This Polar Vortex Has Me All Up In My Feelings, and What a Privilege That Is

If you’re lucky, the world stops in the middle of a polar vortex.  If you’re unlucky, nothing stops and there you are, working, making, doing, healing, delivering, surviving.   If you’re really unlucky, you are without a home, without proper shelter or food or gear or transportation.

I’m one of the lucky ones this go around with Mother Nature.  Our cars are gassed up, our fridge is fully stocked, the kids are in the background groaning about the iMovie app they’re trying to work on collaboratively.   Coen Brothers 2.0.  It turns out that 5 and 10 year old boys have very different artistic visions that result in noisy conflict.  Huh.

For many of us caught in this polar vortex, it is one of those precious moments that stretch into hours, sometimes days, when the world stops.  Attractions are closed.  Neighbors take the time to talk to one another as they stand in line in the grocery store or shovel out their cars on city streets.  There is a common enemy, shared experience, no blue or red, no north or south, less apparent difference.  It is us, together, against the cold, the chill, the snow.  We’re Chicagoans, strong stock, hearty, we got this.

Lake Michigan, 1.29.19. Photo courtesy of Robert McNees (@mcnees).

This weather brings out the sentimental, melancholy Irish in me.  The world is still around me, time feels suspended.  Is it Wednesday?  Saturday?  The outside falls away and the bright sun, thank goodness for the bright sun, shines on the thoughts and memories of other times the world stood still.

I made a pot of spaghetti sauce last night and I marveled that it felt like a hug from my Mom who died fourteen years ago, cliched as that may be.  The wine and the sugar in the sauce, the smell, the comfort of her embrace.  She kept me company in my kitchen last night, shared dinner with the grandsons she never met.  It was lovely.

And I can conjure my Dad in his bright red parka, bought for a steal at the Bargain Nook in Darlington, Wisconsin.  “It’s like wearing a grizzly bear,” he would say, the proudest of proud men, confident in his strength, unfazed by notions as man made as “wind chill.”  There was another day like this in Chicago, before we called it a polar vortex, when Christmas was cancelled in 1983.  I remember layer after layer after layer that he put on before going outside to start the car.  For those moments he was my very own Pa Ingalls.

But most of all, when the world stills like this, I think of Donna.  For a moment, when my daughter died, the world stopped with us, her Mom and Dad.  For a moment,  the world around us hung suspended with us in grief and disbelief and sorrow.  It is the stillness that recalls that core of grief, that moment of departure, that time my heart broke and before it started to repair itself.

Now in the stillness, Donna feels closer.

Yesterday, Block Club Chicago posted a story about a Spanish artist, Eduardo Vea Keating, transplanted to Chicago.  He makes murals out of snow.  They are ephemeral and simple and melt quickly.  I’ve been thinking about his words a lot since yesterday, in the stillness, “That’s usually how life is.  It’s full of moments.  Some are better and some are worse, but life goes on.  [The art] will melt.  Everything will pass.  Just enjoy what you have around you and try to stay positive.”

I can do that, I can find the beauty in the stillness.  Not all of us can.  Chances are, if you are reading these words, you, too, have found some stillness.  Take a moment, look around you, at the steaming Lake, at the thermostat that reads a number starting in a 6 or 7, at the gas tank on “F,” at the smiling/shouting kids wearing pajamas past noon, at the spoon covered in batter waiting to be washed.

There is a beauty and a comfort in the stillness and the cold, if you are lucky.  Can you see it?

If You Are Raising a White Child in America, Watch These Videos With Them

ADDENDUM:  Given that this story has been contextualized since this post was published, I wanted to add a couple of things.  At the time I wrote this, I did not know of the small group (4-5) of Black Hebrew Israelites who, as can be seen on video, were clearly harassing both the small group of Native Americans as well as the larger group of Covington Catholic students.  That harassing behavior appears to have influenced the subsequent actions of both  groups.  Additionally, I originally wrote that Mr. Nathan Phillips was a Vietnam veteran.  I have added the word “era” to my original post to reflect that while he served during the Vietnam War, he did not serve in Vietnam.  Other than adding that one word, I stand by my original post, even after having read much commentary and having watched a significant amount of video from other vantage points.  I believe the students from Covington Catholic acted very inappropriately on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and I believe their chaperones failed them.  

Yesterday in Washington, DC, the March for Life took place.  I know from the Twitter that lots of kids were there with lots of support from the adults that brought them to our nation’s capital in protest of a women’s right to choose.  Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham posted a photo of a group of smiling white teen boys at the march with the caption, “They are our only hope.”

Fast forward a few hours and we are seeing the ugly underbelly of “our only hope.”  A disturbing video of a group (some would say mob and they would not be wrong) of students from Kentucky’s all boys Covington Catholic High School who were attending the March for Life is making the rounds on social media channels this morning.  The boys are seen chanting and taunting and mocking and surrounding and intimidating a small group of Native Americans staging their own protest at the simultaneously held Indigenous Peoples March.

The first time I watched the video, I cried.  The second time I watched it, I resolved to show it to my ten year old and use it as a teachable moment.  The third time I watched it, I dusted off my keyboard and started researching and writing.

The older gentleman playing the drum is a Native American elder named Nathan Phillips.  Mr. Phillips is a Vietnam era veteran who lives in Omaha.  He is also the former director of the Native Youth Alliance and coordinates an annual ceremony honoring fallen Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.

You can see the grace and resolve in which Mr. Phillips, known in the Native community as Uncle Nathan, continues beating his drum in the face of his teen harassers.  He does not back down, he is not intimidated, he does not debase himself or his community by engaging with these, lets call them what they are, thugs.  To the contrary, Twitter also informs me that the chant Mr. Phillips was singing was a medicine song meant to calm anger and toxicity.

Watch the video and see for yourself:

Reports from those on the scene describe that Mr. Phillips and a small group of Native Americans were leaving the Indigenous Peoples March when they came upon the group of 50-70 kids, many of whom were wearing MAGA hats and Trump gear.  Quickly, the group of Covington Catholic teens surrounded the group and started taunting them, mocking the Native chants, and hooting and hollering.

In this America where the President frequently mocks a Senator by calling her Pocahontas, none of this should surprise, but the visual of these white teens acting so hatefully, full of ugly bravado, is still jarring to me.

When we teach our children that it is acceptable to mock, taunt, intimidate, and harass, they will never Be Best.  When the adults around them cheer on bigotry and walls, that stink trickles down to the humans we are raising, as can be seen in the feverish ode to ugly these boys from Covington Catholic displayed yesterday.

If you are parenting white children, I don’t care how old they are, watch the video with them.  Teach them what is and is not acceptable behavior.  Teach them some actual history of Native Americans and how the U.S. government has treated tribes throughout its existence, and not what children are taught at Thanksgiving.

I’ve got no doubt that if you are like me, you won’t know the actual history.  There is no shame in that, as most of us were never taught it.  So, yes, it will require a bit of effort on your part.  To get you started, Google things like Wounded Knee, Trail of Tears, the Pickering Treaty, or Custer’s Last Stand.

I first got interested in researching this history when my family took a road trip through South Dakota a few years ago.  Now I regret never having written a post about that trip, but the title I was going to use still stays with me, “The Shadows of South Dakota.”  Perhaps it’s not too late.

After you’ve watched the first video with your kids, I strongly encourage you show them this one, with Mr. Phillips reflecting on the harassment he experienced yesterday perpetrated by the Covington Catholic boys:

Again, Nathan Phillips shows his humanity, the humanity lacking in those teens, wishing that they would put their energy into something more productive than mocking, taunting, and intimidating Native elders, to use their youth and energy into “making this country really great.”  The kind of great that has nothing to do with wearing red hats and participating in mob behavior.

I only hope that I can conjure the hope and grace that Nathan Phillips does when I watch these videos with my sons.  May you do the same.

Hate in America, Or, You Know, Monday

Two days prior to a gunman bursting into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue where he killed eleven Jewish congregants, a Kentucky father wore an SS officer costume, accompanied by his five year old son who was dressed as Adolph Hitler in Owensboro, Kentucky’s “Trail of Treats” Halloween event.

There is so much wrong with that sentence I just typed that I don’t know what to make of it.  This is America in 2018.

What we know about the synagogue shooting is not pretty, but it is predictable.  A white man, armed with an AR-15, hopped up on anger and hate towards HAIS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, stormed into the Squirrel Hill neighborhood synagogue where a bris was taking place.  He yelled “ALL JEWS MUST DIE,” as he shot into the group of worshipers.

Victims from the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting.

The gunman, his hate fueled by exchanges on the social media platform, Gab, a popular site for white nationalists/supremacists and neo-Nazis who embrace “free” speech, a site which has since been disabled, left a post that alluded to his intent, “Screw your optics, I’m going in,” he wrote.

The brutal irony of this hate crime/mass shooting occurring in the hometown of Mr. Rogers is a sad analogy to where we are in this woeful moment of American culture.  Squirrel Hill is approximately 40% Jewish, home to temples, synagogues, delis, Judaica stores — a cultural center for Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.

Roughly 500 miles southwest of Pittsburgh is Owensboro, Kentucky, the state’s 4th largest city, with a population of nearly 60K residents.  Last Thursday, the town sponsored its annual Halloween event, “Trail of Treats,” a local event where kids can dress in costume and merchants host trick or treaters.

I legit cannot bear to research if Owensboro’s “Trail of Treats” is a riff off of the Trail of Tears, but my increasingly cynical self fears it might be.  For folks not in the know, the Trail of Tears was the forced migration of tens of thousands of Native Americans from five separate tribes (Choktaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole) into Oklahoma, legalized by the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  It is estimated that perhaps 10K of the 50K+ Native Americans relocated died of disease, starvation, and exposure during the forced journey.  The Trail of Tears passed through the western part of Kentucky, so, yes, it is possible this is the reference of the event.

And, just to out myself as ignorant and not knowing any better, when I was a young mother, I would jokingly refer to the toys my young toddlers left around the house as my personal, “Trail of Tears.”  Yeah, not good.  Horrible, in fact.  As a child, we had never really been taught about what the Trail of Tears was and how the US government was complicit in it.  I know better now.

But I digress.

Last Thursday, a local man brought his family to the Trail of Treats in Owensboro.  He was dressed as an SS officer, with quite an authentic looking costume, I might add, and he dressed his five year old boy as a mini Adolph Hitler, complete with armband Swastika and moustache.

The mother and father were indignant when confronted by others at the event, per their follow-up Facebook posts, where they both complained about the shoddy treatment they received by some of their fellow trick-or-treaters, and tried to justify and rationalize their choice of costumes.  The father wrote:

“….we saw people dressed as murderers, devils, serial killers, blood and gore of all sorts. Nobody batted an eye. But my little boy and i, dress as historical figures, and it merits people not only making snide remarks, but approaching us and threatening my little 5 year old boy. … Yes liberalism is alive and well. And we had the displeasure of dealing with the fruits of the so called “Tolerant Left.”

And, not to be outdone by her husband, the mother commented in a series of comments, railing against Jewish people:

“The Jewish community want us all to feel sorry for them to get more money and power.  They’re the ones who control the banks and mass media and the government at large.  The truth is the media is controlled by the Zionists.  The so-called “gas chambers” were de-lousing showers.  He [Hitler] created work camps, not death camps.”  

So, yes, this is where we are at in America in 2018.  More and more, it looks like Germany of the early 1930s.  Hitler did not come to power overnight, he played a long game with surgical precision.  He leveraged hate and fear and othering that we are seeing more and more of in America.

On a side note, while researching this post, I came across a piece of information that adds depth to the deep roots and longstanding tradition of American hate.  It turns out that Owensboro, Kentucky is home to the last public hanging in America.  In 1936, on the town square, a black man was hung after being convicted for raping and murdering a white woman.  News reports document hot dog vendors, popcorn, and children in attendance.  The crowd mauled the man’s body after he died.  Whew.

Everything is connected, folks.  Hate is an enormous tapestry that weaves together a young family in Owensboro, Kentucky with a gunman in leafy Pittsburgh with a black man killed on the public square for sport.  Right now, it seems, the looms are working 24/7 and the fibers that hold our hate are coming closer together, strengthening, bonding, intensifying.

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Acknowledging the hate we live among is hard, but it is important.  We must hold out hope and engage in work so that our love will trump hate.  Read about the victims from the Tree of Life shooting HERE and share some love and kindness today in their memory.