Monica Sheppard

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

Y’all hear it from me a lot, and I am starting to feel like a broken record, but I am reminded daily of the need to find a way to work together and forgive each other for real and perceived slights. Deciding to treat each other with respect as we go about finding our way, appreciating that we are each individuals that might look and think differently from each other is the only way we can survive as a community, both small and large.

When I was running for city commission I was asked about how I vote. I answered that I look at the issue or candidates in front of me, research to try and learn as much as I can, and then decide how I will vote. “You shouldn’t do that,” I was told.

Really? Forgive me if I disagree.

In my book, we have an obligation as citizens to do exactly that! Forgive me for the fact that I will seriously consider all options, and that I will get to know all of the candidates, regardless of party line and past and perception. When I get to know people, it is not unusual to realize I was wrong in my assumptions about them. For me, that is what true engagement in the political process and earnest concern for the future of our community looks like. We must look beyond the boxes we construct for each other.

Last week I got in trouble with a friend for posting a kudos article about the Mattel Corp.’s introduction of a line of Barbies that honor various inspiring women. My point was that it was about time, and what a great idea. Apparently, my kudos implied forgiveness for the fact that Mattel continues to use unrealistic representations of women and their bodies in their dolls.

As a tall, thin, blonde young girl, I wasn’t offended when my tall, thin, blonde aunt gave me a tall, thin, blonde doll. I have never come close to her measurements or looks, but it has never occurred to me to wish for that. My short, dark-haired and dark-skinned friend that I often played “Barbies” with may have been offended by her physique, but our play was all about inventing storylines filled with adventure and intrigue and romance and the dolls were just the actors in the scenes.

As mother to a young woman, I am constantly aware of what she is being told by society about who or what she should be. We all have some way in which we can feel marginalized; none of us fit the perfect mold that is sold to us, ad nauseam. Forgive me if I think that we need to focus on looking beyond that mold to define ourselves. That we should work on loving ourselves and each other for the things that make us unique, regardless of the boxes we are sold. This Saturday in Rome we have a chance to celebrate the acceptance of all people and march against marginalizing folks who are different at the Ginger Pride Parade and Freckle Fest. It is a humorous take on a serious subject, and I hope to see you there!

Forgive me that this column is turning into a shameless plug for some important events but, speaking of forgiveness and acceptance, do I have a story for you. In 1993, O’Shea Israel murdered Mary Johnson’s 20-year-old only son, Laramiun Byrd. On March 28, at the Wilder Center at Rome First United Methodist Church, you have the opportunity to hear them talk about how Johnson went from utter hatred for Israel, to forgiveness and ultimate acceptance of him as her neighbor and partner in a ministry that shares the power of forgiveness in prisons and communities across the country.

Israel says that he has had a hard time forgiving himself and that her forgiveness and love have made that easier to imagine. He has worked hard since his release to make a positive contribution to society, hoping to somehow pay back her mercy. Johnson says that that forgiveness is important for her health and ability to move on, more than for him.

Could it be that by forgiving ourselves and each other, by accepting ourselves and each other for who we are, that we might actually be free to move forward with greater contributions to the world? Forgive me if that ideal is where I will choose to fall.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.