There’s a lot of discussion these days about race. Some say things are getting better, some say worse. I honestly don’t know which, because I’m white in America. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel racism very personally, as it affects my family…our daughters aren’t white.
Born in China, my girls are what one GOP politician recently called “yellows”. They’ve been teased and called names and had kids pull on the corners of their eyes. It’s hard as a parent to see your child bullied. It somehow seems worse when the taunts are racist. My girls are innocent; they didn’t choose to be brought to the other side of the world and expected to make their way in a community that sometimes treats them differently. I’ve occasionally wondered if our choice was fair to them, but it no longer matters. It’s done, and they’re here, and I’m beyond grateful that they are. But they have to live with that choice, along with our nation’s long struggle with racism.
I don’t know what the answer is or how we heal our country. I don’t know how to fulfill the dream of judging others based on the content of their character, and not on the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. I only know that when we don’t, it makes me angry. I get angry that my daughters and millions like them are judged on the most superficial of traits. I get afraid that we allow our politicians to stoke our fears of “the other”. And I mourn for the hurt that it causes us all. But I also believe that most people are good. I believe that our nation was founded on the idea that we can become better, as we have on many fronts over our history. I believe fear of those different from us breaks down when we get to know those others. I haven’t given up. All we need is to build bridges on a personal basis. Please pledge with me to build those bridges. Get to know people like my daughters. We’re all children of God.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
I feel like I’m back home. After a three year stint in retail, I’m back in Food and Ag. Boy did I miss it.
I grew up in a small farm town of 1,300 in central Kansas, a “city girl” because we lived in town. My great-grandparents on both sides were farmers, and my grandparents lived on a farm (Grandpa worked at the gas company), but I didn’t grow up on a farm. Because most of my classmates were farm kids and the heartbeat of my entire town followed the weather and crop prices, I couldn’t help but soak some of it in. When I unexpectedly found myself in the industry as an adult, it really began to grow on me. I didn’t realize how much a part of me it had become until I left it for awhile. Now I’m back, and I feel like I’ve come home.
It’s not hard to explain why I love it. First of all, plants are cool, but food plants are especially cool. Wheat or chickens or corn go in one end by the rail car or truckload, and flour or chicken nuggets or corn oil comes out the other in the same large quantities. In between are complex machines and tubes and conveyors and a million things that can go wrong. You’d think by now there’d be one “right way” to design each plant to produce a thing. But there’s always a better way, and lots of smart people dedicate their lives to constantly looking for it. The whole process is clean and food safe and amazing.
But the best part of our business is absolutely the people. The people who are attracted to what we do grew up with the same values and work ethic I was raised with. They’re independent and practical and no nonsense. After all, it’s kind of hard to be uppity when you’ve got blood on your boots or bits of chicken on your pants. They’re the kind of folks who’ll never let you down, who come to the funeral when you lose family and change your flat tire in the snow and simply stand on your side when life tries to knock you down.
What we do every day may not be terribly glamorous, but it’s honorable and it’s needed. We feed people–physically of course, but also emotionally. I’m proud of what we do and how we do it. I’m back home.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” –Steve Jobs
There’s a stretch of road on my commute where the trees are painted lilac. The whole tree isn’t painted, of course, just a two foot band all the way around the trunk. It’s not every tree, maybe ten or so of them on a one mile stretch of road. Even a light pole is marked. I can’t imagine why someone went out of their way to do that. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, not even a logical guess. It’s an amusing mystery.
There are a lot of mysteries in life. Some are small and random and inexplicable like the lilac-painted trees. Other mysteries are larger, like what drives people we care about to do inexplicable things that have predictably devastating consequences. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. But sometimes karma happens in real time. Humans have always wrestled with the big mystery of whether everything that happens is random or is by design. Forrest Gump decided it was a little bit of both. That actually makes sense to me. For us to have true free will, bad things must be possible. And yet to believe in an all-powerful Creator of the universe means to believe in Someone in complete control. It’s a paradox. Just one of many mysteries we’re left to ponder. Along with the lilac-painted trees.
“No object is mysterious. The only mystery is your eye.” –Elizabeth Bowen
I hate spiders. This cutie is a jumping spider. How great is that? It reminds me of the saying that the only good thing about spiders is that they don’t fly. I know, we’d be overrun with bugs without them. It’s good I wasn’t the one to choose that tradeoff.
They say the average person is within two feet of a spider at any point in time, not a comforting thought in that sleepy haze as you’re falling asleep. Only after we moved to Northwest Arkansas did a native tell me about “spider season”. I sure don’t remember any mention of that in the promotional materials. But I’ve survived five already as we head into another, so I guess it’s just as well I didn’t know about this unique season in advance.
Our neighbors across the street just moved away, so there are now no witnesses remaining to the “great spider incident” from our first season here. I’d seen something on the driveway as we got home from church on a gorgeous fall day. I was pretty sure it was a bug, but it struck me as too big to ignore. After all, a spider that big was too close to the house to live…one can’t take that kind of chance. Thankfully upon closer inspection, it was already dead. But it sure was big, so I had to be sure. I stomped it good, with primal relish. Then the real horror began. Thousands of tiny critters scattered in every direction. My brain couldn’t process what was happening as fast as they moved. My first thought was they were ants feasting on an opportune carcass. As it dawned on me what they really were, that primal instinct kicked back in, and I began a clumsy Irish step dance right there in my driveway, still in my church clothes. I was simultaneously petrified and determined that none of those tiny, vile creatures would grow to the beastly size of the mother they had just been cannibalizing that close to my house. I failed in my quest to destroy them all, but I can say with some pride that it was still an unmitigated massacre that day.
I never did explain my bizarre dance to my wide-eyed neighbors.
“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’
‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.'” –from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
It’s that time of year again, the sunflowers are back. Every year they signal the end of summer and the glorious beginning of fall. I grew up in Kansas, and sunflowers — the state flower — are my second favorite flower.
They line the roadsides in numbers that have to be in the millions. They make me smile as I pass them by, as much from their overwhelming scale as their beauty. They always surprise me, too. One day they’re not there, the next they outnumber the swallows…an annual, predictable surprise.
But the best thing about sunflowers is how they got their name: they follow the path of the sun through the day. It’s a wonderful analogy for us. What if we did the same? I know I find myself too often looking down, or not looking at all…distracted by life’s worries. But the sunflowers never waver. They stand firmly where they were planted, staying steadily focused on that which gives them life. Maybe that’s why I like them, because they have something to teach me.
“Nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose – a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.” –Mary Shelley
This week I found myself again passing along a piece of wisdom and advice to a new friend from a wise old friend. Years ago after major surgery, my friends and colleagues were showering me with food and gifts and loans of books and videos to help me pass the time in recovery. While my friend was making a drop off, I protested how unnecessary all of this was. She stopped me dead in my tracks, asking me what I’d have wanted to do if it was one of them? “Help”, I had to sheepishly admit. Well, she said, then this was my gift to them…letting them help me. I had no good rebuttal.
Exactly a decade later, I again had the chance to practice being on the receiving end when Megan became ill. This time I got my friend’s advice right. So many people, even strangers, stepped forward to help us get through that time that it was almost overwhelming. But I let them. Showers of cards and gifts arrived at the hospital, from as far away as Europe. Peoples of literally every faith prayed for her. A dear friend’s sister-in-law, who I’d never met, became my first and only friend in Little Rock. She offered me clean clothes and a shower, to bake in her kitchen if I wanted, and the healing love of her golden retriever. Though I couldn’t bring myself to tear away from the hospital to take her up on it, it was deeply comforting to not feel alone in that strange city. That generosity repeated itself when another stranger had a care package and helpful advice waiting for us when we transferred to Cincinnati. Another friend texted me nearly every day for the four months in the hospital, just to check in; I’ll never forget that she was always there if I needed someone to talk to. An old friend from my hometown asked if there wasn’t some familiar treat she could send me. My instinct was to say no thank you, I’m fine. But I knew she just wanted to do something, anything. For the next several weeks, I was warmed by her kindness every time I broke into a box of the world’s best cashews. I’d learned my lesson. The year Megan was sick was by far the hardest of my life, and I’d undo all she’s had to endure in a heartbeat if I could. And yet I look back on that traumatic time with some measure of reminiscence for the love that so many showered on us. It’s an incredible reminder in this often ugly world that good and love will always win.
It’s now my turn to pray for and do what I can to support my new friend as she goes through her significant trial. And I’ll continue to pass along to others in need the wise words given to me all those years ago. It’s now my turn to receive the special gift of giving.
“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.” –H. Jackson Brown Jr.
Everything changed again yesterday. We’re now two down, one to go, as we moved our middle child into the dorm. We knew she was ready. I thought I was ready.
And it’s ok.
We’ve done this before. We know the change is permanent and that nothing is ever the same again. They’re still your child, and they always come home, but it’s still forever different.
And it’s ok.
Except this is the child who was robbed of part of her childhood. This is the one we came within hours of losing. When you come that close, you forever worry about losing them again. It’s tempting to want to wrap them in a blanket bubble on your couch and never let them go. But that would only rob her again. She deserves to stumble and live and crash and soar. She deserves to be free. I’m the one who’ll struggle. I’ll find a new path, with a new hole inside after the change. I’ll celebrate her victories and try to catch her when she falls. I’ll keep loving her.
And it’s ok. Go take the world by storm sweetie.
“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” –Dr. Seuss