Juneteenth

June 18, 1865 dawned much like every other morning had for the folks on the Island of Galveston, TX. No doubt quiet whispers of the Emancipation Proclamation had been circling since the day Lincoln issued it in 1863 but nothing had changed here. Texas did not see itself as  part of the United States and, therefore, did not feel the need to comply with the freedom of slaves.

Most of the 250,000 slaves in Texas at this time had moved there from other states when their owners moved west to escape the fighting during the Civil War. A few came through domestic slave trade and fewer still came through illegal African trade, but most had moved in from the deep South. By 1860, the average price for a slave in Texas was $800, though the best field hands could bring $1200 and blacksmiths were valued at $2000. Sugar and cotton production had grown by leaps and bounds, as a result of these slaves and the economy was booming.

But the army rolled in with the heat that day. Union Army General, Gordan Granger, arrived on the island with a troop of 2000 Federal Soldiers. The next day, June 19, he read the General Order No. 3 which stated:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

This day became known and celebrated as Juneteenth.

Upon hearing the news, many slaves left the region. However, over the next seven years, a group of African Americans located across the state of Texas collected and saved money to purchase a piece of ground they would then dedicate to the celebration of Juneteenth. In 1872, they purchased ten acres of open land and named it Emancipation Park. This park can still be found today in Houston’s Third Ward.

153 years have passed. While I believe with all my heart that Juneteenth is worth celebrating, I also know down deep in the basement of my soul, that the fight is not over yet. “Absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property” floats through my mind like a living, breathing, ancient mantra. It’s the way things should be. The way things are meant to be. Yet, too many people are still living as if it were June 18, because, let’s be honest for minute, if the stripping away of personal rights of another human being makes us safer, wealthier, more powerful, we tend to forget about the person behind those stripped rights.

If we really lived this, we wouldn’t have more black prisoners than white, neighborhoods wouldn’t be still largely segregated, mothers at the borders would not have their babies taken from them, Native Americans would not be relegated to small corners of this wide land without so many basic rights and blood would stop spilling on our sidewalks.

White people, June 18 is over. What is it that we are grasping to hold on to?  When we choose to believe in absolute equality, we find something so much better than safety, wealth and power. Push yourself into June 19 and discover the freedom that comes from living life as it was meant to be…a beautiful, colorful community.

Ten Things You Should Know About Undocumented Immigrants

  1. An estimated 50% of undocumented workers pay income tax. In 2015, this was in the amount of 23.6 billion dollars. While some are paid under the table, many find a way to pay taxes because they believe it will help them to become a citizen someday.
  2. Even though they pay taxes, they are unable to take advantage of any government programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, Earned Income Credit, Food Stamps, SSI and Pell Grants/Student Loans.
  3. 67% are between the ages of 25 and 54. They are not content to sit around taking benefits, they work. They tend to take on low-paying jobs, mostly in agriculture, construction, production (manufacturing, food processing and textiles), service and transportation.
  4. They help create jobs. 13% are self-employed and have found legal ways to open up businesses. In 2014, these entrepreneurs generated 17.2 billion dollars of income.
  5. Studies have shown that where immigrants increase, crime tends to decrease. In one study, the ten areas with the largest growth of immigrants had lower levels of crime in 2016 than in 1980. Another study showed that while the population of undocumented immigrants tripled from 1990-2013, crime in those areas fell by 48%.
  6. Current immigration laws make it nearly impossible for anyone to immigrate lawfully. Immigration 101 breaks it down into three ways – if you have an employer in the US who is willing to sponsor you, if you have a spouse who is a US resident (or after 5 years if you are single and your parents are US residents, and after 10 years if you have a sibling who is a US resident) and, lastly, if you are seeking asylum. An undocumented immigrant who has a child that is a US citizen aged 21 or older, can apply as a family member but the wait can be 20 years long. To understand how immigration laws have changed since our ancestors arrived, read this article.
  7. Not everyone who is undocumented came here illegally. They may have had a tourist or student visa and overstayed. They may have been brought here by parents when they were quite young. Even for these children, it is almost impossible to become a US citizen.
  8. Asylum seekers cannot apply for entrance until they reach a US border. Refugees are people who are seeking asylum and receive permission for entrance before they enter, a process which takes years. Asylum seekers are held in detention centers until they can have a Credible Fear Interview to establish that their lives would be in danger if they were forced to return home. For more on the process, read this article. Families were kept together during this time until the recent Zero Tolerance Policy began. Now all undocumented adults entering the US, including asylum seekers who are going through the “legal” way to do things, are criminally prosecuted, which gives authorities the “right” to take their children away from them. Now, instead of being held in detention centers, they are jailed. This separation of families violates international law, according to Amnesty International.
  9. It costs an average of $10,854 to deport one person. Mass deportation could cost the US Government $400 billion. The labor force would shrink 6.4%, resulting in a $1.6 Trillion reduction of US GDP and the US economy would shrink 5.7% according to New American Economy.
  10. Undocumented workers already give more than they take. Imagine if they were given a clear path to citizenship. Not only would most of them be paying taxes, it would open up doors for education and better jobs. All of this would result in an estimated $68 billion in local and state tax revenues within a decade. Federal Tax revenues would increase by $116 Billion and the estimated GDP growth would be $1.4 Trillion.

If you remove the humanitarian motivations, the religious dictates, a heart of compassion, and look at it purely from an economic viewpoint, studies overwhelmingly demonstrate that it costs us greatly to dismiss those often referred to as “illegals”. But these undocumented immigrants give back to us in so many other ways as well.

May their bravery give us courage to speak up against unjust laws. May their willingness to leave everything behind give us the willingness to leave behind our prejudice and the fear of cultures different from our own. May their hard work and payment into a system that they will never benefit from give us at least a little courage to work harder to be open to new ideas and to give them a chance, whether we ever benefit from it or not. Instead of viewing these fellow humans as lawbreakers or animals, may we learn to see them as risk takers and trauma survivors who are also our brothers and our sisters.

In Memory

 

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. Banks, schools and government offices are closed. Parades have marched the streets of our cities. Families gather for a picnic or meet at the cemetery to leave flowers on the graves of loved ones.  For many, it is a day of honoring those who gave their lives for this country. For others, it’s just a day to sleep in and hang out with friends over juicy burgers and potato salad.

As a young girl in a long line of Conscientious Objectors who refused to pick up weapons in times of war, I  personally knew no one who had died in the line of duty. It was pretty much a day of picnics for me. As an adult, however, I’ve come to realize that today is not a picnic.

May 30, 1868 was the first official Memorial Day. It was originally called Decoration Day, and was set aside as a time to decorate the graves of those who had died in the war with flowers.

Three years after the end of the Civil War, we decided to decorate the graves of those who died in the war between us. The war between the North and the South. The war that threatened the collapse of an empire. The war that turned brother against brother, that was really about keeping the South in the Union and protecting an economy built on the backs of slaves than it was about freeing those slaves. This did not begin as a day to honor soldiers who died “over there” but, rather, the ones who died here.

But there is another version, an unofficial version, of how Memorial Day started. David W. Blight, a Yale historian, has found a list of commemorations initiated by freed Black Americans. The largest took place on May 1,1865, less than a month after the end of the war, when more than 10,000 of them gathered to dig up a mass grave of what had been hundreds of Union prisoners. These Black Americans dug up the bones that represented their freedom and lovingly gave them each a proper burial and built a fence around the new cemetery. Then they marched, lamented, honored, and sang with crosses, flowers, wreaths and anthems.

Later, the South hushed the voices of the Black Community and made the day about the reconciliation and sacrifices of White America, completely leaving out the voices of Black America. Mississippi,  South Carolina, and Alabama each have their own days to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day as State Holidays, in addition to the National Memorial Day.

153 years after the end of the Civil War and we are still fighting each other, still shushing the voices of Black America, still making things about us.

I’m going to fire up my grill soon and throw on the burgers. Then I’m going to sit my boys down and tell them about some pretty brave folks who dug up a mass grave, and honored the bones of those who had suffered for their freedom.

Isn’t it time we stop making everything about us?

Isn’t it time we stop telling Black America what patriotism looks like?

 

 

Shifting Realities

A few years ago, our school system went through some shuffling that felt a lot more like a life-altering quake than the gentle mixing of cards for a new round of things. The 6th grade kids joined 7th and 8th at the Middle Schools. Kids no longer had to go to the middle school closest to them, but could apply at any of the four middle schools in the city.

A year later, community-based elementary schools joined in the shuffle. Preschool through 2nd grade all went to one elementary school in a particular area, while 3-5th graders took over the nearest elementary school, which became known as a sister school.

As a parent who doesn’t like change, I complained, A LOT! I had legitimate complaints. For instance, some years I had three boys in three schools with three different schedules and it felt like I was making breakfast for an hour every morning and between the time when the last kid left for school and the first kid got home, I didn’t have that many hours to work. I also mourned the break up of communities. I loved when my kids were all in the same school, with their neighbors. I volunteered for the PTA and it gave me the chance to get to know my community. My kids walked to school and made friends within walking distance.

After spending years overseas, putting down roots and feeling connected here in our own neighborhood was valuable to me. I understand that the superintendent and the board had their reasons for this switch up in our school system, but I wasn’t feeling it.

This week I had eye-opening conversations with my 8th and 10th graders. They told me that their school friends have never had a birthday party thrown for them, at least not a party outside of a family gathering, one that they could invite their peers to. My 10th grader, for whom we had just thrown a large birthday party, said some of the kids that came had never been to a birthday party before. I’m pretty sure my mouth hung open in disbelief because he repeated it to me.

One thing you need to understand is that we when we host birthday parties, we don’t print cute invitations or blow money on decorations. We don’t rent the skating rink or the bowling alley or paint ball place. We don’t order in pizza and wings or a fancy cake. It’s a simple throw down, at home, with a home cooked meal because that is what we can afford.

When they were in elementary school, they thought it was unfair that we did not throw elaborate parties in party places like their “neighborhood” friends did.

As I had these conversations with my teens this week, I realized several things. The way we do parties hasn’t changed, which means they are going to school with a very different set of kids. Instead of being embarrassed by their homemade parties, I think they have become rather proud of them.

My 10th grader invited thirty kids to his party before I knew what was happening. In the end, about twenty came and they had a three hour round of Capture the Flag in the park, followed by Beef Curry, Vegetables, Rice, Naan, Ice Cream Desserts and Cinnamon Rolls in our home.

We had a little bonfire going in case anyone wanted to roast hot dogs but everyone opted for the curry instead. We chased the last dude out at midnight so I think it’s fair to say they had a good time.

But what really got me in the gut, a punch, leaving me breathless, struggling to speak, is the realization that these school shuffles that I complained so much about were for some, the opportunity they desperately needed. While I complained like a middle class, white, privileged housewife about different schedules and loss of the familiar, there were kids in really tough situations who suddenly had a greater choice of where they want to go to school.

For most of us white folks, this might not seem like a big deal because, let’s be honest here –  white folks have pretty much always had more choices for education. The era of slavery, followed by years of segregated schools has left many in the African American community behind.

In the years following slavery, school boards across the country routinely set aside much more money for white students than black. Black schools were often not more than one room shacks. At one point, the state of Delaware had only one black public high school. One county in South Carolina had thirty buses for white kids but none for black kids.

Even though the US Supreme Court decided on May 17, 1954 that segregated schools were unconstitutional in the Brown v. Board of Education decision, 1963 found not one black kid going to public school with white kids in the states of South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi, according to Carol Anderson in White Rage.

In some parts of the country, when desegregation finally happened, many whites relocated to other areas where most black people could not afford to live, in an effort to keep things segregated. While this trend may be more subtle today, I still see it happening. It’s still easier for white people to move away from trouble and towards opportunity than it is for black people and other minorities.

You might say that anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and choose a better life but what if your bootstraps have been cut off and taken away from you by the same hands holding you down in the dirt?

Imagine that your great-grandfather was a slave. I’m serious – picture it and feel it. Then your grandfather was denied an education and thereby forced to take a back-breaking job at minimal pay and constantly keep his head down to avoid run-ins with the KKK. Imagine that your mother was the first one in your line of ancestry to earn a high school diploma.

Imagine seeing your parents forced to sell their home because the city agreed to put a highway through your neighborhood and the resettlement money was barely enough for a run down home in a rough section of town, where the schools are underfunded and there are no grocery stores, and no gas stations or laundromats.

You are told on the news that you live in a land of equal opportunity but you see your reality is very unequal and it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you are still stuck in the same place. But your baby! Oh surely the world will be a better place by the time he goes to school.

Imagine if your baby had a choice of education, without you having to move. Imagine if he could choose a middle school that allowed him to begin earning high school credits, a middle school that would more easily transition him into a high school where he could not only earn a high school diploma, but an associates degree. Basically, imagine generations of no real choices and then being given this opportunity. I would be ecstatic!

I realize now how shallow my complaints were, how relatively easy I have always had it and how blind I have been to the realities of others. And while life would be less complicated if my kids could walk to a neighborhood school where everyone looked like them, thought like them, lived on the same income, had the same political leanings, and talked the same way,  somehow I think that would be a very impoverished life. Diversity has made our lives rich. I hope that the friendships forged during these last few years of schooling, the stories told, the realities exposed, will open my boys’ eyes to a whole new world.

 

 

Ten Reasons to Celebrate Fair Trade

Saturday, May 12, is a very special day. Thanks to WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization) the second Saturday of May is set aside to celebrate Fair Trade.

Here’s why –

Many of the things we consume and use every day are made by modern day slaves around the world. While reports vary, there are between 40 – 45 million modern day slaves. In America, we have the luxury of being far removed from the origin of just about everything we consume. This puts us, as consumers,  in a lot of ignorance and allows manufacturers and importers to excuse themselves, saying various components of the end product have changed hands so many times from origin to destination, that they cannot verify if slaves were involved or not. I’m calling that a bunch of BS. It’s the 21st Century. If we put a man on the moon in the 20th century, surely we can have clean supply chains in the 21st. Fair Trade business prove that every day.

So why do we celebrate Fair Trade?

– It prevents modern day slavery and human trafficking.

-It prevents child labor and enables parents to send their children to school, thus educating future leaders and world changers.

-It keeps families together. Children aren’t sent to work in the homes of the wealthy. Parents don’t have to leave their children with other family members to work in factories in the city.

-The producers are paid living wages and have no need to put themselves in harmful situations.

-Fair Trade certified businesses go through intense scrutiny to prove that the working conditions are safe. They have no fear of walls collapsing on them or toxic poisons that take years from them.

-It changes entire communities as producers have expendable income, which creates the opportunity for other businesses to begin in the area, thus boosting local economies.

– It is the opposite of a hand out. Fair Trade gives dignity to everyone involved.

– Supply chains are clear and there is no need to feel guilty when you know your purchase and consumption are creating a better world.

-Those who work in the Fair Trade supply line are more connected to the earth and are committed to environmental stewardship.

-It gives hope to the poorest of the poor, a reason to get up in the morning, a way to do more than survive.

 

 

Rootless

On the other side of the world, in a space roughly 7.3 square miles of what was once a forest in the hills of Bangladesh, 700,000 Rohingya refugees huddle under tarps in makeshift homes. They have lost everything once – homes, jobs, possessions, family members, dignity, country – and now, with the storm season starting and the monsoon closing in, they risk losing all again.The tree roots that once held together the clay-like soil, preventing massive landslides, are now gone, leaving the refugees rootless in more ways than one.

While Rohingya refugees have resided in Bangladesh for many years, this group has been pouring in since the ethnic cleansing began in full force by the Burmese Military last August. Among them, an uncounted number of women are quietly preparing to give birth as a result of being raped by soldiers before they fled the country. Pramila Patten, the UN’s special envoy on Sexual Violence views these rapes as a weapon of genocide, a “calculated tool of terror”. Nearly nine months since many of these women have crossed the border, aid agencies are preparing not only for a spike in births, but also for babies abandoned by traumatized mothers who simply do not have the physical nor emotional resources to care for another child.

Last week the UN Security Council sent a delegation to observe the situation first hand and it was no surprise when the report came back that the situation was “overwhelming.” The council visited Myanmar for the first time since the genocide began and traveled to the region where the Rohingya refugees had fled from. Earlier reports from the area, as well as  satellite images show that  many of the villages have been completely burned and bulldozed; homes, cemeteries, mosques, trees, landmarks, everything wiped away. Additionally the Myanmar parliament has approved a $15m budget to build a wall along the Myanmar/Bangladesh border, where the refugees crossed over into Bangladesh.

Of the 500,000 Rohingya who stayed behind in Myanmar, at least 130,000 are being held in  camps where their freedom is greatly restricted and the conditions are appalling.

A fierce anger is stirring in me today. What is wrong with humanity that we spend millions of dollars on walls instead of acknowledging atrocities and doing the real work of healing the gaping wounds? Who do we think we are that we can confine a people group to a specific, tiny piece of volatile land, keeping the best for ourselves? What gives us the right to limit the basic human rights of others –  access to food and water, health care, education including college visits, equal pay, police protection, citizenship, and a country to call our home?

I can’t find it in me to be angry at the Burmese people today. They are simply following our footsteps. From English Colonizers to the Germans in World War II to the United States of America where we continue to live on stolen land and benefit daily from an economy built on the backs of slaves. How many villages have we bulldozed, physically or metaphorically, wiping away the history of an ethnic group and rewriting it to make ourselves look better? How many ethnic conflicts around the globe have we perpetuated because our government has funded one side or the other for our own political interests? How many bodies have bled out on the sidewalks and forests of this country because of racial hate more than anything else? Why are we so afraid of people who are different from ourselves?

I see blood on the hands of the Burmese yes, but I also see it on my own people’s hands. As a citizen of this country, I have to own it. I am part of a nation that has systematically chosen which people group should be treated the best and which others should be treated as less than human. It’s written into the founding documents of our nation and has been fleshed out in courtrooms across the nation.

The silent cries of the Rohinga women wrap around my heart like tender vines, mirroring the cries of pain caused by my own nation and my heart remembers and bleeds and spends itself because only a heart that spends itself like currency is strong enough to push back against injustice.

Wearing People’s Suffering

Her shining eyes beckoned and spoke of stories untold, her voice wrapped in love as she showed me the embroidered scarves her women had made. Opening the book she carried with her, she showed me their faces and the 100 year old loom they used to turn the stands into fabric. I listened, mesmerized, as Nasreen Sheikh told of how she spent her childhood in a tiny room with other girls, forced to spend their days sewing clothing for the garment fashion industry of the West. Her only bed at night was the clothes she was working on and she would often wonder who would wear these clothes someday.

Nasreen was able to eventually escape. She now spends her days tirelessly working so that other Nepali women and girls do not have to go through what she did. She started Local Women’s Handicrafts in Kathmandu, operating on Fair Trade Principles before she even knew Fair Trade was an thing.

As we talked, she mentioned how she had been to Walmart a few days back because she needed to pick something up for her travels and she lamented because the experience was painful for her. She saw a $3 t-shirt. “How can there be a $3 t-shirt,” she asked? I’ll never forget her response to her own question, “We are wearing people’s suffering!”

This tiny, uneducated woman from Nepal who doesn’t even know her own birthday is by far wiser than most people I run into these days. She inspires me to keep spending myself so that women and children around the world can live in freedom. She reminds me to consume less, and when I must buy, to buy carefully. She proves that women have what it takes to change the world.

Five years ago today, the world watched in horror as Rana Plaza collapsed, trapping and killing more than 1,000 garment factory workers in Savar, Bangladesh. Nasreen’s words are like a gentle scarf around my shoulders today and the words hit home. “We are wearing people’s suffering.”

I sit in that lament and hold it tight. I check the labels on my clothing. Top shirt – made in India. Undershirt – made in Bangladesh. Jeans – made in Jordan. I’m wrapped in a connection to these places.

While fair trade or suffering-free clothing is becoming more and more available, for the most part, here in the West, we wear people’s suffering. Let’s be more aware. Let’s own it and then do what we can to change it. Like Nasreen, let’s replace suffering with dignity.

Prickly Privilege

Two handmade crochet fairy dolls, one black and one white.

If the word Privilege causes you to prickle, especially when combined with the word “white” here are a few things you may want to think about.

This year all three of our boys had spring break during a different week. I only took off work for one of them. I drove 425 miles with my son to see his new baby cousin and to hang out with the bigger cousins.

He had hours of alone time with mom, which he rarely gets.

…several fast food meals, which he rarely gets.

…a trip to the aquarium.

…countless basketball games with his cousin.

…late night TV with his uncle to watch his favorite team play.

His brothers had to fend for themselves over their spring breaks. No special treatment for them.

He realized it was a special.

He was grateful for it.

He did nothing more than his brothers to deserve this trip.

He didn’t rub it in their faces.

This is privilege. If his brothers would have pointed out to him that he had a week of privileges, he probably would have simply agreed with them. He wouldn’t have felt that they were insulting him or that something was wrong with him. He would have owned it.

Here are some ways I see I am privileged:

  • I can set my cruise to 9 miles over the speed limit and not worry too much about being pulled over.
  • I can take my nieces and nephew into a museum on my sister-in-law’s pass and not be asked for id or bag check.
  • I can trace my ancestry back to the shores of other countries.
  • I can walk into the movies or any store with a very large purse and not once am asked to open it for inspection, not once am I followed around.
  • I own 51% of a small business in a country where white women still make less than white men and women of color make even less. See more here.
  • I had an educational opportunity to complete high school in 3 years.
  • I have incredible credit rates and was able to take out a mortgage during a time we had virtually no income.

These are just a few examples of ways I have come to realize I am privileged. I didn’t earn them. I’m not a bad person for having them. I see, though, that the playing ground is not level and many others do not have these same privileges.

Michael Harriot breaks it down as not being an insult nor an accusation but rather a measurable gap. You can read his article here.

I own my privileges. I am very grateful for them. And where possible, I will use my privileges to work towards leveling the playing ground for all.

Press for Progress

This is Chonda. The real deal. Not an actor paid to play the part. She is the heart and soul of a change that is gaining momentum in Bangladesh. Her face will tell you a story, if you take the time to let it capture you.

Nestled across the river from the Sundarbans, the world’s largest coastal mangrove forest and home to the Bengal Tiger, is the small village where Chonda and her husband Rabindranath have made their home. For years, Rabindranath caught larvae from the river and sold it in the market to support his family. If he caught enough, the family ate well. If not, they were hungry. When the Bangladesh Forest Department banned the taking of natural resources from the Sundarban as part of a conservation program, Rabindranath had no choice but to become a day laborer. Now, instead of being at the mercy of nature, he is at the mercy of local employers who may or may not need temporary help.

Chonda longed to do something to help. As a woman in a conservative Hindu village, she was not allowed to become a day laborer and no local shops would hire women either. She dreamed of starting a small business in her home but lacked the capital to do so. Then one day she heard about Hathay Bunano, which means handmade in Bangla. Hathay Bunano had started a work center near her, where other women gathered daily to knit and crochet  soft and colorful Pebble toys. Robindranath agreed that Chonda could take the training. During her training, she not only learned how to knit and crochet, she also learned the values of Fair Trade, as well as her value as a woman deserving of equal opportunity. For three years now, she has been working as an equal to her husband in providing for the family. They no longer worry about whether they will have enough to eat. They are able to send their daughter to school, which is significant in a country where schooling is not free and education is not mandatory. Chonda has opened a bank account and has been saving money, instead of living hand to mouth, dependent upon her husband’s earnings. She and her husband are now talking about starting their own business together someday. Chonda has become a powerful voice in her community, challenging other women to realize their value and equality, pressing them towards progress and being a living example of hope and change.

 

Monday Morning Donut

In a crazy rush to get boy #1 to school yesterday morning, I hit one of our city’s infamous potholes with my car, causing a tire to go flat within minutes. We inched slowly home to swap vehicles, only to discover that the van was on empty and I had no time to go back for my wallet. I decided to brave it and we made it to his school mere seconds before the tardy bell rang. I rushed home to get my other two sons out the door and hopefully some gas in the van. The next several hours were full of Austin trying to to figure out how to get gas out of a new gas can and getting gas all over his hands and then trying to wriggle the busted tire off the car so he could put the donut tire on. Meanwhile I was getting boy #2 to his college classes and sent boy #1 back to bed after a bout of severe diarrhea. By this time I was muttering some not-so-nice words because this was supposed to be my quiet hour at home to work out, before heading to work myself.

And yet…in spite of all this, by the time we dropped our donut-wheeled car off at the shop and headed to work with our gas-filled van, my blessings towered large in my mind and my complaints stopped.  We have not only one, but two vehicles, a luxury unknown to much of the world. Like kings and queens who feast in the famine while peasants starve, we forget or just don’t see how nice we have it. For instance, approximately 150 million people throughout the world have no home. In countries like Bangladesh, only 2% have their own vehicle. Globally, 1 out of 7 are desperately hungry.

As Americans, we are at the top of the top when it comes to luxuries and I’m thinking it’s time to redefine the American Dream.

Happiness is not about the things we have, but about our gratefulness for the things we do have. The happiest child I’ve ever met was a little boy who lived on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh. His face was marked by Down’s Syndrome and a rather large cleft palate, which left him disfigured and made speech difficult for him. Held to the spot by a giant traffic jam, I sat in the back of a baby taxi alone, until he jumped in beside me and chattered unintelligibly, smiling the biggest smile ever, eyes shining with happiness. A little girl who knew him popped her head in and told me that his mother died of an overdose when he was a baby and he was being raised on the streets by his Grandma. He had nothing but a piece of plastic over his head at night and no one to love him but one elderly homeless woman.

No toys.

No video games.

No education.

Rice…and lentils if he was lucky.

No mother to read him stories and tuck him in at night.

No father to protect him from the cruelty that looked mockingly at his face every day.

No cell phone to scroll through when he was bored.

No hospital to bring normalcy to his face.

And yet, he was so happy that he radiated something tangible.

I want to take that tangible joy he had and squeeze it down my son’s throat when he complains because we are out of Ranch dressing or his video game privileges are temporarily suspended. I want to smack myself in the eyes with it when I complain of pot holes and flat tires and missed work-outs in a land of so much abundance, when the very reason I need to work out is because I have too much. I want to hit my people over the head with it when they are more concerned for their own well-being than with the needs of those who are other. I want to weave that tangible joy  tightly into the fabric of our existence until we slow down and let it sink in.

We. Have. More. Than. Enough.

Abundance surrounds us. It overflows into the thrift stores and peeks out of the garbage trucks. And still we want more. But what if we lived as if we had enough, right now? What if we gave thanks for the tiny things instead of complaining about the next big thing we lack? What if we saw a correlation between our own complaints and the narcissism of our generation? What if we discovered a new American Dream as a result of sharing generously with those in need even while we are still in need ourselves? What if we looked at what we hold in our hands and said, “Wow!”

Because wow! What we have is pretty amazing!