Category Archives: Autism

Hell, No, to Betsy DeVos (Said the Angry Mama Bear)


If one values sleep, it’s probably not a good idea to watch Senate confirmation hearings before going to bed. Certainly not ones like that which occurred Tuesday evening when Betsy DeVos, filthy obscenely rich nominee for secretary of education, told Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut (where Sandy Hook Elementary School happens to be located) that guns are a good idea in schools because, you know, bears.

It was laughable, the stuff of insta-memes, indistinguishable from The Onion fodder or an Andy Borowitz post. And part of me even wonders if there was some impetus from the power brokers-that-be, some nudge to say something kind of goofy that would prompt the Internet to lose its collective shit — all the better to distract from the real issues. Because that’s how this new regime operates.

Make no mistake: plenty more than bears are at stake here.

For me, the most egregious comment (and it is hard to choose just one) had to do with the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act, known as IDEA.  Clearly, Ms. DeVos didn’t have any idea what she was talking about when she told Senator Tim Kaine (a.k.a. The Man Who Should Be Vice President) that she would allow the states (or, in her high-falutin’ parlance, “locales”) to decide whether to implement the federal law mandating that children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. Later, in an exchange with Senator Maggie Hassan, whose son has a disability, Ms. DeVos admitted she might have been “confused” about said law.

Confused, my ass. When it comes to this particular nominee, there’s no confusion. Through her prior actions and financial support of school choice, she represents a clear threat to the laws, standards, and policies that comprise public education in the United States of America. She puts us on a path to potentially dismantling the provisions that have guaranteed for four decades the same educational rights to every single child in this country.

Ever wonder what $200 million bucks can buy?  A hell of a trip back in time to when children with disabilities were forgotten and treated as less than by our government. We can’t afford to go back to those days. Our children deserve better than that. Now more than ever, they need us to be their advocates and their voice.

For weeks, my friends have been lighting up the phones–some every day–calling their elected representatives and others across the country. My Facebook feed has been full of daily actions, of phone numbers and sample scripts, of suggestions to put our representatives on speed dial.

And aside from banging out political social media and blog posts, I’ve stayed silent.  I’ve never, not once, called my elected officials despite being urged to do so. Mine were the usual bullshit reasons: I hate talking on the phone, my call won’t make a difference, blahdeblahdefuckingblah.

After watching Ms. DeVos’ utter ineptitude and lack of understanding, that changed.

By 7:15 a.m. this morning, I had left messages for my Senators, one of whom is Bob Casey, a member of the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee faced with Ms. DeVos’ nomination. I didn’t have a script and I was less articulate than I would have liked. But you know what? I didn’t care.

I realized that by staying silent I am giving way too much power to the Betsy DeVos of the world. The people who think that their money and their privilege can buy them access and power and the ability to trample on the rights of those less fortunate. I know people like Betsy DeVos. I know Betsy DeVos doesn’t care about my child with autism or Maggie Hassan’s child with cerebral palsy or your child or any other child in this country who currently receives an education.  She doesn’t care about your daughter who was sexually assaulted on her college campus. She doesn’t care about making that college affordable. She doesn’t care about existing policies that help to protect kids from harassment and bullying and threats much more serious than one of Goldilocks’ three bears coming to life and walking into a classroom.

This angry mama bear is pissed as hell and speaking up for her cub and every other cub because it’s my responsibility as a parent and as a human being who cares about what’s right and what’s just to do so with every fiber of my being.  And while there are days when it is too much and too overwhelming and everything feels futile, that’s when I will try to speak up even louder.

Because the alternative is simply far too much to bear.

State of the Heart

Pittsburghers are known for being incredibly friendly people.  It’s one of my favorite things about living in this area.

The downside of that is people here are chatty.  Really chatty.  And nebby as hell too. (That’s a colloquial term meaning that they love to find out all about your personal business.)

This phenomenon happens everywhere — not just the ‘Burgh — but it’s particularly acute in doctor’s offices. Nobody needs blathering bubble-headed bleached blondes (h/t Don Henley) on morning television in waiting rooms here because there’s no shortage of people waiting to entertain you with the minutiae of their medical history.  It’s why I always, always, always bring a book to every appointment I go to.

(That and because I cannot STAND handling magazines in public places. I’m no paranoid germaphobe, but oh my God, the idea of touching a magazine that sick people have had their paws on gives me the heebie-jeebies.)

So, yeah, I’m that person reading their book, making as little eye contact and conversation as possible. I’m an outlier among Yinzers. The Husband will disagree, but I am not a chatty or nebby person. I’ll smile and engage in pleasantries to be nice and because I know idle chit-chat is a stress-reliever for some and a way to combat the boredom of what sometimes is a long wait. And for the elderly, I understand these connections are sometimes a valued piece of social interaction.

Mind you, it’s not just the patients. Medical professionals, too, tend to be incredibly chatty. Again, I get it — customer service is what they do and you want them to be friendly and interested in you as a person and all that good stuff. Nothing wrong with this.

Except, well … I’m convinced I have some magnetic pull that attracts People Who Say Stupid Shit.

Case in point: I spent part of this morning in the cardiology lab at our local hospital for a scheduled stress test, my consolation prize for having a trifecta of high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and intermittent chest pains.

While I dreadmilled for 10 minutes, going faster and faster, one of the cardiac technicians would not shut the hell up. Maybe keeping me talking was intentional to exhaust every last bit of bit I had, but that didn’t stop her from going on about a new ice cream shop in Lawrenceville, a good 40 minutes away.

I KID YOU NOT.

I mean, I’m wearing more wires than an actor in The Sopranos, hooked up to machines, and we’re talking about flavors of fucking ICE CREAM, which is one of the main reasons I’m even in the damn cardiac lab at 8 a.m. (#JobSecurityForCardiologists, I hashtagged on Facebook.)

As my heart rate was “recovering,” she started telling me about her experience at a fairly well-known Pittsburgh attraction and its proprietor.

“He’s a bit of an oddity himself. A little Asperger-y, I think.  Very scripted. You might want to keep your kids away from him.”

Um.

Say what now?

DID SHE JUST SUGGEST I KEEP MY KIDS AWAY FROM SOMEONE WHO MAY HAVE ASPERGERS?

I may have glanced at my blood pressure on the heart monitor machine thing, since I was convinced I’d be watching my vital signs explode off the literal chart if I responded to this absurdity.

Now, although I had offered that my kids were teenage twins, this conversation hadn’t yet progressed to my saying that my son has Asperger’s — which isn’t really anybody’s nebby damn business. Instead, not wanting to screw up the results of the stress test, I muttered something like “hmmm.” Later on, I realized I should have shot back with, “Oh, you mean I should keep MY SON WHO HAS ASPERGERS away from this individual?  Is that what you mean?”

While thinking about this today, I realize that this is a big reason why I dislike and take pains to avoid superficial conversations among strangers. People say Stupid Shit and I am getting too old to deal with Stupid Shit.  And as well-meaning and unintentional as people may be, Stupid Shit often results in too many sharp jabs.

It was jarring to hear — in 2016, for godsakes — a medical professional expressing the notion that people with disabilities should be avoided. Shunned.  This kind of thinking only perpetuates ancient stereotypes, misconceptions, and myths. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I did nothing to thwart that.

I left the cardiac lab with a benediction from the cardiologist that I “performed better than average within my age group” on the stress test. My heart, it seems, is likely to keep on ticking, its dings and dents notwithstanding.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #94 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging Project. 

at the moment between inclusion and erasure

Japan massacre

You know that feeling you get when you realize you’re among like-minded souls who really, really get it, who understand what should be so evident and obvious to everyone else?

It’s an amazing feeling, isn’t it?  Understanding and acceptance wrapped up in group hugs and warm fuzzies.

It almost doesn’t matter what the it happens to be — and no, for once I’m not talking politics.   (Well, not really.)

On Wednesday, I spent some time at a national conference being held here in Pittsburgh with people who are passionate about making cultural organizations more accessible to people with disabilities. At this conference, guide dogs, wheelchairs, and assistive technology were the norm as attendees navigated the hotel’s conference rooms.

I was at the conference for work-related reasons, but it didn’t really feel like work. As a parent of a teenager with autism, I couldn’t help but remember The Boy’s early years — the black hole years, as I refer to them. The days when I couldn’t even take my toddler twins to storytime at the library because while The Girl would sit quietly, rapt and enthralled, The Boy would be a constant blur of motion, running for the door, making distracting noises.  The idea of going to a museum or a movie or a musical was absurd; hell, we could barely go to a park five minutes away without half a day’s preparations — and usually the exhaustion of chasing, chasing, chasing after The Boy or dealing with the stares or the inevitable meltdown became too much.

I realize now how much we truly missed out on, and it makes me angry and sad. Opportunities and experiences that are childhood mainstays were forever lost to us because there weren’t accommodations to make such outings easier or meaningful ones for our family — and especially, our boy.

Things have changed a lot in the 12 years since those dark days — in our family and, as I realized yesterday, at cultural organizations across the United States. (And I mean from all states; one session seemed like a roll call of delegates with people representing states from Montana to Massachusetts and everywhere in between.)  There’s exciting programming happening — and Pittsburgh is certainly taking its place among them with a growing number of sensory-friendly performances and accommodations at the ballet and symphony and festivals.

This post could end right here if I didn’t happen to check my phone during a break between conference sessions.

While daring to feel that things were improving, to hope for a day in my lifetime or my children’s lifetimes when people with disabilities are fully included and (dare I dream?) accepted in our society and (dare I wish?) not shot when others misunderstand the reasons behind their behaviors — my full heart suddenly felt punctured, like a water balloon.

There, on the conference floor amidst the guide dogs and the wheelchairs and the advocates and the people championing the needs of people like my kid, there I stood reading my friend Elizabeth Aquino’s post “Erasure” which was prompted by  Emily Willingham’s Forbes article “This Is What Disability Erasure Looks Like.”

I read both posts, which are vehement responses to the July 26 massacre in Japan that killed 19 people and left an additional 26 injured at a residential care facility for people with disabilities. A deliberate slaughter, this attack was, and one that was forewarned in a letter by the perpetrator in chilling detail.

“I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanized, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities,” the letter said.

[His] letter said he could “wipe out a total of 470 disabled individuals” by targeting two facilities for disabled people during the night shift, “when staffing is low”.

“The act will be carried out speedily, and definitely without harming the staff. After wiping out the 260 people in two facilities, I will turn myself in.”

As Emily’s article for Forbes states, this heinous act came on July 26, exactly 26 years to the day that the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed in 1990.

Which was the focus of the conference I was at, where we were talking about accessibility and inclusion.

I felt, at that very moment, stuck between two opposite forces: One that embraces and welcomes people with disabilities, including them in programs that were once inaccessible, and the other hell bent on erasing people with disabilities from the face of the earth.  

The danger is becoming complacent about stories like the massacre in Japan, of turning away or not reading because “it’s too much.”  Make no mistake: this massacre may have happened in Japan but there’s every reason to believe that this could have — and certainly has the potential — to happen here in the United States.  As Emily wrote, one only needs to look at the incidents that have already occurred.

  • An autistic man sitting on the ground, playing with a toy truck, and being the real target of the bullets that found their way to the black man trying to protect him.
  • Presidential nominees who mock disabled people and the people who defend the mockery.
  • A society that thinks any behavior that’s not “normal“ deserves to be publicly jeered.
  • Widespread abuse of and violence against disabled people, around the world.

We cannot and must not be complacent about this.  We owe it to all people with disabilities — the ones who came before and the ones who will come afterwards — to include them, to celebrate them, to elevate their stories and their lives against the evil that would silence their lives.

It is the very least we can do in remembrance of 19 people erased from this world.

Please consider taking a few moments to read in its entirety Emily Willingham’s 7/27/2016 article in Forbes (“This Is What Disability Erasure Looks Like”) and Elizabeth Aquino’s blog post “Erasure.”  Also worth the read is Ellen Seidman of Love That Max: “The massacre of people with disability and what parents can do.”

for alison, for her beautiful life

I’ve always been fascinated with the interconnectivity of our lives. You know, if _____ didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have ever met.  Or the way we’re all just six degrees of separation (or less) from everyone else.

Alison Piepmeier is that kind of person for me.  She’s a “blog-friend,” as she once said to me. (And I probably should say right now that I’m not the person to talk to if you believe people you know “on the Internet” and have never met aren’t the equivalent of real-life friends. Because after blogging for almost eight years now, I know firsthand how someone you’ve never met can make a difference on your life. I’ve seen it. Up close and personal, time and time again.)

Girl Zines - Making Media, Doing FeminismBack in 2010, I read a post on Girl w/ Pen about an intriguing book by Alison Piepmeier called Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. I knew about zines, but I didn’t know their history and significance to feminism. Awhile later, I spotted Girl Zines on the shelves of the Newark Free Library in Delaware, read it, and wrote this review.  Sometime afterwards Alison discovered it, and we became connected through our blogs.

We almost met once. Back in April 2011, Alison visited Pittsburgh for a celebration of feminism and zines, at an event that was hosted at my current place of employment.  We weren’t living in Pittsburgh yet, but had just been there a week earlier to get acquainted with the area.

Connections and missed connections.


I continued to follow Alison’s blog and her writing, still remaining her “blog friend.”

Then, in 2013, a yearly checkup at the pediatrician for my boy prompted a simple question from the doctor.

“Do you ride your bike in the neighborhood, maybe with a friend?”

As I wrote in that post, published here almost exactly three years ago on July 23, 2013, my boy’s eyes went to the floor.

There was no mistaking the look, the loaded weight of that inquiry.

His silence was just a moment, fleeting – accompanied by a quick look to me in the corner where I’d fortunately looked up from my phone to catch his glance.

His blue eyes said it all.

I don’t know how to ride a bike. 

My bike is kinda small. I got it when I was 7. It has training wheels. That’s embarrassing. 

What do you mean, a friend?

“I don’t really do that,” he said to the pediatrician. 

I remembered this post from my friend Alison Piepmeier about her experience with what is now iCan Shine, Inc. (formerly Lose the Training Wheels). I remember thinking how much my boy would benefit from a program like that.

I remembered reading Alison’s post when we were on the cusp of moving to Pittsburgh, and checking to see if our new city had the same program. I remember the feeling of this is going to be okay when I realized that they did. I remembered being at The Children’s Institute (the program host of the iCan Shine Amazing Kids Bike Camp here in Pittsburgh) and mentioning the camp during a job interview I didn’t get.

I remembered my boy’s face in the pediatrician’s office.

I looked to see when the Pittsburgh camp would be taking place, knowing full well we may have missed it. Again.

And there it was. Registration ended six weeks [prior]. 

I emailed the camp director anyway.  Long shot … just thought I’d ask … know it’s last minute …

There was one spot left.


Who knows if I would have learned about the bike camp for people with disabilities, a national program of iCanShine, if it wasn’t for Alison’s involvement with them as a volunteer and her deciding to write a blog post about the experience?  Maybe I would have, but maybe not. Regardless, it’s an example — albeit simple and small — of how one person directly influences the life of another.

Because even though my boy doesn’t ride his bike much these days, I will never forget watching him and experiencing the sheer pride in his accomplishing something that so many parents take for granted. This was a gift, a glorious momentous milestone of celebration on what has not always been an easy road.

And it was because of Alison. My blog-friend.


I’m remembering and reflecting on all this tonight because Alison’s time here on Earth is, unfortunately, very short. She is nearing the end of a long battle with cancer, a fight she fought with the utmost grace, dignity and honesty imaginable and one that she shared in heartbreaking blog and Facebook posts with those of us who care about her. Her words, here in what may be her last column for the Charleston City Paper, are as moving and poignant as ever.

Through her books, her scholarly contributions to the field of feminism and disability studies, and her work as a professor of English and Director of the Women & Gender Studies program at the College of Charleston, Alison Piepmeier has touched many, many lives — especially those of her husband and her young daughter Maybelle.

We may have never met, but I will forever be grateful to Alison for that blog post that led to my boy being able to ride a bike and thankful that her life connected with mine, albeit for a short time.

Much love, peace, and comfort to you on this journey, my blog-friend.  You will be forever missed, until we connect again.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #52 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

Why I Love Book Blogger Appreciation Week

BBAW 2016

A few weeks ago, I was delighted to read that Ana, Jenny, Heather, and Andi of The Estella Society (one of my very favorite blogs) were bringing back the very fun book blogging event known as Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW).

I always loved this event for many reasons — the camaraderie of those of us who love reading and writing about books, discovering new blogs to follow (one can never have too many, as my Feedly proves to me every day), and celebrating what we do as book bloggers.

But this event is special to me because it represents, for me, my introduction to this wonderful book blogging community 7 years ago.  I had just started my blog in August 2008 when Amy from My Friend Amy  decided to create, as the ladies from The Estella Society wrote: “an online festival for book bloggers called Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Her intent was simple:

Acknowledging the hard work of book bloggers and their growing impact on book marketing and their essential contribution to book buzz in general, I am excited to announce the first Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Think of it as a retreat for book bloggers and a chance for us to totally nerd out over books together. And of course, shower each other with love and appreciation.

For me, BBAW came at the perfect time. I was new to the blogging world and to find other people who also loved reading as much as I did — and, who, even more unbelievably, loved WRITING ABOUT THE BOOKS THEY READ  — well, this was a game changer for me.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that book blogging changed my life. I’ve made new friends from all over the world who I would never have met otherwise.  I’ve traveled (by myself!) to New York City for the Book Blogger Con (back when it used to be called the Book Blogger Con), spoken at Podcamp Pittsburgh, and started writing book reviews for our local newspaper. I’ve connected with some of my favorite authors and met new writers who have become some of my favorites. I’ve learned about the publishing industry and strengthened my own writing. I’ve increased the number of books I read each year and discovered new writers and genres.

If you’re new to my blog (either because of finding me via BBAW or Listen to Your Mother), welcome! I’m so glad you’re here.

By way of introducing ourselves for BBAW, we’re asked to tell about five books that represent ourselves in some way or our interests/lifestyle. Looking through my Goodreads list, here are five that seem fitting:

B is for Betsy - orig

B is For Betsy by Carolyn Haywood

In a January 2009 blog post called Happy 111th Birthday, Carolyn Haywood!, I wrote about why B is for Betsy (and all of Carolyn Haywood’s books) were important to me as a child. “The Betsy books were just the beginning of my love affair with books. I still have the same feeling upon discovering a new author, a new work of literature (and your books were, most definitely, literature), a book that pulls me into its world.” 

Stones from the RiverStones from the River, by Ursula Hegi

I read this because OPRAH TOLD ME TO.  (It was an Oprah Book Club selection.) And I’m so glad she did, because this was one of those books that found me at precisely the right time.

The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor

The Collected Stories by Flannery O’Connor

In college, I took an English course called “Faulkner, O’Connor, and Morrison” which introduced me to the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. That was more than 25 years ago now, but I can still remember how in awe I felt when I first read her work.  Her stories made me fall in love with the short story and, of course, with every word she wrote.

Making Peace with Autism

Making Peace with Autism, by Susan Senator

When our boy was diagnosed with “clinical features of autism spectrum disorder” shortly after his second birthday, we were lost. What we needed — instead of the badly-photocopied article that the “specialist” practically tossed at us as she dismissed us from the tiniest exam room in all of Philadelphia — was some reassurance that our boy would be OK.  That our family would be OK. Susan Senator gave me that hope during some very dark days and for that I am very grateful.

Little Nightmares Little Dreams

Little Nightmares, Little Dreams, by Rachel Simon

When this book came out in 1990, I went to a local writing conference where author Rachel Simon was the main speaker.  That book and that event sparked a friendship with Rachel that I am so grateful for, as she is one of my writing mentors.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week continues for the next four days, with writing prompts and much more bookish fun.

Hidden Behind the Headline

PG - Autistic Adults Housing

Someone writing headlines at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette must think that people with autism belong in a zoo.

I mean, there’s no other way to interpret what is truly an egregious and insensitive headline in the July 13, 2015 edition of our local newspaper.

I’ll give the Post-Gazette the benefit of the doubt by saying that I don’t think that the phrasing was deliberately intended to malign people with autism.  I mean, I certainly hope not, but who can tell? Given the vitriol in a hateful column recently penned by an associate editor of the Post-Gazette, the paper has demonstrated that they have no qualms with discarding a person’s feelings and dignity in exchange for the clicks garnered by a sensationalistic screed.

Let’s put it another way: would the Post-Gazette have written (and gotten away with) the same headline about people who have cancer? Who have brain tumors? Who are gay? Who are a certain race or ethnicity?

I doubt it.

Motive aside, this headline is more than an unfortunate choice of words. By using the phrase “with the general population” in addition to “house adults with autism” (as found within the accompanying article) the Post-Gazette is perpetuating decades of misunderstanding, stigma and shame while conjuring up a time in our country’s not-so-distant past when people with disabilities were, in fact, sent away to live in horrific institutions. Often subjected to abuse and inhumane conditions, the atrocities they suffered never saw the light of day because they were hidden away from the world.

We like to think that we’re more evolved now, thanks to greater awareness and advocacy efforts and legal strides. But we’re really not. Even today, people with disabilities still are treated as lesser individuals in every sense. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is abyssmal; last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that “in 2014, 17.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed…in contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 64.6 percent. Bullying and all forms of abuse are higher among this constituency.  Supportive services vary significantly from state to state and at 21, all of those supports vanish.

Which is, ironically, exactly why a housing complex like the Dave Wright Apartments is so desperately needed. With 1 in 68 children identified with autism spectrum disorder, the need for living arrangements like this one will only increase as these children become adults. Developer Roy Diamond, Elliot Frank, president of the Autism Housing Development Corp. of Pittsburgh, ACTION-Housing Inc., NHS Human Services, and Goodwill are to be commended for their vision and efforts in seeing this exciting concept become a reality. Their work is giving people with autism an opportunity to live fulfilling, independent lives while providing their families with a modicum of peace of mind as they plan for a time when they are no longer here to serve as advocates and caregivers for their loved ones.

People with autism deserve this chance.

And they sure as hell deserve a lot more respect from the Post-Gazette than they received in Monday’s paper.

 

 

Listening to Our Better Angels: 1000 Voices for Compassion

1000Voices_zps11edff99

“One blogger shares a sentiment of compassion that resonates with another blogger. That blogger has a vision of more bloggers joining together as a whole to flood the internet with compassion much like tiny drops of water causing a ripple effect across the internet, across the world. Within two weeks over 1,000 bloggers make the commitment to share compassion individually yet together as a force so strong it takes on a life of its own because so many of us crave acts of good, positive deeds, a spark of kindness, empathy and good will that has been missing for some time.”
~ “Compassion Is In Our Nature,” as published on 1000Speak for Compassion

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” ~ Abraham Lincoln, Inauguration Address, March 4, 1861.

I’m blogging today as part of 1000 Voices for Compassion, a worldwide initiative to get a thousand bloggers to write posts about compassion, kindness, support, caring for others, non-judgement, care for the environment etc, and to publish these posts on the same day – today, February 20. The goal? To promote good.

It took me about two nanoseconds to sign myself up for this project. Blogging about compassion?  Easy.

Among the things I strive to do as a blogger is to use this small forum as a place to share with you what I care most about. Most of the time, that’s a good book or a new-to-me author I’ve just discovered. I enjoy sharing what I’m reading with you and I love talking about good books, especially with like-minded people.

Maybe it’s the been-doing-this-for-too-many-years nonprofit professional in me, but what I am most compelled to write about here are the stories of the people and the issues and the causes I care most about, such as:

the need for acceptance and greater understanding of people with autism and other special needs;

domestic violence and how it can leave a family shattered;

our country’s deeply flawed foster care system that allows a four-year-old girl to be all but forgotten and ignored by the Wisconsin child services agencies and professionals whose jobs are to protect her legal rights – and whom a judge has bounced from one, two, three foster homes in her four years after she was taken away screaming from the adoptive parents who loved her in their home;

the still-present reality of long-term unemployment and my belief that it will alter our country’s workforce and our economy forever;

the loss of so many creative, inspiring and loving souls to the epidemic of AIDS while our country’s leaders turned a blind eye, and why our legacy to those lost too soon must be continued striving for equal rights and protection for those identifying as LGBTQIA.

All of these topics have something in common.

Yes, they’re all ones that I have written about here.

But they are also subjects that tend to bring out the worst in people.

People with AIDS? “They deserve it.”  People who are unemployed and can’t find a job? “You must not be trying hard enough.” People who are abused by those they love? “Why don’t you just leave?” People who have a child with special needs? “You wanted to be a parent, so stop complaining.”

This is tame compared to what you’ll find on the comments section of certain websites or blogs or newspapers.  The haters are rabid – and becoming even more so. I’m not sure why people feel the need to be so nasty. Whether it’s the sanctity of feeling safe behind a computer screen under the cloak of anonymity or whether we’re just so hyper-stressed that we need to vent and take our anger out on some unsuspecting person or whether we are just so desperate to be heard, I don’t know.

So what do we do? I don’t know the answer but one thing I’ve started doing is not reading the comments – or, trying not to, anyway. Mainly my reasons are that it’s a time vacuum and also unhealthy for one’s soul. Even a few minutes spent with the comments makes one bereft of feeling – or, at the very least, numb. Not reading the comments is not feeding the beast, and it isn’t polluting my sense of compassion toward others.

(Edited to add: I need to clarify this based on, ironically, a comment from earlier today: I read all the comments here. What I’m talking about are the comment sections in the online editions of the newspaper or certain websites or whatever that just seem to fuel the crazy. With the exception of certain posts – mostly the adoption ones  – this isn’t much of an issue here on my blog. .)

I admit, there have been several posts where I’ve wondered if I should “go there.” I’m not a big-time blogger. I’m not going to change the world.

But deciding not to post about certain controversial issues doesn’t help with awareness and genuine healing. Because it’s a collective effort that starts with one person realizing a different perspective and gaining understanding.

We won’t get there if we don’t address the negativity and the snark that is so prevalent while re-committing ourselves to turn outward – not inward – toward others. And the good thing is, it’s easier to do than we think.

Notice those who are struggling and those who have suffered. As the quote (attributed to many people) goes, “Be kind, for we are all fighting a hard battle.”

Extend a hand or a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.

Be proactive in asking someone how you can help, or … just help.

Only then will we be able to fully hear the still and emerging voices inside us:

The song of our better angels.

To read links of #1000Speak Compassion posts from bloggers all over the world, click here.