Toward our better political nature

I guess when I talk to friends and colleagues and family, I haven’t found too many people who are aligned on just one side of the political  aisle. I hear things like I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative, for example. So it shouldn’t strike anyone as too unusual that I’ve turned views politically. Several times actually over the course of my life. When I was in seventh grade I was a political junkie and followed the Watergate Chronicles with rapt attention. I couldn’t believe each new headline as the reach of the investigation got closer and closer to Nixon, the president himself. When All the President’s Men came out I was thunderstruck. That was a time when if you said you were a republican most people actually heard the word “crook.”

My parents and grandparents and everyone I knew growing up was a card carrying Union member and lifelong Democrat. It would have been inconceivable to my grandma that I even considered voting for a Republican. But then as I headed off to college, my AP history teacher Jerry Tewmey sat me down and told me the purpose of going off to college was to separate yourself from your past and create your own identity, you know, construct your own independent point of view. I remember him saying, if you come home from college and show up at the Christmas table and don’t find anything about the dinner conversation objectionable, then you’re failing at school.

Of course, coming home to a loud, boisterous and ethnic family always insured that someone was spouting off about something that would raise a few eyebrows. I could almost hear one of my aunts admonishing us, “Now we don’t need that kind of talk at the dinner table.”

When I headed off to college, I spun toward the right. I was swept up in the Reagan revolution on campuses across the country during the 80’s election. It started after a campaign event for Perry Bullard who was our Democratic Congressman. It was hard for me to take him seriously on issues, when he was doing pot in his campaign office. I was really turned off by that (I know I was such an innocent nerd back then!) Then there was something excessive about the union talk going around at the time– pressing for a 4 day work week, always looking for more perks without necessarily offering more. And then, my high school best friend and I were now roommates up at Michigan.  Gilbert and I worked summer shifts at Quality Metalcraft, an automotive parts manufacturer. To be honest, there was something not altogether pleasant about union life on the shop floor. Like the guys setting up a makeshift gambling parlor in the back so they could play cards after stocking up enough parts on the line to make quota for the day. Or the intimidation practiced on one of the Probies (those with fewer than 90 days were probationary employees and not as yet afforded the union’s protections.) whenever they showed up to a shift just a tad bit too enthusiastic for the work. He found his tires slashed. It was episodes like this that got me thinking more about individual responsibility. And then of course there was also Ayn Rand. And Russell Kirk. He boiled it down simply for me: Conservatism is the negation of ideology. Sounded about right to me at the time.

Yes, maybe there was something worthwhile in the conservative cause.

But it’s years later now, and time to be asking: So how did that turn out for you?

Blessings out of the Dark Corners

image.jpegWe are often faced with dark signs and ominous foreboding. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find blessings in the sometimes dark corners and turns of fate.

My grandma Vicki would have been 111 today. In the 25 years she’s been gone, in the century after Vicki, I often think about her and am asked: what do I most miss about her?

There are dozens of things really, like the way she spoke plainly with her strong Polish accent; the extraordinary thrift she exercised in combing yard sales, flea markets and Salvation Army shops for the largest collection of house dresses imaginable; the way she judiciously followed the advice of Angie, Phyllis and Stella, her lady friends, her “komushkas” as she called them from the VFW women’s auxiliary; the way she found it impossible to cook for less than 50, and the plastic bags she kept in her black rhinestone purse for leftovers and a safe haven for her “store teeth” when her gums needed a rest; her ability to live a just life jointly governed by a strong catholic faith and tempered by the advice of tarot cards, fortune tellers in Hamtramck and her gaggle of komuschkas. I miss having someone in my life who never advanced past the 6th grade but had the wisdom and insight of an angel; who laughed easily and often and unabashedly at herself. We can’t ever lose the resolve to laugh often and at our selves.

I miss excursions to her house with my pal Gilbert where we went shopping in Hamtramck, had dinner at Pollonia’s and watched Lawrence Welk reruns together afterwards.

And I miss pulling up to her house on Eastburn and seeing her standing there in her house dress and apron waiting for me, calling me her favorite, her heart of gold grandson, her Jack of all trades as she pulled out her list of errands and household projects. I adore my wife and many women in my life because I learned what it was like to be adored from her.

But I most miss what it would have been like for Will and Dan to have known her, to witness her unabashed adoration firsthand. That would have been spectacular.

I miss the innocent view of the world I held in her company accompanied by the naïveté that anyone would wish to do her harm. In the end, when she was felled by hate even as she lifted up so many in love, she continues to remind us in the aftermath of her murder that love still wins out. Still.

In the absence of such innocence, we can’t simply move to a harsher view of the world. We cannot accept brutes or bullies now. We must replace innocence with vigilance. We can’t pine for a world as it once was, or as we might have perceived it to be. The world is never so simple.

Vicki was killed because there is evil in the world as we know it. We can’t account for it, explain it, much less accept or account for it. The world is occasionally gripped by strong, dark forces. But we must be seekers, looking always for the blessings out in the shadows and dark corners.

Rather than fall prey to their grasp, we can press ahead mightily. We can hug our loved ones tighter, look to those less fortunate and offer a hand up. We can buttress evil with goodness. And we can live as if our lives depended upon doing some good in the world that would make us worthy of her pride in us.

I’m thankful this thanksgiving that I had the chance to be loved so completely, that I got it clear in my head what that felt like, so I can do a decent job each day honoring that. I’m thankful not that the world has been handed to us a better place, god if it only were! but that we have the chance, armed with our hearts and our health, to make it better for others.

This thanksgiving I hope you’re blessed with the embrace of loved ones, the smile and sticky hands of children, the off key singing of an elder relative, the pass of a favorite plate, and the anticipation of your favorite dessert.

Out in the shadows past the bright lights, at the end of the meal, may your joy be abundant and your heart full.