Welcome Home, Hero. Rest in Peace.

This was not the first military funeral I had attended.  It was the first time I’d been to any funeral that took place 76 years after the deceased had died.  This young man, a kid the same age as my third of five children, has finally made it home to be put to rest with his family in a hero’s ceremony.  Seaman First Class George Anderson Coke, Jr. came home to Arlington today for the first time since he left for boot camp back in 1941.

My friend, Leslie Dorn Barton, is George Coke’s second cousin once or twice removed.  I’m still unclear on all that genealogy stuff.  While I’d like to be able to trace back my family tree, I’m quite unorganized and tend to think circularly rather than in clear straight lines.  Besides, I’ve got aunts and cousins on both sides of my tree who really dig that sort of thing and they actually journal it all. Anyway, Leslie is one of the Special Education teachers who taught my daughter at Sam Houston High School. We became friends over the last couple of years. So naturally, when she mentioned that this funeral was happening today, I told her I’d come.

It’s been hotter than ever all week and I was so relieved when the thunderstorms hit our city last night and it rained until the wee hours this morning.  I donned my black abaya and a gray and black scarf and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church and tried to “blend in” with the Arlington locals.  I know.  I didn’t. The sole Muslim in a sea of mostly older, white, Christian faces.

I listened to the history of George Coke, Jr., son of George Coke, Sr., who was the Chief of Police in Arlington back in the 1920s.  I learned that of the 3,500 American casualties that day in Pearl Harbor, that Arlington lost 48 souls.  My mind wandered, as is the norm during funerals.  Everyone in some way or another is reminded of their own immortality at a funeral.  With military funerals, you are also reminded of all of your family members and friends who also served in the armed forces.  I felt a few tears escape today as I remembered friends who were killed in foreign wars.  I felt a few more tears escape as I offered prayers of thanks and gratitude for those family and friends who returned safely home.

I followed the funeral procession to Parkdale Cemetary. We were escorted by members of the United States Navy and a large number of the Arlington Police Department.  I watched as the sailors, now pallbearers, respectfully carried the remains of their comrade who fell in the line of duty more than half a century before any of them were born.  And the firing of the three volleys, though I knew they were coming, still caught me off guard and those tears of relief that most of my loved ones returned to me fell from my eyes as a silent salute to Seaman Coke and all of the thousands who didn’t.

My heart stirred as I watched the slow and deliberate movements of the sailors folding the flag and the hand off of that folded flag followed by the final salute from Seaman to Non-Commissioned Officer to Officer to Rear Admiral and finally to George Coke, Jr.’s family members.  The spent shell casings from the three volleys, symbolizing duty, honor, and country, were then placed into the hand of the young descendant of Seaman Coke.

A cool breeze gently blew across my face, air-drying the silent tears and leaving my cheeks a little bit sticky.  I hugged Leslie and shook hands with her son, aunt, and mother.  I looked back to see the final resting place of Seaman Coke, under the Live Oak and the Crepe Myrtle trees, beside his mother and father.  Welcome home, hero.  Rest in peace.

 

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THIS IS ONLY A TEST!

Like most of the “popular vote,” our family mourned the election results on November 9, 2016. My 11 year old niece was in tears, asking my sister, “But how could HE be elected? He’s mean. How could America elect a bully to be our next President?” Indeed.

She wasn’t the only kid to react this way. I have friends in Florida, North Dakota, Wisconsin, California, Maryland, New York, Georgia, Arizona and everywhere in between who held their children on Wednesday morning, wiping away tears of confusion and disappointment that someone who bullies others in public and on television and LIVES the example of what they are NOT supposed to be, could be elected to lead our country.

I gave myself that Wednesday (and honestly, the following Thursday and Friday, too) to grieve Hillary Clinton’s loss of the election. And then I chose happy.

My sister has a sign in her kitchen that says: Happiness is a Choice. Of course, she keeps that sign on the counter right next to the knife block. So, I guess if you can’t choose happiness, you can always choose the butcher knife. Still, it’s a choice. I chose happy.

Am I happy that Donald Trump is our President-elect? Hell, no. But I am happy to have the next four years to find someone better to run against him in 2020. (Sidetrack: Wouldn’t that be an awesome campaign slogan? JOAQUIN CASTRO FOR PRESIDENT- Because hindsight is 20/20. I digress.)

Look, I am an American Muslim of Irish descent, married to a naturalized Egyptian. We have a disabled daughter and we live under the poverty level and we don’t have health insurance because it’s not offered at my husband’s job and we fall through the cracks of ACA because our dumbass state officials in Texas decided to “show them” and not expand Medicaid….EVEN THOUGH Texans are still federally taxed. So we’re paying for Medicaid in other states and not insuring the poor in our own. I had EVERYTHING to lose in this election. But I’m choosing happy.

My faith teaches me that I must be PATIENT. I can be patient for 4  years of a Trump administration. I can USE that patient 4 years to write letters, investigate and research better qualified Democrat candidates and help to promote them. If we move NOW and are patient through the next 4 years, we can help put forth far better qualified candidates to win in 202o. Hey, you third party voters. PLEASE, do the same. If you in the Green Party and in the Libertarian Party work hard at finding a better candidate NOW….start fund-raising NOW….to get better candidates than Stein and Johnson…..get the monies needed to build up a great campaign 4 years from now…..I’ll bet you have a shot. Hell, you guys come up with someone better than the Democrat nominee and I’ll vote for him or her. But
ALL of you, Democrats, Greenies, and Libertarians: Let’s start NOW. Let’s get out in front
of whatever is coming down the 2020 Republican turnpike and make some serious changes in our government. Start finding mid-term candidates for your congressional representatives now. Put some effort in early so that you can all make our Congress more honest; more representative of US, the voters. They work for us. Make them earn their pay.

This is a test. ONLY a test. Somebody wanted a big shake up and change to the status quo. They got their wish. Let’s take their wish for change a step further and use the next 4 years to work toward true greatness. We’ll have a lot of pieces to pick up. Maybe we can build something new instead of just putting it all back together again. It’s not over. It’s a bump in the road. We can do this.

Judging Books by Covers

The following was written by my friend, Joli Crow. (It’s shared with her permission.) And it speaks volumes as to the body-shaming and judging and the ridiculous lack of manners that seems to be rampant any more. I read this this morning on her Facebook status and the more I read, the more my heart broke for her. I honestly don’t know what I would have done were I to have been in her place. I would like to say that I’d have called him out on it out loud. I’ve done this in defending my daughter during her autistic meltdowns and people are staring or making rude remarks. But I don’t know that I would if I were the target of mean comments and bug-eyed glares.

Joli, you are an amazing woman; a survivor. Keep strong. ~N

****

Dear Mr. Chiseled Jaw,

I heard you this morning. Standing behind me, on your phone. I heard you tell the person on the other end that you can’t stand fat people. I heard you tell them you thought something was wrong with me, because you can see the scars on my arms and chest. I heard you tell them that “a little hard work and some plastic surgery and she MIGHT be a 5 someday.” And the comments about my hair. And the laughing.

A few years, a few months, hell, even a few weeks ago, I would have broken and faltered under your harsh words and judging gaze. I would have gone home, curled up under my blanket, and cried myself to sleep. I would have started comfort eating, or hide myself in a book, or done ANYTHING I could to pretend I never heard you.

But I’m going to tell you something. Are you listening? Probably not, but I’ll tell you anyway. This “fat” body? Carried life inside it. It protected a tiny human, one who now could pick your ass up and toss you aside without a second thought.
This “fat” body? You act like it is unlovable. Yet not only do I have an amazing partner who loves it and all its curves, but I have two children who love to cuddle it; who think my softness is a source of comfort. It’s a body people are not afraid to touch, to hug. It’s a body that has lived.
My scars? The ones you said made me look like a junkie or an AIDS victim? I never chose them. They chose me. Each scar was carefully applied with hate, malice, and savagery. Each BATTLE SCAR is a reminder of each day I have survived; each war I have won. Each scar is a reminder of the victories, both large and small, that I have earned in my life.
I may not be YOUR perfect 10. But I know my worth. I know who I am. I know and love each of my demons. I have survived and I have won!

Today, you could have hurt me. You could have undone all the hard work I have put myself through to love myself more. But you’re not worth it. You are no one to me and I don’t have to answer to you or your opinions of me. Because at the end of the day, are you the one putting food on my table, clothing my children, paying my bills, loving me and each of my scars and every pound of me? Are you the one jumping to my side when I need a friend? Are you the one I turn to for comfort?

NO.

So, have a nice day. Enjoy your life and learn to be a little less of an asshole.

K? Thanks, bye!

From,

The Woman who no longer gives a damn what you think.

PS. I will admit a certain satisfaction when you were refused service because of your statements. Gotta love small towns!

Don’t Touch Me (Breaking Silence)

I have a good friend in Canada who is seemingly my younger twin. She’s also got 5 kids and loves to write…although, Nuala Reilly is published and I’m still aspiring to be. We both blog and we are both passionate about fighting back against this “rape culture” for the betterment of our daughters and sons.

I’ve written about this seemingly overlooked issue in the past that contributes to many boys learning that “she says NO but she really means YES.”  (In attempting to call up that old post in order to link it here, Google sent me to the post that followed that one and not the post itself. Bing didn’t find it at all. Apparently, even search engines don’t give a shit about our women having the right to tell men not to touch us.)

At any rate, I would like to direct your attention to Nuala’s latest post about the same issue. Men (and boys)  need to learn that regardless of how attractive they may find a woman, it is not their right to touch her. The end. Hands off.

Now That I Can Breathe Without Tears

This was my post on Facebook the day following the tragic and brutal assassination of five police officers just 20 miles east of me in Dallas. I thought I would share it here and then expand:

“I spent the better part of last night with my ear glued to the radio. I feel like a giant rock is on my chest, I am so heartbroken that this happened here. And I am bracing myself to hear what weak attempt to link this cowardly and brutal assassination of our police officers to either the “open carry” side or the “stricter gun restrictions” side of the argument.
Our police force is NOT a means to anyone’s political end. These were good people who were hunted by a sniper’s rifle while they protected peaceful demonstrators who were exercising their 1st Amendment rights to express their solidarity with people of the other communities who lost young black men in violent deaths at the hands of a few bad cops.
That said, I also firmly believe that every one of those black men who were killed by police officers throughout this country were also good men whose lives were taken out of the fear, prejudice, bad judgment, overzealousness, incompetence, or power-drunken arrogance of a select group of police officers. Just as black criminals do not represent the entire black population, those bad cops do not represent law enforcement as a whole.
My heart hurts today and I just do not want to deal with Trump or Clinton or anyone else’s politically motivated soundbites to further their own campaigns on the backs of Blue or Black coffins.
‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬
‪#‎BackTheBlue‬
‪#‎UnitedWeStand‬

I am still “in the feels” about all of this. I have been since Trayvon Martin was shot four years ago. I’ve watched from the sidelines and spoken my peace in support of my fellow citizens from within the African-American community. I cannot ever understand how they must feel, having to worry every time their young men step outside the safety of their own homes.

I can only imagine that it is similar to how I feel every September 11th; how I go about my day with my butt cheeks clenched and acid burning a hole in my stomach as I wait for all my children and my husband to return home at the end of that day. How every time there is a shooting, hostage situation, or explosion within our borders the first thing that pops into my mind is, “Dear God. Please don’t let it be a Muslim that is committing this terrible act.” Only this anxiety for my black friends is one that they must endure in the backs of their minds EVERY day and not just annually or during some heinous event.

I want to cry out for them and I want to hug them and I want to scream. I want to be the one who organizes some sort of training program to run through all of the law enforcement academies from coast to coast and make sure that our police officers can learn to see our human sides and not affiliate skin color with criminal capability that crosses all racial lines. How do we turn off that hate? Is there an app for THAT?

I am the person who sees the good in others. I am excited that at my children’s high school on the lower socio-economic side of town, there is a police academy training program where the local community college and police academy choose from our predominately minority population to eventually protect and serve our community. This is affecting positive change in our city. I want this for all the cities. I want to see communities working together to improve the economy; opening and supporting small businesses within the poorer neighborhoods so that money is put back into the community and helping to cut unemployment rates, increase local spending, create pride.

I am not Pollyanna. I know that these things will not solve prejudicial views of all or fear due to racial misunderstandings by law enforcement agents. I know that there is no magic wand to “fix it” in the short term. But I know that what I would like to see happen would definitely contribute to a long-term fix of what’s broke in our country. I will continue to push for education opportunities within my own community. I will continue to teach my own kids empathy, fairness, and to stand on the side of right. I know that the genuinely good people of the United States will continue to do the same. And we can support our brothers and sisters of all skin colors, backgrounds, religions, cultures, and still support our law enforcement officials. I’m going to keep doing my part.

Triggers

I have seen the Stanford yearbook photo of the convicted rapist whose father feels he is being punished too severely for “20 minutes of action” with an unconscious, young woman behind a dumpster. My stomach turns and I fight the nausea that comes in waves along with the memories of fear and disbelief and shock and horror and indescribable panic that I experienced during an attempted rape. It all happened so fast…and in front of his 1 year old daughter who I had come to babysit. She was on the couch and I was sitting on the floor playing solitaire, waiting for him to leave. His girlfriend’s shift started about two hours before his and I had agreed to watch the baby for a few hours each night to help her out. I had known them both for several years. I distinctly remember sitting strategically on the floor in front of the couch so that if the baby decided to get down I could catch her with my body. I remember that I was wearing jeans and a grubby t-shirt because I didn’t have time to go to the laundromat. I was barefoot because it was hot that day and I always took my sandals off at the door. I was bored and wanted to be at my own apartment across the street where my then husband was watching television. But I had agreed to stay with the baby at their place. And I remember thinking, “Why hasn’t he left yet? He’s going to be late for work and then the phone calls are going to start.” You see, he was on house arrest and had a specific number of minutes to get to his job and clock in or his ankle monitor would go off. He had been arrested for robbery. And he wasn’t violent. And I knew him. So I thought I was safe. And I felt him staring at my back. My back that was covered with a baggie t-shirt. And how he managed to jerk my jeans and underpants off and throw me to the floor with only one hand holding my ankles together and over my head while I was pinned to the floor with his body weight was unbelievable. I am a strong woman. I lifted weights in high school and college. I ran track and cross country and have very powerful legs. I forced my feet onto his chest and started to force him off of me. His face was replaced by that of a menacing monster and his fist that was twice the size of mine threatened to break my face if I kicked him. I felt pure fear for the first time that day. My mind raced to his daughter who was sitting on the couch watching this assault unfold in front of her innocent eyes and I started to cry. And I managed to choke out, “I cannot believe you would rape me in front of her” and then the tip of his penis that was already touching my labia was gone. And he pulled up his pants and walked into the back of the apartment. I threw on my underpants and jeans, grabbed the baby  and ran to my apartment across the street. I called her mother from my house and told her that she should call me before she leaves work so that I could bring the baby back home as she got home.  She was upset that I told her I couldn’t watch her anymore. I am sure she felt betrayed by me; leaving her in the lurch having to take off work to find short-notice babysitting that she could afford. And I never told her. And I never told my husband. And I never told a soul…because I knew that my past one-night-stand with the baby’s father that had happened when I was engaged to be married would come out and then my friend would be hurt and my husband would be hurt and I would be labeled a whore and what difference did it make since he was going to go off to prison soon anyway?

It mattered. I lost my friend anyway. I lost my husband anyway. True,  not for the reasons I had imagined, but they were gone nonetheless. And I still find myself afraid in parking garages, storage facilities, elevators with just one male rider. I doubt my ability to make good choices, whether or not turning my back to him to play cards on the floor was an invitation. This was 26 years ago. And I still panic over it. And I wasn’t “actually raped.” And though there was no penetration, I still felt violated and terrified and dirty and ashamed. And in my effort to protect the feelings of others in my life, I never told anyone and ended up carrying this violation, terror and dirt and shame in my soul and mind anyway and it is the reason for my self-doubt on so many occasions.

And I can’t help thinking that if all the Stanford rapist gets is 3-6 months in a county jail, then maybe he’ll end up on the other end of that equation at least once. He won’t make the connection that he is experiencing what she did. He’ll blame her for it. And the Swedes. And the system and probably even the judge who did him the favor of slapping his wrist instead of teaching him the accountability he so desperately needs to be taught. And no one will be any wiser or safer or better for it.

Conversations with My Kids…..Or ABOUT My Kids…With My Sister’s Kids

My sister, MJ, has 2 kids who are loud and hilarious and smart and gorgeous. They, too, inherited the smart ass gene that my kids inherited. We traded kids the other day while my brother was in town. Molly had gotten wrapped up in a game on the laptop and MJ and Lloyd (my brother) volunteered to pick up some stuff at the supermarket for me. My two youngest decided that it was “their turn” to go with whomever was leaving the house.

Molly could not have been more disinterested in going with her mom. She continued playing her game. I tidied up the kitchen and hung some laundry and was about to start making dinner when my husband called and asked me to come pick him up from work.

So I got dressed and started looking for the two older boys to tell them that they’d be in charge of keeping an eye on their young cousin. Hamo was praying. I couldn’t find Ismail anywhere. I checked each room, closet, back and front yards. NOTHING. Randa was asleep in her room. I was worried that Molly would realize she was sitting in the den by herself and get scared without her mom or me or her uncle or any of her older cousins around. So I asked her where Ismail was.

   “He went out the back gate.”

“I just checked the backyard and I didn’t see him. The back gate was locked.”

    “I don’t know. I saw him go out the back gate.”

I went back to the front yard and yelled out his name. Cue crickets. I returned to the den as I plopped onto the couch to get my socks on.

“Molly, I cannot seem to find Ismail anywhere and I HAVE to go pick up your Uncle Mohamed from work. Poor man is probably hungry after working all day.”

     “Mmmm-hmmmm”

“I am going to kill Ismail. I looked everywhere and can’t find him.”

     “You’re going to kill him?”

“That’s right. In fact, I may kick him until he’s dead. What do you think about THAT?”

    (*sigh*)  “Aunt Nik, that kind of gore and violence is completely inappropriate for someone my age. I mean, I’m not even a decade yet.”

(forcing the dead pan/parent face) “Did anyone ask you to watch? But you’ve got a point. That would be pretty violent. Maybe I could just smother him with a pillow when he gets home.”

     “It wouldn’t be as hard to clean up afterward.”

Apparently, I am NOT the only one in the family raising a bunch of smart alecs.