Standing in the Gap

This post is an excerpt of Shelter in Place Season 2, episode 5: Standing in the Gap. Listen to the episode above or wherever you get your podcats.

Everywhere you look, there’s a lot of fear about where we are now and what’s ahead. So for the past month, I’ve been gathering stories from people who are facing fear with courage–often in surprising ways. They represent a wide range of politics, but they share one very important thing: in the face of fear and a nation divided, they’re working hard to create communities that can cross that division.

Jimmy Graham has spent his life thinking about how to keep other people safe. He’s a former Navy Seal and CIA bodyguard, and the founder and CEO of the Able Shepherd program, an elite self-defense program that equips people to handle guns safely in high-stress situations like being in a building with an active shooter. When I spoke with Jimmy, we mostly sidestepped the conversation about if we should be carrying guns, and instead talked about how to make using them safer. 

“75% of people will shoot the wrong person when they’re excited or scared,” Jimmy told me. “It doesn’t matter if they’re FBI, they’re police, if they’re military.”

So he created a training system that used the reality-based scenario training he’d learned from his time with the Seals, where they wore protective equipment and used real guns that had been converted to fire training ammunition.

“I absolutely support law enforcement, but if you’re a bad apple, we need to get rid of you and sing it from the rooftops.”

Jimmy Graham

“The best way to learn how to shoot people is to shoot people,” Jimmy said. “And you do it over and over, and you create neural pathways. A lot of times the person who does the right thing isn’t the bravest or the fastest or the smartest. It’s the one that’s most familiar with it.”

Jimmy says that this is just as true of law enforcement as it is of citizens. He does a lot of work with the police to get outdated training systems up to date. But he’s also troubled by the way bad cops have given a bad rap to the entire system. 

“I absolutely support law enforcement, but if you’re a bad apple, we need to get rid of you and sing it from the rooftops. We don’t protect criminals. You belong in jail. Period. It protects the guys that are out there doing it for the right reasons.”

Jimmy’s work isn’t just about guns. He helped launch the Stand in the Gap Initiative, which seeks to bring communities together by developing what Jimmy calls “a root cellar mentality.” If the power goes out or there’s a blizzard or a hurricane, communities are prepared with food, water, a radio for offline communication, and a pre-established network of neighbors or friends who are ready to be at each other’s homes in a matter of minutes.

I used to think that the root cellar mentality was a little extreme. But then a year ago PG&E shut off our power for four days to prevent wildfires. And then COVID-19 happened and suddenly the shelves in our grocery stores were empty. I was lucky to live in a place where community already existed. When the power went out, our neighbors who had a generator invited us to come over to charge our phones and computers. They fed us dinner. But my neighborhood is unusual; Jimmy is trying to build communities where that kind of connection becomes typical. 

“It’s a good way to live,” Jimmy said. “We just got comfortable. We needed each other before. Now we don’t because of Amazon and Walmart, right? And that’s cool, but we left a good way to live. That, I think, is the answer: take care of one another in communities. That’s the way we were designed to live anyways.”

This was an excerpt from Shelter in Place, season 2, episode 5: Standing in the Gap. Hear the full story here or visit shelterinplacepodcast.info to view the full transcript.

These Changes

They say hindsight is 20/20 and as I look back over the year, I can honestly say that things could have gone far worse for me. I am beyond grateful to say they didn’t. This Thanksgiving had me a bit nostalgic remembering all the experiences I’ve had leading me to this point. Most of them were great and some were less than desirable, but they were all memorable and taught me to live from a place of love, humility, and thankfulness.

Take my Thanksgiving experience in 2017. This particular year, I spent the holiday among friends and community I had built while living in a young adult shelter for four months. I had since moved out and found stable housing with a friend, but we decided to spend our time with those we had grown so close to at the Lark-Inn youth drop-in center on Golden Gate Ave. It seemed like any other day where we walked to the center and waited in line to sign in, but instead of walking into the center as patrons, we were entering as welcomed guests. In a way, we had graduated because we got out and were successful in housing ourselves and remained independent. That day, I was thankful for the company and the food, and the freedom we had to move about the city. Most thanksgivings preceding that, I found myself road tripping with my mom and brother to some relatives’ house for a day full of family, meal prep, taste testing, and love and laughter. At Christmas time, the whole ordeal began again, with the bonus of gift-giving and the possibility of snow. It’s crazy how different experiences can be and easily things can change, but with Covid, the holidays are looking so much different this year.

Instead of large family gatherings and friends-givings, many people are sheltering in place or in quarantine alone. I can’t help but think of those I was sheltered with. Are they safe and warm? Did the presence of Covid change their relationship to their circumstances at home? Or are they having to face this hardship alone? The lucky ones are sharing space with our partners, pets, or technology and it’s days like today that I thank God for technology. It gives me peace of mind knowing that people can meet and remain connected to one another in ways we never thought imaginable just a few decades ago. We can see and hear one another in real-time even though we can’t touch one another or directly feel the warmth of their energy. And even though we are separate, I feel like we’re finally understanding the meaning of oneness and interconnectivity. I believe there is the Spirit of thankfulness and love that surrounds us every day and reminds us that all things are possible when we remain united and show love to another.

This year has been a whirlwind for me. I find myself with a new job in a new town of a new state, which usually leaves me feeling somewhat drained and over the transition, and somehow this move felt different. It felt like the end of a cycle I was so desperate to be free from because for the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like I’m homeless or just passing through. I am home. A word which I ascribe to the feeling of security and stability. I don’t use the term home lightly and have only prescribed it to people before this summer, and I am so thankful for the change, which seems to be the main constant in my life. I don’t know the entirety of what the end of this year holds, much less the future, but I believe that facing it with an open heart and an attitude of gratitude- that most people only acquire for the holidays- could carry us a long way.

Pandemic Verse in Senryu

Cold days are here now

How the body craves warm skin

Unsafe to be close

Manzanita path

I walk with humans I love

No smiles are seen

A thousand mornings

Only dog and I in bed

Isolation still 

Autumn apples rot

Many on the cold hard ground

Food for the loud birds

Virus to learn from

It is not just about you

Compassion is life

Harmful to gather

But nature is always there

Be grateful for this

Photo by Georgina Marie, Fall Morning, Lakeport, CA

Facing the Mob

Listen to the full story from Shelter in Place above.

I didn’t think the day could get any worse. 

In the span of 24 hours, we’d said goodbye to the friends and the home we’d never wanted to leave. We’d driven over 500 miles and two state lines before we finally escaped the wildfire smoke. A stranger had yelled in my face about what a terrible mother I was. And the kids had degenerated from griping about their Zoom calls to clobbering each other in the back seat. It felt like we’d hit rock bottom in this Pandemic Odyssey.  

But as we drove through Utah and the skies began to clear, we felt some of the grip of what was behind us loosen. We remembered that there were still people and places to look forward to. 

I’d wanted to go to Zion National Park ever since I was a teenager, when I saw pictures of the red rock formations that looked like a painter’s dream. It was magic hour as we entered the park, and even the kids took a collective gasp when they looked out the window. I pulled out my phone to take a picture.

And that’s when I noticed the explosion of texts that had just come in. While we’d been driving, our first AirBNB guests had shown up and promptly thrown a party in our back yard complete with music so loud that it rattled the walls two houses over, and thick clouds of smoke from cigarettes and weed. No one was wearing masks or social distancing. By the time I got these messages, the party had been going for hours. 

As we drove through the park, I thumbed out responses as fast as I could. And then my three bars of reception turned to two, and then one, and then zero. All of my messages bounced back. I looked out the window and tried to breathe. We were driving through tunnels of red rock and some of the prettiest scenery I’d ever laid eyes on–but there was a lump in my throat and I felt like I might throw up. 

I dropped off my family at the campsite and kept driving. It took me another half hour before I found a place in range. I braced myself for an unpleasant conversation, but when I finally reached the guest, whose name was Aidan, he was nice. He said he didn’t know that smoking wasn’t allowed or that AirBNB’s updated COVID-19 prohibited parties. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

The next day, my phone started bleeping again. One of my neighbors sent a video; another wrote, “I think your guests are using your house to film porn.” 

I spent the next three hours on the phone with AirBNB, who told me they’d ask Aidan to leave immediately. I wouldn’t lose any money; he’d clearly broken house rules and violated AirBNB’s COVID-19 policy. But Aidan and his crew stayed anyway. A week later AirBNB deducted $300 from my account and paid it to Aidan for the last two cancelled nights of his stay–nights where, just to be clear, Aidan was very much still in my home. I called AirBNB again, and the rep admitted that they’d screwed up, but there was nothing they could do to get the money back from Aidan. When I asked her to flag his profile so other hosts didn’t have to go through this experience, she said they couldn’t do that either.

There’s a saying that’s attributed to Confucius: “if you seek revenge, you should dig two graves.” I hate knowing that Aidan is out there $300 richer, but I’m not seeking revenge. What bothers me most is that the system that was supposed to protect me failed me. If I’m feeling that way about a situation that in the grand scheme of things wasn’t that bad–no one was hurt or killed, our house was not destroyed–then I think it’s fair to give space to those in our country who have been failed by our systems repeatedly. But it raises the question of how to fight injustice without letting it poison us. I’m still learning how to hold our systems accountable without digging my own grave.

This was an excerpt from Shelter in Place, season 2, episode 4: Facing the Mob. Hear the full story here or visit shelterinplacepodcast.info to view the full transcript.

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Shift Happens

I’m in no way suicidal, but I contemplated stepping in front of a subway car once. It was about a year ago to the day that I stood at the yellow line of the Sunset Station in Los Angeles and thought, “What the hell am I doing here?” I felt purposeless, and therefore useless and hopeless. What I’ve come to understand now is that hopelessness and extreme discomfort is a sure sign that things are about to change. Crazy right? I find that the more popular topics regarding manifestation and taking hold of the very things we’ve been praying for don’t cover the pain that precedes the reward.
In the past five years, I’ve become a very self-aware woman through much trial and error. To be self-aware is to know oneself and to break it down further, it means to become both the participant and the observer in your own life. You thus begin the process of truly understanding who you are by observing how you respond or react to things; what triggers you. As a natural observer, I’ve learned that doing nothing is as much of a response as taking action. I have trained myself to use my hyper-sensitivity and awareness to my benefit by checking my intentions, identifying and sitting with my emotions, setting boundaries, and applying everything I’ve learned to manifest the life that I desire. Unlike the application, these lessons were easy to learn and they prepared me to see the hard things to come, 2020 for example.
The whole year has been a Wizard of Oz moment; the pandemic, senseless deaths resulting in social unrest, and Trump are all a part of the tornado. We’ve just landed in a strange land where we all celebrate that Trump is no longer in power, but now we have another quest: to get back home (the new normal). All in all, we’re not in Kansas anymore, but there are still issues here. We have a new President-elect, but there are more reports of the virus resurging, police are still abusing their authority, and the energy of the collective conscious is heavy. With the election being over, there is a weight that has been lifted, which frees us to focus on other things, even while some of us aren’t willing to address those other things. Up until a little while ago, I was among the unwilling. I was tired of having nothing to do and the way I’m wired, I get tired from doing nothing so sheltering in place has been hard on me. The more active I am (physical or mental), the more energy I have. To get my energy back, I began running again and started to look into creative remote work, while dreaming about my ideal life. It involves finally acquiring a passport and traveling internationally. Whether I travel alone or with company, I don’t care, I want out! My dream life also includes being wealthy, married with children, a dog, and a well-furnished van behind the house for cross country road trips. This dream has been edited time and time again, but now I feel I am acquiring everything on this list. They weren’t kidding when they said pressure creates diamonds because I’ve felt the pressure of instability and loss and I’m finally seeing the glimmer of perfect manifestation.
I’m here to report that answered prayers can be overwhelming and scary and that’s ok. The key is to feel the pain and fear and progress despite it. I have a high pain tolerance as a former athlete, but my emotional pain tolerance was low. The pressure of being homeless on the streets is a different type of pressure from having to live in a young adult shelter with difficult personalities, and I’m not referring to the shelter patrons. The pressure of living with strangers as roommates is a different type of pressure from living with the family members you dislike. However, nothing beats the pressure of not knowing your purpose, and the day I stood waiting for the train, I felt utterly lost and overwhelmed. This wasn’t the first time I’ve felt this feeling, but it was certainly the first time I pondered calling quits. I didn’t feel hopeful about the future or content with the present. I felt alone, but I want you to know you are not alone.
Looking back from where I sit now, I’m glad I didn’t give up because I’m finally catching glimpses of my purpose and what I want to do in this life. As much as I complain about it, sheltering in place has provided a wealth of time for me to observe my journey to this place of peace, wholeness, and emotional healing. I am not alone. You are not alone. Be sure to check on your friends and family to remind them they’re not alone. We are all collectively working toward the life we want to lead at our own pace, so don’t make comparisons, take notes, make adjustments, and live your best life!

Black Hair and Femininity Part 1 (Youth Speak Out Series)

From a young age, my mother has enforced in me the idea that my type four hair is beautiful. She taught me that good hair is healthy hair; that hair texture is not important and that everyone is different and unique in her own way. Like many Black women in Corporate America she spent many hours in a beauty shop chair under a hair dryer letting ammonium thioglycolate soak into her scalp to make her hair straight. After having me, her pride and joy, she decided to go natural in a successful attempt to teach me to love the hair that God intended to grow out of my head.

But as I grew up, went to school, associated with new people who looked different from me, and joined social media, I began to notice a pattern in which our society praises and uplifts people with tighter curl patterns, and typically, those people do not look like me. I also noticed how society is so quick to put an emphasis on masculine and feminine; short hair is seen as masculine and long hair is seen as feminine. While no one explicitly told me that I was masculine, as I got older I became more self conscious over my appearance and my hair because it as, and still is very short.

I’d never had an issue with my natural hair until I joined social media. Being the only Black girl in my grade level through elementary and middle school, being different worked in my favor. It made me stand out and set me apart from the other students. However, when I joined social media, I was introduced to other Black girls who didn’t wear their hair natural. Girls who wore weaves, braids, and wigs. Girls who had longer hair than me.

So here I am at thirteen years old, taking all of this in at once, and like every other person my age, I started to compare myself to these girls.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pexels-misha-voguel-4407900.jpg
Photo by Misha Voguel at Pexels

Flash forward to 2020, now a high school senior I can confirm with great pride that my confidence levels have increased tremendously. But I’ve been faced with a dilemma that brought me years back to my early days of social media. I’ve been thinking about doing the big chop and cutting my hair.

In the Boat

This is an excerpt from Shelter in Place season 2, episode 3. Listen to full story above.


In his essay, “The Blessing of Friends Who Weather the Storm With Us, Omid Safi writes “We learn a lot about the people who stay in our boat during the storm. Sometimes it’s exactly who you expect. Sometimes there are those whom we expect to be in our boat, and at the moment of deepest
crisis, they go missing.”

Going into this school year, there was one friend in particular who I was sure would be in my boat. Ruth lives just a few blocks away. Her kids are the same ages as our kids, and they’ve all gone to school together since they were toddlers. Ruth’s family is one of the few families in our neighborhood who share our faith. We’ve shared a lot of life, too. We’ve carpooled to school, dropped off dinner for each other weekly, shared countless meals, swapped keys to each other’s houses. We were each other’s emergency contacts. For years Ruth’s house had been the place my kids felt safest outside their own home.

But a couple of weeks before school started Ruth and I had coffee in her backyard, and she told me she’d formed a distance learning pod with another family from our school. They were going to hire a tutor, and the tutor wasn’t comfortable taking on any more kids.

I tried not to feel stung, but as I walked home from her house that day, I realized I’d taken it for granted that Ruth and I were in each other’s boat. Now I began to doubt not just that assumption, but our friendship.

A couple of days later, Ruth reached out again. She gave me the names of several parents she knew who might be interested in teaming up with me, but she also wanted to check in to make sure we were okay.

It was a watershed moment in our friendship, and it says a lot about what a good friend Ruth is that she invited that conversation. It wasn’t easy for either of us. For the first time we peeled back the layers of our friendship, revealing unspoken expectations. Ruth and I had been in each other’s lives daily for years. In the absence of family nearby, I’d thought of Ruth and her family as our substitute family. It had never occurred to me that with their own parents in the same state, Ruth and her family didn’t have the same expectations for us.

And that’s the thing about friendship. There are no written codes or contracts. Most of the time, we don’t even realize what we expect of our friends until a particular situation reveals it.

Safi says when you turn around and the friends you thought would be in your boat aren’t there, don’t assume the worst. He writes, “Maybe they were trying to survive in their own boat. It’s been said before, whenever
possible. Be kind. You never know what battles others are fighting.”

Ruth confessed her own weariness. She’s a frontline essential worker. Parenting during the pandemic had been hard. She’d often felt like she wanted to be there for me, but she was so exhausted that she didn’t have the energy.

“You do so much,” Ruth said. “Your tolerance for chaos is so high. Sometimes, I just don’t want to get swept up in the tornado.”

Later she said she regretted that comment. She worried that it came off as overly harsh. But her words rang true. I don’t want to be the tornado family–I long for us not to be–but the amount of chaos and disorder in our life during this pandemic in particular has felt torrential. Part of that was circumstantial. Our family has dealt with a massive amount of change in 2020. We’re still dealing with it.

“Most of the time, we don’t even realize what we expect of our friends until a particular situation reveals it.”

Part of it was personality. Ruth had often told me that her central need in life is to preserve harmony in her environment. I like peace. I even long for it. But if given the choice in relationships, I’ll choose intimacy over ease every single time.

When I stepped away from the emotion of the situation, the feeling that Ruth wasn’t in my boat, I could see that what I was asking of Ruth was more than any of my friends could give me, especially in a time when we were all just trying to survive and keep our own boats afloat. No one is able to be in our boat all the time. Not substitute family. Not actual family. Not the best of friends. The trick is learning to appreciate who is in your boat–even if it’s not who you thought it would be, or if their shift is brief, because they’ve got to tend to their own crew. It’s learning to be in other people’s boats, too.

This is an excerpt from Shelter in Place’s season 2 episode 3: In the Boat. Read the full transcript here.