A conversation at the YMCA

I was in the changing room at the Y when I heard the most amazing thing. This lady who I’ve known for a few years through my water aerobics class asked me what I thought about “The Trump thing”. She actually didn’t even give me time to give an answer. She started saying that “He has a point, that all the terrorist attacks were being done by Muslims and so it was a good idea to keep them out of this country.” She even said that she had some Muslim friends but she still thought that it was a good idea.

I paused and looked at her and shook my head a little. I said “I can’t believe that you’re actually saying this. I can’t agree with you at all.”

She said “What? All the terrorist acts have been done by Muslims.”

I said
“What about Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine murderers?
What about Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Murrah federal building?
What about James Holmes, the Aurora theater shooter?
What about Sandy Hook massacre, by Adam Lanza?

These are all acts of terrorism
that have been perpetrated
by young white males.
They weren’t Muslim.”

Sadly, the list is much longer than these that I could recall off the top of my head, with all of them committed by young, white, males.

I then quoted this famous speech from Martin Niemöller, speaking about how the German people didn’t stand up against the Nazis during World War 2.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I said “I can’t stand behind this entire idea of keeping people out based on their ethnicity. That’s racist.”

I repeated the word “racist” several times through the last part of my discussion. I wanted her to hear it for what it is. I wanted her to think about her support of something that is as dangerous, as un-Christian, as inhuman as racism. I’m sure she didn’t even think of herself as being racist.

At the same time I was thinking of the Rwandan genocide, where nearly a million people were slaughtered by their own countrymen over three months, simply because they were seen as “other”, as “lesser”. They were called “cockroaches” by the leaders, who encouraged average citizens to take up machetes and kill their own neighbors. I’m sure they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong either.

When we marginalize a group, when we group them together and say that the actions of a few represent the whole and propose eliminating the entire group, then that has moved from racism into genocide. We have to stop this entire way of thinking before it is allowed to get to this point. These are like weeds that will take over the garden, choking out all beauty in the world.

At the end of my speech, she said she didn’t know all of that. She recognized the names but hadn’t put it together. She hadn’t realized that in America, more acts of terror have been committed by non-Muslims than Muslims.

I’m grateful for all the classes that I’ve taken that allowed me to maintain my cool and answer her in a calm way to educate her. Years ago I would have thought she was wrong, but not been able to speak up. Now, I was able to not only take a stand against a racist but also to educate her.

We must all be lights in this world. We must all combat racism and ignorance no matter where it erupts.

Speaking up.

I overheard two regulars talking in the library today. They are both white men over 50. To be honest, only one was talking – the other was listening.

He was talking about the police officer who pulled a gun on unarmed teenagers at the pool party. He was sympathizing with the police officer, saying that he had attended two suicides that morning – and went into graphic detail about one of them. I was considering telling him to be mindful of where he was at that point alone. Small children do not need to hear brutal details like this. Heck – I don’t need to hear them.

But what made me speak up was that he kept going on about the officer, and the kids, saying that they were wild and unparented.

I leaned in and said “That still does not give him the right to pull a gun on unarmed teenagers.”

He agreed – but as I was walking away he then said to his companion that he would have shot them.

I continued to walk away. There are only so many battles to be had.

A few minutes later he caught up with me at the front desk. So many people think of us as a sympathetic ear there. We have to listen – right? Public servant, and all. We are trapped behind the desk. We can’t defend ourselves.

He said that so many of these kids weren’t being raised by parents, but by their grandparents. He is generalizing, and stereotyping. He doesn’t know these kids or what their home life is like.

I repeated – that still does not give him the right to pull a gun on them.

He said “You know what I would have done? I would have pulled a billy club on them!”

I said “That is unfortunate.” and walked away from the desk. He is unreasonable and it isn’t worth continuing the discussion with someone who speaks like this.

Note that in front of me he changed what he would have done from shooting them to striking them with a billy club.

As I was walking away, he again repeated that the officer had attended two suicides that morning. I did not respond.

Whether that is true or not – does seeing someone kill himself give another person a right to kill?

To be silent to injustice is to condone it. Will he change because of what I said? Doubtful. But that wasn’t the point. It would be great if he changed, but if I didn’t speak up I would have been part of the problem. I don’t feel qualified to have long debates on any hot topics. I do better with writing than speaking. But I had to – because to me, his words were the same as hitting someone in the face. I have to speak up, or the violence will continue. The poison that he was spewing would spread. I cannot allow this to happen in front of me.

Expected death

Imagine if you got pregnant, and you weren’t told anything about what was going to happen to you. Or imagine if you were the friend of someone who got pregnant, and knew nothing. Neither of you had been through it or known anybody who had been through it. You’d not read about it even. When the contractions start to happen and the water breaks, it is going to be pretty scary. When the baby is born, you’ll both be freaked out.

But if you know what to expect – if you know that it is normal – then you’ll know what to do. You’ll stay calm and handle it.

Death is like that too. There are certain identifiable things that happen, and they are only scary if they aren’t known. They are different from how things are otherwise, and because they are different they can be unsettling. But they don’t have to be.

We’ve medicalized birth and death in Western society, and it is to our loss. We’ve forgotten what it is to go through these natural human experiences. We used to see birth and death in our homes, because we would all live together as a family, several generations together. We didn’t go to the hospital to give birth or die, with strangers or alone.

There are plenty of fine articles online where you can read up on the signs of death, so I’m not going to repeat their information. I will tell you that the more you learn, the more you’ll make a difficult situation easier.

Not learning about it won’t make it not happen. It will just make it harder when it does happen.

What hospice is and isn’t

I like the idea of hospice. They are trained for care, not cure. They help a person die a natural death, rather than unnecessarily prolonging life. They don’t do assisted suicide, but they don’t do feeding tubes and ventilators either.

But I don’t like it in a way. I don’t like that there has to be a division between them and the rest of the medical profession.

I have a friend who trained to be a nurse. She learned nothing about what the dying process is – what the signs are, what is normal, what to do. She’s asking me what the signs are, what happens.

There is also a misunderstanding about what hospice does. When my Mom was dying, I assumed that the very infrequent visits from the hospice team were because we were on Tenncare. I was used to us getting the short end of the stick, the last of the loaf. I was used to having to sit in clinics for hours for treatment for everything. So seeing a nurse for about thirty minutes every day seemed par for the course. Having a “bank” of time for a sitter seemed normal too. There was a total of 20 hours I could use, so I had to be careful how I budgeted it.

Turns out that is the way it goes. From reading up more, and from the stories from my mother-in-law having hospice care, we weren’t unusual.

When you call hospice, they are there to help, but the family members are the primary caregivers. They are drafted into service, shanghaied even. They do most of it. The nurses come by to change medicine if necessary. The rest of everything? That is on you.

They don’t sit with the patient 24 hours a day until they die. They don’t check them into a specialized hospital and care for them. It is on the family to do the heavy lifting, literally and metaphorically.

They might provide a handbook that helps. If you are lucky, all the pages are there. Sometimes they aren’t. Fortunately, these days, you can look up “Signs of death” online and get a lot of helpful advice.

Ideally, all nurses and doctors would understand that death isn’t something to be feared. It is a natural part of life. It is only scary if it is unknown – like everything else. Fear comes from ignorance – learn as much as you can and you’ll not be afraid.