February 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

I heard it on the news, and on Facebook, which is faster than the news. Then, I heard, maybe it was one of the women’s husbands, a domestic dispute, not because she was Muslim. Somehow, I don’t know how, that seemed more comprehensible than a hate crime on a very low scale of horrible to worse—a different kind of hate—which in itself says plenty about what we get used to accepting, moving on from. When I got to school, the first person I ran into was Ama. She had emigrated with her husband, but he was shot at the convenience store he owned in Raleigh a long time ago, and she had been on her own for many years. She had taken my English 111 class. She was diligent in every way. She had seen a lot, raised four children. She was Muslim. We said how terrible the triple murder was. I told her the husband theory. No! She said. That’s propaganda. She was 21. My son knew her. Her husband and sister were killed too–a beautiful family!

I went on to teach class, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” He said so many indelible things, like: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I explained that to the class, but they knew what it meant. And then this: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The truth of this echoed. A few students had claimed at the beginning of class that the reading was boring. I asked them to listen to the power of the words, still resonating after 52 years. The idea that we live in an inescapable network of mutuality has yet to hit home with many.

A few years before, I had had a fantastic student, a woman who wore colorful hijabs to match her outfit. She was planning to be a respiratory therapist. When we read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that semester, she told me she took it home and made her kids read it. We talked a lot in that class about tolerance, justice, and action. It wasn’t until the end of that semester that I found out her husband is in jail, charged as a terrorist. I had thought I knew what that meant. I found pictures of her on the Internet proclaiming his innocence, face covered, all but her eyes. I knew her eyes though: warm, kind, thoughtful. I didn’t know how to reconcile what she’d told me with what the papers said. I just knew that I was tied to her too.

After class this week, I found out that the man who murdered the young family in Chapel Hill was a student at this very school. My school. The administration sent an email. Part time student, they said, trying to limit the ties, but still. He could have been in one of my classes. They were required for his program. I wondered which of my colleagues had pulled that short straw. Though, when he had been in class, semesters before, would they have known? Would it have made a difference if he had read Dr. King? If he had pondered “networks of mutuality?” I was secretly glad that I had never met him, and wouldn’t have to second guess every word I had ever said in his class.

Like everybody in my community, I can’t make sense of  these murders, this terrorism. Over parking? As if that’s understandable, as if it’s not about hate? I wonder if I ever took this man’s spot in the parking lot outside my building. It would have been legal for him to have a gun in his car. Would he have shot me, my hair a wild mess, uncovered?

So this is community college. This is community. The single garment of destiny: Muslim, Christian, Jew, Atheist. All in the same place, walking through the same halls. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” How do we make sense of senseless violence? of hate? How do we reconcile this in one small building, one small state, one world?

Tone and Burn

February 9, 2015 § Leave a comment


I’m taking a fitness class called C-Fit “Tone and Burn.” I thought it might be a good way to start the year— you know, out with the old and in with the new, trading muscle for fat. I wanted to see a difference. Each Monday, I lift weights and run and jump and lift weights again. The first night after the class, I woke up with my chest burning at three am. I was also starving, but I knew better than to eat in the middle of the night. The muscles (who knew they were under there?) were calling out for some kind of relief, but when you can’t even really say where that pain begins, just that it is filling your chest and calling you from sleep, how can you fix it? You breathe until you go back to sleep.

My kids are buff, especially the younger one who does karate. In our dining room, at night, he flexes without a shirt on, admiring his physique in the reflection of the bright light on the windowpanes, the night outside a black velvet backdrop. Jeff and I are in awe of him too. His muscle is the result of years of discipline and dedication at karate class. He has special push ups named after him. It is this confidence I’m going for, more than the actual muscle and fat loss. I want to feel strong.

I haven’t been writing this blog, or much of anything in the past several weeks. It looks like 2015 is bringing a lot of changes to my life—new people, new places, hopefully new work—and I had to sit with all that for a while. Now, I’m ready to build all kinds of muscle, to make something new.

I asked my son what he thought about maybe being in a new place. He thought, then got practical: “I’m smart, kind of good looking, and I play sports. I’m good at making friends,” he said. “I’ll be fine.” I am trying to borrow his confidence in redefining himself. I want to have his honesty, to own what I’ve come this far to get. It goes against my upbringing, against the culture for that matter, but I can recall Jack Handy if I need to. I guess teenagers have to do that everyday. There’s more excitement to it than fear—more thrill at admiring newly developed muscles.

I am now able to tone and burn without waking in the middle of the night starving and in pain. Well, maybe with just a little pain and hunger. Change must be felt, I guess.Pretty soon, I’ll be ready to flex in the dining room window.

Where Am I?

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