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Being Here

with Molly Barker

Election Fatigue

Signs that you are suffering from “Election Fatigue.”

1. Stories about the Kardashians, “Housewives of…” series and House of Cards Netflix series are all beginning to feel uplifting and poignant. 

2. Posting videos of puppies, kitty cats, babies and insects doing remarkable things feels just about right. 

3. The moment you fire up your computer or quickly glance at the news headlines at your local coffee shop…you feel the immediate need to shield your eyes and let go a sigh heard round the world. 

4. The National Enquirer is no longer seen as all that weird. 

5. Your family members for the “other candidate” have completely given up trying to convince you that your candidate is the biggest liar ever known to humankind. Political conversations have instead…been replaced by talking about the funny things that happened while you were growing up. 

6. You realize that at this point no one, no story, no documentation is going to change your mind (or anyone else’s for that matter) about which presidential candidate you are voting for. 

7. You realize now how powerful the media (social media in particular) is in driving the perception we have of the “other.” You begin to question (bordering on skepticism) the source of every meme, article, source including whether the video of that one funny dad dancing behind his daughters was staged or impromptu as suggested. 

8. You either withdraw from strangers or become more connected realizing that we are all on this big election ship together…all just trying to make sense of the strangest, most unreal Student Council…I mean Presidential election…ever. 😜😳😬

I know for me? I’ve decided this election is a wake up call…to see how committed I am to loving ALL…to challenge myself to see the human being “behind” the flag, the religion, the race, the slogan, the bumper sticker, the tattoo, the hair color, the age, the gender, the car or the clothes…to realize that I (along with everybody else) am just trying to figure it out the best way I can. 

Dear Hank

August 31, 1995

Dear Hank,

I want you to know that you are our beloved little boy. We have loved you since we first heard that you had come into being. As your grandmother, I want you to know some things about your mother and the family that she was born into. Your mother was born into a family already made, the fourth of four: a brother and two sisters. They are many years older than she.

She was beautiful from the day of her birth and she was born with a twinkle in her eye that is still there. She has always been true to herself, never settling for the status quo, always searching for her own truth and upholding it against all odds when she found it. She married your Daddy because she loved him with all her heart, and he loved her the same way. I really want you to know that, because love is the most important thing in all the world. Your Mommy and Daddy planned and prayed for your birth, for your conception. And God has blessed them with you.

There are times when the world will be hard. You are soon going to leave the warmth of your Mommy’s womb, the place where you are safe and warm, and you will be thrust into a new world. It will be different and strange at first, but your Mommy and Daddy will hold you close, when you cry they will be there to calm your tears. I wish for you not all things sweet and easy, but I wish for you the strength to persevere when that is called for. I want you to be free in the world, to learn your own freedom. To take time to play, to watch the little hummingbird, the rabbit in our backyard.

I wish for you never a harsh, angry voice or yelling but hearts abounding with love for you. I want you to know that you are connected to every living thing, because we all breathe with the same breath of life. I wish for you a love for everything that has life; your Mother, your daddy, me, my kitties Bo and Pete, the birds that sing each morning, the chipmunks that dig tunnels in my backyard. The hummingbirds that sip the sweet juice from my feeders. I wish for you the sweetness of life. To learn that it is there, even in the midst of what seems to be turmoil and confusion. I wish for your freedom and strength and love. I want you to see the light in my kitties’ eyes, your understanding. I want you to see in all living things that spark that is in your Mommy’s eyes . Most of all I want you to learn love. 

–this letter was written by my mom, Mary Wilmer, to my son James Henry Barker approximately one month before he was born.

Dennis Rodman and Me

If you read my post from yesterday…you can see that my daughter Helen and I are moving. 

While packing, I found some “GOTR stuff” and thought it might be fun to share a couple of the items I uncovered. 

Item 1: Yes. That IS a photo of me with Dennis Rodman. Marisa Tomei and Jane Krakowski are in that photo too. 

In 1998, just six weeks after Helen was born, I flew to NYC and participated in Mazda’s Search For “America’s Most Out of the Box Person.” Whoever won would also receive a brand new car. 

My mom nominated me for my starting Girls on the Run, which in 1998 was just two years old. 

At the time my little family had very little income (my husband was bringing in some income…more than me for sure) and I can remember going to Target to buy that black pantsuit and some shoes to match it. 

I had stopped highlighting my hair (I was breastfeeding Helen and didn’t want there to be any potential negative side effects from the chemicals plus the savings…hair highlights can cost a penny or two!)

We had only one car at the time, two kids and GOTR was growing and so my mom saw the shout out for nominations and thought it would be a win-win…maybe a new car and great publicity for GOTR!

Out of thousands of nominations five folks were selected and I was one of them! My mom and I spent three days in New York City. I can close my eyes and remember it like it was yesterday. 

The event took place down at Chelsea Piers and the media was there in full force. Not for Mazda or the contest, but because Dennis Rodman had just announced the end (or beginning, I can’t remember) of his marriage to Carmen Electra. 

Each contestant had to give a three to five minute pitch for why we should be chosen as America’s most out of the box individual. 

I read the now infamous tale of my struggling with “the Girl Box” and how Girls on the Run was going to help shatter it. I had beautiful slides and video footage from some local news shows that played behind me while the Verve’s song “Bittersweet Symphony” provided the music backdrop. (That song was a big hit with Nike at the time so the parallel to GOTR provided some musical context.)

I remember feeling extremely out of place. The other contestants included a man who wore diapers as part of some advertising scheme, a woman who photographed nudes underwater and someone who coordinated the world’s biggest “Chicken Dance” according to the Guinness Book of World Records. 

Of course neither my mom nor I, knew at the time that the award was in search of quirky and so her nomination, which was extremely heartfelt and poignant, somehow got me in the lineup. 

The judges, Marisa Tomei, Jane Krakowski and Dennis Rodman selected me as the winner. I remember seeing Marisa Tomei cry. 

I will never forget Dennis Rodman’s kindness when he came to join me on stage. We stood side by side for a few photographs. He joked about the paparazzi and warned me that when they were given the “go ahead” to approach the stage I should stand behind him or I might get hurt. 

He was right. I had and never have experienced the rush of cameras and microphones (more than fifty people) like that and once they had surrounded him (he literally pushed his arms behind him like wings to insulate me from the jockeying and posturing of cameras and people) I was gently escorted to the green room. 

For winning first place I was given a chance to go to dinner with him and the other celebrities. 

I passed on that offer. 

I missed my baby Helen and young son Hank. My mom and I took a flight home later that evening. 

I also won the car…a Mazda Protege. A week later my mom and I went to pick the car from the Mazda parking lot. I picked a blue one. 

Hank was with me. I fondly recall now watching him jump with glee into the car (as we positioned the car seat) and his pausing for a moment to wipe his little runny nose across the backseat. I smile now thinking about it. 

2. That other photo says “Hi Gorgeous” on it. Very few folks know this, but I went on a four-city speaking tour with Oprah Winfrey and a handful of other folks, back in 2004. 

My book had just come out and thanks to GOTR’s then partnership with New Balance, they introduced me to the folks at Oprah Magazine who were putting on the tour. 

I was most floored by the amazing Oprah Winfrey herself, and her ability to read an audience…to find the words. 

Each time before she spoke, she would stand in silence…sometimes prayer…for a good three minutes…eyes closed…at the base of the stairs that were adjacent to the stage. (The whole thing was set up outside.)

She would then very consciously, lift her head, open her eyes, throw her shoulders back, exhale and confidently proceed up the stairs and onto the stage. 

That was also the first time I experienced “hair and makeup” for an event. 

Don’t tell anybody but I washed off most of the make up and didn’t let them touch my hair. I’m just not a curls kinda woman. Never have been. 

Y’all have a good Monday. Lord knows what else I will find in all this packing.

Moving…

I’ve never been attached to stuff. 

Sometimes this has made me feel like a bad mother. 

I don’t have one single trophy from my competitive triathlon and bike racing days…nor one single t-shirt. 

I have only a few items from my kids’ childhoods and even fewer from my own. 

Holidays and birthdays can slip by with nary a mention. 

I’ve often wondered how I got this way. I was the fourth child of four…ten years behind the next. By the time I came along my brother and sisters had already blazed the trail…all the firsts had been claimed and so birthdays, holidays and such…were often celebrated in a kind of obligatory-passing-sort-of-way. 

My parents got divorced when I was fifteen. My dad got remarried and my mom and I tended to hang out…just the two of us…a lot. 

Anyone who knew my mom can understand why. She was one of the most amazing humans ever. She got sober in 1970 (I was ten years old), turned her life completely around and became one of the most loved and revered women in Charlotte…particularly in the recovery community. 

The reason I bring it up this morning…is…Helen and I are moving again. A couple of years ago we sold our little house, unloaded most of our stuff and moved into a small rental. A duplex actually. 

We’re doing it again…this time to a small little house, tucked gently into a racially and economically diverse neighborhood…one that better suits where we are in our lives.

This morning I’ve been pouring through the “things” I’ve accumulated since our last move only 2 years ago and it’s thrilling to realize that what I moved with then…is pretty much all I have now. 

I did, however, unearth a box of pictures that I had somehow kept hidden in the previous move. The photograph album, tucked there beneath, some old papers and GOTR items. 

I’ve been looking through those photographs for a good solid hour now…pausing to reflect on each of them. 

They are all posed…arms on shoulders, pretty smiles, pretty people, pretty things, tables set, landscapes with full moons and ocean waves lapping the shores of the beach in front of my uncle’s beach house. My brother with his kids, being silly, my dad with his new wife by the most beautiful Christmas tree and the ones of me and my mom visiting my sister in California. 

There is one photo, though, that keeps coming to mind. The one that wasn’t taken. The one I fondly recall now when my mom, brand-new-divorced and I went to Wendy’s for our Christmas Eve dinner. 

We had hamburgers, fries and cokes. She cried. And I told her it was okay…that this was what I loved about her. The quirky way she just unabashedly was who she was…she lived where she was. She didn’t pretend to be anybody other than who she was and how going to Wendy’s for our Christmas Eve dinner was completely perfect and imperfect and beautiful. 

We laughed after she was all done crying…and each promised to never forget our Christmas dinner at Wendy’s. 

I like to think about what Hank and Helen will write about us…when we are older.

Small Talk 

I used to watch couples at restaurants and feel sorry for them. The waiter would bring the salad, the meal and the dessert and barely a word’ve been exchanged between the pair. 

I wondered, “Did they just run out of things to talk about?”

I’ve never been good at small talk. I honestly think that is one reason I drank too much. I just can’t find it in my being to care about celebrity news, the latest gadgets, fashion trends or sports scores. 

I’m not downing those who do. The world needs all of us! My father was genius at it!

But me? I would rather know what fears haunt you while you are awake, the last time you cried or laughed so hard you couldn’t breathe. Or about the time you hit rock bottom and managed by the Grace of something greater than yourself to rise up from those ashes of despair. 

I would rather sit in silence by the ocean, or take in the fullness of the key lime pie I ordered, feel the sun bring the sweat to my skin and marvel with words…what a miracle it all is. 

I’m not good at small talk…for long anyway. 

So let’s you and I sit at this table together and speak of nothing and know that we are not bored or sad or lonely…we are just deep.

Flags

Dear Man-Flying-the-Confederate-Flag-from-the-porch-of-your-home. 

I passed you yesterday while out on a long bike ride. You were drinking your coffee as I rode by…sitting there in a rocking chair…beneath the small colorful paper lanterns hung from strings across your wooden deck…a deck that overlooks the small country road that rolls beneath my wheels. 

I waved at you as I passed and you waved back. A nod, a smile. We saw each other. 

You appeared in that brief flash of recognition, to look like many a man I know. You have white skin…the telltale signs of sun have made it tan, leathered and loose with wrinkles. Your lawn is small but neatly manicured. Your clothing simple…a bright T-shirt, a pair of shorts. 

And as I rode on by, back to the house where I am staying here on the NC coast, I thought about all the people you may sadly never meet…especially my friends with black or brown skin…who, are filled with fear and anger as they pass that flag…and you, who chooses to fly it. 

And now…I decide to stop writing these words and drink my coffee…look to the expansive ocean beyond my front porch and be grateful for the richness of my life, the friendships I have…the people I love and who love me.

Can We Talk?

Can we talk?  

Can we talk about how hard and wonderful and messy and sad and beautiful it is to see my children growing up, needing me less, spreading their own wings and moving beyond what I can give them?

Can we talk about how hard and wonderful and messy and sad and beautiful it is to see my body aging and changing and turning into something different and new and old and undesirable and desirable?

Can we talk about how hard and wonderful and messy and sad and beautiful it is to try to find love again after all the hurt and sorrow and joys and babies and broken hearts and losses?

Can we talk about how hard and wonderful and messy and sad and beautiful it is to know that I have less life to live than I have lived…the realization that I am mortal, will die?

Can we talk about how hard and wonderful and messy and sad and beautiful is to be…well…to be human?

To look out at the ocean, to cry for no reason, to feel these old sorrows and broken hearts and yearnings well up like water from the spring of life passing…to long for joy and know that it will come and so too will the sorrow and the loss and the love and the happiness?

Can we talk and will you listen?

Over Tea

What I feed my mind…influences what I see. 

I remember back in 2001; when the twin towers came down. 

I knew absolutely nothing about Islam. I did not know one single person (or was at least aware of one single person) in my life who practiced the Muslim Faith. 

Being totally honest…I am not sure I even knew that being Muslim had anything to do with religion. I think I thought it was more related to being from a certain part of the world..an ethnicity. 

The news reports that followed were filled with terrifying stories. I was struck in particular by the information being shared regarding women in certain parts of the world. I was at that time under the impression that the entire Muslim Community held women in absolute contempt.

Since that time and since founding Red Boot in particular I’ve come to understand that being Muslim means different “things” to the many different people who practice it…kind of like being Christian or being Jewish…there are many multiple ways each religion shows up in the Individual lives of the people who practice them. 

Some practice it in a more traditional way…others are more liberal in their approach. And of course there are the extremes…

I used to not understand the hijab. Based on the news I read and the stories I heard back in 2001 I saw it as a symbol of oppression. 

After listening to the stories of many Muslim women (many who are now my friends!) I have since come to see the hijab as something Muslim women wear for a variety of reasons.

I trust my sisters and know that they…like all of us…are on their own journeys and writing their own stories. My Muslim friends do or do not wear the hijab for any number of reasons. 

So had I seen this photo in 2001, I might’ve had a strong negative reaction. 

Today I have a strong reaction; but it’s one that fills my heart…one of wonder and curiosity and the desire to hear the stories of these women…to celebrate them as women and athletes…as Christian and Muslim…and as human beings each with their own set of struggles and joys. 

I mean come on…can you imagine how amazing a conversation with the two of them, over coffee or tea might be?

I love all my sisters and brothers.  
I love you all.

Civil Dialogue Isn’t Enough

I would be so honored for you to join me and James Howell in a conversation. You do not need to RSVP! Just show up!
“At 7:00 p.m. Monday, September 12, in Jubilee Hall, Myers Park United Methodist Church. Dr. Howell will engage Charlotte’s Molly Barker in a dialogue on having a civil conversation in a society awash in rancor. After founding Girls on The Run to encourage healthy lifestyles among preteen girls, Molly started the Red Boot Coalition (www.theredbootcoalition.org) to promote “honest sharing and compassionate listening.” In advance of her visit, the Cornerstone asked Molly three questions.
Q. You’re coming to talk about how to have a civil conversation in uncivil times. What do you hope people take home in practical terms?
A. I hope folks walk away with ‘how to’s” when engaging in the difficult conversations that come up in their lives. Red Boot is about listening first to understand, approaching others with curiosity, and assuming positive intent. Red Boot has transformed from an organization that encourages civil dialogue to one that teaches how to embed compassionate listening into our daily interactions. 
Civil dialogue alone will not address the underlying fear and hatred we see in much of our public discourse. Listening to another person without trying to save, fix, correct, rescue or judge them is one of the most powerful ways to dignify their humanity. 
Listening is a powerful expression of love. 
Q. If we disagree with one another, why does it matter if we have a civil conversation about it?
A. Red Boot is not about being civil. It’s about being loving. 
People are dying, literally, to be understood, to matter. 
Two years ago, I would have said our nation was lacking in civility. I believe now, after listening to hundreds who have opened their hearts, sufferings and joys to me, that people yearn to have purpose, to be heard, to be loved. 
Q. Can you share a moment of rancor in your own life that moved you to take on this issue?
A. There are two. I’ll save the details for when I’m with your congregation. The first was an experience on Capitol Hill with the chief of staff of one of our nation’s most revered politicians. I experienced firsthand how truly terrifying love, compassion, empathy and understanding are to the political status quo. 
The second was a conversation I had with a housekeeper in Williamsport, Pa. Her name is Doray. I met her on a cross-country trip I took in 2014. I listened to hundreds of Americans in diners, coffee shops, gyms and hotels share their grief and anger about the “us and them” tearing our nation apart. Doray was vulnerable, real and brutally honest. She changed me.


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