Rising Above is Just the Beginning

There are certain things I’ve witnessed in my life that I will never forget. And if they never happen again in my lifetime, it will still be too soon.

I didn’t know anything was different about my older brother Michael until I started first grade. Michael was held back to repeat second grade, so he was only a year ahead of me. It was the first time he and I attended the same school.

My parents tasked Michael with walking me home from Hatch Elementary School every day. I learned he was different on our very first day of school. As we were walking home together that day, a few kids from Michael’s class followed close behind. They started yelling a word I had never heard before. Retard. 

One boy began gesturing wildly with his arms and hands as though suffering from a physical disability and slurring his speech as we turned to see if they were talking to us. His gestures and words were met with a chorus of laughter from his friends.

I can’t quite describe the gestures, but this is what they were doing.

To me, Michael was just my normal older brother. The person charged with such big brother jobs as walking me home from school and protecting me from anybody who intended to do me harm. It was clear in that moment that my protector Michael needed protection himself.

I grabbed Michael’s hand. We turned around and picked up our pace. I didn’t know what the word retard meant. That night I asked my mom about it. That’s when she explained to me that Michael was different from the other kids.

She explained to me that Michael has autism. He is very social, his memory is incredible, but he struggled with delayed cognition and comprehension. I didn’t see how that changed the brother that I’d always known, but apparently it set him apart as far as the other kids were concerned.

I also remember her telling me that those children were being very cruel and that if it ever happened again, to just ignore it. She would call the school and deal with the problem, but if it happened again, just walk away.

I think most of us were told something similar when we grew up. If we encounter a bully, ignore them. Rise above it. Kill them with kindness. Turn the other cheek. Take the high road. All various iterations on the same sentiment. Eventually they’ll go away.

But the next day, it happened again. This time there were more kids. Michael and I turned away and pretended not to hear it.

It happened again and again. I kept asking my parents if we could fight back. If we could do or say anything. They reiterated to us that we will never regret taking the high road. 

They were half right. The high road should always entail demanding accountability for actions.

So throughout that school year, it would come and go. My parents called the school to try to stop it, and it would cool down for a few weeks, but then it would crop back up again. Michael and I would take different routes home, but they would eventually find us and follow us. We would wait around in the playground a little bit longer after school let out, but they would wait too. If they didn’t do it after school, they would do it at lunch or recess. We couldn’t hide.

It was also increasing in intensity. They were following closer, yelling louder, using far fouler language. One kid snatched Michael’s winter hat off of his head and yelled as he threw it on the ground at Michael’s feet that the hat made his head look like a doorknob. Michael never wore that hat again.

Throughout all of this, the one thing that would get the biggest laugh was when one of the kids pantomimed having a physical disability and slurred his speech in an attempt to mock Michael. We often came home crying. In fact, I’m close to crying now as I retell this story.

It finally escalated one winter day after school. We were making our way home particularly slowly because there was snow on the ground. The group of kids caught up to us and began laying into Michael and me. But this time, one of the boys, Stuart, ran closer to us and shoved Michael.

Michael stumbled forward and they knocked his backpack off of him. Ignore it. Stuart threw it to the ground and spit on it. Take the high road. His friends laughed louder and louder. He spit again at our feet and exclaimed, “that’s for you!” Let it go. He spit again, this time for me. Rise above. He spit again, this time for our kindergarten-aged younger brother TJ, and a final time for my parents.

Seeing the spit trailing down Michael’s backpack into the snow, I looked into Stuart’s eyes and yelled Fuck you! 

There was a hush that came over the crowd that had gathered around us. The kind of schoolyard hush that only follows the utterance of a bad word.

I knew I was in trouble. I felt terrible. Michael grabbed my hand and we ran the rest of the way home as best we could in the snow.

Michael and I ran into our house in tears. My mom asked what had happened and we told her the story. I’ll never forget the look on her face as we recounted what the boys had done that day. I told her there was something else to tell her too. I had to confess. I didn’t want another kid who had heard what I said to tell on me. I told her I said the F-word.

She had a serious look on her face. She told us we’d be okay, but she had to go make a quick call to our father who was still at work.

I begged her to let me be the one to call him and tell him. I thought she was just calling to tell him I’d said a bad word and that they needed to punish me. She let me take the phone and tell my dad the whole story. I told him I’d said the F-word and that I was very sorry and I’d never say it again. He asked me to put my mom back on the phone.

They didn’t punish me.

I don’t know what she told the school or those children’s parents that day, but I know that the violence certainly stopped. The mocking didn’t, but it slowed down a great deal.

I still felt guilty about yelling back. I felt dirty. I had gone down to their level. They were in the wrong, clearly, but nothing good can come from meeting nastiness with nastiness.

When Michael was in high school, my dad took us to my cousin John’s football game. As we were standing in line for tickets, my dad and Michael both facing the ticket window, I saw the other high schoolers behind us begin to do that same mocking motion with their arms. One of the boys pointed to Michael and let his tongue fall out of his mouth as he made the mocking gestures. His friends all snickered behind us. My dad turned around and the boys quickly stopped laughing and gesturing. I wanted to punch their lights out. I ignored it, but I’ve never forgotten it.

John F. Kennedy once said, on diplomacy, “we do not need to use threats to prove that we are resolute.” I’ve always liked that. Bullying, threats, bombast, cruel language. Those things have no place in civil society. They will never elevate our level of discourse, nor will they ever make any of the participants feel good.

But what do you do when rising above doesn’t stop the bullying? When it doesn’t stop that bully from escalating or spreading the cruelty?

I’ve encountered many bullies in my life. Even as an adult. If ignoring it is hard, then rising above is even harder.

A few weeks ago, my older brother disappeared. He lived in an adjoining separate-entrance apartment next to my mom and her partner’s house in San Diego. He works full time in a supervised environment in the mess hall at the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot serving food to the hundreds of recruits every day. He loves the job.

These recruits are often young 18 year old kids, many just leaving home for the first time ever, and they are in a new environment. Michael gives them a sense of calm and respect every single day as he greets them all by name with a smile. He makes conversation with them as he serves them food. It’s great for him because it helps him with his social skills. It is great for the recruits to have a smiling face three times a day who cares about them in the middle of their intense boot camp experience.

My moms got home from work one day and Michael was gone. Many of his things were missing too. His phone was off and the location services were turned off on his iPad. He had surgery less than a week before and so he was medically fragile. We didn’t know if he had his medication (his SSRI he takes for his autism symptoms as well as his post-op antibiotics), his C-PAP machine for his sleep apnea, or any money to feed himself.

As days went by we learned that a man had met up with Michael at some point and convinced him to leave home and sign a lease for an apartment with him. He took Michael’s phone and turned it off.

We had no idea where he was. None of slept or ate for days. I sat watching the “Find My Phone” app wondering if he’d turn on the iPad he shared with my mom and it would give us a location.

I looked into his recent calls and found the last number he called before he disappeared. I called that number and it went to voicemail. The outgoing voicemail message gave the man’s full name. It sounded like a familiar name. So I looked into him, found that he was a friend of Michael’s on Facebook and then searched his background.

As soon as I saw the photo of that man with the familiar name, I realized who it was. It was one of the boys who used to make fun of Michael after school.

He had a criminal history. Three prior convictions. His interests included “shooting” on Facebook. Was this the man who took Michael? Did he have a gun?

I began calling and texting the number off the hook, but he wouldn’t tell us where Michael was or whether he was safe and had his medication. I’ve never texted someone “I love him, I beg of you please don’t hurt him” before, and I hope none of you ever have to do that in your lives.

Finally, after days and days of searching for him and watching Find My Phone, he turned his iPad on. We had a location. My mom left work and went to the location immediately. Nobody was home, but she saw Michael’s things as she looked over the fence in the backyard. There was a stuffed animal that Michael loved and it was laying on the grass in the backyard. That was it. She waited and waited but nobody came home.

Michael was able to contact us via Facebook messenger but he kept telling us he couldn’t tell us where he was and not to come find him. We were baffled. The way he was talking was unlike any way he’d ever talked before. Telling us to leave him alone, don’t come to his house.

We soon found out why.

At some point during the 12 days Michael was missing, he went to urgent care for an infection. We had no way to contact him because he wasn’t technically missing. He was a 32 year old man who, as they saw it, left of his own free will.

He hadn’t shown up to work the entire time he was missing. He missed all of his doctors appointments. Nobody was able to ascertain whether he was really safe or where he was.

As each day passed and Michael’s very brief contact with us showed more signs of his extreme anxiety, we had to act. We called a friend of his, a SDPD officer, and my uncle, a retired Navy captain and former Navy SEAL. They showed up to the address we had recently found and rang the doorbell early on the morning of July 8. He had been gone since June 27.

A young man answered the door and as soon as he saw who was there, he slammed it shut again. The officer and my uncle noticed that all the shades were drawn shut. They convinced the man to reopen the door and asked to see Michael. The man said Michael doesn’t have to go with them, he’s fine. They reiterated that they were there to see Michael. Michael woke up and made his way downstairs to the front door. A look of extreme fear came over him. The man blocked the front door between the officer and Michael and he wouldn’t let Michael answer questions they were asking him.

My uncle asked him to come out of the house. As Michael began to walk through the door, the man blocked him again and said no, let me talk to him. He shut the door on my uncle and the officer. Behind the closed door, he spent ten minutes trying to tell my brother not to go. My brother later told me the man seemed very scared. They reopened the door and the man said Michael would not be going and he wanted to be left alone. My uncle asked him if this was true. Michael’s hands began to shake and walk toward my uncle. Michael kept repeating “it’s fine, I can go, I’ll be fine.” He walked out safely with my uncle and the officer.

We got him.

This photo was taken minutes after my uncle drove him away from the house he was held in. As soon as my uncle told us he’d had Michael in a safe place, I got in the car and drove with Michael’s autism assistance dog Rocco. It was the first time he saw Rocco and me after having been gone for 12 days. He was finally safe.

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We found out from Michael what had happened. The man who took Michael had convinced him to open up a joint checking account with him. They signed a lease together for an apartment, using Michael’s social security number and good credit. He took Michael into the local social security administration office and filled out a form to make himself Michael’s new representative payee on all of Michael’s future monthly SSI payments. He even tried to get Michael’s work to put direct deposit payments of Michael’s paychecks into their new joint account.

The man had also told Michael that he had a gun in the house and would hurt or shoot anybody from Michael’s family who tried to come take him out of the house. He kept all of the windows shut with the shades drawn. He had even covered up the apartment’s intercom/doorbell system so that when somebody rang the bell, Michael wouldn’t hear it. He told Michael his family didn’t care about him. Michael was very confused and very scared.

It made sense now why he kept telling us not to come to the house. It made sense why Michael was shaking when he saw the officer and my uncle standing at his front door that morning. The man had told him repeatedly that he had a gun and would hurt anybody who tried to take Michael. And Michael had been watching the news. The night before, several Dallas police officers had been tragically shot and killed. When he saw his uncle and that officer at his door talking to the man who had taken him, he was sure that he was about to watch that man shoot my uncle or the officer for trying to take him.

It is a miracle that he walked out of the door that morning. I don’t use that word lightly.

In the few weeks since we found him, his anxiety has been through the roof. He is having severe flashbacks and panic episodes. I talk to him for hours on the phone trying to keep him calm and tell him he’s safe and it will never happen again. I hope he believes me.

Having watched this whole process unfold, minute-by-minute. Remembering that man as the young boy who joined his friends in laughing at Michael after school. Knowing that he likely gained Michael’s confidence by letting Michael finally feel cool. Like he was finally friends with one of the popular kids from grade school who used to make fun of him.

The word angry is not strong enough to describe how I feel.

When it comes to bullies and those who wish to do us harm, ignoring it is not enough. Rising above is not enough. It’s just a start. 

But it’s a necessary starting point. We have to start with respect, but continue to make people accountable for their actions. We have to question them when they act the way that they do.

Now, when Michael hears the word retard come from somebody’s mouth, even as a joke, he calmly and earnestly asks that person why they chose that word. He then politely suggests that they visit www.r-word.org.

I encourage you to do the same when you hear hateful language. Maybe they’ve just never have heard the words they use used against them or against somebody they love in a hateful way. How lucky they truly are. So, please, respectfully use it as an opportunity to bring something to that person’s attention and even to educate them.

If you see a presidential nominee mock a person with a disability by slurring his or her speech and stuttering and moving his or her body in a mocking way, all to get a laugh, hold that person accountable. Expect your media to do the same.

If you witness bullying, in any form, intervene. Respectfully ask that person what they are hoping to accomplish by their behavior. Let them know that that sort of behavior and language has no place in society. We are better than that and that’s not how we treat people.

The burden of defeating bullies is not just on the bullied. It is on the witnesses too.

And if we we’ve learned anything about bullies, it’s that bullying unchecked in children only grows with them.

If you truly want to make America great, start with the little actions you can take every single day to set a good example and to hold people accountable for their harmful words and actions.

We are all witnesses, so we all have some work to do.

I’ll close by showing you some of Michael’s artwork. Since he was a young child, he’s carried a small plastic briefcase with him everywhere he goes. It contains his sketchpads and art supplies so that he can stop and draw whenever he feels that he needs to calm down. Drawing has always been a common denominator throughout his life to manage his anxiety. His artwork is incredible. He draws what he sees in the world.

He has faced more bullying and cruelty and people taking advantage than most of us will ever face in a lifetime. And yet he draws what he sees.

He draws his friends, his family members, his heroes, saints, buddhas and bodhisattvas. His subjects all have one thing in common: they are calm and compassionate people who have sought to make the world a better place.

When faced with some of the worst in the world, Michael reflects only compassion, patience, and accountability.


I want to be just like him when I grow up.

 

 

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Happy Thank a Woman Day!

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Some days I remember how freaking lucky I am to have so many incredible women in my life. Today is one of those days. So I made up a holiday for it. Happy Thank a Woman Day!

I took a minute to reflect this morning on all the amazing women in my life, and so here is my thank you to them. Please take a minute to reach out to the inspirational women in your life and tell them you’re grateful for them.

So here are my thank yous: Continue reading

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#GivingTuesday

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Ah yes, here we are on this most hallowed #GivingTuesday; four days after #BlackFriday, one day after #ManCrushMonday, and two days before #ThrowbackThursday.

As you all know, sometimes other baseball fanbases make fun of the Oakland A’s because we are notoriously “small market” – let’s show them that while we might be small market, we have damn huge hearts.

I encourage everybody to give to a cause that means something to them. Here are some organizations that mean something to Sean and me. Sean is telling me that it should be “Sean and I” but Sean is an idiot.

[Update: Sean would like me to clarify that he is not an idiot, in fact he attended one of the most prestigious public universities this country has to offer. I still say it’s “Sean and me” though.]

Anyway, here are the organizations we absolutely love:

Operation Finally Home: They build mortgage-free homes for wounded veterans and their families. We love the work they do because unlike other home-building organizations for vets, they actually give the deed to the families (vs. waiting years to hand over the deed). They also build the homes to fit the needs of the given veteran.

That means if the veteran has physical injuries, they fit the home to meet those specifications. If the veteran has those invisible scars of PTSD or TBI, Operation Finally Home helps them create their own network of support in their new community.

As some of you may know, Sean’s father is an Air Force veteran. He received a Bronze Star for his service. My brother TJ currently serves in the Air Force as well, and I worry about him every single day. Our good friend and fellow A’s fan Dereck serves in the Army and we first connected with him while he was serving overseas in Afghanistan. You may recognize Dereck’s hat that Sean hangs in his locker as a reminder that there are so many men and women out there making far bigger sacrifices than any of us will ever make.

You can support them by donating here, and if you are a builder or developer, you can support them by donating your services or by donating lots/selling them to Operation Finally Home at cost.

You can also support them by purchasing the limited edition Sword & Plough rucksack – 100% of the net proceeds go directly to Operation Finally Home, and you’ll also be supporting Sword & Plough, which is an apparel line founded by two Westpoint grads and employing veterans at each stage of production and distribution.

And if you would like, we can connect you with some Operation Finally Home recipients who are not yet able to afford a nice holiday season for their families. You can help by purchasing Christmas presents for their children.

If you are interested in making their holidays extra special, please leave a comment below this article with your email address and I will reach out to you with more details.

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Sean with Dereck after a game reminding the world how large his head is

Alameda County Community Food Bank: This is the food bank that serves Oakland and the surrounding county. Today only, they will match donations dollar for dollar, which means they can turn every dollar donated into $12 worth of food. 

The ACCFB serves 1 out of every 5 Alameda county residents. I failed several math classes, but Sean assures me that means that at some point each year, 20% of our county has needed the services the ACCFB provides. Beyond that, 1 out of every 3 children in Alameda county faces the threat of hunger. In this country where we have so much, there shouldn’t even be one child facing the threat of hunger.

You can help out by volunteering, donating food, or donating money. Given that 20% of Alameda county has visited the food bank at some point this year, you never know; it might be your own neighbor that you are helping.

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It’s On Us: It’s On Us supports victims of campus rape and sexual assault. They help teach meaningful consent so that we can protect men and women from sexual assault. It also empowers friends and bystanders to help intervene to prevent potential assaults. They help colleges and universities improve and increase transparency in their enforcement of policies designed to protect students.

You can take the pledge here, and you can donate here.

I was a victim of assault in college. I can’t change the past. I can’t take back what was taken from me. But thanks to organizations like It’s On Us, I know that future assaults will be prevented. That does so much for me and for other sexual assault survivors. They do wonderful work and Sean and I are absolutely committed to joining the fight to help end sexual assault and rape.

If you’d like to support RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), you can do so here.

And if you know someone who was a victim, I encourage you to share the National Sexual Assault Hotline number at 800.656.HOPE or they can visit online.rainn.org.

Here are some other projects and organizations we’ve supported in the past,  if you’re interested:

  • IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) – supports all post-9/11 vets by creating networks of support, providing resources, and passing legislation to support veterans. You can donate here.
  • Best Buddies International – This is a great organization that my older brother Michael introduced me to. He has autism and Best Buddies worked with him to create one-to-one friendships with members of our community.  They pair individuals with intellectual disabilities with friends nearby. His “buddies” have helped his social skills, which in turn helped his job skills and his life skills. He now lives semi-independently, he works full time at a Marine Corps recruit depot by serving meals to the recruits, and he is going to a local community college. None of this would have been possible without the skills and the confidence he gained through Best Buddies. I love the work they do, and I highly recommend getting involved by joining as a buddy, or by donating.

Thank you everybody for considering some of the causes we love. I encourage you all to tweet at Sean and at me telling us about the organizations you are supporting today. We’ll be sure to check them out!

May you have a great #GivingTuesday, a wonderful #WomanCrushWednesday, and beyond!

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Here’s a Better Idea

[Update on 11/20/15: I’m embarrassed to say that I briefly deleted this post. I re-read the way I’d phrased things and I thought it might have come across as bragging or being holier-than-thou. This is the phenomenon known as Catholic Guilt. That was absolutely never my intention. I only wanted to enumerate the many ways that one can help. But I forgot the ol’ never let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.

I also received several comments and emails expressing fear about “radicalization” – I address that too in this update. All updated parts are in []. Again, you can support Syrian Community Network here.]

If you’re anything like me, you watched with shock and sadness as so many governors issued statements that they would be refusing any further Syrian refugees in their respective states.

The state I’m originally from (Illinois), the state my boyfriend Sean is originally from (New Jersey), and the state in which we both currently live (Arizona). All three states joined so many others in saying they would turn away these refugees because they are afraid some of them might be ISIS sympathizers.

There are 12 million people, half of whom are children, who have fled their homes in Syria escaping ISIS and civil war. Before ISIS, many faced mass executions of near-genocidal proportions under the Assad regime in Syria. Many others escaped a life of religious persecution. But they were all desperate enough to have to leave their home with no promise of another home.

I’ve never felt that desperate. I’ve never had to choose homelessness. But I know some people who have. My family came to this country from a poor and war-torn Ireland within the last century.

My grandfather James Dolan’s (a.k.a. “Grumpy”) family left County Cavan in the north of Ireland, which had been home to many of the battles. Considered by many to be a terrorist organization, the Irish Republican Army had brought many of their active rebellions and guerrilla warfare to their hometown. Many civilians died in what was considered an active rebellion against our own ally Great Britain.

When they came to this country, it would have been very easy for them to be mistaken for those who would wish to commit terrorist activities when all they really wanted to do was to give their children a better life free from war and poverty.

They settled in Chicago. They were met with distrust, animosity, and scorn.

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My grandfather James Patrick Dolan (left). Do not trust these babies under any circumstances.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it is the story of so many immigrants when they settle in America. Nearly every new generation of immigrants faces similar scorn and distrust when they first settle here. Germans, Irish, Polish, African slaves, Chinese, Italians, people from Central and South America.

At one point, one of our nation’s founding fathers, Ben Franklin, had this to say about German immigrants:

“Few of their children in the country learn English… The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages … Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.”

He worried that the ones who immigrated to the U.S. were, “generally of the most ignorant stupid sort of their own nation”

I can think of at least three recent political speeches that have had similar rhetoric.

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Our Statue of Liberty, a gift from the French, bears this inscription:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

My grandparents and great-grandparents were very poor, they were very tired, and as far as I could tell, they were lifelong huddlers. They probably would not have appreciated being called wretched refuse, but surely they’d been called worse.

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Grumpy’s family arrived to limited job prospects, poor housing options, and politicians who thought them inferior to the Americans already living here.

But they stayed in this country because they loved its traditions. They loved White Sox baseball, they loved schools for their children, they loved their neighbors, they loved the music, food, movies, but most of all they loved the opportunity.

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James Dolan, his family, and his knee socks settled on the west side of Chicago

You would have to be head over heels in love with a country to counteract the fact that some of its people actively discriminated against you.

I understand how lucky they were to have the skin color they did. I know there are other immigrants here who took far longer to be accepted. Many are still fighting for equal opportunities.

I’m not breaking new ground by telling this story about my family. In fact, I’m telling the story of many of you reading this.

I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic high school, I lived in Paris and studied theology at L’Institut Catholique de Paris for college, and I graduated from University of San Diego with a degree with Theology and Religious Studies.

I can’t say I use that degree much (at all) in my day-to-day life. But just as in any field of study, there are some fundamentals we learned:

1. Jesus demands that we care for the most vulnerable among us. The poor, homeless, sick, imprisoned, oppressed, abused, and helpless.

2. He demands that we not only help the world’s vulnerable, but that we do it especially when it is uncomfortable. Jesus only told us to do what he himself did. He touched lepers, he interacted with vagrants and outcasts, he healed sick people who were almost certainly contagious, he traveled to places where he knew he wasn’t welcome, he washed the feet of his friends, he died on a cross. None of that was comfortable. But he did it because he expected us to do it too (but pls don’t try to die on a cross – 0 stars, would not advise).

3. Everything is to be done in the spirit of Matthew 25:34-40:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?’ The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

When I lived in Paris, one of my favorite bookstores was the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Over the front door there was a sign with a quote from William Butler Yeats, my grandfather’s favorite poet. It reads, “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”

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The other day, that bookstore made headlines. It sheltered around 20 people during the ISIS attacks in Paris last week. They darkened the windows and allowed people to use their phone to call home. They could have easily turned these desperate people away. They could have shuttered their windows and locked their doors, afraid that anybody entering might bring the carnage outside into the bookstore with them. But they didn’t. They took the strangers in.

About three weeks ago, Grumpy (the Yeats groupie) passed away. One of his favorite holidays was Thanksgiving. When his family came to this country, it was one of the first American traditions they embraced. I have so many memories of him at Thanksgiving with his wife, their ten children and their children’s spouses, and their children’s children – all thirty of us grandkids.

It will certainly be strange to have a Thanksgiving celebration without him. But I know a way we can still have him there with us. We can bring one of his earliest associations with American hospitality and togetherness to local Syrian refugees. Hear me out…

Sean and I will be in Chicago for Thanksgiving next week. The Chicago-based Syrian Community Network has housed and supported around 15 refugee families in the Chicagoland area over the last couple of years.

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New Chicagoans: Syrian refugee Fadi Adris with his two sons (photo courtesy of Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)

Sean and I (along with my family) will join Syrian Community Network next week by hosting all of their refugee families for a big Thanksgiving dinner to welcome them to America.

If you live in Chicago, these people are your neighbors. They need winter coats, non-perishable food, children’s school supplies, and personal items too. If you can’t personally donate items or money, you can donate your time. You can help them build resumes, fill out job applications, or offer job training or English lessons.

You can donate to their fundraiser here or here.

If you’d rather give globally, you can also support by donating to the International Committee of the Red Cross. They are working directly with the refugee camps in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan.

[NOTE: The International Rescue Committee is also going to be hosting a Northern California Thanksgiving dinner with Syrian refugee families in the Bay Area. I encourage all of my Oakland friends to attend that. You can find more information about it here.]

There are 2,174 Syrian refugees already living in this country. The White House director of communications recently said, “2,174 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the US after a vigorous vetting process. ZERO have been arrested or removed on terrorism charges.”

Further, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner added, “Refugees are subjected to the strictest security vetting of any travelers entering the USA and those from Syria are subjected to an additional level of scrutiny above that.”

[These 15 refugee families in Chicago are already here. They underwent years of intensive vetting by the United Nations, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies. They undergo dozens of interviews here and abroad. They provide biometric data and extensive contact information about their support network already in the U.S.

According to former ISIS hostage Nicolas Henin, “they fear our unity more than our airstrikes.” And the last thing they want is for us to support these refugees because, according to Henin, “central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence.”

Changing hearts and minds is not something that can be done from the “top down” – that is, you can’t expect politicians or laws or military actions to change the way people view one another and how they act toward each other as a result.

Hearts and minds are changed through small actions that we all have the ability to take every single day.

We see on the news that we should fear these refugees, half of whom are children. That there’s a chance they could “radicalize” once they get here. I in no way want to even lend credence to this fear, but wouldn’t you say that the single best way to prevent radicalization is through one-on-one ambassadorship?

Like it or not, you are an ambassador for this country. Everything you do has the propensity to be perceived as our culture to those who are new here. Don’t waste your ambassadorship. Our culture is our greatest asset.

During some of the Cold War’s coldest years, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and many other African American musicians became “Jazz Ambassadors”. They were sent on official U.S. diplomacy missions to many places along the Iron Curtain as well as to developing nations. Their job? Not to sit down with heads of state and hammer out nuanced diplomatic strategies. But to play music. To bring our culture to the world.

These were African American musicians who faced countless discriminations at home, but they didn’t bring that abroad. They brought their music.

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If you don’t have music, bring what you do have. Coats, school supplies, non-perishable food items, etc. But most importantly, bring your sense of hospitality to a stranger. Consider that your diplomatic mission.]

I encourage you to find an organization that supports refugee families in your neighborhood. Welcome them. Ask them if they need help.

Because when you reject the least of us, you reject Christ.

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A’s Fans: Let’s Honor Sgt. Scott Lunger

As many of you know, Hayward Police Department Sgt. Scott Lunger was tragically killed on duty last week during a routine traffic stop. This is a huge loss to his family, to his friends, to his colleagues, and of course to our entire community.

Sgt. Lunger was also a huge Oakland A’s fan, as you can tell by these photos provided by his family. After all, only a true fan would wear an A’s 2014 Playoffs sweatshirt like Sgt. Lunger below…

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It’s obvious that Sgt. Lunger meant the world to his community, so when we learned just how much the A’s meant to Sgt. Lunger, Sean and I thought this would be a unique opportunity to show his family and the Hayward PD that we appreciate everything that he did, and that the sacrifice he made did not go unnoticed.

As I sit here at work watching MLB Network (don’t tell my boss) with anxiety about the trade deadline – are we next? Are we safe? Do we have to move? Do my friends/Sean’s teammates have to move? I can’t help but think about Sgt. Lunger’s family. He left behind two beautiful daughters and a sweet and gracious fiancee.

I can’t help but think about all of the other families with partners/fathers/mothers/children in law enforcement. How when they say goodbye before a shift, it could have a very different meaning. And it puts everything in perspective.

We are pretty damn lucky. If my biggest concern is saying goodbye to my boyfriend while his baseball team goes on the road for a week, it’s safe to say I have nothing to complain about. There are those out there who make sacrifices for their families and for their communities, sometimes with their own safety or lives.

That’s why we are going to set up a booth to collect notes and letters of support for Sgt. Lunger and his family/colleagues. I want to surprise them with the show of support on the Aug. 9th Oakland A’s Law Enforcement Game. Tickets are still available, so please come to this game to help us celebrate our local law enforcement officers, first responders, emergency workers, and their families – I know you’ve heard this from me before, but I want those stands to be PACKED that day!

Come by our table behind section 120 at the O.Co Coliseum this Friday through Sunday (July 31 – August 2) from the time the gates open until the end of the third inning. Drop off any letters of support you’ve either already written at home, or you can write one on-site on one of the blank cards we have on hand.

I want his family to have something to help them look back on and remember the positive impact he made on the A’s community. And what better way than by delivering them hundreds and hundreds of letters of support, gratitude, and of course, condolence from A’s fans.

And if you are able, I encourage you to attend his public memorial service tomorrow, Thursday, 7/30 at 10am, at the Oracle Arena in Oakland.

If you can’t make it to a game this weekend to drop off a letter, please mail them by 8/4 to the following address:

Oakland Athletics attn: Sgt. Lunger Family Letters – 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621

I look forward to meeting you all this weekend behind section 120 to help us honor Sgt. Lunger and his family the way they deserve.

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Oakland Athletics Pride Night 2015

My A's family

UPDATE ON 3/30/15: 

Thank you all for supporting this effort. Since posting this, the response has been (unsurprisingly) overwhelmingly positive. Many have offered to donate their tickets for this effort, and others have offered to donate money to buy tickets. My boyfriend, Oakland A’s pitcher Sean Doolittle, has agreed to match any tickets I purchase. And we also started a GoFundMe account to collect donations to fill the stands at this game. You can donate here. Sean and I will match donations up to $3000. We will use the donations to buy tickets to the 6/17 Pride Night game and donate them to Our Space LGBTQI Community Center for teens and young adults. Thank you in advance for your generosity! 

As some of you know, the Oakland Athletics will be hosting their first LGBT Pride Night on June 17.  Hopefully this will be the first of many such A’s events. You can purchase tickets here.

Many people don’t know this about me, but I have two moms. My biological mom Kathy and her partner Elise (who grew up in the Bay Area) are both die-hard A’s fans as well as super gay. Like, they’re so gay for each other that they’ve fostered a long-term loving relationship likely no different from any heterosexual loving relationships you’ve seen or been a part of.

My moms are transplant San Diegans living amongst all of the San Diego Padres fans. The team the Athletics will play (and beat) on Pride Night? The San Diego Padres. This night was made for them. In fact I’m starting to suspect that the Athletics focus-grouped this event idea with just my two moms and nobody else.

It couldn’t be any more perfectly tailored to my moms than if the team announced that NPR’s Terry Gross will also be throwing out the first pitch and there will be a free notepad giveaway on which my moms can write down all of the reasons I should have majored in something more practical in college.

Terry Gross

However, as soon as the Athletics announced the LGBT Pride Night event on social media, I was saddened to read some of the replies about their decision to have a night of inclusion for the LGBT community.

Many season ticket holders (certainly not all of them) indicated a desire to sell their tickets to that game so that they wouldn’t have to attend. So that gave me an idea. Here goes:

Dear season ticket holders who wish to sell their tickets for LGBT Pride Night,

Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs and as long as nobody is getting hurt, I’m happy. I also can’t stop you from selling your tickets. I won’t tell you that you are wrong or that you are not allowed to think or act that way.

We live in a free country, after all. You are free to think and say and do whatever you’d like. In fact just this morning I used my freedom to eat yogurt with a steak knife because I ran out of clean spoons (because SOMEone forgot to turn on the dishwasher last night). Who was going to stop me? That’s right. Nobody. Nice try bin Laden.

I ended up cutting the corner of my mouth on the knife, and it wasn’t one of my brightest decisions. But I may have just invented a DIY smile enhancement. And I will sue you if you steal my idea. #America

I digress. So, A’s fans; if attending a baseball game on LGBT Pride Night makes you at all uncomfortable, it is probably a good idea to sell your tickets. And I have the perfect buyer. ME!

If you’d like to sell your tickets to June 17th’s LGBT Pride Night game, I will buy them from you at face value. As many as I can. No judgments. No questions asked.

From there, I will donate any tickets I purchase to the Bay Area Youth Center’s Our Space community for LGBTQ youth.

That way you don’t have to feel uncomfortable, and the seats don’t go to waste. It’s win-win.

Please tweet at me (@EireannDolan) if you’d like to sell me your tickets. I’ll purchase as many unwanted tickets as I can out of my own pocket. I also encourage other A’s fans to do the same. Let’s fill the stands that night!

Love,

Eireann and my hella gay moms

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Stella: Good for the Building, Good for the Bay Area

Stella Willy Loman

Sean and I are looking for an apartment in the Bay Area to rent during this coming baseball season. It’s not always easy trying to find a place to live for six or seven months at a time. When the realtor asks when the move out date is and you say ehhhhh Septemberish, but hopefully the end of October? you can almost see them imagining themselves throwing out your application in favor of one of the bazillions of tech people applications.

Google or GTFO

So when we finally found a lead on a new building with everything we needed, we thought it was too good to be true. It allows dogs. We have space to put my office. No ghosts (that we know of… the realtor didn’t spend much time focusing on the paranormal specs of the building). A gym for me to tell people I worked out in even though I probably spent that time watching King of the Hill at home and wondering if gummy worms would taste good dipped in Nutella (yes, right?).

The only catch was that we had to create a resume for our dog to attach to our application. I asked the realtor if this meant just like, a few sentences about Stella explaining her breed, health, and temperament. The realtor said, “think of it as a formal resume that you might submit when you are seeking a job.”

Oh well when you put it like that…

I don’t know how to make a person resume, so making one for a dog was no easy task.

I think I did as well as I could, all things considered.

Please keep your fingers crossed that we get approved.

Stella

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