My Year on the Corner: 1 Year Since Tucson.

Has it really been a year? I can’t believe how much time has gone by and how little of it I have spent here. I guess that is because instead of sitting around at home on my couch, I have been out in the world trying to make a difference. From the street corner where I keep my solidarity vigil, to the Occupy camp that popped up in my community, and to various other community events I have been there.

This year has been quite the journey for me. Like the rest of the nation, I was horrified by the events of January 8, 2011 in Tucson. But what I was most horrified about was the angry and hate filled comments some people said when talking about the victims. Many people believed the victims got what they deserved and they were very quick to voice that opinion. Now I am glad to live in a country where we have the right to say what we want, but I think people were crossing the line. So the following Saturday, I set up myself, my sign, and my constant playing of Micheal Franti and Spearhead’s Sound of Sunshine, and I stood on my street corner. My sign is simple, a plea for us to stop hating each other and instead respect each other. We should be free to say what we want, but we should also respect what comes out of our mouths and who might be listening to those words. For this year, I fought a battle against words. Words that hurt us and drive us apart.

Did I succeed? I started thinking what this was all for from the beginning. I can’t ever really say why I decided a street corner and a sign would be my form of expression, but it did. I know that I have always felt that words were all I had to offer this world, and that was where I would start my fight. Through the weeks, I met some wonderful people in my community who had to stop and thank me for what I was doing. They were amazed at my courage and wished me the best. They were the strength and courage I depended on as weeks turned into months and a year has now passed.

A few months ago, I took a trip to Chicago and was shocked by how many street corners were filled there. Not by people like me, but by people desperate for food and money. I walked pass these people along with everyone else and that was when it dawned on me. These people were invisible. In a large city like Chicago, they did not exist. It didn’t matter the sign or the pitiful look on their faces. People passed them and pretended not to see them. I began to wonder if people were ignoring me. For the car horns had started to die down and the people approaching me had dried up. I started to fear that I was invisible and that no one remembered or cared anymore about why I was out there. I started to think maybe I should just give up and pack it in and call it a day.

The Occupy movement came to my community about three months ago. Unlike Occupy movements around the country, this one is small, has never had a single member arrested, and actually has legal permits to camp in one of our parks. Every Saturday, about 15 of them march 2 blocks to one of our Congressional member’s office and stay put all day with signs. They don’t cause trouble and have become more of a side-show. However, I started to wonder if people would think my sign and I were part of that movement. I wondered if they would honk because of that, or flip me off because of that. I even considered joining them on one of their marches because they look so small and sad. Almost like how I look in my solitary vigil. I have yet to join them, but I am actually proud that they have set up camp here.

So what have I learned? What has been accomplished? Will I continue? Well, I have learned a lot about myself. I cannot believe that I have done this. I sometimes think it must have been someone else on that street corner with that sign because that is not the person I am. I am not the person to take charge and stand for what I believe. I just like to hide away. So where did I come from? Where did I get the strength to turn it all around? I still don’t know the answer. All I know is that I was there and it was me standing on a corner, holding a sign, and listening to Sound of Sunshine. I did it. Somewhere deep inside of me, there was courage and strength and I found it. I feel like I am a new person and this experience and forced me to change.

What have I accomplished? Well as far as changing the world, or the world around me, I would have to say very little. Our world is still polluted with the words of hate directed at those who don’t deserve such hate. We have not learned to respect each other and we may never learn. But on a personal note, I did accomplish something for me. I did what I have never done before, standing on the corner, and I did it to honor people I have never met and some I will never meet. For it was for the victims of the Tucson shooting that made me want to stand on that corner. Their lives cut short or forever changed resonated deeply within me and changed me in a deeply profound way. Nothing has ever called me to action like that before. I did this for them and for myself. I needed to join with them and show the world that they were not the deserving victims of violence but rather innocent victims. And I needed to heal. The thought of them never strayed far from my mind this whole year and yet every time I stood on that corner I felt more at peace. I felt a wave of dread and sadness wash over me every time I stood out there. But I especially did this for the youngest victim of that shooting, Christina Green. Since learning about and all her accomplishments in her short life, I began to see how we were connected. She wanted a life where she could change the world and even at the age of 9 she was already doing more than I had ever done. I cried over the fact that the world is now deprived of the great and wonderful things she could have accomplished. But I am still here. And as I long as I am still here I would like to now carry on where this girl left off. I will put myself out into the world, instead of watching it go by, and I will try to change things they way this child envisioned they should be changed. Who knows what she could have accomplished. But now it just seems wrong to not do anything and be a spectator. That is no way to honor her memory.

So will I continue? Sadly, I don’t think my corner will have me next week. The first year since the shooting has now passed and it is time to pack it in. The corner was my refuge from the world that was so mean and cruel to the victims of a terrible shooting, but it cannot always be my refuge. I feel that after today, I must find a new way to get the words of respect and tolerance out to my community and to the rest of this world. My hope for today is that in going forward from the one year anniversary we all make sure to stop and reflect what we say before we say it. Make sure our words are respectful of each other and not filled with hate against one another. We are such a great people and it seems sad that these tragedies will continue; but as long as we continue to hurt each other with words, then hurting each other with violence only seems like a natural escalation.

So I am tired now. My sign is worn out. And I can sing every song from memory on Sound of Sunshine. A year has passed and what have we learned?

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My Year on the Corner Day 11: Standing for the Truth

Lately my thoughts have been haunted. I have felt pained and tormented surrounding a book that I read recently and my own weekly vigil on the corner. The book is called The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent. It is a fictional novel based on the life of Martha Carrier, a woman who was hanged for being a witch in 1692. The story is all told from the perspective of Martha’s 9 years old daughter Sarah and if seeing the Salem Witch Trials through the eyes of a child wasn’t hard enough, the real tragedy is the thought that this happens over and over.

What has haunted me about this book is the fact that I can see myself in Martha. She was a woman who believed the truth would set her free and in the end she died for it. I guess in a way she was set free by it. However, she believed it was more important to show the world how wrong they were then lie and save herself. It felt similar to the way I feel about the world around me. How tired I am of everything that seems to be going wrong and how I want everyone to see that the path they have chosen is wrong. All of this so similar and yet at the same time so different.

I can’t stop thinking about how many times this same scenario gets played out. Throughout history, and all over the world, people die for what is right and what is truth. There is something wrong with us when we feel it is necessary to give such a harsh punishment for someone who was only doing what was right. Of course the people meeting out that punishment believe themselves to be right as well and thus all hope is lost.

So why has this book haunted my thoughts? Why is it I cannot escape the image of an innocent woman being led to the gallows? Why can I not shake the feeling of sadness that this woman must have felt as she heard her own daughter screaming and crying for her as she was led away? Why? Well I believe it has to do with the idea of being alone. We all believe that we are alone in this world and that we must only look out for ourselves. We can never see how we are all interconnected and one with each other. That what we do unto others we do unto ourselves. I feel alone every Saturday and that frightens me. It is hard to stand alone against the group and stand for what is right and truth.

All my life, I had always hoped that I would be able to stand against the group and show everyone an alternate path. A path that must be taken because in doing so we could all live a better life with each other instead of against each other. I have always held a special place in my heart for people like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who did stand up and lead thousands of people against the injustice in their world. Yet so many people end up paying for this standing up with their lives. Too many times their lives are cut down by people who do not want to hear and do not want to accept it. And the greatest tragedy is that sometimes the lessons these people taught gets lost and no one follows their truth.

For me, I am now frightened at the prospect of where the road may take me. If I continue with this weekly vigil, where will I go? What more will I demand from this world? And will I have to pay for my own truth about this world with my life? The thought is haunting especially when I consider that everyone thinks they are right and alone. That was why only a few people died during the Salem Witch Trials even though hundreds were imprisoned. Those that lied did so to save their lives to see their children grow up and possibly to see their grandchildren come along. And those that died did so because they knew that the world around them was flawed and that in continuing to plead their innocence to the gallows, they would die for all the truth at a time when the truth frightened everyone. I cannot say if I would have gone with them to the gallows, but I know I would always regret if I didn’t. So what does that say about me?

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My Year on the Corner Day 10: A Community Healing

Well Wade and I returned from a delightful trip to New Orleans, and I got plenty of lovely pictures to send to Wade and his family. However, while there, I couldn’t help but be struck by this community of healing. I thought about all things the people of New Orleans have been through along with the people of Tucson and the people of my community.

New Orleans is a wonderful and vibrant city. There is lots of alcohol to drink, fish to eat, and history to learn. Since my community isn’t very old, I love traveling to places that have a long history. For example, in St Peter’s square very early on in New Orleans history people were tried and executed. And I of course got to stand in that very same spot. I also went to plantations filled with long histories of the same families owning the same land for generations. In fact, at one plantation, the owners actually made a family tree of their slaves as well as their own family because the same slave families had worked the land for generations.

Long history always fascinate me, but what gets to me more is the fact that we have lost so much of that. In my family, I don’t have a place I would call home. My family has never lived somewhere for generations. We are more like traveling nomads and frankly, so is a good majority of this country.

But what saddens me is to see the cracks and the suffering underneath in such a wonderful city. The scars of Hurricane Katrina still have not healed. There has been some good that has come out of that hurricane, one thing being my friend who married someone who she worked with while helping the city rebuild after Katrina, but there is still more to be done.

How eerie it is to travel into the lower 9th ward and see the devastation that still stands to this day. There is grass that grows there as high as my waist, but then suddenly there is a break in the grass that is a concrete slab. As it turns out, these concrete slabs use to be driveways and foundations until a wall of water just washed them away. And then there are houses still bearing the symbols that rescue workers used to verify if someone had died in the house. Most of these houses are still boarded up and will probably remain that way until someone finally tears them down. Oh sure there are homes being built all around, but there is still that eerie feeling that prevails when I look at a concrete slab and realize a home use to stand there and suddenly, through the awesome power of water, it was washed away. It makes me wonder if we will all be washed away someday.

So while most people go to New Orleans for the alcohol and the French Quarter night life, I particularly enjoyed the history of a community that is so much older than mine. How sad though it is that this one hurricane will forever leave an open wound on a terrific city on the bayou.

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My Year on the Corner: Traveling with Wade

Life, the corner, and a new tragedy have kept me rather busy and away from the blogging world. Oh well. Just more for me to do and more to be done as I go about. Sadly, though, a new tragedy has surfaced that had reminded me that is there is still plenty of work to be done. You won’t hear about this tragedy on the news because it only seems to matter the most to the people of the community.

Recently, a local high school teacher, Wade Smith, fell and suffered severe brain damage. How severe? Well no one knows. The family has cut off all communication with our community and has moved Wade to a undisclosed rehab facility in California.

Why? Well it all has to do with hate and a lack of respect. Two things I stand out on a street corner for every Saturday. You see, Wade’s sister had been keeping everyone up to date on his condition through a family website. One day she posted that she was taking his wife to a spa so his wife could be pampered for a few hours. In my opinion, and the opinion of the majority of people in town, this was no big deal. After all, the poor woman had been at her husband’s side since the accident and was only going to be leaving for a few hours to have someone look after her and relieve some of her stress. No big deal.

Well to some people this was a big deal and they chose the worse way possible to voice their disgust at the wife and sister for taking this little break. Hateful and disrespectful messages began popping up on the website. A teacher who had done so much for his students and community was now at the center of attacks focused on his family loyalty to him and his condition. What a tragedy this was.

This community loves Wade. He has done so much for the students, the school, and the community that it would be difficult to find someone who didn’t have something nice to say about him. His students have worked so hard in his absence and the absence of news only makes this pain worse.

This just confuses me. Why do people chose to be cruel? Why do we use our words in the worse ways possible? I sometimes wonder if people have no idea how much their words hurt. Sure actions have consequences, but the consequences of saying horrible things to each other may not have visible consequences, like a jail cell, but there are consequences. Didn’t anyone lean anything from Bambi when the rabbit said, “If you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all.” Why say something to people if it is just going to be mean? Or how about the old cliché of walking a mile in another person’s shoes. I know those that posted their hate to the family had never walked a foot in the shoes that family is now wearing as they go through this. All of this confuses me but it also serves as a reminder that my work is not done. There is still need to be on a street corner promoting respect and denouncing hate when it is so rampant.

So this coming Saturday my corner will be empty as Wade and I go off on an adventure together. In a desperate attempt to let the family know that we still care about Wade, the high school librarian made Flat Wades for everyone to take on their summer travels. She will send our pictures to his family and hope that they see them and share them with Wade. And perhaps, no matter how bad the news, they will feel compelled to let those of us who care about him know how he is doing.

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My Year on the Corner Day 9: Gaining and Losing

This past Saturday was a lovely day, and it was the day before the 4 month anniversary of the Tuscan shooting. I cannot believe that 4 months has now passed and yet very little has seemed to changed. The world has not gotten safer and people have not gained more respect for each other. In my community, there is still fighting over allowing foreign born, legal I might add, children to attend our public schools. And there is still a prevailing sense of anger and hate everywhere I turn.

Yet it seems that with each passing month, something has been gaining. Something has been changing inside of me and I have struggled to figure it out. When I started this blog, I started by saying that I didn’t know why I felt the need to go out on Saturdays to a street corner with a sign and a positive message. I just knew I needed to be there. And I will always admit that I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, but at least I am doing something.

This Saturday, I was recovering from a terrible cold. It was about 80 degrees outside and I was freezing in a sweatshirt and jeans. My fever had not broken in 2 days and my stomach was cramping so badly that I thought I would vomit on numerous occasions. But enough about being sick. Lets discuss the lessons learned on this fine Saturday.

I took a look back at the last 4 months and saw myself in a major transformation. A shy and quiet girl had become an outspoken and dedicated woman. Everyday I feel like I do something different. Something I would have not done yesterday. And certainly not anything I would have done a year ago. Or would I?

I have never shared this, but I have been overweight my whole life. My dad could no longer carry me by age 4. At age 6, while playing house, I always had to play pregnant mommy because of my stomach. By age 10, I no longer cared what other people thought of me. I always looked at myself, and my body, as something I had to go home with every night and if I liked it then so be it. But by 2009, reality had sunk in. I suddenly couldn’t do housework because of a terrible pain in my back. And then Thanksgiving of 2009, I couldn’t even walk around the block without my back hurting so bad that it made my legs numb.

At this time, I thought maybe I should see a chiropractor. But a little voice in the back of my head said why not lose some weight. It doesn’t cost anything and what could it hurt. Starting January 2010, funny how transformations for me start in January, I actively started losing weight. I began stocking my fridge with fresh fruits and veggies and this time I ate them instead of letting them rot. I put myself on an exercise routine and stuck to it. I learned how to run during the summer and by the fall I ran one 5k and walked and jogged another 5k. I couldn’t believe that in November of 2009 I could barely walk around the block and by September 2010 I ran a 5k in 45 minutes. Pretty impressive for someone who was still severely overweight.

Today, I am proud to say that I am 58 pounds lighter. I have muscles poking out all over my arms and legs and I proudly wear dresses feeling more like a person and less like a beached whale. So how does this all play into my street corner?

Well, to be able to go out to that corner takes discipline. I have been out there in freezing cold temperatures with a freezing wind. That takes determination and discipline, just like losing weight. I have learned so much about myself in the time I have spent losing weight and I believe that if had not been for that weight loss journey I would not be on the street corner journey. Through trying to lose weight, I learned that you don’t get results by sitting around on a couch watching the world pass by. You have to make the results through hard work. And it takes hard work to go out to a street corner to try to change the world. The two now go hand in hand.

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My Year on the Corner Day 8: Taking Responsibility

Responsibility is a word that we have all heard since we were children. A word our parents used when delegating chores or when a new pet arrived home. However, we seem to have forgotten that responsibility is not just about taking out the trash or feeding the dog. There are so many things we chose not to responsible for.

This past Saturday the sky was clear but the wind was fierce. After a few Michael Franti and Spearhead songs, and a few near losses of my sign, I packed it in. I was shaking out of fear that my sign would blow away from me as I trudged back to the car. A few people got to see me, but it wasn’t a great day.

However, I have been thinking about the word responsibility and what it means on a larger scale ever since I visited with numerous members of the faith community in my town. They were having a discussion of health care reform while I was sitting there politely listening and wondering why this pertained to me. Then they started discussing the idea of responsibility. One woman commented that back when she was a child, she is probably 60 to 70, her mother use to go to neighboring houses and act as a midwife and doctor to anyone that needed her. Her mother would help with simple medical things and even do some light cooking and housework for the family. The woman remarked how simple things like this no longer take place in our world. We no longer go to the neighbor’s house and make them chicken noodle soup when they are sick.

Another woman at the meeting remarked that people complain about having to pay taxes and yet at the same time complain that the roads never get fixed. The woman said this was an oxymoron because how can the roads get fixed if we don’t want to be responsible for paying for them? How do people expect to have comfort conveniences like roads and schools if they refuse to pay for them? Remember the Articles of Confederation? It was the original constitution to this country and it failed miserably. Why? Because a lack of taxes. We don’t get anything for free. We may cry like babies when a pot hole blows out our tires but if we had paid the taxes we wouldn’t have the pot hole. So are we heading for a do over like we did when the Articles of Confederation was scrapped? Are people going to realize this conundrum of wanting but not being responsible for that want?

As the faith group continued with their discussion, I began to realize that this country is once again repeating the mistakes of the past. I began to remember a President that most people would like to forget was ever President. A man who is painted so poorly in most history texts you would think he was some kind of super villain. I am referring to President Herbert Hoover.

President Hoover had the horrendous task of being president during the worse days of the Great Depression. People were dying from starvation and many more were boiling their leather shoes just to have something to eat. There is always the iconic image of men in their finest work clothes standing in line to get a bowl of soup because they had not worked in months or even years. During this time, it had seemed to most Americans like President Hoover had deserted them. Even WWI veterans marched on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave with their families in tow pleading with the government to pay them their pensions immediately so they could eat. President Hoover released the Calvary on them and in total 100 people died who only wanted money they had earned to buy food fo their families.

So President Hoover goes down in flames for being the do nothing president. But did he really do nothing? Actually, he did try many tactics, but they all failed because they were too little too late. The one thing, though, that President Hoover was not going to give up was his idea of rugged individualism. America is founded on the idea that the individual prevails. But what happens when the individual is out of work for months or years and has no money to feed his family? Many people would refer that man to a local charity for a bowl of soup or a box of food. What happens, though, when that charity closes its doors? Maybe a neighbor could throw some potatoes into that boiling stew of shoes. But what if the neighbor is cooking his shoes too? The fact is that when one person is circling the drain there are opportunities to help that person. But when we all circle the drain we are only waiting for the bottom to drop out and down we go.

It seems to me that most people lack responsibility and I can throw myself into that category. When was the last time any of us took a bowl of soup to a sick neighbor? When was the last time we donated to a charity? If we are supposed to rely on only ourselves, then it is no wonder that acts of kindness are paraded on the news like a big headline story. Shouldn’t we all be kind to each other and look out for one another? We fail to realize the impact our words and actions have on the lives of others for good or bad. We only think of ourselves. We are truly a selfish group if we allow things like bullying and grocery store shootings to happen. What is wrong with treating each other with respect and kindness?

“Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who will be affected by it.”  Marian Anderson.

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My Year on the Corner: The Old Man and the King

This week I have sadly been chased away yet again from my corner because of snow. The snow is relentless and something that I cannot overcome. While my body may not be on that corner, my thoughts have not strayed far from it and from the reasons why I took up the duty to be out there. I have been doing some soul searching and trying to discover why it is that I feel the need to go out there. Why I feel sad when I can’t make it. I have talked to others about my weekly commitment who feel that the shock value of it might be just what a few people in this world need to see from time to time to remind them of how much their words hurt others. Yet I still wonder; what is it all for?

Last week, I was thinking a great deal about Walter Breuning. A man who recently passed away at the respectable age of 114. His life spanned three centuries and he had lived through so much that we only read about in history books. If we learn history at all. This man was nothing special; he lived a quiet life in Montana where he worked on the same railroad for over 50 years. He saw the rise of technology and the fall of people’s livelihoods when things got bad. He saw a depression, several recessions, and numerous wars. He lived the history of this country. He embraced all the changes, good or bad, that came his way. His whole life he worked and did some volunteer work in his community. Nothing big and nothing ever news worthy. His life became news worthy when he outlived every record holder and became the oldest man not only in this country but in the world. And even that award he brushed off as no big deal.

I think about Walter Breuning when I think about all of us. I think about what we are doing and what we are trying to do. We are all looking for the same answers and we are all just trying to survive this life. All we can hope for is that tomorrow is easier than today and if it isn’t then we must hope we have the strength to see it through to the next day. Everything moves on by the day and everything is the same for everyone. We are not people that are in any way news worthy or award worthy. We are not great heroes, but to at least one person in this world we are something special.  So we go along with our lives and we live each day to the next and we rarely do anything more special than work and play and sleep. That is the way Walter Breuning led his life and that is the way we have all chosen to live our lives.

I am also a person of little consequence. There is nothing special about my life and if I gave up my corner and this blog no one would miss me or this journey. So what is it all for? Is the simple life a better life because you live it in obscurity and in the safety net of obscurity? Or is it better to take a stand for something and at least step out of the ordinary once, or maybe a couple of times, and try to do something worthwhile and important? Is Walter Breuning news worthy because he died at 114 or because he lived through history? My good friend, and night-time reading, Thoreau, would disagree. He would say that Walter Breuning can’t teach us anything because the world has already changed since his death. Thoreau believed he could learn nothing from his elders because they were stuck in another time. A little cold, but a different perspective. For if we all live the simple life of obscurity, then Thoreau is right that we have nothing to teach because the world has passed us by. Then again, living a life where you put yourself out there, like on a street corner, may be little but it has larger implications that most simple life dwellers would rather not think about and see.

So how do we do know if we haven’t missed something important? If we are not vigilant to the world around us then how do we know when changes, good or bad, are being made. I have also been thinking about a quote from King George III. On July 4, 1776 he made an entry in a diary and wrote, “Nothing important happened today.” Even a king was not aware of a change in the air and the implications that it would soon have.

There is nothing wrong with wanting the simple things in life. There is nothing wrong with getting up everyday and going to work and coming home and playing and then sleeping. The only thing is there might be a change taking place under you and if you are not watching closely you may think nothing important is happening when in fact the whole world has exploded all around you. I know I was living the simple life until the Tuscon shooting exploded around me. So, you have to ask yourself, what may set you off to doing something outside of your safe security net of obscurity? Remember, something important happens everyday.

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