Fear and Loathing

0,,18498782_401,00Imagine if your child came home from school one day and told you a story of a schoolmate. His schoolmate was cornered and thrown to the ground. He was kicked and beaten there on the playground asphalt for all to see.

What would you do?

Would you tell your child if it happened again to run and get help, to find an adult who could intervene?

Would you tell your child they should stand up for the child being hurt?

Would you tell your child to walk away because it’s not their problem, they shouldn’t get involved?

Would you tell your child that the schoolmate on the ground probably did nothing wrong but you can’t be too sure?

I’ve yet to meet a parent whose first reaction would be to tell their child it’s acceptable to watch another child get the shit kicked out of them and do nothing. I don’t know a single parent who, at the very least, wouldn’t tell their child to run and get help for someone in need.

Substitute the stage and the actors and it sums up the knee-jerk reaction to the current refugee crisis.

Listen guys. I’m as left leaning in my politics as they come, but I’m not stupid.

I understand the hesitation. I understand the fear. You see, I’m scared too. I’m scared for myself and for my family. I’m terrified for my kids; not just their day-to-day safety, but the world they’re growing up into. A world where planes seem to fall out of the sky and going out to dinner runs the risk of ending not with dessert, but with death.

I understand the fear. I feel it in my gut when I’m trying to sleep, in my heart when I kiss my kids goodbye.

Fear, when channeled, can be a useful tool. A little bit of fear keeps us on our toes. It keeps us alert. In the most basic biological sense, fear keeps us from becoming food for predators.

But there’s a world of difference between fear and loathing.

Fear may drive us to protect, to practice self-preservation. But sometimes along the way fear gets perverted into something else, something more sinister. Something like loathing.

Loathing is what happens when you let fear get out of control, when you let it take over, when you let it dictate personal beliefs and policies.

Loathing is what happens when you start to believe there is no separation between the one and the million.

If you need a reminder of what loathing looks like, pick up a history book. You don’t have to look far. Not all that long ago, the world turned its back on the Jewish population of Europe.

How bad can it get? It’s not our problem. It’s not something we have to worry about. 

Have you never wondered how ordinary people were coerced into thinking an entire religion bore responsibility for their troubles?

Just read the news. Just watch what is happening on a global scale.

Tell me how Donald Trump’s proposition of creating a register for Muslims is any different than  forcing a Jew to wear a yellow star?

How is closing mosques –just in case– any different than closing synagogues?

What comes next? What train of thinking comes next? remembering the past

Perhaps Muslim owned businesses are harboring potential terrorists. Let’s stop shopping there. Let’s convince everyone else to stop shopping there too. In fact, let’s bar Muslims from owning businesses altogether. It’s the only way to be safe.

But wait. Perhaps Muslims are funding jihadists overseas. Better to confiscate their earnings and bar them from having access to banks and funds.

Surely those neighborhood mosques are just breeding grounds for terrorists. Let’s shutter them.

In fact, it’s safer to have everyone in one place so we can keep an eye on what’s going on. Better to make them all live together in one section of the city. It’s safer that way, they won’t be corrupting the rest of us with their ideas.

Look at the way they live, no better than animals. Why we should we treat them any better than animals? Why should they use up our resources? Why should we be responsible for their upkeep when they can’t even take care of themselves?

It’s in the space between fear and loathing that we go from us to them. It’s in that space we go from compassion to disgust. In the space between fear and loathing, we go from viewing another as a fellow human being to seeing something else, something less.

I may be a left-leaning liberal, but I’m not stupid.

There is evil out there. There are terrorists intent on doing as much harm as they can, inflicting as much pain and suffering and death as they can. There is fear and uncertainty. I know, because I am afraid too. But as human beings we have an obligation to stop our fear from turning into something more. Before it turns to loathing.

We’ll never forget, the world said in 1945.



One Small Step for Man Unkind

candleGrowing up in a country not their own, attending school with children from all over the world, my children have the luxury of daily exposure to difference. Multiculturalism is more than just a box ticked on a syllabus, more than a buzzword. It’s not something to be merely tolerated, but celebrated.

I’m ashamed to admit it’s not always something I pay attention to myself, especially when the celebrations are far removed from my own experience. So when my second-grader came home earlier this week full to the brim with information about the Hindu festival of Diwali, I nodded and clucked absently.

“It’s a celebration of good over evil,” he said to me as we were walking home from school.

“You must have really been paying attention,” I said.

But I wasn’t paying attention. Not really.

I didn’t give our conversation much thought until last night, when gunman in Paris tore open a hole into the evil. When it momentarily seemed as if evil had won.

I am not an expert in Hindu celebrations, my knowledge comes from research gleaned at the tips of my fingers, but at its most basic, Diwali is a festival of lights: a celebration of light over darkness, of knowledge over ignorance, of good over evil.

There are times like last night when that celebration seems premature. This morning, as I read the news coming out of France it seemed certain that the darkness was encroaching, consuming. That evil was winning.

And yet as long as there has been darkness, there has been light. As long as there has been evil, there has been good.

Mankind, or manunkind as my favorite poet penned, has a capacity for darkness that boggles the mind to contemplate. A bleak and black core that eclipses any light around it.

And yet this capacity for darkness is not new, it’s not different. It is the same angry song sung to a different tune. There has always been evil in the hearts of man-unkind. Yet so far good has triumphed in the end. It is the core of mythology, of legend, of poetry and song, of history.

We see it on a smaller scale daily. We read about it in newspapers. And times, like last night, we watch it unfold live across a television screen, across a Twitter feed.

And yet somehow there is always light. A pinprick, a lamppost, a guiding light. We saw it last night as the citizens of Paris opened their homes to those stranded and scared. Sometimes that light is a beacon to others: a star hanging over the city Bethlehem, oil to burn a lamp for an eighth night, the light of a thousand candles lighting up the darkness of a new moon.

Make no mistake. Evil is there, within a heart of darkness or hiding behind the pretense of a God. But darkness is not religious, not the work of anyone’s God. Darkness is the enjoyment of chaos, of terror, of killing. It is blood lust that feeds only on itself.

The methods change, the religion, the costume. Swords, concentration camps, bombs, guns.

And yet, somehow there is light.

On nights like last night, it’s easy to feel consumed by the darkness, by the unkind in man. It is easy to look at the horror and terror, at the atrocities we seem to be capable of inflicting upon one another in the name of something altogether unholy and think there is no way of stopping it.

Perhaps we won’t stop it–not completely. But as long as there is more light than dark, more knowledge than ignorance, more good than evil, there is still reason to celebrate. To light a star on top of a tree or a menorah or a candle lighting up the night of the new moon.

My heart bleeds for Paris, but it bleeds as well for victims of darkness we don’t read about, oreiffel-tower-black-and-white-poster write about, or publicly stand with. My heart bleeds for those without a beacon right now. Those is Syria, in Nigeria, in places where the news cycles have become so inundated we’ve become immune, or worse, apathetic.

As my children are encouraged to become more familiar with the unfamiliar, as they are encouraged to learn about the traditions and celebrations, the lifestyles of others, not merely to tolerate but to celebrate those differences, I wonder.

Maybe this is the way good will win. Maybe it is the way light will triumph.







The Other 1%

I know it's uncomfortable. But it's for your own protection.
I know it’s uncomfortable. But it’s for your own protection.

Nothing’s gonna happen, Mom. Don’t worry.

It’s a constant refrain from my children, especially as they get older. They are most probably right. 99% of the time, they are probably right.

But I’m a mother. I worry about the other 1%.

It started early in pregnancy when I worried my son was epileptic. It turns out he had the hiccups. When his noggin seemed too bobble-headed big for his body, I worried he suffered from dwarfism. It turns out he just had a big head.

We mothers worry. We worry about the big and the small, about the everyday and the horror movie stuff.

I just sent my eldest off to an international football tournament. As I watched the bus pull away I had to first get past the Marvel Avenger level worries: the bus will be engulfed in a huge fireball! Aliens will land and demand their brains! The driver is really an enemy agent and has a dastardly plan to sell them all into slavery! Then I had to swallow the more humdrum worries: he’ll be homesick, he’ll score an own-goal and want to sink into the Earth, some giant twelve-year-old who is already shaving will step on him, he’ll get a stomach bug.

I’m 99.9% sure none of that is going to happen.

But I’m a mother. I worry about the other .01%.

O children of ours! Forgive our mother brains for the looney-tune crazy places they go at times. We read a news story on People and worry you’ll get cancer. We worry we’ll get cancer and leave you, which is a whole different level of worry. We worry you’ll be kidnapped or attacked or molested or disappear into nothingness like the children in all those television shows on BBC.

We worry you’ll be teased or have no one to play with or not get invited to the birthday party everyone else is going to. We worry you’ll struggle, you’ll get Bubonic Plague, you’ll get picked last for the team. We worry your fever will never go away but keep going up and up and up until you spontaneously combust. We worry your heart will get smashed. We worry you will be lonely, alone, frightened or confused.

Where are the children? Take me to the children!
Where are the children? Take me to the children!

We worry we won’t be there when you need us.

If you delve deep enough, dig to the heart of the 1%, reach the core of the statistically unlikely, there is one simple, common fear. All those crazy mother worries boil down to one thing.

I won’t be there when you need me.

Whether it’s to rescue you from a fireball or an asteroid hurtling toward earth or to kiss your scratched-up knee and tell you it will feel better soon.

O children of ours, it’s why we sometimes seem a wee bit obsessive. Why we insist you call us when you get somewhere or text us to make sure you’ve arrived. It’s why we can seem unreasonable about the food you eat. Because sometimes in that twisted mother brain, not eating your carrot sticks directly translates into a lifetime of health issues and you needing a kidney transplant while we stand over you and fret.

It’s why we make you wear a helmet on your skateboard even when you’re just going down the block. Why we compulsively check your breathing when you’re sleeping soundly. Why we drill safety instructions into you. Don’t talk to strangers, don’t skateboard along railroad tracks, don’t cycle through yellow lights, don’t text and drive, don’t play with matches.

Didn't your mother ever tell you not to talk to strangers?
Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to talk to strangers?

Because any mother’s biggest nightmare lies in the .001%. Something will happen to you. Something horrible or dreadful or even just slightly uncomfortable. The depth of concern varies, the whats run the gamut between the mundane and the unthinkable, but the heart of it is essentially the same.

I won’t be there when you need me.

I know my kids are right. Your kids are right. 99% of the time there’s nothing to worry about. 99.9% of the time it’ll be just fine.

But I’m a mother. I worry about that other 1%.



The War on Common Sense

Guys..it's a cup.
Guys..it’s a cup.

I got back from a weekend with friends to find parts of the American populace worked up into a hazelnut froth over a….coffee cup. That’s right. Not guns or abortion or marriage equality. Not Planned Parenthood or Obama’s birth certificate or even the U.N.’s secret peacekeeping mission in Texas.

A coffee cup.

Now, I’m worthy of some pretty spectacular mental gymnastics when I’m stretching to prove a point. I have, on more than 743 occasions, jumped to a conclusion. But…a coffee cup??

Did Susie Q. Public go into her local Starbucks, order her usual venti dodecahedron mocha latte latte chocolat-é with extra skim froth milk and walk out with her red cup convinced Starbucks had declared a war on Christmas with a….cup?

Did Joe Q. Plumber pop in for a quick grande double shot and uncover the Great Starbucks Christmas Conspiracy?

Is there some Da Vinci code type thing going on that I’m just not getting? Because to me the logic on this one goes something like this:

Starbucks holiday cup is to war on Christmas like

A. Common sense is to what the fuck?
B. For real? is to Get a grip
C. Seriously? is to Surely there are more important things to focus on?
D. All of the above

The last time I checked, red wasn’t a Hanukkah color. Or Diwali. Traditional Kwanza colors include red, but also green, black and often yellow. You know which winter holiday is most often associated with red?

Ding, ding, we have a winner!

Yet Susie takes it to Twitter: Starbucks is anti-Christian! Their holiday cup is red! Obviously Starbucks doesn’t care about its Christmas celebrating customer base! Demand a boycott! #waronchristmas #nomoreventimochalattechinosforthischristian

And Joe takes it to Facebook: Starbucks hates Christians, otherwise they’d bring back the polar bears and snowflakes! It’s just another example of pandering to the political correctness machine. Deciding to do away with cute little snowmen is only speeding up the pussification of America. Starbucks just lost my business! Like if you agree!

A coffee cup?
A coffee cup?

I’m sure the global Inuit population would be surprised to find out that reindeer are the exclusive symbol of the reason for the season. Snowflakes too. Don’t forget the snowmen. Those cheery corn-cobbed souls are clearly designed to represent the birth of the baby Jesus.

Yet those are the ‘Christmas icons’ that decorated Starbucks cups in the past. People are outraged that their cups don’t have polar bears and snowmen on them. Hot milk frothing at the mouth angry. And yet..

It’s a cup.

A cup.

A cup, for House Blend’s Sake!

Time Magazine is addressing the issue. CNN is covering it. Even a potential presidential candidate is taking the time to address the color of a take-out coffee cup.

Have people lost their minds?

Oh right. The war on Christmas. That old chestnut roasting on an open fire.

Thing is, there are plenty of wars being fought in the US right now. The one over women’s bodies and reproductive rights. The one over race. Guns. Health Care. Terrorism. You don’t hear much about the war on drugs anymore, but it’s still there. And yet every year I have to hear the craziness about the war on Christmas.

Starbucks has not declared war on Christmas or war on Christians or even non-Christians who celebrate a more secular version of the holiday.

You know how I know? Because Starbucks is not stopping anyone from celebrating Christmas. Just like Target isn’t stopping anyone buying Tonka trucks or Barbies. Just like eating rainbow-colored Doritos isn’t going to make you gay.

The color of a take-out coffee cup has no bearing whatsoever on someone’s right to celebrate the religious holiday of their choice or wish someone a Merry Christmas or Happy Festivus if they so choose.

Because it’s a cup.


Wishing someone an inclusive ‘Happy Holidays’ when you don’t know what, if any, holiday someone celebrates? That’s called being inclusive, it’s not dropping bombs on Christianity. Sending out a card wishing someone well? That’s called being polite, being kind. It’s not setting fire to the ideals of one group. Getting upset that someone didn’t wish you a specific ‘Merry Christmas’ because that’s the holiday you celebrate? That’s just being an asshole. Going ballistic over a coffee cup?

Well, that’s just plain cuckoo for coco-nutty lattes.

If and when buying a take-out vente pumpkin spice cappuccino results in the forfeiture of celebrating the religious holiday of choice, come find me. I’ll happily rant in their corner.

Until then, let’s focus on the war on common sense, which we seem to be losing at an alarming rate.