Category Archives: historical perspective
An opulence of travel visions:
Paris, London, Lisbon, Prague,
beauty rampant with history and art.
Yet etched forever in my mind
the beaches and cross-crowned cliffs
above the shores of Normandy.
A cliff face sheering from the ocean,
Pointe du Hoc, where Army Rangers
climbed point blank into German guns.
Now, just empty bunkers on pitted earth
and beaches, wave washed innocent
below silent sentinels left behind.
Row on row of small white crosses
guarding fields of blood-rich ground,
Old Glory whipping, snapping in the wind.
My Letter to our National and State Congressmen and to the Editor of the Tennessean ( An Edited and Condensed Previous Blog Post )
1. Freedom for and from religion are the same thing. We need to protect that freedom.
2. Homosexuality is not a choice. My great-great aunt became a pediatrician and established a clinic for the poor in the early 1900’s. She lived with the same woman all her life. My brother has been in a twenty-five year monogamous relationship with another man. My son and his partner of seventeen years teach children born HIV positive in South East Asia. Legal recognition of same gender commitment relationships is crucial on many levels, from health insurance to the same degree of acceptance and safety from persecution that heterosexuals have. A return to legal reinforcement of prejudice could very well precipitate violence.
3. I want all people to experience the unconditional love of God expressed in Jesus, so He can become their Lord. History shows that making people pretend Christians by law, violence, judgment, or discrimination does not accomplish that. If we could make and enforce secular laws against making pleasure a God, many heterosexual people would be in legal trouble. The purpose of marriage is a committed relationship, not just pleasure. Let’s support that.
4. Married to the same man for fifty-eight years, I have come to believe marriage is designed not to just populate the world, but to challenge and enable us to really know and love another imperfect (not abusive) person. Let’s not limit anyone by law to deceit in order to experience that.
When you’ve lived as long as I have, you’re a walking history book of sorts. I’ve known six generations of my own family, been through five wars involving America, personally experienced both affluent times and scary times of scarcity, lived in big cities and in back woods’ ‘hollers,’ and traveled to fifteen foreign countries, some of them several times. My father’s family were very wealthy until the depression. Then they lost everything. There were nine children. The older ones experienced all the trimmings of affluence, summer homes and homes abroad. The older boys became Vice Presidents of their father’s company and the girls were debutantes. But, the younger ones had to make it on their own. Though as one of the younger ones, my father didn’t get to finish college, he eventually became an editor of a big city newspaper. This didn’t make us rich. I grew up living in apartments. And in my younger years I was frighteningly aware at times that we lived close to the precipice of poverty. But a newspaper editor has a certain amount of status and connections. One senator, who eventually ended up President, in his early political years asked my father to be his press secretary. Speaking and writing English properly were important in my family. My husband’s father on the other hand grew up seriously poor in a large family. His English was not always perfect. He worked from a very young age, put himself through college, and became a very successful lawyer. He knew several American Presidents, even had Jack and Jackie Kennedy to brunch at his home. My husband, as the youngest of five, grew up affluent in a house with twelve fire places, that later became a private school. We ourselves have experienced being reasonably affluent. But through a combination of circumstances and timing, we went through some financially challenging times. Those included an unforgettable night with our whole family out in the snow. My husband was cutting down a tree, while the rest of us passed logs in an assembly line for the wood burning stove, both to keep us warm and keep the pipes from freezing.
There are some things I have learned from the rich variety of my life experiences.
Ancestors do not define us.
Money doesn’t make us virtuous, but poverty doesn’t either.
Neither does knowledge make us wise.
Adversity can, but does not necessarily, strengthen us.
What we mean is more important than how we say it.
Ultimately, what’s inside us will matter much more than our circumstances.
There’s a difference between smart people and intelligent ones, but I need to learn from both. I delight in talented people and am actually most comfortable around people who march to a different drummer than the majority. I have grown to particularly appreciate people who have persevered and become compassionate through seriously hard times.
I am enriched by any kind of beauty whether in nature, art, music, people, or things, but don’t need to own them to experience joy from them.
I have enjoyed having money for extras in life.
However, I am most grateful for the enlightenment that comes from experiencing a taste of the limits and fears that go with poverty, but also discovering the possibilities in the wider world that come with affluence.
And now at this age, there are two characteristics that I value more than anything else: simple kindness and the humility to laugh at ourselves.
When my Mom was growing up in Jackson, Mississippi in the nineteen twenties, her public high school was next to the one Catholic Church and school. She believed that the nuns wore headdresses to cover their horns. Most of the Catholics in Jackson were immigrants from countries in Eastern Europe that she had never heard of. And their languages seemed strange and scary to her, as were any Blacks that she didn’t know. She ended up with a job in New Orleans and married to a Catholic newspaperman, who also happened to be a strong advocate for integration. She was a naturally kind person who cared about people, so she gradually adopted my Dad’s way of thinking. Though she remained Methodist, she was one of the most active mothers in my Catholic school and became great friends with the nun that taught me in first grade. But when my Dad went away in the army in the nineteen forties, Mom and I went to live with her parents back in Jackson. I went to a public grade school near by. As a new and very scared second grader, I experienced everyone in the school gathering in the gym and being separated into groups by religion. I have no idea why. But out of several hundred children, I was the only Catholic. Not a comfortable experience for an eight year old child.
In the mid-nineteen-fifties, my Dad, now a newspaper editor in Houston, Texas, endorsed the first black to run for a position on the school board. The schools were still separate, but the black schools had never had any representation. Late on the night of the election, the entry hall to our apartment was bombed. The bomb was primitive, but strong enough to make sharp pieces of slate and even the confetti packing all stick in the door and walls. Fortunately, I stopped on the way downstairs to answer the door when the bell rang. It was long after midnight and my dad wasn’t home from covering the election yet, so I stopped half way down just as the bomb went off.
In the sixties, now living in my husband’s home town of Nashville, Tennessee, one of my social friends proclaimed furiously and proudly that as a hospital volunteer, she had refused to carry a black baby out to the car that day. She had done this right in front of the parents. I was horrified that a Christian mother with a college degree would be so cruel. So, I decided to volunteer at a black grade school as a tutor for children having trouble reading . As I grew fond of these delightful small children, I began to consider how limited their future would be, even if they learned to read. So, I joined the NAACP and worked in their offices trying to find employment for blacks in the white community. I happened to be working there on the day the Poor People’s March on Washington came through Nashville. Young blacks, who were in the more extreme Black Protest movements, came through the office where I was working that day. They obviously hated whites and made sure I was very aware of that. I went home stricken by my experiences of the extremes of hatred between the races. How could we avoid a bloody race war? But God sent Martin Luther King, Jr. and his message of non-violent protest. Thanks to him and many other brave Christian Blacks, we live in a different world now and my grandchildren have friends of all colors.
In the early seventies, my husband and I and our five children moved to a very rural area of middle Tennessee. One day, as I came into the little neighborhood grocery that had chairs around a potbellied stove, I overheard one of the men sitting there say, “Yep, If someone hadn’t of killed those Kennedys, we’d have a Pope running our country now and those Catholics you think are your friends would be killin’ us in our beds.” No one argued the point.
Don’t assume that because you are a law abiding white middle class American, you will never experience prejudice.
In the eighties, I had to use a wheelchair because there was no medicine yet for a condition that made walking excruciatingly painful for my feet. About that time, one of our sons went to work for an airline that allowed him to take us abroad for only the tax on tickets. So, we began years of traveling with the challenge of me in a wheel chair. America had already become mostly handicapped accessible, so we were not really prepared for the differences in Europe. In many countries the only accessible bathrooms were in a McDonalds’. In the German speaking part of Switzerland, in Vienna, Austria, and in the Czech Republic we met with open hostility. And the hostility was not just from skin heads. In Prague, when trying to get across a road in the rain and onto an awning covered side walk, wide enough for a wheelchair and other people to walk, several middle-aged, middle class looking women standing together chatting, not only wouldn’t move even slightly to let us get out of the rain, but one scowling, turned and literally hissed at me. I cried that night. I considered myself a kind middle class woman of reasonably pleasant appearance. Why would someone hate me without even knowing me. We learned it wasn’t because we were Americans. Now that the communists were gone, the Czechs were welcoming westerners with open arms. But until that year those with any kind of handicap had been kept inside, sometimes in attics.The new President’s wife was just starting a campaign to help them become an accepted part of the society. Shortly after we returned to America, we read that a German family had sued a restaurant in Germany for allowing a handicapped person to be seated where they were visible to others. They claimed that having to see this person while they ate ruined their vacation. The saddest part is that the court agreed and they were awarded $20,000.
Don’t assume if you are a liberal Democrat, that you aren’t prejudiced.
My assumptions about my lack of prejudice were knocked silly when I was substitute teaching a seventh grade English class in my small rural town. I called on a young black man and just stood there speechless with my mouth hanging open when he answered in an upper class British accent using four and five syllable words, that I had actually never spoken, only read. I had been totally unaware of my preconceptions, because of my limited experience.
I realized that I had some prejudice against Germans from WWII and years of movies and books about the Holocaust. Though I knew not all Germans agreed or participated in persecuting the Jews, I had not read of many Germans that risked their own their lives for them, except the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of the book The Cost of Discipleship. At first, my experiences in Europe reinforced my prejudice. But, when reflecting back on the many experiences of kindness and generosity by Germans, Austrians, and Czech’s while in their countries, I realized I was focusing on a minority because of my long unchallenged prejudice.
We can and will survive our current fears and prejudices, if we commit to working toward a better America for all people, including both whites and blacks, who cannot afford college or have different gifts more suited to vocational education and also for immigrants seeking sanctuary for their children from wars not of their choosing.
One of the problems with education, besides economic ghettos, is not recognizing differences in personalities. Any one with several children knows they were different at birth. Most teachers of primary grades catch on eventually that no one system of teaching basics will work for all children.
Personality differences include learning style differences, value differences, actually even what we see, so also how we react to it. It’s complex. I only wish I had known more about these differences when I taught first and second grade. (See blog post: Important Things I Learned from First Graders When I Was Forty.)
Most intuitive thinkers question the status quo, see connections between differing things, explore new possibilities, are idealistic, and though some travel or do something else for a while, most will go to college. They also tend to end up living in the large cities. Concrete thinkers are more hands on, learn from their parents and practical experience, accept what is and tend to prefer small communities. We actually need to challenge all types fairly early to value skills opposite to their natural way of being in the world. The intuitive idealists often don’t recognize the practical costs of their dreams enough to develop either their own practical problem solving skills or preferably learn to appreciate and work with those whose minds work differently. And of course, vice versa. We need to affirm and enable problem solvers, but also early on involve them in problem solving ways to work toward ideals. Change is not always better, but many things can be changed for the better slowly while taking into account the immediate practical side effects for all. As long as many are looking only at the ideal possibilities and the others not only feel more secure with the familiar, but see only the problems involved in any great change, we will continue to be pretty much totally divided. Another difference is some of the population tends to live in the past, some in the present moment without much awareness of long term consequences, and others focus on the long view of the future. Do you see why we have such different views?
The biggest problem is the solution isn’t either/or. It requires valuing each others’ gifts and working together. Unfortunately, that takes letting go of some of our most cherished prejudices and admitting that no one has answers that will work for all, unless we work together.
Fellow democrats, we are sounding like our opponents did before the election. Now, maybe we will understand what feeling unheard and powerless does to people’s sense of decency. Please, let’s don’t go there. It will not help anything. The time to protest is when actual laws that we cannot in good conscience support are proposed. And then protest only in the non-violent tradition of Martin Luther King .
Admit it, we ourselves have been disgusted by attacks on President’s wives in the past. Don’t do it. Complain to face book or at least hide vicious vulgarity on your pages. It simply lowers us to the level of everything that we have been against. Wake up Democrats. Fear creates monsters. We know that. Stop now or we will wake up one morning and have to face that we have become the enemy.
You can probably guess how I feel today, exhausted, in despair, and like hiding from it all. But my Good Dog Lady Bird and I are about to go hiking, and nature will heal us, sustain and renew us–for at least an hour. I’ll take it! Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” and the divine electrical field of love and beauty will all but leave my mouth hanging open in awe. I’ve said before that if birdsong were the only pooof that there is another, deeper, wider reality, it would be proof enough for me.
Then I’ll go hang out with some sober women, many of whom have had decades of sobriety and slow jerky-jerky resurrection; some of whom will only have a few weeks. All of them know exactly what the end of the world feels like, and maybe feel it in different form, but for every one of us, the end of the world was where new life began. Hitting bottom was the beginning of everything beautiful and true and full of integrity in our lives. We’ll stick together, get each other lovely cups of tea or bad coffee, eat our body weight in cookies, and get through another hour in gratitude. Someone will be sure to remind us that we thought we were hotshots when we first got sober, but we helped each work our way up to servants. And that is the path of joy.
Then I’ll go see the oldest woman in my galaxy, who is 93, and beginning to show it. I will sit with her and share the Grace of not not spouting platitudes or bumper sticker thoughts. I’ll just listen. I’ll tell her how much I love her. No one can make her laugh like I do. Ram Dass said that ultimately, we are all just walking each other home, and this is what she and and I do together. In two Sundays, she will become the newest member of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City. I will go crazy with happiness that day. You can come too!
Then I’ll pick up two short crazy banshees from school, and my house will become monkey island. For three hours, I will be under constant threat of severe Lego injury. We’ll over-eat, because God came by earlier and told me that this was Her will for me: “Strengthen me with raisin cakes, comfort me with apples. And M&M’s.”
Then my son and the man I love will arrive, and I’ll bet you hundreds of thousands of dollars that there will be delicious, nourishing food tonight. Wow. That is just not true for much of the world, so before they get here, I am going to send money to Oxfam, and Tyranny Watch, and Doctors Without Borders, designated for poor Americans. On my honor. This is the Drive Through ATM way to feel hope again, because you are providing it.
Molly Ivins said that freedom fighters don’t always win, but they’re always right. I’m going to write that on the mirror. It is written on my sad old heart. We don’t know what the future holds–we really, really don’t. During the Vietnam War, Zhou Enlai was asked what he thought about about the French Revolution, and after inhaling on his Gauloise said, “Too Soon to Tell.” We think we know what the future holds, but we are a tense and irritable people. However, we DO know who holds the future. So buckle up, practice radical self care, serve the poor, and rest up for what awaits us. We are up to this moment.
Morning After To-Do List:
1. Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably.
2. Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn’t let go of and refused to listen to or acknowledge what was really going on. Those same bloviators will now tell us we must “heal the divide” and “come together.” They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off.
3. Any Democratic member of Congress who didn’t wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama every day for eight full years must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping the meanness and the madness that’s about to begin.
4. Everyone must stop saying they are “stunned” and “shocked”. What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren’t paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all “You’re fired!” Trump’s victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.
5. You must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: “HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!” The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don’t. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he’s president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College. Until we change that, we’ll continue to have presidents we didn’t elect and didn’t want. You live in a country where a majority of its citizens have said they believe there’s climate change, they believe women should be paid the same as men, they want a debt-free college education, they don’t want us invading countries, they want a raise in the minimum wage and they want a single-payer true universal health care system. None of that has changed. We live in a country where the majority agree with the “liberal” position. We just lack the liberal leadership to make that happen (see: #1 above).
Let’s try to get this all done by noon today.