A difficult conversation about Immigration

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately. Recently, my church or society, not sure what it is calling itself at the moment, has registered as a sanctuary site for illegal immigrants. And I’m rather proud of that, but feeling rather guilty because I can’t volunteer to help – for various reasons, which I won’t go into here.  And this post isn’t really about that.

Years ago, a creative writing professor told me something interesting, he said, after reading one of my short stories that I was interested in writing and exploring the difficult emotions, the painful ones, that most people didn’t want to look at. And well, that’s what I want to explore here.

As a caveat prior to discussing this — I am, roughly speaking, the descendant of immigrants. My maternal great-grandfather and great-grandmother on my father’s side immigrated from Scotch-Ireland, his paternal grandmother from Belgium, my mother’s paternal grand-parents immigrated from Germany, her maternal one’s from Ireland. Neither are really into genealogy, they leave that to their siblings. Northern European Celt through and through. The privileged immigrant gene, although it wasn’t always that way. Back then, the Irish were hated, as were the Germans. It’s only been recently that the US has welcomed these nationalities to its shores. Africans were brought here against their will prior to the late 1800s (aka the Civil War and end of the slave trade) and many Asians fled here, much like my Irish grandparents to find a better life. It’s also worth noting that most of my co-workers and my friends are either direct descendants or immigrated themselves from places like Haiti, Russia, Poland, the Caribbean, and Asia. I know quite a few people from India at work and online. In fact, I currently live in an area that is inhabited by Indian, Russian, Caribbean, Italian, Latin American, Irish, Jewish, and Polish immigrants.

I say all this because I want  you to know that I have no issues with immigrants most of the time. But this week, I saw a side of myself that I didn’t like. I call it the demon. And in seeing it, I was able to understand and perhaps see the other side, the not so nice side of our country. And look at it from a perspective that made me realize that we need to talk about this as a nation, without hate, without insults, just find a way to listen, to question where we are coming from and see if we can find a way past it?

This week my boss requested that I provide a consultant (a hired gun) with a 14-15% raise for doing a good job. This man is an immigrant from India. He previously lived in Canada, and is working here under a visa.  He is an engineer. I am not getting a 14-15% raise nor are any of my co-workers. I live in a community that seemingly overnight has become all Bangladesh, India. They barely speak English. He barely did. They aren’t welcoming of people outside of their race or community. They speak in Bengali on the trains and sidewalks, and are covered head to toe in their traditional garb.  Exclusive is an understatement.  At work, I have various co-workers of Indian, Chinese, Hispanic and Russian descent , who do not speak English clearly.  You have to listen hard to understand them. Because for them, English is often their third or fourth language. They speak with heavy accents. They are for the most part, American Citizens, they just weren’t born here. It gets tiring. And my building super barely speaks English, his wife better than he does. They are from Poland. They speak Russian fluently, English is their third language.

And this week, I felt the frustration and rage begin to build. Why couldn’t people speak English fluently? I thought to myself. Why is this engineer from a foreign country getting a 14% raise, when I am getting barely 2.5% if that, and after five years, while he’s getting it after two? If he didn’t exist…if he went home, if they all went back to where they came from…I’d not have to compete for housing so hard, I’d not have to compete for work…why did the French come here and drive up prices in Brooklyn, when they weren’t here the area was more affordable — these evil thoughts, demon thoughts flooded my head, and I felt myself ranting, consumed with a painful rage. I remember ranting to my mother about it, and my mother said: “You realize that you sound like Trump.”

It was a wake up call. And I thought, what am I thinking? So I sat back, and put myself in this man’s shoes, in these people shoes, and really looked at them and myself. It wasn’t easy. And I realized, they were no different than me. Their existence had not made my life worse. If anything it made it more interesting. So the next day, I called up the man’s employer and we talked. Really talked about what this man did for a living. The man who wanted the raise turned out to be a seasoned engineer with a lot of experience in his field. He showed up on time, often before the others. And worked long hours. He’s not a technician. People less qualified than he was, were making far more. Also it was really hard to find good people in his field — there was so much demand for his type of work at the moment.  So, the market was dictating a raise. There just happened to be more need for people with his expertise. If he was Northern European, English, Purple, White, African, wouldn’t matter — it would be the same situation. It’s an individual asking for the same amount as his peers are making.  It had nothing to do with race. Race was irrelevant, it always had been. It always is. I realized that the way to save money is to reduce the fee the firm is making and redirect the amount to the employee doing the work.  I needed to separate myself, my ego, from the situation, it had nothing to do with me. It never had. And his existence did not make my situation any better or worse. He was just another human on this crazy planet trying to make things work.

I am not proud of how I felt or how I initially reacted. I’m embarrassed by it actually. It does not put me in the best light.  I’m sharing it, because I know that others feel this way. And I know how easy it is to scapegoat and to blame the other for our problems. To demonize. To generalize.  Too easy. Being a monster, apparently, doesn’t take all that much effort…but it hurts more. When I felt this way, I felt as if I was burning up inside. When I let it go…I felt better.

At times I feel as if I am living in a tower of babble, with a million languages going on simultaneously…and there’s no way I can understand a word being said.  I suck at languages, always have, so there’s that. Yet, weirdly, at other times, I do understand — just watching the other person’s body language. Today, I did laundry, and ran into a fellow apartment dweller, he’s short, and a POC, very nice guy. Hails from Conniecut. (A state I’ve never been able to spell for some reason). Came here in the 1980s. He said, that our apartment complex was like the UN, and added, this was a good thing. I agreed. I’ve lived in non-diverse areas…and didn’t like them all that much.

And I feel I need to say this —  I’ve never experienced anything but kindness from these immigrants. Recent to our shores. Or consideration. No matter where they are from. They have helped me. They have been kind to me. Some have befriended me when I had no one.  Total strangers. And they get along fine. Just keep to themselves, in their own little communities.

At night, in my neighborhood, near the subway stop, all the Bengali men congregate. They are very small men, at six foot I tower over them. Some are all in white, others in various pants and jeans. They talk in a combination of Bengali and English. They move aside as I walk past. They do not get in my way, they do not harass me. They are exceedingly polite. They do not insist that I change in any way. People have told me that Indian men are very sexist and misogynistic, but they have only been polite to me and respectful. I cannot complain.

New York continuously forces me to look at my prejudices and break them down. To challenge them. When I was feeling negative about Russians, the Universe and New York gave me a Russian immigrant to train and moved me into a building with lots of Russian immigrants, and I learned that I was an idiot and generalizing. Russians were no different than Americans or English or anyone else. Just people with an extremely thick accent. When I felt negative about Asians, I ended up becoming friends with several and discovered they were just people too, individuals, and again I was an idiot. My prejudices were paper thin pieces of confetti, full of holes, and would not hold water. I am ashamed to admit I have them, but I feel I need to throw them into the light of day if only to watch them blow away in the wind, and melt with the sunshine. Along with the rage and pain that often accompanies them, and isolates me from my world and those who live within it.

I don’t know if anyone will read this. If you do, I hope you will forgive me for my failings as I hope to forgive you for yours. I am trying to do better. To realize we are all human, sharing space in this troublesome world. I think living with others, regardless of their race, tribe, whatever, can be difficult but also beautiful. Like looking for and finding rainbows after a difficult storm, or being able to stand and look at a sunrise after a night plagued with vertigo. It’s painful and beautiful at the same time.  And I think it’s not always easy to see that. I am hoping for a day when it is.


Bird in a Cage

A children’s story told completely by hand-drawn illustrations.

Once upon a time…a bird…


IMG_1319IMG_1322IMG_1320IMG_1326IMG_1327IMG_1329IMG_1331The end for now…


Dear Mr. Ryan

It’s eight o’clock on a work night, and there are other things that I should be doing. But this won’t let go of me. I’ve never been able to explain why I write to others, but usually it is to express something that desperately needs to be expressed to another mind outside my own. And I have no idea sometimes where it comes from.

Dear Mr. Ryan,

I have never written to a politician before let alone the Speaker of the House of Representatives. I think the farthest that I’ve gone is a Kansas State Senator that I once interned with or those emails set up by others and you just sign your name, as if signing an online petition. I’m sure you have seen them.  But I felt I had to write you…even though I’m not one of your constituents, living in a state far far away from your own. In the wilds of New York, along the eastern seaboard.  But my parents met in your home state, not that it matters, or maybe it does. They met in Wisconsin, at the University there…they suffered through the ice cold winters, with the mountains of snow, my father a history major on a work-study scholarship going for a Ph.d and my mother a speech pathologist on a scholarship of her own…both from middle or in his case dirt poor middle class first generation Americans.

My father, like you, comes from a large Irish-Catholic family. His brother is a Priest. He went to school on the GI bill sending every dollar home. And his father was a carpenter, who barely made ends meet, working on the Pennsylvania docks during the Great Depression. While my mother shared a bed with two sisters, her house merely four small rooms, if that, and the shower in the basement that doubled as garage. Her father was a German cattleman, who ran his own trucking business. He didn’t graduate high-school, barely made it past the eighth grade, taught himself math and how to read, since he happened to be dyslexic.  They used to call him “the Flying Dutch Man” during the 1930s, and he would give loans to his workers and people he knew so they could survive the hard times. He hated Truman, loved Eisenhower. My father’s family fought for Roosevelt, and the New Deal, dirt poor and living off Welfare. His mother’s twin brother fought in the Great War, among the first inside the death camps, he was an ambulance driver, he was never the same after that. Seeing all those corpses…. My parents met and fell in love during the long Wisconsin winters arguing politics…arguing over Truman, who ended a World War with a nuclear bomb and fired a US General for trying to invade China.

But that’s not why I write you, not to share family history, but because I fear for our country for I can feel it roaring…the sound is deafening, can you hear it too?


Dear Mr. Ryan,

I don’t know how to write this. I’m no one really, just a single woman on the cusp of fifty, but I read the news today…and oh boy. This ban on immigrants fleeing their countries, much as my forebears, and I’m guessing yours as well fled theirs, but under far dire circumstances. Yesterday my mother told me a story about a family of Syrians, who had managed to acquire visas, and even had a new home and jobs set up in a neighborhood in Pennsylvania. Their community came to the airport to greet them, to escort them to their new home…their story reminds me of my great granparents, who fled Ireland during the Potato Famine, and settled into a Catholic community in Pennsylvania, with their six children. But unlike my grandparents, these Syrians, who were fleeing to save their lives, but also Christian, although it hardly matters,  were turned away. They were turned away, Mr. Ryan. Handcuffed like criminals and put back on a plane to face certain death…

Every week, it used to be every day, I see the Statue of Liberty sitting in the harbor of New York…and I remember visiting it with my Mom in 1992. I remember being proud. Proud of my country, who like no other, accepted the hungry, the poor, the disillusioned, the persecuted, regardless of their origin, struggling to be free.

I don’t know what has happened to that country? I remember 9/11. I walked beneath the sky as it rained down paper and dust, thick and brown. I remember the rage that filled me at an unknown enemy. And it was easy, so easy to hate…until I met a lawyer, Muslim, Pakistani, who greeted me with friendship, he had a visa, he was an immigrant. And each, day, Mr. Ryan, I ride the subway, and next to me sits a woman, dressed in full Muslim attire, only a bit of her face shows. She chats in her native language with a neighbor, and briefly smiles at me in greeting, saying hello..

At church, a man tells me,  the Sunday before our national election, that he teaches Syrian refugees how to speak English..volunteering his time, every Saturday, and the refugees, who can’t vote, admire you Mr. Ryan, and would have voted for Mr. Trump, because they believed you would make them safe and protect them…


Dear Mr Ryan,

I don’t know if you’ll ever read this. Most likely not see it. But I feel I must write you. Even if it falls into the slush pile in your office. But my country is bleeding. Through the cracks in the pavement, I can see it. The land it is cracking and trembling.

I’m not sure if you have heard, but there is no drinking water in Flint, Michigan, poisoned by lead, and the water in Corpus Christie, Texas you can’t drink or wash in, due to oil spillage. In the Dakotas, the Native Americans are freezing trying to protect our water from a pipeline that was re-routed from a residential area due to fears of it contaminating the water. Meanwhile there are oil spillages in Pennsylvania, and the coal mines are killing the miners.

And this summer, Hurricane Matthew devastated Hilton Head, and the Carolinas. People on the islands lost their homes, after years of no hurricanes. You should see the debris, stacked up on the roads and highways, as FEMA trucks slug by.  Meanwhile the Artic ice caps are melting, and the sea levels are rising…

Can you see this? Do you care? I worry about our planet. I worry that in a few years, my home, my city, Brooklyn, will be under water…as will DC, and Philadelphia. While Oklahoma continues to be ripped apart by earthquakes, and tornadoes devastate Kansas.


Dear Mr Ryan,

I’ve been told to pick an issue, but where to begin. I’ve never written to you before. I’m not an activist. I wouldn’t even describe myself as politically active…but I fear for our health-care system. It is not for myself that I write. My organization provides health care, although it barely covers my needs, it is there. I pay into it, so it’s not free. But no matter. I write for my family, for my friends who are on the Affordable Care Act.  While they admittedly hate the premiums it has saved their lives. My niece, my sister-in-law, my brother who run their own business, are on the ACA aka Obamacare, as is my cousin, who has a serious heart condition and recently survived a car accident. Then there’s the friend in Arizona, an old college pal, whose life was saved by it. If it weren’t for Obamacare she’d be dead. She’s a mess, and with the ACA/Obamacare is able to work as a health care provider and help others.

I fear what will happen when they lose it. They have pre-existing conditions. And then there’s medicare, so many people are on it, I will be on it in a short period of time, what will happen if you take it away? Please, Mr. Ryan, don’t take it away. I worry about my people, all the people, who are sick, or struggling…

I found out the other day that if it weren’t for Planned Parenthood, my sister-in-law may not have survived her childhood. It provided low income children with health care. It saves so many women and children, every day…Did you know that, Mr Ryan?

Mr Ryan, while I understand your objections to the abortion issue,  can I please tell you that after abortion was legalized there were less abortions, and no partial birth abortions done?  That with Planned Parenthood, women like my grandmother were given access to birth control. My grandmother had thirteen children, Mr. Ryan. She miscarried one and the other was still-born, she didn’t practice birth control and it almost killed her. And she debated a hysterectomy, because her church said it was wrong. But her doctor stated she would die otherwise.  It made her life a drudgery, and due to her low income status, and limited health care options, she and my grandfather were forced to do the unthinkable, place seven of their children in an orphanage. It traumatized the youngest. My grandfather had a broken arm and my grandmother a dangerous pregnancy…can you imagine, Mr. Ryan? Can you imagine their pain?  If Planned Parenthood had been around, if her religion, for she was Catholic, had allowed it..this may not have happened. My father wrote to the Pope at the time requesting he lift the ban on birth control – he was so angry..


Dear Mr Ryan,

I fear for our country’s sanity. It is so divided. There is so much anger. So much bitterness. Every day, the news is worse. Yesterday, a mosque was burned to the ground in Texas. I fear the terrorists are winning, they are dividing us, they are pitting us against our allies and against ourselves…

Oh, Mr. Ryan, I fear for our world. It keeps me awake at night, twisting and turning. And each day, I look at those around me, and we put up a good front. Making phone calls. Marching. Or simply pushing ourselves through the daily routine. But there is so much anger. So much. I see it in the news…did you know Reuters News Agency has advised their reporters to treat the US the same as war torn and fascist countries around the world, and in particular in the Middle East?


Dear Mr. Ryan,

It’s most likely pointless to write you. I don’t know what to say, or what to write …anymore. My heart is aching. I see my friends, gay and lesbian, who finally gained the right to marry. And the poor transgender, stuck in bodies that feel like alien lifeforms, or being strictly defined as one gender, when in their soul they know they are another — unable to feel safe going to the bathroom in their home states. I’m straight, Mr. Ryan. I’m heterosexual. So this doesn’t affect me. Well, not exactly. Of course it does, because I love my friends who live across the planet, and I rarely see. And because if they aren’t free, how can I, how can we?

Oh, Mr. Ryan, if I could only get you to see? Sometimes I wish we could all crawl inside another’s skin for a day, just one day. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Think as they do. I in yours and you in mine, and oh what the world could be..if we could just walk a mile in each others moccasins, if just for one day.

Each day, I walk the streets of New York City and work elbow to elbow with surbanites from the Island, who fear the city’s grit and grime. In Manhattan, next to the subway, on 42nd Street, at 6am in the morning, there is a couple lying on dirty blankets and a makeshift mattress that has seen better days, with crudely worded cardboard signs stationed around them. “We are homeless, we are hungry, I was beaten up at a shelter, please give, we are saving to get off the streets…” They have nothing. No shelter, but a subway tunnel, no heat, but the grates below them, no food, but what the passerby’s provide…they are dependent entirely on the milk of human kindness.

Kindness, Mr. Ryan. Oh, I pray for kindness.

And I find myself thinking once again of those Syrian Refugees, who appear to have caused this…first Britain leaving the European Union, and now the US…and it calls to mind a passage from the Bible, and you’ll have to forgive me, Mr. Ryan, I haven’t studied the Bible recently…so this won’t be a direct quote. But somewhere in the New Testatment, doesn’t Jesus Christ state that when a beggar or person with no money, no country, fleeing for their safety comes to us, it is him, it is Jesus, and if that is so, how, I ask you, dear, dear, Mr. Ryan, can we turn them away? Without breaking our hearts and our spirits and the source of us all in the process?Oh Mr. Ryan, I pray you can hear me, even though you are so far away, and your email server is full, your voice mail appears to be broken, and your mail lies unopened on the floor..our hearts are breaking, and our country is burning, can’t you feel the flames?               .

A message in a bottle….

You will have to forgive me for not posting a picture. I looked for one, but the ones I found cost money, and the ones I took myself simply would not do. My words will have to stand in the place of photos, and hopefully color in the lines.

It is late, and I should do my taxes, for that was what I intended to spend this night doing. But instead, I find myself compelled to write. Not sure who, if anyone will read it. And maybe it doesn’t entirely matter. Although, whether I like it or not, at times, I wish for applause, however fleeting. Then beat myself bloody for wanting it. More often I write merely to release something spinning about in my head and heart, sending it out into the world like a message in the bottle. Hoping it may act as a flashlight, lighting the dark corners and keeping the creeping, ever creeping shadows at bay. For, the world seems to be overrun with shadows at the moment, as the darkness within the cracks creeps ever upon us, in teeny tiny footsteps like a nimble giant we cannot quite see.

Walking today to the grocery store, twice, I might add, because I left a bag behind the first go around, I found myself haunted by images and memories and voices of yesterday, yesteryear, and a conversation held with a relative on social media…which ended civilly enough  but left in its wake, however unintended,  a shadow across my heart.

Backing up a bit, as one often does when telling a story, I moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1996 from Prairie Village, Kansas, an affluent or somewhat affluent, largely white upper-middle class suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. I had spent seventeen years of my life there. When I went to school, there were maybe five or six people in a school of approximately one thousand that were not white, or rather of European descent, aka Irish, Italian, Belgium, English, French, German, and Danish. To give you a good idea how white we were, I, a white woman, six foot tall, portrayed the role of Tituba in black face in a high school presentation of The Crucible. In junior high, for a little while I walked to school with a young girl, named Cathan, who asked me to stop walking with her to school, because she wanted to walk with a boy she had a crush on. She was far from kind — stating simply that I was no fun to walk with, but I wasn’t stupid — I could tell she had a crush on the boy, and resented the competition. So I crossed the street and began walking on the unpaved, grassy side. We lived on a busy street, and school was about a mile away by foot. And that’s how I met Anu. Anu was heavier set, about my height and weight, with black hair, and dark skin, her family were recent immigrants to the US from the Middle East, and together we commiserated as we walked through the grass and often chomped through the snow, unshoveled and coming up to our hips. For Kansas winters were brutal, snow often a foot or more, with a chill below zero. She told me about her religion and what they practiced, and I shared bits and pieces of my own. Oddly enough, we found commonalities, between the lines of our meandering conversations.

I don’t know what happened to Anu, or where she is now. It was all so long ago. In between, I met others, here and there, a friend in Texas, a blue-eyed blond, about five foot three if that, whose father, a professor of engineering at a high profile Texas University, told me that it was a proven fact that white’s were more intelligent than blacks. I remember retorting that if that was the case, his daughter and himself, were clearly not that bright, since there were blacks whose intelligence and accomplishments kicked theirs to the curb,  and I named a whole list of them off the top of my head, he paled and my friend shifted uncomfortably in her seat next to me. Then I carefully, shifted tracks and we discussed his childhood, why he felt this way, and how he was carefully carefully taught at a young age to look at people different from himself a certain way through childhood ditties and truncated text-books. I remember my friend, reading a rough draft of a book that I wrote, and telling me that two of the names I’d used were clearly black names and I might want to change them to prevent confusion…this blew me away. I mentioned her comment to my maternal grandmother, who with a shrug, stated simply, “well, she’s from Texas, what do you expect?”

I moved to New York City in the 1990s, and in 2001, nine-eleven happened. I’m not sure those who lived outside of the city can quite imagine what it was like that day, when the sky turned brown and black with smoke. People surprised me, with their kindness. As we cuddled together on the subway, tears running down our eyes. Borinquen, whose name was basically the Spanish name for Puerto Rico, and was half Italian, took me home with her and fixed me lunch at her small family home in the Bronx, until the sky cleared, the subways began running again, and I could make the long journey home myself.

I remember the sky falling in Brooklyn as I walked the ten  to fifteen blocks from the subway station to my apartment. Paper, mostly, and this red dust. I remember staring at it in shock and dismay and thinking is this real? In the window of a junk store there were photos of the disaster that stayed up until they crumbled from age. And I remember the rage..no, wait, that is wrong…I don’t remember it, because it isn’t a memory, and it did not go away. It stuck with me like a shadow sitting upon my soul, a dark haze that would not abate.  As if that day it burrowed beneath my skin like a parasite,  waiting to erupt. Over time, it slowly consumed bits and pieces of my life or so it seemed, regardless of what I did to stop it. For you see, my world, as I saw it and knew it, fell apart that day. But looking back it had been crumbling for a while…and having no one to direct my rage towards, I turned it inwards and attacked myself.

I think a lot of people became consumed with rage that day. I think our country was, it burned through us, cutting a swath a mile wide…as if the terrorists, unknown and unnamed, outside of their faith and the color of their skin, and possibly their nationality, had burned down everyone’s home and killed everyone’s cousin. It was as if a dark cloud came down and shrouded the earth.

Shortly after that, about a year or so, turning the calendar to 2004, I temped at a French bank for a bit. It was right after my niece was born or soon thereafter.  The people in the bank had been in one of the towers, they had lost friends in those towers, and were filled with the same rage. The same consuming fear, as if the boogie man lay around each corner, and he was dark of skin, and spoke with a thick accent.  Each day, I would listen to them scream at each other, huddled in my cubicle. That is until, I jumped again…to a Health Insurance Provider, who turned out to be on the brink of a merger, the people in this company had also been in the second tower, and barely escaped with their lives. Losing various co-workers in the process. I heard their escape story so many times, it was burned on my soul.

My boss had a shrine to 9/11, and to George W. Bush and Rudy Giulani who she believed saved us all. Each time I walked into her office, there it was, lovingly arranged. She would rant and rail at the Muslims, the Clintons, the Democrats, and often state we had too many rights, but at the same time, she saved domestic animals, volunteered each weekend at local shelters, and was close friends with one of the attorney’s who happened to be Muslim, Atif Islam. I remember sitting with Atif for hours discussing law, fasting for Ramadam or for lent (for I was raised Catholic and still attempting to practice at that time). We discussed religion and politics. My boss and Atif would often argue politics — he was liberal and she, ultra-conservative. At one point, the head honcho told them that they sounded like Meathead and Archie Bunker from All in the Family, and I wondered if that made me Gloria? While she wondered if that made him, Edith.

There was another co-worker, who had also been in one of the towers, and much like my boss,  had barely escaped with his life — yet he reacted differently than she did.  While she seemed to allow the rage to consume her, and fed it daily, he pushed it away, and took pictures of the city around him. Once, at a dinner, I heard her tell him that she could not stop being angry, each year, it just built. And I remember him shrugging and saying you can’t let it take over.  I watched it age her, draw lines into her face, and tear her down.  And I too felt the rage bubble and froth inside of me, while I watched it consume her.  Nowhere felt safe anymore, and she felt, deeply, that the world outside the US, was her enemy. This company that she’d been in for half her life, if not longer, merged, and we all were laid off, Atif, my boss, the other co-workers, and me. Over two thousand people.  And we all drifted to other jobs, until I found myself once again at the mercy of yet another lay-off this time at an Isralie run video game start-up or dot.com. My ex-boss, the angry one, got me a job at her new workplace and for years we sat next door to each other…and her rage echoed in the halls and in the cubicle walls, along with all the others that I sat around, equally laid-off from far better jobs and bitter at what life had chosen to give them.

One day, while I was interviewing various people for Resident Engineer jobs, most of the candidates of Iranian, Iraquian, Saudia Arabia, or Pakistani descent, as Atif had been, albeit by way of Canada, one co-worker saw one of the names and stated, “Ah, you are interviewing would be terrorists. Might want to watch it.”   I vaguely remember smiling, and blurting, “Watch it, your prejudice is showing.” We were standing next to the printer, and he sat in the cubicle directly behind my own.  He flushed red, grew quiet and for a moment or two, I wondered if I should have spoken?  The new job was a State and Federally funded agency that required us to find work for minority and disadvantaged business enterprises. I often railed and raged about it, because it wasn’t easy, delayed the job, and often the owners of these enterprises made me crazy with their inability to follow the procedures, attempts to haggle for higher amounts, and well, pigeon English. Most of the time, I didn’t understand a word that they were saying. I found myself thinking, dammit, why can’t they speak English? Keeping in mind that English is the only language I’ve spoke, at all well. While they knew two or three languages, and English was most likely their second or third language.

In 2015, I moved to Kensington, Brooklyn from Carroll Gardens. I moved from an Italian- Irish neighborhood, where the mafia allegedly kept their Grandmothers and Mothers safe, to Little Bangledash, Pakistan, and Russia. In my old neighborhood, they spoke the language. They were easy to understand, and most everyone was white or African-American. In the new neighborhood, I barely hear English spoken, and when I do it is in halting sentences. Women often are covered from head to foot in full Muslim attire, or men have sideburns, tall black hats, and the attire of the Orthdox Hassidic Jew. Each Jewish holiday they knock on my door to ask if I’m Jewish, most in my building are Russian Jews or Bangladash or Pakistani or so it appears. My super speaks Russian fluently, but barely speaks  English. When we talk it is in short sentences and with hand signals.  And in the elevator there are instructions in two languages. The subway signs are in five different languages, Chinese, Bengali, Russian, Hebrew, and English. One day, I was walking behind a white women, about my age, whining on the phone about how she was the only single white woman in her neighborhood. I wondered if I was invisible. And why it mattered.

Each day, I share the subway with women and men who speak Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Polish, and Hebrew. They hold the Koran or the Torah and silent pray on the train beside me. They smile in greeting and are helpful and polite. When a pregnant woman enters the train they will give her their seat. And they huddle into themselves when someone is loud or rowdy, so as to not to be noticed. They wait on me at the grocery store with patience, and at the pharmacy. In the laundry room, a woman in a Sari, pulls her clothes out of a dryer and piles them up, so I can use it. And she puts the other clothes on a table so I can use the basket. In many ways, they are kinder than the people I grew up with in the suburbs of Kansas City, who spent little time outside their cars or houses, and pushed their way through the grocery store aisles wide enough to handle four carts at a time. In the city, the aisles are smaller. There is less room. We are bunched in together. Hearing each others conversations, smelling each others dinners, hearing each others music and the television sets echoing through the walls.

There was more rage in Caroll Gardens, somehow, here, in Kensignton, it is calmer.  Today, I and a Russian woman halted an elderly Muslim woman from running into a car, although the car slowed down on a crosswalk on Ocean Parkway. And at the Coop-Op, when I left a bag behind, they put it in the fridge for me to pick up. The Caribbean woman, kindly waited for me, even though she was in the midst of leaving her shift for the day, buying her own groceries to take home. Down the street, the local health food store, had a sign in the window, “Refugees are Welcome Here”. And like all Brooklyn Streets, each block held a different nationality and a different immigrant. A Pakistani, Indian, Bangladash restaurant sat next door to a gym, a Mexican deli, and a Hebrew meeting hall. Across the street sat a small Baptist Church. The people were lower middle class on this block, and as I moved down the street, they became more affluent. Little pink signs sat on the telephone poles and street lamps indicating that no parking was permitted on Wednesday due to a movie being filmed. One of many that have been filmed in the area. While from the sky drifted light snow-flakes, touching my hat, nose and cheeks like frozen kisses.

At work, my co-workers are Caribbean, African-American, Indian, Saudia Arabian, Russian, and well basically every nationality or ethnicity that I can think of. Some speak English in halting sentences, others with a thick accent,  requiring me to listen with my whole body. This week I interviewed three people from Saudia Arabia and Syria, who were smart engineers, that had worked around the world — most recently on projects in Saudia Arabia, Algeria, and France. They struggled with the interview questions, English clearly a second language and not an easy one. Careful to answer them correctly, and somewhat desperate for work. My heart went out to them, for I knew far too well what it felt like to be on the other side of that table. I did what I could to facilitate the interview and keep them calm. To counter-act the impatience of my team, not to mention my own increasing boredom.

In a way, I have been given gifts others have not. In my anger — I’ve been placed near or next to others who are far more righteously angry than I or so it appears. Seeing how rage consumes and burns, and fighting not to fall under it’s deadly grasp. And I’ve had the opportunity to have my own prejudices revealed for the nonsense that they are. I wish I could say that I did not rail at the Muslims, the Arabs, the Saudis, the Middle East during 9/11 and there after. Oh I did. I did. But the Universe the consummate jokester, saw fit to throw into my path the very people I chose to blame for the acts of others.  Atif Islam worked to find me another job, he was kind, and he made it impossible for me to hate Pakistanis or Muslims. For he reminded me every day that he was one. And countless others have done the same. It’s very hard to hate someone based on race or size or orientation or what have you when you know them,  you see them day in and day out, and they become your friend, and no longer this unknown other. When you reach the point, in which you stop seeing their skin color, shape of their face, size, religion or what have you, but the kind and loving person behind the eyes staring into your own. The shell peels back at that point, and we, well are not quite the same exactly, but not as different as we like to think. It’s not color blindness, no, it’s, seeing the person as an unique individual, not part of some group or category that fits in slot on someone’s wall. After a while I would forget Atif was a lawyer, Pakistani, or Muslim, he was just a cohort, a friend, who when we parted ways, I missed.

If I could wish anything today, it is this…that others would have this experience too. That it would shine a light in the dark corners of their minds and hearts and bring in a rainbow shining after a horrible storm. That’s what our country, our world needs right now, I think, rainbows. Lots of rainbows.

Thank you for reading my message in a bottle.







Why march?


“I don’t march.”

This is what I would say to people at my church or in social justice organizations that I’ve jumped in and out of since college. They would ask me to march for some cause or another, attend rallies, etc. And my response would always be the same — I do not march. For several reasons, the main one being that I am allergic to crowds of more than fifty people. It’s not all that comfortable marching, for one thing often the weather doesn’t always cooperate. It can be cold, as it was to a degree yesterday. Everyone thought it would fifty-four degrees, felt more like forty-four degrees. Or maybe that is what fifty-four degrees feels like when you have been standing and walking outside for six hours?  And other people don’t always cooperate either, there have been cases of tear gas, being beaten with police batons,  etc. So from my perspective, marches can be scary.

On top of all of this, is I have never been certain that a protest march accomplishes that much. Granted many have, such as Martin Luther King’s historic march on Selma, Alabama in support of Voting Rights, which lasted days.  Or the marches by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in support of the women’s right to vote. But none of the marches that I had been requested to participate  in seemed to accomplish all that much. Of course they weren’t that large either, and tended to be about smaller and at times far more controversial  things, such as libraries closing their doors, a hospital shutting down, reproductive rights, or leading to a rally to protest prisoner’s rights at a State or local prison. Not that these aren’t worthwhile causes, they are, but many feel conflicted about them. And there are other ways, or so I’ve found, to protest them such as sit-ins, letter writing campaigns, calling Congressmen and Senators, volunteering at the prisons, funding Defender Projects, etc.

So, I don’t march. We have established this. I am on the cusp of fifty years of age and I have never in my life marched. That is until yesterday. On January 21, 2017, for the first time in my life I choose to participate in a protest march.

And all week long, I thought, would it matter if I marched in the Women’s March? Would anyone even notice if I came? What could I possibly add to this? It’s not like I had close friends or family asking me to meet up with them. No one at my workplace appeared to be doing it or supporting it.  I had,however, found out through social media that my church was organizing a group to march in New York City and Washington DC.  That the weather was supposed to be nice, in the fifties, no rain. Granted the trains would be screwed up for construction, just as they’d been for the last three weekends, but it was still doable.  And I knew people from the church who were participating — we weren’t close buddies, and barely saw each other outside of church, but, we did care about each other and I knew I’d be safe.

Still, I debated. My right leg was bothering me on Friday,  that old sciatic nerve coming back to taunt me. Also, my workplace had just moved offices. Our last day in Mid-town Manhattan was Friday, January 20, 2017.  We would be in Jamaica, Queens on Monday. Did I really want to travel back to Mid-Town, Manhattan and march? And really, would it matter?

I set my alarm for 8AM on Saturday morning. I would check the weather and if it was clear and warm enough, I would travel to my church and march. I woke up before the alarm, at 7:22 AM. And nervous, because I had never done this before, prepared to join up with my church.  I think I must have gone to the toilet fifteen times before I made it out the door with my water bottle, kind energy bars, and trail mix. The trains were screwy, as expected. Also unexpectedly crowded. A mass of people took the G train with me to Hoyt-Schemerhorn, where we jumped over to the F, which for some reason or other was running on the C line this weekend. On the train, I saw a woman from church that I recognized. Like me, she was wearing a bright purple down jacket, and unlike me, a pink knitted cap with pussy-ears. Her hair was white, she had on reading glasses, and like me, her nose was deep in a book.

As we exited the first train to jump over to the other one, I tapped her on the shoulder. She immediately knew my name while I, I am embarrassed to say, struggled to remember her’s. Was it Nancy? There were about four Nancy’s at our church. Turns out I was right, her name was Nancy. It also turns out that she’d gotten the time wrong. Nancy thought the church was leaving for the march at 10:00 AM and she’d missed them. So she was planning on going to the march directly and not stopping by the church first.  I told her, no, the meet up time at our church was 10 AM, we were leaving for march meet-up point in Manhattan at 10:20 AM.  She thanked me profusely, if she hadn’t run into me on the subway, she’d have been marching in the crowd alone. And it was much more fun to march with people she knew.

Upon arriving at the march site,  I found that I had another use — I was taller than a lot of people and able to see the signs and take pictures of the crowd from a different perspective. At one  point, I was able to serve as the organizers eyes, and help her find people in the crowd. At another, I helped people join up with each other. One woman, also dressed in bright purple, and from my church, gave me a turkey burger to boost my energy. During the march, I spoke to people I didn’t know. And we bonded over our mutual desire to rise against the hate and the fascism. To support people different from ourselves, and try somehow to understand how this happened. One man, thin as a rail, with glasses and dressed all in black, told me that they should deport him too, he had a tattoo by a Mexican immigrant on his shoulder, and his ear pierced by a man from the Caribbean.

Crossing street, we had to jump back at a red light. I can’t remember where this was exactly. Just that the police were kind, and smiled at us, as we waited for the light to turn. At another point in the proceedings, a small child was lost and we did an echo and response throughout the crowd to locate her. “Natalie, 12 years old, Lost, Magenta Jacket”.

Our group leader coined the chant, partly as a joke, “we need a leader, not a creepy tweeter”, which took off like wildfire. The people around us, people we’d never met until today, loved it so much they kept chanting it at different intervals, and it jumped across the crowd. Along with other chants, about rights for women equals rights for all. There were signs of every color and creed, supporting people of all races, genders, sexuality, sizes, shapes, nationalities, and ethnicity.

And before long, I realized I wasn’t marching with 60-75,000, I was marching with over 300,000 like-minded souls who stood on the side of love. In front of me, one of our group was carrying a bright pink sign stating “Support the Rights of All Immigrant Women”, another held a bright green sign “Respect Mother Earth”.  Around me, I saw, “Black Lives Matter”, and heard the strands of Lady Gaga’s song, “Born this Way”. There was an earth balloon, and one that we kept finding ourselves behind at various points stating WTF?, which we found insanely funny.

It was a cold day. In the low fifties and forties. But not freezing. My feet had gone numb along with my neighbors. Most of us were not dressed as warmly as we should have been. Many like myself had never marched before. Many had chosen to do this the day before, right after the inaugural speech.  Yet the sun came out and warmed us, smiling it’s support. The only time it has come out this weekend in New York was yesterday, around noon and it stayed sunny for hours.

At  one point we learned that we wouldn’t make it to Trump Tower, that the Tower would be blocked off. This annoyed us, and we worried for a few scant moments it would turn violent. But the worry melted, and we decided we didn’t care. We would be heard. We waived at the news choppers and the camera men and women along the route. We took pictures ourselves and posted them on social media.

The march route in NYC wasn’t supposed to be that long. It extended from approximately 50th and 2nd Avenue to 56th and 5th Avenue. People would join it at various launch points from 1st Avenue or near the UN. We joined up at 1st and 47th Street. It took us five hours to get second avenue. We were supposed to launch at 12 noon. But didn’t get there until close to 2PM. We’d been waiting since 11:00-11:30 AM.  To give you an idea of how huge it was, 5th Avenue had come to a standstill with the first launch group. Every train into the city was packed with protestors.  A friend and I bailed around 4PM, when we had reached 42nd Street and Lexington. They had to close off all of 42nd Street, all of 2nd Avenue, most of 1st Avenue, all of 5th Avenue, and 43rd Streets through 50th streets. The rest of our group reached Grand Central around 5:36PM. We basically marched in protest from 10 AM to 7PM if not later.

And, here’s the thing — it was peaceful. People were overall, kind to each other. Supportive. And of all ages, races, creeds, genders, and sizes and shapes. No one was excluded. We came as ourselves. Some wore pink hats with ears, some did not. Many carried signs, some did not. We marched in unity. Together.

When I came home, I found out from my mother over the phone and later social media, that over 677 cities world-wide marched. Small and large cities. In every state in the US. And on all seven continents, including Antarctica.  Anywhere humans lived and could safely organize a march, a march was held. There were no riots, no violence, no horrible weather conditions preventing the marches, no terrorist attacks, it was peaceful. Unlike the day before, where it rained, and there were violent riots.

Why march? Because we had to. There was a sign in the crowd, that stated “It’s so bad, the introverts had to march” or something to that effect. We have survived two world wars, and many others. Big and small. Fought on our own soil and abroad. We survived the Holocaust, but just barely.  Our relatives, family members, fathers, uncles, aunts, and cousins fought Hitler and Mussolini and other fascist dictators. We too will fight them. But not with guns, grenades, and hate filled speeches.

I marched yesterday because I had to rise up and let the world know that I will not let anyone be hurt on my watch. I am only one person, but…I have learned that sometimes the tiny acts can change the course of events.

Years ago, there was a quote  from a pop culture television series that continues to haunt me in more ways than one, in a way it has become my mantra:

Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are. You’ll see what I mean.” – Joss Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I think what we do matters. We can’t change what other people do, nor should we be able to, but we can control our own actions.  We aren’t puppets. And it’s what we do and how we react to these events that shows us who we are.


















My maternal grandmother used to state that my brother and I could argue about anything  including the color of paint.  She wasn’t wrong.

In 1990, we had been assigned by our parents the uneviable task of re-painting their basement, while they were away. Neither of us wanted to do it, both a bit resentful of our parents decision to move to Australia, without us, and renting our home.  Our family home in a suburb of Kansas City was currently between renters, while our parents were residing in Australia. My brother was living with me at the time — sharing a small one bedroom apartment in Prairie Village, Kansas, (the same suburb and about a mile or two from our house), before he took off to visit our parents in Australia. He was currently in college, while I was busy working at a racquet club.  We visited our parents separately because our parents had decided we didn’t get along, and this made more sense — take one kid at a time. Less drama if they kept us apart. And here we were assigned to pick the paint for the basement, and to paint it. Not only that, but we were sharing a car and an apartment since my brother had no where else to go between college and the trek to Australia. My grandmother also used to state that my brother and I could get along quite well when we wished to or put a bit of effort into it.

At any rate, after going to see “Silence of the Lambs” and analyzing it to death, we checked out the basement. I decided it needed a coat of cream paint, my brother was convinced it was off-white.

“Clearly cream – see, that’s the wall color.”

“But the can will say off-white.”

“No it doesn’t. That’s not right — that’s whiter than cream. We should find cream.”

“You’re wrong, it’s off-white.”



At the paint store we argued about it. In the basement we argued about it. On the way to the paint store we argued about it. As we painted, we argued. As the argument wore on, it got more and more contentious. No one can argue like my brother and I, what can I say we inherited stubborn genes, and our parents fell in love arguing about politics.

I can’t remember who won. The basement, however, did get a new coat of paint even though we argued about how it should be painted and how to stroke the walls the whole time. At one point, someone came up with the bright idea to put on music, I think we argued about that as well, so it didn’t end the argument so much as give it a new twist. I remember ranting about it all afterwards to my grandmother, who half-laughing at me, said, “I swear you and your brother will argue about anything, including paint. Who cares if it was off-white or cream? Did it get painted? ”

Growing up, my aunts and uncles used to tell my parents that my brother and I should reside on separate ends of the country or separate coasts. One in New York and one in Los Angeles. He used to tease me relentlessly, and well, I’m sure I found my own way to make him nuts. We appeared to be like oil and water most of the time. Much like the cartoon above, my brother would see the number as a 6 and I’d see it as a 9. And stubborn to the core, we’d rarely cave or deign to see the others’ point of view.

That said, there have been times in my life that my brother has been invaluable to me, and I find myself exceedingly grateful for his existence. Little off-hand moments, some big one’s here and there.

When I was twenty-one, I won a grant to go to Wales and collect Welsh Folklore, my mother decided for reasons that made little sense to either my brother or myself, to send him with me. She had it in her head that I’d collect the stories and he’d take photos of the people telling them and the area. Of course it didn’t work out that way, it never does. At the time, I think we were both a bit annoyed with her. And quickly parted ways about a week or so after our arrival. But, half-way through the trip, I ran into a situation in Bala, Wales — with a frisky Bed and Breakfast proprietor, who man-handled me on the Dunbey Moors in front of a haunted house. Shaken by the experience, and suddenly gun-shy, I ran back to the small Bed and Breakfast in Aberwysthwth, run by a sweet old woman that my brother and I had discovered — and turned into a meeting place (this was before cell phones existed). When I arrived, I discovered him at the little B&B, tired and lonely, wanting company. He was supposed to be meeting up with an old high school friend later — but a bit leery of it. And he’d discovered this amazing place in Wales that he wished to share with someone. I in turn told him what happened to me up in Bala, and he convinced me to take a break from my folklore collecting and join him in Barmouth. I of course readily accepted with little convincing, and he took off to reserve the rooms. The next day, I journeyed up to the B&B in Barmouth where he’d reserved a room for me. It had a lovely view of the mountains and the sea.  Plus a tea maker.  Unfortunately, he did not tell me where to meet him. And when I asked the B&B proprietor, she suggested the mountains. My brother had gone to the sea and had created an amazing sand-sculpture, or so he said, that was long gone by the time I found him. He was furious at me for not figuring out where he’d be or what he’d be doing. I remember thinking at the time, if I’d only gone to the beach instead of the mountains to look for him. If only I could read his mind, perhaps I could understand him.

The year before, he visited me in college, stayed with me and my housemates. My housemates weren’t sure what to make of this tall man, who was thin as a pole, with copper hair, and a female-magnet.  I’d just broken up with my boyfriend at the time and was reading poetry about it at a coffee house…and my brother sat in, to listen. Afterwards, he told me that it was good poetry, but he worried that I was exposing too much of my soul to those who had little care or appreciation for it. His words surprised me, and I’ve never forgotten them.

Our memories of the past often collide in a wash of variant colors, he remembers one thing and I another. And while we agree on politics for the most part, we will argue about the how, when, and why of it. He voted for Hillary in both 2008 and 2016, and I voted for Obama in 2008 and Hillary in 2016. In some respects we get along better when there is no one else in the room, no parents or family to play to, or friends to impress.

I remember when my maternal grandmother died and I had to read something I wrote at her funeral, I thought I was going to break apart up there. Tears streaming down my face, my voice cracking. And my brother appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and hugged me. I’m tall, but he towers over me.

As children we used to fight with our fists. Wrestling upon the floor like beasts, arms and legs entangled. Until he got bigger and stronger than me, and I realized quickly that this was not a good idea. No one can teach you that violence solves nothing better than a brother.  So, arguments were resolved in later years verbally or with the silent treatment.

No one can make me more furious than my brother. Odd that. And we know things about each other, our parents don’t. I may rant about him to my mother, but on a dime, I will switch and defend him. Because you know, I have the right to rip the little bastard, okay, maybe not so little to pieces, but no one else does.

As I write this essay, far longer than intended and not proofed, I wonder what my original intent was exactly? I think getting back to the original cartoon, it is simply this — it is possible not to see eye-to-eye, to deeply disagree, yet still love a person. To think differently and see the world in different colors and shades. The biggest problem that my brother and I have always had is communication. We think differently. It seems weird that we do, after all, we have the same combination of DNA, we were brought up by the same people, given the same opportunities more or less…but yet, we are at times as different as night and day. It’s like some joke decided to take the DNA our parents gave them and play around with it a bit.

Even now, years later, we can get along for about an hour or two, if we’re lucky, before we start snipping at each other. I’m on the edge of 50, and he’s only three years behind me at 46/47. Together, we’re like oil and water. We barely if ever carve out time to see each other and make various and sundry excuses as to why. While easy to blame others, I think the responsibility lies solely with us. At one point, it was during some large awkward extended family function, either a funeral or a reunion, I’m thinking the former, my brother said “you don’t get to pick your family.” But here’s the thing, you don’t really get to pick anyone in life, do you? People tend to fall into each other, and whether they click or don’t, their relationship is often more dictated by the number of times the universe chooses to throw them into each others company, until somehow something happens to either move them closer or rip them further apart. The choices, I guess, are in how we react and make the most of those opportunities.  The test is finding a way to see one another’s point of view. To be civil. And to somehow find common ground.

I use my relationship with my brother as an example — because for me that has been the hardest test. To find common ground with someone who often sees the world differently than I. It could be far worse of course. As my sister-in-law has advised my mother on more than one occasion, at least they speak to each other and we do. I can’t say the same about many members of my extended family or friends I’ve made here and there. And we do argue. We do discuss things that make us uncomfortable. I won’t lie — not well. Not well at all. Almost 50 years of age, and when I’m with my brother, I often find, I’m acting as if I’m twelve and he’s nine. Fighting over which channel to watch on the television set.

But, he is the only brother that I have. And when my parents are gone, my only immediate family. The only person on the planet who knows what it was like to live with them day in and day out and to lose them. He, in some respects, knows me better than anyone, just as I know him, better than anyone including our parents. And when I step five to six steps back from myself, he makes sense to me. I see him clearly. And I see the rest of the world clearly as well. That it is okay to see the 9 as a 6, it depends on your perspective. Having my brother, has taught me to share things I really don’t want to share, and to be okay about not seeing eye to eye with others.  But mostly, continuing to find a way to get past our differences and find some common ground, even if it is nothing greater than discussing the weather.













Opening up a dialogue on Abortion Rights

Years ago, I told a friend that I was not permitted to discuss the abortion issue or the death penalty, for well obvious reasons. It is a polarizing issue — that most people look at via emotion, and not intellect. Their views are deeply ingrained and impossible to discuss openly.  Don’t worry this post is not about the death penalty. One issue at at time.  And it is prompted by a post I read on social media today that stated “We didn’t vote for Hillary and voted for Trump, to save the babies from abortion.” It’s not the first time I’ve heard this response, more than one person has stated it. And once again, I thought as I read it, don’t these folks realize that neither candidate has any say regarding this issue? It’s not an issue that the President of the US can address or even has all that much effect upon?

History has shown that it doesn’t matter what the President thinks about abortion — the most they can do is appoint judges that agree with their opinion, but those judges must be approved by the Senate, and there’s no way they can predict how any given judge will vote on the issue. The President can also veto or sign into law legislative acts/bills passed by Congress.  The President of the United States does not make laws, he does not interpret laws, those two things are not within his power. At best, all the President can do is appoint people to the Supreme Court,  and he rarely gets that opportunity.  Even when he does, he can’t control how the justices vote or what they will do.  Nor what laws Congress enacts. He can suggest laws. But not create them. And just because the Republican party has control over the branches does not mean that the members all agree. Or that the President knows what they will do. It’s a guessing game on his part, and there is no certainity or for that matter control. So in a Presidential election, the abortion issue is largely irrelevant and many Presidents have little effect on it — in Regan’s case, his appointees went the opposite direction from his own views on the topic.  George W Bush may have been the only President that had all that much influence over it — and only in regards to Partial Birth, and his views have not entirely been upheld by the courts.

Years ago, in 1985, to be exact, when I was a senior in high school, we were instructed to debate the abortion issue. Ronald Regan had recently been elected President. And he was decidedly pro-life or anti-abortion. So too was my father who told me that I should take the Pro-Life stance. So, I did. I researched the issue thoroughly, because it was a debate. Hunting for ways to win on a factual level, not a subjective or emotional one. Because again, it was a debate. I have to admit at the ripe old age of 17, I was on the fence regarding the issue.

What I discovered surprised me. For one thing, did you know that there were more abortions, specifically partial birth, and deaths prior to Roe vs. Wade and the legalization of abortion?

Estimates of the number of illegal abortions in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s range from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year. Prior to Roe v. Wade, as many as 5,000 American women died annually as a direct result of unsafe abortions.

Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. For example, as Guttmacher Institute explains, the abortion rate is 29 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa, and 32 per 1,000 in Latin America — regions in which abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. The rate is 12 per 1,000 in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds.

From <a HREF=”http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/health-info/impact-of-illegal-abortion/”&gt; Our Bodies Ourselves</a>.

Of course, I got the information the old way via the card catalogue and library research. Not to mention microfiche. The stories, gory and in detail, of the illegal, and in most cases partial birth — because many women weren’t able to do it until late in their pregnancies when it was illegal — shocked me.

I also learned from various sources that there were instances in which women were raped, or they couldn’t carry the child to term without dying, or the child would be born without any bones or severe birth defects — in short, I discovered this was not the simple issue that I thought it was. I tried my best to debate it, arguing that the life of the unbornn fetus should be honored at all costs, that life began at conception, and that abortion should not be a substitute for birth control or safe sex. But how to counter the facts that more died prior to legalization? And how to address the fact that a woman with an unwanted pregnancy is bringing a child into a world of pain? Should she be forced to carry this child? What if the child puts her life in danger? And what about the lack of reputable social services to aid the child? Not all countries or places are created equal? What about incest? What about rape?

So, torn and confused, I ran away from the issue. Not wanting to deal with it any further. But like most things we attempt to run away from, it came back like a bloody boomrange. My sophmore year of college, a dear friend who I have since lost contact, found herself pregnant at the ripe old age of 19. I will never forget how she came to me with a pregnancy test and asked what color it was — panic striken. She was a sophmore in college, who had been in a loving relationship with an airforce cadet, who was Catholic.  But he broke up with her and started dating another woman, when she discovered she was pregnant. Her own birth had been a mistake, throwing her parents lives out of sync. And everyone around her, her friends, her roommate, the guy who had crush on her — was encouraging her to get rid of it.  I remember telling her to go see a gynecologist and get an actual blood test, not to just rely on something picked up at a drug store, and to go from there. I also told her that she had options, and to think really hard about those options. Whatever she did, she would have to live with — it was her body and her choice no one else’s. And if she needed me, I would support her and help however I could, regardless of what she chose. I’d even go with her, if need be. But that there were other options – such as adoption. She told me she was afraid. She didn’t want to trap the man she’d loved, she wasn’t that kind of girl. She didn’t want to repeat her parents mistakes. Added to this stress, the school was in the process of suspending her for cheating on a math exam — it wasn’t clear that she had and she was fighting their decision.  All of this had her reeling. I took her to get a blood test.

A few days later she told me it was a false alarm, she wasn’t pregnant. And she appeared to be getting back together with her boyfriend.

Two weeks later, I found myself in her dorm room. She was drunk and sobbing. She’d locked the door and I was the only person she would let in. Wouldn’t let her boyfriend in, or her roommate. In tears, she confessed that she’d had an abortion. That no one knew. No one. And she needed me to keep her boyfriend out, because she was afraid she’d tell him and lose him. He had proposed marriage. She loved him, but she didn’t know if she could forgive herself or he’d forgive her for the abortion. Even though, she felt she made the right decision, neither was ready for a child. And it is important to state that she terminated her pregnancy well within the first two weeks or first trimester.  I kept her boyfriend out and just listened. I remember counseling her to tell him before they got married and, much later, she told me that she had. I hope so. And that he had forgiven her.  Eight months later, I watched him walk her down the aisle. My friend was a staunch conservative who voted for Regan and attended the conservative branch of the Lutheran Church. She’d been anti-abortion.

After that, I had various discussions on the topic. One friend, who was a biology major, insisted that life began at gestation, she said there was biological proof of this. But, I asked her, how can it be more than a parasite, if it is entirely dependent on the mother and cannot live separate from the mother? Yes, I know, what a horrible word – parasite. She thought so too. But she considered my argument, and said, “It’s different though — the mother had a hand in creating the child. Shouldn’t she be responsible? Wasn’t aborting skirting that responsibility?  ”

“But what if the mother was raped? ”

“Well, that’s a special circumstance.”

“Or the birth control failed, and she’s had too many children? And can’t feed them?”

“There are adoption agencies and foster care.”

“It’s not so easy to get a child to the right parents or to give it up. And what if it is a serious health issue? What if carrying a child to term could severly hurt or kill the mother? Whose life do you choose?”

She had no answers that I remember. My final question was what determines life? Or human life for that matter? At gestation, the life is merely a bunch of cells forming, there is no soul, no energy, it is just organic matter, living yes, but not embodied. As a biology major, she was uncertain. But then so was I. I found I had more questions than answers. And the answers that I had were pointing towards pro-choice. I kept thinking of those poor women like my friend, who felt desperate and alone, and without choices — who terminated — and in some cases died as a result. For like it or not, this was not a simple issue.

If I thought it would end there, I was wrong. In 1991, my second year of law school, I took a Constitutional Law course. Our assignment was to examine two supreme court judges and their decisions over a ten year period. I picked <a HREF=”http://www.biography.com/people/william-rehnquist-9454479″>Justice William Rhenquist</a> and <a HREF=”http://www.biography.com/people/sandra-day-oconnor-9426834″&gt; Justice Sandra Day O’Connor</a> – both were appointed by Republican Presidents. Rhenquist by Richard Nixon and Day O’Connor by Ronald Regan.   The decisions that I analyzed and researched were their abortion rulings. Rhenquist and O’Connor adjudicated and framed the abortion laws. Or rather fought over them, lifelong friends, they disagreed over this topic, with Rhenquist often writing the dissenting opinion. It was O’Connor who came up with the “trimester” rule. And who determined that abortions should be determined on a case by case basis, because it was impossible to do otherwise since each woman was an individual. O’Connor, it’s important to note was personally opposed to abortion, but she reviewed the constitution and determined that the privacy clause protected a woman’s right to choose what happened with her own body. But furthermore, she determined along with Justices Souter (appointed by George W. Bush) and Kennedy (another Regan appointee) that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution or Due Process Clause upheld the woman’s dominian over her own body. In the below case, <A HREF=”https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/505/833″>Planned Parenthood of Southern Pennsylvania vs. Casey</a>,  April 1992 – which was being decided as compared the Justice’s rulings:

JUSTICE O’CONNOR, JUSTICE KENNEDY, and JUSTICE SOUTER delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and III, concluding that:

1. Consideration of the fundamental constitutional question resolved by Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, principles of institutional integrity, and the rule of stare decisis require that Roe’s essential holding be retained [p834] and reaffirmed as to each of its three parts: (1) a recognition of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion before fetal viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State, whose pre-viability interests are not strong enough to support an abortion prohibition or the imposition of substantial obstacles to the woman’s effective right to elect the procedure; (2) a confirmation of the State’s power to restrict abortions after viability, if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies endangering a woman’s life or health; and (3) the principle that the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child. Pp. 844-869.

(a) A reexamination of the principles that define the woman’s rights and the State’s authority regarding abortions is required by the doubt this Court’s subsequent decisions have cast upon the meaning and reach of Roe’s central holding, by the fact that THE CHIEF JUSTICE would overrule Roe, and by the necessity that state and federal courts and legislatures have adequate guidance on the subject. Pp. 844-845.

(b) Roe determined that a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy is a “liberty” protected against state interference by the substantive component of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Neither the Bill of Rights nor the specific practices of States at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment’s adoption marks the outer limits of the substantive sphere of such “liberty.” Rather, the adjudication of substantive due process claims may require this Court to exercise its reasoned judgment in determining the boundaries between the individual’s liberty and the demands of organized society. The Court’s decisions have afforded constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, see, e.g., Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, procreation, Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, family relationships, Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, child rearing and education, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, and contraception, see, e.g., Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, and have recognized the right of the individual to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child, Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438, 453. Roe’s central holding properly invoked the reasoning and tradition of these precedents. Pp. 846-853.

(c) Application of the doctrine of stare decisis confirms that Roe’s essential holding should be reaffirmed. In reexamining that holding, the Court’s judgment is informed by a series of prudential and pragmatic considerations designed to test the consistency of overruling the holding with the ideal of the rule of law, and to gauge the respective costs of reaffirming and overruling. Pp. 854-855. [p835]

The above ruling states that there is more at state than abortion here, that overruling the landmark case of Roe vs. Wade, would in turn weaken the court and judicial precedent. Also, that the 14 Amendment Due Process Clause protects our basic liberties: “The Court’s decisions have afforded constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, see, e.g., Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, procreation, Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, family relationships, Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, child rearing and education, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, and contraception, see, e.g., Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, and have recognized the right of the individual to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child, Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438, 453. Roe’s central holding properly invoked the reasoning and tradition of these precedents.” [For more on this case – please see: Planned Parenthood vs. Casey – https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/505/833. ] This bares repeating because we tend to take these for granted, forgetting that we fought numerous wars to protect them. Over a million good people died to protect these rights, dating back to the Revolutionary War and continuing into the current War on Terrorism. What distinguishes the US from many countries and why so many wish to immigrate here — is these basic rights. We do ourselves and those who died upholding them great injury by taking them for granted.

I remember a few years back, I had a discussion with a former boss on the subway. She is a wonderful and caring person, who spends her free time saving animals. This woman has stood up for me and I respect her. I want to make this clear prior to reporting this exchange. But she  was angry, 9/11 and various other events had left her bitter, and  feeling disenfranchized, she felt we had too many rights and didn’t like people all that much.

“The Nazis had the right idea, curtail human rights. More efficient,” she told me.

“Except, here’s the problem, what if they are your rights being curtailed? That only works if you agree with the dictator in charge. What if the dictator wants to curtail your rights? And even if he or she doesn’t start out that way, they will eventually — look at the Soviet Union, China, WWII Germany, Japan and Italy.”

She had no answer to my question. The problem with liberty, is others have it too. It’s like free will, we all must have it to work. Often I think, the problem with free will is the wrong people have it — but we can’t pick and choose, to do so, means playing God, and we don’t have that right. And that is what the Justice’s are stating above.

<a Href=”http://www.pewforum.org/2013/01/16/a-history-of-key-abortion-rulings-of-the-us-supreme-court/”>Rhenquist’s views were the opposite of O’Connor’s, he believed that prior laws went against the protections offered in Roe vs. Wade</a>. And countered in various superseding opinions that followed the landmark case that :

the law’s declaration that life begins at conception does not contradict Roe because the declaration is contained in the statute’s preamble and thus should have no real impact on access to abortion. The majority also held that prohibiting the use of government workers or facilities to perform abortions is acceptable because the right to an abortion established in Roe does not include the right to government assistance in obtaining one. The majority also ruled that the requirement of viability testing at 20 weeks is constitutional, although the justices offered different reasons for this ruling.

In one opinion, Chief Justice Rehnquist, joined by Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, argued for dispensing with part of Roe‘s three-tiered system, the second tier of which allows only laws aimed at protecting the mother’s health. According to Rehnquist, the framework had come to resemble “a web of legal rules” rather than “constitutional doctrine.” The three justices also maintained that the state has an interest in protecting potential life before viability, making the 20-week requirement valid even if fetal viability normally occurs after 20 weeks. “We do not see why the state’s interest in protecting potential human life should come into existence only at the point of viability and should therefore be a rigid line allowing state regulation after viability but prohibiting it before viability,” Rehnquist wrote.

Rhenquist was in effect putting the rights of a governmental entity or organization over the rights of an individual. He also was shrugging off the second trimester ruling, that stated abortions may only occur during this period to protect the mother’s health. He was in essence – nit-picking at the case law.

And once again the argument – that life begins at conception raises its head. But the definition stops there. Biologists continue to argue as to what defines “life” and whether carrying a life places an undue burden on the carrier. And how you define it is well personal. Scientists, lawyers, and philosophers have been arguing over it for centuries. But this goes back to my argument with the biology major. (See above.)

O’Connor’s judgement in Casey sought middle ground and to a degree undermined the three trimester rule. In my research of O’Connor and Rhenquist, I determined that many of their decisions were decided subjectively and not objectively, their background and views about women and religion played a role. As it does for all of us, I suspect. O’Connor seemed to realize that there were more deaths prior to Roe than after, while Rhenquist dismissed this out of hand. How much gender played a role in their views is hard to know for certain. Both Justices were from Arizona, both chosen by conservative Republican Presidents. One was male, one female. Also it should be noted that Justices Souter and Kennedy, both Republicans, and both male, sided with O’Connor.

The Partial Birth Decisions – came later, and it should be noted that it is rare that a woman has a partial birth abortion – post Roe vs. Wade. There was actually more prior to Roe. For various reason, the main one being that the procedure is dangerous and done in dire circumstances. We’ve all heard the horror stories of course. I remember one brutal tale that I heard in college, but I have no clue as to its legitmacy. Roe vs. Wade itself did not provide for partial-birth unless the life of the mother was at risk and often, the child was not viable or could not survive outside the womb without undue suffering, ie. in instances of detrimentally severe birth defects.

That said, the pro-life advocates have a point, the procedure is gruesome.

The term “partial-birth abortion” refers to a procedure known in the medical community as “dilation and extraction” (D&X), which involves terminating a pregnancy by partially extracting a fetus from a uterus, then collapsing its skull and removing its brain. This procedure is usually performed late in the second trimester, between 20 and 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

And the morality circumspect — especially in cases where the woman’s life is not in danger and the child is viable.And “in 2003, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, the first federal law banning the D&X procedure. Abortion rights advocates immediately challenged the law, and lower courts, citing Stenberg, struck it down.” (Note Congress passed it, the President just signed it into law. The President has veto power and signage power.But his appointed judges got it stricken down.)

It was then left to the courts to interpret and either uphold or reverse. And in 2007, the court upheld the ban, reversing course from it’s earlier ruling against a Nebraska law banning Partial-Birth abortions. What is interesting about this reversal, is the Justice who wrote the majority opinion was Justice Kennedy, and he’d been among the Justice’s who struck down the Nebraska law banning partial birth abortions. Kennedy is a wild card. He was also nominated by Ronald Regan and had previously upheld Roe vs. Wade.

Emboldened by this ruling, many states stepped up to the plate and legislated laws against partial birth insisting on a ultrasound prior to termination. Federal courts have either struck down or upheld the laws. So, the issue will most likely be revisited by the courts, hence the reason the issue keeps coming up in Presidential and Congressional elections and Supreme Court appointments.

Partial-birth is not healthy for the mother, and dangerous, most veer from it. And it is rather easy now to terminate within the first trimester with the pill, so doing so at the end of the second trimester or during the third is rare, and not recommended or even permitted at the moment. But as previously noted, the current election for many turned on this issue, as did the selection of a Supreme Court Justice, because this issue is due to be revisited by the courts. So it is worth considering and thinking hard about from both sides.

That said, there are instances in which the moral issues regarding Partial Birth abortions become rather foggy. For example, what if the mother will die and the child cannot survive? Do you wait, and let them both die, or save the mother? Or how about a 12 or 14 year old, raped by her father or brother, who doesn’t know she’s pregnant until 20-24 weeks in, due you terminate? Or what about a baby who isn’t viable and will suffer, most likely die immediately after birth, since the child did not develop any bones or has severe birth defects?

As you can see this is not a black and white or rather, a clear cut issue. Nor one that should determine the outcome of a Presidental election, particularly when it remains unclear what an elected official or his appointees will do. Again, see both the Regan and Bush administrations — where Justices appointed by both Presidents ruled against the Presidents’ personal view on the topic.  Nor is this an issue in which either side should be dismissed out of hand. It’s a complicated one.

While, I personally, could not imagine having an abortion. The idea appals me. Partial -birth sounds…insanely painful and horrific. I can understand why others do and more often than not have no other choice. I’ve met them, I’ve felt their pain. I’ve watched stories about them, and read stories about them. I am empathetic to their plight.

I’m not sure we have the right to tell anyone what to do with their own bodies. Nor do I think we can honestly predict what we would do in their place. My grandmother used to have a saying, “you can’t know what another feels until you’ve walked a mile or two in their moccassins.” I think she’s right. We can’t know.

I also think that this is an extremely slippery slope that we should not slide too far down. For doing so, has serious consequences to our own privacy and control over our bodies. We control little in this world outside of ourselves, our bodies and our choices. I don’t think that abortion can be equated with murder or killing a living independent organism that exists outside of us. I think we need to think hard how we evaluate these things, and try to think outside the boxes our culture provides.

That said, there are limits of course, and perhaps a common ground or compromise can be reached? Where the partial birth is only granted or legitimized in extreme circumstances as provided under Roe vs. Wade, such as incest, death of the mother, and severe birth defects? It is an question worth pondering and futher consideration. And not one that should be dismissed. Considering the number of times this issue has arisen and the rage on both sides, I think an honest and open dialogue is required and hopefully a meeting of minds, assuming of course such a thing is possible, can be obtained. At least I hope so. Otherwise this issue will never be resolved and will continue to plague us for another few centuries, assuming we survive that long.

Thank you for listening.