it enough to get two cookies? Kids should get cookies.”
They wandered down the aisle toward the pre-packaged cookies and I followed, headed for the next aisle. I skirted past them and went on with my shopping, grabbing the diapers that looked like they’d fit the baby I saw out front and a package of wet wipes, and circling back to grab some paper plates for those nights when my heavy stone plates are too much for my hurting arms.
The little girl came tearing down the aisle toward me, looking a little upset, her eyes scanning the shelf. When she found what she was looking for, she looked heartbroken. Her mother wearily trudged up behind her. ”I have to put something back.” The little girl was near tears. ”I don’t have enough.”
“That’s a hard lesson.” I said.
The girl was frowning, clearly close to losing it. ”She knows I can’t help her, we’re barely making ends meet ourselves.” her mother said softly.
A look in her cart showed only things one gets on the WIC program, which I’d already seen her consulting her cards for and little else.
“That isn’t for her?” I asked, looking in the basket the little girl had put down on the floor.
“She’s been saving for months to buy herself something. Her grandpa and a couple of the neighbors pay her a quarter for each grocery bag she carries from the car to their apartments.”
“They need something to spread the peanut butter on the bread.” the little girl interrupted. ”So, no cookies.” She put the cookies on the shelf and pointed to the cheapest package of plastic utensils. ”Could you please hand me one of those?”
I gave her the box and realized that this little girl was spending her money to feed the likely homeless family out front of the store. A little girl who had next to nothing herself.
I stopped, opened my mouth to say something, but she was already moving away, the abandoned cookies sitting on the shelf next to the paper plates I was there to get. I put the cookies in my cart. As I headed for the checkout, I grabbed a Safeway gift card. At the checkout, I handed the cookies back to the little girl, along with the $16 in my wallet.
I told her that it was a thank you gift, from a grateful neighbor, for all that she does to help the people around her. ”So, get the cookies. Because you’re right, kids should get cookies.” She looked to her mom to make sure it was okay to take it, and after she nodded, the little girl took them, grinning up at me.
While the cashier rang me up, I scribbled a few phone numbers on the back of a business card, contacts for shelters, or homes that take in homeless children.
On the other side of the checkout, I gave the little girl a bag with the diapers and wet wipes, the gift card and business card tucked in as well, and we walked out together. The mother and I watched as the little girl approached the little family, as the woman looked at the gift, startled, but happy.
The little girl came back to her mother, beaming. ”You did a good thing.” I said to her.
“I did the right thing.” she responded. ”And so did you. I’m proud of you.”
I wanted to tell her I was proud of her too…but I couldn’t talk around the lump in my throat.
We can file this into the “unpopular opinion” category, but I stand by my opinion, none-the-less.
There is a young man I know. I don’t know him well, but I know that he is seventeen, just started his senior year of high school. He has an older brother who is in Afghanistan. He had an older brother that died in Iraq. He had an uncle that died when the twin towers fell in New York.
He’s a good kid. Gets straight As, helps his father with the family business which was started by his grandfather, helps his mother carry groceries, babysits his little sister. He prays regularly and studies scripture. He’s saving up money to buy his first car, and is trying to decide what college he wants to go to after he graduates in the spring.
But, he’s afraid. He’s afraid of extremists targeting the country he loves. He’s afraid for the lives of his family. He’ll tell you it isn’t the ones on foreign soil that terrify him, it’s the people living right here, next door to him, down the street, working in the convenient store and the gas station on the corner.
There’s a scar on the back of his hand, and another on his chin. If you ask about them, he’ll get shy and change the subject, tell you about the play he’s writing or the book he’s reading. Over tea, his mother tells me that he doesn’t like to talk about it because it reminds him of his fear, and he doesn’t want to be afraid.
In hushed tones she tells me of a day a year or so ago when her son was attacked by these extremists, hurling hate and vitriol at him, along with rocks and broken bottles as he walked his sister home from school. When I ask why they wanted to hurt him, she shrugs and says they too must be afraid, and fear makes us brave, our terror fuels terrorist acts. It is how we mask our fear from those around us, she says.
I ask if they ever caught the extremists who hurt her son and she quietly tells me they did not even report the crime. They did not feel any good would come of it. The kids no longer walk to and from school. She drives them on her way to work and her brother picks them up.
On the day I visit, her brother is painting the front door, having chosen a bright red enamel paint. She dislikes the color, but nothing else will cover the red graffiti someone painted on their door. She says they will replace the door eventually.
The neighborhood has changed, she says. People have moved in that are very different from her family. They keep to themselves and build their own community centers and religious places, they put up signs that make her feel like the outsider in her own neighborhood.
She says the irony is she has lived in this same house since she was born. It was her great grandfather’s house, and her grandfather’s and her father’s. She and her husband inherited it when her father passed.
And in those religious places, fear and hatred fester. People are taught to fear the infidel, the unbeliever. People are roused to spiritual war, to go out and convert the “other” by any means, or if they will not convert, drive them out, take over the neighborhood, the county, the state, the country.
This is what her son fears. These are the people who hurt him, who make him afraid to walk alone the five blocks from his front door to his father’s store. These are the people who rejoice in making a seventeen year old boy afraid.
Does it matter which religion is on either side of this story? Is Hate an American value worth dying for? Worth killing for? Worth denying someone the basic rights granted them as human beings? Can you hate another human being so much without knowing them?
In my life, I’ve known some very good people of many different faiths, or no faith at all. I’ve also known some pretty ugly and evil people of many different faiths, or no faith at all. That tells me that religion is not the deciding factor in whether or not someone is good.
If you can dismiss an entire group of people, or worse yet, hate them, without knowing anything more about them than their religion, it’s a pretty good bet you fall into the second category. And you’re no better than the people making that boy afraid to walk his sister home from school.
I am struggling right now, torn between keeping my self esteem intact and being disgusted with myself, between knowing what is good for me and wanting to do anything and everything to change something I don’t like.
Recently, I got pictures of myself that someone else had taken, that I had no say in the posing or focus of and it showcased something I’ve been actively denying.
It took me so very long to come to a place where I could love myself, where I could see beauty in myself and that voice inside me that tells me all the myriad things wrong with me can still be so strong that I fight not to give it a voice.
I try to focus on being happy. On being healthy. And yes, on some level I know that means losing weight, but the weight loss is meant to be secondary.
When I get photos taken of me, I tend to keep them focused chest level and above. I’m comfortable with that.
However, in this set of pictures from my weekend in Dallas, there are several full body shots that show case the one part of my body I ignore the most. My belly.
Those images belay the one in my mind. They show me that this has gotten out of control, that the work I’ve been doing to eat healthy and all that have been less than effective. It reminds me of how long it’s been since I’ve managed to get to the gym.
Almost 3 months now. I always mean to…but when I got the new job it messed with my schedule. Then I got sick. And my back acted up. And the last thing I want to do when I get home after an 8 hour day, plus commute, is change my clothes and go to the gym.
I kept saying that I’d get back to it when I’d settled into my schedule. Except that I haven’t. You’d think that at least on the days when I work from home I wouldn’t have any excuse….and yet…
And, when I’m not exercising, I’m more likely to eat badly. Not sure why that is, just that it is.
So now I need to find my way back to a place where I’m doing the right things, not obsessively losing myself into bad behaviors driven by weight loss and not because someone wants me to or because I hate myself.
I can start right now. I can get off this computer and put on some sweats and go to the gym and spend a half hour walking. I can come home and clean out my fridge of things I know better than to eat. I can set my alarms again to eat something small every 3 hours.
My goals can’t be numbers. So they will be making the walk from BART to work easier and being able to take the BART stairs rather than the escalator and being more comfortable in my clothes.
It’s time to reinvest in small bags and cups to hold small servings of veggies and yogurt and packing a lunch. It’s time to stop eating the free food at work just because it’s convenient and remembering to drink the free water rather than the Coke Zero…especially because I don’t even really like the Coke Zero.
It is so much work. Like a whole second job really.
Every year, for the last 8, I have worked as a volunteer at San Francisco Pride. My job, ostensibly, is to manage and herd other volunteers, particularly those that man the “donation buckets” at the entrance gates into the event.
That may sound simple, but it isn’t. There’s prep work, of course, part of which is figuring out which groups of volunteers to put at which gates, and how many we are going to need at each gate. There are materials to be sorted and prepped, training meetings to be held, hands to hold and all that which comes with organizing volunteers.
On the actual day of the event there is a lot more. We have to manage supplies and people in a crush of humanity that borders on insane. Over the course of two days, our volunteers are subjected to name calling and derision, they are ignored, pushed around and made fun of…all because they are attempting to raise money that will eventually go to help a list of community organizations that the LGBT community in San Francisco has come to rely on.
Every year it gets harder and harder. Every year fewer people give. Every year fewer and fewer organizations volunteer and each organization brings in fewer volunteers.
I think there is a direct correlation happening here. The fewer people who actually donate money, the less money there is for the organizations that volunteer. The less money there is for the organizations, the less incentive they have to volunteer.
Add to that the fact that in many cases our volunteers are not treated well by the people that attend Pride and the fact that no one seems to know what the donations are for, and it is easy to see why donations are down and volunteers hard to come by.
As the crowd turns to younger and younger people who are there to party and carry on like nearly naked fools (especially those of you who forgot sunscreen while exposing bits of your body that don’t ever see the sun except for pride…and those of you who did not drink enough water….or drank too much other than water), we can feel the excitement of knowing that they are free to do so because the older ones fought the battles…but the other side of that is a lack of ownership in the community, a lack of responsibility for taking care of each other.
They haven’t had to fight as much to be accepted for who they are, and they haven’t yet found themselves in need of the services of many of our volunteer organizations, and they are young and immortal and don’t want to be reminded that no matter the victories, all is not well in the LGBT world.
And yes, financially the world is still hurting. Many of those that came to Pride, came to let go of the fact that they are unemployed and don’t know how they’re paying this month’s rent. And yes, they deserve to party too.
If you came out to Pride, whether or not you dropped a little money into one of those white buckets, if you still have the little Pride Guide booklet, go ahead and go to the back of the booklet. There’s a list in there of the community partners that served their organization and the LGBT community at large by standing at those gates, enduring the abuse of the general public to collect donations. They span a vast array of services, from pet services to religious organizations, from drag queens to young people, from community centers to support organizations for those with HIV/AIDs/Cancer and other ailments.
That is who you are giving that five dollar (or more) donation to. And, it get’s you a dollar off beverages all day. Five drinks and you’ve recouped that five dollar donation. Just remember that the next time you’re pushing your way through the gate and past those buckets.
Sure, it’s a big gay party and sure, we should all go and have a good time…but let’s not forget what it took to get us here, or the organizations that are there to support you when you need them. If we don’t support them now when they need us, they won’t be there when the time comes that you do.
I am not an emotional person generally, but this morning as I was sitting on BART on my way into work, I cried.
My twitter feed exploded with news of the SCOTUS DOMA decision, and despite the fact that marriage has never been something I aspired to, I couldn’t help but react with joy that finally, FINALLY we were taking a small step forward.
I was chatting on gchat with a friend in England at the same time, and trying to explain how the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions were different, waiting to see if the second decision would bring more happy tears, or the kind that come from a broken heart.
That wait for the Prop 8 decision seemed to take forever, but as I was riding the escalator up to the street, I saw the news that SCOTUS had struck it down, stating that the appealing parties lacked the standing to appeal the decision.
I cried the whole 2 block walk to my office.
It isn’t a complete victory. There are still states that deny marriage equality. There are still fights to be fought. And the narrow margins of the decisions, both 5-4, tell us that this victory was very close to not happening.
But a victory it is. Marriage equality returns to California. The federal government will need to figure out what needs to be reworked to extend all of the rights and benefits of marriage to any same gender couple legally married.
It is a little overwhelming and amazing and powerful.
But it isn’t everything. Let us take the day to celebrate equality and victory. But let’s not forget that tomorrow we have to dig in and hold the line. These battles may be over, but the war is far from won.