The social justice movement is rolling forward at what sometimes seems like lightning speed. I am thrilled that concepts that used to be so hard for Whites to swallow – like systemic racism and white privilege – are now rolling off the tongues of politicians, newscasters, academicians and ordinary people. There is an explosion of great books, articles and podcasts on the subject of how to be a good “White ally”…but, as I type the phrase I think I remember reading that “allies” is out. We’re not supposed to say that anymore. I can’t remember what is in, but I know that the words “diversity and inclusion,” which I was so proud to have taken on as a mantra many years ago, are also no longer acceptable either. And just when I had learned to say “D&I” and felt as if I truly belonged in the club.
For years I have happily co-trained in “Building Intercultural Communities” with my friend and colleague, Roberto Chene, who is Hispanic, oops, I mean Hispano, I mean Latino, I mean Latin-x …. you see the problem. I have a Latina friend who wants to be called Latina, not Latin-x, because the female ending is an important part of her identity. I have another friend, also native New Mexican, who prefers to be called Chicana for its political implications. I am grateful to both of them for making clear what they prefer. In this world of labels it is really helps to know which ones to use. But I have to admit it’s getting really complicated out there in the land of undoing racism.
Hair grows. Without a hair cut I have returned to braids. I wore my hair in braids through the fourth grade more or less, including on a trip to Europe when I was 9. I have a picture of me in a wine grotto in France, glass in hand, eyes a little glazed, and yes, braids. My father’s aunt had left him $10,000 – a lot of money in the 1950s – and my parents decided to blow it all on a six month trip to Europe, four of which were spent in Paris. It was one of their best decisions and I am grateful for it. I have memories of the musty smell of the Lascaux Caves, a train ride through a very long, pitch black tunnel in Switzerland on my birthday, a hangover after a wine tasting in a French grotto, and the Vatican where a pigeon pooped on my atheist father’s bald head.
But the most vivid memories are of our time in Paris. We lived in a pension (boarding house). I had my own tiny room. The bathroom was at the end of the hall. I was feeling very grown up and luckily I had a role model, Claire. Claire’s mother had died, and she and her father had moved from Canada to Paris. She was deep and mysterious, harboring something that was only to be guessed at. She was very obedient, and her oui-madame was flawless. All the grown ups felt sorry for her; all the kids were fascinated by her. To me, she was the ultimate in glamour. I was 9 and she was 11.
My profession is committed to resolving conflict. Whatever the context
— domestic, business, neighborhood, or as in my case environment and public
policy – we are on a conflict like a dog on a bone. We worry it, we listen, we
identify needs, we generate options, we nudge those disputants toward that elusive
common ground that we are exists somewhere. We are believers, committed to making
peace…come hell or high water. And now it has come. Hell and high water. And I find myself questioning some of the deepest
beliefs underlying the practice of mediation.
I was on a zoom call with over 60 other mediators from around the
country last week. Some were in academia, some in government, some with
organizations and some solo practitioners like me. But we were all
card-carrying peacemakers. We came together to hear the Black Lives Matter
voices in our ranks and explore how we could support the movement for justice
and equality. Of the 60+ on the call I counted 6 People of Color. They had a
lot to say.
I was going to write a post that was amusing with a little bit of a lesson at the end. I would start with the observation that for me these days dressing for success only applies to the waist up, as all my work is done via zoom. Just the other day, I facilitated a zoom meeting of 30 people. I wore a black knit top, floral silk scarf, silver earrings, hair in a French roll….and sweatpants. A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for a new project online – crisp white blouse, light blue sweater, turquoise earrings, hair pulled back with two combs….and… you don’t need to know. It reminds me of those flip books I had as a child, where the pages are divided in threes – top, middle and bottom – with an animal on each page. When you move the pages you may end up with a monkey head on a giraffe body and platypus feet. Or maybe each page was a different worker, and you could flip to an astronaut head, a ballerina body and lumberjack boots.
I would then recall my early professional days and my struggle to look like a mediator, having no idea what that meant, but feeling sure that I needed to look different. Into the depths of this insecurity walked Merle Lefkoff, a seasoned and highly successful mediator who had just moved to Santa Fe from the Carter Center where she had been doing important international work. We had a coffee date. She was tall and blond and wore a snappy businesslike outfit — trim, charcoal gray skirt, matching jacket, white silk blouse, smart scarf, simple gold bracelet and heels. She carried a stylish brief case. I would remember how I studied her carefully, how she opened her tool box of fancy techniques and how I gobbled them up. (more…)
The first week of sequester was so much fun. All my work obligations were gone. I had an air-tight excuse for rejecting every invitation, every request, every “should do that.” I had to stay home, and I wasn’t even sick, like other times when I have been a shut-in. I was full of energy to turn toward this new world, the world inside my house! I made a pledge to get dressed every morning, because otherwise it might never happen, and to meditate. Beyond that, there were no rules.
On the first day Roberto and I cleaned the refrigerator, thorough, drawers and shelves out, containers of green and blue fuzz sent to the compost pile. I was so proud that I made a chart where I could track each day – a column for exercise, for house and yard projects, for doing good, for spirit/mind enrichment. (In retrospect I should have made a column for Netflix, for that, it turns out, is the one constant.) The little squares for Day One were all full! This was going to be so productive. Day Two we cleaned out cupboards and began sewing masks. I sent a check to the local Food Depot and bought a gift certificate to support our shuttered beloved local bookstore. I took a long walk and meditated. Life was so good that I realized that this forced retirement (much of my mediation work dried up almost immediately) was not something to fear but to embrace!
There was one significant problem. The deep, institutional inequality in this country came into sharper focus each day. We were living in luxury. Plenty of food, gas, shelter, friends and access to nature right outside the door. We can walk in the arroyo all day and not see a soul. We can even take our neighbor’s dog with us if we want to pretend we have a dog. We have enough money to write checks to assuage the guilt. That is real luxury. I imagined being trapped with 3 children under 4 years old, or with a couple of frustrated teenagers, or with an abusive spouse, or without enough money and food, or all of the above. I thought of the inevitability of outbreaks in prisons, in refugee camps, in the jam-packed streets of Calcutta. Now the news is full of the stories of people, out of work, dealing with stresses in every aspect of their lives. We see inside the hospitals, the heartbreaking interviews with medical workers, the staggering reports from morgues and funeral homes, the pictures of a nurse, a fireman, a bus driver who have died…and the families they leave behind. (more…)
In early March we took a New Mexico road trip. We had to give up a trip to Frankfurt and Rome to visit my sons for obvious reasons, but wanted to take advantage of the big hole carved out in our schedules. It was a wonderful trip, especially in retrospect, because as soon as we got home all hell broke loose.
But back to that innocent time of four weeks ago: Our first stop was Puerto de Luna, a tiny place on the Pecos River in the east part of the state. This was the home for Roberto’s relatives before they fled to Albuquerque during another crisis, the Dust Bowl. We wandered the camposanto (cemetery) and found gravestones of those who were surely great great somethings. The names were so evocative, the stones so varied, some slick and polished, some hand hewn, maybe in a hurry, maybe with no alternative. It was eerie and powerful to stand there knowing that below us was the DNA of Roberto’s people, whoever they were. And what would they think of us, standing there decades, a century, later?
Next destination was Inn of the Mountain Gods, a resort on the Mescalero Indian Reservation in south central New Mexico. Out our window was snow-capped Sierra Blanca and a small lake ringed with huge Ponderosa Pines. We stayed an extra night just to soak in the luxury.
The flu came on quickly. I had hiked for an hour near the house and was feeling fit and quite proud of myself. Almost athletic, I thought, in an aged sort of way. As I wandered around the house wondering which of many tasks I should take on, I felt a chill. Like a fine racehorse, I thought, cooling off after a workout. I imagined myself giving a little snort, stamping a proud foot. And then as so often happens when one is at one’s proudest, I began a slow descent into the real world. I put on a sweater to check the chill. Later I added a vest, and then a wool scarf. Finally, confessing to Roberto that I might be getting sick, I put on his down jacket.
And indeed I was. The fever shot to 102 that night. My joints ached. I lay in bed squirming, muttering, hallucinating about sweaty racehorses and bonfires of bones. In the morning I gave in and set up shop on the couch in the living room. I had no taste for TV, my eyes burned and I couldn’t concentrate on a book anyway, so I signed up for Audible Books on my iPhone and began to browse. I was despairing at the endless scroll of romances and thrillers, when Homer’s “The Iliad” appeared. How could this be? Was I hallucinating again? I clicked play and was joined on the couch by Dominic Keaton, a deep-throated English male reader, who took me to the wine-dark sea, and showed me the rosy fingertips of dawn. Thus began 19 hours of poetry and drama as I lay huddled under comforters, brow fevered, and traveled with the men and the gods to Troy to bear witness to horrific bloody battles, psychological intrigue, deceit, heroism, jealousy, despair, hope, revenge, tenderness – all those qualities of humans, and their shadow gods and goddesses, that we know so well. (more…)
My husband and I had gone to the state capitol on a non-partisan mission to see our good friend Levi Romero be inducted as New Mexico’s first Poet Laureate. Levi was honored by the senate and read a wonderful poem about growing up in northern New Mexico, the sights, sounds and smells of those days.
Afterwards, when we reached the front door of the capitol building we saw through the glass door a crowd of protesters, flags, waved and worn, signs, banners and guns, lots of guns. The legislature was hearing a bill on the “red flag” law which would limit the ability of those likely to hurt themselves or others to have access to a gun. There had been a rally of over 500 demonstrating their passion for the second amendment and their right to own guns, and although the speeches were over, there were probably 100 or so still milling around.
“Let’s go out the other door,” I urged, clutching Roberto’s arm.
“No, I want to talk to them. This is our chance,” and he moved through the door. I followed, not wanting to leave him alone, and a bit fearful that the effort at conversation might not go well. (more…)
It was before the holidays and I was shopping for a gathering. My cart was full and I had just finished loading it onto the cashier’s conveyor belt. As I began to wonder why the customer in front of me was taking so long, the cashier announced, “Sorry, Hon, register is down. I’m closing.”
“I have to move to another line?” I almost wailed. She nodded and said she would help me put everything back in the cart. I
thanked her and as I was pulling away from the closed lane, I looked around for the next best choice. The lines were all long.
“Here you go,” gestured a big man who was at the front of the line next to me. “I saw what happened. You deserve a spot right here!” and he stepped back with a swoop of his arm. (more…)
A couple of years ago I was facilitating a meeting in a conference room in a state office building. The group had gone out for lunch, but I stayed in the room and ate my fried egg sandwich, a little the worse for four hours in a sandwich bag, but still very welcome. It had been a tense morning and I relished the quiet time alone with my munching and my thoughts.
“Battery low” she said in my ear. If you wear hearing aids you know her voice. She alerts you when it is time to put in a new battery. My hearing loss began with tinnitus a few years ago and the annual tests show a downward trajectory. Thanks to hearing aids I can still work, with an occasional, “can you please repeat that?” So when she warned me the battery was low, I pulled out the package of tiny round batteries, dispensed one and fumbled to remove the adhesive tab on the back. It slipped out of my hand and onto the carpet, commercial grade with a short speckled nap. On hands and knees I searched for it. No luck. I flicked another one out and loaded it successfully into the hearing aid. Once I had tucked it into place in my ear, she reassured me, “left ear ready.” I returned to my sandwich.
Back from lunch, the group filed into the room. A young man spied something on the rug, leaned down, and held
up the tiny silver disc between his thumb and forefinger. “Uh-oh,” he said with a touch of glee, “This looks like a hearing aid battery! Anyone missing it?” He was met with a chorus of “Eh?” “What’d you say?” “Speak up, Sonny!” and much laughter. (more…)