“They Are Our Kids”



[19th Century Young Girl’s Grave, El Campo Santo, San Diego, CA, soon after Dia de Muertos, 2014]

Don’t get me wrong: I love my daughters, I love my grandchildren. I loved sitting in my Quaker meeting this morning watching Meeting children happily search for Easter eggs outside. I love Christmas, I love birthdays, I love making any child happy by buying just the right gift.

Here’s what I don’t love: The disparity between children like my grandchildren and those happy children I watched this morning and the poor children of this country. As a recent “New Yorker” article put it: The American dream is in crisis, [Robert Putnam, author of Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis] argues, because Americans used to care about other people’s kids and now they only care about their own kids. But, he writes, “America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids.” 

Here’s what deeply moves me: That on October 31, 2014, someone placed those plastic necklaces and those two dolls on the grave pictured above. A Mexican-American child decorated that child’s grave for Dia de Muertos, I’m guessing.  She swept the dirt, she arranged those bricks as best she could, she threw away—God knows what that child discovered in that gritty, surrounded-by-bars-and restaurants cemetery in the heart of San Diego’s Old Town. That generous child is very likely one of those “poor kids” Putnam wrote about.

My kid. Our kid.


Strangers in Strange Lands


[MCU Park, Coney island; home of the Brooklyn Cyclones*]

You know how, sometimes, you can spot a face in the crowd and suddenly, that one stranger is the only person you see? And how, because the expression on his or her face is so revealing, so nakedly truth-telling, you feel as though you have a reasonably good chance of knowing what’s going on with that person? Me, too.

Two days after the attack at the satirical magazine, “Charlie Hebdo,” office in Paris when twelve people were murdered, on a bitterly cold night in Davis Square; that’s when I spotted him. Maybe Ethiopian, maybe Eritrean, maybe Muslim, his distress, frustration, anger were palpable. He wore a blue, embroidered ski hat, the kind that hangs over your ears and could be tied under your chin—only nobody does—and a suitably warm jacket. “Well, at least he’s dressed for this horrible cold,” I thought. At least.

Okay, maybe he’d just had a fight with his girlfriend. Maybe his boss had given him a hard time. Maybe his distress centered on the cold. Why wouldn’t it? But I tend to think that he, a stranger in a strange land, was feeling his alienation—as in being an outsider, a dark face in a sea of white—with every cell of his being. And that his loneness infuriated him.

To catch the briefest glimpse of that man’s lonely, painful fury (if, in fact, that’s what I saw) was, for me to contemplate the Kouachi brothers, who’d murdered 12 cartoonists two days before, and the Tsarnaev brothers, the Boston Marathon bombers. 

Don’t get me wrong: I am not condoning murder. And I am not saying that every immigrant is a potential murderer. Absolutely NOT! I am merely saying at for a fleeting moment on a cold winter’s night I may have spotted the same pain and alienation that has generated so much pain.

* That man in the white cap and T shirt stood for the entire game although repeatedly asked and begged to sit down.


“Dear White People”; Part 2

Show up. Strategically. Be that white face in a black crowd, especially when it really, really matters. Sad But True: when I showed up at a racial-profiling trial for a group of Somerville teenagers, one of the defense attorneys told me that my presence had an impact on the jury. Horrifying? Yes. Absolutely. But, hey!  If we’re to dismantle racism, brick by brick, let’s use the tools that work!

Be in community with other white allies. Don’t do this work alone. And don’t ask your friends of color to hold your hand or give you advice. (Or, for that matter, thank you.) Download soon and often. And, supported and cherished for the wonderful person you truly are, keep on keepin’ on.

Be in community. Work local. Work one-to-one. Keep in mind Mother Teresa’s “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” (Love, compassion, forgiveness; they’re in our dismantling racism tool boxes, too.)

Here’s your homework: Connect the dots. How are Racism, War, and Climate Change inexorably intertwined? (Hint: it’s complicated. And fear and A strongly held belief there’s not enough are definitely involved.)

Got it? Feel it? Great. Now: let your deep and powerful understanding fuel your passion and guide your actions, especially in those moments when you’re overwhelmed.

We shall overcome.


“Both Sides Now”



Just got back from a Prison Fellowship meeting and although pretty tired, want to try to record what struck me so powerfully tonight.

PF is a group of men and women doing prison ministry (visiting prisoners, teaching in a prison, working on re-entry issues for “returning citizens,” etc.); most but not all of us worship at Friends Meeting at Cambridge (MA). Once a month we have a potluck meal together and then check in/listen to what others in the group are doing and struggling with. From time to time, we’ll work collectively on some project. (We started a bail and legal defense fund, for example.)

Here’s what I heard tonight (I’d had dental work just before our meeting so was unable to make my mouth work. So listened more than usual!): how we explored the problems and situations presented to us—confidential issues—from many angles. How about . . . ? What if . . . ? Could it be . . . ? Maybe they thought . . . ?  Is it possible that . . . ?

Every month at a PF meeting, something happens that makes me think: “There is nowhere on God’s Earth I’d rather be than right here, doing just what we’re doing right this minute.”

Tonight that moment came when I realized how extraordinary the discussion I was  listening to really was. Trying to understand someone’s else perspective and exploring ideas other than your own; these are NO Small Things!



“War’s Good for Business”




[Green Acre‘s peace flag, Bahai School, Retreat and Conference Center, Eliot, Maine]

“War’s good for business,” a member of my Quaker meeting commented a few years ago. For years, every Sunday, he has taken it upon himself to count how many people have shown up for meeting for worship.  So by business, he means—with irony and with deep pacifistic conviction—the headcount of bowed heads during Vietnam or the Gulf War or—so many to chose from!

But, of course, there’a a darker truth to his observation. War is good for business. For the fossil fuel industry.  And for companies like Textron, maker of cluster bombs,* and just a few miles away from my Quaker meeting. Once a month for the past five years, a few stalwart souls from my meeting, rain or shine or sleet or hail, worship on the sidewalk in front of Textron. [“Showing Up”] And one Sunday every October, Friends Meeting at Cambridge’s meeting for worship happens at Textron.

So, yes, this October, our country engaged in yet another war, I noticed that more people showed up at Textron to worship knee-to-knee than had attended last year. (My f/Friend noticed too, no doubt!)

For me this year, that outdoor worship—on a crisp fall day with October sun on my face, a nearby tree is full autumn glory, birds singing—was about “I must be about my Father’s business.”

How deeply I felt that call!

*This link is to an appalling article in today’s “New York Times.”

“The Great Turning”


As surely as sunflowers turn their faces towards The Light, we’re facing—Yes!— The Great Turning:

Praise be! It’s happening! [Please read “Branded #6: ‘The Drop Becomes the Ocean’ for more about Jay O’Hara.]

Let us give thanks.

Let us praise.

And let us, Friends; brothers and sisters, double our efforts!

All (American) Women


Raised by Republicans, I was no Red Diaper Baby Feminist nor, having grown up in the complacent suburbs of the 50s, can claim an early awareness of social injustice. And yet from an early age—at least this is how I remember it—I knew that being a woman  mattered. I can remember in junior high, maybe at UU Sunday school, discussing a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt or Eisenhower or . . . to the effect that American women were this country’s greatest untapped resource and, being eleven or twelve, thinking, “Yup! True. And when I get old enough, I’ll be a part of the tapping. I’ll be a part of Something Amazing!”

And I am. Although It’s taken way, way longer than I’d imagined when in junior high. And at that age and easeful time of my life, how could I have possibly imagined the power, the rage, the unspeakable cruelty of sexism? (Writing this, I realize that that the young, cosseted, idealistic eleven-year-old me still lives and breathes, sometimes. She’s the me so bewildered by horrific headlines: “How can this* be?”)

I see this Something Amazing every day: in the paradigm-shifting work of Michelle Alexander and Mothers Out Front, in the voices of Elizabeth Warren**, Rachel Maddow, Annie Hoffman, my yoga teacher, my strong, realized granddaughters.

And I see it in the faces, the smiles and nods of the women I pass by everyday, women from all over the world, women of all ages and ethnicities and classes and sexual persuasions, women in flowing robes and tight jeans and Birkenstocks. Not everyone, of course. But—and this may be Just Me—I see Sisterhood. I see silent acknowledgement of “Yup.”, a female version of a secret handshake.


* For example

** This link’s worth watching on SO many levels, particularly the “Looking great!” comment. Really? You went there? “How can this be?”

Showing Up



Another fall, another all-Meeting meeting for worship in front of Textron. On a beautiful, sunny and cloudless Sunday, about fifty of us from Friends Meeting at Cambridge sat, knee-to-knee, on the sidewalk in front of Textron’s Wilmington plant, silently witnessing.

Sitting so close to buildings (which give the benign appearance of a sprawling, suburban high school campus) where cluster bombs are manufactured, I felt the military-industrial complex’s immense, relentless and deadly power, its mighty, driving force. How’s my/our sitting here for an hour going to change anything? I wondered. Is this yearly FMC ritual just a feel-good activity? 

I don’t have answers. Next fall, when I again show up in front of Textron*, I suspect the same questions will rattle around my peabrain, again. But just like posting this blog every week, I know I am called to be faithful. To show up. To join with others—who, I’m betting, also sometimes question their efficacy—doing peace work.

It’s what we do, right?

*Some sturdy souls from FMC show up one Sunday every month, rain or shine or snow or sleet.



Heading Into War—Again


How do you stop “a thug,” to quote John Kerry re Assad? How do you deal with a possibly “crazy person”*? Well, as of today, the collective wisdom seems to be: start a war with him.

Really? Is this the best humanity can come up with? I mean, I know Americans are sometimes a little hazy when it comes to history but, come on! Remember “Mission Accomplished”?

Talk about crazy . . .


*Bashar al-Assad told Barbara Walters the truth on ABC: “No government kills its people, unless it’s run by a crazy person.” [from a fascinating piece re the Assad family; check it out!]


This Is How it Starts:


Like its name implies, the #1 bus has a pretty significant route. Its journey begins just outside Harvard’s Holyoke Gate, a particularly attractive entrance into Harvard Yard and, continuing through Central Square and then past MIT, crosses the Charles River. Now in Boston, the #1 cruises down busy “Mass Av” past the Berklee School of Music, the Christian Science “Mother Church” and its spacious, surrounding grounds, past Symphony Hall, home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and, a few blocks later, the sprawling New England Medical Center until finally ending its journey at Dudley Station—in the heart of the largely African-American Boston neighborhood called Roxbury. Because of its Harvard to Roxbury journey, by about MIT, the racial mix on the bus switches from almost all white to almost all people of color.

On Saturday*, I watched an escalating interaction between two dark-skinned bus riders,  a beautiful, long-eyelashes boy, maybe 2 or 3, and the older, heavy-set woman who’d pushed him in his stroller onto the crowded bus—his exhausted grandmother, I’m guessing. Miraculously, she’d managed to get a seat right next to another dark-skinned grandmother and her grandbaby, a little doe-eyed girl in a stroller about the same age as the boy. The two strollers, side by side, faced the two grandmothers and fit perfectly in the area right behind the driver, the seat having been folded up to give additional space.

The stroller occupants spend some time checking each other out; too cute. But then the little girl moved on to what was a primary importance that hot, hot morning: her juice bottle. Ignored and bored, the little boy began kicking his grandmother. Who eyed him as if to say, “Really? I cannot believe you’re doing this!” But he kept at it and his kicks got harder and harder. She spoke sharply to him in Spanish. He glared at her then, his eyes filled with utter contempt, he spat at her. [Whoa!] She looked out the window but he kept kicking, the bus crawling through thick traffic.

Fed up, she finally up and slaps his leg. I mean, she whacked him! Hard. He screamed, rubbed his leg, cried until, whimpering, he accepted the bottle of milk she offered.

I watched and thought: This is how it starts. This is how another child learns that whacking someone is how to resolve problems.

As a sometimes-exhausted grandmother, myself, of course I wondered what was going on with both of them. Did that not-young woman care for that young child 24/7? And if so, why?  Under what circumstances? Who had taught her that whacking someone is how to resolve problems? And, I gotta say, that boy’s distain for his grandmother made me wonder: Is he used to being treated like a little prince? (He could have been; he was beautiful enough to be completely fawned over.) Do those two live in a household where the women are spit upon?

No, I did not intervene.

And THIS is how it starts: A young, slight, African-American man sitting across the aisle from that little boy ( earlier, before finding his present seat, this young man had given up his seat to an elderly Asian woman; clearly a nice guy!) started playing peek-a-boo with that child. I now watched those young yet stone-cold eyes melt. The young man reached over and, jostled by other passengers, the two gleefully high-fived. Over and over. Something Else was imparted with each palm against palm, another lesson taught.

And the kid giggled. Like a kid. Like a little boy with a life full of promise ahead of him, a life that just might be okay.    

May it be so.

* Context: It had been almost 100 degrees the day before and although everyone on that bus knew the heat wave was about to end, as this incident unfolded it was hot as hell outside. (Although the bus’s AC was super-cold.)

“Think Moss, Not Stone”



Annie Hoffman, my yoga teacher, said that this morning. Like so many of Annie’s metaphors, what she actually meant re the pose we were practicing was mysterious. But here’s what I think she was saying, “Imagine inhabiting this pose with softness and kind-ness. The ways of the world outside this studio, doing a hard thing with clenched teeth, willing yourself to overcome, to achieve; that’s not going to work, here. Breathe!”

Branded # 5: Shadows, Ghosts


Usually, when I post about “Community/Interconnectedness” (my # 1 topic, apparently), I write from a place of deep, deep gratitude. And, yes, how grateful I was on Sunday to attend this “The Somerville I Didn’t Know” lecture in the presence of some dear friends. Fifty or so people, many of whom I know, gathered on a hot summer afternoon in the un-air-conditioned Somerville Museum to look squarely at slavery. Its evil. To take in that slavery was “the engine” that powered all* Industrial Revolution industry.  And slavery’s pervasiveness—even in Somerville.

But to acknowledge that yes, this pernicious institution was right here in the ‘ville is, sadly, to also acknowledge its shadow. Evil doesn’t fade away, does it. It’s like an offshore oil spill: the dark, gooey crap just keeps washing ashore and sticking to our feet.

An odd experience I’m not sure I can adequately explain: On Sunday, I realized in a new way that, “Ohmygod, slavery’s shadow still haunts us” when historian Alice Mack mentioned Nathanael Greene, Revolutionary War hero**—who’d briefly been stationed in Somerville—as a Quaker! (Apparently the cotton gin had been invented on his plantation.) That a noted historian didn’t note the disconnect between Greene’s religious faith and being a celebrated general and brilliant war strategist made me feel as though my sect, like slavery, had become ghostlike. (But, obviously, still haunts us.)

It’s not a stretch for me to connect the dots between slavery’s long shadow here in MA and, say, our punitive CORI laws, which make getting a job or finding a place to live so incredibly hard for ex-offenders.

And while I know in my heart that the Bay State’s Quakers’ peace witness also endures, just not feelin’ it at the moment.


*All. That sprawling, nineteenth-century Somerville factory pictured above was known as The Bleachery—where cotton was bleached.

** Coincidentally, Greene and another infamous Quaker, Charles Lynch, fought together at Guilford Courthouse. In fact, the word “lynch” derives from this battle’s backstory: When Lynch, a judge in western VA, discovered that Tories had stolen supplies for the upcoming battle, he exceeded his backwoods authority and punished the perps. Thus: Lynch’s Law.