Why I Marched in Semi-Slushy, Melting Snow Today in Lexington, Kentucky


I first heard of the ERA when I was about eight years old. I overheard a conversation between my cousin, who was about a year older, and my aunt who had adopted me at age four. There was a seriousness in the air. Perhaps, they thought I wasnʻt old enough to understand, or maybe I was just dawdling behind them in our stroll across the lawn—my cousin with burning questions, my aunt with gentle explanations, and I was just there, listening, a silent observer. It had never crossed my mind that we werenʻt equal. I knew there were boy things and girl things, but as far as I was concerned, I could cross the line anytime I wished. My aunt never said, “thatʻs only for boys.” When I told her I wanted the round, rubber-tip boyʻs tennis shoes, she got them for me without trying to squeeze me into narrow, girl shoes. When I wanted to wear Searsʻ jeans with supportive patches on the knees, in the boy section of the catalog she never batted an eye. After all, I played rough. I climbed trees, crawled under houses in good “Hide-and-Seek” games, and was never afraid to get dirty, and plus, they had pockets. Her only complaint was that all my clothes were stained from rolling in Hawaiian, red dirt when playing “Statue Maker.” She told me I was the “dirtiest kid in the neighborhood,” and I accepted that with a sense of pride.  When a doctor suggested active projects to keep me from terrifying nightmares, she bought me a hammer, a saw, wood, and some nails at age five. For my sixth birthday, I asked for Legos and dolls. It never occurred to me later, at age eight, that I would grow up without equal rights because of my gender. But, I did know that my skin color was different. Often white people thought they were complimenting me, but it just reminded me of how I didnʻt belong to white cousins, and how it would be worse if I were darker. The kids next door called me a bastard, because I was a brown child in a white family. Their words hurtled from their mouths, weapons on the wind, taunting jeers that I couldnʻt respond to, because I didnʻt know what that word meant, but I knew it must be bad.

When I was eleven, old white men stared at me, making me uncomfortable. One, telling me what a nice color I was, how I wasnʻt as dark as some natives were, as he groped me with his eyes, later his hands. And I was silent, ashamed of who I was. Ashamed to speak out, until years later.  I had heard stories, but never thought it would be me. My aunt warning us against strange men, but never about men we knew. Just say “no” they always said. Yet, despite the advise, sometime in my life, I couldnʻt stop the catcalls, couldnʻt stop the sexist remarks. Boys will be boys, people said. And women put up with it. I avoided passing groups of men. But, when something sexually violent happened to someone I cared about, I split wide open; the horror, the pain, unable to breathe, shaking from the devastation that had occurred, anger that I couldnʻt prevent this violence from happening to a loved one, remembering my own trauma. The sense of helplessness, rage, yet afraid to speak out.

When Donald Trump was elected President, I knew that Americans had gone mad. A self-proclaimed rapist, supported, upheld, venerated by mostly white men and women.  Some how it was okay to joke about grabbing women by their “pussies”, okay to grope them, to humiliate them, to treat them as lesser beings. And women voted for him, ignoring the fact that 3/5 of all women are molested or raped in our country. Yes, despite the years of work some women have spent trying to bring equality between sexes into our country, some women still voted for him. A sickening sense of betrayal suffocated me for weeks. Also, some Brown and Black people voted for him despite his support for the KKK, despite his disregard and disgust for people of color, people who have migrated from what he now calls “Shit hole” countries, people brought here through slavery, and people who came here hoping to experience the American Dream. Again, a sense of betrayal. I just canʻt even think…how this is okay in this century, after hundreds of years of destroying native lands and native people for money, a devastation that they are still reeling from through poverty, land loss, cultural loss, and western illnesses, along with the highest rate of suicide, depression, and the disappearance of native women, that no one else seems concerned about. Yet, some people of color still voted for him. My words must be garbled, because how does any of this make sense? All this political talk is just a cover up for rape. Raping the land, raping the people—people of color, women, LGBTQ communities, Dreamers, setting the world on fire, pointing war and death missiles at my children. Every day, another rape of my mind. Every day, a holocaust of ideas. I have tried to stay away from the news, tried to stop posting angry rants on social media, but last Saturday, when I thought my children were dying from a false missile attack in Hawaii, I woke from my fake news slumber. And I want to know, what is really going on? I want to know why some of my own non-white, Hawaiian relatives support him. Why is it okay for “Christians” to elect a rapist to office? Why is it okay for a “Christian” to support a President who thinks the KKK is okay? Because I really donʻt understand. I really donʻt. I think they must be asleep. I think they have lost their minds. And maybe even their souls. For money? Because they have run-up their credit cards? Because they are living pay check-to-pay check? Are they really willing to sell out humanity and compassion for this? We have to do better than this.  It reminds me of the chapter in Elie Wieselʻs Holocaust book, Night, where people were literally killing each other for crumbs of bread, but the real monster was Hitler.

I went to the March alone today, watched people I know give impassioned speeches, clapped and cheered, put on my gloves, took them off, smiled at strangers. It rose to 40 degrees, clumps of snow turned to slush. I was surrounded by smiling faces, children, and dogs. In this Red state of Kentucky, hundreds were out, speaking out for women, speaking out for people of color, speaking out for Dreamers, speaking out for LGBTQ issues, speaking out for a loving God, one that believes in compassion, and not fire and DamNation.  The Government shut down on this rally day. And despite the fact that Republicans have the majority in all three houses of government, relatives are still posting that it is Schumerʻs and Pelosiʻs fault. Amazingly, they are really serious about believing that. Despite this crockery, I believe there is still hope, because here, where slavery was once a booming business, where the auction block was once the norm, here where the KKK have rallied, here where Republican Mitch McConnell calls home, there were hundreds out, who stood up for whatʻs right for all humans. I have to believe that things will get better when the people finally wake up. things will get better when the people wake up.

Another Monkeypod Morning


Monkeypod

Monkeypod

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Today as I circled the field on my morning walk I passed a tree that I often admire.  I take pictures of it during all stages of morning, all stages of light, all stages of the sun rising behind it, reflecting on its stature and strength and balance.  There is a majesty about it that draws me near.   I often stop in the middle of walking to stare into its branches–sometimes with the naked eye, and often with my phone/camera.  Once I even wrote a poem about the tree that mused about the beauty and metaphor of life.  Today I was thrilled. I was walking and stretching and laughing at e-mails on my phone. The wind was brisk and I was thrilled and overjoyed by people so far away in physicality, yet so close in heart–absorbing their beauty, their laughter, their sharing, and feeling how lucky I was to be connected with so many wonderful people.  As I passed the tree this morning I saw a man dressed in an army uniform staring up into the branches, and then take out his phone/camera to take pictures. I giggled at the irony of an agent of war and death reveling in the beauty of life.  It gave me an extra skip in my walk.  When I came around the field again I saw two army men under the tree.  Both stood together staring up into the tree.  The next time I walked around the field they were both sitting under the tree leaning on its trunk.  I wanted to stop and photograph them as they shared the beauty of life, but felt it would’ve been sacrilegious.  Instead, I enjoyed the sight. Every time I came around the field and saw them I was proud of the tree.   It had accomplished more by being still then I had in twelve laps.   I was totally impressed and grateful, and filled with joy.

Affirmations: 30 Years Of Exponential Growth


Affirmations: Yes, my 7th grade Creative Writing/News Letter class was worried when they walked into the classroom. The tables had been moved into a Last Supper formation, and I was especially excited to see them. “I am so excited to see you today! Have a seat around the table.” Four refused. Seated at outlier seats to the right and to the left, they were leery of anything I might consider fun and exciting.  But, as the core team of students began the process of affirmation, the outliers began moving closer, trying to edge into the conversation.

First, I told them about my high school friends and all the notes we had passed during classes– humorous notes, cheering-up notes, dramatic notes, sorry notes, I-heard-you-sneezing-from-down-the-hall-notes, and never-ever-dying-love-for-each-other-notes, all which I had come to believe were the basics of highschool teenage-hood in my time–those crumpled notes, cried over notes, over creased notes. And, a note by a very dear friend of mine who wrote that she was going to write a Love Letter to everybody in the school starting with me.  I am quite certain that before the age of hidden cell phones up the sleeves and tucked in books, passing notes was the core of student communication. The proof is that thirty years after graduation, I still have them tucked away for rainy days, and so do other people I know.

       “So, are we going to pass notes today?” asked one of my more brilliant students.

       “Not yet, first I want to tell you about one of the most interesting teachers I ever had– Bill Taber! Do you know what he used to make us do? We had to meditate on bricks, and crumpled up balls of wire.  Sometimes he would stand on the desks, and once he even made us run around the Main Building in the snow with our socks on! But, one of the most memorable things he made us do was  to make Affirmations.”

     “Miss, was he a hippy? Are you going to make us stare at bricks? Will you make us run around the building in our socks? What’s an Affirmation?”

“Hmmm…no, not a hippy. A Quaker. You only wish I had a brick for you to stare at, and I might just make you run around the building bare-foot next time you can’t settle down.  But, Affirmation…THAT is the key word today!”

I proceeded to tell them that we would go around the table saying a positive thing about someone else at the table.  At first, they didn’t know what to say. One girl asked permission to say something nice about herself.  Then, they were saying, “She’s Nice” “She’s nice” “She’s nice” “She’s nice” and I reminded them that there were also other positive adjectives we could say about each other.  The affirmations got longer, and the outliers moved in to hear better.

 One girl crawled out from under her desk so she could participate.  “What about me, Miss? Can’t I say something?  Can I tell Jasmine that she has nice, long, silky hair?” And she laughed, and Jasmine laughed, and pretty soon everyone had something better than the last to say, until pretty soon one student was pledging her undying friendship to another student, and they were holding their hearts and saying “aaawwww!”

Okay, I thought, this is going over well.  Then, I introduced the next step.  We got a list of all the 7th and 8th graders in our school–154.  We were to divide the list into four parts, and our writing class would break up into groups of 4 and 5.  Each group has a Name Reader and a Note Taker.   The Name Reader reads the name to the small group, and the group discusses this person until they find the best Affirmation.  The Note Taker writes down the Affirmation. In this way, we will come up with a couple of pages of Affirmations for our April Student News Paper.  They will be called the Affirmation Pages. The students were totally excited by it all.  The period was over before we knew it, and they were planning the next period as they walked out of the door.

30 years ago.  30 years ago I went to Olney, a Quaker boarding school in Ohio–a place surrounded by apple trees, farm animals, forests and rolling hills.  It was a place where friendships made, and love found would last a lifetime.  And though, as in all high school back drops, there were dramas, and teenage anti-authoritarian moments, anger, and tears, there was, most clearly, a connection to the most basic human needs–a culture of love, respect, understanding, creativity, and spirit.  There have been times when I have forgotten those gifts in some of the darkest days.  But now, today, after sharing pictures, notes, and laughing, I remember these gifts with such joy–gifts that I have the fortune of sharing with my own students, and they with their friends.  Exponential force.  For these gifts, I want to say thank you.  

Karen K.L. Espaniola

Poetry

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