A Girl Plays Football

“Hey, the Packers are going to beat your Cowgirls!” a student said.

And I corrected the student, “Don’t put down a team by calling them girls.” See, I believe in gender equality. I am a follower of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who believed that everyone should have equal access to opportunity.

Last year there was an ad on during the SuperBowl. It was about running like a girl. Did you see it?

The commercial spoofed the stereotype that girls could not run well. But they can. The ad showed that many kids thought the phrase, “run like a girl,” was an insult. But it’s not. It’s the opposite. Run, fight, throw like a girl. That takes courage. We all must do things that require courage. We all must be unconventional.

I’m going to tell you a little story.

This is the story of a girl who played a lot of two-hand touch football with her brothers and cousins. Her Uncle Tom N. was a great coach in Park Ridge, Illinois. One boy who went on to play college football and become a coach himself said Mr. N. was the best coach he ever had. Uncle Tom was patient, kind, smart. But he made one big mistake at a family party.

See, at this big party with lots of cousins, Uncle Tom was throwing a nerf football around the dining room to only the boys. But one girl jumped up and caught it. An interception. Yes. the girl.

“Hey, you’re pretty good. Too bad you’re a girl. And you can’t play football.”

“I can play,” the girl said.

“No you can’t. But just to prove it — If you want to try out tomorrow for the team, you can. But I won’t give you any special consideration because you’re a girl or because you’re my niece,” he said.  “Don’t feel bad if you get cut — Only half of the boys who try out make the cut.”

So this girl showed up with her little brother John to try out for the Mighty Might football team, the Vikings. She was very scared. But she did not let on.

She did her very best. There were tires on the ground and she hiked up her knees and hopped in and out of the tires. And there was a catching practice. And she caught it just like she always did when playing with her brothers or her cousins – one hand on top, one hand on the bottom and she hugged it to herself and ran fast. Faster than the boys.

And during the scrimmage of the touch football – they didn’t have their equipment yet — she was so scared of getting tagged, she ran even faster. She played her heart out. She even got to throw the ball and she jerked it back next to her ear just like she always did. ‘Cause see, she played like a girl – a fast, athletic, capable girl.

After the tryout, when her father picked her and her brother up from the tryout, she told him that she and John had done well. She felt proud. She felt like a winner.

And that night they got a phone call. The girl made the team, but her little brother John didn’t. (In fairness to John, he did not make the age cut off. It had nothing to do with ability.) But she never went on to play in a team. She just wanted to prove that she could make the team. And she did.

And that girl was me. So, never say, a girl can’t play football, because she can. She just might not want to.

When I was a girl, schools did not really implement Title IX yet. You know what it is, right? It’s a law that says public schools have to give equal funding to girls’ sports as boys’. And there were other ways that schools, when I was little, weren’t fair. I loved wood shop, but I could only take shop one quarter of the year and three-quarters of the year, I had to take cooking and sewing.

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That didn’t seem right. So in middle school, I ran for and became the first girl president of Lincoln Junior High. I’m not sure if I made much of a difference. But there was an article in the local newspapers and maybe some minds started to change through my small acts of resistance about what girls could do.

Although women are not represented very well in the government in the U.S., in many countries half of the elected officials are women. In churches too, we have come a long way but we have a ways to go. As a girl, before Third Grade, I attended Saint Joan of Arc school in Skokie, Illinois and I could not be an Altar Boy. In Communion class in Second Grade, I asked the priest, Why can’t women be priests? And I’m still asking that.

So my message is: we must judge one another on the content of our characters and not on the way we look.

We can do better. We must do better.

  1. Girls are just as good as boys.
  2. Do not judge a book by its cover.

In English class we talked about how cool it is when a character is not how they, at first, appear. Take Chewbacca in Star Wars. How does he look? (Wait) Big, scary, mean. But you couldn’t have a better friend — a gentle giant.

Dr. Martin Luther King talked about we need to do in a sermon that is often called “A Tough Mind, A Tender Heart.” He talked about a creative solution to resist inequality. Thank you to Rev. Andrew Stehlik of Rutgers Church for his sermon on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, which inspired me.

Dr. Martin Luther King said:

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the political officials and protectors of the old order.  He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. So he said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the mist of wolves.”

And he gave them a formula for action, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

That was what he said. We must have soft hearts. We must give everyone a chance and we must be aware of the potential in everyone. We must encourage everyone. We must ask, Why? Why can’t we all be equal? Why should we put someone down for how they look? Or whether they are a boy or girl?

What can we do? Resist the status quo. Do not become lazy or timid when you hear someone put another person down. Or when you hear a boy call another boy, ‘a girl’ as an insult.

And this goes for ourselves too. Do not put yourselves down.

I tell you:  be more loving. To each other and to ourselves. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that. So did Jesus. Dr. King said we have to love everyone, even those who were hating on us. He said, “Through nonviolent resistance we shall be able to oppose the unjust system and at the same time love the perpetrators of the system.”

In other words, love the hater but reject the system that encourages hate.

At the end of his sermon, Dr. King said,

When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance.  When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in God’s nature a creative synthesis of love and justice that will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.

I want to end with one more upshot to my brief career as a football player. After that Vikings football season, between fifth and sixth grade, I took a summer school class on newspaper reporting. I wrote about my experience playing football. And a lot of other students, and even teachers and parents, said they saw my article in the school paper and they liked it. It made them think. And that summer school class probably inspired me in high school to work on the school paper, and, years later, to become a professional writer.

I saw that writing might start to change people’s minds –and I would not have not known that, had I not tried out for the football team. So take a risk, try something new. Just because everyone says you’re good at football doesn’t mean you can’t knit too. In fact, when I was a girl, there was a football player named Rosie Grier and he was a writer too, He wrote a book, Needlepoint for Men.

He was unconventional. So was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So was Jesus. You should be unconventional too.

This is a slightly revised version of a chapel talk I gave to elementary school students after Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

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Health Care for All

I believe in covering children for health care. I believe in health insurance for families of disabled people and those with preexisting conditions, like Parkinson’s. My husband has Parkinson’s Disease and he has been on Social Security Disability for years. He has also taken early retirement.

These supports were important to us as a family – they kept us afloat as I changed jobs from writing to teaching. As I started a small business. And as Chris received less work as an actor.

I feel ashamed to see Congress stripping away the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). They voted down support for young people on their parents’ coverage, veteran’s health, and CHIP, Children’s Health Insurance Program. They gutted programs at 1 in the morning when they thought no one is looking.

I am looking.

It is hard to look. I am still in such a state of shock for our country and, these days, I turn away more often than not.


I’m in a pretty hectic job; our daughter is going away to a semester school; my family house, Skenewood, is sold; my son is home from college. And every night I have to help put dinner on the table. I cannot do everything. But I can do some things.

I am going to the women’s march in DC next weekend.

I’m not giving up. I’m saying my piece. My peace. I’m seeking peace.

I believe in Obamacare, in health care for all. I believe in looking out for the marginalized, especially children and people with disabilities. Having health care has helped me and my family survive. I believe it is a right not a privilege. We can do better.

Stay Happy-Go-Lucky

“I will never stop fighting for justice.” I told my daughter at the kitchen table, the morning after the election.

“I know, Mom,” she said.

I was glad that she knew this. I was glad that I had not lost the fight. I have been focused on teaching well and not so much on writing well over the last few months. I have felt defeated by this beautiful country that I love and the election results. But I refuse to give up. Je refuse. 

I will find beauty. I will make sure kindness wins. I will serve others. Throughout my journey, I will remain happy-go-lucky. It is my rebellion – to fight for happiness and to remain carefree. Despite my cares. I worry, mostly, about the progression of Chris’s Parkinson’s.

Last night Chris and I watched The End of the Tour about David Foster Wallace. Chris loves getting movies from the library. I love movies about writers. It’s a win/win.

It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do this.

-From David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post on my blog every other Sunday morning before noon.

Yesterday, Jolain and I went to the Cloisters. Here are a few photos from the day.

The Common Good

Last night, I had book club; a group of nine of us who’ve been meeting for, like, 14 years. This month we read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a national Book Award finalist. It is magical and disturbing; and although it is fiction it seems undeniably true. For that, I am so sorry.

Last year teaching Seventh Grade Social Studies, our class discussed the underground railroad. And it is a common misunderstanding for Middle Schoolers to think the slave path towards freedom is actually a railroad. We celebrated Sojourner Truth in that class. And we talked about what made her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” so good – the repetition, the asking questions of the audience, the passion.

I’m grateful for my book club for all the times we’ve read and discussed books. We never run out of things to say. And there’s always another great book out there. The previous month we’d read Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove. And next month we’re reading Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife.

Great friends and good books are keys to happiness. Joy is found in our everyday blessings.

Have a reservoir 

I took this picture at noon today near the reservoir in Central Park. I love working in a place where I can step outside and be surrounded by beauty in an instant.

I sat on a bench for 15 minutes. I set aside my smartphone and looked around.

Beside me, there was a young woman, an older woman in a wheelchair, and a middle aged woman. The middle aged woman had a Caribbean accent and she kept telling the woman in the wheelchair, “Your granddaughter is here. She came to see you.”

And the two, the caregiver and the granddaughter, both stroked the older woman’s hair. The woman in the wheelchair was unresponsive. But the two were undaunted. They were loving. They kept talking to the grandmother, caressing her.

Noticing their affection feeds my soul, makes me realize that people are basically good. And ultimately, love wins.

The reservoir in Central Park is a popular tourist spot. It is so vast. And seems, almost an anomaly. Maybe even obsolete. But the reservoir in the middle of a city park is necessary — a place to rest or glance across.

A place for ordinary kindness. So needed. So natural. So true.

 

Change is good

It’s bittersweet. The General Board of Global Ministries, (a.k.a. The Board, Global Ministries, and GBGM) closed its New York doors on Friday. When I started working there — at the Women’s Division, which was then conjoined with GBGM, I could not believe my good luck — a beautiful office space, amazing intellectual and faith-based women leaders, and wonderful multilingual coworkers.

I was going through a divorce and this job was a happy distraction from my loss. I threw myself into my work.

My position lasted six months and then I was let go. See, at the time, the staff association prevented any temp from staying longer than half a year. But I came back a few months later, as a consultant, supporting the United Methodist Women by helping write a handbook, policies, and international reports.

When the web was being developed, I became the part-time reporter for GBGM, writing about the agency’s national work . When my daughters were three years old, I started back full time at the Women’s Division. And then within a few years, I was staff writer on the communications team for GBGM.

I was there until 2012 but I never really left. Since I first set foot at 475 Riverside Drive in something like 1991, I have always loved the vibe — the internationalism, the celebration of diversity, the empowerment of women, the concern for the marginalized.

While the office is closed, some staff continue — having moved to a smaller space in Atlanta. United Methodist Women will remain in the New York space. But almost everyone in my beloved Communications team of GBGM has been let go.

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The empty 14th floor at 475 Riverside Drive

It’s sad. I will not be able to stop by and share coffee or tea with colleagues whom I’ve known and loved for decades.

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the view from my old office.

I don’t want to idealize my experience. It was not always sunshine and roses. Like in any job, there were some tough times — when I felt I was not paid as well or respected as much as my male colleagues. I was bypassed for promotion.

But, all in all, I learned a lot. I grew a lot. And it seems like a lifetime ago that I went to GBGM for the first time — I had taken the 2 or 3 train, instead of the 1 train to the wrong stop, arriving all sweaty and out of breath to report to Sister Mary Louise Head, the office manager at the Women’s Division.

I’m proud of my work at GBGM. And now, over these few years, I’m amazed I’ve been able to reinvent myself as a teacher, also work I am challenged by and love. It’s meaningful. I like making a positive difference.

There is no substitute to good, purposeful work in contributing to a sense of happiness. I’ve been blessed and continue to be blessed with good work. This makes me happy.

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Have a Hobby

Happiness is doing something for which there is really no good reason.

I took a photography class today with Charles Chessler. We are friends from drama school way back when. I love his enthusiasm for life.

We met at the High Line to learn what makes a good portrait shot. We tried out various ways of lighting our model, the wonderful A.B. Lugo.

Here are a few unedited shots I took on my phone. The workshop inspired me to play around with my good camera. I want to capture some nice profile pics for people. I’m a good photographer, always getting better.

It was a beautiful day — a perfect antidote to the disquieting political revelations this week. It’s good to know there are good men, fun things to learn, and a beautiful city to explore.