My Year Lurking on the Sidelines

I currently have 30 unpublished drafts in my WordPress repertoire. The most recent is less than two weeks old; the oldest is approaching three years. Some of them are unfinished, and at this point likely never will be. Others are just waiting for me to hit “Publish”. Not even I can articulate why the delay.

There’s one that’s been haunting me though. You see, well over a year ago, a blogger followed me. I got an email from WordPress telling me so and I took its advice and followed the link to one of her posts, which I subsequently really liked. It stuck with me and I ultimately wrote a response post.

But I never published it. See, it was a list kind of thing. Her list had been short and succinct and funny and entertaining and insightful to her personality. My list was, I think, funny and entertaining and definitely insightful to my personality. But it had not been short and succinct. It was bloated and overstated. This in and of itself was insightful to who I am, but it bothered me. So I planned to revisit it and edit it down to something better. That was early April 2014. I edited it some more a month later but was still unsatisfied.

Then something unexpected happened. She started talking about legal troubles, her fight coming to an end, she’d be going to jail. This floored me. This beautiful soul? Going to jail? How can that be? She’s so open, so full of light. This is wrong.

You don’t actually know her, I reminded myself. You don’t know anything about her. Maybe she did do this thing or maybe she didn’t. You just don’t know.

My emotions were in a strange state. Here was a person I didn’t know but still, oddly, had come to care about. I wasn’t interacting with her on her blog – just reading her posts. She wasn’t interacting on mine. We had no relationship, yet I was distressed.

And it clearly seemed like the wrong time to publish my list response to her list. She had bigger problems than things she “irrationally” hated. So I sat on it. And continued to read about her troubles.

Eventually, she went to jail. Her husband posted on her blog periodically about how she was doing. He gave an address for people to write to. So many people were supportive and loved her. It was heart-warming.

I should mail her a print-out of my blog post, I thought. That might brighten her day a bit. Maybe. To know that even a stranger cares. But life is often busy and selfish. I never mailed the post. I thought about her often, but the kind thoughts of strangers does a person zero good if they are unaware of the thoughts.

And then tragedy struck again. Her husband died suddenly and unexpectedly. I don’t recall how the story got out. By then, I had become friendly with folks who all seemed to love this blogger very much. The pain I felt at her husband’s death was real. It didn’t feel like the abstract pain you feel when you hear news of distant death. I felt like a beautiful bird was being weighted down and it simply wasn’t right.

Still, I didn’t mail the post. To mail it then in the midst of all that grief seemed shallow and insensitive. Who wants to talk jovially about irrational hates at a time like that. Besides, who was I to her?

Then, all those mutual friends began to spread the word.

Rarasaur had a release date.

An internet parade of celebration began.

I smiled.

I didn’t feel like I had a right to be part of the celebration. That might seem strange to some, but I had happened upon her too late to develop a relationship before. I wasn’t her friend, virtual or otherwise. She wasn’t mine. She had simply been someone I admired, or whose writing I’d admired, or both. She was someone I had sensed a special spark in, someone I had hoped to get to know better.

And now she was out.

And I was glad.

Not because I could now attempt a relationship, but because she deserved to be out. She deserved for something to go right. She deserved to heal and to return to those people who loved her. And I’ve been enjoying all the grace and beauty I’ve seen from her since.

So here I was today, trying to remember all the blog posts I’d composed in my head over the last week or two, and the only one I could remember even an inkling of was this. To welcome Rara home. And finally share my list. As my silly, inconsequential way of welcoming her back and telling her that she meant something even to people she didn’t know were watching.

The list needs some touch-up. It’s nearly a year and a half old, after all. But I’ll share it soon. Not tacked onto this long post though. It already has its own long-winded intro and doesn’t need another. I’ll add the link here when it’s up though.

Welcome home Rara.

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Made in China

One of my favorite skits at our Regional and State Destination Imagination (DI) competitions this year was by a team from our town. The characters in the skit were residents of an aquarium: a snail, a crab, some fish, some kelp, a plastic mermaid, and some other plastic object whose identity I don’t quite recall – just that it would express emotions and the others would remind her that she wasn’t real.

The plastic mermaid seemed to believe she was a Chinese philosopher and would make wise Confucious-like sayings. At one point, the other not-real object said, in an exasperated tone, “But you aren’t Chinese! We come from the same pet shop!” To which the mermaid replied, “Oh, yeah?! Tell that to my birth stamp!” She then thrust her arm out, clearly stamped “Made in China.” The audience loved it.

At Global Finals, I watched a Chinese team compete. The skit involved people in a submarine looking for something in the ocean. They finally found the treasure – a large vase, and brought it back on the sub. Someone noticed something written on the bottom. “Made in China!” they announced. Again, that audience died laughing.

I wondered as I laughed if this was the same group of Chinese teens I had encountered in the souvenir area earlier in the week. I was looking at DI-stamped USB bracelets and similar objects when the group walked up to the table. One of them picked up something from the table, showed it to the others, and then read “Made in China.” They all started laughing. I thought it was amusing at the time although I wonder now if it was indeed the submarine team, then perhaps they found it even funnier because of their skit.

And then shortly after I returned home, I listened to this story on NPR about a U.S. teacher held in a Chinese prison. He was being held on charges of theft. He was given a cup and a toothbrush and put in a racquetball court sized room with roughly thirty men. No beds, no chairs, no pillows, and most had no sheets. Most had to lay on their sides to fit in there. He stayed for 280 days, most if not all of that, before pleading guilty.

During the day, they sat in their underwear on the concrete floor and assembled Christmas lights. For upwards of 10 hours a day. One of the guards would sometimes use strands of lights to whip prisoners into working harder.

The story reminded us that while labor in prison is not unheard of, this was uncompensated forced labor for people who had not yet been convicted of anything. It made me sick.

We often joke about the prisoners or the young children who assembled some Made In China object we have. It’s become light-hearted and fun. A joke. As can be seen in the audience laughter at the two skits I mentioned above. I don’t know that I necessarily feel all that badly about laughing – the scenes were funny and well done. But the story coming so soon after those moments (I had already been thinking about blogging about them) sobered me considerably and changed the closing tone of this post.

I fear that when you are around something wrong enough and make light of it enough, it perhaps becomes too easy to brush aside its harsh reality. Unlike slavery and segregation in this country, which was easy to see, the problems of child labor and forced labor in places like China are so easy to ignore. They are far away. It’s easy to imagine that it doesn’t really happen. It’s just a story. Not real. It’s even easier to not think about it at all.

The Chinese people I met in Knoxville, TN that week were very nice and friendly. We stumbled through brief conversations in simple little phrases and hand gestures and smiles. I think such events are valuable and I cherished the opportunity. It troubles me though, to think we might get comfortable in those moments and then forget about what’s going on away from the spotlights.

I love Christmas lights. They are perhaps my favorite part of the decorations. But maybe this year, I’ll take the now freed prisoner’s advice and light candles instead. Assuming I haven’t shamefully forgotten by December.