Home of the Free

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Paris..Paris..Paris

Few cities evoke a swooning, glossy eyed smile the way just the mention of Paris does.

Its magic, its mystery, the food, the language, the romance, there just isn’t anything quite like it. I know, I live there.

What started out in my 20’s as a summer study abroad program grew into a passion. Much like the dozens of other stories you read, I went there for three months and never wanted to leave.  Thirty years later, I finally made it. Sometimes I pinch myself to remember its real.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or rather during the interim 30 years, I lived out other dreams in another Magic city, Birmingham, Alabama. Ok, yeah, it isn’t the same kind of magic. Its name comes from a title bestowed upon it during the heyday of the steel industry. It is one, if not the only location in the world that possess all three ingredients necessary to make steel. And for that, it was proclaimed “The Magic City”.

I doubt very many know the history of the nickname,

and for good reason.

Unlike Paris, a city that many fled to when the spotlight of segregation, racism and hatred filled the streets of our country, Birmingham became the icon for all that was and is grossly, horribly wrong with any one race, or individual, feeling superior to another.

I was a very small child during the height of Bull Connor, dogs, fire-hoses and the KKK, but even I felt a sadness and confusion, despite my inability to comprehend what was going on. It stayed with me, though I never spoke of it, until now.

I grew up in a “quietly” racist family (like racism could ever be quiet) where my grandmother wouldn’t allow the black woman, my “nanny” to sit at the table and eat with us. Nanny was my second mother. She kept me, and later my sister, from dawn till dusk, while my own mother worked a full time and three part time jobs. Unable to process my grandmother’s behavior in my child brain, I would simply gather my plate and sit in the kitchen floor to eat with Nanny.

After all, this was my Nanny. I often spent weekends in her home, sleeping in her bed, my sister and I, drinking coffee like grown-ups, (although I am sure the cream and sugar outweighed the coffee part considerably). We played with the other kids when there and looked forward to Sunday bar-be-que when Nanny would sell plates of ribs, turnip greens and cornbread to the neighbors, while we danced to the blues music of Slim Harpo. My mother, who despite her overstretched life was full of magical moments, (such as unorthodox midnight picnics on a golf course), trusted this wonderful woman to care for us, teach us and love us. She did. And in return, we loved her.

And so I grew up.

I never considered myself an anarchist. I was raised to be polite, quiet, obedient. And thus, in keeping with my southern heritage, I became a pleaser, a peacemaker. I said the right things, I did the right things. I didn’t make waves, or create problems. I understood, even as a child that my mother was juggling too much already; struggling each and every day, just to keep the pieces in place. I wanted to support her, in my own minor way, to not be a burden.

But I just spent three days with an amazing group of women. Well, amazing doesn’t begin to cover it actually.  These women live in all corners of North America, come from varied backgrounds, in a myriad of shapes, sizes and colors, but all with a single desire, to impact the world we live in, in a positive way, in a mind blowing way.

And you know what, they will.

It is the reason I am writing this blog now.

To

  • Be real, open and vulnerable

(Which is why I posted a video on FB that I spent only 15 minutes composing and then shot in one take – with no lip gloss; no touch ups; no favorable camera angles, assistants or airbrush.)

  • Be willing to not be liked

(The reason I am speaking on this subject now.)

  • Stand for something

(Again, the reason for this post.)

  • Be courageous enough to be authentic

  • Stop trying to please everyone

(This one is particularly challenging for me and the final reason for this blog post.)

Part of doing these things means being vocal, loud even, when necessary. That is not my strong suit. I prefer to step back, remain unheard and let those who would speak louder, do so. This habit, or character trait if you will, is ingrained in me, since one of my top five strengths is Empathy. I am an Empath. Which means that I intuit the feelings of others and have the ability, if you will, to see both sides of a situation, or perspective.

But what is taking place in our country, well, even for an empath, it is impossible. Reminiscent of the violence and hatred in years gone by, I struggle to understand what compels it, what feeds it and how can it be eliminated.

Why do we hate each other? How can people in our country live in constant fear? Isn’t this is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave? What is brave about terrorizing others for their differences? Where is the freedom to be different, to be unique, to be special?

I return to Paris next week. It would be far too easy for me to get on the plane and leave this behind me. Until the next time I return. But I can’t. I can’t because I believe in the greatness of the people I just spent three days with. I can’t because I believe in the greatness of this country. I can’t because I believe in possibility. I believe that we are each and every one responsible and that we can make a difference.

JFK once said,

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

He also said,

“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”

I am one voice. Perhaps my words ring shallow, or trite, or easy because I have not walked in the fear that plagues people of color.

All I can say, all I know, is that we each have one voice. But if we add our voices together, there may yet be hope.