Diary of a Little Muslim Christian Girl: the New Congress

It’s 10 a.m., January 3, 2019.  Day One on the “New Political Universe” in Washington, DC.

I am excited!

I’m watching CNN, hoping to see the new, most diverse U.S. Congress yet sworn in. I’m especially interested in seeing Ilhan Omar, dressed in her hijab, and Rashida Tlaib sporting a much talked-about traditional Pakistan dress her mother made. They will raise their right hand and swear in using Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, rather than a Bible. I was raised Muslim, converted to Christianity in my mid 20s, and currently promote interfaith dialogue. Watching Ilhan and Rashida emerge, the boldest Muslim women I’ve ever seen, warms my heart.

Ayanna Presley, whose African name means “flower”, carries no banner for any religion, but as a self-proclaimed “woman of faith” she spoke love and compassion to the families of faithful individuals who were killed inside a synagogue in Pittsburg about a week before the 2018 mid-terms ushered in this historic day. I will be watching her with great interest, too.

Watching Nancy Pelosi, “the most powerful woman in American politics” tells MSNBC’s Savannah Guthrie about plans to take Trump to task is interesting. A bust of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King behind her says more to me than her interview can. It says press ever forward for justice, equality, and peace on earth.

Nancy had said in August that Trump might be afraid of her and afraid of the wave of women that might hit the nation’s capitol. The wave of women hit – hard – with a record number elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, including more African American women than ever, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, the first two Native American women, the first LGBQ and Latina women, too.  Today Nancy clarified, “I’m not sure he knows how to deal with women in power, and women of strength, but we’ll see. Let’s hope for the best.”

I’m excited, too, at something else Pelosi represents: older women in power in the public eye – looking beautiful.

 

 

#StopLookListen

 

I tuned into what I playfully call the morning S.H.E.I.T. (Steve Harvey’s Empowering, Inspirational Testimony) at six o’clock as I got dressed.

“Be grateful today for what God has already done for you, and you make room for a whole lot more,” he said. “People think they can will themselves to do anything, but get in touch with God. God can make things happen.”

I was out the door by six-thirty, and booting up the computer at my desk shortly after seven.  I checked e-mail, checked the fax machine, and drafted a to-do list. Getting to work earlier felt better. I could draft the statement Madame Senator requested and have that out the way before nine. Victory e-mailed me an announcement for a job opening at the U.S. Department of Labor. I deleted it. God has me where He wants me, I thought.

I called The Senator’s house about seven-fifty.  Her housekeeper answered.

“Good Morning Ms. Shephard. How are you this morning?” I said cheerfully.

“Good Morning.  You’re started bright and early,” she said.  “Hold on. I think she’s helping her brother get dressed.”

Madame Senator has been taking care of her brother since he had a near-fatal stroke a few years ago.  She moved him into her home because she believes families should take care of their own.

“Oh, that’s ok. I don’t need to speak to her. Just let her know I faxed over her statement on freedom of speech, and I got her edits on the book forward she faxed,” I said.

“I’ll let her know. She may be coming in late today.  I think she’s going to have to take June to the hospital,” she said.  “He had a bad fall this morning.”

“O.k. If she needs to reach me, I’m in the office,” I said. “Have a blessed day!”

“Thank you, and you, too, sweetie.”

I e-mailed Chris, “I’m off to a better day. Thanks for dinner. Love you much.” Then I e-mailed Victoria, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the…”

She replied promptly, “Rock and roll.”

I replied, “Have you made an appointment to go to the doctor?”

“Got my grands. No time.”

“Make time. Promise?”

“Will try.”

I pulled my tennis shoes out from under the desk, laced them up, and went for a walk along the National Mall for exercise.  Madame Senator once mentioned that she had made that her morning ritual when she first began working in Congress.  She would race-walk up and down the National Mall first thing in the mornings, then lift weights in the congressional gym in the evenings. I picked up the blackberry to connect it to my pants, but set it back on the desk. I would still be back before the office officially opened at nine. I could still have the papers read and clipped before Madame Senator got in since she would be late.

Nia was coming in as I was leaving.

“Hey Nia. I’m going out for a walk.  If Madame Senator calls, I just went to the bathroom,” I said.

“You got your Blackberry, right?”

I shook my head, and raised my hands.

“What if…”

“I won’t be gone long,” I assured her.

Traffic was still thick along Pennsylvania Avenue. Large groups of students descended buses pulled up in front of some of the congressional buildings.  Tours would not begin until ten, but groups arrived early to meander around the National Mall, mapping out the variety of free museums they would also visit.  I remembered the Summers my parents bought us to the nation’s capitol to visit museums and sit on the U.S. Capitol, where we enjoyed dipping our hands in the large concrete water fountains. I faced the National Monument, tilted my head up to the sun, closed my eyes and enjoyed the tickle of a gentle breeze wash over me.

“Thank you God for bringing me here,” I thought. I sucked in a deep breath, relaxed my shoulders, and walked toward the Washington Monument chanting, “Thank you God.”  I noticed black crows and gray pigeons overhead.  I heard the roar of traffic and a siren in the distance. I noticed a butterfly, and a swath of dragonflies. As I headed back to the office, I noticed a couple of dead ducks in the reflecting pool.

 

  • What are your morning rituals?
  • How do those reituals benefit your day?
  • When you reflect on your life, do you see beliefs, practices, issues and concerns that are – or should be – dead in the water?
  • What will you do with the “dead ducks” in your life?

#Reasons

 

When I called G-Ma, she was watching the nightly network news, delighted that Obama was ahead again in the polls.

“God bless him,” she said.

“G-Ma, did you ever imagine this day would come?”

“You know what I always say, all things are possible for who?”

“For those who love the Lord,” I completed her sentence. “I bet Shirley Chisholm loved the Lord, and the good Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, loved Him, too, G-Ma.”

“Everybody’s got a part to play,” she said.  “God’s done put you in a place where you can help move it along, too,” she said in her soothing, cheerful manner that has grounded and comforted me since I was a little girl.

“G-Ma, keep me in your prayers. I hear it’s pretty rough and tumble up here.”

“Ruqiyah-Qi-Qi-R.C. Paige, you are always in my prayers. You already know what to do if things get rough. If the Lord bought you to it, He will what?”

“Bring me through it.”

“God’s got you there for a reason, to do your part. You just do your part and don’t worry about what all else is going on around you. You just as good as your boss, the president, anybody up there. You just do your part and don’t get caught up in the rest.”

 

  • What are the reasons you do what you do eight or more hours a day on your job?
  • Beyond the financial rewards and professional growth, what are some other reasons you do what you do?
  • Would you work improve if your reasons for working were improved? (Ex. If you were a cook eight hours a day for the reason of making money, would the quality of your meals improve and your satisfaction with your job improve if you operated from the reason of serving food for others’ wellbeing? Would you feel better knowing you fed somebody a meal that made them feel better?) Examine your reasons?

 

#NecessaryDelights

 

My Blackberry rang about eleven-thirty.  It was Madame Senator telling me she wanted to issue a statement first thing in the morning about freedom or speech.  I grabbed a notepad from my bag and took notes.  Chris disappeared into the bedroom, then I heard him stirring in the bathroom.

“Babe, where are your matches?” he said hollered when I got off the phone.

“No smoking zone,” I hollered back.

“You know I don’t smoke!” he yelled.  “I’m lighting candles. Got a bubble bath running for you!  Come on in….”

He looked up and I was standing there in the doorway in a satin fuchsia robe draped off my naked shoulders.

“Beautiful,” he said. “Get in.  I’ll bring you a cup of hot tea.”

“I’d rather stir something else,” I said.

“I’m about to go so you can get your rest.  Sounds like you got a busy day ahead.”

“Sister needs some sexual healing,” I pouted.

“Sister needs some sleep.  Get in. Let me wash your back.”

“Only if you get in and let me wash your – uh – back,” I demurred.

“Woman get in.”

The aroma of the apple-cinnamon candles delighted me as I sank into the heap of foamy bubbles.

He playfully dabbed bubbles on my breasts then kissed my forehead.

“Sugar or honey?” he asked.

“Sugar cane,” I said nodding at his groin.

“I told you I’m not your Boy Toy,” he teased.  “I know your type.  Think a brother’s good for one thing…”

“The most important thing.”

“Relax yourself,” he said. “Peppermint, Lemon Lift, Raspberry or Chamomile?”

“Chamomile.  Splenda…Thank you.”

  • Do you pamper yourself and allow others to pamper you?
  • Describe your recent pampering.
  • How did it make you feel?
  • What are your beliefs about pampering – pampering yourself and others?
  • Do you need to change your beliefs about pampering? Why or why not?

 

#TwoFaced

 

 

Chris ordered a lobster entrée and I ordered grilled salmon. He told me the latest about his union’s efforts to overturn what they considered reverse-discrimination-based promotional exams within the fire department and about his preparation for the upcoming captain exam. He’s got a year before he’s eligible for retirement, but if he makes captain, he might stay just to help the few Black officials on the force move the organization away from its racist past.

After laughing and talking over dinner, we rode the hour-long drive out to his house. We talked about music, its transformative value and its ability to bring people together. I grabbed his iPod while he was driving and thumbed through his catalogue to another one of my favorites – Frank Sinatra’s “Love Being Here With You.”

“I bet you thought that was a Queen Latifah original,” I said. “You got her latest CD?”

We played both versions of the song.

“Frank Sinatra’s not even in the same league with the Queen,” he said.

“It was his song,” I countered.

“Just listen,” he said. “Not with your ears though. Listen to what she does with it.” He played Queen Latifah’s version again.

“Yes, hers is jazzier,” I said.

“Hers has soul,” he said.

“Yeah, hers is soulful, jazzy, upbeat. Frank’s is smooth, mellow,” I concurred. “Some people want smooth and mellow.  All day today Madame Senator had classical music playing in her office. It seemed to mellow her out.”

“Mellow her out?” he said. “She probably needs to be in over-drive dealing with those rednecks in Congress.  Any woman in an organization of mostly men, White men, especially White men with egos, has to be sharp or she’ll get squashed.”

We continued comparing remakes of some of the classics we enjoyed. We compared Frank Sinatra’s version of “Too Good to Be True” to Lauryn Hill’s version. Chris shook his head and repeated, “no comparison.”

I insisted on getting home by ten so I could get up fresh and get to the office by seven the next morning. I can do extra if that’s what it takes. I can get in early to get a jumpstart and work late to keep an edge. When we got back to my place, it was all I could do to sit there patiently as Chris came around to my side to open the door like a gentleman.  We joke about my ambivalence toward chivalry. I told him that as a single woman, an independent, proud, self-sufficient single woman I had gotten used to opening my own doors, lifting my own heavy loads and all. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to give that up.  Some men I had dated were old-fashioned and observed the etiquette of our grandparents; some men had given up on it not knowing when a woman would take offense to it or not. Chris and I agreed that when we’re together I’ll be the little lady. It had become a running joke between us.  I would stand at the door impatiently wiggling like he couldn’t open the door fast enough.  Or if I was in the truck and had to wait for him to come around and let me out, I’d sit there dramatically flipping my hands and fidgeting in a display of impatience.  To mock my mockery of impatience, he made faces at the window and locked the door with his remote lock every time I reached to open it.

“You know Black folks stopped shucking and jiving and wearing the mask, but women still gotta be two different personalities, right?” I said when he finally let me out.

“Take charge or get trampled at work. Come home and be the little lady.”

“You want some violins?” he said.

“Ya’ll wanna have it both ways. Be the boss, but leave us footing the cost.”

“Oh now you got Jesse Jackson rhymes,” I said. “You one of them real smartie-arites aintcha?”

“I got your smartie-artie,” he said, pinching the back of my leg as I walked up the stairs in front of him.

Chris and I watched the news and debated about a controversy brewing over Michelle Obama.  In a speech she gave, she mentioned that for the first time in her life she’s proud to be an American. I argued that she was right on point and I was glad she had the courage to say what so many of us felt.  He countered that there’s a time and place for everything.  She can say what she wants after we win the White House.

 

  • When we travel to a foreign country, we expect to speak a language different than what we’re used to. When are some other times and places, where you have to pull up a different language, draw on a different aspect of your personality than usual?
  • Are you comfortable with hsifting gears? Why or why not?
  • What are your beliefs about shifting gears?

#StandingYourGroundStayingtheCourse

 

Victoria picked me up from work yesterday to go celebrate my new job. We went to the Hawk and Dove on Pennsylvania Avenue, a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The bar, tiny and dim as it is, was full of Hill staffers laughing, sipping cocktails and exchanging business cards. We squeezed through the crowd and ordered drinks at the bar.

“What you drinking?” I yelled, standing almost cheek-to-cheek with her as the bar tender took our orders.

“Girl you know me. Ginger ale,” she said.

“One ginger ale, one rum and coke,” I ordered.

We collected our drinks and moved further into the room, careful not to spill as people bumped against us.

“You up here with the big dogs now!” Victoria said, raising her glass.

“Cheers!” I touched my glass to hers. “God is good!”

“How you gon’ mix liquor and the lord?” she laughed.

“Shit was mixed long before I got it.” The majority of the crowd around us was white, mostly young, mostly male.

“So, what’s ole girl like? You get to talk with her yet? Her ass looks mean. I figure she’ll see your little innocent-looking ass and have a field day.”

 

Victoria had told me stories about when she worked for the D.C. City Council. She said there was always drama with the elected officials trying to get away with stuff they knew was wrong – sliding a contract to a friend, calling some agency head to hire a friend or a friend’s kids, using a tax-payer-funded credit card for personal care. She said I should set some goals for what I plan to get out of this job because in politics, everybody’s got an agenda, everybody’s got a plan, and I better have one, too.

“I’m on the lord’s time, the lord’s dime,” I said with a wink. “I’m going to help the sister get her messages out, tell her story her way. That’s it.”

The room felt electric, abuzz with energetic men and women dressed in conservative blue, black, and brown suits. Some of the women sported high heels. Most wore ponytails or short haircuts.

“You see how they carrying it, don’t you,” Victoria said, surveying the room. “Everybody up in here is working the room, working their own agenda. You got your bid-ness cards yet?”

“We ordered them,” I said. She nodded.

“How you feel? You ready?”

I gave her my best impression of Muhammad Ali bobbing and weaving in the rink.

“I got this,” I lsaid.

“Girl, what I tell you bout them little dick beaters? You better keep ‘em in your pocket somewhere before somebody snatch ‘em off you!”

We laughed.

 

  1. Have you ever been in a situation where your conscious would not allow you to go along with the crowd? (This could have been when you were in school, a family situation or on a job)
  2. How did you handle it?

How could you manage even better in the future?

#PerksoftheJob

 

I had never seen a whole staff silenced and invalidated, this way, until now. I was shocked by my childhood hero, but I still believed she was fighting a good fight and God had sent me to The Hill to help her.

“Let’s grab a cup of coffee. I’ll show you where the cafeterias are,” Octavia said when we left The Senator’s office.

The halls were bustling with large groups of people, some wearing tee-shirts with slogans. Congressmen and women rushed through the corridors as their staffers scribbled notes, or read to them from documents, while keeping pace.

“Oh. Here we go. We can get a free cup of jo right here,” Octavia said, pulling me into a hearing room where a reception was being held.

“That’s another perk,” she said. “Some days you won’t have to spend a dime. Dip into a couple of receptions and a luncheon and you’ll be fed.”

“Not enough perks for you to stay,” I said.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong. I respect Madame Senator. She’s a bad-ass, and I like that. She’s time enough for these sons-of-bitches. But nobody’s going to talk to me like some shit,” she said. “I don’t talk to my son the way she talks to staff.”

“Guess I better keep my distance,” I said.

“You find what works for you,” she said.

“But, isn’t it kind of exciting working where you can actually make something happen?” I said. “Especially now that we’re about to elect our first Black president. Here we are working for one of our own who helped pave the way.”

 

  1. There are always perks to be enjoyed. What are some of the extra joys and delights in your current job (including the job of working on your college degree or raising your family or caregiving for your parents?)
  2. Why do you enjoy these perks? (For instance, I love free food because it reminds me that God gives us abundance in many ways.)
  3. Describe some perks you would like to enjoy in the future.