Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Two Sides to Every Story

Every parent knows this truth: There are two sides to every story.

When one kid comes in screaming about how his sister stole the TV remote, you can bet sister will be two steps behind with her own version of the alleged injustice.  So it is with most stories of our life. 

We just returned from a big family vacation....the first one in many years that required plane tickets and rental cars.  There was lots of saving, planning, researching, and preparations that went into making the trip a success.  If you ask me how it was, I'm gonna tell you, "It was awesome."

But that's not really the whole story.  Anyone that has traveled knows (and anyone that has traveled with kids REALLY knows) vacations are a mixed bag.  It's a big mash-up of really great memories and moments when you question the sanity of taking your family members out of their home environment for more than 24 hours.

Let me illustrate this.

Our vacation this year was to Maui.  We were told that snorkeling Molokini Crater was a big "MUST" if you're visiting Maui, so we booked our half-day snorkel boat tour to Molokini for our first day on the island.

If I was a pessimist, this is the story I would tell you....

The snorkel tours go out early.  Like, you have to check in at 7:15am.  And we chose to do this the very first morning we were in Maui.  With two kids who didn't get great sleep the night before.

When we arrived at the dock and got out of the car, the wind was blowing like nobody's business.  Hair everywhere.  Palm trees swaying.  Gutters creaking.  Serious, flag-whipping, hold-onto-your-hat wind.  Needless to say, the seas were choppy.

We boarded the boat and about half way through our trip out to Molokini (20 minutes into our 5-hour cruise), my daughter starts screaming and crying that her stomach hurts and she's going to throw up.  I don't know that I've experienced anything that made me feel more like a desperate, caged animal than anticipating the next 4.5 hours trapped on a boat with a seasick child. 

And then I started to feel woozy.

And then the girl sitting behind us got sick and lost her cookies, splattering my poor husband in the process.

Our son was too scared to get in the water at Molokini, so he and my husband sat on the boat enjoying the company of the seasick passengers while everyone else snorkeled for an hour or so.

Not exactly the picture-perfect beginning I had imagined for our family vacation.

But, if I were an optimist here is the story I would tell....

We had a beautiful boat ride to Molokini.  Although my daughter felt a little woozy along the way, she managed to hold her breakfast down. The coffee served on the boat was top-notch.

At Molokini, I got to hold my daughters hand and swim with her on her very first snorkel experience.  As soon as she stuck her face in the water, she couldn't contain her excitement.  A whole new underwater world was revealed to her in real-life clarity and she was pointing and squealing in delight as we floated along observing the wonders of the sea.  I couldn't understand much of what she was yelling through her snorkel tube, but the emotion of it came through loud and clear: Pure Joy.

My son, at the tender age of five, couldn't get over his fear of the choppy water to try snorkeling at Molokini.  He attempted to get in the water repeatedly, but was scared off each time by the rocking of the boat and the water splashing up at unpredictable intervals. But lucky for him, we had a second snorkel stop on our tour.  His sister and I spent the whole ride to "Turtle Town" convincing him that he would love snorkeling and he might even see Nemo.

At Turtle Town, the little guy overcame his fear and got in the water.  Victory!!

Watching our kids' very first snorkel experience in one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii was a highlight of our trip.  Introducing your kids to a new experience and watching them love it as much as you hoped they would is about as good as it gets as a parent.

And on top of that, the dolphins.

As our snorkel boat was motoring out of Molokini Crater, the captain suddenly powered down the engines and announced the presence of dolphins off the side of the boat.  They were pretty far off, and on the opposite side from where we were sitting, so we didn't get a great view.  But as the boat motored slowly away from Molokini, the dolphins came into full view.

At first they were difficult to decipher from the curve of the waves on the ocean.  Then we saw them for real.  And there were more squeals of delight.  First a pair, then a group of four, then a whole pod....at least 20, maybe more....just bobbing about in the ocean around our boat.  As our family leaned over the edge to get a closer look, the boat got quiet and we were completely entranced. Never in my 43 years have I seen dolphins in the wild, up close and personal.  They were beautiful and graceful.  I have a hard time describing the experience because it was almost other-worldly.  The quiet awe that descended up on our boat at the sight of the dolphins was a goose-bump inducing, holy moment. 

Turns out that choppy seas and puke balanced out with spectacular snorkeling and dolphin sightings make for a pretty good start to a Hawaii vacation.  And a pretty good story, no matter which side you look at. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Listen Carefully

It's been quiet around here.  For the past two months I've thought about this blog, and what to write, and when to write.  The perfect storm of inspiration and free time just never happened.  And truth is, the real world's got me down.

I'm not a news junkie.  At all.  I used to be a faithful morning news watcher.  Every day before work I would eat breakfast, sip my coffee and listen to 30-40 minutes of the morning news.  And then I had kids.  You know how that goes. I'm busy, but I'm also not keen on having my kids watch the very worst of humanity parading across the TV screen every morning.  So I shut it off and never looked back.

These days, I skim NPR articles online, follow political candidates on Twitter, or click through if an interesting story pops up on my Facebook news feed.  That's my news.  Usually it's enough to keep me semi-informed.  I can dig deeper into the stories that I need to know about and scroll through the garbage. But lately even the headline skimming has got me down.

Mass shootings.  Political debates.  Racial profiling.  Police violence.  Terrorist attacks.

It's enough to make you want to hide in a hole.

So that's basically what I did.  I made myself a quiet little hole and suffocated in silence because I didn't feel like I had anything important to say.

Nothing I could say would bring back those Dallas Police Officers.  Or the Pulse Nightclub patrons.  Or the shoppers at the Munich mall. No cute little blog post would make this political season any more palatable.  Or make our voting decisions any less gut wrenching come November.  Anything that spurred me to write felt trivial in these heavy times.

And so I've said nothing.  That's not to say that I've been doing nothing.  What I've been doing a lot more of these past two months is listening.  Really listening.  I've tried to hear the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement.  I've explored the complexity of emotion that law enforcement brings to each civilian encounter in this era of bold violence.  I've listened to members of the LGBT community talk about living with fierce hope and deep fear.  I've asked questions of gun owners (even the one in my own home) and tried to understand their perspective without initiating debate.

Just listening.  Not arguing or debating or judging.  Listening.

All that listening is work.  Hard work.  And, I believe, important work.

This two months of deliberate listening has broadened my perspective in some important ways.  I have come to understand that much, or maybe all, of what drives these big headline issues is one simple, and very old problem.


People of color are fearing for their lives when they get pulled over for an expired registration tag.  Police officers are fearing for their lives in the most banal interactions with the public. Gay people are fearing for their lives when they display affection with their partner in public.  And gun owners are fearing for their lives because the world has gone crazy and the government will not protect them. 

Maybe you can relate to one of these statements.  Or maybe you think it's all bogus, unfounded fear and everyone needs to just chill out.  The point is not for us to pass judgement on the fear.  The point is that people, our fellow humans, are experiencing these very real feelings in the United States of America.  This is their story, their reality, their truth, regardless if you agree with it or not.

I don't pretend to understand what it means to be a black man or a police officer in this country.  That's not my story.  I don't know that I'll ever truly understand that story because my reality is miles away from that plot line.  But I can listen.  I can hear the stories of pain, fear, anger, and brokenness and honor them as genuine.  Even if it doesn't make sense.  Even if it seems hard to believe.  Even if I've never witnessed the difficulty or danger myself....I can listen and come to know a piece of that experience.  I can honor their reality.  It is legitimate.  It is their experience.  To pretend it doesn't exist or it isn't a problem is just a sugar-coated, covert form of hatred. 

I recently read a perspective-altering book by Bryan Stevenson called Just Mercy.  I also had the opportunity to hear the author speak at Chico State a few months ago.  In his speech to this captive audience, the author suggested that we can change the world by getting proximal.  Change the world!  By getting close and working to truly hear the stories of our neighbors, we can begin to understand and build bridges.  Assumptions and judgement become much more difficult when we are close.  When we build understanding.  When we attempt to know each other.  Really know.

So, what in the world does this listening look like?  It looks like really reading a story and not just skimming it to find pieces to support your own perspective.  It means seeking out alternative news sources that offer different angles or speak to different audiences.  It could involve fitting some diversity into your social media news feeds by following an LGBT group or a Muslim Mosque on Facebook to hear what their conversation sounds like.  It could mean engaging in conversations with real people with the sole agenda of listening to gain understanding.

When we disagree or misunderstand, often our first instinct is fight or flight.  What if we used  disagreement as an opportunity to lean in closer and say, "Tell me more"? It is much more difficult to fear or hate our enemies when they are no longer the unknown "them", but the very real human being with a true story.

More listening.  More love. 

That is all.