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.