I am fatigued.
I had spent an afternoon scouring the internet for information. I became enveloped in a vortex of research on a slew of different topics when something popped up in my Facebook feed. I really don’t know why I chose to pay attention to this particular meme. I am not really a fan of most memes. I also don’t know why I chose to look at the comment section, but I scrolled down anyways. I wished I hadn’t.
Permanent words written with a digital Sharpie pen. No shame. No apologies. Just direct words of warning, ignorance, hatred, and a suggestion of murder.
I immediately looked for ways to report that person on Facebook. Then I waited for my son to come home from school.
My mind was reeling. I struggled to work. I started to think about my mother.
• • •
It was my freshman year of college. I can’t remember if my mother wanted me to stop by for dinner, or if I had just had it with cafeteria food and was in need of some decent home cooking. Either way, Mom hadn’t seen me in a while, so I had made plans to head over there. I asked her if I could bring some friends along for the ride. She said, “Of course.”
My mother was a God-fearing person who, for many years, worked in the main office of our parish. It was a kind of home base for her throughout her divorce, even while dealing the conflicting relationship between her own religious ideology and her disintegrating marital circumstance. Abusive or not, it was still a marriage under the eyes of the church. It helped that the priest, while still an old school theologian, was somewhat progressive and forward thinking.
I remember speaking to my mother on that day as if I was trying to prepare us both for some horrible truth. I mentioned on the phone that one of my friends was going to bring his boyfriend to dinner. I asked her if that was ok with her while almost lecturing her to “behave herself” in a self-righteous, daughterly tone. I don’t remember her ever mentioning to me one word either for or against homosexuality in all my years of knowing her, but I was young and I was in the beginnings of discovering I had the strength to assert myself in parental-daughter relations. AND I knew that what the Catholic church believed was in direct opposition of my personal beliefs on this subject. I also knew how opinionated she could be. Therefore, I was determined to let her know that she MUST keep any dogmatic ideas she had to herself on this matter.
“Kimmy, don’t be silly. All of your friends are welcome.” I immediately felt shame for trying to pigeonhole her into a tiny box of beliefs.
My friends and I had a fantastic time. We conversed. They loved how genuine she was. They adored her naivety and they gently teased her for it. I still miss seeing my mother smile and laugh in such a freeing, uninhibited way. She was not happy very often, but when she was it was organic and lovely.
It was also around this time, when I would come home on weekends, I would overhear phone conversations between my mother and a longtime friend of the family. He was struggling with his own sexuality issues and as a direct result he was in the midst of losing his family. My mother and he would speak for hours. She would listen and counsel and comfort. They would laugh… loudly. They spoke candidly and without reservation. In those moments, I would see her true spirit. Looking back, it was in those moments that I admired her most.
• • •
After Jack had quickly finished scribbling down his handwriting homework in a desperate attempt to be able to watch next episode of Spongebob, I asked if he could stop by my computer before turning on the TV.
“You know how daddy and I always tell you how important it is to stand up for other people. Especially people who are being hurt or made fun of?”
He said it quite nervously. I think he felt a little interrogated.
I debated showing him the above screenshot all day. Only one week prior had he heard a child say a bunch of hate filled words on the bus. “He said the N word, the B word, the…” All those words, said by a child mostly for shock value, and recited like they were ingredients on a shopping list, are creeping into my child’s world at unacceptable rate.
I stroked Jack’s arm and showed him the comment. Those terrible words. His eyes got very wide.
I explained to him how the word FAG was just like any other hateful, shameful name invented to label a person. I explained to him that not only was this a “bad word” floating around in a sea of other words, but that statement was an outright expression of hatred. I told him that the saddest part of this is that it wasn’t written by an unknowing, naive kid trying to test the waters. This was penned by an adult with fully formed beliefs who deliberately chose to express himself in such a way. This wasn’t about a difference of opinion on marriage equality. This was about a basic disconnect of humanity by using the phrase “a shotgun shell through the side of the head” as the exclamation point to his terrible statement.
“Sometimes grown ups can be bullies.”
Jack stood silent.
We talked for a few minutes. I reassured him that the world can be a really awesome place, but explained to him that sometimes, some of the people in it may act less than “awesomely.” That sometimes your world will be interrupted by moments of terrible words. Words said for a laugh, words said to be hurtful, or words said in order to make some sort of sense out of something. And sometimes it will be the “grown ups” spewing forth such nonsense that goes against everything you know to be right.
“Sometimes grown ups are not always right.”
Sometimes you may make a mistake. And sometimes you may get punched or kicked and your heart may get hurt by others who simply do not agree with where you decided to place your feet on that day. But the standing up matters. And the people who matter will always stand with you.
“Listen to what your tummy has to say. It will most likely never steer you wrong.”
I finished by telling him about his grandmother. He listened, asked a few questions, and then he was done. He wanted to play.
• • •
I wish I still had my mother to talk to.
I see the bullies everyday, in living color, on their soapboxes, all over the internet, and in my backyard. I read the far too many stories of rape culture justification. I watched the internet blow up with harmful rhetoric towards people of color in regards to the Boston Marathon Bombing. I see the call to arms from the internet masses as their words fill the comment sections of internet news stories and political blogs, begging for permission of some invisible authority figure to finally “send all these people back to where they came from.” Extremists everywhere. One bully speaking more loudly than the other.
These are the grown ups.
I see the reports on the Twitter feeds of the vicious, misguided bullies and the Instagrams of people battling low self-esteem.
I see the passive aggressiveness of this world whittle away at people.
I sit in an Anti Bullying seminar for our school district and my heart hurts. I sit and wonder why on Earth I decided to bring a child into this world. I sit and wonder if I am really strong enough to watch my child wade through all of this nonsense. I can barely wade through it. I sit and wonder if any of us have the power to change anything.
I try to keep my thoughts from drifting towards righteous indignation and despair. As much as I try to operate towards justice, I can be flawed, apathetic, and unreasonable, as well. I know all too well of my own missed opportunities brought on by my own complacency at times. The world’s terrible side can always creep in.
I throw my arms around myself in a makeshift hug and begin weeping for some motherly guidance. It is then that I realize, she already gave it to me. And she keeps whispering it to me when I need it most. And what she is usually whispering is that simply and plainly we grown ups, myself included, have to stop being assholes to ourselves and to each other. In turn our kids will learn and follow suit. We have to be empathetic. We have to stand up.
I don’t know how my mother would have felt about Marriage Equality or the perpetrators of this or any other terroristic activity. She died before she could bear witness to 9/11 or Oklahoma City or Columbine or Newtown or any other catastrophic event played out in living color on our home turf. And I am guessing she would probably would not have much to say about marriage after trying her best at a doomed one. All I do know is that she believed in humanity and justice and long phone calls filled with listening and laughter. I have to hold onto a world like that. Jack has to know these things. Jack has to know that people like this exist. It is the only way anything will ever change. It is a small thing in a vast world of many things. But it can be the beginning of something.