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Thursday, January 16, 2020


Could a Catholic ever be elected president in the United States of America? Not until John Kennedy.

Could a divorced man win the U.S. presidency? Not until Ronald Reagan.

Could a black man become president of our country? Not until Barack Obama won -- two consecutive terms!

When a woman wins the presidency, we will have a woman president. Nothing, it seems, is possible until it happens -- and then, clearly, it happened because it could.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Looking for Healing in a Magazine

Two people whom I love very much, two people who were once very close to each other as well as to me, have been estranged now for a full decade. It hurts.

You’d think I would have had plenty of time, in ten years, to become accustomed to and accepting of the situation, but I’m not, because one of the people continues to feel great pain over the lost relationship, and I am in permanent relationship with both. What the second person feels now, I don’t know. I probably should know, but it’s hard at a distance to find out, and for fear of the one rupture triggering others, I have not addressed the issue face to face or voice to voice when a rare opportunity presented. In fact, I must admit that, painfully disappointed myself, I have scaled back communications with the second person in general. Not a solution, I realize. I haven’t found a way to a solution. Before the holidays, hope surged and crashed.

First person is he; second is she. Although they are not a divorced couple, you can think of them that way, and it might help make sense of what I'm saying. 

In her behavior relative to the situation (very limited words and near-complete lack of action), her responses to attempted communications from the first person and from me, all I can see on the surface is avoidance. But now aow all three of us are in avoidance mode, and two of us, at least, feel stuck there. 

Meanwhile, what does she feel? Satisfaction? How is that possible? Nothing? Hard to believe. I try to imagine how it is for her on the inside. Perhaps a bit of embarrassment, maybe a touch of shame, and probably (I can only guess) some resentment over the embarrassment and shame, irritation at having any feelings at all for a situation she would rather not have to acknowledge at all? When three people have been closely connected, can two feel pain and a third be immune, unconcerned with the pain of the two others and free from any pain of her own? 

But why, in the first place, did it come to be the way it is? What is behind it all? 

My loved one in pain also feels anger and confusion (as do I). What did he do or say that was so unforgivable that he has been “shunned” (his word) so completely for so long? He hoped the two of them could meet and clear the air. I hoped that could happen! So far, though, the air-clearing, one-on-one option has not even been acknowledged as being on the metaphorical table. Instead, all that has occurred (I was going to say “all that has been accomplished” but have to wonder if “accomplishment” is the right characterization) has been a single occasion of sitting around a literal table, pretending that nothing is wrong, and then four individuals retreating from even that superficial engagement with no real improvement in the underlying dynamic. 

Lots of avoidance going on, from four people, not just three. What does everyone fear? 

This situation has been daily background for me for so long it is like my life’s wallpaper. How I would love to redecorate! But I can’t do it singlehandedly. What I fear is worsening the relationships that, so far, remain intact.

There may be more here than a simple parallel to our nation’s deep social divisions — and I use the word “social,” because “political” could be taken only to indicate voting patterns, and what I’m thinking of is the more total avoidance of “others,” in town and country, that so many Americans practice these days. Tara Westover, author of the bestselling memoir, Educated, said in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that the nation is divided into regional pockets of city and left-behind country, but she also acknowledged that parochialism cuts through cities, as well. (I would say it cuts through country and small towns, also. Anyway, an edited interview appears in the December 2019 issue of the Atlantic magazine.) When Goldberg asks her if she thinks of the place she grew up, rural Washington state, as parochial, this is her response:
It’s astonishingly difficult in this city [New York City] to be truly close to someone who is not in your same socioeconomic group. For me, it’s the single most striking fact about living here. Meaningful interactions are difficult to engineer. The divide is deep. And it is largely between those who sit in the front of the Uber and those who sit in the back of it. 

The Uber driver and his unemployed counterpart back in the county seat of Preston, Idaho, near where Westover grew up, share experiences that successful urban and suburban Americans do not share and do not understand. Across the divide, there is no longer a common language of experience. 
There are places in the United States where the recession never ended. For them, it has been 2009 for ten years. 

Traveling across the Midwest and Great Plains and now, here in the Southwest, I have seen this again and again. (There are a couple of examples in this post.) When I recently visited the website of the Safford Public Library, up in Safford, Arizona, county seat of Graham County, I found one of the FAQs is, “Why is the library closed on weekends?” and the answer is that the community has not yet recovered economically from the crisis of 2008-09 and cannot yet afford personnel to staff the library seven days a week. It is open Mondays through Thursdays only. In Safford, then, you might say that “it has been 2009 for ten years.”

Westover may, however, in making her case , somewhat overstate it. She cites statistics showing that the Democratic Party is most successful in successful and prosperous cities and suburbs, but it is not only impoverished communities and individuals left behind in today’s prosperity who support the current Republican president. There are plenty of millionaires, numbers of well-to-do and well-educated senators, and many ordinary people happy with the present performance of their stock portfolios in the same camp. And so, just as socioeconomic divisions run through communities, so do political divisions run right through neighborhoods. And both the socioeconomic and the political divisions have fast become social divisions, the latter probably more consciously chosen, as if it means some kind of adherence to principle. 

The question is, are we no longer willing even to talk to people whose views do not match up with our own? 

I think that’s part of what’s at the bottom of the estrangement of the two people I love, though I don’t know for sure. There are probably other factors. My estranged loved ones, despite the very different life choices they have made, are both in comfortable circumstances (largely thanks to choices made by the generation before them). Neither has much chance of ever ending up destitute or homeless. They have, however, as I say, made very different life choices, and I’m pretty sure they hold very different views on many issues. 

And so many people I know have taken this forking path! One couple actually moved from one state to another so as to live among people who think as they think! 

(One of the things I love about the part of Arizona where I’m spending the winter is that not everyone here is like me, that Willcox, Arizona, is not just a Southwest version of Northport, Michigan. But that is neither here nor there.)

Another article in the December 2019 Atlanticso many good articles in that issue, and I have yet to read more than a couple of them, as I slowly make my way through the issue and try to take in each article, test it against my own experience, and see what I can apply in my life — is about Mr. Rogers. In “What Would Mister Rogers Do?” Tom Junod writes, 
…Fred was a man with a vision, and his vision was of the public square, a place full of strangers, transformed by love and kindness into something like a neighborhood. That vision depended on civility, on strangers feeling welcome in the public square….

How, I wonder, reading this, can we at one and the same time welcome strangers and reject someone we have known for years? How, if I am rejecting neighbors whose views are not my own, can my welcome of strangers be truly genuine and anything more than superficial? Is it that civility requires only a superficial welcoming and that deeper relationships ask more of us?

Junod reflects on the current popularity of the question, “What would Mr. Rogers say?” of this or that person or aspect in today’s national scene, but then he points out that we already know the answer to the question
…because Fred was the most stubbornly consistent of men. He would say that Donald Trump was a child once, too. He would say that the latest Twitter victim or villain was a child once, too. He would even say that the mass murderers of El Paso and Dayton were children once too…. He would pray for the shooters as well as for their victims, and he would continue to urge us, in what has become one of his most often quoted lines, to “look for the helpers.” 

The question is not what Mr. Rogers would say or do, but what we will say and do. 

I was able to make thrilling progress in a different painful situation by applying the lessons of Mr. Rogers, but I have not yet seen my way clear with this one so much closer to me. How can I be a helper? How can I bring these two people back together if one would rather not be in a relationship at all? 

-- To be continued.... Perhaps. If I don't come to regret saying even this much already.