We are All Getting it Wrong about Caitlyn Jenner

Yesterday I sat down and tried to think of the first time I ever judged someone. I’m sure it was before preschool when I looked at that one kid with glue on his face and was sure I was of higher stature.  Probably even before my toddler years when that one babysitter didn’t sing Itsy-Bitsy Spider with the hand motions and I knew she was inherently inferior. Maybe it was sometime during infancy when the polka dots on my grandma’s dress were so distracting I would blame her choice to wear such an outfit on my incessant diaper soiling.

Whenever that first moment of judgment crept into my consciousness, I knew it was there to stay. I enjoyed using this evolutionary adaptation to make myself feel better,  to inflict pain on others so as to not notice my own. Judgment allows us to bubble wrap our own feelings as we plow through fragile humans that surround us, using their flaws, their mistakes, and even their bodies as fertile ground to plant our inflated facades.

When I judge someone else, I am deciding for them that my life, my beliefs, and my choices are superior to theirs and, because I decided this, they should feel bad about themselves.

Judgment destroys vulnerability. Judgment destroys dialogue.

I have seen dialogue destroyed by judgment in the past week, especially dialogue around Caitlyn Jenner. Disgust, self-righteousness, popular opinion, celebrity attention, religious belief and judgment have clouded this conversation.  We have ALL been judgmental.

When I was planning this post, I was thinking about all the points I would make about why Caitlyn Jenner’s story is heroic, beautiful and overwhelmingly spiritual.  I was going to explain how seeing an individual being honest, vulnerable and confident about her inner self after years of shame, secrets and insecurities is exactly what the gospel, the good news message of faith is about. Christ came to set us free, to give us life. Freedom to be who we were made to be and who we can most fully and openly live as each day.

I was going to talk about all those things and more but then I realized that even by doing so I would be judging Caitlyn. Having one-sided conversations, opinion pieces, and Facebook posts about Caitlyn Jenner’s “decision,” is not productive nor is it dialogue. For in the same breath that we all air our feelings about her life, her body, her choices we are deciding her worth and her value for her. We are not her close friends, family, community members.  We are simply privileged outside observers to human beauty.

Let us not use her real, human life as a pedestal for our opinions instead of celebrating with her. We are called to “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” And I know that in this moment Caitlyn is finally rejoicing.

May we simply be still, despite our judgments about her, and rejoice in another human’s rejoicing.

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Omar

One year ago today, Omar Castel lost his life. I was awoken early in the morning by numerous missed calls. After calling my friend back and hearing “Omar was shot and killed.” out loud I nearly threw up before I started crying all day. I will never forget you, Omar, and you will always remain a part of me.

Welcomed Wanderings

Every time I try to write this my hand won’t let me
won’t let my pen solidify in ink, which seems more permanent now than ever,
the fact you are no longer here.
Each word I try to suppress like the tears that I won’t let myself cry for you
but as my pen now confesses the truth that we all know
tears fall with aimless rhythm.
And I finally let myself cry
because you were a child
because you were a child
because you were [in some ways] for a year my child
———————
I wouldn’t let myself write for each word etched into
the tightly woven fabric of a page
felt like drops of your blood now forever confined within the concrete
the asphalt, black as death.
———————-
No I won’t let myself write because it can’t be real
but every time I pass that corner I’m forced…

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The Way of Freedom

There once was a small, unassuming gazelle that never knew her parents. She remembered something of them… a scent, a vision… but knew nothing of who they were. At a young age she had been kept caged as a spectacle. Her beauty and grace alone brought her these many strange admirers that she would glance at through her metal bars. Other animals didn’t seem to understand. Other animals knew no other reality but the bars, the people, the prison of this place. But the gazelle had dreams, or maybe they were memories, of a different place. A free place where she would one day live.


The other animals would talk about the safety they found behind these bars, the protection and provision that this place gave them.  Whispers could be heard about the dangers and risks outside the zoo.  “One cannot trust another when one is completely free.  At least here we are safe and comfortable,” a peacock announced as he strutted for the crowd.  But the gazelle wasn’t satisfied.  She wanted more.  She wanted freedom even if it came with risk and pain.


A few years passed and the gazelle grew older, but no less hungry for that familiar yet distant idea of freedom.   Every waking and sleeping moment found her dreaming of wide open fields and unending waters.  Her desire grew stronger as rumors spread of the zoo closing its doors.  Maybe I’ll be sent where I belong, she thought. She didn’t really know where that was, but she knew she needed to be there.  She started seeing other animals shoved into crates and cages and carted off into large moving trucks.  Maybe those bring the way to freedom.


It was finally the gazelle’s turn to be packed away and for some time her prison became even smaller as she leapt into the open cage meant for her.  Freedom was close.  She could feel it.   After a long journey, the cage was flung open and the gazelle slowly, hesitantly inched her way out.  Everything shone with an intensity that she had never experienced before.  She closed her gentle eyes for relief from the radiance and commotion around her.  When she was finally able to open them again, though, the land that lay before her was her freedom.  And she leapt and ran for joy in this new, exciting world.


The gazelle learned many things about this new world in just a short time.  She learned that food was no longer scheduled and provided for her, but that she was suppose to find it herself.  She learned that water came out of lakes, rivers, and puddles instead of plastic.  She learned that sometimes there was no relief from her thirst, hunger or fatigue.  And she learned that freedom is often lonely. 


She was busy and excited for a month or so.  Finding new birds to watch or new places to eat or ponds to lay by.  Life was exactly how she knew it was meant to be.  She had the feeling this is how her parents lived.  But soon the young gazelle grew tired of this new place.  Every day there was so much responsibility, so much work, so many choices.  And every day she was alone.  Until that fateful day.


It seemed like a normal day.  The gazelle did her usual routine, by herself.  But as she was grazing in a new field, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye.  She had learned that the rumors about danger in freedom were true so this new presence made her uneasy.  She tried to casually walk away from it but something about its movement drew her gaze.  She had yet to see the full figure but she knew it was another animal.  An animal she had never seen before.  She was fascinated and excited by the prospect of a companion.


She knew enough not to approach this strange creature but still found herself moving closer and closer to it until its full figure was in her view.  Never before had she seen such a beautiful, sleek and majestic thing.  Even though something inside of seemed to hold her back.. warn her, she moved even closer.  Finally she could no longer be ignored, but instead of a normal welcome the stranger began coming toward her with increased speed.  Such a moment of intensity left the gazelle frozen, unable to move, though her own danger now seemed apparent.  After what seemed like hours, but was only a few seconds, the gazelle started running away.  Heart-pounding.  Not knowing if what she felt was fear or attraction.  But, after being in a cage for years, she was no match for this stranger.


Once this cat-like creature caught the gazelle, there was a single moment, a choice, a connection between the two animals.  The gazelle helpless in the grips of this immense creature but the creature loosened its grip, let the gazelle step back and chose something different.  The gazelle could barely breathe, knowing her innocence got her in this danger.  For she had never known that cheetahs and gazelles were not meant to live in the closeness, the intimacy that she so desired. But, why, why did the cheetah stop?


The cheetah, as shocked by his decision as the shaking gazelle, paused for another second feeling a sort of pity for this new animal.  Pity is not a feeling he was use to feeling at the top of the food chain and he didn’t like it.   So to break the silence and confusion he told the gazelle who he was, he told her his story.  The gazelle didn’t know what to say, she felt powerless in front of this predator but loved the way he spoke, with passion, commitment, determination.  She felt like she could trust him, despite his teeth, which were a constant reminder of the risk to choose to be close to him.


That day was the day that changed everything.  The gazelle and the cheetah were inseparable.  The danger, the excitement, the attraction between these two unlikely partners was intoxicating drawing each of them closer and closer.  Now the gazelle had someone to protect her, to play with her, to be with her.  Now the cheetah had a partner that forced him to slow down, to feel, to remember.  The gazelle just kept thinking, I knew freedom was worth the risk.


But after a while, the cheetah started hearing his friends talk about his new friend.  He knew that they were disappointed, confused, upset.  Why would a cheetah need or want a gazelle? He must be weak, they would taunt.  The cheetah sulked.  No one calls me weak, he thought. And the next day he would show them, he would show himself that he was strong. That he didn’t need anyone else.


So the gazelle and the cheetah met at their normal spot.  The gazelle excited to tell the cheetah all about the beautiful things she dreamt of last night, but the moment the connection between them was made, the gazelle knew something was wrong.  This was the first time since their meeting she saw a fear, yet an anger in his eyes.  She moved away but not quick enough.  The cheetah in one motion clawed his friend.  The gazelle let out a yell of pain loud enough for the cheetah’s friends to hear, but the cheetah showed no remorse.


The gazelle stayed away from the cheetah, healing her wounds both from his claws and from his detachment.  What had happened? I thought we were friends?  Did I do something wrong?, the gazelle obsessed.  She replayed every conversation, every touch, every look they had shared hoping to find an answer to this burst of hurt, of anger, of pain.  But she couldn’t find any so she started blaming herself… I knew I wouldn’t be good enough for him.  He is bored of me.  I don’t excite him anymore.  And suddenly the gazelle’s freedom became another prison.


Meanwhile, the cheetah came home proud to his friends.  He had proved them wrong.  He was strong.  He was a true predator.  But when his friends were gone.  He was left alone.  And in that space of self-reflection, the truth lay exposed.  What have I done? he thought.  She was my friend and I hurt her for no reason but to feel better about myself?  I am worthless.  She should get as far away from me as possible.  But how do I go on without her?


The next day the gazelle, hoping to make things right with her friend, wandered over to their meeting place, head down, cautiously waiting.  The cheetah saw her and ran to her, but in that moment the gazelle thought he came to finish what he had started and began to run away.  Before she got far, though, the cheetah gasped, “I’m sorry, you’re perfect, what would my life be without you?” And the gazelle was stopped in her tracks. Without turning around she said, “How can you say that? Do you know how bad you hurt me?”  The cheetah fell to the ground in remorse begging for the gazelle to forgive him.  He needed her, in that moment, and she liked that.


Things went back to normal after that.  In fact, their intimacy increased after sharing such an intense experience and they grew closer and more entangle in each others lives, but every few days that cheetah would claw at her once more opening afresh old wounds and scars.  And every few days the cheetah would apologize and the gazelle would build him back up again.  The cheetah would say, “Only with you can I learn to be better, to think before I act, to see things differently.” And the gazelle would be drawn even further into her need for him. 


 

But she started hurting all the time.  Wounds wouldn’t heal and more would appear.  She knew she could no longer love this cheetah.  For his very survival depended on her destruction.  For she noticed that every day with him her glittering world of freedom became a little more like the cage she use to know.  Slowly the cheetah began convincing her that he was all she needed.  That the birds and the sun and the ponds and the grass were all meaningless without him for he could save her.  But even his intimate touch felt like a sharp pain to her badly scarred body.


One day the cheetah showed up at their normal meeting place ready to play this day’s game of chase, but the gazelle was no where to be found.  He searched, frantically, but there was no sign of her presence around him.  The gazelle had left.  She had remembered.  She had recaptured freedom, the freedom she once knew.  For she learned that even without bars, even without cages, freedom is elusive.  Freedom is not something to be obtained, owned or held on to.  The gazelle now saw freedom as knowing, in the deepest parts of yourself, that you deserve to be whole, to be alive, to be healed.  And the gazelle chose that freedom.

 

I Know You Didn’t Mean to Kill Him

Video

This spoken word poetry by Jasmine Mans of Strivers Row hits me hard every time I listen to it.

I will let its truth speak for itself but I wanted to share this amazing work with my followers in preparation for my anniversary post for Omar’s death.

https://mackenseycarter.com/2013/09/04/omar/

Confessions of a Goodbye Phobic

As a self-proclaimed introvert and longtime social anxiety sufferer, I have a serious problem with goodbyes.  No, not in the sentimental way that I’ll miss being around a person or even a fearful way that I hate being alone.  Honestly, no offense to all you good people out there, but most days I’d much rather be by myself.  Other people really freak me out.

Let’s get this straight, I may often be awkward in new, overwhelming social settings, but hellos are much more manageable for me.  Hellos are straightforward.  If I haven’t met you before, then obviously a handshake and an introduction satisfy even the most extroverted person’s need for a greeting.   After that, I can fade to the background or make multiple unnecessary trips to the bathroom in order to give my mind a minute to relax from its incessant flittering.

What should I say next? What if he asks what my job is, how am I gonna explain that? Man that silence lasted a couple seconds too long, now we are all doomed. Am I talking to loud? Am I talking too quietly? Am I not talking enough? How much longer are we going to talk about the newest season of Orange is the New Black?  Shit! I don’t have an already prepared response… scramble, Mackensey, scramble. What are you gonna say?!

Yes, trust me ladies and gentleman if this was your internal dialogue you would make a few extra trips to the bathroom too, even at the expense that people may assume you are having a serious reaction to the Thai food.

Anyway, so hellos are the easy part, the middle conversation and mingling is a slow painful road to exhaustion, but the goodbye is where my own self confidence goes to die.

You know how I said hellos are straight forward? Stick out your hand, look them in the eye, and introduce yourself. Now sometimes I even mess that up but usually that’s where I get it right.  Well goodbyes, they are nowhere near straightforward.

Goodbyes force you to be ultra conscious of the crowd.  Is this a hugging crowd or a second handshake bunch? Did I make enough of a connection with so and so to warrant a more intimate parting gesture? Do I go the conservative route with a handshake at the risk that the other person felt some close bond that put us on that new “hug level”? 

Now I want to pause for a second and speak to all you “huggers” out there.  You know who you are and if you aren’t a hugger than you know the people I’m referring to.  You are the people that had functional families that showed appropriate amounts of affection leading to this crazy thing called secure attachments.  Yeah, I basically despise you.  You go for the hug after a social interaction lasted even just half an hour because of that intense human connection you feel with all your fellow earth dwellers. Blah blah blah…

Cut the bullshit. If I’ve only known you for half an hour, then most likely you don’t even know my last name, which means we are no where near the level of a hug.  Now I don’t mean to sound harsh because I love a good hug as much as the next guy, but you huggers make it really hard for us goodbye-phobic people. Because essentially our whole goal is to avoid that handshake-hug confusion fiasco.

You know the situation.  You reach your hand in toward the person’s torso only to have them extend outstretched arms in preparation for a bear hug.  Not only are you left with your hand in a rather uncomfortable area you also have to deal with the resulting awkwardness with a cool and easy going recovery.

Folks, if you can tell so far, I am neither cool nor easy going.

Therefore, you quickly fetch your lingering hand that had landed all too close the person’s crotch and reposition it in the most awkward hug known to humankind.  But you gotta be cool.  You meant to do that.  You were always going in for the hug.  It’s all good. Nothing to see here.  And you both drown in the awkwardness without once acknowledging it.

Torture. But not the worst of the hug fiasco.

Once one person sets that hug precedent.  Everyone else in the vicinity of the hugger feels obligated to follow suit.  So you have the worst kind of domino effect that can make someone with my level of social anxiety want to suffer through more small talk rather than conquer the receiving line of goodbyes that awaits you.  Now you have found yourself among a group of people who you consider just above the level of absolute and complete stranger that feel this internal obligation to hug you goodbye.

Thank you, healthy relationship hugger man/woman.  You have just forced someone else with a normal distrust of human connection and appropriate personal space awareness to face her own personal hell.  And you are smiling about it.  Basking in the glow of having met so many amazing people that you convince yourself are gonna be your new best friends.

Wrong. I just want to do a simple benediction-type goodbye with a wave and a universal “See ya’ll later” and get the hell out of there so I can lay in bed with my book or Netflix and bask in feeling safe from these catastrophic social situations.

But the risk of looking stand offish or unfriendly overpowers my crippling anxiety and growing resentment at Hugger McHuggerson over there.  I walk the line. Hugging each person, some of whom I didn’t even share a hello.  I begrudgingly do the “right” thing simply because it leads me closer to my exit.

So, now you know, goodbyes are the worst.  Sure you can hug and hug freely!  Hugging is awesome. But maybe as a human race we can figure out like a safe word or a signal to smoothly communicate the awkward message of: I really don’t know you very well and, although I’m sure you are a great person I do not feel the need to say goodbye like we are new soul mates. Please accept a nice wave or handshake as my token of acquaintanceship. 

And maybe with that signal we could spare just one life from the devastating fear of goodbye.

Forever is Now

I don’t want you forever 
Forever is not for you.
I just want to know how it feels to be yours.
Right now.
This moment.
To be able to feel your body next to mine.
To let my hands wander through the scares and bruises
left imprinted on your flesh.
Hold you for this moment.
Until this moment ends and reality rushes
(with all the intensity reality should)
back to us with each breath
forever is now and 
forever is not for you.
I do not want you forever

Why Do We Say “Classrooms Can’t Make Men”

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Teach a man, he’ll conquer the world.
What if this man must conquer such world to be taught?
One child in a classroom.
One plus one does not equal two.
As his stomach grumbles with only remnants of last night’s frozen dinner.
“Something ain’t” not “something isn’t” right
As his deep, muddy eyes strain to see scrawlings on the not too distant chalkboard.
Lincoln was Martin Luther King Jr. on that morning at Gettysburg
As he tries to remember the winter morning he last saw his daddy
but can only see those flashing lights
The classroom bleeds onto the streets.
Teachers become brothers.
Grades are issued with the finality of a bullet.
Yet if only this young man could conquer the world.
A world that provides the lessons he must learn to survive.
Then maybe, just maybe the classroom would teach his brilliant mind