How You Fit Into My Prophetic Dream

I flew a lot in my dreams when I was a kid. It would start a bit slowly, and sometimes I rowed the air with my arms while swinging forward on a pillow to build momentum. Even now I could feel the exhilaration of taking off, sailing above land. This one particular dream was different, though. Vivid with a heaviness of meaning.

Up in the air stood a booth with wide oblong belts for sale, each with 666 stitched on. Everyone was required to buy and wear one. To refuse could mean death.

I refused.

In the dream I said it was because Jesus enabled me to fly that I wouldn’t dishonor Him. In the next moment, I found myself soaring higher than I thought possible. I perched atop a fence that scraped the sky and beheld the city below.

Fast-forward about a decade. I wished the fight between Mom and Dad were something I could wake from. It got so bad my mother and I ended up spending a surreal night in a motel. In the morning I found myself in a church van on the way to a retreat I had agreed to go to for some unaccountable reason. Broken, angry, I was one unapproachable 17-year-old who scared the counselors away. But the speaker shared something out of the book of Exodus that caught my attention. “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” The eagle pushes her young out of the nest not to abandon them but to teach them to fly. And eagles are the only birds to chase the eye of the approaching storm. Using the pressure of the fury for wings, these regal birds go right through it only to come out higher.

Into my darkness came this beacon of understanding about God’s loving dealings with His own and called to sudden memory the dream where I had flown, spurning the mark of the devil. I sensed the specialness of my dream all over again. I felt its promise of good. The reminder of the ways of eagles was meant to prepare me for the many storms I would face into adulthood. God started putting back together the shards of hopelessness in my spirit and I left the weekend retreat one radically transformed convert.

Two years later I was thrilled to settle into a large apartment-like college dorm unit. But I slowly came to feel something was off. One day while brushing my teeth, I leaned forward to study some engraving on the wall. My eyes grew wide. 666. It was carved in invisible ink but get this – one that glowed in the dark. And I discovered the number all over the walls and in the bathroom, with splotchy marks on the ceiling and an eerie stick figure of an angel on the inner door of my room. I learned from others that Christians have felt freaked out in that building, and friends urged me to request relocation.

I stayed.

I would live my old dream, meet the trial head-on. I couldn’t in good conscience flee the force of darkness with the power of light at my disposal. But it was really difficult and I actually look back in wonder at the determination of the girl twenty years my junior. I’ve grown softer since, for better and worse. Let’s just say I prayed a lot that year.

So you see that my dream has resurfaced at certain mileposts on my journey, a harbinger of the challenges and joys. Thinking about the blogging that has been so transformative for me, I made the connection once again. It’s felt like I’ve been flying. Not for my numbers, with bloggers out here who have done far better, but because writing with you has given me another life. I feel direction. I have a blueprint for my blogging. I’m not posting primarily for the likes or to raise my stats though I’m glad they help mark my blog. I don’t try to come up with the next post simply because it’s time. I don’t want to just take up space on WordPress. I hate inefficiency in all things. If I’m going to think and stomp and sing and ask why and why not and eat my words and be filled I want to do these things with you. You’ve received so well the collaborations I have tried out that you gave me a taste for what is possible in community. When I toss my list of daily to-dos and silence the noise of talk and cars, I don’t want to find at the end of the day I’d been running in a hamster’s wheel. Which I do, in many areas of my life. But on A Holistic Journey, I have drunk air that’s revived me. I go places, I daresay, on wings.

And the best part is not flying solo. Today’s sermon at church happened to cast fresh light on my ruminations on this post. The Bible does not talk about my potential, my personality, my gifts. Our personal fulfillment comes naturally when we pursue our calling. And our calling is for others. Not just in the Race Around the World but in our interaction and discussions, my purpose has been to encourage you out of your nest of fears, setbacks, uncertainties and to test those wings. Your steps echo off this blog as you hurry away to write something for your own readers. Your heart reached your mind, which they say is the longest distance between, longer than how far we are across the world. And fingering the ball and chain of my disappointments and burdens, I cheer you on to gain your ground and lift off. Because dreams do come true.

The Race Around the World: Behind the Scenes

So I’m taking a breather, slowing my pace, taking stock. Behind the unassuming titles in the series has been a lot of work. I have combed through the submissions and tapped some contributors for as many as six drafts for the clearest chronology and descriptions. I would not be surprised if my “Would you please clarify what you mean…” has pursued the poor writers into their dreams at night. The feedback on the Race has been overwhelming. I am deeply grateful for responses like K’lee’s from Obzervashunal:

“[You] touched upon something so universally potent, you have created something so unbelievably amazing here, a groundbreaking series. I know you feel it, but I hope you REALLY feel it. If this were a book I had the privilege of sampling, I don’t doubt I would buy it. It feels so GLOBALLY impactful. Thank you for taking this on!” Other awesome readers who also saw this project as an ebook forced me to consider it, and consider it from several angles I did. I’ve decided it’s not feasible. Even if I had the time to put a book together, the legalities, pricing, copyright present themselves a thicket I don’t have the wherewithal to cut through. You not only have embraced my vision of exploring what is unique and universal across cultures but have dreamed for me. And you pull me up to higher ground. I wish I had more than thanks for you.

I was also taken aback by the response on my own story. One reason writing is a challenge is that you’re so deeply in it. When you’re your own topic, objectivity is even harder, if not impossible. You just don’t see what others do. I was surprised by and appreciated how you took to the glimpse of my autobiography. What I, in turn, found interesting was observing you, my reader. Watching you graciously welcome guests, investing time in their stories, willing to broaden your mental horizon. My own perspectives are limited by my experiences, and so it’s been neat to see others find fascinating an opinion or event that happened not to hit me in any particular way.

LESSONS SOME OF US LEARNED
I learned how ignorant I am. The back-and-forth with the contributors and readers taught me so much. I kept imagining Simpel Me (who wrote Part 5) was black just for the word Africa – until I added white in the title White in North Africa. I literally had to spell out what color he is to get it. Asian-Australian. Modern-day Lakota Indians. A reader mentioned Black Canadians. I hadn’t realized such groups existed. I also noticed that how we approach life and view ourself very much drive our view on race. It doesn’t go just the other way around, as the questions I’ve posed imply. Elizabeth, for instance, revealed that the fear of being hurt that she carried from old traumas impacted her relationships across racial lines. She, along with two other contributors, shares a bit about what the dialogue over her story did for her:

“Participating in the Race was a fascinating experience. I told my story somewhat hastily, truncating rich experiences and failing to articulate that appearance and accomplishment matter less to me than character and kindness. The responses were overwhelmingly supportive and encouraged me to now engage, rather than stand idly by in the face of intolerance and ignorance. It was during these rich exchanges with the readers that I realized the nebulous hostility I’d sensed from non-whites while growing up was due to this unwillingness on my part to engage and to my own perceptions, rather than reality.

Reading the other contributors was inspirational and daunting. Living as ex-pats, relating the divergent existences of being called a king one minute and living as one of the crowd in a big city the next, and following God’s response to intolerance are some of the highlights from this series for me. Thank you for including me on this journey, my passport and soul heavily stamped with broadened understanding and appreciation from my travels.”  The Race: American Cities, Part 4

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Jenni says, “Firstly I’d like thank HW for coming up with this idea and having the tenacity to see it through. The editing and back and forth alone would have taken time as well as balancing the diplomatic knife edge of ‘suggestions’ about another’s writing style and format but I cannot argue with the results. Reading the stories from the Race so far has been fascinating and participating in it myself was a unique experience. It was so strange to put into words ideas that had been nebulous feelings rather than direct insight and having to delve into the whys and wherefores of the past and the role my ethnicity played in it was a more than a little humbling.

It is one thing to ‘know’ that one has been fortunate. It is another to see it baldly exposed with the obvious unfairness between my life and that of those who’ve not been as lucky. Humbling doesn’t really quite cover it – mortifying is probably closer to the truth. I think I would feel worse if I had not realized much of this years ago when I was reaching for ways to rebuild my world. While I had been aware of the doors my ethnicity and class opened for me, I had taken it for granted and not really looked at the why. Writing for the Race I was forced to put into words and so clarify to myself how being a WASP had impacted my life. When I went through my break/melt/shatter down all those years ago I had to rebuild my life all over again. In the process I realised that while the world in which I had always swum was ‘easy’ it wasn’t what I wanted or who I wanted to be, and thus I started to reach for the new and break down some of the ingrained attitudes and test my boundaries regarding how I saw the world and people in it. But it wasn’t until I participated in this project that I gave it ‘formal’ thought or clarified it in a way that could be explained to another.

The honesty in the different posts and the genuine interest and connection others made to my piece and the other participants made me glad that I had been as forthright as I had. I hope to continue to grow into my life and I think the lessons pulled from my subconscious during this task will be of great assistance in the future, giving me a kind of clarity I had lacked regarding the direction I am taking with my journey. Thank you for walking with me for part of the way.”  The Race: Down Under, Part 8

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Shazza says, “I’m blown away that anyone cares. My story didn’t seem interesting to me. But I guess when you write it down, it does resonate because so many people have experienced some form of racism. Some of the stories really jumped out at me. I didn’t want to stop reading those. I wanted them to continue.

The dialog, feedback, and follow-up did make what I had to say more meaningful. This exercise opened up my narrow view of racism, and that’s the most exciting thing that happened. I must admit I’m a narcissist when it comes to racism, making it seem as if it only happens to black people for the most part. I know that is untrue, but sometimes I’m short-sighted in my thinking. So I’m glad I’ve been corrected with the bigger picture. I love the bigger picture. It’s so much better. Being in a box is bad, and you just opened mine up. Thank you for that, D!” The Race: Black Canadian in California, Part 9

It struck a chord in me that Elizabeth said being white is important to her and Shazza discovered she loved being black. Being unapologetic about your race. It is what I shared in my own storytelling, that I have come to feel more fully American and more fully Korean than in years past. I thoroughly appreciated Jenni’s humble acknowledgement of and appreciation for the way she’s considered color to have stacked life in her favor at times.

Your encouragement has been fuel for the road. The race continues, onward and upward.

 

 

The Race: Asian Australian, Part 10

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

I was born in Australia to very traditional Chinese-Malaysian parents. The word “Malaysian” refers to a nationality. There are predominantly three races living in Malaysia – Chinese, Malay and Indian. A very long time ago, the Chinese came and settled in Malaysia. My grandparents – and many generations before them – were born in Malaysia. My relatives and extended family don’t know where our ancestors originated. We don’t talk about Chinese history but the history of Malaysia. We’ve always considered ourselves Chinese people living in Malaysia. We don’t identify with China the country but with Chinese culture. Chinese Malaysian is similar to the term, say, Korean American.

Melbourne

Melbourne

When I was growing up in Melbourne, I always heard my parents speak Cantonese to one another. But when they spoke to my kiddy-self and chided me for running under the blazing sun and turning “ugly black”, it was always in English – with Cantonese words here and there. We celebrate the Chinese New Year every year. I always come home to rice and noodles on the table. In short, “Chineseness” has always been a part of my life. I would be naked without it.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I lived in Melbourne until I was six. Then my family moved to Malaysia and later Singapore when I was ten. Throughout school in these countries, my classmates clamoured to sit with me during recess and went, “Mabel is from Australia. Australian! She is my friend!”. They thought I ate fish and chips and went to the beach all the time, which was far from the truth. It was as if being Australian came with “white privileges”, that being Aussie was “classy”. The Malaysian/Singaporean accent rubbed off on me a fair bit. I returned to Melbourne for university. Australians pointed out my accent, asking me “Where are you from?” every odd week. Thus, I’ve always felt too Asian to be Australian and too Australian to be Asian.

3) Is “Asian Australian” a fairly common designation?

Very common designation used of someone who holds Australian citizenship and is of Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean/Thai/etc. descent. I have met a lot of people who identify with this label.

4) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

My preschool classmates Down Under were mostly Caucasian. There were a few Caucasians and Eurasians amongst the countless Asians I went to school with in Malaysia and Singapore. My first language is English and I think and speak in this language. I talked with all my friends in English. Although I know basic Cantonese and am fluent in Malay, rarely did we talk to one another in these languages.

5) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

I was about six in preschool. One afternoon, I was sitting in class across one of my blonde, blue-eyed classmates who was a head taller than me. I always admired her – outgoing, confident and sporty. All the things I was Asian-stereotypically not good at but wanted to be. She looked at me condescendingly, brows furrowed, eyes narrowed. So fiercely, in fact, I was startled, thinking I had done something wrong. She demanded, “Why is your hair brown?”. I felt very small at that moment. I wanted to cry. Maybe this is why I sometimes still feel shy speaking to Caucasians today.

6) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

I’ve always found it easier talking to those of Asian descent. Maybe there’s an underlying assumption that we’ll understand each other easily for the shared cultural values. That’s not to say I don’t like talking with people of other races. I do. When I meet someone, what they have to say about the topic of conversation piques my interest – given they’re from a different background, usually their opinions will differ from mine.

7) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

Of course there’s my family, and my closest friends are of Asian descent, those who have predominantly lived in Asia and/or Australia. Not too sure why this is so. Perhaps I’ve shied from others because of racism towards Asian Australians, which I’ve discussed here.

8) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

Similar racial values or shared interests don’t usually play a part in encouraging me to feel a sense of connection to a group. I don’t see how we can’t feel a sense of belonging and feel comfortable if we’re with people who respect who we are, our values and what we do. I connect most easily with those who don’t judge me, say, based on my speech or dress. It’s their nonjudgmental attitude that makes me want to spend time with them. I like hanging with those who have strong opinions too and feel there’s something worth learning from determined minds.

9) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

At university and work, I mingle with people of different cultural backgrounds pretty much every day. Very frequently I’ve met classmates and colleagues who aren’t from around Australia but grew up in Asia with their first language being, say, Chinese or Vietnamese. I never had trouble conversing with them in English, though I admit there are times when I can’t understand some of their English-mangled sentences. When this happens, I politely ask them to repeat what they say and usually get their point. When I don’t, I change the subject as seamlessly as I can so that the conversation keeps going.

10) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

As an introvert, I have fearfully kept my mouth shut in front of Caucasian after experiencing racism in Melbourne. After six years back here, I realised part of the problem was because I held the impression Caucasians frowned upon my culture and who I am – a minority, an Asian Australian. A silly, narrow-minded thought; surely not everyone is like that. Today, I’ve learnt to love who I am and am more confident talking to people.

11) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

I thought responses to these questions would come easily. I was quite wrong. It was a struggle to put reflections of my past into words. Race is a sensitive issue. This exercise reminded me we’re all culturally different, a beautiful thing. We should never judge others but embrace who we are as individuals.

Mabel at Mabel Kwong on multiculturalism.

The Race: American in India, Part 7

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

When I was a kid I just called myself black as that was what society taught, that if you’re part black then you’re all black. My father is African American, my mother European American. I thought that makes me all American, but people always wanted to know more, esp as I grew older. So in my teens I started to answer that I was half black and half white. Only as an adult, when the biracial tab was added to questionnaires did I start to identify with that.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I grew up in Seattle, Washington (U.S.) where I experienced only subtle forms of racism. White kids if they liked me would say, “You’re not really black,” and black kids if they liked me would say, “You’re all black, man,” as if I didn’t know what I was; it tended to leave me feeling hurt and insecure. I moved to California when I was 19 where I started working and going to college. California was the first place I heard outright racist comments belted without shame.

Amritapuri Kitchen 9Because I’m mixed but have an Indian name and a beard, rather than thinking that I’m mixed people would just think that I was an immigrant. So at work I would often hear people talking about black coworkers, calling them lazy asses, and worse. And no matter how many times I would stand up and say that’s not right, people would quickly forget that I was black, having decided that I was something else, and repeat remarks they wouldn’t have otherwise said in front of me. I also received the comments people reserve for immigrants as some said to me, “You people come here and don’t even know the language!” Confused, I would answer, “What people? Me? But I’m from here!” “Sure you are, man,” they would laugh.

Now I live in India which is a different experience altogether. Here, everyone is shades of brown, and all are Indian so they reserve the color of black for really dark skinned, black people. So although I am as dark as many in India, because I am a foreigner and am not black by their standards, they call me white. I was raised as black and this goes against everything I grew up with. All this leaves me with the understanding that race is very much about what others perceive you as and has little to do with who or what you really are.

3) Why do you have an Indian name? What took you to India? Did you know any Indian (language)?

When I was 15 I met a saint from India, Amma, known as the Hugging Saint. The following year wanting to devote my life to her cause I asked her for a name and she gave me the name Sreejit. I immediately changed my legal name from Michael to Sreejit wanting to start my life anew with this idea of service to humanity that Amma espoused. Everyone started calling me Sreejit so I have lived many more years as Sreejit than Michael. I elaborate on the name change and my spiritual journey here. I have been traveling to India since 1992, working and living in Amma’s ashrams.

4) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

All of my schools were completely mixed with all races getting along fairly well during school hours. Seattle is a pretty laid back place compared to other cities, so it was only later that I really experienced the perils of diversity. Though among the older generations I heard very set opinions on the wrongs of race mixing, the kids my age were pretty decent.

5) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. It could be a scene with strangers, the park, school, work. Could have been subtle feelings you recognized or a blatant attack of bigotry. If it was a season or chapter in your life, tell us the impact it had on your sense of self, confidence, or emotional development. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

As I said, there was never really a time when others were not trying to define for me what I was. And if they asked me, I often heard on the heels of my answer, “No you’re not, you’re really [fill in the blank]” when I started to say I’m half black half white. Then an old black person might get offended and say, “No, you’re just black man.” And when I would tell an older white person that I was mixed, “How awful that your parents could do that to you. You should speak out against such things.”

6) Why do you think those people imposed their own race on you? Why do you suppose they wanted to?

My generation is the one that was birthed by the hippies. Both my parents tried to make a more beautiful world than the one they grew up in. For that reason they didn’t talk much, when I was a child, about the horrors of racism, because they didn’t want me to grow up with the same prejudices that they grew up in. Whereas the generation before them was had very strong ideas on what is right and what is wrong with race mixing. There were still segregated eating areas when my parents were kids. Neither of my parents stayed in contact with their own fathers; my mother’s father disowned her for marrying a black man. So when I would talk with someone old enough to be my grandfather, as a kid I was coming in with a very free, there’s no right and wrong attitude, whereas they had a lifetime of education that told them it was better for everyone to stay in their place.

7)) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

I can be shy if I don’t know somebody, but I tend to get along with everybody. I grew up in a very international neighborhood where we would have Chinese New Year’s celebrations; I later worked with mostly Latinos and lived with mostly Indians. I feel comfortable with pretty much everybody.

8) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

All relationships are meaningful to me. That doesn’t mean that I fully give of myself to anybody. Most call me a loner but I get along with pretty much everybody.

9) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

I tend to enjoy being around people of similar interest: the artists, musicians, dancers, and writers. These are the things that bring joy to my life. Though I can’t dance I love to watch it. I love to play and listen to music, watch theatre, love to read and to write.

10) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

No

11) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I have always been “I am who I am”. Either you accept me or you don’t but I won’t change for your acceptance.

12) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

America has a very politically correct sense of handling situations, and even then people step on each other’s toes. But when you step out of America there is no such sense of pretending that you don’t notice the differences. Although people are becoming more accepting of others as our world is shrinking, I don’t see stereotypes and judgments fading anytime soon.

13) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

For many, race creates a sense of belonging, but I think the more the world begins to blend, the more the younger generations will be bound by things other than race, whether it be economics, interests, nationalities, locales, or religions. Still, the sense to divide and fit in seems to be a need that people look for and is sadly not fading anytime soon.

Sreejit in The Seeker’s Dungeon

The Race: White in South Korea, Part 6

South Korea was, and still is, a means of escape for me. On a practical level, it offered me a ticket out of my depressing neighborhood in Nevada (U.S.) with the meth lab across the street. On a slightly higher level, it released the contradictory pressures I felt as a refugee between two “racial” categories – educated white and white trash. I couldn’t really join the first group because I didn’t have enough money and I didn’t want to join the second because that’s effectively a death sentence for an ambitious person like me. In Korea, I rightly assumed these identity tags would fall away and leave me the space to carve out an international, upwardly mobile niche for myself and allow me to play to my greatest strength – the willingness to adapt. That attitude, I believe, is what made my transition from the deserts of Nevada to the megacities of South Korea so satisfying and now, such a huge part of my identity going forward.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I arrived in Korea in 2008, I found that roughly 50% of what I saw looked familiar and 50% like the product of a Martian civilization; I could walk into a totally familiar 7-11 and walk out with peanut-crusted squid jerky as well as a box of “placenta essence masking.” I found this incredibly exciting. The language became this wonderful puzzle, the 2,000 years of history a playground, the whole new cast of cultural heroes (like King Sejong) and villains (like the Japanese occupiers of 1910-1945) a great opportunity to look at the world differently. Korea, by being so different, almost forced me to broaden my perspectives and for that I am very grateful.

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

I define myself as white, though it’s not important to me at all. Frankly, the notion that there’s an ideal of whiteness that I should pursue is insulting. I am the product of my human agency, and reducing all my choices, all my work, all my individuality to an accident of birth like race is to treat me like a plant or deep sea sponge – a passive organism defined by nothing more than chance. It is to deny my humanity. My family name is from Spain and I believe most of my ancestors are from Europe.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I grew up mostly in Reno, Nevada, though I also bounced around California and the Midwest. Reno had a very diverse demographic, though not in the traditional sense. There were (some) blacks and (a few) Asians and (many thousands of) Hispanics, but I think Reno’s most important demographics broke down like this:

a) Immigrants. Mostly from Mexico, mostly illegal or illegal until recently, these people were omnipresent in Reno. When I first arrived in Reno from Central California I was 11 years old, patriotic and conservative, which means I despised this group for invading “my” country and stealing “my” jobs. My attitudes, to say the least, have evolved on this matter.

b) The rural poor. Mostly white, although sometimes Hispanic and occasionally black, these people are Reno’s underclass. The really scary attitudes in this class of people are the same attitudes that scare me about black ghettos in Sacramento or Los Angeles – a deification of ignorance, taking real pride in one’s race and deriving identity from said ancestry.

c) Rich people and the middle class. These people are, by virtue of their money, above racial classifications. If you’re Asian or Hispanic, you will fit in here without difficulty. You can even be black in this social setting, so long as you have enough money.

3) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

Some of them were very diverse, some of them were lily-white and, if you include my graduate school, overwhelmingly Asian.

4) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. It could be a scene with strangers, the park, school, work. Could have been subtle feelings you recognized or a blatant attack of bigotry. If it was a season or chapter in your life, tell us the impact it had on your sense of self, confidence, or emotional development. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

I made friends with a black kid in the third grade and this offended his mother, who accused my new friend of selling out. At the time, I took this to mean it was offensive to people of other races when a white kid tries to befriend them. I just wrote it off as my friend having a dumb mother. I’ve always been pretty comfortable ignoring or breaking rules I consider stupid.

I should explain what I think is the central advantage of being white – it doesn’t mean anything. I can be straight or gay, conservative or liberal, a businessman or a pimp and nobody is going to blink. White pride, to the extent it exists, to me implies shameful affiliations like the KKK, Neo-Nazis or whatever depressing nationalistic rally Vladimir Putin is currently hosting.

I know I said this before, but if someone were to make it clear they were accepting me because I’m white, I’d be offended. This is why [insert ethnicity here] pride has always baffled me. Why the flaming hell would you want all the expectations and limitations that a racial identity puts on you? Why would you want to stereotype yourself?

5) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

I gravitate towards people who have the strength to reject the easy, cheap identities that come from the accidents of birth. If I think you are stereotypically white/Asian/black/Hispanic/whatever, I probably won’t respect you. If, on the other hand, you have the strength to build your identity from an act of will, I will be very interested in your company. I’ve found strong people of that type come in all shapes and sizes.

There is a social tendency in my national group, particularly white people, that I wish would go away. That is the assumption that, simply by virtue of being an American, everybody should listen to you. I call this idea inevitable superiority and I hate it. You were not born special, you were not chosen by God or anybody else, you are an American/European/whatever because your Mom and Dad decided to conceive you within the arbitrary boundaries of America/Europe/whatever – nothing sacred about it.. If you want to be special, earn your specialness and stop expecting people to listen to you just because of your passport.

6) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

Yes, and for obvious reasons. The two most precious people in the world to me are both members of my immediate family.

7) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

The idea I would need to use my race to find a community is pretty offensive to me. I’m a writer, thinker, educator, basketball fan, shade tree mechanic, second language learner and about a million other things before I’m white.

And Korean food is waaaay more delicious than most American food.

8) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

No. It happens naturally when you treat people as individuals and not as representatives of their particular birth accidents. It also happens pretty easily when you live in a foreign country and make most of your friends from the local community. I guess I only consciously do this in the sense that I try to make friends in Korea who aren’t going to leave after a few years – most of whom are Korean.

9) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I rejected the accidents of my birth and presented myself as a creature of will. I expect to be treated as an individual. I expect to be accepted for myself and not as a representative for some identity group based on chance. I extend the same courtesy to everyone I meet.

This has proven invaluable in Korea. I can’t tell you how many times my Korean friends or acquaintances have said “you don’t act like an American, you just act like a person.” I’m very proud of that.

10) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

I think the best way to defeat the effects of race or tradition is to do what the Romans did – move all around the world, borrow the customs and ideas that work and marry the locals. The trade-off between advancing as a human species and protecting the purity of one’s blood or traditions is a no-brainer to me.

This might sound like I’m advocating imperialism. Imperialism is the belief that Culture X should impose its inevitably superior ways on the inevitably inferior Culture Y. I don’t accept this at all, mostly because I find the idea that humans are destined, inevitably, to be anything, bothers me. I don’t like it because it’s an attack on our nature as self-determining beings.

My belief is that we should stop treating cultures and traditions as sacred or even innately valuable and start treating them like tools. If my American culture is a 5/8th inch wrench and I need a 14 mm socket of the type they make in South Korea, there’s no reason for me to agonize about how I’m betraying the proud heritage of 5/8th inch wrenches – I should just go get a different subset of 14 mm cultural norms.

11) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

It made me sad. A lot of people spend a lot of time fighting to preserve their proud racial identities. It’s like watching emphysema patients fighting over a carton of cigarettes.

Ben at Literary Adventures in South Korea

The Race: American Cities, Part 4

ElizCardamone1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

I am white and so is my family. My husband is 100% Italian, first generation (his parents were both born in a small town in Italia) so there is an ethnic component to my family now. I am comfortable being white because I have known no other way of being. It is important to me.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I grew up in Providence, RI. I had lots of Jewish friends, as the upscale neighborhood where I lived was predominantly Jewish. After my parents divorced, my mother moved back to her hometown in upstate NY, and I visited her on school vacations. Because Providence is a city, there was more of an opportunity to mix with different ethnicities there than in Mom’s town.

I traveled the world as a girl with my father, and had an opportunity to observe differences between America and other countries: I was frightened by the poverty I saw and intrigued by the different ways of living. In Belize, for example, I had the privilege of dining with a Mayan farmer and his family. They lived simply, in huts with no doors, dirt floors, no furniture or appliances. The farmer’s wife cooked our tortillas on an open fire pit situated in the middle of the floor.

These experiences made me aware of my fortune being born white and American. These identifications ensured freedom, access to public education, fairly unlimited career and life choices. I came to appreciate this access from my travels, instead of take it for granted. However, I also witnessed a simpler way of life, one centered on survival rather than accomplishment and entitlement. There was an undeniable appeal to this way of living. Ultimately, though, I was glad both to be aware of these differences and of the access I had because of my race and nationality. My awareness of other cultures instilled in me an ongoing curiosity about other lifestyles.

I attended college in upstate NY at a small, private university with few African-Americans. I started dating my husband freshman year. After graduation, we lived in Philadelphia and a predominantly all-white Chicago suburb before we moved to my husband’s hometown of Lewiston, NY (a suburb of of Buffalo).

3) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

Although we were not wealthy, I lived in a rich neighborhood occupied by wealthy families, many of them Jewish. My public elementary and high schools were very racially diverse. In these settings, I hung out with girls from my neighborhood. I was the only non-Jewish person amongst friends. I attended a private Quaker middle school.  There was only one African-American boy in my grade.  Because I was not wealthy, I did not have many friends.

4) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. It could be a scene with strangers, the park, school, work. Could have been subtle feelings you recognized or a blatant attack of bigotry. If it was a season or chapter in your life, tell us the impact it had on your sense of self, confidence, or emotional development. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

I felt race differences most keenly in elementary and high school, which had higher percentages of African Americans.  I would have liked to become friends with several African American girls in my class, but never had the guts to approach them because of the hostility I sensed. I assumed they rejected me because I was white. In high school, I liked an African-American girl because she asked as many questions in class as I did. I wrongly assumed this commonality meant we could be friends, but she made it clear outside of class we were different.

At recess, while the African-American girls played double dutch jump rope games, I stood nearby, watching enviously along with the other white girls. My group even set up a double dutch game next to the African-American girls, but we never matched their finesse, as emphasized by their snickers and eye rolling.

5) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

I consciously gravitate towards whites because of the hostility I sense from African-Americans. White acquaintances have made racial slurs, which I did not respond to either negatively or positively. This type of behavior makes me uncomfortable, and I step away when I can.

6) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

Yes.

7) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

I feel like an outsider no matter what group I am in. In general, my responses to events rarely coincide with society’s prescribed feelings (immediate fulfillment you’re supposed to have giving birth, instant intimacy with spouse after getting married, fulfillment as a full-time mother). I desperately wanted these things, but because of unresolved childhood traumas, was unable to embrace them in the moments they were happening.  It is only now, after years of treatment for depression and anxiety, and my own self reflection through my book, that I can honestly feel these things. I spend a lot of time alone, and with my family in the evenings, and prefer it that way. That is where I feel the greatest ease.

8) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

No.

9) Children seem color-blind. How have you explained color and culture to your children or grandchildren as they got older? Did you ever have to handle a situation where they were a victim of racial slight or slur?

Before we moved here, we lived in another conservative mostly white suburb in Wheaton, IL. There we went to a drive-in movie when our twin boys were small.  The place where we parked was paved with small stones, which our boys continued to throw. They reluctantly stopped at our reprimand.  A few minutes later, the boys observed some African-American children throwing stones, and became outraged.  They yelled: “Hey, chocolate people, stop throwing stones.”  My children are not prejudiced. They just wanted to get the attention of strangers and used obvious descriptive words. We were so embarrassed and explained why such remarks are inappropriate.

10) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I usually stand alone.  My husband says the aloofness keeps people from approaching me.  I have been let down by many friends, so I prefer not to risk further hurt.

11) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

No, I don’t think it is possible, but I do think our society pretends it is less racist than it actually is (hence President Obama’s encouraging speech to African-American men who, statistically speaking, have little opportunity in America.)  The worst word I know is the n word.  I won’t say it, and get so sick to my stomach when I hear it, that I have to move away.  I wish it could be obliterated from our language.

12) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

I live a very sheltered life, and while I sympathize in theory with the struggles African-Americans face (learned about through education, media and literature), I have done nothing to help them.  I don’t think I am that brave.

Elizabeth at Breaking the Cycle

My Race: Coast to Coast, Part 3

Here’s Part 2.

6) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

No. From my 20s on, some of my closest friendships have been with white and black Americans. The only other Korean-American coworker I’ve mentioned could not have been more different from me in values and lifestyle. She came from more money and attracted a white crowd. Incidentally, she married Jewish.

7) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

Christians define themselves by their faith. Hence the term born again. Because the Christian journey is really a new life, believers share a depth of intimacy and understanding that supersedes race, language, class. But I enjoy an ease with white Christians that I swear is missing in the Korean-American culture, even with those of my faith. Though I was conscious that my family was a slim minority in the two fairly white Christian homeschool groups we joined last year, I have never felt self-conscious. Our son plays well with a Caucasian classmate; they whack each other with swords like brothers. We were bemused last year to find that our little man also happened to gravitate to blondes in their tweens. I enjoy the most ready connections with people who share my values, which include lifestyle, faith, and all that goes into child nurture. So racial ties do not determine my social network as they did before my working years.

8) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

It is not a strained effort but yes, I do. I find myself wondering, though, how many whites share this mindfulness.

9) Optional. Children seem color-blind. How have you explained color and culture to your children or grandchildren as they got older? Did you ever have to handle a situation where they were a victim of racial slight or slur?

The challenge of explaining race hit me when my son was about four. I was elaborating on the slavery we had just read about. We also had a new blended family on our colorful block, an African-American man with a white woman and her two kids. I think I’m the one who put black and Korean on the radar of a child who never seemed to notice color in himself or others. I almost regretted bringing up the categories at his age. We have not had to deal with any racial insult. I am not sure if we can attribute this to our fairly well-to-do neighborhood (that is, class) or the fact that we are not with the public schools.

10) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I’ve always been told I was noticeably unique, even among Korean-Americans. You love me or hate me. I’m Pistachio ice cream, not Vanilla. The contrast that called for a vote for or against me has softened over time but I always embraced my individuality. Being different doesn’t mean you have to feel alone. What kept me rooted? I was told even as a kid that I carried myself well. I think the confidence that has not easily shaken stemmed from the unfailing faith my mother expressed in me ever since I can remember.

My values, perspective, even personality also did a 180 when I really understood the gospel of Jesus at 17. Through the many challenges I went on to face in the years ahead, I’ve remained secure in who I am knowing Whose I am. Christians often give pat answers. In this discussion, some would say their identity as a child of God is the source of all assurance and self-definition. God indeed has been my deepest anchor but to say He is all that matters in contexts like this discussion bores me. Faith doesn’t nullify the importance of ethnicity, upbringing, or the many factors that shape us. It so happens that biologically I am a Korean daughter of God. As such I can learn from others outside my race. Thinking in platitudes doesn’t do justice to the richness of God’s designs. It is my God who gives meaning to all aspects of my life. He cares to redeem them, make them all beautiful. Interestingly, we are said to be adopted by the Father – one big multiracial family. And behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…Revelations 7:9

11) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

Every culture offers its own hue, rhythm, voice. You could not confuse Brazilian women with Korean, as a group. The first are more vocal, even physical. My husband has seen Brazilian women fight tooth and nail, stew, then kiss-kiss on the cheek and make up. Korean women don’t put the dukes out on each other but will hold onto the enmity. The air is different in each company. The problem arises when we make value judgments on the differences. One’s strength is one’s weakness, and this duality holds for groups as it does for individuals. It hit me as I worked through this post that the Korean preference for like company is actually an extension of the fierce loyalty that’s part of the culture. All traditions, in their imperfections, hold out qualities worthy of respect.

12) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

I was surprised at the internal resistance to writing my story. First off, my life was all I’d known, that it didn’t feel special. It was my normal. Knowing many in my community with similar experiences heightened the sense that I had nothing really unique to share. Secondly, this was the first time I’ve explored when and how I have navigated social streams, which communities I have sought, which have embraced me. I was split in the culture I aligned myself with as I wrote. In speaking of Americans and Koreans, I wasn’t sure when to use our or their. A thought also struck yesterday. Did I shy in sharing because the Korean culture seemed to bear less weight on the global platform than the African-American drama that has achieved validation in the history books and media? Have my own perceptions been influenced? Finally, my story was difficult to write for feeling bared. I’d just finished saying I give you my all on this blog. I was speaking as an artist. Here, I’d shown you into the rooms of my past as a human being.

The gestures of intolerance or bigotry leveled against me were mild compared to the ugliness many have known. And it is the pioneer generation that breaks through the gates of a culture that has it the worst. My parents lived the friction everyday. My mother was spit on by a customer in the delicatessen she owned. I remember how it pained me, a kid. But my parents were not faultless. All groups harbor distrust of foreigners.

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s remarks at the signing of the Immigration Bill on Liberty Island, New York seem fitting here. October 3, 1965:

And this measure that we will sign today will really make us truer to ourselves both as a country and as a people. It will strengthen us in a hundred unseen ways. This is a simple test, and it is a fair test. Those who can contribute most to this country – to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit – will be the first that are admitted to this land.

Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more they have poured forth into an empty land, joining and blending in one mighty and irresistible tide. The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources – because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.

Do You Love Your Blog?

We make a thousand choices each day. What to wear, what to eat, how much, which errand to run first, how to get there, what to say. Ever notice how one simple decision ushers you into a world of unforeseen events, some that are life-changing? In the aftermath of the accident you think, “Why did I have to turn on that street today?” March 6th last year, I brought over to WordPress the handful of posts I had started loading on Tumblr. Little did I know. I would never be the same on the Holistic Journey after putting up that first post Lessons from my 30s.

You’ve shown me so much love already, I had wanted to celebrate AHJ’s birthday in quiet. But I decided to share some thoughts on blogging.

BIRTH PAINS
I wish I could whip out posts like cowboys with their pistols. I have asked a lot of myself here. Every post is a birth. I don’t write for your respect or like but feel I must bleed to earn it. Even if it’s just a paper cut. Has to be the masochistic Korean in me. Some posts I’ve spent months preparing. I have asked through many of them why in the world I was exacting a college paper from myself. I think, squint, think some more, hush the groaning in my brain. And after handing you the gift I prepared with love, I crash. Am physically drained after clicking publish.

WHY I SUFFER
How can I not? Why would I not give you my best? You fit my holistic journey into the countless choices you make in your week. The question of why it is we do what we do as bloggers came up in a conversation with a reader. I discovered my reason was curiously one that many men would have. Impact. You know how women are supposed to derive satisfaction most from relationships and men from a sense of significance? Obviously the goals are not mutually exclusive. But isn’t the angle many men and women approach people and work from interesting? I was able to distill my purpose in blogging to the extraordinary satisfaction of making an impact, in whatever way that happens. No real surprise, actually. Like many men, I’d rather have respect than love. Yeah, you can imagine how it pleases my husband to tap my soft side (reLiEf). I have written so that my words would land somewhere and do something. Otherwise I would’ve kept to a journal. I have written also because I couldn’t stop once I started. I’ve gone about the past year more inspired than I could handle. CPU overload. The floodgates had burst.
Gold
IT’S GOLD
Many say they blog because they like to socialize. The relationships that gave me new life have been an unexpected reward for what I’ve put into the writing. The connection with my readers is so magical I’d have to call it alchemy. There are more than words in this place. There’s a couch, a box of Kleenex. It hit me recently that the couch was for me, too. It wasn’t just readers who walked away with food for thought. You have given me much to ponder, to reconsider. I have a treasury of insight and wisdom under every post to revisit when I need to. Gold. You’ve made me a rich woman. Do you love your blog? I shamelessly confess I love mine because my readers have turned it into what it is and I love my readers. Why should you like it if I didn’t myself? While having fun sharing some old posts with Opinionated Man‘s crowd, I put out The Power of Unstoppable Love for you here. And you responded. You didn’t know how good it felt to be home.

I was speaking to all my readers, which means you, in my last post on his main blog this week:

I don’t hear just the song and the band when I play an artist. I observe the inflections that say it’s Celine. I hear Josh Groban’s breath between the lines. And breath is something you don’t just hear. It’s something you feel.

I’ve noticed in the past year how up-close blogging brings you. I mean this even of posts that do not divulge personal stories. It’s the nature of writing. The voice, inflections, color of your words reveal so much of how your mind works, who you are, where your heart is. I feel the writer’s breath, his laugh, her cry. I’ve seen how high your sky is, how deep your night. When I see a reader on my Stats burrow into my archive, I almost want to cover myself. Hug my chest. He’s digging to know me better. He lifts page after page of my mind. Her understanding of the things deeply important to me will grow clearer with each post. She hears my voice. All to say, I have really enjoyed my time with you. Thanks for caring to read – and as many of you have, for doing it so faithfully.

My final song on mike, Curtain Call, I dedicate to you. It goes like this. If the curtain were to close on you in some way and the post you’re working on turns out to be your last, would you be pleased with your content and presentation? Would you be glad you got to tell your story? Did you leave us something worthwhile? Even a good laugh is a saving reminder of the joy of lightness. Make your posts meaningful or fun for yourself so that it’ll be meaningful and fun to us. Are you inspired, excited by your art or photography? Then you can hope we will be. Make the most of the time and attention on you, and the endless potential for connections from your post.

If we were each writing in our own cubicle with no way to visit one another – bring a cup of coffee – we know blogging would be a whole other experience. Pen name or no, you want to be known. Want to know you matter. So you splay your heart, asking us to feel its pulse. Make your posts matter, then. My readers don’t stop by my cubby with feedback on my posts. I’ve cleared the walls and we sink into the couch, our circle, with lots of pen and paper and the light in our eyes. While blogging has threatened to detract from the duties of living, my writing through this beautiful intimacy has been my living. My breath.

I’ve given you myself. I hope it was enough.

The Power of Unstoppable Love

I’ve condensed the radio interview that featured on This American Life, Love is a Battlefield. What do you make of this woman?

For seven-and-a-half years, Daniel was confined to a crib. He ate in it, stared out the window during the day and slept upright in the space he shared with another boy in the orphanage. He had no idea that across the Atlantic, a woman named Heidi had picked him out of a magazine from an adoptive agency. She would fly to Romania with her husband Rick to take Daniel to his new home in Ohio.

The adjustment for everyone was relatively smooth the first six months. Until Daniel’s eighth birthday rolled around. He had never contemplated what a birthday meant and started wrestling with the realization that he had parents who could have chosen not to leave him in an orphanage. Anger overwhelmed him and “he needed to hate someone. Heidi and Rick were the people closest at hand. And so his tantrums became tornadoes of rage. Seven, eight hour marathons where he would throw literally anything he could get his hands on. He put more than a thousand holes in the walls of his room. They had to move everything out of his bedroom except a mattress.

Social workers and specialists left their home bleeding, needing medical attention. But Daniel’s greatest pleasure was in hurting Mom. She shared, “One time he gave me a black eye when I was trying to help him and he smiled like he was so happy.”

And what did you think when you saw your son smiling?

Observe her unemotional response.

I thought he really needs serious help.

Rick had to hire a bodyguard for Heidi and they called the police regularly. Rick could take only so much and threatened to leave. When Heidi was asked point blank if she would’ve sacrificed her marriage, her voice trailed off, “I didn’t want to…”

I was so exasperated. She obviously had been willing.

Then one day when Heidi was preparing Daniel a snack, he grabbed a knife from the counter and held it to her throat.

The interviewer asked, “How do you love somebody who is homicidal?

And I was disarmed: “Well, because he was my son. I mean, you have to love him or else there’s no way out of it. It’s like, if you’re lost, you want to keep moving forward to get to the end place. I don’t think I ever questioned my love.”

She was his mother. As simple and as definitive as that.

What Heidi feared was that Daniel would end up seriously hurting someone else. After consulting a string of psychiatrists, she settled on a highly intensive program related to attachment therapy under the guidance of Dr. Ronald Federici in Virginia. She and Daniel were required to spend eight weeks side by side, literally no farther than three feet apart.

The goal of his plan is to try to recreate the bond that never occurred because I wasn’t with him when he was born. But it’d be very natural for a newborn baby to spend an extensive amount of time just next to the mom.”

Daniel reported: “I didn’t go to school. She stopped her job. When she would go to the bathroom I would be right outside the door. When I went to the bathroom, she’d be right outside. The only time she was not next to me was when I was sleeping. And like literally, that was it.”

Like mothers and their babies, Heidi and her son also had to spend time looking at each other. Daniel was required to look into Heidi’s eyes in every interaction. Every time he resisted, he was subjected to greater gestures of intimacy. They would sit on the couch and she would punish him by hugging him. Initially, Daniel’s behavior deteriorated.

But then he gave in.

He actually came to understand, likely for the first time, that his mother loved him. The transformation came slowly, and when stealing replaced the violence, the therapy changed. Rick and Heidi cradled him 20 minutes like a baby every night. At 13, Daniel was bigger than Mom but complied for the ice cream they spooned into his mouth to keep him still. He started opening up, talked about what it had been like in the orphanage. Slowly helped around the house, made friends.

Then he won the Brickner Award from synagogue, given to the valedictorian of the confirmation class. Though Mom had taken Daniel to synagogue hoping it would help develop morals, he was kicked out many times over the years with the help of the police. The distinction he earned was a miracle. Sharing the troubles of his early life in his acceptance speech, Daniel kept his composure – until the end. He shook:

Before I finish, I’d like to thank two people, my mom and dad. The reason that I’m here today and the kind of person I am today is because of you. Dad, you’re one heck of a guy to put up with a crazy family like this. And you guys are both amazing. I love you very much.”

Heidi said it was “without doubt, the most spectacular moment of her life.”

This moment made for an exultant redemption of an arduous journey. But the closing footnote was what I found most interesting.

Heidi and Rick were able to take a seven-year-old with no direct experience of adult affection, and with a certain amount of pain and suffering, turn him into a loving son. The only problem is that the actual participants in this story see things differently.”

Heidi said she doesn’t feel one can teach love.

Heidi: I don’t think the goal was ever love. The goal was attachment.

She seems utterly practical about the whole thing, even about whether or not her son now loves her.

Heidi: Yeah, I feel loved by Daniel. I don’t think he wants to hurt me. I don’t worry about that at all.

It’s a very unsentimental view of her relationship with her child. But that is probably exactly what had made Heidi so successful. She is an unusually pragmatic person. She’s not a flowering earth mother with a wealth of love to give. She is fundamentally realistic, tough-minded. And these are precisely the characteristics that are needed in this situation. If you’re the kind of person who actually needs love, really needs love, chances are you’re not the kind of person who’s going to have the wherewithal to create it. Creating love is not for the soft and sentimental among us. Love is a tough business.

What do you think of Heidi’s missionary zeal, her unflinching devotion to her son even against the threat to her life? And the closing commentary? A lot of women – a lot of people – would’ve wrung their hands and most understandably taken it personally to have a knife put to their throat in this context. I was fascinated by the thought that anyone more emotionally needy than Heidi would not have been able to pull off the change of heart in her son. Parents who are abusive are in fact often acting out the disappointment of not receiving the love they demand from their child. You also wonder how much grief biological parents would take from their kid. But Heidi’s parenting reveals that to her, Daniel was her blood. Any thoughts on this woman’s bottomless reserve of patience and determination?

Greatness, Finale: The Triumph of Forgiveness

Like a diamond, the attribute of greatness has so many faces its definition remains elusive. Thus far I have traced greatness along the lines of tenacity. I could go on to look at heroes who cope with severe disabilities or who have scaled Everest and run ultras that are four times the distance of a marathon. But I bring this series home with what I consider the most herculean of feats, to reach into the depths of one’s spirit in the costly act of forgiveness.

When someone injures us; mind, body, or spirit, it incites demand for justice. Parent, friend, or stranger has inflicted pain and must requite the wrong with contrition, if not suffering. The question that remains is what happens to the debt that goes unremitted. Someone must pay that debt and where the perpetrator has no plans to, the victim always absorbs the cost in one of two ways: with anger or with grace that clears the debt from the offender’s account. The acrimony that weighs on the unforgiving heart becomes an emotional cancer that often manifests itself physically. The liver literally stores the poison of grief and resentment. Understandably, freeing others of their debt depollutes our spirit and body. But life isn’t a treatise. You can understand the harm nursing grievance means to your emotional and physical well-being but if you’ve been abused, abandoned, attacked, or lost a loved one to a senseless transgression, you’re going to want blood.

Why is forgiveness so hard? To pay evil with grace is hardly possible. I wish it were as doable, as conquerable, as daily hours of exercise. Indignation is the compelling logic of right and wrong, and speaks to our sense of entitlement. The anger also answers the feeling of helplessness with the delusion of strength.

Corrie Ten Boon with her sister and father endured unspeakable atrocities in a concentration camp for having hid Jews in occupied Holland. Corrie, the only one in her family to survive, went on to preach God’s forgiveness all over the world. Here is a part of her story:

“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones..the huge room with its harsh overhead lights…the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand.

‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there. But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’ And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

Since the end of the war I’d had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”

I can just hear the cynicism about convicts alleging conversion. That is besides the point at the moment: it is excruciatingly difficult even for Christians. We assent to, oh embrace, the God who sacrificed the Innocent to acquit a guilty race. Jesus made amends through payment of punishment. Atonement. He took every stain of my being and the worst I will ever think or do, and removed them from me as far as East is from West in an act entirely unjust to God Himself. In this post, I offer a glimpse of a long, dark season in which I was incapacitated. I will appreciate your reading The Question of Human Suffering before you debate God with me, and do it under that post while not expecting me to solve age-old mysteries. I share how it was Relentless Goodness that stripped me of all proud claims. But the insistence on self returns. It is the beauty of undeserved kindness, not the threat of retribution, that lifts us onto the higher ground of humility and compassion. Deep in conversation with the theologian Ravi Zacharias on a train, a woman asked him what Christianity offers that other faiths don’t. “Forgiveness,” he answered, meeting contemplation.

Full, deep forgiveness is an achievement of consummate greatness, a triumph worthier than Olympic gold because we are not actualizing or fulfilling the self but denying it. The human heart is the bloodiest, fiercest of battlegrounds; the place of pardon where we most profoundly attain the nobility of our humanity. For, I would add, it images divine glory. To answer insensitivity, violence, or hate with love calls for a power greater than our flesh can marshal.

There are a lot of bloggers writing their pain away. Every one of us has had someone to forgive. There are many bitter Christians, and on my worst days you can easily count me among them. But the Cross offers the why and the how we can move toward grace, makes the transformation possible. For a widened perspective of how people try to heal from unjust wounds, I would like to hear especially from those who do not share my worldview. Where do you get the power to release him, her who did that to you? Do you feel you can even try? Under the smile are you heavy with dirt spit by tires that went screeching into the sunset? Or have you gotten up, refused to call yourself roadkill? Is coping enough for you? Are you walking, or running? Laden with burdens buried in pockets or are you free of them? If so, how?