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About White Trash and Fairness

Like many Americans, I had a visceral reaction to photos of Sarah Palin’s visit to the White House last week. (See Washington Post article.)

But my reaction wasn’t about how she, Ted Nugent and Kid Rock were disrespectful as they posed in front of the picture of Hillary Clinton as first lady. It wasn’t even about how hateful Ted Nugent is or how incredibly clueless Sarah Palin is (as evidenced by the flippant comment she made that she invited the musicians to dinner because Jesus wasn’t available.)

Instead my reaction was rooted in something I’ve carried with me since childhood. As an eight-year old girl, I wondered why boys who could barely read but acted tough were the ones all the other kids flocked to on the playground. In middle school, I suffered the wrath of mean girls, girls who were considered “popular,” because I was smart and actually cared about my education. And in high school, I rolled my eyes as class elections were always based less on which candidate was more capable and more on which candidate was the most fun.

Then I went to college and entered a reality in which the social pecking order had little place in a world where people wanted to broaden their horizons. Being smart counted. Being educated counted. Discussing ideas instead of other people counted. Understanding abstract concepts, diverse opinions and multiple possibilities counted. Most importantly, living a non-superficial life counted.

Or so I thought.

Between college and graduate school, I witnessed women purposely marry men for money and status. But I still appreciated my own independence and ideals, and I presumed other people respected me for it. After I had children, I endured social circles that centered around who could afford the best pre-schools and expensive houses in elite neighborhoods. But, I surrounded myself with people who realized that happiness doesn’t come from what we have but from what we create. And even as I watched my peers climb a corporate ladder, I knew that the work I did in social service agencies mattered. If nothing else, it had helped me value programs, services and policies that didn’t necessarily benefit me but did help individuals who hadn’t had the same opportunities.

I was well-educated, intelligent, and hard-working, and I assumed those qualities were widely respected.

Then John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election, and I felt as though I was right back on that elementary school playground. When a colleague asked, “Don’t you want our leaders and politicians to be smarter than you?”  I realized many Americans didn’t. They just wanted to hear someone spout rhetoric that made them feel good about their own beliefs.

But, when McCain lost and the Obama administration spent eight years implementing policies and programs often intended to help our most vulnerable citizens and resources, I forgot about my disappointment.

Then Trump happened.

Shortly after he was elected, the pundits began to talk about how so many Americans were fed up with the “liberal elite,” and I realized that some people considered me to be one of those individuals.

I may be liberal and many of political beliefs may be rooted in my education, but I’m certainly not elite or an elitist. I’ve spent most of my adult life fighting for people to have the same opportunities I did. And yet, so many people who didn’t have those opportunities, especially those who fought and succeeded in building a good life, are voting to ensure that few others are given the opportunities. They even complain that they “gasp” have to pay taxes that benefit other people. The attitude almost seems to be one of “as long as I get what I want or need, I have no obligation to help others. They need to help themselves.”

Which brings me back to Thursday and Sarah Palin’s now well-publicized visit to the White House. As the photos started making the rounds on social media, so did the nasty comments. I saw several that made reference to “white trash,” a pejorative term usually used to describe white southerners of low social class. And even though I didn’t think these comments were necessarily appropriate, I totally understood where they were coming from.

They were coming from all of us who were picked last for teams during elementary school gym class because the boys who didn’t care about books were the captains. They were coming from those of us who actually studied for the test and then allowed the popular kid who sat behind us to cheat from our paper because we knew the consequences if we didn’t. They were coming from those of us who knew we would never get a job because of how we looked. They were coming from those of us who don’t hate people because of their religion, the color of their skin or their gender, who don’t believe more guns make us stronger and who don’t think that belittling others should make us popular.

They were coming from those of us who are disgusted that our country is now being controlled by the school yard bullies, the mean girls, and the people who think material possessions are a measure of personal value. They were coming from those of us who believe accomplishments and respect, not self-indulgent behavior and mean-spirited rhetoric, should be the ticket to a White House dinner.

So even though using the words “white trash” is not necessarily kind or even appropriate, it is accurate in describing the rude, white people who had dinner with President Trump on Thursday.

In fact, those two words are certainly more fair than almost everything else happening in the White House these days.

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The Bad Relationship

bad-relationshipWe’ve all been there.

We’ve had friends in relationships that we know are unhealthy for them.

To us, the problem is so obvious: our friend is being manipulated, or lied to, or charmed by money, good looks, popularity or power.

We know that our friend is being used by someone who doesn’t have his/her best interests at heart, and we try to warn them.

But they don’t want to hear what we are saying. “The relationship is special – you just don’t understand,” they tell us. “They are in love,” they say. And sometimes they even accuse us of being jealous.

When the relationship falls apart, our friend asks, “why didn’t anyone warn me?” And, because we care about our friend, we stifle the “I told you so,” and support then in their time of need.

Recently, I realized how many Trump supporters are like those friends in bad relationships. I’ve read articles about how the more we try to be rational, the more the more they cling to their presidential choice. Trying to argue using facts is pointless when they trust only information that affirms their own belief system.

They are so wrapped up in their sense of triumph, winning, and ideology that they refuse to see who Trump really is, how little he cares about other people, and how he is using lies to appease his base of support.

In other words, staunch Trump supporters are still in the honeymoon phase of their new, yet dangerous, relationship.

But in this case, I can’t accept that I will someday be forced to stifle an “I told you so.”  That is simply unacceptable.

Unlike other relationship choices, this one not only affects me but has a devastating impact on those who have lived their lives trying to overcome poor relationships with people in power.

Individuals who have been marginalized because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or even country of birth have too often been on the losing end of bad relationships.

And since many of the individuals who chose that relationship for them are actually delighting in those struggles, I must say this to Trump supporters:

  • I’m done trying to convince you that you are being manipulated.
  • I will no longer warn you that our President does not have your best interests at heart.
  • And when things go south, I will not say “I told you so,” nor will I expect you to say “thank you” for all I did to try to save you from this relationship.

Instead, knowing that I fought hard for everyone, despite their bad decisions, will be good enough for me.

The Day We Marched

On Saturday, some friends and I decided to make a trip into the city.this-is-what-a-protestor-looks-like

It was no ordinary outing, and it was no ordinary day.

We were going to Washington, D.C. to join the Women’s March on Washington and express our concerns about newly inaugurated President Trump.

I’m tired of people telling me that I might as well be wishing the pilot of the plane I’m on to fail. I’ve tried to explain that the pilot doesn’t even understand the control panel, that the ride is already quite bumpy, and that he’s threatening to throw some people off without a parachute. We need to find a way to steady the plane and correct the flight pattern. But that message seems to fall on deaf ears.

I’m saddened by people who belittled the march or claim that our country already ensures we have equal rights. This muslim-registrymarch wasn’t about what some of us already have. It was about what so many individuals are at risk of losing. This was not a march about traditional women’s rights or even reproductive rights (although some people chose to advocate for these issues.) It was a march about human rights for all people – people of different skin colors, people of different sexual orientations, people of different religions, and people of different countries of origin.

Most of all, I’m frustrated with people who claimed the marchers were out of line and disrespectful to the office of the President. First, the Constitution gives us the right to protest – it is vital to a healthy democracy.  Secondly, the new President ran a campaign based on disrespect and hate. I cannot respect an individual who has belittled women, put white supremacists and racists in positions of power, selected a vice president who threatens the rights of the LGBTQ community, img_4640called Mexicans rapists, mocked a disabled reporter, spoke of grabbing a woman’s genitals, and called those who disagreed with him “enemies.”

And so, my friends and I put on our pussy hats, and we marched.

There is so much I can say about the experience. I could describe the signs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes that lined the streets where we walked from RFK Stadium to the U.S. Capitol. I could describe how march participants were constantly thanking the police assigned to keep everyone safe. mlksign And I could describe how everyone was supportive, polite and loving to each other.

But there’s an old saying that pictures speak louder than words. And so, I share a few of the photos my friends and I took during the march and hope they not only show why we marched. It will show that this was not a self-serving protest proclaiming concerns about how polices will affect our bank accounts.  It was about tolerance, acceptance and support for individuals and groups who are at risk of losing their dreams.

 

Words Are the Root of All Violence

There are two national headlines gnawing at my brain right now.Michael Folk

The first is about the murder of three police officers in Baton Rouge.

The second is about WV State Delegate Michael Folk tweeting that Hillary Clinton should be hung on the National Mall.

Both are senseless acts of violence.

Both.

An expression of hate is the ammunition that fuels physical assaults and attacks. It turns the words and actions of someone who looks, thinks, acts, or believes differently into a significant threat to individuals who have been programmed to protect their own closed-minded fortresses of right, wrong, and justice.

Making a statement that any person deserves to be hurt at the hands of another does absolutely nothing to improve anyone’s circumstances. Yet this type of brutality is quickly becoming the norm in the United States.

As a country, we are sinking fast in the rising waters of spiteful words, and no one throwing us a life jacket.

Only we can get ourselves out of this mess, which means we have to hold the haters accountable.

I’m not encouraging censorship. Freedom of speech is a core value, and our nation can only improve when we listen to ideas and thoughts that are different from our own. But freedom of speech must be treated with the same respect that we give to anything that is fragile and prone to break when it is mishandled.

And, as a country, we are being anything but gentle with each other.

Having a right to say what you want and not being held accountable for your words are two entirely different issues.

When I was a child, I lived with the taste of soap in my mouth because I was constantly saying things that provoked my parents. There was no law against the words I used or the tone with which they were said. But my words were disrespectful and inappropriate, and I paid the price by becoming a connoisseur of a wide variety of soap brands.

The soap in the mouth punishment isn’t feasible with politicians, community leaders or others who choose to continue to pollute political events and social media with their hateful and violent words.

But the rest of us can ensure that there are consequences.

We can choose not to vote for them.

We can unfollow them on social media.

We can call other leaders and lawmakers and express our concerns.

We can write letters to the editor.

We can even write blogs about them.

Collectively, when each one of us speaks up, our voices are bound to drown out the nasty ones.

Minimize This

Last week, WV Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.00 an hour in 2015 and to $8.75 in 2016.

Opponents of the new law have had multiple complaints:

Teenagers working part-time jobs will be making more money than they really need;

The amount employers will be forced to pay for overtime will increase significantly;

When minimum wage increases, everyone else’s income is worth a little less.

I’m not an economist nor am I a labor expert, so I really can’t disagree with any of these statements.

What I can do is provide a little bit of perspective.

Currently, a full-time minimum-wage employee making $7.25 earns $15,080 annually.

The poverty threshold in the United States for a single person is $11,670 annually. According to that, a person making minimum wage is rolling in the dough since he/she makes $3,410, or nearly 23%, above poverty guidelines. Never mind that this threshold is so low that most social service agencies use guidelines such as 138% or 150% of the poverty level to determine eligibility for services and emergency assistance.

Who couldn’t afford housing, utilities, transportation, groceries, medical bills and clothing with all that extra money? Granted, if there are two people in the household, the poverty guidelines increase to $15,730 a year. That means both people would have to work to keep the family above the poverty line, and one would only have to work part time at minimum wage to do so. Of course, if that household is comprised of one adult and one child, living above the poverty line becomes a bit more tricky.

In my job, I encounter people trying to navigate that tricky situation every day when they are seeking help keeping the electricity on or paying their rent.Minimum Wage Cartoon

But here’s something you may not realize: you probably encounter them every day too.

They are the people providing services for you behind cash registers and brooms. They are the people caring for your children and you parents. And they are the people who are working long hours for the lowest legal pay and are still often called lazy when they can’t pay their bills.

During the recent debate over the minimum wage in West Virginia, I was reading arguments for and against the increase, and one exchange struck me more than any other.

An individual in favor of the increase stated that he was working two jobs to support his family and that the increase would help.

In response, someone else stated that this person wouldn’t have to work two jobs if he had gotten an education.

As a very educated person, I can personally attest to the fact that an education is not a ticket to a good salary. But even if I hadn’t had to personally struggle with low-paying jobs, I’ve still had many advantages.

I was blessed with a childhood during which my parents cared about my brain development and supported me in school. I was  blessed by people who encouraged me when I pursued a higher education. And I’ve been blessed with circumstances that didn’t require me to support others when I was getting that education.

Not everyone has the opportunity or the aptitude to get an education. And even if they did,  there would never be enough decent-paying jobs to support everyone who meets the educational requirements.

Besides, many of us depend on people who are willing to work for minimum wage to do the tasks that make our lives easier.

Instead of condemning them, we should thank them.

And a slight increase in their pay is just a start.

 

365 Reasons To Smile- Day 190

The past few days have been very tough for a lot of people I care about in Charleston, WV. They can’t drink the water coming out bad newsof their faucets. Nor can they use it to brush their teeth, cook , take showers, wash dishes or do laundry. And it’s not just private homes that are affected.

Hospitals don’t have the water they need. Restaurants and schools are closed. A state of emergency has been declared.

The massive ban on water covers nine counties and is the result of a chemical leak into the Elk River.

When I lived in Charleston, my kitchen window overlooked the Elk, and I used to walk my dogs on a trail very near the  plant where the chemical leaked. Needless to say, my husband and I have been following the story closely. That hasn’t been difficult as it has made national headlines, newscasts and websites.

Which, is why, when my brother called on Saturday from his home in Northern Pennsylvania, I told him I hadn’t talked to our parents but I wasn’t worried since they don’t live in one of the affected areas and they have well water.

My brother had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. My brother, who has always marched to the beat of his own drummer, doesn’t buy into media hype. Instead he chooses to ignore it and is much more interested in talking about his daughter or other interests.

His phone call reminded me of something important.

In this time when we are constantly inundated with bad news, we always have the right to tune it out and simply enjoy life.

Realizing that always makes me smile.

Day 190: Tuning Out Bad News and Tuning In to What We Enjoy

Day 189: Parents Who Encourage Independence  Day 188: Watching Young Minds at Work  Day 187: Funny Phone Calls  Day 186: Healthy Lungs  Day 185: Reality Checks Day  184: Coincidence  Day 183: Lame Attempts to Go Retro  Day 182: Learning From Our Mistakes  Day 181: Goofy Childhood Memories  Day 180: A soak in a bathtub  Day 179: Optimism  Day 178: The Year’s Top Baby Names  Day 177: Reading on a Rainy Day   Day 176: “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey  Day 175: Watching the Torch Pass  Day 174: Converse Tennis Shoes  Day 173: Family Acceptance  Day 172: Christmas Day 171: The Mr. Grinch Song  Day 170: Positive People  Day 169: Watching Movies From my Childhood With My Kids  Day 168:  Jealous Pets   Day 167:  Family Christmas Recipes  Day 166:  Church BellsDay 165:  School Holiday   164: Unexpected Grace  Day 163: Letting Go of Things We Can’t Control  Day 162: Anticipating a good story   Day 161: Hope  Day 160:  When Dogs Try to Avoid Embarrassment  Day 159: Surprises in the Mail  Day 158: Kids who aren’t superficial  Day 157:  A Garage on Winter Days    Day 156:  Real Christmas Trees    Day 155: Being a Parent   Day 154: Selfless People Day 153:  Nelson Mandela  Day 152: Memorable Road Trips  Day 151: Great Neighbors  Day 150: Oscar Wilde’s quote about being yourself   Day 149:  Love Letters  Day 148:  The first day of Advent  Day 147: The Breakfast Club   Day 146: Marriage and Shared Anniversaries 145: JFK’s quote about gratitude  Day 144:  Watching My Dog Play   Day 143: Having my Family’s Basic Needs Met  Day 142:  When Our Children Become Role Models  Day 141: Random Acts of Kindness  Day 140; People Watching  Day 139: Sharing Interests with My Children  Day 138: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Best Advice  Day 137: Weird Human Behavior about Garbage  Day 136: Postcards from Heaven  Day 135: Mickey Mouse  Day 134: Generous Souls  Day 133: I’m Moving On  Day 132: A Family That is Really Family  Day 131:   A Personal Motto  Day 130:  Mork and Mindy  Day 129: The Bears’ House  Day 128:  Veterans  Day 127: Doppelgangers  Day 126: Letting Life Unfold as It Should  Day 125: The Constantly Changing Sky  Day 124: When History Repeats Itself   Day 123: The Love Scene in The Sound of Music Day 122:  Helen Keller  Day 121:  The Welcome Back Kotter Theme Song  Day 120: Sheldon Cooper  Day 119: Having Permission to Make Mistakes  Day 118: A Diverse Group of Friends  Day 117:  Family Traditions Day 116: The Haunting Season  Day 115; Life Experience Day 114:  Changes  Day 113:  The Wooly Bear Caterpillar  Day 112: The National Anthem  Day 111: Parents Who Care   Day 110: Good Friends Day 109:  My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss  Day 108:  A.A. Milne QuotesDay 107: Spending Time Wisely Day 106: Parades  Day 105:  The Peanuts Gang Dancing   Day 104:  Sharing a Secret Language   Day 103:  The Electric Company  Day 102:  Doing the Right Thing  Day 101:  When Siblings Agree  Day 100: Being Optimistic  Day 99: Trying Something New   Day 98:  The Sound of Children on a Playground  Day97: Good Advice  Day 96: Red and white peppermint candy  Day 95:  The Soundtrack from the Movie Shrek Day 94:  Accepting Change    Day 93:  True Love     Day 92: Camera Phones   Day 91: Bicycle Brakes    Day 90:  HeroesDay 89: The Cricket in Times Square  Day 88:  The Grand Canyon  Day 87: Unanswered Prayers Day 86: Apples Fresh from the Orchard Day 85: Being Human  Day 84: Captain Underpants  Day 83: The Diary of Anne Frank  Day 82: In Cold Blood Day 81: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry  Day 80: The Outsiders   Day 79:  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Day 78: The First Amendment Day77: People Who Touch Our Lives   Day 76:  The Rewards of Parenting    Day 75:  Improvements   Day 74:  Family Traditions   Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes  Day 72: Live Music  Day 71:  Sleeping In  Day 70:  Grover  Day 69:  A Good Hair Day   Day 68:  A Sense of Community   Day 67: Kindness   Day 66: Living in a Place You Love   Day 65: Gifts from the Heart   Day 64: The Arrival of Fall  Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird   Day 62: Green LightsDay 61:  My Canine Friends  Day 60:  Differences   Day 59:  A New Box of Crayons   Day 58: Bookworms  Day 57: Being Oblivious  Day 56: Three-day Weekends  Day 55:  A Cat Purring  Day 54: Being a Unique Individual   Day 53: Children’s Artwork  Day 52: Lefties  Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer  Day 50: Campfires  Day 49: Childhood Crushes  Day  48: The Words “Miss You”  Day 47:  Birthday Stories   Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us  Day 45:  Play-Doh   Day 44: First Day of School Pictures  Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes  Day 42: Appreciative Readers  Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote   Day 40:  Being Silly  Day 39:  Being Happy Exactly Where You Are  Day 38: Proud Grandparents  Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies   Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories  Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want  Day 34:  Accepting the Fog    Day 33: I See the Moon  Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap  Day 31: Perspective  Day 30:  Unlikely Friendships  Day 29: Good Samaritans  Day 28:  Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet?    Day 27: Shadows  Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads  Day 25: When Harry Met Sally  Day 24: Hibiscus   Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck  Day 22:  The Wonderful World of Disney   Day 21: Puppy love  Day 20 Personal Theme Songs  Day 19:  Summer Clouds  Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s VictoryDay 17:  A Royal Birth    Day 16:  Creative Kids  Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle   Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His MasculinityDay 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter     Day 12:  Round Bales of HayDay 11:  Water Fountains for Dogs    Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers  Day 8: Great Teachers We Still RememberDay  7:  Finding the missing sock   Day 6:  Children’s books that teach life-long lessonsDay 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment   Day 4:  Jumping in Puddles  Day   3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill    Day 2: Old Photographs  Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street

I Am a Product of Head Start

head start

Head Start graduation

In second grade, I was told I should never brag, and I took that admonishment to heart.

I have no recollection why I was boasting, but I do remember Carla Shown looked at me with disdain and said, “No one likes people who brag.”

Her words have stayed with me, but there are times when we have to balance the lessons we learned in our childhood with our experience as adults.

Now is one of those times, and I am going to brag a bit.

I am a product of Head Start.

I feel an obligation to brag, because the voices of low-income children aren’t being heard above the clamor about Syria.

Head Start provides early childhood education, health and nutrition services as well as parent support for low-income children and their families. The services are designed to foster stable family relationships and address early childhood developmental needs.

Research tells us that children who have been through Head Start and Early Head Start are healthier, more academically accomplished, more likely to be employed, commit fewer crimes and contribute more to society.

Common sense tells us that the future of our country hinges on our children, and we should invest in our future.

Unfortunately, common sense often doesn’t prevail on Capitol Hill, and, as a result of sequestration, Head Start has eliminated services for more than 57,000 children this school year. The program is facing even more cuts in the future.

We are going backwards.

Head Start began in 1965, and, because of where I lived, I was enrolled in the program in the early 1970’s. I still have the report cards that documented my progress at mastering a list of tasks and skills and the photos from graduation ceremonies.

At first glance, the photos of my Head Start graduation don’t tell much of a story. There is no indication that the chubby little girl in the red dress would grow up to be the outspoken person I have become.  Nor does it indicate that the little boy in the striped pants would someday graduate from Dartmouth.

But it does show what hope looks like, and if we don’t do something to meet the needs of our children now, we will be seeing fewer and fewer of such photos in the future.

Despicable

Last offensiveTuesday was a V E R Y  L O N G  day.

I left my parents’ rural home and drove more than an hour to a day-long meeting. When that meeting was over, I drove five more hours home.

The drive got longer after a received then ruminated about a phone call from an angry friend.

“Trina,” she said. “I have to talk to you, because I know you’ll understand.”

Even though I’d been talking to people all day, anyone who strokes my ego always has my attention.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“I just got the worst phone call I have ever received. It was absolutely horrible.”

At first, I was really concerned for my friend, but as she continued to talk, my concern turned to anger.

The Sheriff’s Association had called asking her to donate to a program to conduct drug education in the schools. Since my friend and her husband had previously supported the organization, she let the man on the other end of the phone talk.

What he said was absolutely despicable.

“We have all these kids whose parents don’t care about them,” the voice said. “All they want to do is sit at home and collect their welfare check. They don’t want to talk to their kids about drugs. They just don’t care enough. That’s why we have such a drug problem.”

According to my friend, she pulled a Trina Bartlett. (I have to give myself a little credit in this story).

She asked the man on the phone if he knew whom he was talking with, gave him an earful and then hung up.

‘I don’t know if he was following a script or if he was just expressing his own opinions,” my friend said. “But either way, the fact that he was trying to raise money by blaming people on welfare for drug abuse was absolutely offensive.”

I agreed.

I was not only offended by the sweeping judgments about anyone who receives public assistance but also by the fact that he was literally preying on the prejudices of other people. Public servants shouldn’t be perpetuating stereotypes. The should be countering them.

Ironically, the man making the fundraising call targeted the wrong person.

She is a parent who knows drug abuse is not an income nor a class issue. She knows that no matter how much parents care, their children sometimes still make poor choices. And she also knows that blaming people is not the best way to approach drug prevention.

The day after she received the fundraising call, my friend called the county sheriff, whom she knows personally.

He has yet to return her call, and something tells me he probably never will.

Yet that’s not the end of this story.

This story only ends when other people also call him and complain. It only ends when other people have the guts to stand up to stereotypes and prejudice. And it only ends when people stopping blaming and simply join together to help and support each other.

I can only hope this story ends sooner rather than later.

The Rainbow Connection

June 29, 2013 Rainbow

June 29, 2013 Rainbow

Last night, I enjoyed the most beautiful and perfect rainbow I have ever seen.

It arrived exactly on the anniversary of last year’s June 29 derecho, the scariest storm I’ve ever experienced.

Ironically, the events of both evenings were similar.

Last year, I was supervising my daughter and her best friend as they swam. Last night, I was at a pool party where my daughter and her best friend were once again swimming. doublerainbowAnd, last night, just like the year before, a sudden and unexpected storm blew in.

Unlike last year’s storm, which brought fallen trees, downed power lines and electrical outages, last night’s storm brought the perfect rainbow, and for a few minutes, a double rainbow.

It also brought a reminder.

Sometimes, the only thing we get from weathering life’s storms is the strength we find in our struggles. But sometimes we get a brief glimpse at all the beauty and hope that the world offers.

Standing in awe of nature last night, I was also reminded that in addition to symbolizing promise, the rainbow also symbolizes diversity and inclusiveness.

Not only did the rainbow shine bright on the anniversary of the derecho, it also served as the ending punctuation mark on a historical week.

On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court delivered a victory for gay rights. It ruled that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits and effectively allowed same-sex marriages in California.

The fight for equality may not be over, but those decisions, like the rainbows, hold promise.

Thinking of that, a song from my childhood has been stuck in my head all day. Unlike some songs, which can be rather annoying, “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie is simply making me smile.

The Rainbow Connection by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
and what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

Who said that every wish would be heard
and answered when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that and someone believed it.
Look what it’s done so far.
 What’s so amazing that keeps us star gazing
and what do we think we might see?
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

All of us under its spell. We know that it’s probably magic.

Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors.
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

Rockefeller’s Reminder

jay-rockefellerLast week, I had the privilege of attending a community meeting hosted by U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller about the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Since there was little doubt that our soon-to-retire senator was going to vote for  VAWA,  the event was really an opportunity to raise awareness about the issue of domestic violence.

Invited guests included survivors, social workers and advocates who work tirelessly to address the issue. A local police officer was the only man selected as a designated speaker for the round table discussion, but he received a great deal of Rockefeller’s attention.

While domestic violence survivors told heart-breaking stories, many of Rockefeller’s questions were directed to the police officer. The Senator seemed absolutely fascinated by the officer’s description of our local police department’s ride-along program, which provides an opportunity for community members to literally ride along with police officers during any shift. Those who participate have the opportunity to really understand what police face and learn about some of the biggest issues facing our community.

At the time, Rockefeller’s intense interest in the program seemed a little off topic. But in retrospect, I think the Senator was demonstrating what true wisdom is.

In a world where people are intentionally inflicting harm on others, where relationships are often about power struggles rather than support and where individuals are suffering on a daily basis, true wisdom is knowing that doing the right thing requires more than simply responding to the needs of others.  Maybe because I’ve recently been watching too many people who think doing the right thing means doing things their way without considering all that others have or could contribute, Rockefeller’s reminder has stuck with me:

Doing the right thing means ensuring resources and services are available for those in need, but is also means focusing on what is positive and good.

Doing the right thing means reinforcing and promoting positive and healthy relationships among people and organizations.

And doing the right thing means really listening to others and acknowledging the power of what they are saying and all they are contributing.

That’s the wisdom Senator Rockefeller brought to the table. Unfortunately, he won’t be at the table much longer. Last month, he announced he will not be seeking a sixth term as U.S. Senator after his current term ends in 2014. West Virginia lost Senator Robert Byrd in 2010, and now we are losing Senator Jay Rockefeller. Regardless of political affiliation, all West Virginians should recognize the implications.

The cynical among us might say that caring about the poor was easy for Rockefeller, who was born into one of the richest families in America and never had to worry about money.

But I disagree.

Instead of choosing to live a life devoted to money rather than meaning, he chose to work on behalf of people who live in one of the poorest states in the nation. And even though I live closer to Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New York City than I do to our state capitol, I still care about what happens to this state.

And I’m hoping whoever steps into his position is someone who understands the importance of asking a local city police officer to explain a simple program that involves reaching out to others to develop stronger partnerships and healthy relationships.

That’s wisdom and a reminder about how we should all live our lives.

Thank you for your service and your wisdom, Senator Rockefeller.