Saturday, July 28, 2018

For Libby

The International gate at Henderson Airport in the 90s was a simple affair.  Anyone wishing to fly in to Honiara, Solomon Islands, did so in a tin can of a plane, hot and stuffed full of sweaty people mostly returning home, a few tourists, and the occasional expat.  That was us, the occasional expat, white on the outside but assimilated enough into Island culture to love and claim it for our own.

When the plane touched down on an impossible airstrip, the neat rectangle carved from a defiant jungle, the stewardess would walk down the aisle with an aerosol can in one hand, fumigating the cabin.  Henderson Field, originally RXI Airfield, was built by the Japanese military as a place to land their planes on Guadalcanal, in World War II. American Marines captured it before it was completed and renamed it Henderson.  After the war, the Islanders continued to use it as their main gateway to the Solomon Islands. It continues to serve this purpose today.

Us SITAGers (SITAG stands for Solomon Islands Translation Advisory Group) had a little tradition of gathering there at the International gate whenever one of our own was arriving at, or leaving, the country.  The leavings were always the hardest.

A little about SITAG.  We were a ragtag group of random missionaries, drawn together by a like calling for bible translation.  We came from the States, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and even the Netherlands. We were all white though, set apart from the people we had come to serve by our outward otherness and by the loss of our home cultures and families.  The void caused by our shared otherness and loss made us draw together. Us kids called all of the adults Aunt and Uncle, and the gang of us formed a pack of adopted cousins. We’d have potlucks, sleepovers, late nights playing under the frangipani trees, boys vs girls wars, and sometimes participate in a homeschooling conference with teachers imported for the occasion.  We had our rivalries and crushes and dramas and escapades, of which I want to write, but today is not the day. Today, I write about Henderson Field, and our tradition of leaving.

The leavings were always the hardest.

I remember saying goodbye to my friend Miriam when she was off to furlough.  She and her siblings weren’t wearing their Solomons play clothes anymore, but new and slightly alien looking Western outfits.  I knew this uncomfortable feeling of donning Western clothes, as if changing your outside would somehow make you feel Western on the inside.  The looming departure gate waiting on the periphery with patient inevitability. The adults talked and laughed as if smiling would ease the parting.  We kids put on brave faces because that’s what you do when leaving is a constant in your life.

The air in our group was thick with the knowledge of the leaving.  

I don’t remember the actual goodbye that night.  I usually can’t. What I do remember is the tangled mix of emotions.  Sadness of losing a friend. Resignation at the inevitable leaving. Anger at the gate for taking them and at the adults for letting it happen.  Relief that it wasn’t me who was going. Guilt at my relief.

For a missionary kid, leavings are one of our few guarantees.  

Another fellow SITAG kid left last week.  Libby of the bright eyes, of the impossibly wide smile.  Libby of the quick laugh and deep love. My missionary cousin.  She left, dressed in new clothes that don’t belong to this world.  Left through the departure gate alone, and the rest of us are standing on the earthly side in a sodden group wondering what to do now because leaving is inevitable.  Sad and resigned and angry and guiltily relieved it wasn’t us. Wishing it was us. We belong but don’t fully belong in this world. The next is a familiar unknown. The only thing that’s certain is that transition will come, and that leaving is inevitable.

If there’s one thing a missionary kid is good at, it’s goodbyes.

Goodbye Libby.  I wish you didn’t have to leave.  I know you went through the departure gate with bravery and a smile because you’re good at that.  Trailblaze the other side for us, because we’ll catch up with you eventually, the leaving after all is inevitable.  And until then, Love will connect our hearts.

“It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside-- but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond-- only a glimpse-- and heard a note of unearthly music.”

Saturday, May 7, 2016

16 and Alone: The Story of How Our Family Broke

This is a story which has gone untold since it happened.

The adults in my life then, did not know this was happening inside of me.

I have had several adults who knew me then, tell me in the later years, "You seemed so mature."  "You were so well adjusted."  "You took it so well."

This is the story of the beginning of the breaking of my family.  None of us could see it then, but Mom, Dad, my siblings and I look back now and can see clearly how this event precipitated a disconnect among all of us.  After years of healing, intentionality, and therapy for some of us, we've worked towards reconnection and a stronger, more healthy relationship.

I tell this story because I think it's important for missionary families (any families really) to recognize and process through traumatic events.  As family counselor Kay Bruner writes, you have to name things in order to heal from them.

I want to make it very clear that my mom, dad and I have spent hours talking through this event.  I am grateful that they have stepped back to provide space for me to talk about something that is painful for them to hear, given that they were the adults with agency and voice in this situation.  I wrote an article about the importance of parents listening to their kids, which will be published soon on another site.  I'll link to it here when that happens.  You can read that post, here.  


The day I left my island still lurks like a black hole in my memory.  I can recall flashes of it - the smell of turmeric stained onto my skin from the tear streaked kisses of my island aunties and friends.  Our little house swaying gently on its stilts, with boxes piled high on the veranda.  Getting into the canoe that would carry me to the waiting ship, not caring if my skirt got wet, pulling a cloth over my head to create a little cave.  A little space to breathe as I watched my island draw inexorably away, as I watched my village, my family, shrink to little brown dots on the shining beach.  

We were ‘only going on furlough’, but my parents had already told my older brother, 16, that he would not be coming back.  That this was it for him.  I was 14.  My parents told me that I could choose whether to stay in America, or come back to the Solomons with them.  I didn’t know really what to do with that, so when my village family asked why we were leaving, I responded with a lie that fit the cultural narrative.  “My aunties in America miss me,” I told them.  “It’s their turn to have me, so I’m going back to be with them.”  

This was a sound reason for the islanders.  On Luaniua, kids are passed around among extended family members, often staying with aunts and uncles for years at a time.  I know the islanders had always been curious about why we were so far from our own blood relatives, so this made a convenient and easy excuse, one the islanders wouldn’t try to push me on.  

I don’t remember much after getting on the ship.  The black hole vortex in my mind still holds with jealous secrecy most of the events from those months of transition.  I remember estatically eating Taco Bell in Guam, and my dad reprimanding us for using a nearby car hood as a prop for our food.  I remember walking through the brightly lit aisles of the Savers in Hawaii, trying to find a pair of shorts that didn’t make me feel naked.  I remember the spicy cedar smell of Austin at night.  Everything else is dark, hidden deep beneath an ever present pull of resentment and anger.  My two new friends.  

These friends helped me to keep some distance through summer camp in the Texas hill country, through my sophomore year in public high school.  Through youth group trips and lunch table discussions where I was lost and had to guess whether to smile or frown throughout the conversations.  Anger and resentment helped me transition in a slow metamorphosis from a turmeric stained, barefooted and hairy legged islander, to a Birkenstock and Old Navy wearing American teen, drenched in sunkissed raspberry body spray.  

The decision, whether to stay or go at the end of our year in America, was still mine, my parents said.  But I had already made up my mind back on Luaniua, when the island women were snuffling in my scent, their cheeks pressed against mine, a traditional mingling of the souls in farewell.  A deep part of me had broken off and was still swirling in that dangerous dark hole, and I could not repeat the experience.  I was afraid that if I did, there would be nothing left.  

The problem, then, was where would I stay?  My best friend’s family offered to let me stay in their old, familiar home.  It was on this house’s living room floor I had sat with the other brownies in my kindergarten Girl Scout troop, learning the Circle of Friends song.  Where I had participated in cookie bakes and playdates, where I had been me, before.  Before we became Missionaries.  Before the island took part of my soul.  

Another living option presented itself in the form of a family from our church, who responded to a little ad blip my parents had put in the church bulletin.  They were strangers, a young couple with a five year old son, with a pair of twins on the way.  Again, it was my choice, my parents said.  

In the end I chose the strangers, the ones who responded to an ad like I was a used couch or a dog someone couldn’t keep because they were moving.  I needed the space, the safe emotional distance with no knowing eyes seeing through the wall I had carefully built up around myself.  I didn’t want to be cared for.  I didn’t want to be understood.  I wanted to be left alone and to blend as seamlessly as possible into the fabric of my high school.  Any concerned adults got a polite but firm mask, held in place by my old friends resentment and anger.  

My mom took me shopping for a new bedspread for my room.  My dad helped me move my familiar furniture in.  I threw myself, in the weeks they were preparing to leave back to the Solomons, into feathering my new cave.  My new space to breathe.  I spread pictures and drawings across one entire wall, a mosaic of images that connected me to my island and also to my American friends.  My little twin bed with its new white cotton bedspread was tucked beneath the tiny room’s tall bay windows.  

It was the blinds of those windows that I closed against the sight of my parents walking away down the drive.  Against the sight of their car shrinking into nothing as it crested the cedar lined street.  It was that white spread onto which I curled, burying my silent screams into the pink crocheted throw pillow, as I was thrown back into the waiting black hole.  It was a relief when the darkness descended.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Of Traveling and Triggers

I sit, alone.  Alone but surrounded by the movements and the breaths of  hundred other people.  All packed tightly into this aluminum cylinder that will soon take us up, into the sky.  I’m taking a trip to a far away city, one that sits in a rain forest but not a tropical one.  Far away from the desert and the sun, from the gently greening cottonwood trees, from our musty adobe house.  From my three little loves and the one who stole my heart back when I was barely a woman.  It is a trip I’ve long planned and anticipated.  I will meet my sister there, and some old and dear friends.  

But for now I sit, alone.  

It is all so familiar.  How many countless airplane rides have I taken?  Sitting cocooned in a soft nest of airline pillows and scratchy blankets, more than my allotted share, given to me by an indulgent stewardess.  Drinking an illicit soda, that tickles its sparkling way over my tongue.  Always the sense of adventure, the sense of going into an exciting unknown.  Or a dimly remembered known.  I have no memories of sadness or fear, or anxiety, relating to childhood trans-Pacific flights.  

Why, then, am I smacked out of my present, as the flight attendant smilingly holds up the demonstration seat belt?  As he slips it in and out of its coupling, a practiced and graceful dance, my mind suddenly skitters sideways.  Slapped from the present into the past.  I am 9.  Or 12.  Or 15.  Watching this same practiced dance.  And tears fall freely as I bow my present day head.  Let my hair cover my face so that my fellow passengers won’t see and wonder at the middle aged woman barely holding it together in seat 14C.  

Breathing a shaky, slow in, then pushing the air out through pursed and trembling lips, I fight to pull my mind back to the present.  Back to the safe here and now.

But then he holds up the yellow life vest and again the record skips.  I am 9 and scared (was I scared?  I didn’t remember but now I do) and my small body sits tightly still.  A rabbit frozen in the headlights.  All of the leaving piled in a messy heap behind me.  The unknown a great yawning pit in front of me.  And panic fills my present day self.  I put my hand to my eyes and tell myself, “Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Breathe. Just breathe.  This is not then.  That is not now.”  But if I close my eyes, I am stuck in the memory, and if I open my eyes, every glance falls on a razor edged trigger.  

I breathe, waiting for it to be over.  Hoping not to completely lose it on a plane full of strangers.  

Eyes closed.  My Little Ponies lined up on the seat tray.  

Eyes open.  Navy, pleather seat backs block me in.

Eyes closed.  “Don’t push that button, Danica, you’ll bother the person behind you.”

Eyes open.  The stifling cabin air smells of people and antiseptic and menace.

Eyes closed.  My feet don’t reach the floor and I can’t stop kicking them.

Eyes open.  The flight attendant is still demonstrating and now he has a mask, oh god.

Eyes closed.  Breathe in.  Then is not now.  There is not here.  Tears drop heavy and wet.  I pull in shuddering sips of closeted air over my tongue.  

And gradually the memories let me go.  Slipping like weedy wraiths back into the swampish muck of my memory, they leave me shaky and clammy.  

I come back slowly into the here and now.  But before I’m fully here, I reach back and send some desperate love to my child self.  I’m proud of her for doing so well.  For embracing the adventure.  For her bright eyed optimism and the rainbows she built in the clouds.  The sadness, the pain, the anger, the leaving - the things that she piled behind her in her march towards life … I will mourn for the both of us.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

... sitting in a tree

Our first month in the Solomon Islands was spent getting acclimated to the culture, language, and missionary group we were part of.  We had been recruited to this specific group through a college friend my parents knew from a Christian camp in Texas.  During the first week or so that we were in Honiara, we went to their house for dinner.  

The four of us kids found ourselves standing in a hesitant half circle with the four of them.  The eldest of them spoke first.  

"You know those bottles of oil they sell by the side of the road?"  Actually, I didn't know.  I hadn't been very far away from our rented house since we got to Honiara.  Later though, I saw that, industrious Islanders did indeed set up mats under the banyan trees.  On these were displayed bottles of richly amber coconut oil, made by pressing coconut meat leached in the sun.  

"Yeah, I've seen them," my brother said, although he probably hadn't.  

"Nick and I used to think that it looked like pee.  So one time we pissed in some bottles and set up a mat and sold them."  He had all of our attention now.

"Did someone actually buy it?"  I asked, with horrified fascination.

"Yeah, one guy did."

"What did you do after that?"  We were breathless.

"We felt bad, and threw the money after the car as it drove away, and then ran away really fast."  That he would voluntarily confess to selling his own bodily fluids and then repent in a crisis of conscience elevated this boy to the level of conflicted anti-hero in my mind, which is the very best sort of hero, of course.

After dinner, the eight of us escaped into the fragrant night to play hide and seek in the dark.  The youngest were selected to be the seekers, and the rest of us scattered into the shadows.  

I didn't hear him until he was right next to me.  "Come on, I know the best place to hide," he said.  So I went, because when the anti-hero summons, of course, you go. 

He led me to a mango tree, its sturdy trunk round and smooth.  We stopped for just a minute beneath the deeper shadows, the glossy leaves glinting darkly in the starlight.  I could hear rustlings and muted conversations of the other kids dimly through the dark, and thought that here was his hiding spot.  It didn't seem so good to me.  

"Come on," he said again.  And his dusty bare feet disappeared up into the tree.  Thus summoned, I followed.  

We climbed up through the murky night, the mango limbs pinwheeling in a spiralled ladder towards the sky.  He perched on one limb and I on its twin.  We both sat, the comforting cocoon of leaves pushing out the murmuring night.  We sat in breathless silence, listening hard for the sounds of the others.  Listening hard for the sounds of our breathing.  

And the velvet darkness fell. 

And the only stars were my eyes.

We hid there until the call came from the adults that it was time for my family to go.  It could have been hours or just a few velvet minutes.  

We climbed as chastely down as we had gone up, leaving behind the secret thrill of a hidden place.  

Just a few stolen moments where two kids sat in a mango cave and became the night.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

How Far I've Come ... A Metaphor

Out in the lagoon there was a head of coral.  Just a single monolith popping up from the sandy floor in ostentatious defiance.  It was surrounded by tiny little clumps of seaweed anchored into the lagoon's sifting, tinkling bottom.  These seaweed clumps made excellent torpedoes.  At low tide, when the water withdrawn so that you could bounce on top of the coral head and keep your face barely above the surface, the lagoon floor was also within reach.  With a bounce above the surface, filling your lungs with air, you could tuck your legs up to your ribs, then with an expulsion of air, jackknife your limbs out, into the water, through the cooling depths, a trail of bubbles streaming behind as you emptied your lungs and sank down, down, down.  And then your fingers brush the bottom, sending little puffs of sand up into the current, and you grasp a clump of seaweed.  Holding it lightly in the cage of your fingers, you tuck again, set your feet against the tinkling bottom and explode upwards, towards the light, towards the mirrored surface and air and the sun.   

We would go out in packs, us kids, to the coral head, to escape the oppressive heat of the village.  There would be ten little heads bouncing up and down as we kept our toes on the coral, with another dozen popping up out of the lagoon like frigate birds after a dive.  We'd take turns resting on the head, then going down for a clump of seaweed.  Releasing the clumps all at once, having a race to see whose spiralled down to the lagoon floor first.  

Sometimes the coral head got too crowded, so I would swoop my lava lava over the surface and trap a bubble of air in it, then gather the ends and float, bobbing in comfort with my own personal floatation device as the air slowly seeped out through the porous cloth.  

When it was time to go back to shore, when the tide started coming in and the sweep of it tugged our tangled limbs, we would race.  Who could swim the longest under water?  This was a game I was good at.  Filling my chest with air, I sucked in more and more of it, imagining I was storing breath in my stomach, in my legs, packing it into my arms.  I was a glutton for air, I feasted on it until I was stuffed so full I couldn't see straight.  Then, with another tuck I leveraged my feet against the coral, then exploded, arrow straight, towards the shore.  A slow seep of bubbles trailing behind me, I worked my arms and legs, in and out like a frog, to push through the salty depths.  The tide helped.  It cradled me and pushed me along towards the ever nearing shore.  The lagoon floor was rising below me.  My stomach was empty of air and now my lungs were starting to leak.  And still I pushed on through the water.  Faster.  Faster.  Riding the tide.  Sweeping in to the beach.  My lungs were empty now and screaming.  I hollowed my chest out, jackknifed my body still further in.  Spots danced in front of my closed eyes.  Still I pushed.  I was dizzy and a little drunk from the lack of oxygen, still reluctant to leave the salty cool world.  One more push.

And just as my mouth wanted to gag open involuntarily, I set my feet against the sand that was now just below me and popped up into the bright air.  Gasping.  Looking around triumphantly to see how far I'd come.  

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Space In Between

The water is achingly clear.  My paddle dips in, out, in again as long, sure strokes propel me across its glassy surface.  The sun kisses the backs of my shoulders and warms the little bones that curve with my spine as I hunch towards the fiberglass bow.  It is quiet.  Water whispers past the insistent tip of my canoe.  Shining droplets plip near my feet when I switch my paddle to the opposite side.  Below me, through impossibly blue water I can see the lagoon floor, luminous, alien.  Ever present.

It is just me and the ocean and the paddle and the canoe and the sun.  Flying along the shoreline past dripping mangroves and a dense cacophony of coconut and pandanas.  I am perfectly balanced in my canoe.  Weightless.  Free.  I know there are people on the shore and they probably need me but for now I linger.

Then my eyes open and the air isn't bright and clear anymore but dark and filled with the familiar scents of home.  Last night's dinner and the dusky scent of adobe that lingers in our 100 year old house.  The musky dog asleep at the foot of our bed, and spicy juniper and sage seeping in from the cracked window near my head.  My husband gently snores just within arm's reach.  Reality pulls, and wisps begin to gather and consolidate as I come back to the present.  I don't want to.  The dream was a gift.  So for now, I linger.

Preparing to go on a trip to the outer islands with Father Nehemiah's family.
I've been exploring a master's thesis for a few months now.  I want to look at how public schools can create third spaces for children who are in transition.  As part of the exploratory process, (I'm still defining my theoretical framework), I created a survey last week to determine if there was even a need for this type of support, as well as practice my survey writing skills.  So, I wrote the survey and disseminated it among my various social media accounts, inquiring about the types of support people received during times of transition when they were children.  I'm still in the process of collecting and analyzing the data, but I plan on sharing here when I'm done.

What I hadn't anticipated, in the writing of the survey, was how crafting the line of questioning would affect me.  I wrote the survey in the morning, and it wasn't until that night, when I had spent the past hour mining Instagram for pictures of Ontong Java, when tears were pricking my eyes and my throat had closed up, that I finally recognized the blanket of sadness that had draped itself over me.  I was triggered.  But still, I lingered, greedily consuming every digital bit of my home that I could find.

My dad asked me a question, months ago, while we were on one of our long walks together.  He asked, "With all the suffering you experienced, do you wish we had never left America?"

In other words.  Would you rather have loved and lost, then never have loved at all?

This is the tension I live in, and a tension I think many TCKs live in.  How to reconcile the good bits, the dancing on moonlit beaches, the camaraderie of roasting jungle birds over an open fire, the heartbreaking beauty of untouched nature, the warm enfolding into the community bosom ... how to reconcile all of that, with the bad bits?  With the clouds of mosquitoes hovering so thick over your head, that you can't see the sky, and night after night of going to bed with a hungrily rumbling stomach?  With boat trips wherein you fear for your life, as waves almost take the ship down and you see your mother thrown against the railing, cracking her rib?  With the soul shattering pain of leaving an entire community behind?  With never.  Ever.  Completely belonging?

So I linger, in this space between.  The space of mourning and rejoicing.  The space of celebrating and anger.  The space of bitterness and love.  This is the third space that I think others live in, too.  And I hope to figure out how to create a communal third space, a space in which we can all experience the tension together.  A space where we can all live in the Then and in the Now.  Were we can linger, together, and in the lingering, find healing.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 In Review ... & ... 2016 Goals

2015 was a hard year.  On the global scale, we faced Greece defaulting on its debt, the Paris bombings, China's stock market crash, and of course the Syrian refugee crisis.  Nationally we experienced turmoil as well. There were droughts, mass shootings, and church bombings.  The SCOTUS decision on same sex marriage and the #blacklivesmatter movement sparked controversy and debate nationwide.  Within the church, we saw sexual abuse cover ups, church discipline of victims, and organizations fleecing money from their members.  2015 was a year of turmoil, when as a nation we collectively reeled from one shock wave after another, often not having time to even recover in between them.

For me, personally, it was  hard year as well.  I started it in therapy, seeking to understand and make sense of the events in my past.  There was online drama, when the leader of an online support group I was in turned out to be a self promoting opportunist who took people's money in exchange for a 'safe' space which really wasn't safe at all.  There was also drama closer to home.  I realized that someone very close to me is a narcissist, and the implications of that are still making it difficult for me to breathe when I think about them.  In fact, if I were to dub 2015 anything, I'd call it the Year of the Narcissist, because this is the year I saw very clearly the narcissist(s) in my life, and identified my reaction to them and their impact on me.  This is probably because of how I started the year - through therapy, I finally got perspective on my life.  I think that as I got healthy, I began to more clearly see the dysfunctional dynamics of relationships I have been a part of for years, and in some cases, for my entire life.

So.  Like many on my Facebook timeline, I am limping out of 2015, glad to face a shiny new year, a year whose pages are unwritten and is therefore resplendent with possibility.  I know that in 2016, things will happen that are out of my control.  I cannot determine to have a drama free or completely peaceful and restful year - that's just not how life works.  But, I can determine to, as my yoga instructor does at the beginning of each class, set an intention, an intention that will guide me and which I can come back to when life's shock waves come.

My intention for 2016:  Kindness

Kindness toward myself.

  • This means being intentional about self care strategies I have collected.  Yoga helps tremendously to heal my body (I have degenerative discs from all the physical labor on the island), and also to center my mind, enabling me to let go of things that don't serve me and live in the moment.  Self care also means (and this is going to sound silly to a lot of you but it's TRUE) to make sure I tend to my physical needs like bathing and going to the bathroom.  I will sometimes wait for an hour to use the restroom, even when it's in the next room.  This is, I think, a holdover from having to use the ocean as a toilet growing up, but regardless of the reason ... self care means using it when I need to go!  
  • Being kind to myself also means advocating for myself, and not serving as the shame eater or the Holder Of All Negativity in a relationship.  
  • Being kind to myself means telling myself, "Girl, you are enough."  It means giving myself the same latitude and love that I give others.  It means allowing myself to have needs.
Kindness toward my family.
  • Scott and I push ourselves hard.  Neither of us are that good at taking care of ourselves, which means when we push hard, our kids have to go along for the ride. This is not fair to them.  This year I want to keep our little family unit in the forefront of my focus, so that when the shock waves of life come, here in this house we have calm.  
  • Being kind to my family also means being intentional about family time.  I want to take day trips to the mountains.  I want to cut paper snowflakes and tape them on the windows. I want to have Minecraft marathons. 
  • Being kind to my family means stepping out of 'survival mode' and living in each moment to its fullness, with them.
Kindness toward the world
  • I'm not really sure quite yet how to balance this with healthy boundaries.  I have tended in the past to give all of myself when I saw a need.  This came to the detriment of myself, and my family.  I simply don't have the time or energy to give myself to every person who wants / needs a piece of me. So I think, this year, being kind to the 'world' will mean being aware of those around me who have needs, while also being aware of my personal boundaries, and giving when I can.
  • Being kind to the world also means not narrowly defining the people around me.  My therapist pointed out to me that I tend to use labels.  A lot.  In fact, I did it at the beginning of this post.  Labeling helps me because it clarifies to me what I'm seeing.  It enables me to define behavior patterns and predict future behaviors.  It helps me to counteract the gaslighting, especially when interacting with narcissists.  However, labeling also is dangerous because it limits my perspective on a person.  It narrowly defines the person ONLY as that label, and ignores the nuance that is humanity.  So, this year, kindness towards the world means being mindful of people's experiences and perceptions, it means taking into account the whole person, instead of seeing them through a black and white, right and wrong, fundamentalist lens.