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We are the ones

In a rather ironic (or perhaps more so disgusting) display of cultural co-option, we sat next to a mother and her teenage son in a quaint and lovely Salvadorean restaurant in Carmel Valley as they proceeded to talk jovially about building a border wall.  We are not normally conversation lurkers, but the tables were close together and my dinner companion and I already raised our eyebrows as the young man discussed service in the military as a resume builder, rather than as …service.

The mom and her son started to discuss the logistics of wall and how one might go about “keeping them all out.” I did not hear all of this myself and relied on my dinner companion to send whispers of Spanish over to me.  But I was (unfortunately) able to take in smattering of the conversation – of how it would be essential to pursue the environmental checks to protect the Rio Grande – though no conversation was had about the welfare of the people.  The duo then turned enthusiastically to the topic of who might get the contract to build the wall, citing rumors about Israel, given their projected sophistication at these types of things – and Trump’s desire to reward his allies.  To the young man’s credit, he had the math skills to realize that $20 billion was a gross underestimation of the walls costs; more like $50 billion he said.  And they both knew that this endeavor would load the pockets of someone else – and indeed, the U.S. would pay for the wall.

My dinner companion stepped in at this point and said.  “I’m sorry, if we end up building the wall; I want to be on the other side of it.  The woman then countered with “Enjoy it; I hear there are lovely beaches” as if hers was a harmless discussion.   We said “welp” in our heads “and there are marvelous people there as well,” assertively and out loud.

Our two tables finished our meal conversations in awkward separation.  The mother and son left.  My dinner companion and I were beyond irked and immediately leapt into passionate conversations about just how horrible this was.  “How dare they enter this space with all of that!”  We bellowed our outrage at the chef/owner of the place.   “They’ll eat the food, but have no love for the people.”

And yet, to no surprise, he was the wisest of us all.  He simply said “ni importa; we’ve already won.”  While the actions may have had a bit of sting, his sights were set on what really mattered. You see with decades in the U.S., he knew that his influence had already been made.  They were sitting at his table, weren’t they?

And he told us about all of his family members, his son, his primos y primas, his nieces and nephews, who were making their way through high schools and higher education.   “Education is the way to win,” he said.  He noted through education they would have opportunities that we didn’t have; he was so satisfied that his life was lived for this purpose.

Over the next bit of time, one of his wait staff told us his story, as to why we could not disturb ourselves with such matters.  He had lived in the U.S. for 26 years, but remembers the clarity of being in El Salvador during the years of civil war and waking each day to say “Maybe this day I live, or maybe today I die.”  He talked about hiding under beds and his mother’s clear plea to soldiers to leave the children alive.  We did not talk about whether his mother had survived.  However, this was nothing.

These men epitomized a statement that I hold so dear: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  A lot of people confuse this statement with an urge to pick one’s self up by the boot straps.  To the contrary,  what it does say is that we have the power to manifest change — and we cannot wait for others to tell us that’s okay.  These men clearly understood that and their eyes were on the long game.  They had stepped in to their power and in that moment would become our sages.

Though there are many origin stories of this phrase, here is one poem, crafted by June Jordan, that speaks it.  It was read in commemoration of the 40,000 women who went before the United Nations in bodily protest of the pass laws in apartheid South Africa. Perhaps, in this Month of the Woman, as we look at how our immigrant sisters and brothers are facing great marginalization, it is time for all of us to be the ones.

Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptismal smoke where yes
there will be fire

And the babies cease alarm as mothers
raising arms
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea

we are the ones we have been waiting for


Au naturale

Yesterday, I finally made out to the local, traditional Korean spa/bathhouse that is renowned in this area.  With stressor upon stressor entering into my life these past few months, it was just what the doctor ordered.  It was about four hours of total relaxation, ending with a complete scrub down and massage, mini-facial, and hair treatment.  I went home with an empty mind and a body without muscle tension. What more do you need.

But this experience was also an encounter with America’s complex on nudity.  One of the reasons it to me so long to get to the spa is that I had taken a few pauses reading some of of the sensationalistic online reviews.   Review after review discussing how awkward and shocking some of the nakedness is or in some cases criticizes other approaches of the spa’s services.   A few months ago, I found a few good friends who needed relaxation as much as I did and who were free of “naked issues” and we planned our day.

In reality, the place was anything but shocking.  There were only a few parts of the spa (all separated by gender) where everyone were required to be completely nude.  And then you are around women of all shapes and sizes and it becomes crystal clear how much mass has altered the image of what a real woman is.  They have turned us in to something akin to the Stepford Wives, images in media often portraying a one shape fits all woman.  We were one of many groups of friends communing and relaxing.   The most endearing moments were the ones where I saw two old ladies together — friends for a lifetimes — catching up on the latest news, taking turns washing each others backs, taking care of each other.   Or the grandmas with their little granddaughters sleeping on their shoulders.  The policy wonk in me has to believe that this is protective, helping little girls learn early that they should be comfortable with their own bodies and that develop bonds with women is healthy.

My own opinion is that Americans have sexualized nudity; we think we should be completely alone in our nudeness or engaged in a sexual act with somebody.  We are more accepting of the notion that someone would have a gun harnessed to our waists than to be comfortable with our own humanness.   Don’t get me wrong, I am appalled at the pervasiveness of pornography, but we have to separate those images from our just being and even real sexuality.

A day after — I feel the heat in my head and eyes from my serious sauna action.  I’ve peed like every two hours as the toxins are flushed from my body.   Lots of water with lemon and honey and green tea for me today.   But my friends and I are also busy plotting a regular quarterly trip to the spa.  Because — as I said before, this is not an unorthodox experience.  If anything, it’s conventional and essential for our health.

The infamous “I don’t do resolutions.”

Every year when the topic of resolutions is brought up in conversation, there’s undoubtedly someone who offers “I don’t do them” in their very best judgmental voice.  The statement is usually accompanied with a side order of contempt.   Perhaps that’s because the notion of resolutions being trivial or easily broken.   Who knows? Plenty of my Facebook friends had posts on January 1st that laughingly proclaimed “I was gonna do this but…” I took the posts for what they were, usually entertaining.

When the push back comes, I can only chuckle under my breath.  For me, resolutions are about resolve.   Call them what you want, maybe you prefer to say they are goals or aspirations?  But resolutions are often about making a commitment to achieve what you want or believe in for improvements in life.  The new year is a natural place to work some goals out them as you begin one of the very obvious cycles in your life and where visualizing what you want may actually be helpful in achieving it.

I’ve done all sorts of resolutions.   Many are simple adjustments.   I’ve committed to pick up a hobby during the next year or make changes in my diet.   Very early on in my days in DC, one change was to give up milk treated with antibiotics or myriad growth hormones.   It was easier for me than a daily cereal eater, but still has had financial consequences for a new professional who was broke and paying triple price.  It was not trendy to buy organic milk yet; the harm of BGH and antibiotics in cows was still widely suppressed.  It remains to this day one of my favorite and most deeply abided by resolutions; I even try to buy organic or untainted milk when I travel (it’s really, really hard).  At the time of making this choice, it also came with interesting scrutiny from my equally broke friends.  Now many are moms and dads and they are freaking out about the numerous poisons that their toddlers are exposed to during the week just by eating a square meal.

Since my mid-twenties, I’ve usually had multiple resolutions per year.   And because I have a serious travel bug, I also often have one that’s about traveling more or differently.  This year, my travel goal will be about both.  I’m hitting a bucket list goal of going to the Grand Canyon and I’d like to go international or minimally adventuresome more often.   This year, at least one of my resolutions is deeply personal and won’t be revealed to anyone.

Resolutions aren’t just for the start of the year but it’s often a good place for me to catalyze different goals.   For those who choose to forgo them, it’s an important choice and I do respect it, too.  If that means your choice is not to make any goals at any time then you may be losing out.  In a year like 2012, where everything moved so fast and I could barely remember yesterday from tomorrow, because I know what I wanted, I still have a very real of accomplishment and it feels amazing.

I’m a sunrise person now…

Every time I get those cute little surveys — sunrise or sunsets? — it has been an obvious choice for me.  Whether I have the luck of being on a beach somewhere on a warm island or I’m crossing a bridge after a rough drive down 95, catching the hues of orange and pink have always made my day end well.   Maybe it’s that my sleeping patterns have changed as I’ve moved into my 30s (rising without an alarm clock!), but this year I’ve had new found appreciation for sunrises.

I’ve had a lot of great sunrises recently.  During a trip to Las Vegas, I was placed on the east side of a hotel and saw the sun come up over the mountains every morning…beautiful.   But I probably had one of my best experiences during a visit to Bar Harbor, ME and Acadia National Park.
Went up to Cadillac Mountain summit, which happens to be the highest point on the eastern seaboard.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the highest point on the East Coast, it’s the highest point within reasonable proximity of the ocean.  The view from above gives you all sorts of views of the island, but is particularly situated well for sunrise.   My friends and I were up early and to the mountain by 4:15 a.m.  We arrived slightly earlier than needed, which was a reward.  As one of the first few groups at the mountain, we had a peaceful start and were able to feel the energy and more people gathered on the mountain.  We also saw the very first cracks of lights.   Rich tones of purple and magenta changed to pinks and oranges ’til the sun brought the blue sky with it.

Pictures just don’t do justice.

The light begins touching the horizon and reveals a classic view of Bar Harbor — the Porcupine Islands.

Is this our American identity?

It’s been hard to articulate all of the thoughts and emotions that I’ve had about Gurdwara shooting in the past 24 hours.  Besides the sheer horror of it, I think the dialogue around the shooting has once again revealed disturbing facets of the American identity.  Is our country be more accepting of violence and intolerance than we’re willing to admit?

I’m saddened that one of the overarching narratives is about Sikh Americans being misidentified as Muslim.  First, it continues to reveal deep society gaps about anything that is remotely different from Christinity and our general acceptance of that ignorance as an appropriate excuse to do horrific things to people.  Secondly, it reveals how much prejudice we’ve been willing to swallow against those who are Muslim. What is conveyed when we say that we misidentified the group?  Would this shooting be okay if the folks inside of that gathering place were Muslim? Or as I’ve heard many people vocalize, have we become comfortable generalzing Muslims as extemist?

I also can’t quite comprehend the violence.  It is senseless and systemic, and so unfortunately engrained in our culture.  As someone that regularly covers her eyes when watching violent movies, I admit that I don’t have a good threshold for guns, knives, physical abuse and often the accompanying injustice that comes with them.   I embrace this as a good thing, though it sometimes makes excellent movies about equally excellent subject matter, like the Hurricane and Amistad, impossible to watch the second time around.

It also feels as if we’ve reached a point in our national dialogue where we only discuss violence in the context of mass murder and the vividly outrageous.  Don’t get me wrong.  As someone who just noted certain disappointment in our level of committment to get to know Sikh Americans and Muslims, I believe that we need to dedicate time to understand why we find ourselves so often on the course to these tragic events.  One prays that  the shootings in Oak Creek and Aurora will actually be an opening to discuss gun control in this country…doubtful.

Yet, there are also guns deaths happening on a regular basis that are equally unacceptable and incomprehensible. Chicago, IL had a reported 260 homicides by July 4th, and continues the trend of violent summers.  Part of me believes that much of this stems from the same problems — we fail to humanize and deem important the lives of those who seem different from us.  We live in our increasingly  segregated neighborhoods where we don’t even have to acknowledge what is happening to people day-to-day to those who are separate.  In the Windy City, most of the deaths are isolated to the south side where the black and brown kids live. Out of sight, out of mind.

The challenges behind our American identiy, what has happened, and solutions to come are more nuanced what I can write here.  That said, I feel there’s ample evidence of the need for a counter culture, at least a discussion provoked, on our relationship with violence — and more broadly intolerance of other people.


Living History

A few weeks ago I had an afternoon at the National Mall with the AIDS Quilt – the beautiful tapestry symbolic of the lives behind the pandemic.  Looking at the Quilt brought back memories of years ago when I was volunteering at the Duke infectious disease clinic.  I had packaged these moments and slipped them to the back of my mind.  But as I unfurled pieces of the Quilt, the time at the clinic came back vivid and fresh.

When I previously went to see the Quilt, it was on instruction from one of the clinic directors to go up to the hospital’s prayer room.    The Quilt had become too big to display in its entirety in any one place, so the keepers of the Quilt began sending out the panels for viewing around the county.  One came to Duke Hospital, an opportunity for those in North Carolina who had never had the opportunity to see it.  Sadly, it didn’t take long to bring dishonor into a space intended for reflection and meditation.  The pages of the Quilt’s visitor’s book filled with vitriolic hate speech – mostly homophobic and entirely anonymous.   So I spent my afternoon making sure that visitors to the room were not there to deface the Quilt.  It’s interesting to see how behavior changes when there is someone watching.

One thing that struck me was the significant amount of deaths represented on the Quilts in the early 90s. Only part of the AIDS Quilt is displayed at any given time, so it’s true that I was not  seeing every panel (the AIDS Quilt now represents about 100,000 individuals), but I was struck so many of the panels were about people who moved on from this world from 1992 to 1994. This one a baby.

But it’s hard to know how things have really changed at all when it comes to HIV/AIDS in the U.S.  Certainly medicines and treatment have improved when one access to them.   For most of the 90s, there was AZT and the AIDS cocktails that could be dozens and dozens of pills a day for a person with the disease.  They wreaked havoc on people’s bodies and often could be as harmful as the disease.  Today there are better products.  Now those living with HIV or AIDS are figuring out how to deal with a host of secondary conditions, many times dealing with complications, but living nonetheless.

But most of the experiences I had were less about medicine and more about the human condition in the face of adversity.  Most people were just trying to find a way to live “normally.” Every time I showed up to the clinic, there was a different task for me to do.   I’d come in one day and there’d be a parent who didn’t have access to child care.  I’d watch their little one, so mom or dad could have their appointment.  Years of high school babysitting came in handy – especially since some of these children were uneasy.  In their hearts, they knew that their parent was dealing with something challenging, even if they didn’t understand.   Sometimes, I’d be asked to visit patients in the hospital who were experiencing the worst of AIDS.  Many had lost their support systems – or had family far away – since it was much harder to find care for the disease.   I went to see a patient one day, who amidst tears told me he wasn’t up for visitors.  I had walked in to his room after he had received very bad news – news that his treatment was working and that he was likely on a road where he wouldn’t return.  He was crushed.   I was crushed.

Then there were the moments that were about medicine…and morality.  I walked in one day and one of the doctor’s was on the phone with a patient.   Once the doctor hung up, he opened a drawer a revealed a stash of medicines.  He started putting a bag together.   He let me know that the man on the phone had just lost his insurance and therefore his medicine.   He noted that the patient’s HIV status would like evolve to AIDS if he didn’t have regular access to medicine.   The secret stash was not exactly what one would call by the book.  But that was a defining moment in my life when I realized that you must question all the rules, and put always live to a higher purpose.

In my return to the Quilt I spent a lot of time thinking of now and then.   We have better treatments, but we often don’t get them in the hands of those who need them.  We fail to see the bigger picture intersections of our societal framework with the disease itself.   In Washington, DC, the rate of HIV/AIDS among African-Americans is equivalent to many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.   The segregation by socio-economic condition, many times race, and quite literally by a river – both make it easier for other Washingtonians to ignore what’s going on, living in blissful ignorance.

I also believe that part of the challenge is the intolerance that still exists around the disease.   Different from my Duke experience, my only guarding task a few weeks ago was to ensure that no one stepped on the Quilt.  However, behind closed doors and on our larger scale, our continued fears to discuss sexuality combined with a waning sense of obligation to a broader human kind, both play a big role in how we address HIV and AIDS.   Well still skirt over the issues in deep whispers as if talking about it will cause transmission of the disease.   On the Mall, the meaning of the Quilt becomes so pronounced, when juxtaposed against the legions who come to our Nation’s Capital and make a beeline to the Hope Diamond and Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers.   On that day it was nice to see a few families take a moment out of the oft demanding museum schedule to reflect on legacy of this disease in our country, truly living history for a little while and perhaps taking a little bit back to their day-to-day lives.

In July, the International AIDS conference was the U.S. for the first time in 22 years. The conference made its return following President Obama’s announcement to lift the travel restrictions for persons with HIV and AIDS. The AIDS conference had stayed away for both practical and very important moral reasons. First, if you are truly going to have a conference about ending HIV and AIDS, you must have all stakeholders, including the activists who are directly affected by the disease, in the mix. Secondly, it was important for the U.S. to understand that it was plain wrong to ban HIV+ individuals and further stigmatize them – as if they will spread the disease by virtue of getting on an airplane. Indeed, this is the very type of intolerance that foments disdain for foreigners and ignores our own challenges in domestic AIDS prevention.

What’s Good for the Soul

I don’t have much of a morning routine, but what is regular about the start of my day is my music.   Almost as soon as I get up, I switch on my stereo.   Yes, I still have a stereo and yes, I still listen to the radio.   And the music that pours through during these early hourshelps me get through my morning grog and be ready for  the day ahead.   I had a good music morning moment recently when I flipped through the radio to land on an interview with Melanie Fiona about her new album.   Besides some amazing songs, I left ththe house that morning feeling like I had just gotten a bonus.

That’s the every morning thing, but like other people music is a part of my all day experience.  I wear the mp3 player to work and often at work. I listen to the soundtracks of Gladiator and Blood Diamond to zone in to work.  So many songs evoke memories.  “Highway to the Danger Zone” will forever be attached to Top Gun, just as the entire “My Life” album will be eternally equated with the years when I was coming of age.

And so I woke up this morning and saw this video and felt so lucky to have seen this.   This video is of Henry, a lovely senior who immediately captured my heart with his musings about Cab Calloway and jamming to music.  According to his caretakers, and the rather misplaced British commentator, he is rarely responsive, but with music he has been “quickened.”  I

Old man reacts to music from his era

I hope that I get to live a life as long as Henry’s, and I hope that when I do someone realizes just how important music can be to our soul.  It brings feelings and thought, it triggers memories, it brings livelihood.