Thursday, July 29, 2010

We Should Tell Our Family Stories

My Great Uncle Albert
An Environmentalist to His Heart
One of my greatest regrets is not getting the stories from my Aunt Ollie. She was an incredibly gifted singer and what was really great about her is that she knew everything about the family. Being the oldest child of my grandmother she would tell a story with my mother, bringing her up-to-date on what was happening, remembering some family anecdote and the laughter was contagious. Even though I heard a plethora of stories while growing up, I didn't take the time to keep them in my heart and mind. There are gaps and when I ask my aunt and uncle (still living), they either don't remember a particular story, or didn't ever hear it. So, today, as I add another birthday to my life, this is about getting our family stories. Good. Bad. Silly. Funny. Sad. Joyful. You need to get these stories and find a way to share them with other family members.
     Here's the other thing I know. I'm not going to be here forever. Not that I want to be here forever. Got give room to those that come after me, but I do want to leave them with something. I'm a storyteller and I never tire of telling stories. But, unfortunately a lot of the stories I tell are not my family stories and guess what, I'm missing a lot of good stories to share. Like the time my grandmother admonished my cousins and I to leave the painters alone while they painted her upstairs apartment. We had been running up and down the stairs. The apartment seemed like a playhouse with the furniture covered or gone. The halls and rooms echoed in ways that were thrilling to our child's mind. Still, my grandmother, Mother we called her, said we had to stop pestering the painters and let them do their work. Basically, we were good kids, but it was too tempting once she left to go the store.
     Come on, my cousin Michael extolled. Mother won't be back for while. Let's just go and look.
     But grandmother said ... I started to explain and was quickly silenced.
     You a baby? my cousin Mary Adell asked.
     So, up the stairs I trudged with my cousins. However, while they peeked in closets and asked the painters a million questions, I silently stood and looked out the back window. Grandmother had told us not to be upstairs. I admit it. I was scared. Lost in my thoughts, however, I had stopped watching and as I looked out the window, I saw my grandmother coming briskly across the courtyard of the apartment complex. I looked around for my cousins, but they were in other rooms and if I yelled out to them, well ... I didn't and scooted down the stairs. When the screen door slammed, Michael, Fred and Mary Adell looked like a routine from the three stooges as they bumped into each other as they headed down to the bottom of the stairs.
     Where was I? Sitting on the couch, my head in a book. Needless to say, they got it. Grandmother spanked them all soundly and sat them on the couch, where snuffling and sniffling, they cast baled eyes in my direction. They were gonna kill me when they got me alone, I knew, but I'd rather suffer their wrath than Miss Elaine's.
     I will always remember my grandmother's words. P.K., now don't lie and tell me you weren't up there, too, she said knowingly. But, I'm here to tell you that if you do anything else that you're not supposed to do, I'm going to whip you for that and this. Then she headed into the kitchen, where she excelled, by the way, and fixed us lunch.
     That's a story worth telling. We do, but when I die, will any of the young people know that story or understand the ramifications of not minding your elders? I don't think so. So, I went to Oroville, California last week and took my little camera to get a couple of stories about my uncle. This story is about the work he is doing. He, after retiring from the service of teaching, wants gardens throughout the community. People gotta eat he tells me and he's right. But, it is more than that. There is still time to get his story and to remember it. With technology today, anyone who is not sharing their family stories is limiting their family legacies. Go and get one of those stories today.
     This is real peace. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Value of a T-Shirt

Remembering Why I Wore It
I was cleaning out my closets and drawers and found my Obama t-shirts. I have a few of them. They are collector's items for me, a time of remembrance and joy. It is said that a picture is worth a “thousand words” and this sentiment was properly invoked during the last presidential election. No matter what side of the fence you were on in that election, buttons and t-shirts were the stars of Obama's campaign as never before in history. And—truth be told—Obama t-shirts were the hottest items of the day. During those last 24-months of that campaign, t-shirts held sway over the sentiments of those who supported Obama and even those who didn’t. T-Shirts with slogans like “Obama Mama” and “Barack and Roll” were just a few that caught my eye, especially on November 4 where if you didn’t have an Obama t-shirt on, you at least had a button or two. I, myself, wore my t-shirt that said “Think Peace” because for me, voting for Barack was my way of looking at a new day that ushers in peace. I was literally “Thinking Peace!”
     As an aside, however, I will add that peace is not the absence of conflict, but how you conduct yourself in the midst of that conflict. Obama represented for me the “way” in solving conflicts. It was this challenge that encouraged people to literally wear their thoughts on their sleeves (or chest, if you will). But, what does it mean to wear the statement of Obama on your head or body? The feeling from those I interviewed was that it was a statement that was beyond words, but that wearing it was also a commitment, a firm one at that.
     This commitment was in many forms. It was a commitment to participate in a process that far too many have been apathetic about or worse, resigned that it would never be different. It was a commitment that included young people and people of diverse religions, ethnicities, social class, just to name a few. It was a commitment to stand for something and not fall for anything—anymore.
     I asked many questions that night. What do you want to see happen first in an Obama presidency? What makes Obama different from the other candidates? What are some of the hurdles he has to overcome? Can he really make a difference? What I’ve found is that young people are not gullible. They are looking at the issues, especially those that concern them. They are paying attention and they are a force be reckoned with.
     Still, gullibility is not an issue. Obama being elected was not about our gullibility, but of faith and hope. Not faith as in blind and not hope as in a great wish. Yes, it was about change, definitely, only we know that electing a black man doesn't change anything. Ask any black person about affirmative action. Having one black person in a multitude of whites doesn't change the landscape and for that we, with faith and hope as our anchor, must now add hard work and commitment to the change we seek.
     Anyway, looking at my t-shirts and remembering November 4, 2008, it got me to thinking. What is the value of a t-shirt? I mean, the t-shirts are worn--but not so worn. Big, but the better to see, my dear. The value of the t-shirt? History. Absolutely. So, I put my t-shirts back, folded neatly and tucked away safely. I'll give it a little more time as to what history tells us, however. I believe that history will tell us whether change came after all.

Amazing Grace - Wintley Phipps

Understanding Our Stories Through Song
My Aunt Ollie could sing with the same vibrancy of Mahalia Jackson. She was also a storyteller. I wish I could sing as well as she, but I can tell a story. I also know a good story when I hear one. A good story changes you. Slightly. Vastly. Sometimes and often times irrevocably. The best stories are like that. It makes you see another in a light that not only helps you undestand, but know. What do I know? I mean, what do I know after a good story? I know that there is goodness and that we are all capable of it. I know that life is good even going across its rocky terrain. Ups and downs. Storms and Sun. Life is good! and so are people.
     I was blind. But, now I see.
     That's what a good story does for you.
     'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace, my fear released.
     I have had so many ups and downs this past six years, I have felt like surrendering. The only reason I haven't surrendered it is that I haven't been sure what I'd be surrendering or surrendering to. I know that I am called to a life of storytelling. I also know that there is no job description for what I do and what I am called to do, but I do know that I can't NOT do it.
     In this video, Wintley Phipps talks about the genesis of the song Amazing Grace. Everyone I have had a chance to show this video are moved by Phipp's storytelling. Most of these individuals know the song Amazing Grace and most love it. The interesting factor about this song and this story is that it doesn't matter what the faith of the individual I share this story with. They all resonate with the story, its meaning and my connection to it. They feel ... They know ...
     Slightly. Vastly. This story creates an irrevocable change. In the person. It changes me a little more each time I share it with others, too. Why does it change me--yet again and again? I think, no I know ... it is because this story is one in which once two people share it, they know more about each other than they knew before. It is a story that lends itself to intimacy.
     So, if you watched the video before you have had an opportunity to read what I've written, it would be interesting to know what you think. If you have read first and then watched the video, what do you know about me now? Either way, I'd like to know what this story does for you. Call it an experiement. Humor me. Share with me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Peace Hour and The Library

Join me at the Cesar Chavez Library in Salinas, California for a new type of broadcasting. As you know Think Peace Radio was all about the children. Actually, I believe that peace should be, too. Learn more about the work of The Peace Hour as I teach broadcasting and nonviolence to teenagers, ages 12 to 19. For more information contact me at 831-250-6860. Reach One! Teach One! and they will teach each other.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Do You See Me?

The black and white of a fair life is that life isn't fair. Or more specifically, "Life Ain't Fair!" Still, as quoted by Calvin in the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon (through creator Bill Watterson), "I know the world isn't fair, but why isn't it ever unfair in my favor." So, when I say, "Let's Be Fair," what am I really asking? I think we should stop and think about it for this reason. Life isn't fair. In the grand scheme of things, perhaps we should be glad.
     I remember the first time my daughter told me that life wasn't fair. She was lamenting the fact that something wasn't going her way and she was most thoroughly peeved about it.
     "It's not fair," she protested. "It isn't fair that ..." and proceeded to tell me what "it" was and why it wasn't fair, to which I replied:
     "Baby, if life were fair, you'd have come here with a job! As it is, you came here broke, hungry and naked. How fair was that to me?"
      I now know what incredulous looks like because she stood there incredulously--for about a hot moment. Then she said, "But, I didn't ask to be born!" In other words, it wasn't her fault. But, again, mother that I am and fast with the reply, I told her ...
     "Au contraire, my sweet. But you did!" Then I explained the dynamics of which came first, the chicken or the egg. "Before you were a twinkling in my eye," I explained, "God knew you best and knowing you as well as I do, I'm quite confident that it was you who picked me to be your mom."
     The lesson, however, has stuck with her over the years as it has me. I didn't want my daughter thinking that life was fair because I know the heartache in it. My father, on the other hand, told me that hard work was its own reward and not to always expect something from doing what is right, but OH, how jumbled a task that is. The reward, I believe, is a type of fairness. And still I know that life isn't fair.
"Life is not fair. Get use to it."
                                                Bill Gates, Software Mogul
     This is an ironic quote from a man whose life seems to have been handed more than his share of fair. Still, I have to admit that I only know his story from the newspapers and magazines that at one time lauded him as one of the richest men in the world. But, if Bill Gates is telling the world that life isn't fair, what does fair really mean and should we expect it after all? It's a jumbled mess, so to speak, but I think I'm learning something quite valuable here and perhaps I can share it with you. It isn't really about wanting life to be fair. I know that I am not going to always get what I want or even what I deserve (thank God for that!), but that somewhere in between the need for fairness, I am mostly asking to be seen and be heard. Which is ironic since I am 6'3" and often seen and I do radio and I write, which means that I am being heard.
     So, what am I really asking with this need of mine for fairness? Well, I have had time to think. The last 9 years and 3 months have been made up of real teaching moments. Interestingly, this has also been the time of the Decade of Nonviolence and the urging of living Nobel Peace Laureates to create a culture of peace, justice and healing, which denotes, in my humble opinion, fairness. In this time, however, I survived cervical cancer. Another friend didn't. I thought my granddaughter would live. She died. Then my mother died right after I had been fired--unfairly, I believe--and then my father died and I couldn't find a real job in my field--and ... well, you get it. At least I hope you do or this teaching moment may be wasted. Which, of course, isn't fair.
    Still, I didn't think that life was unfair. I considered that life was made up of all the ups and downs that happen through the course of one's life. In all honesty, the ups and downs seemed to be for most of my life on the positive side. I wouldn't trade the hardships, not even the most recent ones, but that's what makes me who I am and who I am yet to be. There were times though that I felt that my life's woes were more than one person could take, but comparing it with others, I had my right mind, I was still breathing and opportunities (and hope) were still mine to pursue life with. I could and did deal with it. While knowing that I couldn't always have a life full of fairness on my terms (everyone has a way they'd like to see things transpire), I felt heard and I felt supported. That was when it hit me. The times that seemed most challenging were often met with support. Cancer. My sisters and brothers throughout the world, came to my rescue, anchoring me, sustaining me. When my granddaughter died, there they were. My mother. Same thing. I was heard. I was seen.
     So when is life unfair to me? Those challenging times where I feel alone. Alone because those dearest to me didn't understand why I was bothered. As one friend said, "You're better off without ..." whatever situation I was lamenting. They didn't hear. Others said, "You're stronger than they are!" Interestingly, just this past week, one woman told me, "You're powerful. Scary powerful." Huh? Here's the lesson and this statement from someone who I don't see often or haven't discussed a lot of what goes on in the world, hers or mine, except peripherably, gave me the most insight. She saw me in ways I didn't see myself. Because the truth is, for all my strength and faith, sometimes I feel so powerless. Powerless to change systems of injustices, inequities, bigotry and the other angst of the world that continue to separate us--continues to divide. When it is all said and done, I am powerless to make myself heard or seen when it matters to me. That's the unfairness.
     I want to shout ... "You knew what I felt like when I was sick or when death knocked on my loved ones' door, but when I ask you to look at systems of privilege and apathy, when I beg you to understand that unless a system changes, I can look forward to more heartache, you can't hear me and truth is, you don't want to see me. These are the most frustrating times in my life. I am not heard. I get so frustrated and yes, angry, because I know that it is easier to turn your head than to face this challenge head on. It means that you might have to change. I know I have to change. Instead I feel and realize that sometimes people don't want to look at what we want them to see. I also know that it is not always apathy, but it is usually fear and impotency. An impotency that says, "We can't change those things. They've been with us for eons."
     Truth is that sometimes we see and that sometimes we do not--I'm sorry but we don't. It's that simple. And for me, that's not fair! Why can't you see? What can't you hear? I still don't understand because here's what I believe. How can you not hear the person you're in relationship with? How can you not want to see? It is not about coming to my rescue. It's about understanding and listening. It's about me knowing that you will listen, but also hear me. It's about relationship. And it is also about witness. Because if you are witness to the unfairness of a situation, you and I can be the change we wish to see.

Life is never fair, and perhaps for some of us
it's a good thing that it is not."
                                       Oscar Wilde, Irish Poet and Novelist
     I like the idea that life can be somewhat unfair because it gives us something to work on. I also know that somethings take time. That's why I nurse my disappointments so that I can try again. And when I say, me. I'm not talking the "I" person who wrote this blog, but the "I" of all of us and recognizing the things that do go bump in the night--are not our imaginations, but real and genuine "unfairness" that must be challenged. On the whole, I think that when I say I'd like to see a world of fairness, I am talking about a place where everyone can be heard--no matter who they are. In the glorious splendor of our Earth, I am asking to be heard, but also to hear.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Peace Words Coloring Book ...

What does peace mean?
You're invited to participate in The Peace Hour's project of creating “Peace Word Coloring” books to be used to help young people understand the true meaning of peace. What we have found is that peace is more than a concept, but for many it is something that is unattainable simply because we can't define it in ways so that everyone can understand--understand their role in peacemaking, understand how peacemaking can happen, or understand that peace is possible (of course I believe it is inevitable, but that's another story). The goal of our project is making peace words into art and use them to help others understand the meanings of these words, how they are used, how they inspire and help us see peace more clearly.
“Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.” Plato
If you are so inspired, submit a word that you find exemplifies your understanding of “peace.” You can draw it, type it or otherwise illustrate the word. Find a quote or definition you think helps people understand the meaning of the word and write a 1-2 paragraph statement on how you think this word helps people become peacemakers. Send the artwork to the following address and enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope for our response to:
P.K. McCary
The Peace Hour
PO Box 450712
Houston, TX 77245-0712
The artwork must be your own work. Send us your name, address, email and phone number so that we may contact you. There is no payment for this except that all submissions accepted will be given a published coloring book and credit for the submission. We will not use the artwork for any other publication without asking your permission. Proceeds from the coloring book will be used to further the work of The Peace Hour's work with young people. Deadline for submissions is July 31, 2010.
Special Note: If you are a teacher, you may contact me directly at to talk about ways your class can participate in this endeavor.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Years that Ask Questions ...

The Decade of Nonviolence ...
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
Zora Neale Hurston
“,,, years that ask questions ...”
I have often said that the Decade of Nonviolence is a time “when the impossible becomes possible; when the possible becomes probable; and the probable becomes inevitable.” This first decade of the 21st Century seemingly brought more questions than answers and I have to say that it was often frustrating. This week I spoke with a group of young people at a private school in Houston and one young woman challenged me because as she put it, “I was expecting more answers to the questions I had about peacemaking.” Oddly enough, I remember saying quite clearly that at this stage in my peacemaking life I have more questions than answers. And I'm finding that giving people answers is not the purpose in being a peacemaker. Even on my show The Peace Hour, I found myself sharing the stories of peace in action, which is some ways might be considered answering some of the questions on how we do this or that, but more it was an opportunity for discovery. Why does it work? How does it work? How can we get others to create more of the same (i.e., positive, integrity-filled, helpful models of peace)? I do now believe that this Decade was a chance to look at all that we've accomplished and didn't accomplish these past 20 centuries and question why or why not. These were the years of questioning.

“... and years that answer.”
And now we must move forward and answer some of the hard questions, the hardest question of all being how do we live together on this planet in harmony? The answer. With careful consideration for one another. Simple answer. No, I don't think so. Within that answer is no simple formula nor does it leave you with all questions answered, but it is the answer. We have to work at building a world that we can live in and we have to do it with due diligence knowing that we can't wait and that without having this answer as the ultimate answer for all of the questions, we cannot work out how we do it. We must first believe in the answer. Then we must do everything in our power to see that it happens.
     These are the years of answers. We have assessed where we are this decade and here's what we do know. We know that “War is not the answer for the world today.” We know that like the late Howard Zinn espoused, “Every war is against children.” What other answers make sense? Still, I know that eliminating war completely will take time (although we must make the decision to do it first) and I know that peace is NOT the absence of conflict. We must instead learn alternatives to war (the answers) and learn how to handle conflict without destroying one another. I also think that the answer comes from deciding to be a peacemaker. Then after making the decision, work on yourself because if you're a peacemaker whose goal is to change the world, you have to start with yourself.
     I want to thank my friend, Andrea, for reminding me of this quote. When you ponder on this quote, also think of the person who quoted it. Some might say that Zora's life bears scrutiny. She didn't succeed in life. She died a pauper. For those who might argue this, here is the answer. You can't argue with truth and you can't judge a person by how big his or her bank account is when he or she dies. If that's the case, I guess we should discard the words of Jesus, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, King and others who struggled in this life to harness the power of humanity for the earth. If you dissect their lives, some might say they failed. But, we're living the years that answer because they dared to ask the questions in the first place.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Wake Up Everybody ...

This is the day that God has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Okay, everybody sing with me ...

Wake up everybody no more sleepin' in bed

No more backward thinkin time for thinkin ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be so

There is so much hatred war an' poverty
Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way
Maybe then they'll listen to whatcha have to say
Cause they're the ones who's coming up and the world is in their hands
when you teach the children teach em the very best you can.

The world won't get no better if we just let it be
The world won't get no better we gotta change it yeah, just you and me.

Wake up all the doctors make the ol' people well
They're the ones who suffer an' who catch all the hell
But they don't have so very long before the Judgement Day
So won'tcha make them happy before they pass away.

Wake up all the builders time to build a new land
I know we can do it if we all lend a hand
The only thing we have to do is put it in our mind
Surely things will work out they do it every time.


The world won't get no better if we just let it be
The world won't get no better--

WE GOTTA CHANGE IT, YEAH ... Just you and me
Happy New Year from The Peace Hour and Think Peace Radio Network