Random babble

Rainy day musings on marriage, the Ashley Madison hack and judgment

I find myself sitting here on a cool and rainy day with the weight of the world straining my shoulders, pondering my life and my future as I stand at the crossroads of upheaval and change…yet I find myself absolutely engrossed in the story of the Ashley Madison hack and the almost unanimous judgment.

In case you aren’t up to speed let me help you. Ashley Madison is a website that, for the most part, is designed to help married people cheat on their spouses.  It’s safe to say that most people find such a site morally reprehensible, yet the reality is that people do cheat on their spouses (quite often on both sides of the gender fence) and in this market-driven world apparently the market created a niche to help such people. Funny thing is, cheating is as old as time; people have always cheated. It’s just that in our app-heavy, convenience-driven world, someone decided to make it easier for such people. A group calling itself The Impact Team found the whole situation morally repugnant and after telling AM’s parent group to take down the site and being rebuffed, it decided to release data on millions of users. Turns out some of the users of the site are quite known and, well, I suspect the past few days for those people have been quite uncomfortable.  

The majority of people I know have no sympathy for cheaters and I imagine most of my readers are in that same group. Which is why my own feelings on the matter may be a surprise. After over 20 years of marriage between two marriages, I think that marriages are complex and the reasons why people step out are even more complex. I think that we live in a culture that has elevated the institution of marriage without providing most people with a realistic framework for what a marriage really entails.

Most of us assume that all a marriage needs is love and, while love is an important piece of marriage, it is not the most important factor in my opinion. As I deal with my own shifting marital landscape, I can say that two people can love, respect and adore each other but be woefully unprepared for the hard work of sharing their life with another or evolve into two people who aren’t compatible cohabiting anymore, no matter how much they like each other. Marriage requires the ability to surrender and compromise and as long as the ongoing process of surrender and compromise is mutually beneficial, then the marriage continues. But sometimes that process is no longer mutually beneficial and to stay married means to give up so much of ourselves that we become a shell of who we once were.

Marriages hit rocky patches for any number of reasons and ideally a couple can fix the issue or resolve to end the relationship in a mindful and compassionate manner. However, life doesn’t always yield to best practices and relationships and connections become messy. Sometimes partners step out rather than to leave and while no doubt that is a questionable choice, one bad decision does not make a person beyond redemption nor does it invalidate any and all good they have done. It’s also a little presumptuous of those on the outside to assume there isn’t a silent or overt acceptance on the part of the other spouse to allow what so many of us would call indiscretions.

However in a 24-hour cycle world where we can consume details non-stop, it becomes easy to become judge and jury and to issue proclamations on those we will never know and revel in our own sense of righteousness. We may not cheat on our spouses but we easily forget the time we steal time and/or material from our employers when we choose to check our Facebook pages from the office or the office supplies we bring home. Or maybe it’s the “business” lunches we claim to lower our tax burden.

Yet our “cheats” will rarely be discovered and almost certainly never become public fodder so we pat ourselves on the back for being “good” people when in essence few of us are really good. Even professional do-gooders have bad moments. In case you haven’t figured out, I am not a fan of public pitchforks and shame sessions that often forget the humanity of those who transgressed and while shame can have merit, the public shame that has become our norm is rarely helpful and often far more dangerous because it forgets that we are dealing with people. It doesn’t give them a chance to reflect and change but instead exposes them to the entire world, risking (at times) their physical safety, employment and more.

At the end of the day, if one partner has cheated, that is for that couple and their family to deal with and decide their next steps, not outside people. Our culture is fickle when it comes to matters of cheating since we don’t lump all cheating in the same boat yet we find some strict moral compass on cheating when it involves married people…then again, as I noted before we have created a market that elevates marriage to an often unachievable standard.

Having lost a dear friend to suicide many years ago over the shame of an adulterous relationship, it scares me to think of how many lives could be prematurely ended over this hack and while we may all be having a good laugh and feeling better because we would never cheat…the fact is we don’t know what curveballs life will throw at us. Life is funny like that, as soon as we think we know what we would do, life sometimes takes us someplace else. Yet I suspect the one thing we all would like no matter what road we travel is respect and compassion for our less-than-stellar moments.
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My raw humanity as you wish or the aftermath of going viral

0408151359~2“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”- John Lennon

Last Friday, I woke up with one goal: To have the best day possible, because by the end of the day, our lives would be forever changed. There would be no going back to the people we once were. But before we reached that unfortunate crossroads, we would have one last perfect moment.

If only…

That last perfect moment was shattered by the ugliness of an unknown young white man, who in choosing to call my family niggers not only stole the last shreds of joy that my family desperately needed but over the course of a few short days would turn my family into a viral story being shared and dissected across the world.

We’ve all read about people becoming a viral story but nothing can prepare you to wake up and see details and photos about your life and your family being laid bare for all to see. To see bits and pieces of your words cobbled together without your permission and curated into a “story” without anyone speaking to you for an interview. To see judgement rendered on your reactions in a highly tenderized moment laid bare for others to judge. To see your discomfort judged as a hoax based off your occupation. To be told that you are not entitled to your feelings or even your words.

Nothing can prepare you for just how raw and vulnerable this will make you feel. That for every kind message, it’s the ones that threaten you and dehumanize you and your children that will linger in your mind and make you pour that third glass of wine and ultimately keep you from sleeping. That even for a well-seasoned veteran of ugly, the sheer scope of this ugly would make you finally grasp how easy it is in a moment of desperation to simply give up.

To say that the last few days have been a clusterfuck would be an understatement. I had no idea that in choosing to speak up which, as a typical hard headed person who sometimes struggles with shutting up…that this time, I may have been better served by not writing that last blog post, by not popping off on Twitter and blowing steam. I had no idea that in choosing to write my blog post in response to Jackie Ward’s well-intended post on her Facebook page that I was essentially unleashing a world of hurt upon myself and my family at a time when to be frank, my personal reserves are lacking.

Despite my day job, it was not my intention to spark a discussion on race when I wrote that post. It was the frustration of a middle-aged woman who can no longer stuff herself down, who is fueled by the hormones of that uncomfortable journey we call middle age or perimenopause.  Yet this is one time where I am kicking myself for my decision to speak up. I do hope that a larger conversation on race happens especially as we grieve the loss of yet another dead Black man at hands of law enforcement. We need deeper conversations on race, because even without my professional background, it is clear that far too many Whites don’t see the world through the lens of many non whites. That as much as we may want race to not matter, it does matter, that we are simply not at the place where we can divorce ourselves from the color of our skin. We do need those hard and uncomfortable conversations. However, having it come on the back of my personal pain is a hard pill to swallow.

In the past few days, I have never felt so utterly alone in my life, so utterly scared after receiving messages from someone signing off as Concerned Citizens of Maine, so utterly fucking dejected at this mess in the middle of an even larger mess in my life.  I am also struck that during this time words like self-care and support, while often thrown around when in crisis, truly have little meaning. Yesterday, a friend called me to ask me how I was holding up and after I hung up, I broke down crying with the sad realization that in the midst of this unholy mess, he had been the only person to call me up. (Note: I have received countless texts and messages which I am extremely grateful for, so thank you)

As I sit and reflect on clearing up the rubble from my life and attempting to build a new foundation, I am struck by the words that were used to refer to me in the immediate aftermath after that ugly word was said to us: “calm and stern.” I wear that mask well and perhaps I wear it so well that it is easy to not see that it is not real at all. That in the days since that fateful and Crash-like moment, I have been anything but calm, that when the person who knows me best at this time in my life told me to be strong, it felt like the ultimate slap in the face. That sometimes I don’t want to be strong; sometimes I can’t be strong. Sometimes, I need help with my burdens…and this would be one of those times. Yet in a 24/7 hour world that never sleeps and takes a series of unfortunate events and spins them out of control, maybe we all need to step back and hold fast to our collective humanity.

Note: In the past several days, it seems I have picked up a few new readers. While I do write on race often, I also write on the struggles of growing older and raising kids as well as occasional musings on our culture at large. I hope you stick around. Blessings. 


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Racialized healthcare or adventures in the emergency room- with a 9/15 update

This month marks 7 years for this little space and its been an evolving process for me both as a writer and as a person. As a result over the years, particularly in recent years I have intentionally become a bit less personal in what I share here. Yet the nature of this type of writing is personal and people often come back because of the feeling of personal connection. Which is why despite my intentionally sharing less of myself, I suspect that more long time readers especially  those who follow me in social media spaces have been astute in noticing that I have grappled with personal issues. The past year has been a year of physical challenges for me, a year where to be honest I have seen far too many damn healthcare providers in a search for answers. A year where I have seen the inside of the ER a few too many times but thankfully I am on the road to answers and feeling quite optimistic that the worst of it may be behind me barring a biopsy and some other treatments.

Pain and discomfort have become regulars in my life, throw in a predisposition towards anxiety and you have the makings for a stew of of physical hell. I have been fortunate that my daily yoga and meditation practice keep me from allowing the discomfort to feel like a nonstop threat to my very being. Yet there are days when the discomfort becomes too much; throw in regular garden-variety anxiety with a dash of perimenopausal heart palpitations and discomfort and it’s the death spiral of Oh, no

Which is why when in the middle of a conference call several days ago in my office—when I felt a thump in my neck, excruciating pain in my upper body and the world started spinning the same time that I felt my body temperature rise—I realized that when one is 105 miles away from home, the ER might sometimes be the best place to go to make sure that all was well.

However. not living in Boston and not having my road dawg—better known as my husband—with me, I got off the conference call as fast as I could and asked the program assistant at my office to help me get to the nearest ER. Little did I know that I was about to embark upon an adventure from hell that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy at one of America’s top-rated medical centers.

My office is located in downtown Boston, right in the Beacon Hill area, and the hospital closest to my office is Tufts Medical Center. Which, while it may be one of the best in the country is…well… lacking greatly in people skills. I have seen friendlier medical personnel at the old Cook County Hospital in Chicago, which is saying a lot since County specialized in trauma and the indigent.

From the moment my assistant and I stepped into the Tufts ER, I started to wonder if  I had made a terrible mistake. When one walks into an emergency room waiting space and is greeted by a woman in a wheelchair puking into her hospital-provided barf bag and wailing loudly that she needs help, you start to wonder.

My initial contact with the check-in staff was interesting as I explained my plight. Look, I understand, it gets busy, you are overwhelmed but a minimum wait of two hours?  Ok, it is what it is. Nevermind that the check-in guy seemed surprised that I had health insurance but after waiting patiently for two hours to be seen and listening to puking lady barf every 7 minutes (I counted) it became clear that most of us in the ER had one similarity: non-white skin…and that all the staff that I encountered had something in common as well: white skin. Most  of what my program assistant and I witnessed during my two-hour wait was downright chilling especially as we witnessed a white social worker speak in a chilling and condescending manner to a young Black man who was clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis. If I hadn’t been in grave discomfort and pain, I would have walked out the door.

The real fun though began when I was finally called and settled into a space—to call it a room would be a bit too much. Nurse number 1…”you look real nice”…um, what the hell does that have to do with why I am here? Enter the PA, a bored, disaffected looking white woman who treated me as if I were a junky looking for a fix. Gulp.

Nope, the real fun began when nurse number two came to give me an EKG, since I had complained of upper-body pain. Never mind that if I had been having a cardiac event that having me sit for two plus hours was probably a bad idea. No, helpful man nurse number two was there to assist and that is when the weirdness became so clear that even Stevie Wonder could have seen it.

So the nurse wheels in the EKG machine and offers to help me take off my boots since I was sitting up as laying down was uncomfortable. Great, thanks dude…Upon helping me take off my boot, he holds up my boots and comments on the brand and states that these are expensive boots, then proceeds to ask my opinion of them.  A bit strange but whatever. However, as he was placing the tape on me and hooking me up to the EKG machine, in a strange attempt at bonding, he leans over me while my body is exposed and proceeds to tell me that I smell good and ask me what am I wearing.

I can’t speak for anyone else but when a man who I don’t know has access to my body when it is most vulnerable, I really am not interested in conversations about my scent of choice or where I shop. As an online nurse friend mentioned, nurses can sometimes be quirky. I get it. Yet when you work at one of America’s top hospitals, I expect a certain level of professionalism. The only person I had contact with wasn’t creepy or completely disaffected was the actual physician, who came in with the “oh” face but softened considerably when I mentioned that I lived in Maine and we started bantering about Maine.

In the end, I was released and while I was “fine” the fact is that racial health disparities are no joke. By and large Black people do not receive the same level of treatment or quality of care when they encounter healthcare providers—the data from many studies supports and acknowledges this. My early academic background is in racial health disparities but it is also personal to me as my beloved mother might have had a chance at life had her doctor actually listened to her. Instead she met an early death.

Living in Maine, I have encountered my share of clueless providers who aren’t knowledgeable about non-white bodies, but rarely have I encountered the lazy disregard for Black bodies that I both witnessed and experienced at Tufts Medical Center. It did not escape my notice that had I been a white woman with the same presentation and symptoms that I would almost certainly would have been treated with a modicum of respect. Though, as a local white pal shared with me, he had his own adventure at Tufts Medical Center ER that left him shook as a reasonably upstanding white man. In any event, implicit bias training and compassion need to be a part of the staff training at Tufts. The vast bulk of people who go to the emergency room don’t want to be there. We would rather be well. We certainly don’t want to leave feeling worse in a whole new way.

An update: After I wrote this initial post, I tweeted it to Tufts Medical Center, I had no idea what would happen but I knew that at the very least, I wanted to be heard. I damn sure wanted to be heard knowing that I would receive a bill for an experience that bordered on the horrific. A few days after writing this initial post, I received a call at my office from the Chairman of the Emergency Medicine Department and we had an interesting conversation. Well, this post, that call and a conversation that I had with the finance department at last resulted in a satisfactory ending. Today I received a letter from the hospital and it seems my words were not only heard but had been heard by the leadership staff at Tufts Medical Center. The result being that the bulk of the balance from that harrowing day is no more but more importantly the hospital is aware that while their policies may require kindness and respect as part of their organizational mission, too often implicit bias affects who actually receives that treatment. Baby steps of change…it is indeed a start.

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