I’ve generally felt like someone who keeps up with the world, a person who is ‘woke” as the new “with-it-ness” is called. I try not to become an old grouchy “fuddyduddy” who is out of touch. I Listen to popular music and actually enjoy most of it. I watch the movies and television programs that are trending. I am familiar with the latest fads. Of late, however, I feel myself drifting into the valley of those who are falling behind the times. Like Tevye in The Fiddler On the Roof I have managed to adapt to the new ways again and again but sometimes I begin to think, “there is no other hand.” There is a definite line over which I do not wish to cross, and most recently I feel closer and closer to reaching that point.
I am a observant person. I have the ability to read people, to understand how they are feeling, to notice when they are having difficulties. This talent allowed me to bring an extra level of compassion to my students and even the teachers with whom I worked. I was often able to see problems before they became apparent to everyone else. I used this ability in dealing with my mother’s mental illness as well. I watched her carefully and did my best to provide her with the care that she needed before her difficulties became dangerous.
I sometimes wonder if I developed this skill from having a grandmother who spoke no English. The only way that she and I were able to communicate was through body language and facial expressions. I watched her carefully to determine how I needed to react. Because of this I began to notice more and more about the people around me. I had a knack for understanding.
It’s difficult for anyone not to notice how divided we have become as a nation. There are ever more frequent attempts to push us into tribes, different groups that may or may not feel comfortable. We are made to feel as though our very natures are dependent on the history of our ancestry. It is as though we are somehow defined by the people who came before us rather than by the content of our own personal character. We are instantly judged by the color of our skin, the location in which we live, the amount of education that we have, the nature of our work. Often these assessments are based on stereotypes that have little or nothing to do with who we really are. Among them is the idea of white privilege, a characteristic of which I am supposed to be guilty, but can’t truly accept given the reality of my background.
I am the product of a single parent home given that my father died when I was only eight. My mother was a first generation American citizen, the child of immigrants from a part of eastern Europe in which the people were thought to be somehow inferior. She and her siblings were often taunted by neighbors because they had parents who seemed strange with their foreign ways. Because of my economic situation I had few opportunities and no contacts for advancement. My brothers worked at a road side vegetable stand for seventy five cents an hour. If they dropped a watermelon they had to pay for it. Sometimes they took home less money that they might have earned because their boss claimed that they had made mistakes.
In spite of our condition my brothers and I worked hard. Our mother never complained about her lot in life and taught us not to do so either. We held our heads high and felt thankful for the opportunities in our country even though we sometimes found blockades in our paths. We persisted even in the face of barriers because our family believed that this was the greatest place on earth to live even with all of its flaws. Of late I hear so much belittling of not only the country itself, but also different factions of the population. We are being urged on both the far right and the far left to fight with each other and to hang our heads in shame at the very thought of being Americans.
I recently saw an article deriding virtually all older white males. Since I happen to be married to one of those types and friends with a number of them, I found the very thought of making sweeping statements about a particular facet of our society to be disgusting. I see it as the power play that it is. I understand that there are indeed groups who want us to turn on one another just as there have always been. There is nothing new about getting us to hate. It’s been de rigor for centuries. It is the reason that my grandparents moved to this country from Austria Hungary. It is a tactic that is as old as the story of Jesus being executed for His beliefs. Sadly we are falling for it in droves, and that makes me feel quite worried for the health of our country, for I believe that it is only when we work together that we are strong.
I intend to keep speaking out in favor of respecting all good people and rejecting those who would ask us to condemn entire groups without thought. We cannot become a nation of sects, groups, nationalities, races that are unwilling to trust one another. We have to face the reality that there is good and bad everywhere and we need to be discerning enough to combat evil without thoughtless condemnation. Instead we should be taking the time to better know and understand even those whose ways seem different and confusing. I fear that if we don’t the battles that we see will only escalate.
I’m seventy years old and greatly saddened that I may have to spend the next ten, twenty, or thirty years that I have left watching my country turn on itself. I have grown weary of watching good people demonized by persons with selfish intent. The noise is overwhelming even to my aging ears that don’t hear quite as well as they once did, but it tells me that we must be very careful. I suspect that the reality is that most of us feel this way.