Talking Forgiveness

robibassam

On Sunday, I attended a brunch hosted by my friends Kristen Howerton and Laura Tremaine. We were privileged enough to have Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin of the Parents Circle- Families Forum (PCFF) come tell us their remarkable stories and speak about their efforts toward peace through radical forgiveness. The PCFF is a joint Palestinian Israeli grassroots organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict. It promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.

Robi (her story here) is a bereaved Israeli mother whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper, and Bassam (his story here) is a grieving Palestinian father whose ten-year-old daughter was killed by Israeli soldiers.

You may not think of me as a shrinking violet, but there are a couple of subjects that shut me right up. Top of the list: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though it affects me deeply and personally– I have family in Israel, including my brother and my nephew– I don’t engage about it publicly very often. I tell myself that when it comes to Palestine and Israel, I am overly emotional and under-qualified, and that whatever I say, I’ll be hurting someone I care about. Until now, I’ve dealt with that by avoiding the subject. I went to the brunch with the hope of changing that, of beginning to reach for my own voice. I challenged myself to learn, to get in the discussion, to be unafraid to make mistakes. I never could keep my big yap shut for very long.

Hearing about the losses of Robi’s son and Bassam’s daughter felt like being kicked in the chest. It was not an easy morning, but it was a hopeful one.

Robi was quick to point out that she doesn’t have an easy definition for forgiveness, or any definition at all, really. I relate to this. I’ve always thought forgiveness is a word that’s bandied about way too easily. I’ve wondered- can forgiveness be manufactured? Can you just decide to forgive someone because you think you should? Or is forgiveness an action? And if so, what action?

Robi fielded the question to us:

What is forgiveness?

“Forgiveness is owning your part,” one person answered. “Forgiveness is giving up your just right to revenge,” said another.

“Forgiving allows you to stop being a victim of that circumstance,” said Robi.

The PCFF uses art exhibitions, film, dialogue meetings, and various other creative and humanitarian projects to discuss the human side of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and why mutual understanding of the “other side” and a reconciliation framework is necessary for any sustainable peace agreement.

I was especially captivated by Bassam and Robi’s emphasis on the importance of storytelling– of narrative– in relationship-building.

“Once you understand how the other sees their story, they become human.” said Robie.

If I’m impassioned about anything, it’s the healing power of narrative, both on individual and larger cultural levels. I left feeling emotionally wrecked, but also mobilized and inspired.

You can sign up for the PCFF newsletter here, to learn more about their ongoing programs. Please do!

I Wrote a Book!

books

Hey, my site got a makeover, with the help of the brilliant Arthur Avary. Let me know what you think! I have some cool new features. You can now subscribe to the posts by email and/or sign up for my monthly newsletter. Please do! I’ll include tons of cute kid pictures.

There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on that I want to share with you…

It’s been over six years since we brought Tariku home, and it’s been slightly longer than that since I began writing this blog. I originally started it because I was so overwhelmed with the whole adoption process and I didn’t feel I had the time to properly communicate with all of our friends and family about it. It was meant to be a small thing- just a document of our family pictures and stories for our loved ones. I didn’t dream anyone else would be interested. I was wrong about that.

Throughout our long, circuitous, sometimes funny, often painful journey to start a family, Scott and I frequently felt alone. In our immediate circle, we didn’t know anyone who was experiencing what we were going through. It was during this time that I started reading mom blogs like Rage Against the Minivan, Dooce, Welcome to My Brain, Storing up Treasures, The Eyes of My Eyes are Opened, Jamie Ivey… I could go on and on. These women quickly became a lifeline for me. In their blogs, I found inspiration, connection, hope. Now, some of these bloggers are my dear friends.

Writing about our trials and joys over the years has given me an outlet for my thoughts and feelings, as well as being the place that I create meaning for myself out of chaos. It has blown my world wide open. Now, when I have questions related to adoption, or parenting special needs, or transracial families, or how to cook great Ethiopian food, I’m only a few keystrokes from connecting with answers and encouragement and support. This is what can happen when we share our stories. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. When we let others know us.

In fact, I liked the experience so much that I wrote a book about the whole glorious disaster that is us.

And now it’s mere months from publication! I just got the galley copies (the advance uncorrected proofs that go out to reviewers and press) in the mail yesterday.

books 2

It’s not the first time I’ve opened a box to see, finally, after years of work, my book between two covers. But it was certainly the most thrilling. It was also the least fraught. That’s a picture of Tariku from behind on the cover (he’s pissed that it’s not his face, actually). It makes me happy every time I look at it. I had a whole lot more ego and anxiety wrapped up in the release of my other books. Nothing can suck all the joy out of an experience quite like having something to prove.

This time feels very different to me. With this book, my hope is simply that someone out there will be made less lonely by it. I hope you read it. I hope you loan it to your friends. It’s called Everything You Ever Wanted and it’s going to be released May 5, but you can pre-order it now.

I’ll be announcing the tour dates soon. If you have a book club or an event in your town and you’d like me to come speak, let me know. I can be talked into almost anything if you offer me cheese.

Thanks for all your support and cheerleading and love over the years! I couldn’t have done it without you.

#$%@ People Say To Transracial Families…

Kristen Howerton, Deborah Swisher and I got together with our clans one Sunday and made a little video about the #$%@ that gets said to us every day at the mall, the playground, heck, on our front yards! Being in a transracial family is a very visible way to walk through the world. I look at dumb remarks as a chance to advocate for adoption and to educate people who are usually well-intentioned, but insensitive. This video is in that same spirit. Plus, we had a blast making it. Hope you enjoy it. If you do, please circulate it!

Micro-Aggressions

I love Cesca Leigh’s Shit White Girls Say To Black Girls. Can’t get enough of it. It so eloquently addresses micro-aggressions.

Micro-aggressions are described by Chester M Pierce as: brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of other races.

I’m not a comedian, per-se, but I am a storyteller and I often find myself sharing a stage with comics. So I’m pretty comfortable getting in the ring and slugging it out with big, loud racism or sexism, or ability-ism (please tell me the right word for this if you’ve been to a liberal arts college more recently than me, which is to say anytime since the industrial revolution). I’ve cheerfully burned a few professional bridges by standing up at the mic and saying, “Hey, you’re an asshole and here’s why…” I have fond memories of an evening during which a woman stood up ahead of me and told a story in which the humor depended on the collective assumption that she should be horrified that her internet date turned out to have an adoptive kid with special needs. I followed and took it upon myself to point out that I could see why she was staying single.

But micro-aggressions are often more confusing. For some that I face regularly, I have memorized responses (He’s so lucky. No, we’re lucky.). But when I’m caught off guard, I often don’t know what to do.

For instance, I was recently in a doctor’s office getting ready for the painful removal of a surgical dressing, when he told me a story that involved a “big black guy” coming to his door at 6:30 at night. You know- someone who just didn’t look like he, “belonged in the neighborhood.” And I sat there with my mouth shut and didn’t say a thing. My friend in the waiting room heard the whole exchange. She put a picture of Tariku in my face when we walked out the door and said, “You know this is going to be the big black guy who doesn’t belong in his neighborhood, right?” And I was like- sue me. I didn’t want to have a big confrontation with the guy about to rip a bandage off my face, okay?

But then I was at a reading a couple of weeks ago and another reader began by describing a “dark lady with a mustache” on an airplane and I knew we were in for it. He went on to mock her accent and her eager friendliness, calling her “Gunga-din.” And again, I sat silently. I meant to speak to him afterward, but I was talking to readers; I was signing books. Then I had to run out so I could get home and let the babysitter go. I told myself there simply hadn’t been time. But there probably had. I was just overwhelmed with everything going on. I didn’t have the right words.

There isn’t always a mic in front of my face. And even when there is, the situations are sometimes delicate, the offense subtle. I can’t always find the right joke with which to counter. And those are the kind of moments that haunt me for days. Why did I stay silent? Was I being cowardly? Opportunistic? Should I have said something? And if so, what?

I don’t think there’s a way to get this perfect. But I’d like to get better at it. I think that opening up a dialogue is always a good start.

I’m fantasizing about doing a “Shit People Say to Trans-Racial Families” video (with all my spare time, but what the hell). Who’s with me? Leave a comment and tell me your pet-peeve micro-aggression. And if you’re in the LA area, let me know if you want to be in it!

I’ll start…

Is he yours?

This is T with Kristen Howerton’s kids, btw. Man, I love those peanuts. I’m totally recruiting them for the video.

Bloggy Playdate

Sunday we had a playdate with my blog-friend-turned-real-life-friend Kristen and her amazing brood.

The only danger of hanging out with Kristen is that I immediately want three more children. She and Mark are so graceful about the whole thing that it looks like a completely reasonable option. In reality, I got cold feet about a year and a half ago about our second adoption process and it’s been in limbo ever since. I actually touched base with the agency yesterday and asked them to keep our paperwork on hold for another six months.

I just don’t know, folks. I feel so inadequate most of the time, especially when faced with Tariku’s challenges and needs. I feel like I need to get a better handle on this mothering thing before I add another little being to the equation. But is that completely delusional? Will I ever feel like I have a handle on it? For now I’m checking the undecided box and just crashing the party of Kristen’s big family once in a while.

It’s definitely challenging and overwhelming for Tariku to be around more than one friend at a time. In all, I think he did beautifully. I really saw him trying to figure out how to participate and be kind.

The nice thing about hanging out with some of the other adoptive families I know is that there’s so much less explaining and apologizing to do. They get it. They get that my kid didn’t have parents for a while at a crucial time in his development. It has repercussions We’re working it out. We’re healing. We’re doing great, actually. But our version of doing great looks different that it does for kids who have had a typical attachment cycle in the first three years of life.

I’ve learned so much about all of this- attachment, adoption, parenting, faith, love, community- from my blogger friends. They’ve made me feel less alone on many desperately sad and scared nights. I’m not someone who generally goes to blogging conferences (yet), so it’s a special treat for me to hang out in the flesh with one of my fave blogging moms. One of my fave moms period.

Sometimes I question what I write on this blog. Does anyone really care about my kid’s day out at the beach? Am I engaged in a navel-gazing waste of time when I should be working on an article or another book? And then I remember why I do everything I do- books, plays, blogs, whatever- I do it to connect. And I’ve connected to so much that I value in my life through blogging. I was reminded of that on Sunday.