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January 21, 2017

Childhood Flashbacks

As I have said many times on this blog, I am a child of the 60s. I was born in the opening months of 1961, and I have been blessed and cursed with a long memory. My earliest memories are of early 1963. I’ve been blessed and cursed with intelligence, so I was processing things faster than some of my peers. And right now, I’m having flashbacks to that era.

Unlike many people, I’m not a fan of nostalgia. The good old days weren’t all that good. My earliest childhood memories of the world are Vietnam, civil rights marches and abuses, National Guards shooting college students and the Cold War. Sure, I had fun playing with my friends, but my bestie and I discussed what we’d do when we learned the bomb was coming. We really thought there was a good chance we’d die. We were going to run to Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church and be near the statue of Mary if we couldn’t get into the church. These were serious conversations held by 8 year old girls.

We weren’t alone in those fears. Soviet children grew with fear, too. I know that my Swedish husband had no fond Cold War memories. Vietnamese children lived out many of our fears, of course. Bestie and I were relatively safe in our little New York City suburb.

Things changed. Vietnam ended, civil rights were almost fully codified into law, and the Wall came down. My fears died down, and I moved on to actively trying to change the world and keep the dream of a better world alive. So did my bestie, who after all these years is still my bestie and still fights for human rights and justice and a better America every day. We matured into True Believers and our 60s values of equality and justice for all races, creeds, colors and, a later addition, orientations have just grown stronger. We do not walk alone in this country, but there are far fewer of us than I’d like.

But everything old is new again. Today, the war has moved west to the Middle East, civil rights marches are still needed and happening, government authorities are still killing young people, and I actually saw the phrase Cold War 2 in print this week, written by a professional writer. Today talking to my adult son, I felt myself choking up when relating my flashbacks, because that’s what’s happening. The violence and hatred of that era is alive again. Much of what we fought for, and even in the 60s I fought, is gone.

Those childhood impressions run deep, and my childhood fears are reignited. But I am no child, and I know I must not only fight the fear but help the young ones, as well.

Today ushers in a new era, one that is terrifying me more than Reagan’s inauguration and later GW Bush’s. These are two presidents whose policies I believe harmed America. Lest you think me fully partisan, I also think President Obama’s financial policies harmed America. I shall miss him, but I wrote a fair share of letters of complaint to the White House during his tenure. But I fully believe all three men had a clear set of principles. Pragmatism, as well, and a too-large debt to the wealthy of this country, but principles. I admired them on some levels. OK, admire is strong, especially for GW Bush. Pity has always been the dominant emotion there. But while I feared what might happen, I never thought it a massive turning point in the history of my country. Obama’s election was historic and a great step in our country’s maturity, but I didn’t think it would bring a sea change.

But we have turned a corner and found ourselves back in the Gilded Age.  Almost. America in the Gilded Age had high wages, much higher than Europe, and that brought in waves of immigrants. Well, we do have higher wages than developing countries, which is bringing many immigrants, but wages for our middle class have dropped when adjusted for inflation. I know as a professor overseas, I made a comfortable wage. I’d never be rich, but I earned a wage that allowed me to work one job and use my summers for scholarship and learning new technology and methods of teaching. In the US, I’ve never held a college teaching job that has made that possible, and I’ve even had to turn down three positions because the salaries they were offering were literally not enough to live on in the urban areas the schools were in.

I’ve said it before. If we adjust for inflation, in America, I have yet to make an annual salary equal to what my father, the high school dropout, earned in the decade before he died in 1972. He was a heavy machine operator in NYC, a union man who helped build the original World Trade Center, the Verrazano Bridge, Madison Square Garden and countless New York skyrises. Yes, his job took skill. Yes, his job was dangerous—he operated the cranes up on the scaffolding—but my job takes skill, as well. And education. And in today’s world, it can be dangerous. I have been threatened with a beating by a screaming student (while pregnant), stalked for a while by another angry student, and threatened with murder by a very angry student. As an urban teacher, I’ve taught in schools where shootings have happened on the sidewalks outside our buildings and knife attacks have happened in the school.

And I’m not alone. One of my high school friends is a crackerjack secretary. Her grammar and spelling are above the level of the freshman I teach in college. She’s organized, professional and cool under pressure. Earlier generations of executive secretaries made good wages. She doesn’t. Many of my friends are teachers. Teachers are the lowest paid professionals in the country, and their pay has been stagnant for almost a decade. We have an education crisis because teacher burnout is so high and many people just can’t afford to stay in the profession. Even many of my lawyer and doctor friends aren’t making what they thought they’d make when they went into the professions.

These are the angry people who just want a square deal. But instead of Roosevelt (and I mean Teddy, the Republican, not his cousin, the Democrat), we now have as president Donald Trump.

I can’t tell the future. I don’t like the signs I see, but as the eternally optimistic idealist, I have hope. I’m trying not to worry because worry only makes us suffer twice. But I am concerned about my “kids.” In fact, I’m concerned about all kids. I don’t want any child anywhere growing up in fear. I’m worried about my country.

Today was a surreal day. I’ve avoided social media, only popping on for a few minutes before I left in disgust. Too much hate and nastiness from both sides. In remembrance of my 60s values, I wore my best tie dye.  I also wore my “courage” and “wisdom” bracelets, not because I think they give me anything, but as reminders that what we need are wisdom and courage so that this country that I love so much emerges from this dark period stronger and wiser than we’ve been since the beginning of this century.

February 14, 2009

It’s True–All You Need is Love

“Love, Love, Love” the Beatles sang all those years ago. An appropriate sentiment for the day, but it’s a topic I’ve had on my mind for a while now.  Today seems the most appropriate day to post it here.

Once upon a time, years ago, a writer friend of mine, Mark Goldblatt, wrote a newspaper column on the simple words “I love you.”  I’m relying on my memory here, but I’m pretty sure I’m paraphrasing him correctly.  He said he didn’t really say the words because they are overused.  People love potato chips and TV shows and Jimmy Choos, so the meaning of the word love has been cheapened. He had a point.

Whenever I find myself using the word love a lot, I think of Mark and wonder, am I overusing it?  Cheapening it? I love my family and friends.  I love my students.   I love most individuals.  Too much with the word?

No, and I think I know why.  I don’t love things.  I enjoy them.  I like them, but I don’t love them.  I love people–individuals and groups, but I love living beings.  (Okay, and I love animals, too, but again, living beings.) And frankly, I don’t think we can tell people we love them enough.

My problem is, I’m not comfortable saying the words, really.  So I have to try to let my actions speak for me.  But that’s all on one-to-one basis.  I try to use Love as my prime motivator, but how can Love be all we need?

I think what I mean by this was underscored in the Inaugural address this year.  I mentioned how I cried when President Obama quoted 1 Corinthians 13.  But this term I also taught the inaugural poem “Praise Song for the Day” in class, and what Elizabeth Alexander wrote there sums up what I feel.

Towards the end of the poem, she writes these words:

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Brilliant lines, really.  First she looks at the basic operating guidelines of some major groups–Christians, humanists and pagans and Communists and Socialists.  But really, how different are those creeds?  They all can co-exist quite easily.  And then she asks the perfect question: “What if the mightiest word is love?”

She follows up with the specifics on what she means:

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

Love beyond what we usually have here on earth.  Love that casts a widening pool of light–what an image!  Can’t you just see the light of love widening from each person, enveloping one another in that healing, caring light–the light that drives out darkness?  As Dr. Martin Luther King tells us, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that.

Love is the defining word of my life.  It’s been used by all the people I consider heroes and it’s the one guiding principle of my life. And as silly as it sounds, the Beatles played a large part in making me think of living a life of love.  I have said over and over that growing up listening to hippie songs warped my view of life, and there’s some seriousness under the joking.  One of the most powerful musical lines in the soundtrack that is my life comes courtesy of George Harrison: “With our love – We could save the world”.  I definitely believe that, and I think that’s what Alexander was talking about.

She ends the poem with these words:

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.

How beautiful!  If we, as a people, as a country, walk forward into the light of love instead of into the destructive dark of hatred, what a world we could have!  And while my brand of love tends to be Christianized, who can’t find some reason to love?

On many levels, I’m not saying anything too different from what my country has believed from its start.  As a nation, we were founded on precepts of Christian or Humanist brotherly love. And we don’t have to be Christians to agree that the definition of Love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is a pretty useful one:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

If we could pull this off as individuals, as a country, that would be amazing.  And using this definition, all we really do need is love.  With this love, we could change the world.

I wish you love.  I wish my country love and my whole world love.  In the spirit of my pop music gurus, especially George Harrison, John Lennon, and Donovan, and with Elizabeth Alexander, I wish we all walk forward to the light of love and change our world.

End Note: Since I hear “All You Need is Love” while reading this, let me paste some of the lyrics here:

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game.
It’s easy.

Nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time.
It’s easy.

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