Sunday Morning ~ Invisible Lines

Sunday Morning ~ Invisible Lines

October 28, 2018

The marathon is in one week and this morning I did my final long run. I’d been at a global nursing caucus for two days and was staying in Littleton, and decided to do the run before driving back to Maine. I ran to the next town, Harvard, where Rachael and Amelia met me to see the movie set where Little Women is being filmed. No sightings of Meryl Streep, unfortunately, but it was cool to see the set. They’d remade the center of the town to look like colonial Concord, which didn’t take much, actually. There was new signage on the general store that said “Concord” instead of “Harvard” and a set of buildings built to match. These were just shells of buildings set next to the general store. Gas lamps were piled in a section, ready to be placed along the sidewalk when the scene will be shot. I looked at one of the new buildings with a drape over the entrance that said, “Union Army Soldiers Fund”. I remembered that this story starts during the Civil War. I loved that book as a kid. I probably read it ten times as a young girl and then listened to it on tape about fifty times when my kids were little. I used to say to my kids, “See how they helped their mother who was out working? They got her supper ready for her! Their father was away at war. They were worried about him.” I loved all things old fashioned. I always felt like I was born in the wrong century. I wanted to be Jo. 

As we drove home, Amelia kept referring to the lines on the road. I said, “Yes, they mark where the cars are supposed to go. We have to stay on our side of the lines.”  I thought that was fairly straightforward. “No!” she insisted, “The invisible lines!”  This to me sounded like a silly attempt to control the conversation since Rachael and I weren’t including her in whatever we were talking about. I said, “You are just being silly. If the lines are invisible, how do you know they are there?” She said, “Because we were in Harvard and now we are in Littleton.” I thought about that for a second and then got it. I said, “Oh! You mean the boundary between towns? That invisible line?” She nodded with a big smile on her face as if she were proud of me for finally figuring it out.

She makes me think about communication and understanding, invisible boundaries, and where we are heading. I think of lines that divide towns, states, countries, and voting districts and how they have shaped our lives. What a bizarre species we are to divvy up land like this.

Invisible lines. How many wars have they caused? Who drew them? European men? Lines are drawn through groups of people sharing the same DNA who now must live in separate countries. They live with different government and regulation because somehow this invisible line appeared. How confusing. How does it get explained? There is an invisible line and the people on this side pay more taxes and have better schools. Their houses are worth more. The lines run through forests and farmlands, jungles and rivers. I ride in the car and think of how this all must appear to indigenous people who lived on this land belonging to no one and everyone.  

I want to hide all the ugliness of the world from this sweet girl smiling in the back seat. I wish she could grow up in a storybook where everything turns out ok. But it wasn’t ok. The war took it’s terrible toll, Marmee was distraught but held it together ( I always loved that), Father was injured, Beth died; it was hardly a cheery time. But the girls gave their presents away to the poor. They were good to the core though the world wasn’t. It never has been. 

Sunday Morning ~ Door to door

Sunday Morning ~ Door to Door

October 21, 2018

Hi Everyone,

I spent yesterday afternoon canvassing for the  democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in my district (Jared Golden, by the way. If you live in Maine’s second district, vote for him). I couldn’t believe I was doing it, having never imagined I’d have the guts. Going door to door intimidates me, or did. I guess I imagined people don’t want anyone stopping in and interrupting their day. I feared doors being slammed in my face, and after my experience last week, I was paranoid. This house race is important. It could mean taking over from the zombies and restoring some semblance of humanity to our government. We could flip a seat and if I could do anything at all to help, I wanted to. I needed to. If we don’t recover the house, I would never have forgiven myself for not knocking on doors and begging people to vote. I would have thought it was all my fault. 

So the experience was more fun than I’d expected. It’s a rural area and finding houses was a challenge, but generally, people were receptive and willing to talk. Of course, this is what we were told would happen, but I didn’t believe it. I’m reformed. Plus, it was neat to see all the hidden neighborhoods and landscaping. I loved that. I’ve gotta say, I’m intrigued by where people place their doors. I am very interested in doors. I find it curious that at some houses I had to search for the door! Like it wasn’t clear which way to go to get into the house. Many of the doors looked like they hadn’t been opened in decades. Some were obvious, as in, there was a path that led to an actual entrance as I always thought was standard, but really, nothing says “don’t come in” like not being able to find a door! Lots of people were out working in their gardens; they were happy to chat. Most agreed that change was needed and that gave me a shot of optimism, but I know I live in a bubble here. Much of the northern part of this state is conservative, intent on voting against their own best interests. I am praying the money being funneled into the dipshit we have now, is a waste. We need to win this. We have to.  

I went to church this morning for the first time since I’ve been home and arrived with twenty seconds to spare. I took my seat in the front pew on the left side of the center aisle. My family used to fill that pew, all seven of us, tumbling in just as mass was starting. It was usually empty; a lot of people don’t like to sit in the front, for reasons I don’t understand. We learned early on with little kids, if they only see the coats in front of them, they get bored more quickly than necessary. So we always sat in the front. It made for drama occasionally, like when Jake threw up, or when Jordan slipped and hit his chin, but most of the time, it worked well.

The church was sparsely populated today. My first time back, I was looking forward to seeing my friends. It’s a phenomenon here, making friends at church. That’s not really a Catholic thing. We don’t usually meet people to socialize with at church, even though we may see the same faces each week. Friendships that blossom outside the structure–– it always seemed that was a protestant thing. But here I have a real church community. I like it. 

I noticed right away that Joe, our deacon, was sitting alone and wondered if his wife had passed away. She hadn’t been well for a long time. The organist was playing familiar tunes, and I looked at her and tried to calculate her age. She has to be nearing a hundred years old. On Christmas Eve, many years ago, she and Matt played a duet: drums and violin. It was easier for her to bring her violin to our house than for Matt to move his whole drum set, so they practiced up in his grubby bedroom. She didn’t seem to even notice the chaos. I thought she was elderly then and it had to have been over twenty years ago. The music they made together was beautiful. It made me sad to think about it. I was so proud of the way he behaved and the respect he showed her. He was maybe fifteen and she maybe seventy (five?) but they were two musicians jamming together and enjoying it. We tape recorded it one day when they were practicing and sent it to Prairie Home Companion for their “Talent from Towns Under two-thousand” competition. It was really good. I personally thought they should have been chosen. I wonder how different Matt’s path would have been if they had. 

The priest today was recycled from years ago (in fact, it may have been the same one who was here that Christmas). Back then he was angry and disagreeable. We couldn’t wait until he was transferred. But he had a different tone today, softer and kinder. I spent a lot of mass remembering who we were back when he was here before, an intact family who went to church every Sunday. Our kids were altar servers, Matt was a lecturer. I loved who we were. 

Religious education was early in the morning, before mass. We carpooled with another family so we wouldn’t all have to go an hour early. On our Sundays to drive, we’d drop the kids and take our coffee to the beach a mile away. We’d read the paper and talk. It was such a wholesome existence. I was so happy with us. 

I didn’t recognize a lot of people in church today. There are still lots of visitors, stretching the tourist season out way longer than I remember. I felt a bit needy. I was worried no one would notice I was back. I was nostalgic and weepy. At the offertory I was getting money out of my wallet when the basket was suddenly under my nose. It’s passer leaned forward and whispered,  “Welcome Home”. I choked up. There was no sermon because the priest was sick with a cold. I was hoping he wouldn’t be the one on my side giving out communion, but he was. I had no choice, being in the front and first in line, but just decided to take an extra big swig of the wine to kill any germs. I went back to the pew and was kneeling with my head down and felt a firm hand on my shoulder. It was Joe, the deacon, walking up to communion, acknowledging me. I choked again. He was so good to my kids. He believed in all of them. 

The mass ended with one of my favorite songs, “Sing to the Mountains, Sing to the Sea”. It always seemed to fit well in this simple little church where the long windows surrounding us give nature the center stage. I looked out to the lilac tree covered in dead blossoms and thought, “I need to prune that.” I used to make that a priority on yard clean-up day, but it doesn’t look like it’s been done since I left. 

After mass, people gathered and chatted. Joe told me his wife had died a year ago. I choked, wishing I knew and could have sent some kind of condolence at the time, thinking how important that was to me when my mother died. I chatted with people I knew, happy they looked happy to see me. I thought of how we used to do that every Sunday and how the kids would get frustrated that we were taking so long to leave. I wondered how they remember that. A painful childhood memory, or one of those that bonds you to your siblings? In a good way? 

We walked to our cars, waving goodbye, mentioning the weather. It was so comforting and sweet. I drove home, feeling lonelier than I wanted, listening to the puzzler on NPR, thinking how I’d never have predicted this is where my life would be right now, and that somehow gave me some hope for the future. We just don’t know. 

Love to all,


Sunday Morning ~ White Privilege

Sunday Morning ~ White Privilege

October 14, 2018

White privilege. During my time living and working in various places around the world I have thought about this phenomenon. It’s so obvious when I am there. It’s easy to get swept up in the glaring problems and how one’s skills might help, but the end result or process isn’t so easy to evaluate. In Congo this was discussed a lot. Are we helping or hurting? Is saving someone’s life enough in the moment, or is it causing long term harm by perpetuating dependence? It’s one reason why I didn’t want to work with MSF again. When I found the SEED program, which would focus on educating medical professionals and build capacity for delivery of medical services in the local setting, it made much more sense to me. I believe in the program. I felt part of the team of Malawian colleagues who were working hard to improve midwifery education. I completely believe in the midwifery ward project and want to promote it any way I can. I also feel it is a model that could be used around the world, including in Maine, where the problems with delivering maternity care are similar, though not identical. 

All that was challenged this week. As I presented the midwifery ward project to a group on Friday, it was pointed out, very publicly, that I was full of white privilege and had no right to be presenting on this as I was not Malawian. Whoa. That was a show stopper. My slides were offensive and disrespectful I was told. This was nearly the same presentation we gave in Rotterdam, the major difference was that Ursula and I did it together there. I had never considered that I would be offending anyone. I believe this is a great project that could be duplicated in Maine, where women are also suffering in the system. This person took me down. I had to struggle to even continue, not sure if I should, or shut the projector off and walk away? Or open it up for discussion and bag the rest of the presentation? People had paid to attend this conference and I was madly trying to figure out what to do, standing in front of everyone, trying desperately not to faint as my vision got blurry and legs started giving out. But that’s all about me, of course.

White guilt, perpetuating colonialism, white privilege, white, white, white. 

In the late 80’s, we were deciding where to make our home and considered all we wanted out of a good life, including schools for our children, access to cultural events, proximity to natural beauty, affordability, etc. Maine was a good fit for us. The drawback was the lack of racial or cultural diversity as Maine is a very white state. We’d envisioned raising our kids amidst diversity. In lengthy discussions about it with friends, it was pointed out that Maine may not have much racial diversity, but it certainly has socioeconomic diversity. There is incredible wealth here and devastating poverty. I started looking at those parameters as another type of diversity. Working in the medical system, it is blatantly obvious. There are two standards of care. maybe more. So what is really helping those in dire poverty? Does our skin color matter when the poorest here are of the same tribe?

I get frustrated when some men I know deny or refuse to acknowledge male privilege. Do they really not see it? Do I know what they should do about it? Am I willing to make suggestions about how to be more cognizant of it, or should I plant my feet and tell them to figure it out themselves?  

In some ways I’m grateful for the public scolding because it has made me think a lot about the issue and how my actions feed into perpetuating white privilege. I also wonder if it was productive? Would it have made more sense to point it all out in the Q&A where we could have had a meaningful discussion and done some problem solving? It made the audience uncomfortable; it made me mortified; is that the most productive? As I did the eighteen mile training run today, I thought no discomfort I felt during that run could come close to what I felt during my presentation Friday. I’d been so focused on us being one group of midwives, working for the same cause, I hadn’t broken us down into black, white, hispanic, native american, or any other race. I just thought we were all midwives and who cares what color anyone is? I never could recover to make that point and I was too guarded about every subsequent word worrying I would set off another tirade. Watching the audience look at the floor for the remainder of the hour took some guts. I’ll give myself that much. Nothing is clear right now, but I still have the underlying conviction that we’ve got to come together for a common cause. It scares me to think of fractioning off like this, though I want to move forward with respect and intention. How that happens is unclear. I hope the fog lifts soon.

Sunday Morning~ Three Point Five

Sunday Morning ~ Three Point Five

Green Lake, Wisconsin

…long-term change never comes with submission, resignation, or despair about the inevitability and intractability of the status quo.  ~Erica Chenoweth

October 7, 2018

On Saturday morning, walking around Milwaukee, I came across this historical marker:

The Rescue of Joshua Glover

Joshua Glover was a runaway slave who sought freedom in Racine in 1852. In 1854, his Missouri owner used the Fugitive Slave Act to apprehend him. This 1850 law permitted slave catchers to cross state lines to capture escaped slaves. Glover was taken to Milwaukee and imprisoned. 

Word spread about Glover’s incarceration and a great crowd gathered around the jail demanding his release. They beat down the jail door and released Joshua Glover. He was eventually escorted to Canada and safety.

The Glover incident helped to galvanize abolitionist sentiment in Wisconsin. This case eventually led the state supreme court to defy the federal government by declaring the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional.

State Historical Society of Wisconsin

Like most people I know, I’ve been in a dazed stupor trying to grasp what has become of our nation. Injustice is nothing new in this country. Our past makes the recent violation of human rights seem rather quaint. We’ve all got lists and lists of examples of it in the workplace, the athletic field, bedroom, wherever. We’ve been socialized to tolerate it. Every new travesty seems like a an unstoppable steamroller flattening a country I’d wanted to love.

Midwives have been tolerating this crap for generations trying to advocate for decent care for women. In the male dominated, money grubbing system, we fight, work, despair, and burn out. Witnessing abuse of the women we care for by those in power is just another day. I quit my job over it, did a TED talk about it, and scream about it almost every day of my life. But it goes on.

Several years ago the community hospital where I worked hired a male doctor to join the medical staff, one who would be part of the women’s health team. Until then, it was me and Mary, a family practice doctor, sharing the responsibility for women’s health and maternity care. When new-guy Mike came on board our cesarean section rate tripled. We complained. Not all of these surgeries were medically necessary! But he brought revenue to the hospital and wealth to himself, so who cared if women suffered for it? Mike blatantly sexually harassed nurses and patients while blatantly flaunting medical protocols. He altered medical records to support his actions, and administration refused to act on it. We provided evidence, we begged medical staff to support us, we went through all the standard processes of the sham they call peer review. He continued to practice abusing women in the name of medicine. Many on the medical staff knew it but refused to speak out. Mary spent years trying to get him removed from the staff and was crucified for it. It took a huge personal toll on her. I quit my job over it. This is the crap we’ve dealt with. A male physician is allowed to continue to practice having knowingly committed a felony (altering medical records), lying pathologically when confronted (including to administrators who acknowledged they were lies), and basically mutilating women for money. Ho hum. Just our medical system. He was finally fired when (oh surprise!) one of the older white males on staff finally spoke up, but that was probably more because he was worried the hospital would get sued than to advocate for the women he was harming. This reprehensible doctor was finally arrested for wife battering and his career finally ruined. Poor thing. And was there an apology from administration for not believing us and letting it go on as long as it did? That would be no. The powerful never admit they’ve made a mistake. 

So, yes, the socialization continues. We live with it until some undefined breaking point when the powerful go just a bit too far. I despair and try not to lose hope or energy thinking more about immigrating than fighting when I find inspiration in a historical marker.

Three. point. five. percent. Historically no regime has survived a resistance of more than 3.5% of it’s population. None. Not the worst dictators in the world. It’s possible. We’ve got eleven million people willing to rise up and resist, but it must be sustained and we can’t lose hope. What would that be in Maine to bring down Susan Collins (or whoever she is now)? Three hundred thousand or so? We can do this. No more begging her not to sell us out. No more throwing up in my mouth while thanking her for a rare vote that actually reflected a shred of humanity. Jesus.( As if preserving health care for her constituents shouldn’t have been a no-brainer.) I’m done wasting my time with her. No more begging and pleading to stand up for decency. I’ll focus my energy supporting those who will bring down these motherfuckers while we still have something left of our judicial system.

So I’ve been researching the 3.5% rule. Here are some basic principles: 

  1. We can’t give up.
  2. We must show up and get others to show up.
  3. We must have a common cause and focus on it. Right now it is taking back the house and senate for the democrats, no matter how flawed you believe their tactics. We’ll hold their feet to the fire but we must get them in.
  4. We must persuade others to this cause.
  5. We must be willing to volunteer and utilize our strengths in different areas.
  6. We must not lose hope even when there are setbacks like this week.

Onward. Come with me. There is safety in numbers.