HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY, Dear Reader. And when you read this, I hope you will feel some sense of peace and some happiness.
I’m not counting on OUT AND OUT JOY! That’s a big hope. It’s a word I use to describe my wedding day, the birth of my children and grandchildren.
But this year of 2021, we have certainly BEEN THROUGH IT.
Some of you have lost family to Covid19. Many of your know neighbors, work partners and friends of friends who have lost someone. And loss has trickled down: loss of jobs; loss of investments (that trip you couldn’t take); loss of friendships, because of the turmoil in our government, the splitting apart of relationships because “I don’t need to be vaccinated.” Well, if you are going to be around me and my family, YES YOU DO.
I can deal with this stuff as it relates directly to me. But I get in the major “MOTHER BEAR” mode when I think that people against the vaccine, for whatever reason, might infect MY FAMILY. THAT MAKES ME CRAZY.
So on this FOURTH OF JULY weekend, I am wishing your health and safety, joy in family and friends. I also support each and everyone of you who decides to CHANGE IT UP. Maybe that family gathering isn’t for you this year. Maybe you are against fireworks, especially if they could cause fires in our “getting too warm” climate.
The one thing I might suggest, especially if you will be staying home this 4th of July: that you reach out to your neighbor. You know the one. He always helps carry in a heavy package, sometimes shovels your walk or let’s you know your car has a flat tire; she is kind to your children, arranges play dates, abides by your rules as to sweets and is always there when you need a friend or a mother, because yours lives miles away. It is that community that is built from house to house, street to street. It is that community that will do much to heal our American wounds.
Small starts are good. They will make each of us better. They will heal us.
My mother (Jinni) always told us the truth. Widowed in her 30’s with three kids under six, she had to do it all—teach, discipline, love, guide. We learned to honor every word she said. We trusted her.
But what about Santa Claus? We believed in him because Jinni believed in magic. Was that lying? No. She was simply allowing us to live some dreams—the tooth fairy, Santa. But because we trusted her, knew she would never abandon us—this childhood magic was logical. IT FELT RIGHT.
And consider this: the three of us knew about death. It lived with us in the form of a photo of our father—ever-present in our living room. Friends, cousins—they all had fathers. We did not. But we had Jinni.
If she got angry or cried ( she was human) or revealed that yes she was the tooth fairy—we accepted that. Jinni was home, life, security. Jinni was truth.
THE WORLD OF THE STORY…
And we did walk out our front door to encounter the world: how our friends and neighbors lived, that they had fathers, dogs, newer cars; that some had country club memberships and took vacations. WE READ. We read non-fiction and fiction. Reading provided a pathway to learn about the world. Snug in the corner of the couch, I could explore placesbeyond my house on Wood Street.
So a question: have you, READER, and many others been gob-smacked by learning how others lived: in an apartment in New York City with a nanny to care for them, their parents spending months abroad; in a trailer in South Dakota where food is scare and education the only way to get away; on a farm in Iowa or Alabama where even in the 60’s, 70’s, outhouses were plumbing and going to school meant getting farm chores done between 5 and 6 before a long school bus ride; or in a large home on Lake Michigan in Lake Forest, Illinois, with a chauffeur who drove you to school.
We weren’t all raised on Elm Street or Main Street. But because of READING, and often because of excellent elementary and secondary teachers, our world opened up. How did that affect me, my brothers, all of us? Back to Jinni.
WHAT’S GOING ON AT HOME, AT SCHOOL
Because of Jinni and extended family: teachers, the neighborhood—we knew we were being given real, actual truthful information. We saw that we were fortunate, that we were BLESSED even though we didn’t have some things that others had.
Michelle Obama in her recent biography BECOMING writes fervently that she grew to understand the world outside of South Shore (in Chicago) because truth was always spoken within the walls of her home. Some of her cousins didn’t open their arms as freely to that world as Michelle, whose mother always inspired her to move forward, to believe in herself, to aspire to whatever she wanted to be despite the negatives she did encounter. How to BECOME? Seek goals, work hard, open mind and soul to LIFE IN THIS WORLD.
BELIEVE IN: the truth will set you free, which can have a major basis in society. Because when someone lies to you, doesn’t tell you the STRAIGHT STORY, confusion will reign. You will begin to mistrust, to feel hurt.
How many of you have had an employer promise you a raise or better position only to skip over you; or a coach making you believe you’ll be shortstop when you find yourself on the bench.
Of course, the worst scenario we have seen in recent years is the innocent boy or girl student who trusts an adult teacher, leader or priest only to have that person sexually abuse them. THERE IS NO TRUTH IN THAT. Children and young adults have been made to distrust EVERYONE after such an experience. They are then chained. They are not set free.
The latter did not happen to me. I was again fortunate. All of us have had some disappointments that stem from beliefs that we will rise to the top. That’s part of life. But it should not be all of life in our free society. I believe in continuing to have goals and to always believe in MY BECOMING.
WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW…
It’s when SOCIETY accepts the liar, promotes the liar, the abuser, the cheater, that little by little we all lose hope. It’s like JINNI (truth) has abandoned us, run off with some guy. left us alone, tipped our world upside down.
Okay, now I’m using JINNI as a metaphor. But what I’m saying is that in our country today we are being LIED TO, and many of our dreams are being messed with. Little by little we are being abandoned by our government. DON’T LIE TO ME. DON’T CHEAT ON ME. DON’T TAKE AWAY WHAT I HAD: healthcare, my voting rights, my right to own a home, to have a steady income that can feed my family. DON’T LIE TO ME.
ABHOR LIES AND SEEK THE TRUTH
So if your life reflects some of these changes, what do we do?
The only cure is love and empathy.
It’s recapturing basic values and trust.
It’s pulling in those you love in a tight embrace.
It’s telling the truth and teaching that truth to your children and grandchildren.
It’s having close conversations with your friends, with your neighbors.
And if those neighbors have sought the other side, if they’ve bought into the lies and are still clinging to the purveyor of those lies, it’s giving even more of your own kindness. MAKING THAT YOUR TRUTH.
FINAL THOUGHTS…I’m not messing around here. These are critical times. My husband and I agree, thank God, on what is happening. We are in love. Yet each one of us needs to spread that love to others, reclaim a time when we were not so divided, when good things like education, libraries, Special Olympics and healthcare were not taken away or diminished and only allowed to a few.
WE CAN ALWAYS DO BETTER.
WE CAN ALWAYS GO TO KINDNESS AND EMPATHY.
I know I say this over and over, but when on Twitter some other crazy is yelling and swearing at a minority “Just for fun”–that has to stop. Elm Street might be more diversified, but it’s still the place I want to live. RIGHT NOW!
I was a kid and I was sick. I don’t remember what I had. But my brother, three years older than me, brought me some books to look at while I lay in bed. One was THE FAMILY OF MAN. If you are familiar with this book–it is all photographs by Edward Steichen from an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York–that then circulated around the world. The beloved Chicago poet, Carl Sandburg, wrote an introduction:
THERE IS ONLY ONE MAN IN THE WORLD and his name is ALL MEN. THERE IS ONLY ONE WOMAN IN THE WORLD and her name is ALL WOMEN. THERE IS ONLY ONE CHILD IN THE WOLRD and the child’s name is ALL CHILDREN.
But I wasn’t reading that. I’m a kid, probably seven or eight. (And if I watched TV, it was cartoons and Disney.) So I’m opening the book and being shocked. Why? The photographs are amazing, photos of people naked and kissing; a baby being born; a mother nursing a baby with all exposed. Keep turning the pages and I am in countries where people don’t dress like Americans, don’t look like them–they are dancing, singing, eating, crying and dying.
I closed the book. Was I really supposed to see these things? YES. A few years later it would be a pornographic magazine found on a street corner. (Nudity can be art and not art.) I was learning about the world. No parent can keep a child from reality. But there are wonderful ways and sordid ways for children to become worldly. We learn to evaluate and to understand.
RIGHT THERE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Every family decides how they will handle nudity, where babies come from and the details of sex. Yes, in some ways I was sheltered. There was the time a loving aunt took me to a public pool to swim. After that day, I didn’t like public pools very much. I was shy. I liked running under the hose in my backyard. That day when we walked into the shower room in our bathing suits, an older woman totally nude was showering, revealing parts of the human body I had never seen. Now where was that book that my brother gave me when I was sick?
Another time, my mother drove us to the Highway Theatre for a movie. We purchased our tickets, waited for the doors to open. A woman and a preteen girl were at the ticket window. I was watching them, but then wanted to turn away–the clerk indicated that they didn’t have enough money. The mother began to argue, raise her voice. The girl pulled at her mother saying, MA LET’s GO. The woman kept it up. The girl pulled harder and harder her voice cracking until finally she was able to escape this terrible scene. I didn’t enjoy the film. I thought about that girl for days.
Because I grew up with no father, he died when I was three, it took me years to feel comfortable around men, to understand what they were all about. On trips to a lake house with my close friend’s family, I loved the weekdays–no men. They came up on weekends. They were all loving fathers, but I hung back.
WAKING UP EVERY DAY
The crazy thing about these episodes that occurred in my life years ago, is that they are still happening. Yes, I navigated and embraced my life, survived learning about men and women, sex and marriage, pain and death, and came to the conclusion that life is amazing and wonderful and I want to hug it and be in it and share it with others.
Books, like THE FAMLY OF MAN, opened doors for me. I read, I learned, I could not get enough of life’s vibrancy. Or its sadness (Jesus cold in a manger, men and women dying in wars.) Because there comes a point in everyone’s life when you no longer want to look out a curtained window at YOUR LIFE. You want to BE IN IT.
Even though I have some years on me, I don’t want to watch a room of jaded older men and women, who are not AWAKENING like I am, deciding how my children and grandchildren will live in this, our beloved America. I want to shout out: YOU HAVE HAD YOUR TIME, ARE SET IN YOUR WAYS! Others are awakening, LISTEN TO THEM.
FOLLOW THE VOICES, LOOK AT THE FACES
There is a word in our language: jaded. It means, made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience or by having or seeing too much of something.
You can’t see too much of your fellow humans who smile and weep; who work hard and love to sleep or listen to music or dance.
You can’t read too much about the good things in people–the hard work they encounter, the diseases they fight (patient and doctor and scientist) the things they create–music and art and poetry and drama, and the world of nature that is powerful some days and tame the next.
MAYBE TOMORROW YOU COULD:
Say hello to a stranger
Turn off your electronic device and listen to the wind, rain, or if you are lucky hear birdsong.
Call a friend who you’ve been angry with. Make up.
Hug your family members like you really, truly can’t live without them. Because if you do lose them–that will be your sad reality.
Find it in your heart to break down some barrier–it could be a prejudice, an anger or a blaming. Sometimes we even blame ourselves when forgiveness is the BREATH OF LIFE.
I would also recommend finding a copy of THE FAMILY OF MAN. Or reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER. Or teaching yourself about THE TAX PLAN. Or reading literature, which is about THE OTHER, and introduces you to SOMEONE ELSE’S POINT OF VIEW.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward The Sellout by Paul Beatty Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole White Girls by Hilton Als An Untamed State by Roxane Gay