I have been thinking all day about what to write here. I debated telling my story of what this date was for me 20 years ago, when I was a new mother holding a healthy infant son and staring in horror at the news as the World Trade Center towers fell. But it seems unimportant what a mother in Denver felt or experienced that day when so many other people suffered and lost so much more than the security they felt in their naïveté about the world.
Steve and I have spent tonight watching the National Geographic special 9/11: One Day in America. It’s a gut wrenching, impactful and, at times, hopeful watch, full of a great deal of never-before-seen footage of that day. It’s made me think about how grateful I am to be here. I’m grateful that I was not a person with a direct connection to anyone who perished that day. I’m grateful for all the first responders who saved countless lives that day. I’m grateful that the actions of the heroes of United Flight 93 thwarted the last of the terrorists’ plans, grateful that their bravery saved our Capitol. I’m grateful I was able to visit New York City and the 9/11 Memorial for the first time a few months ago with my sister and my sons. I’m grateful that we were able to pull together in the days, weeks, and months after the attack and find a way out of mourning and into survival. I’m grateful for anyone who had a hand in saving people that day, cleaning up the remnants of that loss, and creating a meaningful memorial for remembrance.
Yet in the midst of all this gratitude, in the back of my mind, remains this thought. Anti-American terrorists took so much and so many from us that day, but their barbaric plans and actions also gave us a gift. They reminded us how good we can be. In the twenty years since that day, we have done more to destroy our nation than those terrorists did. On January 6th, our own citizens damaged the Capitol that Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick, and Tom Burnett gave their lives to save. How do we save our nation this time? Can we?
Thirteen days. That’s how long it took for us to get a message from Luke’s school that he has been exposed to someone who tested positive for Covid-19. We have very little concern that he actually contracted Covid-19. First, he had it last fall. Second, he’s been vaccinated. Third, his high school has a high rate of vaccinations among students. Fourth, the students wear masks inside classrooms. Fifth, Luke has a suspicion about which classmate might be Patient 0, and he knows he had no direct contact with them. So, we’re probably safe, but Luke will get tested tomorrow just in case.
I knew that Covid-19 would affect this school year, but I had hoped it wouldn’t be as impactful as it was last year. In April and May when the US was vaccinating millions of people per day, I got my hopes up that maybe this fall at least could be somewhat more normal for students. Maybe they could be back in classrooms. Maybe they wouldn’t need to be masked. But then the vaccinations slowed to a trickle, and I knew we might end up right back in the same boat. It’s not the same boat, though. Last year, there was no vaccine available, so our boat was lost on tempest tossed seas and we were all in it together, not knowing when we might be able to get back to normal. This year, we got vaccines to help get us on the right track, but they only work if the vast majority of the population gets them. Since so many people decided to opt out, our boat has leaks. So here we are again. As the more transmissible Delta variant rages through the population, sending many of the unvaccinated to hospitals, we’re now fighting about mask mandates and vaccine mandates, public health versus personal freedom. It’s crazy. We’re our own worst enemies because we’re anything but united right now.
I’ve been noticing this week how much we’ve become a nation of people out for themselves. I see it when I am driving. I see it in stores. I see it everywhere I go. We’ve become a nation of people more concerned with personal freedom than the freedom of the country as a whole. Covid-19 is our mutual enemy, but some people don’t see it that way. They think the government and their fellow citizens are the enemy. Until we get ourselves collected and facing the same direction, I will probably be getting more notices from my son’s school.
As I recall the events of 9/11 and our unity on that day, I am heartbroken looking at our country now. How far we have fallen in twenty years. If an attack like the one that happened then occurred now, I’m not certain we would see the same cooperation and personal sacrifice that we saw that day and in the days and weeks following. Twenty years from now, we may still be a nation, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to say we are a great one. Once we’ve lost the ability to selflessly do for others in our communities, to step up when our government is asking us, to get a vaccine or wear a mask because it might save someone else, we can’t really call ourselves the United States of America.
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” ~1984
The country has gone crazy. Or perhaps some people in our society have. Up is down. Wrong is right. Bad actors are victims. I just can’t anymore. It’s like I’m reading George Orwell’s 1984 again. We have a lot of different opinions and viewpoints in this country, and you should expect that in a nation with a population as varied as ours is. There is now and has always been dissent in the United States. While we don’t all agree on many things, we used to agree that our government and its buildings are sacred and worth protecting. We lost our collective mind when terrorists flew a plane into the Pentagon and then learned they had also planned to take down the Capitol. We were so incensed that we went to war about it. American soldiers died because of it. You don’t mess with our institutions. I used to believe we were all on the same page about this.
On January 6th, I had a television news station on while I was sitting at home doing a puzzle. I expected that there might be some hullaballoo around the certification of the election results, so I was listening to it from the other room because I was curious. All I had planned to do was listen. And then I heard the voice of a news anchor note they had just evacuated Mike Pence from the chamber. That got my attention, so I walked into the living room to see what was going on. For the next five hours, no puzzle pieces were placed. I was glued with rapt attention to the chaos I saw unfolding onscreen. I watched as people beat their way past barricades, used any implement they could find to shatter glass, and then crawled their way in through broken windows into the seat of our government. I stood there, head shaking, incredulous for hours. It felt surreal. Tear gas being unleashed. People climbing the Capitol like it was play equipment in their backyard. I wouldn’t have been any more upset or befuddled or shocked if I had seen wild animals from the African sub-continent barreling their way into that building. I was sad and I was scared, scared for the people inside the building, scared about what it meant about our one nation, supposedly indivisible.
In the days and weeks following the attack, I saw more video footage emerge. I saw footage of a Capitol police officer discharging his weapon as someone attempted to crawl through a broken section of a barricaded door outside the House chamber. I saw footage of a man bragging that he had stolen mail from the desk of Speaker of the House and left her a nasty note. I saw footage of men rifling through pages on desks where our lawmakers had recently been There was footage of congressmen and congresswomen being hastily led down back staircases to avoid the combatants. There was video of members of Congress hiding on the floor in the balcony, gas masks at the ready. There was footage of rioters chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.” Hell, the FBI has a tip page loaded with videos and photos of rioters from that day that you can look at right now. Exactly eight months later, we have a preponderance of video and photographic proof of what unfolded that day. Still, some would have you believe you didn’t see what you did. It was a peaceful protest, they say. There were just a few bad actors. It’s all been blown way out of proportion. Some of these people weren’t even our people, they say, despite a lack of sufficient evidence to back their claim. They say these things and they assume that if they repeat them often enough you will come to believe them, come to question what you know you saw and to accept their alternate version of the truth of what happened before our eyes that day.
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth.”
In the months since that attack on the Capitol, various rioters have been arrested and charged because of the overwhelming evidence on video footage from that day. Now there is another rally planned for the Capitol, a Justice for J6 rally, on September 18th. There will be a march to the Capitol again. This is not to Stop the Steal, but to seek “justice” for those who viciously beat police officers with flagpoles and hockey sticks, ransacked the Capitol causing over 1.5 million in damage, actively sought to harm members of Congress, the Speaker, and the Vice President, and were then held accountable according to the laws of these United States. You just can’t even. I’m shaking my head again.
And all of this leads me to where I landed tonight after learning more about the next rally at the Capitol. It leads me to the film As Good As It Gets, starring Jack Nicholson, because you just can’t add more crazy to what is already batshit lunacy. If an alien ship were to hover above my house tonight, open its bottom hatch, and turn on its light beam in preparation to suck me into their dimension, I would utter this line from that movie:
For the past couple weeks, Luke and I have done some volunteering at Food Bank of the Rockies. Luke needs 50 hours of volunteer work to graduate next June. When he and i were sitting down and weighing his options for volunteer opportunities, we decided on the food bank because we wanted to make an impact for people who are struggling with food scarcity, whether it be as a result of the pandemic or homelessness or other unfortunate, unseen circumstances. We are a lucky family because our biggest decisions regarding food are whether to stop at King Soopers or Target for groceries and whether to cook dinner at home or hit up the local food truck. But we aren’t blind. We see the growing homeless situation in Denver and the lines at food pantries since April of last year. So, the Food Bank of the Rockies it was.
Over our three shifts so far, Luke and I have sorted food, loaded and moved pallets for shipments to food pantries, and even prepared school lunches. And we enjoyed it. A lot. We walk in for our 3-hour shift and the next thing we know we are finished. The employees, as well as the other volunteers, have been helpful and kind. There is something about giving back, even in the smallest way, that can make a messed world seem more positive. Like the quote above, my spirit is raised when I do what I can to lift someone else in their time of difficulty. Instead of wringing my hands at the sky over things I can’t control, I can contribute in a positive way. It feels good. Maybe it’s the endorphins from lifting and carrying cases of food but, dang, that warehouse brings me joy and peace of mind.
Turns out you really can’t buy happiness, but you can step up and volunteer to get it.
We took a different route on our dog walk tonight. We usually walk the same way, the same distance, but we were strapped for time and cut off a street earlier than we usually do. On our nightly walks, we see a number of houses with American flags. Some of the houses have two US flags. Some of them have US flags and flag banners. And tonight we saw a house with light strips under the eaves over their garages. The light strips alternated between red, white, and blue.
In the past five years, I have seen more flags (US, Donald Trump, Blue Lives Matter, Don’t Tread On Me, Confederate, etc.) and patriotic displays than I saw in total for the 48 previous years of my life. I can’t drive anywhere without seeing at least one pick up truck, its bed filled with between 2-4 flags in any combination of the choices listed above. My response is the same every time. I shake my head.
Displaying your patriotism is a good thing. I think a home should fly the American flag on each and every federal holiday, the way people used to when I was a kid. On July 4th, it’s completely appropriate to festoon your house with all manner of flag paraphernalia. If you’re hosting a holiday barbecue on the 4th, by all means, put out paper plates and napkins emblazoned with the flag. Wear the flag all over your body. Eat red, white, and blue jello. Whatever floats your boat. On the nation’s birthday, it makes sense to throw an over-the-top birthday party. Every American should also visit a cemetery and place flags on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We should make an effort to remember and honor those who fought and died safeguarding our freedoms. It’s part of being a good citizen and recognizing with gratitude the privilege of living here.
I just don’t understand why suddenly some people feel the need to go overboard. Is there some sort of competition I missed a memo on? Like if you fly just one American flag at your house, you’re not as American as the guy next door flying two flags? If you have two American flags in the bed of your truck, you’re not as American as the guy with four flags flapping their way, tattered to shreds, down the highway? If your neighbor has a flag up and you put up light strips that cycle through the red, white, and blue all night long, you clearly must be more patriotic, right? This is the only rationale I can discern for this behavior. It appears to be all about one-upmanship and a prideful sense of superiority.
We fly the American flag here at our house on federal holidays and sometimes just because we feel like it. The rest of the time we fly our Colorado flag. This past June we flew our pride flag. I’m certain there are people who feel our displays are not enough (or, in the case of the pride flag, are perhaps too much). But it’s not up to anyone else to judge our level of patriotism. Patriotism isn’t determined by how many flags you fly or where you fly them or how tall your damn flag pole is. Honestly, the constant flag waving by my neighbors doesn’t make me feel less patriotic, nor does it impress me that they are more patriotic. It’s just flag waving. Patriotism isn’t about the flag. It’s about loving your country through the good and the bad. It’s about striving to become a more perfect union, not saying that we are already perfect. Flying multiple flags doesn’t mean you’ve cornered the market on being American. It just means you spent more money on flags. While I’m not a constitutional scholar, I don’t believe there is anything in that amazing document that says you aren’t American if you don’t have an American flag flying in your truck bed.
I know it’s your right to fly as many flags as you want. It is a free country, after all. I just want you to know that I don’t for one second believe you are a better, more worthy, or more honorable or patriotic American than I am. If all your flags make you feel more secure about that, though, knock yourself out.
Okay, I was a little bah humbug, face-down-in-a-bathtub-full-of-vodka with my post yesterday. And for good reason. Watching the deleterious effects of climate change occur in real time is devastating. But today I decided to take a break from reality and tuned into the last bit of the Olympics from Tokyo.
I am not a big Olympics fan. Our oldest son, though, is a huge fan of them. He says it’s because there are a lot of varied sports, and it’s amazing to watch the best of the best competing against each other. I think it’s because he a student of the world and he loves the countries, the costumes, and the flags. Oh, the flags! At any rate, he had the Olympics turned on in our house from day one of competition. He turned them on every day. Often I would come out of my room and see him perched on the couch, and he would try to teach me about water polo. And as the days went by and I saw his excitement about them, I tuned in more, partially to spend some time with him before he heads back to college and partially because, dammit, he got me caught up in the magic of it.
I found myself tonight watching the Closing Ceremony in tears. I love watching the athletes relish their last Olympic moments because, after all the competition has ceased, they are finally free to relax and enjoy themselves. And before the Olympics started they were so busy training and preparing. The Closing Ceremony must be a huge exhale. But as I watched the ceremony, I kept thinking that despite the precarious state of life on this planet, we are all tied together and maybe we will yet be able to do better together. If we are able to hold an Olympics during a worldwide pandemic, maybe we aren’t doomed? And Paris 2024? Come on! We have to stay around for that. We can’t possibly miss that.
I found myself singing these lyrics from The Police tonight because they make the most sense about why I would watch the Olympics when I normally don’t:
“When the world is running down, you make the best of what’s still around.”
The Olympics are the best of what is still around. All these nations, all these athletes, participating together, celebrating together, working together, playing together. It’s the most optimistic thing we do as a planet.
With all the ruckus that is going on in our country right now, with all the division and pettiness and anger and bitterness and resentment and finger-pointing and general nastiness floating around on social media, I thought I would just leave this here today as a reminder of what the truth is.
HUMAN FAMILY by Maya Angelou
I note the obvious differences in the human family. Some of us are serious, some thrive on comedy.
Some declare their lives are lived as true profundity, and others claim they really live the real reality.
The variety of our skin tones can confuse, bemuse, delight, brown and pink and beige and purple, tan and blue and white.
I’ve sailed upon the seven seas and stopped in every land, I’ve seen the wonders of the world not yet one common man.
I know ten thousand women called Jane and Mary Jane, but I’ve not seen any two who really were the same.
Mirror twins are different although their features jibe, and lovers think quite different thoughts while lying side by side.
We love and lose in China, we weep on England’s moors, and laugh and moan in Guinea, and thrive on Spanish shores.
We seek success in Finland, are born and die in Maine. In minor ways we differ, in major we’re the same.
I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
Yesterday was one of the most memorable days of my life. It was not my first political march. It won’t be my last. But this one, completed with my husband, sons, sister, brother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and mother all united in this cause with me, was life altering. As we stood in the sunny cold of Civic Center Park waiting for the march to begin, people near us sang. An impromptu band formed when trumpet and trombone players found the tubas in the middle of the park. Signs were ubiquitous and mostly filled with positivity and love. Some were a little cheeky. Some were outright funny. Some displayed beautiful imagery and artwork. My fellow marchers were courteous, peaceful, and patient. The mood was ebullient. As more and more people gathered and the crowd swelled to well over 100k people, we realized were weren’t just witnessing something incredible. We were part of it. We weren’t demonstrating. We were showing the world what democracy looks like.
I’m not sure what I thought the new administration would say about the marches, but I guess I thought they would say something. Anything. My eternally hopeful side kind of thought we’d provided the president with an ideal opportunity to prove what he had said at his inauguration. He wants to unite us and he is giving our country back to us. It was a perfect moment to say a simple, “I acknowledge you and I hear your concerns.” I expectantly turned on the national news and waited. After Sean Spicer spoke bitterly about the dishonest media representation of the numbers gathered for the inauguration the previous day and left the podium without mention about the millions of marchers who had assembled, reality set in. The Trump administration had sent its own message. The president didn’t care about the millions of us who showed up to share our collective concerns.
I read a lot of negative responses to the marches during the hours that followed the press briefing. Comments like:
This is a one-time thing. They got their attention. It’ll end here.
There is in-fighting among the Democrats. They’ll never come together enough to organize a real political movement.
What a waste of time.
What was that supposed to accomplish?
Comments like this might once have dampened my spirit, but now they have the opposite effect. Now that the march is over and we know haven’t been heard, now that I’ve had a chance to sort through some of the reactions to our organized actions, I understand how much easier it’s going to be for me to continue forward. I will engage in peaceful protest and political activism because mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh think it’s okay to belittle women, by referring to us as “broads” and by dismissing our efforts as “nothing but a golden shower.” Because Michael Flynn Jr., our new National Security Advisor’s son, tweeted “What victory? Women already have equal rights, and YES equal pay in this country. What MORE do you want? Free mani/pedis?” I plan to show up regularly at my conservative senator’s doorstep to check in. And I will use my liberal elite education, status, and dollars to affect change because of inane comments like this one too: “This public display should’ve been called the PMS PARADE instead, more spot on and pissed off liberals at their most stupid! Poor Trump lit their tampon strings. God Bless Trump and family!” And shit like this and this and, especially, this will keep me fired up and ready to go.
I know there are men and women in this country who found the marches silly, pointless, infantile, and unnecessary. And I respect their right to express those opinions. I just don’t happen to agree with them. So, I took to the streets yesterday with a husband who thinks I’m his equal partner and who treats me with respect and decency. And I brought our sons because there were lessons to learn there about the price and the privilege of being a United States citizen. But I also wanted them to experience firsthand what happens when you marginalize, ignore, threaten, dismiss, denigrate, and in every other conceivable way piss off women, especially liberal elite women, the kind of women they will encounter in higher education and the workplace someday, the kind of women to whom they are related, the kind of women I hope they marry.
If there’s one thing I know about these women, it’s that underestimating us solidifies our determination and ignoring us increases our volume. This was not the end of it. We are not going away. Mock, ridicule, doubt, and chuckle about us all you want because you’re adding kerosene to our fire. As one clever marcher’s sign succinctly put it yesterday…
If you didn’t like my feminism under Obama, wait until you see my feminism under Trump.
I have known since November 12th what I would be doing tomorrow. Since the moment I learned there would be a peaceful march for women’s rights the day after the inauguration, I knew where I was heading. I will be walking through downtown Denver with my friends and hopefully tens of thousands of other people who might not be friends yet but are comrades in arms.
Since election night and on the way to this day, a funny thing happened to me. I have found some traction. For a while, I had been slipping around, wanting to experience some gains in self-esteem and to make some forward progress but not having any luck. I’d been reading books, talking to a counselor, and doing some emotional work around that goal, but I hadn’t made much of a dent. It was a continual case of one step forward and two steps back. But in thinking about and mentally preparing myself for this march tomorrow, something at long last clicked. Years ago when reality television was novel and I watched The Apprentice, I never could have imagined that Donald Trump would be a catalyst for my personal growth.
I’ve heard ad nauseam that those of us whose candidate lost on election night just really need to get over it and move on. We need to embrace the new administration and give them a chance. My father said yesterday that I have no reason to put the cart before the horse or jump the gun on what might happen, no matter how things appear to be shaping up at this time. But, if I recall correctly, there were deeply concerned conservatives after Obama’s election and re-election, and they didn’t sit idly by and keep their mouths shut for the sake of unifying our nation. There were protests, marches, and loads of signs with photos of Obama and catchy phrases like “Undocumented Worker”or “The zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lyin’ African.” So, my dear conservative friends, please excuse me if I fail to take heed as you tell me to suck it up and deal with my loss as your party so gracefully did when Obama was elected twice.
Still, even with my myriad concerns about the newly inaugurated president and his chosen cabinet, my march tomorrow is not entirely about what you might think. It’s not about losing the election or being angry how that came about. It’s not about refusing to move on and pouting like a big baby, as I’ve been accused. And it is not about delegitimizing our new president. (I will leave that in his capable hands.) My march tomorrow is about legitimizing myself and validating my beliefs and my opinions through my actions. I spent the first 48 years of my life being a “good girl” and keeping my mouth shut. I grew up being told children should be seen and not heard. I learned early not to rock the boat, to be grateful and keep my problems to myself, never to trouble anyone, and not to think I was a big deal. And that is how I have carried on during what I hope is just the first half of my life, as if nothing I thought, said, or did was important or necessary.
Early this morning, I saw this video and it reinforced my desire to move forward boldly with belief in myself. Tomorrow I usher in a new phase in my life. Tomorrow I make my existence felt. Tomorrow I speak my mind publicly because I believe what I have to say is valuable and important even if others don’t appreciate or agree with it. Tomorrow I prove to myself that my views on love, patriotism, and our world matter, and that I matter too. I can channel the energy, strength, and activism of the suffragettes and merge my voice with theirs as we together continue our fight for equality. Although I am part of something much larger than myself tomorrow and every day, what I do matters for something. I am fired up and ready to go, and I am sure as hell not ready to make nice anymore.
For the past couple months, there has been a whirlwind of activity in my little brain. I’ve had a lot to think about. I can trace the upheaval to November 9th, the day I moved from the backseat to the driver’s seat in anticipation of some unsettling revisions to life as I have known it over the past eight years. During the past two months, I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, some changing of habits, and a bit of reaching beyond my comfort zone. The universe, it seems, is hell-bent on providing me with growth opportunities. Another one of those opportunities knocked on my door two nights ago.
My father sent me and my sisters a forwarded email message about Kellyanne Conway entitled Trump’s Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway Reveals How Faith In Jesus Led To Huge Success. In his comment on the forwarded message, he stated that Kellyanne is just like his three daughters, “educated, working diligently, family centered, and lovely.” While the message began with a comment that the attached message was “not political,” the forward outlined Kellyanne’s accomplishments and her role in conservative politics and many times invoked her Christian faith and her pro-life views. I assume a conservative Christian would read the message and get a boatload of warm fuzzies about Kellyanne and her new role in the White House as counselor to the president.
Here’s the thing about email forwards. It helps if you know your audience before you hit send. A one-sided religious or political message sent to a likeminded person may be appreciated, but the same message sent to someone with differing views may feel at best didactic and at worst totally out-of-line and heavy-handed. In this case, my father didn’t consider his audience. He sent a message in praise of Kellyanne Conway, a religious, conservative, pro-life advocate, to his atheist, liberal, pro-choice daughter. While as a rule I take all religious and political email forwards from my dad and relegate them immediately to the Trash folder to avoid conflict, this time something hit me. I can’t expect my father to know his audience when to avoid uncomfortable conversations with him I’ve not been explicit about who I am, what I believe, and what I am willing to stand for. I’ve allowed him to think I agree with him by not disagreeing with him. I’ve been complicit by accepting the forwards and not presenting my beliefs in contrast.
I know my father meant no disrespect by sharing that message with me. I know he felt he was paying me a compliment. He could only believe that, though, by not knowing me at all. So, last night, at the ripe old age of almost 49, I hit reply and shared my views with my father unabashedly for the first time ever. I explained why I am pro-choice and why I support Planned Parenthood, and why, while I can appreciate all Ms. Conway has achieved in her life despite her personal struggles (we all have them), I don’t appreciate his email forwards about religion, politics, or the pro-life movement. I reminded him I have been a functioning adult for thirty years now and, as such, possess my own beliefs, which don’t happen to coincide with his. I told him I don’t share email forwards supporting my views with him because I respect that he has the right to seek his own truth. I also mentioned that I know he meant no harm or disrespect to me, even though my ego felt it.
Our country is deeply divided. There is rancor everywhere you turn. I would like to see us move to a place where discussion is possible, but that type of discussion is never going to be possible unless we as a nation are 1) brave enough to share our views openly, 2) comfortable enough with others to try to understand where they are coming from and consider the points they are making, and 3) willing to acquiesce on some of our stances to meet in the middle somewhere. At some point, we decided that compromise is weak and accepting less than 100% of what we want undermines the legitimacy of our beliefs. We are a nation of contrasts. We can’t possibly all get what we want. Compromise is crucial. It is democracy at work.
Last night I took my first step towards improving the conversations in my life. I was brave enough share my views rather than remain silent to preserve a false peace while my insides roiled with dissent. My second step will come this weekend when I participate in the Women’s March on Denver with my family in support of Planned Parenthood. I am going to continue to work on my mindfulness skills so I am better equipped to take deep breaths and enter into crucial open dialogue with people of differing viewpoints. I am going to work towards practicing compassion for others when they test my open-mindedness and poke me with their sticks of self-righteous certainty. It’s going to be a process but, then, all good things are.