It’s my birthday in a few hours. I have spent sixty seven years on this earth. I have seen much. I lost my father at the age of eight and watched my mother devolve into extreme mental illness when I was twenty years old. I have lost a number of good friends and many relatives. I have seen a President assassinated and a hero shot down. I have watched friends coming back from Vietnam maimed or in coffins. I witnessed the end of segregation and the inauguration of the first black President. My children have grown and blessed me with seven grandchildren who have unfortunately lived in a world more uncertain than the one I knew when I was a kid. I have had a happy marriage and a wonderful career that allowed me to have a very meaningful life and to meet some of the finest people that I have ever known. While I have seen much evil, I like to believe that the vast majority of the world’s people are truly good. I suppose that I am a cockeyed optimist even after all these years. I prefer being that way rather then thinking that my glass is half empty.
Someone that I know who is married to a Holocaust victim recently told me that her spouse often urges her to look forward rather than back. I suspect that anyone who has undergone such a terrible experience has to find hope on the road ahead because dwelling on what has already happened leads to nowhere. I think about many things and sometimes worry just a bit, especially when I see discord among the people that I love. I just can’t find it in myself to be self-righteous or judgmental. I have made too many mistakes on my own to believe that I have all the answers. Besides, I have a knack for seeing the positive in virtually everyone with the exception of those who are undeniably evil. Luckily my encounters with such people have been few but I have spotted them immediately when they have been around.
Whenever my mother was especially sick with her bipolar disorder she became quite critical of anyone who differed with her. She made ugly comments about them and I was often one of her targets. I grew to despise any form of judging and tended to abide by Jesus’ golden rule that we judge not lest we be judged. Of late our society has become a slugfest between one group and another. There are those who call this taking a stand. I prefer to think of it as being hard headed. I suppose that I have the heart and soul of a diplomat but I have been caught in the crosshairs of an argument on more than one occasion. I realized not long ago that if I were to indeed adopt a more idealogical point of view I would lose half of my friends and relatives. I decided instead to live and let live. I have refused to take one side over another because I have found that each person has a certain number of valid points. Instead I like to listen and reflect and then quietly decide what my own feelings will be. I don’t take such decisions lightly.
Our world has been rocked by some very terrible events over the last decade. As humans we have a tendency to want to find someone to blame and take quick action. Usually though there are no easy answers. We are in the big middle of a war of the minds caused by terroristic acts being committed throughout the world. Nobody knows for certain how best to react. We tend to create plans and then see how they work. All in all its really just a grand experiment and we are engaged in a national argument over which course to follow. Both sides are adamant about how to deal with the problems. Those who tread a middle ground are mostly pushed to the sidelines to watch the battles ensue.
If we look at the history of terrorism in this country we can go all the way back to the Jimmy Carter administration when Americans were held hostage in Iran. We criticized President Carter for taking a rather relaxed view of world affairs. Later, along came President George H. W. Bush and who was more hawkish. He sent troops to protect Saudi Arabia from the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm. The plan appeared to work for a time but there were forces in the Middle East who weren’t as inclined to settle down as we would have liked. President Bush took it on the chin for being too militaristic while underestimating the strength of those who would love to see our country topple. During President Clinton’s tenure there were a number of terror attacks that were generally ignored by the public, including an early attempt to cause harm at the World Trade Center. As a nation we were not yet ready to admit that there was a real problem. When Clinton had the opportunity to take out Osama bin Laden he hesitated for fear of hurting innocents in the assault. His policies would later be questioned for not taking a harder line. George W. Bush had hardly settled into office when the attacks of 9/11 took place. Critics quickly argued that he had failed to connect the dots that might have led to a discovery of the horrible plot. From that point on he has been held responsible for almost every bad thing that has happened in this country since 2001. President Obama took a more gentle and friendly approach to world politics. He attempted to show compassion and respect for those who had once been called our enemies. He oversaw the death of Osama bin Laden and most people thought that our troubles were finally over but that has hardly been the case. He too has received a large dose of criticism just as all of the presidents before him have. In truth, a study of history should demonstrate that there are other factors at work in the Middle East that have only cursory association with what the United States does or not do. In fact, we have yet to decipher exactly what our plan should be. The only thing that is certain is that there are groups of people in that part of the world who hate us and wish to do us harm.
If we are to move forward we first must eradicate our own divisiveness. Within the same families the thoughts and beliefs vary widely. We all have our own ideas as to how to live life but we can’t seem to come to a point of compromise. Instead we do a whole lot of judging. Interestingly we seem to be far more inclined to give our enemies the benefit of the doubt than to trust our fellow citizens. We impugn motives again and again. We place labels on those who disagree with us that may or may not be justified. We rarely take the time to listen without filters and critiques. We have our minds made up before we even begin to converse. We are thinking about our arguments rather than considering what we are hearing.
I don’t like negativity. I know all about the history of our country and the moments when we were not so good. I wasn’t there when those things happened. There is little that I can do about the fact that some people once owned slaves. Nobody in my family ever did but somehow there are those who indict me simply for sharing the same color skin as those who once enslaved other humans. I did not steal land from Native Americans. By the time I came along that was a long done deal. I understand that the Catholic Church to which I belong did some rather nasty things. Frankly I agree with my friend’s husband who spent time in a concentration camp. I find it far more fruitful to look forward rather than at the mistakes of the past. If we were to get really bogged down in such mental penance we would never be able to live with ourselves or anybody else for that matter.
I have friends and family who span the normal curve of political and religious thinking. If I were to condemn those who do not agree with me I would instantly lose over half of the people that I know and love. I have found that they are generally quite generous and loving and always well intentioned in spite of their philosophies. They believe what they believe and do their best not to hurt anyone. Sadly there are those who gain power over the rest of us by goading us into the infighting. While we are so busy arguing with one another they are duping us and making our country less grand.
I am proud to be an American and a Christian but I do not think that by being those things I am any better than people who are different from me. The differences in the world make it a far more interesting place. I actually enjoy a good debate between people with rational points of view. I have been swayed a time or two by valid reasoning. I only wish that we might become capable of settling our differences without defaming one another.
Whether left or right, liberal or conservative, democrat or republican, Christian or non-Christian, believer or non-believer, black or white, we are all the same on the day that we are born and on the day that we die. It is only in the in between part of life that we have opportunities and make choices that cause us to diverge. The things that distinguish us are usually superficial. As long as our intent is to help rather than hurt, to unravel rather than puzzle, to solve rather than complicate, to love rather than hate, we should all have a voice in suggesting how to best live together on this big crazy planet. I would so love to to see us honor one another without preconceived notions and self-righteous attitudes. Only the passage of time will tell us who was right and who was wrong but if we work together rather than against one another we have a much better shot at getting things accomplished and keeping our children and grandchildren safe.