This art piece was inspired by my two night stay on in a yurt on a farm. Cosmo is the llama on the farm and he oversaw the sheep and other animals there. He was a very mellow and cool llama; I strive to be like him. Cosmo is Cool.
About a week ago a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest went right by our house and the people in the march ended up stopping for a water break and said a few words just houses away from us. My son had created his own ‘BLm’ sign on his own accord after hearing what was going on in the world and it was hanging in our front window so when we heard the marchers coming we grabbed his sign and the two of us ran out to our front porch to show our support for the protestors as they passed by.
Some of the protestors waved to us when they saw our sign, others motioned for us to come and join in the march. Ultimately we just stayed where we were on our front porch, not because we don’t support their cause, because we do, but because where we needed to be at the moment seemed to be the place we were right then – us watching them, listening to and really hearing what they had to say.
My head has been swirling the last couple of days in the wake of protests that have been happening around the country and in our city in response to George Floyd’s death. San Jose, CA now has a mandatory curfew set for the remainder of the week to help curtail further riots from happening. My heart, like many others, is hurting badly. Our country is in desperate need of change yet there is so much resistance to do so. I’ve been pondering on what needs to happen for real changes to take place and two key things came to surface: 1) people need to see the problems that exist and 2) people need to be willing to change.
I took a Masters course years ago at San Jose State University that touched on the topics of white privilege and identity, topics of which I’ve thought a lot about since the courses end. The professor of this class, an Indian man, wished to have an open discussion one day about white privilege in the “safe” confines of his very mixed race/gender classroom. Despite his assuring us repeatedly that his classroom was a safe place to express ourselves, many were not very vocal on the subject; myself and the only other white women were the most outspoken people in the class. I remember expressing that I knew that white privilege existed for the white man but I simply could not see that it existing for a white woman and remember being offended that they were suggesting it which shows how “blind” I was to it at the time. My limited thinking had me spew out examples focusing on jobs/salaries and overall treatment of women by men which to me seemed to be very unfair. I was not thinking more broadly about how simply moving through the world from day to day could be an issue, it never occurred to me to think about that which is where my blindness showed through. I wish the other students had educated me about this as I was open to hearing what they had to say.
Looking back on this day now I have no idea if this classroom really was the “safe” space my professor wished it to be when it came to this particular topic. Is there really a safe place to talk about such a loaded subject? It could be that the people of other races felt unsafe and uncomfortable speaking up about why I was so wrong in my arguments or perhaps they saw how blind I was, assumed I was unchangeable, and didn’t bother to give their point of view. It’s possible they did try to enlighten me that day but that I wasn’t ready to hear what they had to say.
In that same classroom on a different day we spoke about identity: the things that make up ones sense of self. We talked about what specific things make up ones identity, how attached people are to their identities, and how identities are very difficult to change.
The professor asked us to imagine our identity as an onion which has many layers, some layers you are born with and other layers you acquire over the years. At the core of the onion would be things about your identity that have been with you since you were born of which you relate most strongly to like gender, race and religion. The things at the core of one’s identity are very difficult to alter even if those things are things you do not relate to any more. So even if there is something about your identity that you no longer relate to and wish to change, doing so would be exceedingly hard to do as people are very attached to who they are, however, there is a most wonderful loophole: you can always add new layers to your identity/your onion. You don’t have to give up part of who you are to do or be something different. Who you are at your core will always be with you. Always.
Why is this so remarkably important to know and understand? Because then it is easier to see WHY people don’t change their ways even when they themselves might not like who they are being. You cannot change somebody’s mind if they feel their identity is threatened in any way. Understanding that identities can only continue to grow gives people FREEDOM to add new layers to who they are without having to worry about letting go of their sense of self. Knowing and understanding this can change everything!
After comprehending this I was finally able to resolve something in my own life that I’d been struggling with for a very, very long time. I had been wrestling with my identity as being Catholic (a religion I grew up in but I no longer could relate to). I was not able to formally join a new church that I related to very much despite the fact that I had been attending the church for years (a non-Denominational church that accepts people from various religions). Although in my heart I knew that I no longer related to the Catholic church and didn’t even agree anymore with its core fundamental beliefs, I couldn’t give it up because I felt that I’d be giving up a part my identity and I simply couldn’t do it. Once I saw that in joining a new church, I was only adding a new layer to my identity and not betraying anyone (including myself) I was able to move on easily and become a part of a community I did relate to and could be proud of.
If more people could begin to see the problems we are facing right now, a big one being that white privilege exists, and are able to free themselves from their own limited thinking about identities then real change will be able to happen. Imagine how these shifts in thinking could help our nation move forward. Unnecessary deaths like that of the late George Floyd could finally become a thing of the past.
Nine years ago today was the day we first brought our boy home with us from the hospital. We’ve been telling our son his birth story since the day we brought him home so it has never been news to him. If you were to ask my son about his adoption story he would be very comfortable telling you about it and about his birthparents as they are as familiar to him as his aunts and uncles.
I am so thankful that we took this open approach with my son and that he knows where he came from. Every adoptive child is different in their want or need to know about their birth family but I can tell you with certainty that OUR son is glad to know.
We recognize this through his favorite stuffed animal, Blue Dog who has been at our house since just before our son’s birth. Usually when someone gives me or my son a gift I am good about remembering who gave it to us and when it came into our house. However, in the case of our son’s favorite stuffy, I can not for the life of me remember who it came from and my son is really, REALLY bothered by that. He has asked me repeatedly over the years who gave him Blue Dog and despite my narrowing it down to the packages I received right before he was born I haven’t been able to pin point the sender.
“Ma, think!” He will say, “You must know who. Just ASK some people!” Which I have! There were a few people that gave us a bunch of stuff right before our son was born and I’ve asked them all, one friend even as recently as this month, yet still I have no clue of his origins.
“Why do you care so much where he came from?” I’ll ask.
“Because I’d want to thank them for him,” he says.
“But isn’t the important thing that he is here now for you?” I’ll ask.
“Yeah, but I still want to know where he came from!” he’ll say.
OK. There is no arguing with that. It’s his favorite stuffy after all. But I told him that this is something he may need to accept that we won’t ever know.
In my head I say silently to myself, “Thank goodness we did an open adoption!” Thank goodness this is a stuffy we are talking about and not his birthparents we are trying to find since he obviously cares very much about a things source.
In terms of his stuffy, sometimes I think it’s actually better not knowing its sender. Instead we can envision that Blue Dog divinely appeared in our house 9 years ago and was placed charmingly inside his crib to be there for my son to love.
At least that’s the current story I’ll tell my son and I plan to stick to it unless I hear otherwise!
Do YOU know where his loved Blue Dog came from?
I’ve been told that one quality about myself is that I’m always myself regardless of who I am around. I really, really like this trait about myself as I think it is admirable. However, since COVID-19 hit in the US and we’ve been in shelter-in-place now for about two months I’ve realized that a couple of things I’d been doing before shelter-in-place occurred didn’t actually line up with my “true self.”
For one, wearing contact lenses. I really hate them. I despise putting them in every day but I actually hate myself in glasses more. I’ve worn contact lenses for years – since high school. For about 15 years I had hard lenses, then I had LASIK eye surgery and was glasses free for about 12 years, then my vision worsened again (yes that can happen after LASIK) and I was back into contact lenses again but soft this time. I’ve never enjoyed sticking them into my eyes but I hate myself in glasses so much that I’m willing to tolerate doing this. Since shelter-in-place began two months ago I have not put them in once. Not once. It’s been glorious!
I’ve realized that I don’t put my contacts in for me but for other people. After all I’m not the one looking at myself, you are looking at me, so basically I’m wearing contacts for vanity reasons with the few exceptions of when contacts are truly a benefit, like when doing sports for instance when glasses can be a hinderance. And more recently I realized that wearing a mask with glasses is a pain since your own breath causes your glasses to fog up. In those instances when I have to wear a mask I simply take off my glasses and I deal with my blurry vision.
Contacts are simply NOT a necessity in my life during shelter-in-place. My eyes are not bad enough to be going without them in and around the house and when I do actually go out driving to the store or for walks around the neighborhood I simply wear my glasses because I am not interacting with people for the most part, I’m mostly solo.
The second area where I realized I wasn’t being my true self is with my clothing. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’ve never been stylish with my clothing choices and have always preferred comfortable attire over clothes that are not. However, now I find that these days I barely leave my yoga pants, sweats or shorts. I mean really, what’s the point when they are clearly the most comfortable option and I’m mostly hanging out at home! I’ve been wearing the same tee shirts repeatedly and have noticed small holes in some of them. In the past this might have stopped me from wearing them out and about but these days it doesn’t stop me from wearing them. And if the clothes don’t smell after one wearing, why not wear them another day. Who cares if I’m wearing the same things two days in a row! Whoo hoo! The fashion police are nowhere in site.
So yes, my wardrobe that was already sorely lacking has now managed to go down yet another notch on the totem pole.
When shelter-in-place ends I wonder what I am going to do now that I’ve discovered my new true self? I love my new found freedom of being contact free and caring even less about my clothes. The thought of having to shove contacts in my eyes again daily and to care about what I look like for other people truly makes me cringe.
However pressure from society is strong and is too hard to resist and I know when this is over that I’ll wear my contact lenses again and put in more effort into trying to look nice again each day. But now that I have a clearer view of who my true self is and what makes me happy I’d be surprised if I don’t give myself more breaks from these things going forth. Only time will tell.
Living in San Jose, CA, a city with a population of just under 1 million people, during a pandemic is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because for nature lovers there are some truly amazing state and county parks around to visit. The downside of this is that now, when many people are looking to escape to nature, many of these state parks and some county parks have been closing their parking lots and/or trails to prevent people from gathering in mass.
After sheltering-in-place for about a month and a half, I was desperate to get out into nature and I don’t mean ‘neighborhood nature,’ which I’ve been making a point to see every day, I mean real nature! I knew I needed to get into the woods but finding a location to go was a bit challenging. I also realized that it wasn’t simply any woods that would due at this point. It was the giant Redwood trees that my heart so desperately needed to connect with.
John Muir had once said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” A slightly edited version of this quote had been calling out to my heart now for weeks and today I simply could not ignore the words any longer: “The Redwoods are calling and I must go.”
There is something extraordinary about these enormous trees that heal me. Perhaps it’s their age and that they’ve seen so much history; this little blip of coronavirus is such a minuscule thing for the big giants which helps to put things in perspective. The trees have incredible endurance over fires and other challenges that hit them over the years which is nothing short of admirable. And their height and girth can not be overlooked; they command attention as they stand so magnificently tall and wide amongst the quiet forest surrounding them which is full of wildlife. If I believed in reincarnation I would be certain that in a previous life I was somehow connected with these trees. All I know is that today I needed to be around the large Redwoods.
The nearest Redwood park to me wasn’t far, just a 20 minute drive from my home if that. It was a small park but I figure I could at least get out in the trees and breathe for a bit and get away from the neighborhood with all of its never ending city sounds and the very loud chainsaw across our street beginning the process of trimming our neighbors’ tree.
After a 20 minute drive I arrived at the Redwood park to find it’s parking lot completely full with a sign reading “If the lot is full so is the park. Protect yourself from COVID-19 by not overcrowding parks.” OK. At this point a voice inside my head is screaming obscenities and I’m in tears. “Damn it! I just want to take a walk in the woods!!! Is that too much to ask?” I decided to leave and kept driving south on the freeway away from the San Jose until I found a different park with Redwood trees to venture into. In my mind I’d already picked my destination, my favorite park (which I will not say here for selfish reasons) but my hope was to stubble across something else sooner before having to drive so far.
Needless to say there was nothing else and 30 minutes later I found myself on the road outside my favorite park although not allowed to enter it since the parking lot was closed to visitors. Mind you, the PARK itself was not closed but just the LOT to keep it from overcrowding. So here I was again now 50 minutes from home looking at Redwood park from the outside, screaming obscenities inside my head and desperately looking for street parking which was also currently full! “AAAAGGGGHHHH!!!!! Are you fricking kidding me?” Thankfully this time a spot opened up fairly quickly so I didn’t have to wait long. I parked the car and headed into the woods.
I was expecting the inside of the park to be a mob scene considering all the cars on the road but to my surprise I was wrong. I barely ran across anyone even in the beginning of my hike. To my great delight after a mile in when I arrived at my favorite spot, the Redwood loop, it was practically deserted! I could not believe my good fortune and couldn’t have asked for a greater gift! I walked slowly through the loop among some very large trees breathing deeply and savoring every moment. For days now my heart had felt broken and utterly defeated but now after just a few minutes among these giants I could feel my heart become lighter and beginning to heal as I breathed in the fresh air.
I continued to hike through the trails inside my favorite park seeing a few people here and there amongst the squirrels and the birds. It was much less crowded then in the past in the many times I’d visited the park before. After hiking for about an hour I took a break to sit on a log near a creek simply soaking in the beauty of it all. For the first time in a month and a half I was alone, no husband, no son, no sounds from the city, no people. It was so peaceful and serene. I felt joy. I felt peace. I was a tiny speck in a big forest amongst these beautiful trees and it felt great to be just a speck! I hugged at least one tree and took several pictures as I know I’ll want to look back upon them in the upcoming days to come.
There is something remarkably healing about being in the Redwood trees surrounded by nature. My heart which felt so heavy and inconsolable just hours before now feels lighter and more at peace. Before today it had been exactly 41 days since my last visit to real nature – 41 days! That’s much too long to go without getting out into nature.
Now as I type this blog back home at my desk in San Jose a police helicopter is circling above me like a pesky mosquito and I am already missing the trees terribly. I will listen more closely to my heart in the future and when it tells me that the Redwoods are calling I will most certainly go.