Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Year The World Didn't End

We had just moved here from Huntington, WV where I had gone to school for most of my first three years of elementary. It was the middle of the school year, in Winter. We lived right on the beach in a group of eight apartments. We lived above our cousin and her two daughters in Norfolk, VA just about a mile up from where the Hampton Roads Tunnel began.
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It was difficult for me adjusting to the new school. It was more of a military style school and we caught the bus early in the morning while it was still dark, whereas, in Huntington my twin sister and I walked about six or seven blocks to school and had breakfast before beginning the day.
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My twin sister was placed in a class with my cousin and felt, finally, redeemed after being placed three straight years in Mrs. Stump's class back in Huntington. We all had to meet in the auditorium before school started and hear our Principal talk to the student body. I believe this is where my stomach problems began, the stress of this was almost unbearable. And as soon as he gave the prompt, we were all off to our respective classes. Steph and Haley sat together, and although I was surrounded by my classmates I felt a hundred miles away from everyone.
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I was placed in the advanced reading group in this class. And instead of feeling like it was a high achievement, somehow, it didn't connect with me that way and I thought I had been punished. So the teacher sat with me and talked with me about why I was crying and she decided to put me back in the regular reading class. The math homework left me and my twin sister sitting for hours at our dining room table. Neither our mother or our neighbor across the hall, Heidi, was able to help us with the algebra-like math problems. We sat there until way after our mother left for her night job at the club on the naval base, promising her we would go down to our cousin's house after we finished, which would sometimes be late into the evening.
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Our mother and our cousin who both had been baptized as Jehovah's Witnesses were making an attempt to get reinstated as both had been disfellowshipped when I was about four or five years old. And so we sometimes went to the Kingdom Hall with our cousin and her two daughters.
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I'll never forget her face, the way she ran up to me at the Circuit Assembly, at the same coliseum our cousins had gone to see The Jackson 5 in concert. I forget her name, but she was African American and she was my age and in my class at school. She yelled out my name and said "I didn't know you're one of Jehovah's Witnesses!?" We embraced and we smiled from ear to ear. Finally, I had been redeemed. I had a friend in my class that I could get close to. Someone who knew me.
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Not very long after that day. My friend came running up to me in our class with the teacher following close behind her. She was somewhat frantic and said all of a sudden "Kimberly, isn't the world going to end in 1975!?" I was speechless. I looked at her and at the teacher. Every eye in the classroom was on me. There was a moment of silence. It seemed like everything changed to slow motion. What had I missed these few years absent from the Kingdom Hall. I couldn't believe what I had just heard. "I don't know." And then all of a sudden the teacher grabbed her arm and my arm and shook both of us and said, "The world IS NOT going to end in 1975!"
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I don't remember much about the rest of the time in this class. It seemed like my friend's heart had been broken. And I was in somewhat of a dissociated fog most of the rest of the days here. My only concern most days was running out of the class at 3:00PM to make sure I got on the right school bus to meet my twin sister and my cousins.
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1975 came and went. My mother had been reinstated by this time, only we had moved to Oklahoma to live with my older half-brother who had decided to leave the army as a conscientious objector. He had started training to be a medic in the army and was on his way to becoming a doctor. His conscience wouldn't allow him to continue to stay in the army. He was learning to live in peace with his neighbor and truly wanted to beat his swords into ploughshares. So he and my mother got reinstated at the Kingdom Hall in Lawton, Oklahoma. My oldest half-brother had the same feelings and after his son was born left Germany and came home to West Virginia. This brief period of time, honestly, felt like paradise for my family. I believe it is one of the only periods where we were all happy. The congregation in Oklahoma was like our family. My older half-sister and her daughter, who was only about two years old at this time was living there, too. But, like I said, it was a very brief period of bliss. For very difficult times set in for every one of us. But the world didn't end. It kept on going. Sometimes being a little more forgiving to each of us and sometimes very unforgiving.
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I think the only time the world has come to an end was when the flood covered the whole earth during the time Noah walked the earth. And I believe in the bible and believe the story of the flood. I also believe the promise God made right after the flood when God understood man's inclination is bad from the youth up and promised to never again bring the earth to ruin, even giving us a sign of this promise.
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Lately, though, I've been doubting even the authenticity of the bible and have questioned for the first time in my life who wrote it. Perhaps some selfish perverse aliens from somewhere else in our universe who inhabited this planet with only one goal: to dominate women and keep uneducated persons in ignorance.
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I didn't even learn about the Mayan prophecy until recently through my sister who heard about it through a very good, loving and trusting source. And, incidentally, my oldest half-brother bought the DVD, 2012, for me and my twin sister to watch with him before he died of cancer in 2011. I researched it some on google, but found it difficult to understand, except that there are solar flares that almost reach the earth as the sun expands to its greatest mass and width, and the gravitational pull this effect has, which could cause the earth to do almost a 180 degree flip flop.
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And so, I don't know. Anymore than I knew back in third grade. I only know of God's unconditional love and presence in my life. I know of God's unconditional love of every single person on this planet, that God desires no one to be destroyed and that God is not far off from any one of us. God even knows when one sparrow falls from the sky. God knows how many hairs each of us have on our head. And God has named every one of the stars in the heavens. I've experienced this kind of God in my life, when I was a child and felt all alone many times, and I've experienced this kind of God as an adult, when I've come face to face with death, lost loved ones and in my normal day to day life.
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Whether or not the world ends this month is not my biggest concern. I have learned to let go of things that I have no control over. I know that if I did have control I wouldn't cause innocent persons to lose their life. I would make it alright for every single suffering person. I would fly to Uganda and talk to the President about my brothers and sisters who are being threatened with life imprisonment and death sentences, just for loving someone of their same gender. I would then fly to Israel, right into Gaza and talk with the President there and ask him why? Why is it beyond his ability to give the Palestinians a piece of the promised land? Wasn't the land given back to the Jewish settlers when they escaped the worse plight of their life in the death camps in Germany? And then I would fly back to my home in West Virginia and try to make peace with my family and see my loved ones who I haven't beared to see for so long because of my own feelings of inadequacy. And I would then fly back to New York and make peace with the only person I have ever loved in all my life with all my heart and I would ask her to marry me. I think, then, I would feel worthy enough of her love and it wouldn't matter to me if the world ended or not, because I would know that I had done everything in my power to keep it from ending.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When I Grow Up

When I grow up I want to be filthy poor and as equally uneducated. When I grow up I want to have a false sense of entitlement and live off the dole. When I grow up I want to be homeless and eat out of garbage cans. When I grow up I want to have my Wisdom teeth pulled even though I don't need them pulled so that I won't be wise about anything including my money. When I grow up I want to grow a big snout or a long tail from all of the genetically modified toasted corn puffs I eat for breakfast every morning. When I grow up I want to get off of Ritalin, but by then it will be too late because my mind will suffer severe shock from the withdrawal and the only thing I'll be fit for is a straight jacket in a state hospital. When I grow up I want to be sterilized and sold to an underground sex-slave trafficking organization and since I've already received the HPV vaccine I'll be a prime candidate. When I grow up I want to have every civil liberty my ancestors fought for taken away from me. When I grow up I want to be mind controlled. When I grow up I want less government and more greedy businessmen making important decisions about my life. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

You're a Liar

I'll never forget those harsh words spoken to me when I was five years old (the summer I turned six) by my oldest half-brother as he paced angrily back and forth through our hallway while I was being given a bath by my mother when she came home from work and found out that he had sexually abused me.
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Those words struck me harder than the actual sexual abuse itself, I believe, almost to the point that I had blacked out the incident until I reached puberty and I was painfully made aware by my twin sister and my other older half-brother that, yes, it really happened, that it wasn't just a horrible figment of my imagination. The only part of the abuse that I remember was being put to bed in a twinbed with him, who, by the way, was 17 and a half at the time, and my twin sister was put to bed in the living room with my older half-brother in the fold-out bed that served as a couch during the day, and my older half-sister, instigating it all, slept with her boyfriend in my mother's bed until my mother came home from work. My half-brother lifted up my white cotton panties and that must be where I blacked out. But, my twin sister reminds me that I was later taken to the hospital for a urinary tract infection while she waited at our aunt and uncle's house across the street from the hospital. And the family talk my mom had with all five of us in the living room, later, that if it ever happened again she would kick them out of the house.
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My two older half-brothers joined the army not too long after that and my older half-sister got pregnant about a year later when she was only 15. Thinking back on it all I wish my mother would have put all of us in family therapy or individual therapy. I know it must have been humiliating for my older siblings, not to mention my twin sister and me. I don't blame my oldest half-brother, because I know he had been severely abused as a child by his father. My other half-brother was abused too and my older half-sister was sexually abused. However, I was 17 once, and even though I suffered abuse as a child, I knew better than to inflict any pain on a child and even if you would put a gun to my head and try to force me I wouldn't, not then, not now.
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I was driving from New York back to North Carolina with my twin sister and a mutual acquaintance. I say 'acquaintance' because that was only the second time my twin sister and I had met her. We had taken her on a mercy mission to Mount Sinai Hospital to get proper medical help that she somehow felt she couldn't get here in North Carolina. I was listening to a radio station somewhere outside of Washington D.C. and the person speaking on the radio, who, I believe, was a preacher, was saying that we are all born liars. He said every child who comes into this world is a liar, a mother will hear her baby crying an awful cry, then all of a sudden when she picks up her baby he or she will stop crying and start gooing. I was in total disbelief. I couldn't believe what I was hearing and how disturbing those words fell upon my ears.
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I quickly changed the station!
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I believe exactly the opposite. A child is not acting out or being selfish or lying when he or she cries. Such propaganda gives a license to pedophiles and those who like to prey on children. A child is innocent at birth. It takes a sociopath to believe otherwise.
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I only have learned this through my own awareness and by reading books by Alice Miller, John Bradshaw, and Christiane Northrup. A child isn't being selfish when he or she cries or is hungry or needs his or her physical needs met. It's very simple.
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It's strange that I was affected more by the name I was called than the actual abuse itself. And I even recall thinking back on that time later, when I was a young woman only 22 years old and I had an emotional breakdown ending up in a psychiatric ward and later diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder, that Satan, himself, had entered into me at that tender age of five. My brother must have doggedly repeated "Liar" a hundred times while I was being bathed and crying.
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What a prophet he was. I set out, unconsciously, to be the best liar I could be. Just look at me now. My whole life has been one, big, fat lie.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Water's Broken Promise

"Poor people have poor ways and plenty of them," Ethel said to Chester as she watched him load the last wooden chair on the back of the truck. He smiled back to her without saying a word. These were hard times, but there had been times far more worse. As for good times there were plenty, and yes, poor, but plenty. But isn't that what is meant when we say our vows? For richer, for poorer, through good times and bad times.
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An early spring had set in this year. God never lets us be tested beyond what we can bear. It was the last day of March, 1937. It was a lovely day, Chester said to Ethel Lovely Nicholas, "I promise you, sweetheart, we'll have another house again one day." Since Chester had been asked to take an early retirement at the railroad because of his deafness in one ear they had to move from their ten room house into a three room house in Barboursville, West Virginia, not far from the Guyandotte River which runs into the Ohio River not many miles east of Huntington. The rivers had finally receded after the worst flood to have touched the Ohio Valley in over 100 years. Folks were having a hard enough time as it was since the depression had started and now with the flood it didn't seem like it ought to be spring. But with the receding waters change was in the air. Something had to change and for the better.
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Ethel seemed hopeful, along with the break in the weather her water broke. She yelled for Ray to put some water on to boil and she made her way to the bedroom. Ray had no idea at all Mother was with child and as stunned as he was hurried to the kitchen to fumble with the kettles. Chester sent for the doctor and then bent down on his knees and began praying. Although he had been through this eleven times before, he knew Ethel's strong, but delicate, stature needed a higher source to get her through the delivery. She had thought her child-carrying days had ended, except for this child, so she made her way and as the evening fell along, God gave her another beautiful baby girl, making it an even six boys and six girls.
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Ethel looked at her new baby girl in miraculous amazement. She had always hoped one of her children would have blue eyes like her father's eyes and so, on this day, March 31, 1937, a blue-eyed miracle entered their life. Chester had the name Betty picked out since conception if it was a girl, but now, after seeing their baby, Chester and Ethel, both, agreed that they name her Shirley, after Shirley Temple, the actress. Prophetically, without knowing it, whatsoever, they set the life of Shirley Ann Nicholas in motion. Only time would tell if it would include motion pictures.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Jubilee Year When Everyone Will Be Free

Even the greatest intentions sometimes fail. Sometimes a plan or purpose may start out as a good idea but in the end may spell disaster. Similarly, the practice of disfellowshipping, a form of shunning by Jehovah’s Witnesses, was intended to be a loving form of discipline that yields peaceable fruit, yet, has resulted in a great disarray of its members. This practice is based on a scripture found in the bible at 1 Corinthians 15:11-13 where the apostle Paul wrote to the Christian congregation of Corinth to “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man…Remove the wicked [man] from among yourselves.” This practice of shunning by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the form of disfellowshipping is unjust and punitive. It divides its members and their families instead of unifying them.
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Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in his dream, so much so, that he felt that he was on the “warm threshold which leads to the palace of justice” (King 6). I am only about six years older than Martin Luther King, Jr. was when he was assassinated. For forty some years now I have believed in a similar dream: that we were on the “threshold” of the “paradise.” I was taught that soon God’s Kingdom would usher in the Millennial reign of the Messiah, that an innumerable great crowd would never have to die and billions more would be resurrected. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I believed that a person, regardless of the color of his or her skin, was welcome to accept the ransom sacrifice of Christ. When I was five months old my mother started studying the bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian organization that was formed in the 1870’s by Charles Taze Russell. During the past century or more of worldwide educational work and evangelism, many teachings and principles have been formed, reformed and revised. One particular teaching, which was developed in the early 20th Century, was the form of shunning called disfellowshipping. A member could be disfellowshipped for a number of reasons such as adultery, homosexuality, and fornication. Later, as new teachings were understood further a member could be disfellowshipped for such matters as smoking, accepting a blood transfusion or joining the army.
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My mother and stepfather were disfellowshipped when I was about four years old. It wasn’t really clear at the time why they were disfellowshipped, but this exacerbated their marriage problems instead of helping them and they eventually divorced for the final time. They had remarried, which was a requirement in order to be baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses. My mother, now on her own to raise five children, didn’t receive any form of help from the congregation because she was disfellowshipped. My two older brothers who were baptized at very early ages were also disfellowshipped. My twin sister was disfellowshipped three different times throughout her life for personal reasons that should have been left up to her to deal with. The ironic fact is at the early age of seventeen after finding out she had an irreparable congenital heart defect she bravely stood up and told the team of doctors at the Cleveland Clinic that she could not receive a heart and lung transplant if it involved receiving a blood transfusion, based on scriptural reasons she had been taught as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She made this strong stand before she was even baptized. This detail was seriously overlooked when the decisions were made to disfellowship her, which proves a major problem with disfellowshipping: that the practice is like “straining out the gnat, but swallowing the camel.” My twin sister and I met a young woman while we were on a freelance assignment in Tulsa, Oklahoma who had been given a blood transfusion as a child after a serious auto accident. Her mother was ostracized and disfellowshipped for allowing the doctors to perform this life-saving blood transfusion. Another problem with disfellowshipping is that the practice sometimes seems very arbitrary. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that only a person with an unrepentant heart is disfellowshipped, but how can they determine what is in a person’s heart? For example, I’ve never been disfellowshipped, but I know that I haven’t lived a more discreet or more moral life than my sisters or my brothers or my mother or my stepfather.
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Me, my mother, and my twin sister at a
convention of Jehovah's Witnesses in 1974
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This form of shunning by disfellowshipping has a lifelong damaging effect on anyone who has been disfellowshipped. When a person is disfellowshipped his or her name is read aloud at the kingdom hall—our place of worship—to the congregation intended to be announced while the member being disfellowshipped is in attendance. Afterward, from that moment on, no one in the congregation, except for the elders overseeing the congregation, is to speak to this individual, if so, they, too, could be disfellowshipped. If an individual who is disfellowshipped does decide to meet for worship and is greeted by a stranger who is unaware of this individual’s status, the disfellowshipped person must identify himself or herself as such. The disfellowshipped person is thus cut off from his or her friends in the congregation. The disfellowshipped person never really loses the stigma attached with having been disfellowshipped, no matter how good the intentions of Jehovah's Witnesses may be, thus, it follows him or her throughout his or her life, whatever congregation he or she may attend, or wherever he or she may move. Disfellowshipping not only isolates members from others in the congregation, but the majority who have been disfellowshipped are also isolated from friends at work, schoolmates, or others in their community, because for so long they were taught to keep separate from the “world.” Such individuals feel they don’t belong anywhere.
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In addition, this type of punishment creates a sense of fear in worship, because the principle taught is that anyone who is disfellowshipped at the time of Armageddon or destruction of the wicked will also be destroyed. I remember when I was only six years old and I would watch the evening news with Peter Jennings while my mother would be getting ready to go work at a night club. I used to cry because I thought that she would be destroyed if Armageddon came. I also cried when I saw the cigarette commercials, not because I thought she would die of cancer, but because I thought she would be destroyed at Armageddon for smoking.
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Disfellowshipping is supposed to unify the congregation, making the “wrong doer” come to his or her senses and ask for repentance and humbly be welcomed back into the Christian congregation. On the contrary, it divides the congregation and family members. I am aware of some members who attempted or succeeded in committing suicide after being disfellowshipped. My mother was reinstated—a term used to welcome back a member who has been disfellowshipped—when I was about nine years old. She then married a member of the congregation who later became unstable and tried to commit suicide. He was disfellowshipped. She was, again, disfellowshipped, this time for calling an ambulance and making it public knowledge of his attempt to take his life. This particular disfellowshipping seemed to have broken her spirit. She has been disfellowshipped for over 35 years now. My mother was not allowed to visit her grandchildren due to this harsh punishment for a very long time. Like Martin Luther King, Jr. mentions in his strategy for achieving racial justice, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred” (King 6), so is the case of my mother. She has not allowed bitterness and hatred to set in her heart. She still believes in the bible and has never spoken harshly about Jehovah’s Witnesses and, although, she is now addicted to cigarettes and has had a difficult time quitting in order to get reinstated, she still has hopes of one day returning. The procedure, alone, involved in getting reinstated, once a person has been disfellowshipped, is a daunting task and can exhaust a person making him or her feel like giving up before he or she even tries to get reinstated. It can take up to a year or more to get reinstated, where in, the individual suffers the shame of going to the kingdom hall, sitting in the back row of seats, and speaking to no one.
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Disfellowshipping has resulted in a slow increase in members of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years. In 2004 there were about six and a half million active Jehovah’s Witnesses sharing in the preaching work worldwide. As of 2011 there were only about seven and a half million active Jehovah’s Witnesses sharing in the preaching work worldwide. Although, there are an average of over 200,000 baptized every year there are also 40,000 to 60,000 disfellowshipped every year. Therefore, it can be likened to a person taking one step forward and then taking two steps backward. Even though there is a great emphasis placed on the worldwide teaching work and evangelizing work, Jehovah’s Witnesses have failed to retain members. It is important to note that, currently, Jehovah’s Witnesses, when announcing that a person has been disfellowshipped, announce that a person is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses instead of using the actual word, disfellowshipped. However, in all my years of active worship and all my travels to different cities and meeting many Jehovah’s Witnesses I don’t know of one person who, because of a mistake or imperfect misjudgment, would voluntarily wish to no longer be considered one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, unless a person is so very angry and has staunchly abandoned the Christian congregation altogether.
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I believe that if Jehovah’s Witnesses did away with this practice of disfellowshipping and openly embraced others through a higher tolerance and greater forgiveness that its members would be happier, others would embrace them, and a person would have a more realistic view of himself or herself and Jehovah’s Witnesses. A religion based on love allows for members to rely on a higher power and their own trained conscience in making personal decisions. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses have good intentions in their faith and beliefs, but do tend to be judgmental.
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I propose adopting a “jubilee year” like the Israelites held every fifty years where they were forgiven of their debts, they rested from harvesting, and slaves were freed. This institution described in the book of Leviticus (25:8-24) explains that in the fiftieth year, the Israelites were to “proclaim liberty throughout all the land” (Leviticus 25:10) and “not…oppress one another” (Leviticus 25:17). In following through with this proclamation figuratively, I additionally propose that the practice of shunning in this form of disfellowshipping would be done away with, that those who are already disfellowshipped would be “freed” or “forgiven” in the form of a formal letter of acknowledgement of their forgiveness by the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, operating officially as The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc. All disfellowshipped members would also be sent a letter in order to make a reply, stating whether they would forgive the organization for its misjudgment, thereby, giving each individual an opportunity to reciprocate this forgiveness lending a spirit of equality and justice on their behalf.
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Finally, I propose that more efforts would be made by Jehovah’s Witnesses to embrace those of different backgrounds, which would achieve the kind of justice of equality Martin Luther King, Jr. believed could exist when he said, regarding the struggle of his time between the black community and white community, “that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom” (King 6). We are all interconnected to one another. As long as one person is enslaved to this practice of shunning in the form of disfellowshipping no one is really free. Our differences are what make us human. Jehovah’s Witnesses should refrain from the practice of shunning in the form of disfellowshipping and leave the judging up to God. The life of Martin Luther King, Jr. was taken before he was able to see the results of his plan of action fully carried through, but he laid out the groundwork that has given “hope to the oppressed” and has “opened the eyes of many oppressors” (King, Introduction). Similarly, I may not live to see the time when Jehovah’s Witnesses discontinue disfellowshipping, but I believe that there will be a time when religious intolerance as well as racial intolerance will be a thing of the past. And that, truly, will be a Jubilee Year.
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Bibliography
King, Jr., Martin Luther. "I Have a Dream." 40 Model Essays—A Portable Anthology. Jane E. Aaron. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005, 341-345
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. The Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, USA, 1961, 1981, 1984
The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version. Collins' Clear-Type Press, Great Britain

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Helen, Martina, and the Purple Teddy-Bear Bank

I wish I could remember Helen and Martina's last names. I would love to look them up on facebook. But as the case is, I only knew each of them during part of fifth grade while living in Azusa, California—one of the brief stops of the 16 different schools I attended from first grade through twelfth grade.
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I didn't know anything about being gay as a child, except, I knew I liked Helen and Martina better than I liked any of the boys at my school. Helen was so beautiful. I can still remember her face. She was Spanish I think, perhaps from Mexico, because she had such bronze-tan skin. I learned later in life that most Mexican persons don't like being called Spanish because of the long history between the Spaniards and the Mayans of Mexico. And although I was aware of discrimination against blacks at such an early age during school I learned also that Mexicans out West and American Indians, too, were treated just as bad or worse by whites. Helen had a mature face for a fifth grader, but she was petite and very athletic. She could do eight to ten pull-ups on the high bar during P.E., whereas, I could only do maybe three to five. I wasn't obese as a child. I was slim. But, I came face to face with my own lack of strength when my class had to do those pull-ups. Helen had a crush on a sixth grader named Gavin. Martina was just as athletic and just as bronze as Helen. But, she had more of a baby face. And a smile that lit up the whole playground. She liked a boy named Gabriel. Helen and Martina were best friends. I longed to play with them and be in their crowd.
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One time all of the fifth grade classes took a field trip to Olvera Street in Downtown Los Angeles. My mother literally scraped up all the pennies she had so that I could have a little spending money for the trip and I took them across the street to the little bodega and cashed them into about three dollars. I remember my step-father being angry at my mother for letting me have the money, saying that we ought to save it to buy something more important. The next day my teacher, Ms. Gerubel, assigned Helen and Martina partners for the trip. I was placed with another girl in my class whose name I can't recollect, either. She was a little paler than me and she was chubby. She wore round wire-rimmed glasses and wore her light-brown long hair pulled back at the sides. I was upset that I had been partnered with her, although I tried not to show it. I wanted so much to sit next to Helen or Martina on the long bus ride and walk with either of them through Olvera Street. This girl was a little bossy, too. Reflecting back she really liked me and longed for my friendship the way I longed for Helen and Martina's friendship. That day at Olvera Street I saw a purple ceramic teddy-bear bank I fell in love with. However, I was about two and a half dollars short of being able to buy it. And this sweet traveling partner of mine gave me the rest of the money plus a little more to buy some candy for the bus ride back. I gave the purple ceramic teddy-bear bank to my mother when I got home that evening so that she would have something nice to save her pennies in. If I knew this girl's name and her last name I would find her on facebook as well and thank her for showing such kindness to me when I was a little mean to her.
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Ms. Gerubel was a great teacher. She let my class listen to her albums she brought in while we did our projects in the afternoon. I remember listening to Neil Diamond's "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" and Marlo Thomas's "Free To Be You And Me" that my twin sister's teacher next door let our class borrow. My twin sister's teacher let her take that particular album home and she and I played it over and over again until we learned all of the songs by heart. I think back and really believe Marlo Thomas set the stage for how my life played out. Still, I am just now coming to terms with my own sexuality and I am just now, finally, feeling free to be me.
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Ms. Gerubel was very kind, but she was also very strict about attendance. She made her students stay after school to make up the time they missed. My twin sister and I walked at least a mile or more to school every day and so I was late a couple of times. One day I stayed after school to make up for the time I was late. The fifth graders were assigned a certain picnic table to sit at while the sixth graders at the next table watched out for us. Gavin was there that day. He was bronze-tan skinned also. His black silk hair was feathered away from his face and was a little longer than the other boys' hair. He was attractive and all the girls liked him. I knew Helen liked him a lot. He sort of liked me with my platinum blonde hair and green eyes and fair skin. I was shocked when he came over to my picnic table and asked me if I was a virgin. I never answered him. I couldn't answer out of shock, for one reason, but also because he brought up all of a sudden a painful memory of my sexual abuse by my oldest half-brother that I somehow blocked out of memory until then not knowing for sure all the facts surrounding the abuse that later would be confirmed when I was a teenager. So I didn't answer him. And that day when I walked home all alone I was so sad. I told my twin sister, Stephanie, when I arrived home about the incident, but no one else, not even my mother, who was suffering from major depression most of that year and was passed out on the couch when I got home. I went into the bedroom that my twin sister and I shared and I just cried. I have thought back on that day a thousand times. I wasn't mad at Gavin. I imagine he probably had been abused himself.
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If I could ever pinpoint a time that I knew I liked girls better than boys it would have to be that year, although, it's something I've been aware of my whole life, and it can't really be pinned down to one particular instance in my life. That year before June my family and I were packing again to move back home to West Virginia. And I never saw Helen and Martina or any one of those precious kids again. But each of them, faces I can see just like it was yesterday, all hold a special place in my heart. And I will remember them as long as I live.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Rock of Gibraltar, the Missing Link

My mother was the youngest of twelve children. My grandmother had six girls and six boys. My grandmother was a strong woman, the strongest influence in my life. She was like the Rock of Gibraltar. I never got to meet my grandfather. He died of a heart attack before I was born. My grandmother had lived decades before I was born, so she had a long life that I hardly know about, except that she and my grandfather loved each other and their children dearly. They worked hard all their life, raised their children, raised a garden every year and were self-sufficient. My mother was born when my grandmother was 45 years old. My grandmother thought she had gone through the change of life. My mother was born during the depression and the exact night she was born she, my grandfather, grandmother and my uncle who was still at home at the time all moved from a ten room house into a three room house. Eventually after my uncle got married my grandfather and grandmother had to move into different homes of their children. They were very poor and ended up moving into government housing. This was during my mother’s sophomore year of high school and she felt a tremendous burden to get married and move out because the housing was only for senior citizens. My mother quit school and got married to an older man. She had three children before she turned 19. Thus her dreams of joining the glee club and her hopes of becoming an actress on Broadway or becoming a nurse were abruptly halted. She always says to me, “I was born during the depression and have been depressed ever since.”
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My grandmother lived in the subsidized housing until she died. She lived alone after my grandfather died and in time remarried. I do remember my step-grandfather, but he was a very ill person. He got so ill that he moved out of my grandmother’s apartment and lived with his sons in a two story house just across the back alley where my grandmother lived. He died not too long after that.
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My grandmother’s apartment was the place where everyone gathered during the holidays and reunions. I remember the times when my uncles, aunts and cousins would come to visit. My aunts and my mother were all very close. They would do each other’s hair and help my grandmother do her hair. My uncles would talk about their jobs, the latest in the news and the weather. Most of the time my grandmother was by herself. One of my aunts did stay with her during the day, and on several occasions my mother and my twin sister and I stayed with her after having moved back from wherever we had moved away to in order to take care of her. My grandmother lived on a limited income of her social security check, but she paid all of her bills on time, had credit with several department stores, and always at the end of the month would have some money left over to help out one of her children or grandchildren. She had the same telephone number until she died. I can actually still remember it—523-8627. This stable quality of hers is something I have struggled to attain in my life, many times just wanting to pick up and move away from my problems thinking that will solve them.
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I think back now on how much time my grandmother did spend alone, considering how many children she had and I realize that she had such a strong spirit and determination to live. She made many quilts and seldom sold them. She gave most of them away to her children or grandchildren or friends in the community. Even though she couldn’t get out of the house to go to church in her later years, she would wake up early every Sunday morning and watch the sermons on TV. My grandmother was the center of the family. She lived to be almost 87 years old. When she died I had just started my senior year in high school. At the time of her death she had all but two of her children living, 48 grandchildren and over 100 great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.
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As a teenager I felt so unfortunate to be a young woman. I remember thinking that the guys have it a lot easier than the girls. They didn’t have that monthly ordeal like us; they didn’t have to bear children. They could go evenly through the month playing football or basketball and not suffer like I did. As an adult though I have learned and now realize that men go through their own cycles, which are difficult to get through. They have feelings and get sad or moody. I always hated the fact that young men had to register for the military service when they turned 18 and felt very fortunate to be a woman. I feel now, though, that if I believed in a cause so great to go to war for, like the Holocaust that happened in Germany during World War II or what happened in Kosovo, I would sign up and go fight with every ounce of energy I could find. My uncles fought in World War II and two of my uncles were on ships off of the shore of Normandy. One was a gunner’s mate. He told my grandmother when he returned home that he didn’t think he would make it home alive. The family didn’t even know where he was for two years or even if he was alive. I never realized how much danger he and the other soldiers were in until I saw the movie Saving Private Ryan with Tom Hanks. Although I was taught early on in age that a Christian should stay neutral in wars or politics, I believe now that this is misinterpreted and that if someone doesn’t stand up for what is right and fight for others whose freedom is being threatened by torture or genocide then they are actually participating in the evil itself. My mother has told me the story of her favorite brother who was such a sensitive and kind person. He had been drafted to fight in World War II. He cried because he didn’t believe in killing anyone. He had a wife and a little boy. The weekend before he was supposed to register he came down with spinalmengitis and died at the hospital when the doctors were trying to do a spinal tap.
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The missing link in my life is one man who is always on my mind and that is my real father. I find myself searching for him in others to no avail. He never married my mother when he found out she was carrying my twin sister and me. I can count the times I met him on one hand. I don’t have any bitterness toward him though. I only wish I could have spent more time with him. In my senior year of high school he came to visit my twin sister and me. I gave him a pastel of the Grand Canyon I had done in colors of burnt sienna, oranges, and lavenders that he said would go perfect in his living room. I know from my mother that he was a very hard worker. He worked as an overseer in a plant down in North Carolina where he was born. His parents were from Ireland. His father left him when he was a young boy and he spent a lot of time at his grandmother’s house. I guess that he had issues about his father and mother too. We never talked about that the times we spent together. He was Catholic and had married before he met my mother. They were separated at the time. He didn’t divorce her because of his faith. Yet, from what I know he fathered several children out of wedlock. I still believe he was a spiritual person. One time my mother, my twin sister and I went down to North Carolina and visited him. I had an interview in a town close to where he lived, so we combined the trip to visit my father. He seemed so sad and lonely. I looked for the pastel I gave him, but didn’t see it. He knew my twin sister and I loved Pizza Hut as he had taken us there when we were about ten years old on a surprise visit. That evening, though, he gave us money for my mother, my twin sister and me to go out to eat on by ourselves at Pizza Hut. He had to work the overnight shift so he didn’t go with us. One time before this, when my twin sister and I had come back to our hometown, Huntington, West Virginia, while on break from college, he ran into my older half-sister (on my mother’s side). He took my twin sister, my niece and me to Pizza Hut and for a drive in his custom van and we listened to his favorite singer, Neil Diamond. My mother told me that he did take her to Midnight Christmas Mass when she was pregnant with my twin sister and me. I grew up thinking that perhaps if I would convert to Catholicism and become a nun he would love me more and be proud of me and would be more involved in my life. He died in 1995 of a brain tumor and requested that my twin sister and I not come to see him. He said that he didn’t want us to see him in that condition, but sometimes I wonder if he was embarrassed of us and didn’t want his family to meet us.
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It goes without saying that most of the women in my life have been a more positive influence in my life. My mother, with as many imperfections that she has, has been a great influence in my life. She encouraged my twin sister and me to follow through with our desire to go to art school when at the time I was considering instead to become a full-time evangelizer. She wanted us to become independent from the welfare system that we were raised on the times my mother was too sick to work. She wanted us to have a better life than hers. My older half-sister and older half-brothers were a positive influence in my life although they didn’t have it easy themselves. Sometimes I feel that where my twin sister and I were lacking in my father we were blessed to have them as older siblings. They took on a responsibility toward us that they themselves needed from their father. My older half-sister taught my twin sister and me the alphabet and how to write and read before we started school. She worked as a dancer most of her life and helped my mother, my twin sister, me and Her daughter who my mother was raising. My older half-brothers were very outgoing and loved the outdoors. One half-brother set up a tetherball pole to play with. He took us to see Star Wars. He bought our first album of the Bee Gees because we loved them so much. My other older half-brother took us camping, bought us our first ten-speed bicycle and took us to the Cleveland Clinic when we first found out about my twin sister having a serious congenital heart defect. All three of them never really considered us as their “half-sisters.” We were all very close. They all grew up fast. My half-sister got pregnant at 15 years old. My two older half-brothers joined the army at early ages, going against the beliefs of their faith also. For them that was the only way to get an education and the Army seemed like their only way out of poverty. One was stationed in Lawton, Oklahoma and the other went to Germany. Recently, before he died, he told us that he went to Vietnam for a while, but never told our mother at the time because he didn’t want her to worry.
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Two of my teachers from school stand out in my mind as having a great impact on my life. One was my sixth grade school teacher. She made an effort with the principal to have both my twin sister and me to be in her class. I suppose she thought we had moved around enough and could see that we needed the support she so kindly gave to us and the other students in her class, most of whom were from broken homes also. Every day after lunch and recess she read to us with our heads placed down on our desks. She read books that some of the students had brought in for her to read. She read a couple of books that my mother had ordered: Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan. This effort on her part seemed to calm the class down and prepare us for the rest of the afternoon. I think back and wonder if she knew that many of us had never been read books at bedtime by our mothers or absent fathers. One time she and our art teacher had a slumber party for all of the girls in the class. She was the best teacher I had all throughout my grammar and secondary schooling.
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Another teacher that made a tremendous difference in my life was my teacher at art school. She radiated an air as if she was always walking on cloud nine. She was so expressive and outgoing. She was the teacher who inspired me to do a painting that was on the topic of starvation. It contrasts the extremes of abundance and poverty. The situation that was happening in Ethopia at the time brought tears to my eyes every night on the news while I would be doing my art projects and this painting was an excellent expression of how I felt about the trauma going on for millions of Africans. When she saw my preliminary sketches she said, “Close, but keep working.” When I showed her the next sketch she lost her breath, gasped and fell back in a chair behind her. She helped me put the canvas together on a frame and even permitted my niece while on her breaks from school to come in and pose for some of the characters in the painting in order to get the correct angles of the imaginary figures I combined by looking at the anatomy book.
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Feast Amidst Famine, Oil on Canvas (4' x 5'6")
by Kimberly Ann Hodgson 1985-1987

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I personally have carried these men and women in my mind and reflect back on them with great admiration. My grandmother taught me the quality of stability and endurance. My father’s hard working ethics are in my genes and even though I struggle with work at times I am an industrious person and even work better on the evening shift myself. My mother too who worked as much as she could while raising five children is an encouragement for me to keep going on despite how I feel sometimes. My older siblings and my twin sister all had rough childhoods, but we never stopped loving our mother or father, knowing they too carry the burdens of generations past. My teachers who took a special interest in me contributed to my success as an artist. I feel that the gap between men and women is closing and that neither have it easier than the other. We are all unique individuals with strengths and weaknesses.