Thank you, Simone Biles…

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One of the sports I enjoy watching at the summer Olympics is gymnastics. I just find it incredible the way the gymnasts can bounce and soar…the strength they have in their arms and legs. They make the impossible look easy!

This year I was looking forward to watching Simone Biles do her magic again…as I think many of us were. She has been a role model for so many young women in so many ways.

She had unexpected problems in the qualifying rounds, but even with problems, she still manages to do the impossible. After the qualifying, she indicated that in some ways she felt like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.

We just didn’t realize what that meant…not until the team finals. Her first vault was like nothing we had ever seen from Simone. It was obvious something was wrong.

When she withdrew from the team finals–and then later from the individual all-arounds–that decision sent shock waves. We maybe would have found it easier to understand if she had had a physical injury, but she is forcing us to understand that mental health is every bit as important (if not more so) than physical health. She needed to take care of her mental health in order to protect her physical health.

Some have attacked her for that decision. I’m not one of them.

I think her decision was a brave one and I applaud her for recognizing the need to take care of herself. She didn’t let her team down; instead, she gave them the chance to step up. She gave them the opportunity to understand that it’s important to know when you need to step back–and that you can continue to support by being there as a cheerleader.

We’ve never been comfortable talking about or dealing with mental health issues. There’s always been some kind of stigma attached to it…seeing it as some kind of failure of the will or some kind of moral failing. It isn’t. It’s a real health condition–and it’s time we began to see it that way and provide people the help they need to heal, just as we do with physical ailments.

I’m sorry that the Olympics are not turning out for Simone the way I’m sure she would have wished. But I just want to express my thanks for her strength and bravery in acknowledging the importance of all aspects of her health–and challenging us to do the same. She is still a wonderful role model.

Bathsheba

Many of us have probably heard the story of Bathsheba–the wife of Uriah whom King David saw bathing on the rooftop and wanted for himself. The biblical story can be found in 2 Samuel 11.

Most of the time when we hear it, it’s presented in one of two ways: (1) It’s a lovely romantic story, or (2) Bathsheba was a willing participant in trying to get David to see her.

But there’s a much darker side to this story if we consider the status of women at that time. I’ve sometimes wondered what the story would sound like if we heard it from Bathsheba’s point of view. This came into focus for me recently when a friend raised concerns about the need to be sensitive to how this story can impact those who are survivors of sexual abuse.

Bearing that in mind, here’s my take on the story of Bathsheba–from her perspective.

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Who am I? No one of importance–at least not until the king saw me…and took me for himself.

My husband was a good man, a soldier who served the king faithfully. We lived together in peace when he was home.

But he was often gone, fighting the king’s battles–and it was during one of those absences that my life changed forever.

The time of women had passed–and I was purifying myself according to our laws Shortly after, the servants of the king came and took me to him. When he had had his way with me, he returned me to my home–a home that now was violated and felt unclean. How would I be able to face my husband again?

I hoped I could forget the experience, but that was not to be. When I discovered I was pregnant, I didn’t know what to do. Everyone knew that Uriah was away, fighting–and the child could not be his.

In my panic I sent word to the king. I didn’t know what he could–or would–do, but I didn’t know where else to go. That action again changed my life.

The king called Uriah home. After asking how the fighting was, he gave him freedom to come to our house to see me–but he didn’t. A second night the king ordered him to see me–so that the child I was carrying could be claimed as Uriah’s. But again he did not.

I could have told the king that’s what would have happened. Uriah was a good man, an honorable man–a loyal servant of the king.

And how did the king reward him? By forcing himself on me in Uriah’s absence–and then having him killed so he could cover up his crime by taking me as wife as soon as he could.

I still mourn Uriah. He didn’t deserve what happened to him.

I mourn the child of the king. I did not want the babe–but he was not at fault.

I have another child now…another son–a son of the king. I love him–and pray that he will be a good man.

But sometimes at night I lay awake and wonder how my life would have been different if the king had not seen me…

For the children

We do a lot of things for our children. We feed and clothe them…read to them…nurture them…and do everything we can to keep them safe.

Usually.

But that’s not happening right now.

Covid has upended our lives. We have found ourselves isolated in small bubbles…unable to carry out our normal activities, to socialize like we have in the past.

Many of our children found themselves attending school virtually–trying, along with their teachers, to figure out how to learn through Zoom calls…through activities and lessons done at home. For some it worked well; for others, it was a challenge.

School will be starting again soon. We hoped that this would be a signal that we had a handle on Covid–that if it had not yet been defeated, that at least it was not spreading like wildfire and creating havoc.

It looked like that was possible.

But now…

Now, there’s a new variant of it. That’s not unexpected; viruses mutate.

But what makes this situation unnecessarily difficult is the unwillingness of so many to listen to science…to take the simple actions that could help bring this under control.

Many have refused to be vaccinated. Many refuse to wear masks. They have said that their freedom to do as they choose outweighs taking actions for the greater good. They have said that it’s their choice.

In a lot of ways that’s true. It is their choice.

But it’s a selfish one.

Those who could be vaccinated (who do not have valid health reasons for not being vaccinated) are putting others at risk…those with compromised immune systems…and the children.

Children can not yet be vaccinated. They are dependent on the rest of us to try to make the world a safer place for them.

With school starting soon, there will be children from a variety of households gathered together. Anyone who has taught knows how easily colds spread in a classroom–and how important it is to follow health guidelines to try to keep everyone healthy. What happens if you–by your choice not to get vaccinated–get Covid and cause it to spread through your child’s class?

Covid–especially the Delta variant–spreads quickly and easily. According to health authorities, over 90% of the new cases–the rising number of cases (and deaths)–are in people who are not vaccinated.

If you aren’t that concerned for your own health, can you at least be concerned for the children? They depend on us.

Another civil rights issue…

I grew up during the push for African-American civil rights–a journey that is unfortumately still in progress. And recently we’ve been hearing more about civil rights for members of the LGBTQ+ communities–also a journey that is still in progress.

But there’s another group whose civil rights are lacking, and we don’t hear much about them.

I’m talking about the Native Americans, the indigenous people of this country. For far too many of us, their situations–their needs–are invisible…out of sight, out of mind.

There is so much about their history and culture we do not know. They are lumped together under one name–“Indians”–rather than acknowledged as multiple tribes with varying histories and cultures.

When we (the white colonizers) came in, we took over their land. We made agreements–which we broke. We promised they could keep portions of their land–which we took when we needed more land for settlers…or when gold was found. We abused the land they had been stewards of.

Were they perfect? No, just the same as every society. Some of them had brutal customs–but so did we.

When they refused to give in to our demands, we set out to exterminate them–as if they were vermin that needed to be eradicated. We attacked and brutally killed them–including children and babies.

For those who survived, we took their children away and put them in schools where they were humiliated by forced haircuts…not allowed to speak their languages…forced to wear clothes from the dominant culture…not allowed to return to their parents and communities. Too often they were abused and often died.

We destroyed the foundations of their societies…gave them blankets from smallpox victims in the hopes that they would become sick and spread the disease to others…encouraged them to become addicted to alcohol, which we provided in “payment” for furs and other items.

And then we looked at them and call them lazy…dirty…not worth anything…said that “the only good Indian was a dead one”…posted signs that said “No Indians allowed.” We did that–not them. Not all of us were actively involved in these behaviors–but far too often we were complicit in standing by…in being comfortable with what was happening…in not standing with these vulnerable and marginalized peoples.

They were the original stewards of this land–but we wouldn’t even allow them to vote until 1924…and then not everywhere. States decided who could vote–and it wasn’t until 1965 that that right was guaranteed.

I fully support the concerns over voting rights and other civil rights for the groups I mentioned at the beginning of this post. But I also wonder when we will be as concerned for the rights of the indigenous peoples whose lands we forcefully took and whose societies we destroyed as mercilessly and completely as those we enslaved…

“The Underground Railroad”

I started to watch the new series “The Underground Railroad” that is streaming on Amazon Prime…but I could only last about 30 minutes before feeling so sick I had to stop.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to go back to it or not. Not because it is poorly acted–but because it is so well acted. I’ve watched other series / movies about slavery, some of which have had awful portrayals of the brutality of slavery and the impact it had on all those involved.

But in those, the brutality has been focused primarily on adults. [Spoiler alert] In this series, early on you are made aware that children were not spared. Watching a child about the age of one of my young granddaughters being brutally whipped because he couldn’t recite on demand and accidentally touched the white master made me sick.

There is growing scientific evidence that the effects of trauma are passed down through generations. The kind of trauma that enslaved people had to endure…how could it not impact their descendants?

And what about the masters and mistresses? and the young white children “given” their own slaves and growing up thinking that is normal?

I don’t know that any of my ancestors were slave owners or overseers–I haven’t found any evidence, but that’s a possibility. It’s not something I’ve ever contemplated–or wanted to. But I can’t ignore that at least some of my ancestors may have been actively complicit.

Nor can I live any longer without acknowledging that we are still living with the legacy of slavery. The brutality that white owners inflicted on their slaves corrupted the sense of morality and humanity that they may have had at one time. Seeing other human beings as no more than property–no different from their cattle or sheep–and passing that belief on to their children has had a significant impact on racial relationships…from then until now. And being seen as property–with the needs, desires, and hopes of all humans ignored–has had a significant impact on members of that community…from then until now.

Slavery is not just in the past. It lives on today–in actual physical slavery that still exists around the world…in systems that keep one group of people on top at the expense of another…in the refusal to look into the eyes of another and see our common humanity.

I am truly grateful for those many, many people in our past who challenged the world they were born into…who were willing to risk their lives helping individuals to travel the underground railroad. But that work is not done. It still needs each of us to step up and help free those who continue to be held in bonds of slavery, whatever form that bondage takes.

None of us will be truly free until all are…until we learn to see with new eyes that sees each as sibling…as someone of great worth.