After more than fifty years I once again found a neighbor who had grown up across the street from me. Kathy and I used to play with our dolls on the driveway. She had one of the first Barbies and I had a pretty Madame Alexander doll called Suzette. We made furniture for our make believe ladies and created a fantasy world for them. Kathy was known as “Candy” back then and she seemed to know so much more about the world than I did.
Kathy’s father was an incredibly handsome man and her mother was a petite woman with a strong will and no fear. My father had died shortly before we moved across from Kathy. It was a great shock when Kathy’s father also died. Her mom and mine became quite close after that, often going out to together and joining an organization called Parents Without Partners. Once both of our families even traveled to Dallas together for a visit to the Six Flags amusement park.
Kathy’s family eventually moved away and I saw less and less of her until finally she and I had completely lost touch. Then came Facebook and when I spoke of my childhood pet, Buddy, she remembered how he used to climb our fence and wander around the neighborhood sporting his summertime haircut. After that I followed her posts and eventually suggested that we have lunch together. We met at a local Mexican restaurant and spent four hours catching up on the details of what life had been like for each of us. It was one of those amazing moments when it felt as though our last conversation had been only a day or so before.
Kathy is much like her mother and I am like mine. Both of them had to be strong women after the death of their husbands and both of them were extraordinarily compassionate, but Kathy’s mom was someone who never seemed to worry what anyone might think of her. She simply did whatever she felt was right whereas my mother was quieter and more circumspect, often worrying about the possibility of offending. In truth I secretly admired Kathy’s mom and often wished that I had the fortitude to be more like her. It seemed as though she would be willing to stand up to the devil himself and I thought that was quite grand.
When my mother and Kathy’s mother were spending so much time together my mom encountered a man that she had known from her youth. Naturally they recognized one another and began a friendship based on their common history. After a time they went on a date. At the end of that first evening my mother swore that she really did not like him and that she would gently end their relationship before it became too complex. Instead my mother’s heart was so big that she felt sorry for him and was not able to turn him down when he kept calling her. Before long they were spending more and more hours together and she had little time for Kathy’s mom. I suppose that is part of the reason why Kathy and I drifted apart.
Of late I have marveled at how much alike Kathy and I are. I suppose that the hardships of our youth after our fathers died both strengthened us and made us more understanding of anyone who struggles. We both assumed adult roles at very young ages when our peers were enjoying more traditional lives of fun and limited responsibility. At times we both found ourselves in the position of being more like parents to our younger siblings. Eventually we became the caretakers for our mothers both of whom died fairly young. We experienced a rather large share of tragedy but it did not harden us, instead it made us more aware of the suffering of others.
I have been admittedly saddened by the last few months with the pandemic continuing to sicken and take lives. I have watched with utmost compassion as Black Americans struggle to demonstrate that racism continues to stalk them in ways that we might not always notice. So much pain has bubbled to the surface of our society and instead of coming together we appear to be divided into camps. Much like my mom often did I have shed more than my share of tears over what I see happening. My usually optimistic personality has been challenges by the realities that I see. I have witnessed the sorrow of those who are having a very difficult time right now and it pains me.
I normally write uplifting blogs because I know that my readers will enjoy them. I tried that at the beginning of our national ordeal but somehow my happy words had a hollow ring and then I noticed Kathy being as honest as usual about what she saw happening in our country. She was bold and unconcerned with other people’s opinions just as she and her mother had always been. I knew that it was time for me to quit wishing that I were more like them and take a leap of faith by actually following their lead. I realized that it was time for me to speak the truths in my heart because one of the things that has been bothering me the most is how so many people are attempting to look away from the facts that are creating the despair in our nation.
I have lost some of my most faithful readers and puzzled many of my long term friends and family members with my newfound determination to speak my mind. I can no longer sit meekly by cloaking my beliefs in happy and pleasing phrases that are designed to make everyone feel good. There is a poison in our society that returns again and again because our nation has not yet addressed the issues with truth and reconciliation. So many speak of freedoms and patriotism and then complain about making sacrifices so that everyone will enjoy the fullness of liberty. Systems and icons and words continue to hurt people among us and many in our country have an unwillingness to even try to understand and address matters that even our founding fathers attempted to ignore. There is a national tone deafness that is shamefully toxic. Kathy has been unafraid to point these things out. She has given me the courage to do the same.
There is a bit more to my story. It is about the man who for a time overtook my mother’s life. He was a boorish and brash individual, so unlike anyone I had ever known. He was hateful in almost every utterance that came from his mouth. He was a bitterly unsuccessful man who blamed his failures on others. He belonged to a racist organization and had convinced himself that all of the woes of society were derived from Black people attempting to be equal to whites. He mentally abused my mother until she eventually had a psychotic break. She was afraid of him but unable to get away from him. My uncles had to convince him to leave her alone. Even in his absence he stalked her mind.
I suppose that I feel as though our country is now being led by a man so small that he is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions. Instead like that pitiful man who broke my mother’s beautiful spirit our president is abusing the most vulnerable in our country. I have heard the kind of language and rhetoric that our president uses before and I know that it is very dangerous. I feel compelled to speak out because I failed to do that for my mother even as I witnessed her being destroyed. Now I have become a warrior like Kathy and her mother. I refuse to sit back and allow our country to be destroyed. I will search for and speak the truth because I love America just as I loved my mom.