Friday, June 26, 2015

To my mother on the day love won

I often joke or tell people that I had the fortune to grow up with more than one mother - my stepmother, my parent's close women friends who were a part of my upbringing, the mothers of my own close friends. But of course, I truly have only one mother. One mother who conceived me and carried me and birthed me. One mother who I have this incredible life to thank for.

Today, more than any other day in a long while, on the day love won, words are not enough for how grateful I am to her... Her or the other millions of anonymous heroes that our president so appropriately thanked in his address earlier today.

Because of my mother, I was born into and lived a childhood in which I did not question or doubt the love between people that shared the same gender. Because of my mother, I never once felt confusion, disgust, hatred, discomfort or any other atypical reaction to a man kissing a man or a woman kissing a woman, that I would not have had to a man and woman.

Because of my mother, I had no inkling that the woman we lived with until I was in middle school - who shared a room with my mother, who loved my sister and me like her own, who celebrated special occasions sitting next to my father, who taught me to fish and make onion soup - was breaking some sort of societal norm. I knew her as my mother's best friend, someone she loved who made her happy, and someone who loved her back the way I thought my mother deserved. Because of my mother, and her love for this woman, I was lucky enough to have more than one incredible person to looks up to in my life during some of my most formative years. It took until I was in fourth grade for me to wonder even once whether it was unusual for my mother to live with another woman. And it was because of my mother, carefully wording a subtle warning when we moved to rural Georgia for just over a year, "It would be better not to tell too many people that we share a room", that I wondered and learned a little more about the world around me.

Because of my mother, I had one very big reason to break up with my first boyfriend. After spending middle school nervous that others might treat me differently if they found out my mother was a lesbian, I had decided that was no way to live my life in high school. My closest friends and family knew, and I began trusting more and more people with my mother's "secret", wanting to stand by my own unwavering inner knowledge that this was nothing to hide. I remember the first time I told new friends about my mother and how wonderful it felt to say it with pride in our family. I remember the first time I told a boy I was "dating" that my mother was a lesbian. I remember how he used this knowledge I entrusted him with when, hurt by something I said in a fight, he wanted to hurt me back. He did indeed hurt me. I never trusted him again. Because of my mother - and this boy - I learned that who I choose to love may not always respect and accept the differences in my family, and I learned that I am strong enough to walk away from those people.

Because of my mother, I have always felt loved. Truly and dearly loved. I have always known that I will always have a home, a safe haven, wherever she is. Because of my mother, I have never once doubted that a single person or a same sex couple would be able to raise a baby to become a badass human being. Just ask me about my older brother and twin sister, in my opinion two of the most awesome human beings on this planet, in large part thanks to my mother.

Because of my mother, I have never once doubted that I can love whomever I choose and that my love will be supported. I can bring home those I love to meet her and I know she will welcome them with open arms and an open heart - no matter their gender, race, or any other biological character they could not possibly have had a choice in. Even if they have chosen different beliefs politically, spiritually, or of any other kind, I know they will be respected and treated with an open mind - given that they are treating me and my family with that same respect. Because of my mother, I know what that respect looks like. Because of my mother, the world of people I can meet and care for is bigger and filled with more possibilities.

Because of my mother, I have and always will believe that there are basic civil rights that every human should have. Because of my mother, I have been motivated to talk, argue, write, and work in the ways that I can to help others understand and see this. Nothing is taken away from the majority when we strive to ensure every person is given equal opportunities, privileges and rights. Many people taught me this, but because of my mother - watching closemindedness attempt to limit her life and seeing her never letting it do so - I have a passion to help others also live a life without unnecessary and unfair limits. Because of my mother, and her own struggles and inspiring life, I am a better person.

Today, love won. Because of my mother I know what that truly means for millions of Americans - adults and children alike. Today, there are millions of heroes that deserve our gratitude for their battles, both big and small. Because of my mother, I was lucky enough to have known one my entire life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Do or do not. There is no try.

"To live in hearts we live behind is not to die." Thomas Campbell

"Do you know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?" Terry Pratchett

"There's doubt in trying. Just do it or stop thinking." Toba Beta

On December 1st, 2010, I sat down to write about one of the most influential people in my young life. He passed away just a few days earlier, unexpectedly, rocking the world of my friends and family and creating a strange hole in my own life. It was as if there was suddenly a missing piece of something I had never realized was such a huge part of who I was, that is, until it was gone. Today is that person's birthday. As I "see" others thinking and talking about him, I find myself wanting to share again what an amazing impact he had on me, my family and everyone around him. I wrote these words five years ago, and they are still just as true today.

I used to be a very lazy, selfish girl. No, really. I was a complete and utter brat. I didn’t like to work hard and I didn’t like to be criticized. I was young and acted as if the world owed me something, though even now, I’m not sure what. Anyone who knew me at the time will willingly tell you, I definitely had some difficult preteen years.

This happened to be the time I began training with Sifu in an after school program at Inman Middle School. To be honest, I think I mainly joined because my twin sister Jessica was doing it. I remember often feeling like I didn’t want to be there. Actually, I remember often saying it (boy, was I a whiner). There were these two girls, one in high school, who sort of (really) scared me because they were so intimidating… and Sifu! He was so tough on us! He always wanted us to hold our stances longer or lower. He always pushed us to work harder and he would tell us these crazy stories. Being a brat, I didn’t appreciate much of it… and I even talked back to him. I remember him laughing and making jokes when I whined, which made me think, “I’ll show him!”

But even though I never stuck with anything back then, I kept going to kung-fu. I wanted to prove to Sifu how strong I was. I’d act like it was so I could show off after him teasing me about my stances or comparing me to Jessica. I wanted a sort of, “Anything you can do, I can do better” kind of moment. You never would have gotten me to admit it back then, but I really just wanted to be strong enough so that Sifu would tell me how good I was doing. I didn’t want to show it, and I didn’t even realize it, but I cared what Sifu thought, even when I was fighting him every step of my training.

Eventually Sifu opened the Ying Jow Pai school in Midtown. By that time, I was already good friend with the girls who used to scare me, Alice and Jessie. Along with Jessica and a few other training brothers, these were the best and closest friends I had growing up. We’d walk to the kung fu school stopping by Winn Dixie to pick up a half gallon of ice cream or a bag of oreos, and then eat it all while Sifu shook his head at us. He’d get his laughs in by making us run laps after consuming a giant Hershey’s kiss or 100 of each kick when we downed a cookies and cream pie.

I was still a lazy brat, but I went to kung fu everyday, just to mouth off to Sifu when he teased me. No matter what a bad kid I was, Sifu always kept laughing and smiling. Sometimes I did go too far, and I disrupted class to the point that Sifu would get serious and I would be in trouble. On the surface, I’d be mad at Sifu for not going along with all my jokes, but underneath it all I was mad at myself. I’d think, “He’ll never like me as much as Alice or Jessica or Jessie if I keep making him mad.” I’d never apologize, because I was so proud, but nothing made me happier when Sifu would laugh his laugh again with me. I’d act annoyed at his teasings, but inside I was shining from the attention. To be the butt of Sifu’s jokes was like getting a hug from him.

Still, Sifu was my kung-fu instructor and he always expected the best, because that’s what he gave. I don’t think I ever met with so much will in a person, and it was hard to measure up to. Sometimes I’d get so frustrated, I’d quit doing kung-fu for a few weeks or sometimes months. I’d swear to myself I’d never do stances again. But I still went to the school and watched Sifu train my friends and family. I still joked around with Sifu. And when everyone was focused, quietly training hard, I’d watch them and listen to Sifu and I’d miss it with every fiber of my being. He always drew me back in.

My proudest moment was when Sifu decided to teach me Wan Sin - the fan form. I don’t know how to express how special I felt, how happy I was. It was suddenly so much more important to work hard, to be perfect. I wanted to make Sifu proud he had chosen Wan Sin for me. I hadn’t given up on all my wild child ways yet, but that was when my training with Sifu really changed.

I thought I’d be doing pretty good, but Sifu always knew that there was more in me. I remember when Sifu would be coming down on me hard, and I would say, “I’m trying.” And he’d get that look (you know the one) and say, “Well stop trying and just do it!” I’d get so angry and say some smart ass comment right back, or stomp off angrily (he’d probably tell you the story about when I threw my fan at him). Afterwards I’d just do it, and you know what, he was always right. Trying always got in the way of doing. Even now, I don’t use the word “try” and tell people Sifu’s motto with him in mind, “Just do it.”

This is just a little bit about my story with Sifu, but I’m not sure how to explain exactly who Sifu was to me.

He was my kung-fu teacher, but not just that. Even if I told someone that I spent half my day, five days a week, for seven years with Sifu in his school, it’s not enough. Even if I told them he taught me about Stevie Wonder and Flo Jo and dozens of other heroes for me to idolize, it wouldn’t tell you anything. If I said, he is the reason I met some of my closest friends, or had the most beautiful sister-in-law, or have the sweetest step-mother and baby siblings a person could ask for, it would barely scratch the surface.

Sifu was my teacher in all things. He taught me about strength and willpower. He taught me grace. Sifu opened a door into his heart and his greatest passion and brought together so many strangers and made a family out of them. Sifu showed me how to laugh at myself, and this gift has helped me go through some of my hardest moments without losing my smile.

There aren’t enough words to describe who Sifu was to me.

Sifu, we were your kids. We weren’t always good kids, but I know you always loved us anyways. I know it’s been too long since I saw you last, and I know it’s been even longer since I stopped training, but I hope I still make you proud. Please keep teasing me and pushing me to work harder from wherever you are, because I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t keeping me on my toes. I hope you know how much I miss you and I love you.

My kung-fu family at a national competition in St. Pete, Florida. Sifu is pictured in blue, and I'm the munchkin to his right. Everyone is here, always, with love.