Let’s Face It

Peaked Hill -wind graphics

Winter Wind Scroll. Peaked Hill Bar Life Saving Station.


Thea Sullivan asks, “What’s something you’re proud of yourself for this year? (Or, if you don’t like the word pride, what can you appreciate yourself for?) What hard thing or challenge did you face, internally or externally?”  And “What’s something you’re grateful for from 2019? *

My first thought is fighting: the daggers of doubt, the not-good-enough in everyday moments in between some so-awesome enough. It has been a hard year—deaths by cancer, a taking of life, a sudden brain disease; the shattering of pedestals built since childhood; living in shards of grief and sadness; financial fears; our stressed landscapes and fewer birds singing; inevitable aging.

Aka: Being Alive. I’m grateful for all the new learning, yes, as hard as it’s been.

Despite 44 years without a drink, this year the whiskey ads sound so sexy and seductive. Oh, to let go of this tension. But as my colleague, friend, and sober brother in all this mess of life, Michael Klein, said in a recent social media post, “… But in all of it, I never think drinking would make it easier. It would just make it drunker.” I didn’t grab a cigarette or drink. I often underline the “wild” and “precious life” of my tattoo since  Mary Oliver’s query is demanding.

The things to appreciate and accept of 2019, and to continue:  Finished the memoir; the college grad flew off to California to work; son had another season in the beautiful game; I’ve been an imperfect companion to a very grieving partner; started making a job as an equity scholar– thinking our way to more just educational action; and started interviews for a book about transracial families’ knowing. Best teaching in my college classrooms! Best because students departed with eyes and hearts wide-open and a desire to talk and think about complexities rather than demand “either /or.” They are most interested in striving for “and.”  They also noticed how a conversation stops when someone says they will ask Google for “the answer.” The questions really are more engaging.

Despair and devastation everywhere. This planet is ablaze. Many people are belligerent and unkind. And scared. There are children in cages. In it all, the fires, the rising waters, the endless plastic and denigration of the lands, hope and possibility are aflame too. Former coal miners are becoming beekeepers. Greta Thunberg and Jane Fonda are inspiring strikes for climate awareness and action.

And us—all of us are thinking and doing things in our lives to be transformational and makers of kindness and change.

I recently read about President Lyndon B. Johnson burying the Kerner Report of 1968. How did I miss this historic note? The commission was established to find out what caused the riots of 1967.  The findings were clear, even though “white supremacy” was not the term used, and poverty.

Alice George writes, “White society,” the presidentially appointed panel reported, “is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” The nation, the Kerner Commission warned, was so divided that the United States was poised to fracture into two radically unequal societies—one black, one white.” **

W.E.B.Du Bois said this in 1903 in The Souls of Black Folks. Nobody listened to the Kerner Report either.

I spent two weekends at Omega Institute studying with Buddhist, activist, Black, queer Radical Dharma teacher, Rev angel Kyodo williams. I’ve read Radical Dharma so many times the cover is tattered (not torn). She says people are ready. Ready to face the truths. In her 2018 interview with Krista Tippets’ On Being she says, “There is something dying in our society, in our culture, and there’s something dying in us individually. And what is dying, I think, is the willingness to be in denial. And that is extraordinary. It’s always been happening, and when it happens in enough of us, in a short enough period of time at the same time, then you have a tipping point, and the culture begins to shift. And then, what I feel like people are at now is, no, no, bring it on. I have to face it — we have to face it.” ***

The year started with a trip to Montgomery, Alabama. Long wide boulevards once teeming with the business of cotton and slavery, was fairly desolate in late January. The Equal Justice Initiative founder, Bryan Stevenson brought the museum and the memorial to Montgomery. He requests a real reconciliation, the real truths, the real depths about dehumanization of Black bodied human beings—from slavery to now. ****

I listened to the podcast of 1619. More pieces of the puzzle.*****                                             

This is my history.

Tippet continues in the interview with Rev angel, “You say: “We cannot have a healed society, we cannot have change, we cannot have justice, if we do not reclaim and repair the human spirit,” if we don’t do inner work, as you say in another place, that has been underemphasized. That we have not trained ourselves to do the work that is upon us now.

Rev. williams: No, we haven’t. We haven’t; and we haven’t, for good reason, from a particular perspective. To do our work, to come into deep knowing of who we are — that’s the stuff that bringing down systems of oppression is made of. And so capitalism in its current form couldn’t survive. Patriarchy couldn’t survive. White supremacy couldn’t survive if enough of us set about the work of reclaiming the human spirit, which includes reclaiming the sense of humanity of the people that are the current vehicles for those very forms of oppression.”
“If enough of us set about the work of reclaiming the human spirit…”

All spirits, all humanity.  Liberation. Guilt, shame, and blame. How could thousands of white people gather and watch a lynching? Send postcards about it? Black history is my history. Queer history. Indigenous history. The history of people with all kinds of abilities. The devastation of white supremacy. Say it. Come into acceptance. Our history is devastating trauma. ” How intolerable it is to be intolerant,” muses Rev angel.

Loving vs. Virginia (1967) and US vs. Windsor (2013) gave marriage rights to interracial and same sex couples. Black Lives Matter. BIPOC Lives. Our history also includes glorious moments of togetherness, solidarity, and love.

How ironic to be intolerant of those who are intolerant, say I, who is.

Did I ever answer Thea’s questions?  Here’s to living into the questions, the hard challenges, things to be grateful for, to our deep knowing and liberation, and all the unknowns that a New Year brings.

This is my trilogy:

Equity. Inclusion. Justice.

Oh, and only possible with much,

Radical Love.



Sources for you to explore:

**  The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders became known as the Kerner Commission.

***  https://onbeing.org/programs/angel-kyodo-williams-the-world-is-our-field-of-practice/

****https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/  and https://vermilyanotes.net/  Mercy & Diary of Montgomery, Alabama        Feb 5, 2019

***** (https://www.nytimes.com/column/1619-project)

Photographs and text by Shelley Vermilya. Edited patiently by Zora Aretha Vermilya.


George Fitzgerald

January 1, 1940 – May 11, 2019

How I miss your unconditional love


Reading list

Posted on January 2, 2020, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. michele j clark

    This is eloquent, Shelley. The hard thing is to rejoice in being alive, this little life, while sighing about the horrible things that happen in and to the world. I hafta work at it. Since Trump was elected, I’ve had to work harder than ever – except for when I was a teen-ager.

    • Michele– I hear you! There is a weird churning that is profoundly similar to those teen years. Another time in our lives for existential reckoning? Another awakening? So much heartbreak and so many people opening their hearts and minds. Thank you! *Shelley Vermilya, Ed.D.* 802-272-5227 Blog: vermilyanotes.net Photographs: shelleyvermilya.com

      Equity Scholar-in-Residence Pilot Project U-32 Middle and High School

      Instructor in Gender Studies Saint Michael’s College & Lecturer in Human Development & Family Studies Program University of Vermont

      Consulting Associate [image: ChangeMakers Partners]

      *James Baldwin said, * * Black history “testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.”*

      *”It’s important to understand all the ugly details so we can one day claim something really beautiful” Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative*

      “It’s important to understand all the ugly details so we c

      an one day claim something really beautiful.”


      “It’s important to understand all the ugly details so we can one day claim something really beautiful.”

      — BRYAN STEVENSON“It’s important to understand all the ugly details so we can one day claim something really beautiful.”


  2. nicolamorris2013

    Thanks, Shelley. I so appreciate how you put the vagaries of our individual lives, and especially yours, in perspective and then continue to ask the larger difficult questions… and the brief summary of your year. I haven’t thought of thinking of the whole year that way… though I do do that at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Still, things changed for us dramatically last Jan. so it would be interesting. Anyway, lovely to hear your writing voice and get introduced to new voices. Thank you, Nicky


  3. Ode to vagaries! Thank you!!!

  4. Shelley, thank you for sharing pieces of your life with us here. I am so grateful to have met you as an elder of mine, to have felt your strength as we practised being off balance together. I celebrated 3 years sobriety about a month ago- one day, maybe I’ll be a little more like you. Love you! 😍

Leave a Reply to RC Woodmass Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: