Between the election and inauguration I had both knees replaced. I found myself in a situation that required all of my attention to heal. I’m not sure which has been more challenging, the knees or my resultant despair from a Trump presidency. I’m not there but I’m making good progress. Healing requires work. As attentive as I am too my physical therapy I am mindful that my mental state requires more deliberate attention. Being angry and outraged has the hidden seduction of feeling warranted. One of the ugliest parts of social media and our current divide is the taunting that appears in contentious threads. When someone of a foreign, to me, ideology takes pleasure in my discomfort I want to blast back with both barrels. That won’t help me heal.
Just as my physical therapy requires daily stretching and exercise so does the search for my best path forward. I’ve started by talking more with friends. I have also started to go back to church. Some things are just so beyond me that I have to trust a higher power will handle them for me. I’m reading more. I want to be sure that much of what bothers me merits my outrage. Most does. Somehow focusing on the issue itself is better for taking action than responding to provocative memes. Later today my family is getting together to head into DC to attend an “Islam: Then and Now” panel discussion. I’m watching more documentaries and I’m here, writing more to consolidate my thoughts. Stretching and exercising.
Last night my wife and I watched “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and there is a scene where Rey is about to succumb to the light saber of Kylo Ren. Kylo suggests Rey should accept the power of the dark side and he is willing to “teach” her. Get over it, move on, and accept your fate are analogous refrains. It is at that point when Rey stands firm and lets the light of the force give her the strength to fight another day. That is where I am trying to get. If I continue to stretch and exercise I’ll be there in no time.
I cherish my roots in the never described as hustle and bustle that is Iowa. We were once recognized for academic achievement and literacy. We took pride in our work ethic and warm hospitality. I left Iowa in 2008 which was on the cusp of a transformation that I’m not confident affords the same descriptors of my beloved home state today. That makes me sad. It makes me sad not only for my like minded friends who remain but for all Iowans who could benefit from the more balanced open mindedness that existed before all our hyper partisanship. Divisiveness has ripped through the heartland. Rush Limbaugh and FOX News convinced good natured people that austerity politics would protect them from the onslaught of immigrants who would steal their jobs. It was foreign outsourcing and technology that eliminated jobs in the manufacturing economy. Not immigrants.
My new life in the Washington DC metropolis woke me. We pulled our rental trucks to the front of our new home in a heavy winter storm. Our utilities would not be activated until the following morning so we found a hotel and set out to find dinner. Close to our hotel was the Fairfax VA IHOP. Being immigrants to Virginia from homogeneous Iowa we found great humor that indeed this truly was an “international house of pancakes.” There were Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Europeans all eating breakfast for dinner like that was a normal thing. (I just noticed that my iPad did not auto-correct blacks with a capital letter like it did other demographics descriptors.) is that correct? I’ve edited as I saw fit.
As we settled into our new home my first best friend was a non practicing Hindu coffee shop owner named Sammy. We had so many interfaith conversations about love and misconceptions and life. It was great. Really great. Believe me. Then I got a job where a Muslim Jordanian and a Russian Jew made up the management team. The shop employed Hispanics, Asians, Blacks and Whites. A group of the best guys I ever worked with. And now I work for a large employer that seems to be equal parts men and women, every religion and consciousness and nationality known to man. It’s a Fortune 100 top place to work seven years running. A large reason for that is the cultural climate.
I say all this because “some” of the good people I left behind in Iowa and places like it don’t know what they don’t know. It is our job in these divided times to be a light to those who feel threatened by diversity. I admit that I felt betrayed when a campaign ran on divisiveness won out over inclusiveness. I’m done accusing those who don’t know what they don’t know as being racist. I won’t label them misogynistic, islamophobic or homophobic or any other political or culturally exclusionary name. Love will always trump hate. We know that. It’s time we acted like it.
I wrote yesterday about a defining moment in my youth. I experienced racism for the first time and was blessed that my father was there to guide me through it in the most magnificent way. As the words of that post oozed out through social media my sister contacted me and we reminisced about how awesome it was to be our father’s kids. And that made me wonder. My father grew up in a home where food was put on the table by a bootlegging prize fighting bigot. I know he was a bigot because my father married a Mexican and I heard the way he would talk to her and about her. He was the sort of family member who we always excused as “that’s just the way he is” and never called him out when he was being horrible. And yet my father rose like a phoenix from the mire and stank of that prejudice.
How? I wondered. My mom. I understood. Anita grew up the youngest daughter in a family with seven children to Mexican immigrants. My grandfather came here as a refugee from the Mexican Revolution and my grandmother came here for the more typical reasons of wanting to enjoy all the blessings of life in America. By today’s standards both came here illegally. That my mother and father met is the miracle that transformed my father. Her beauty, her strength, her faith, and her gentle nature conquered a lifetime’s lessons of dogmatic racism. And there is a lesson for all of us. We must engage.
My mother never went to college and yet she had the heart to enrich the lives of special needs students in her career. She wasn’t political but sat on a civil rights panel at the local state university. She wasn’t an activist but always stood up to injustice. She was of modest means but always found time to deliver communion or meals to the homebound members of her local parish. My mother lived a quiet life by example and it was contagious.
My sister recently reminded me of the launch of Iraqi Freedom in 2003. My mother heard that there would be an opposition rally on the main drag of our hometown. Anita felt it was important to express her opposition to the war. When people who held strongly different views drove by and shared expletives and gestures indicating that they didn’t share her point of view my mother was astonished. She could not comprehend that anyone would oppose opposition to war. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.
My mother and father are both gone now. I’m grateful I have their memories to steer me from the political divide I was contributing to by defending and condemning our political differences. I’m still angry about some of what is happening in our country. I’m certain that people who don’t share my values base their opinions on the people and events of their formative years. That is where we need to engage. How is it that we came to where we are now? Our divide will not just go away. I was seeking to find traction, a way forward amidst the shock I felt since watching the election results come in last November 8th. Funny. I’m a grown man who found he still needs his mom and dad to guide him through difficult and complicated times. I’m glad they answered my call. Their memory and the way they lived their lives will surely protect me and guide me to safety.
It was the early 1970’s. The civil rights movement was still finding its legs. I think I was 10 or 11 years old. My dad had the idea that a pop bottle drive might be a good way for our church to raise money for a Men’s Society scholarship. Glass pop bottles were worth a nickel or a dime apiece back in the day. Our church was good sized and ran four Sunday morning services. I remember waking up early to go help him set up in the parking lot before the 7:00 AM service. It was always a treat to ride in my dad’s old manual transmission Dodge pickup truck. There was something soothing about the sound of the truck as he put it through its gears. I also loved the way he would say, “Whooooa horse.” nearly every time he applied the brakes. The pop bottle drive was a huge success and we nearly overflowed the bed of the truck with donations from the congregation. My dad was pleased. I had helped. It was a good day.
The pop bottle drive became a monthly thing through the summer and as fall approached it was time to announce the scholarship winners. It was still largely an effort by my Dad and I but some of the other Men’s Society members would come relieve us so we could go in for mass when my mother arrived. When they announced the scholarship winners from the alter I felt a great deal of pride in my father. Knowing that I had helped by lifting a lot of heavy bags and wood cases of soda bottles felt pretty good too. This was what being a Christian felt like to me in the innocence of my youth.
As we left church that morning I could see something was wrong. There were several unhappy looking men hovering around my Dad’s truck. The man who had relieved us looked apologetic. As we approached, one of the hovering men, a man who had worshiped with us for years and considered a family friend, turned to face my father with rage in his eyes. Our church, of over 600 families at the time, had one, yes one, black family. One of the scholarships had gone to the daughter of that family. She wanted to study nursing so she could help other people.
“We would have put a stop to this had we known you are a ni**er lover Wilcox.” The man spat out.
My dad remained calm but I could tell by the look in his eyes that he had never been more angry. It was fury. He stared at the man until the he and his friends who had been nodding in agreement backed away. No more words were said. Some of the hovering men were now looking down. On the ride home my dad told me to always do right and never let other men stand in the way of doing good. It was a huge day for me where I became aware that if I could be half the man my father was that I would live a good life. The next summer we were back out there collecting pop bottles.
That nursing student went on to become a doctor. In 1989 as my dad lay in hospice she came by every day to comfort my mother and father. She thanked my father for believing in her when others may not have. God I miss that man. I think he would encourage me to resist if her were still alive. I got you dad. You raised me right.
I used to smugly refer to Valentine’s Day as Amateur’s Day because I always felt like I do a pretty good job of letting the important people in my life know how I feel about them. It’s different this year. Many feel insecure about their future. Others of us are blessed to not feel directly threatened by the current state of affairs in Washington and in state houses across the land. That distinction provides little solace as people we love feel at risk. It shouldn’t be this way.
It is in these times, when we feel powerless over circumstances we cannot control that it is most comforting to have someone in our corner; Someone to cheer us on and encourage us; Someone to tell us they love us no matter what. So know this; I love you. I’m in your corner. I’ve got your back. We can stand together and face whatever comes our way. Suddenly I want to tell you we are “heading down the highway looking for adventure.”
Remember 9/11 when all the “United We Stand” stickers were the rage. We are there again. We are facing threats foreign and domestic and our media keeps beating that into our brains. As we prepare to celebrate a day of love let us include everyone in the warmth of our embrace. Let’s make this day bigger than a celebration of romantic love and rather celebrate love in the biggest sense of the word. Let’s celebrate love as that gift to humanity that sets us apart where we can empathize with one another and share our strength. Happy Valentine’s Day.
The emotional roller coaster that I’ve been on since President Obama left office is finally beginning to flatten out. Thank God. It’s not because the guy who currently occupies the office is not as bad as I thought he’d be. Au contraire mon ami. I’m beginning to recognize that the past doesn’t matter. Yes, I must move on. People I know let their privilege blind them to the bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, islamophobia, aversion to science and general value of money over people their candidate ran on. It only hurts me to hold a grudge. Frankly getting them to recognize privilege in this hyper-polarized environment is futile. One only need scroll the comments on virtually any Facebook post to prove my point.
I’m finding comfort in the belief that good always, eventually, triumphs over evil. The Edmund Burke quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” brings me comfort. The mobilization of millions of Americans who won’t stand for division for the benefit of the presumptive ruling class has been a long time coming. The early days of the Tea Party were founded on those principles before they were hijacked by the lure of Koch Brothers organizational funding. The origins of the Tea Party were opposition to class division and income disparity. Google it.
That being said, I’m optimistic. We must end the vitriol and tap into the angst that fuels the insecurities of middle America. Liberal policies, when framed in non partisan language have broad support. People want the corruptive influence of big money out of politics. People want access to health care. Americans believe that honest pay for an honest days work drives our economy. We all want to be able to worship or not in the church of our choice. Women want contraceptive rights. Students don’t want to be buried in student debt. Nobody wants our youngest and bravest going to war for oil company profits. And nobody I’ve met actually believes they should pay taxes at a higher rate than billionaires.
So let’s engage those internet trolls that we once called friends. Remind them of the times we went bowling together or out for a movie. Let’s ignore the snowflake name-calling and remind them that in high-school they drove a beautiful Camaro or made your day when they pushed you out of a snowbank. And then lets ask them if they are relieved their 401K has rebounded after 2008. Ask them if they are glad preexisting conditions are no longer a barrier to getting health insurance. Ask them if they love stopping for kabobs with a side garbanzo’s on a Friday night after a long work week. And what would we do if we lost our favorite Mexican restaurant on Cinco de Mayo? Let alone the advances to medicine, technological needs and engineering made possible by the best and brightest who have moved here for a chance at our American dream.
We can do this. We just need to practice that liberal inclusiveness that we always claim to believe in. I’m not going to wait for the capital to reunite us. I’m going to start with the people I know and love. And then I’m going to let the capital know, come primary time, that it’s no longer business as usual.