Julie Walsh is a married, stay-at-home-mother to four young children. Before her oldest was born in 2010, she worked for five years at the Maryland Catholic Conference as Associate Director for Social Concerns and three years in the U.S. General Services Administration's Office of Inspector General. 

Julie holds a degree in political science and German from Mount Saint Mary's University in Emmitsburg. She and her family are parishioners of St. Peter the Apostle Church in Libertytown.

 

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The Space Between

In this Moment


This past weekend my husband and I went on a tour of (mostly) historic homes all decked-out for Christmas in Frederick. I "ooh"ed and "aah"ed at the lovely decorations, he puzzled over the architectural details, and we both admired the beautiful spaces, generally.

In one of the houses, a volunteer answered our compliments with something like, “You’ll get home and look around and everything will disappoint in comparison.” I just grinned at my husband, because I knew what she didn’t: We too have a historic home, and a pretty fancy one to boot.

But really, she was right. Because as much as I love our beautiful old home, walking into it is not like walking into a home carefully prepared for hundreds of paying visitors. I open the door and trip over boots and boxes and toys. I maneuver around backlogs of dirty dishes and laundry and trashcans waiting to be emptied. I sigh at tabletops covered with papers, which represent a to-do list that seems miles long.

Real life is real life, no matter the home in which it plays out. And of course real life – and the real world in which it plays out – is usually pretty messy.

Right now it seems especially so.

Lately I feel like a failure at pretty much everything I try to do: mothering, managing my household, blogging, being a good friend and an involved member of my extended family. (I know I’m not actually a failure, but it sure feels like it at times, especially as the holidays multiply our obligations.)

I feel like I’m a failure at being an attentive and engaged citizen. My post-election sense of being overwhelmed has not gone away. I’ve found it difficult to keep up with the competing news stories and the competing narratives of single news stories. I haven’t weighed in on anything. I haven’t gotten my little “let’s get people of different political stripes together to talk” project off the ground. (Status: information gathered, dates not yet set.)

I feel kind of like I have writer’s block, except it has to do with the thinking of the whole thing, not the writing. As I become more consumed with events at home (some of them pretty stressful), I pay less attention to news from the outside. And as I pay less attention to the news, I feel increasingly less capable of any sort of mental and emotional wrangling with the world.

But I’ve been trying, when I think of it, to rely on a strategy from an earlier point in my life: putting aside my worries about what I’m not achieving and instead focusing on what I am doing in a particular moment. Usually (but not always), that "doing" is pretty constructive, even if it seems insignificant in the scheme of things.

“In this moment, I’m holding my baby close.”

“In this moment, I’m reading to my son.”

“In this moment, I’m working to ensure that my family has clean clothes to wear.”

“In this moment, I’m helping a friend.”

“In this moment, I’m smiling at a stranger.”

“In this moment, I’m holding open a door.”

“In this moment, I’m exploring the veracity of a story that came across my newsfeed.”

“In this moment, I’m praying for a friend / a cause / a beleaguered population.”

The strategy helps. I figure that if I can’t manage an overarching, coordinated, obviously-constructive way for going about my life, I can at least move forward in small ways. And I can rest in that knowledge.

Small things are worth doing. Constructive things can move you forward even when they’re not well coordinated. Something is something. Moments matter.
























***

Interested in coming along with me as I chew on politics, current events, and faithful citizenship? Like The Space Between’s Facebook page. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my personal blog, These Walls

December 07, 2016 04:16
By Julie Walsh


An insufficient response to the election




President-elect Donald Trump is seen with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, in Washington, Nov. 10. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA) 


I don’t know about you, but the results of last week’s election have left me feeling completely overwhelmed.

First it was the election itself: While I wasn’t totally shocked that Trump won, I was surprised, and I swear it’s taken me lots of mental heavy lifting to adjust from my Clinton-framed view of what the next four years might be like to a Trump-framed view. As I said on Facebook the morning after the election, “I always considered both prospects for the presidency to carry some big negatives and some less-negatives. I'm now trying to get used to a different set than I anticipated.”

Then there are the reactions of my loved ones – everything from despair to giddiness. Many have been thrust into something like mourning. Some are struggling to grapple with what has happened. Some are grasping at straws, trying for something, anything that might undo Trump’s election. Some have taken a more productive course of action, setting the stage for four years’ worth of opposition. Others seem to be pinching themselves, delighted that a culture that has been so dominated by one (progressive) view of the world has been disrupted. They’re eager for their chance to be heard.

There are the broader, wider reactions of people across the country:  those who march, those who riot, those who fight, those who are consumed by fear, those who feed it by marking up public spaces with hateful slogans, those who resent the intensity of it all.

There are the calls to action: To reach out, to stand up, to grow up.

There’s the confusion of the contingent to which I belong – conservatives who oppose the Republican Party’s swing towards populism; who disdain the Trump campaign’s associations with racism, sexism and fearmongering; who value life, liberty and the rights of the individual human person over electoral success. What do you do when your side becomes unrecognizable to you? What are the options for the politically homeless?




An AT&T truck burns as protesters riot in Oakland, Calif., following President-elect Donald Trump's victory in the Nov. 8 election. (CNS photo/Noah Berger, Reuters)

Like I said, it’s been overwhelming. And adding in the demands of my home and my four beautiful, exhausting little children, I feel like I hardly have enough energy for life these days, let alone any Big And Important Response to the election.

So here I stand, almost empty-handed. Insufficient.

The best image I can conjure up to describe what I mean by “almost empty-handed” is that of a woman tentatively approaching the home of a friend who has been grievously injured in an accident.

The woman is sad, she’s concerned, she’s confused. Her mind spins with the particulars of the accident and her friend’s precarious condition. She wants to help but doesn’t know what the family needs or whether she’s equipped to offer it. But she also has hope. The accident was not fatal. Her friend lives. She has loved ones who are willing to help her recover.

So the woman does a little something. She does all she can think to do, fully aware that it’s lacking. She walks up those front steps and knocks on the front door, and in the face of all that fear and anguish, she stands there, insufficient, holding a cake.

After my first, dull, hollow response to Trump’s election, my next response was better, though it was small and insufficient like that cake. I wanted to talk to people. Not to type angry comments into my phone, not to work up a diatribe against the conditions that brought us to this point – just to talk, in real life, to real people.

I thought of the people I’d been trading political points with online, friends from long-ago stages of my life. I thought of the people with whom I’ve felt a kinship, those who have given me hope. And I wanted to just sit with all of them in my parlor, holding a cup of something hot and a plate of something sweet – and talk. Just talk. About where I’m coming from and where they are, about the experiences that have lead us to those places. About why we think we’re right and what we want others to know about us. About the things we don’t understand about the other. I wanted to see faces and hear voices and remember that we’re all struggling for the good, stumbling and imperfect and insufficient as we are.

So I issued a little invitation to my friends and family on Facebook: “I want to get together a group of not-like-minded folks to talk about some big issues that divide us (abortion, gun control, immigration, race, whatever). Not to argue, not even to convince – just to help us understand each other. Just to ask questions and explain perspectives. I'll provide the place and the drinks; maybe others could bring an appetizer or dessert to share? What do you think?”

I was hoping for a half-dozen interested people who were local to me. But I got that and more. Around a dozen locals and more than a dozen people from across the country expressed interest in participating, so now I’m putting together several discussion groups, some to meet in person, some via video chat.

It’s not much. It’s only a little brave, not a lot. It’s an insufficient response to all the fear and frustration our country is going through right now. God willing, it won’t be all I do.

But at this moment, this is what I’ve got. I am by nature a friendly person who reaches out and wants to know people. And right now, overwhelmed as I am, that’s the instinct I’m going to rely on.



***

Interested in coming along with me as I chew on politics, current events, and faithful citizenship? Like The Space Between’s Facebook page. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my personal blog, These Walls.

November 17, 2016 11:17
By Julie Walsh


Don’t Turn Away: Attempt The Politics You Really Want




In the month that leads up to an Election Day, people always seem to be eager for the campaign season to end. Most years, I hear complaints about TV commercials and telephone calls. This year I’m not hearing that, because of course this is not most years.

This campaign has struck and unsettled and energized and annoyed people like none in our lifetime. We’ve forgotten that little things like televised campaign ads used to get under our skin. Today there are so many more, so much more worrisome things to bother us.

This year we’ve got mistrust and vulgarity and too many scandals to keep track of. We’ve got each side thinking the other will actually, literally destroy the country. We’ve got serious division between neighbors, friends, and family.

I feel like we’re undergoing a collective suffering. (Which, if it came from anything other than our division, might grow into a unifying experience. But no such luck on this one.)

This is all to say: I understand why people want to be done with this thing.

I understand why I’m seeing person after person complain on-line and in-person that they wish people would just stop talking about it. They want their Facebook newsfeeds to return to kids and puppy dogs. They want politics to stop encroaching on their neighborly conversations.

I get it.

But honestly, I don’t think we deserve that. I think we deserve to feel uncomfortable right now.

I don’t mean that as some sort of a punishment, some sort of Catholic guilt thing. (And I should probably find a better word for what I mean than “deserve.”) I just think that we should be present. We should inhabit the time in which we live. We should be attuned to the reality of our day, and today’s reality is uncomfortable.

I think this is a good time for challenging our own complacency, for praying, for considering what we really want for our country. And if we don’t want to be in this awful position again, this is a good time to think on how we can affect change.

As somebody who is naturally interested in politics, I know I’m biased here. But as the collective mood moves toward despair and avoidance, I worry: What will we solve if we shut it all out? How can we deal with a situation that we place off to the side, wanting not to think about it?

I firmly believe that at the core of it all – underneath all the scandal and intrigue and calcified factions – we still live in a great democracy. It’s under there somewhere. It has good bones.

We have the power to form our government into something we can be proud of. So let’s pay attention, let’s think, let’s chew, let’s work. (Let’s not tell ourselves that none of this matters.) Let’s point our minds and our energies towards the good. Let’s attempt the politics we really want.

I have some ideas as to what I can do. Do you?

***

This post is part of a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on my personal blog, These Walls, on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction

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Interested in coming along with me as I chew on politics, current events, and faithful citizenship? Like The Space Between’s Facebook page. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my personal blog, These Walls.


October 17, 2016 09:49
By Julie Walsh


On My Mind (Vol. 8)




---1---

Now that we’ve had the first presidential debate of the general election, I feel like we’re entering the home stretch. Which is kind of a relief and kind of a worry. Anyone who has traced this campaign from its beginning is likely to be worn down by now. Yet Election Day, of course, will herald a new presidency and few of us seem particularly enthusiastic about either candidate. How will it feel to sit there on Election Eve, I wonder, weighing which kind of disappointment to root for?

---2---

Onto that debate: I thought about giving you my impression of it the day after, but it turns out that my assessment is pretty mild, and pretty much what I’ve heard from everyone else: Trump sort of impressed and surprised me for the first 20-or-so minutes of the debate. He kept his cool and he managed to dominate the conversation without coming across as obnoxious.

But then Trump seemed to remember himself. Hillary Clinton pushed his buttons and he responded accordingly. Again and again, Trump said things that would have been considered gaffes for previous nominees. (Such as seemingly confirming that he hasn’t paid federal income taxes by bragging that not paying them makes him smart.) It was all sort of typically difficult to take in, and I would be surprised if it attracted undecided voters to his cause. But I wouldn’t be surprised if his performance energized his base. They obviously like what they see in him and he gave them a fresh batch of it on Monday night.

---3---

Clinton was also true-to-form: knowledgeable, wonkish, a skilled debater. I imagine her performance came as a relief to her supporters, because this debate (like the election itself) was hers to lose. Trump has such a well-established, highly-divisive image that people either love him or loathe him. I can hardly begin to imagine anything that Trump could say or do at this point to push his supporters away from him or draw large numbers of undecideds towards him.

That’s not to say that Clinton doesn’t have a well-established, highly-divisive image too. Of course she does. But I think she has more control over the direction of this race. If Clinton makes blunders, her support will decrease. If she manages to come across as a solid, capable, presidential option, her support will increase.

Trump is who Trump is. Once I saw that Trump’s campaign could survive him saying, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," I knew that its future depended not so much on him, but on his opponents’ ability to corral the majority of Americans who aren’t attracted by that kind of bravado.

---4---

I do, however, think Clinton made a mistake in the debate by repeatedly calling on fact checkers to do their job. Fact checkers will do what fact checkers do. Her instructions to them only served to buttress her image as the ultimate insider, one who can direct the powers that be to do her bidding. That’s far from an asset in this race.

---5---

Given all the “post-truth” chatter I’ve been hearing and reading lately (and my own post from last week), I was kind of amused to hear a news clip of Trump telling a crowd of his supporters that the polls showed him as the winner of Monday evening’s debate. At first I couldn’t grasp what he was talking about, because the polls I’d heard of had Clinton winning the night by a wide margin. Was he just completely fabricating this result out of nowhere?

But then… ah, yes. That kind of poll. The kind a newspaper throws up on its website to get you to engage with it. Those polls are great fun, because you can cast your vote and see its impact immediately – 188,743 people have voted, and you’re in the majority! It’s so much fun to vote like that, in fact, that sometimes you feel like voting again and again, just to watch that number tick higher. Those are great polls (even if they’re nowhere near accurate). 

And… that’s it. I can’t make it to seven for this week’s Quick Takes. Ah, well. Have a great weekend, all!

 

***

Interested in coming along with me as I chew on politics, current events, and faithful citizenship? Like The Space Between’s Facebook page. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my personal blog, These Walls.

September 30, 2016 10:14
By Julie Walsh


Let’s Not Tell Ourselves that None of this Matters


Last week I saw a meme on Facebook that said something to the effect of: The day after the election, your kids will still be your kids, your home will still be your home, the sun will still shine, and butterflies will still flit about fancifully.

Or something like that. I don’t remember who posted it, so I can’t find it to validate the accuracy of my impression. In any case, the meme was telling us, “Don’t worry; none of this matters anyway.”

To which my inner lobbyist was shouting, “No! This does matter! Elections have consequences! Governments do real things! And you have more power over them than you realize!”

I understand where the meme’s creator and the multitudes who share it are coming from. This election has shaken people. Ideologies are in flux, loyalties are shifting, and opinions that were once shushed are now voiced aloud. Some find the situation thrilling. Many find it disturbing.

For the latter camp, it’s tempting to treat this campaign, and indeed politics overall, as a television show that can be turned off. It’s a topic to be weeded out of a newsfeed, a fad to be ignored, something as disconnected from our real lives as Justin Bieber and the Kardashians.

Except it’s not.

The schools our kids attend, the roads and bridges we travel over, the cables and airwaves we use to communicate, the healthcare we access, the vulnerable people we care about, our financial and physical security, our environment, our liberties – nearly everything we can think of is touched in some way by our local, state, or federal governments. We may wish that weren’t so, but it is.

And we may wish that we have no responsibility for them, but we do. In a country of some 320 million people, it’s easy for us to think of ourselves as drops in a massive bucket. But within that bucket we’re divided into those who vote and those who don’t. (Only 62 percent of voting-age citizens reported voting in the general election of 2012 – just 42% of the total population.)

We’re divided into states and counties and cities, which is where most of the laws and regulations that impact our lives are made anyway. And we’re divided into those who speak up – those who weigh in to elected representatives and other government officials – and those who don’t.

You should know that if you vote, you’re already in the minority. If you donate to political campaigns, you’re in the minority. (And if you donate over $200, you’re in the smallest of minorities.) 

If you volunteer for campaigns or participate in your local partisan club, you’re in the minority. And if you go further – if you email your legislators or send them letters or visit them in person – you’re in the minority too.

I don’t mean to get bogged down in the weeds here. I only mean to say that if you act like you’re powerless to change things, you will indeed be powerless.

Last week I took my kids down to Washington, D.C., to visit some friends who were staying in a hotel near the White House. A whole crew of us – five moms and 16 little kids – had a picnic lunch on Lafayette Square, which sits just outside the White House grounds. When we were done we walked towards Pennsylvania Avenue and melted into the ever-present crowd of tourists and protestors to gaze on that impressive building.


Immigration advocates demonstrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington in this Dec. 30, 2015, file photo. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew/EPA)

“That’s what this is about,” I couldn’t help but think. “That building, that seat of power, that real, physical structure in front of me – that’s what those people are fighting for. It’s real. They’re real. The consequences of our votes are real too.”

I used to not need such reminders – when I worked in D.C. and when I worked in Annapolis, when I regularly saw the machinations of government and legislative politics. I used to get frustrated that so few people would take us up on our efforts to help them contact their legislators.

“You have no idea how much of an impact you could have!” I wanted to yell at them, shake into them.

Yet now I struggle with their complacency. I look at my kids and my home and those fanciful little butterflies and I’m tempted to think that none of it – not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump or the politicians dancing around their candidacies – I’m tempted to think that none of it matters.

That’s a temptation to resist. That’s a temptation to push aside, to swat away, to respond to with a resounding “No.” Because you and me, we have responsibilities here.

We have responsibilities to our communities and neighbors, to the vulnerable and the stifled, to the people who will be affected by the systems we create. We are responsible for the governments and the society we leave to our children.

Denying the reality of those responsibilities or our power to fulfill them – that’s what makes us powerless. Not the elites, not the “rigged” system – just our own complacent selves.

So let’s remember. Let’s accept our responsibilities. Let’s not tell ourselves that none of this matters.


August 10, 2016 10:03
By Julie Walsh