Monthly Archives: December 2018

A Letter to Mumsy

Hi, Mum. We haven’t talked in a while and there is so much to catch up on. It has been such a crazy year filled with really great things, and things that worry and terrify me. I miss our chats. We didn’t always agree, but we could always talk. Well, at least once we had sorted our roles out and found a space we could share.

You didn’t know, last year, but I had lost my job. I didn’t want you to know because, well, you didn’t need the worry. Things worked out, I was able to cobble things together, keep the bills paid, and find my way to you. I think you knew something was stressing me because, even though I asked repeatedly if you wanted me there, you wouldn’t say yes. I am told that you made sure our customary teddy bear was with you constantly in those last days. So many people had so many wonderful things to say about you. I treasure those thoughts even now.

I’ve missed our talks. So, this Christmas Day, well, I’ll write you a letter.

Last fall, I had patched together an arrangement of contract work, tax returns, and part time work to get me through to another permanent position. As sometimes happens, the timing was impeccable, and I found a new job that I love dearly. It is challenging, but not stressful. Although I’m still the number cruncher, my work contributes to an organization that helps a lot of folks manage and recover from mental health issues and substance abuse. The team I work with is amazing and, although the salary started lower than where I had been, the benefits are quite juicy. I’m doing some of that doctor stuff I was always hounding you about. Oh, and I have a raise coming in a month, and a retirement account starts growing in two. Sigh, such a journey I’ve been on to reach this point. I’ve even started the renovations on the house

I do so miss our talks about what is happening in the world. Again, we didn’t always agree, and you were often more forgiving than me. Well, sometimes not so much. As we often discussed, the things happening in my country are crushing my heart. It’s not that I don’t understand that we need to protect ourselves and that we need to make sure that agreements are advantageous. I just don’t get the venom. It hurts. So very much.

Even you would be angered by the constant re-writing of history, of the seeming unwillingness to check on the most basic of facts. We allow ourselves to be influenced by the waves of social angst and rarely stop to question, to research, to make a choice anchored somewhere in reality. So, we accuse people fleeing a disaster we helped create of being terrorists. We talk about mowing down populations simply because they represent something we were taught to hate. Although for months I have been talking about the instability of the markets – I was told the economy was the best it had been in years. Farmers are going bankrupt, there’s barely a place in the country where minimum wage can provide decent shelter, food, and clothing. The money so graciously given to our largest companies was spent reacquiring stock, rather than investing in people and material growth. Our infrastructure is collapsing, and we want to build a wall – a wall where one already exists where it is feasible. Border patrol wants technology, yet there are those that are pushing to give them a monument.

Health care is going through the roof and people are dying because they cannot access drugs that have been around for decades. You were diabetic. I have no idea what your drug costs would have been had you survived. Even if your cancer treatments were still working, could we have afforded them? That is a heartbreak I’m not sure I could have handled. You, in your stoic way, would have trudged on through. We seem to have no will in this country to care for people in an efficient and cost-effective manner. The whole system is a mess. Thank God I have a job that provides the coverage I need. I am one of the lucky ones.

The international scene is a mad man’s ball. We have no idea from day to day who our allies will be, or who is now our enemy or competitor. Yes, I know we were in a place where we needed to push back and rearrange some of our agreements – but kicking the whole world in the balls was probably not the best idea. And the people we have always known were not our friends – well, evidently now they are. They can do no wrong. No friend is a true friend if there is no room for accountability. I hope our boat can float long enough to survive this storm. I honestly do not believe we are in a position to respond to another Pearl Harbor or 9-11. Many of the folks that could have guided us have left or been excused. I know from experience that no matter what your intentions and other skills may be, learning the job in the middle of a critical event is not the best idea.

I do have hope. I really do. Each day I meet people who, like me, continue to work toward the best moment for now. I find people who are kind, who believe in the underlying ethics of seeing the best in folks whatever their gender, sexual intent, faith, race, or personal quirks. I see people who genuinely care without being naive. I have no notion of what the next 20 years will bring. Thanks to you and my maternal genes I have a pretty good chance of finding out. I do know that when things appear to be heading into a catastrophic train wreck, I hear the voices of two people I know and care for the most. Two people who managed through depression and war. Two people I love. You, and my beloved husband.

Merry Christmas and sleep well, Mum. You’ve earned the rest.

Mumsy Memorial

Memorial for Delores Troxell, December 2017.

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Reflections ~ Banned Books and Social Stigmas

While in a cold-haze today, I ran across an article written by a pastor. He was describing one of those moments in life when you dearly want to be happy about something, but the cost is too great. In his district a mother had approached the school board with a impassioned plea to ban Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The book used the word bastard and she didn’t want her 13-year-old exposed to such language.  The pastor’s conflicting emotion arose because she wanted to replace the book with his, When the English Fall (by David Williams). This was an honor he wanted no part of, Bradbury is one of his favorite authors.

I was taken back to my own junior high, high school reading experiences. First, there is the year we were to study Catcher in the Rye. I believe this was during the no man’s land period of junior high when a course of study is but a vision on the horizon. I did, however, love to read. Due to the “adult subject matter” of the book, we were required to take a note home and get parental consent for participation. Now, one must understand that my mother had a Bachelor’s in Literature and my father left school in 8th grade. I am assuming he at least asked her opinion and my guess is that somewhere in that house there was a copy of the book.

My father gathered his religion around him and said no. One should know I had been living “adult subject matter” for the greater part of my life. I might have found something useful in the tale had I been given the opportunity. Perhaps that was the point. I was the only one in the class who was unable to gain permission to read what was already a classic. I do not recall what the response of my classmates was. I wasn’t that connected to what they may feel at that point in my education. What did happen is that instead of reading a 200-page book with the benefit of class discussion, I was assigned another book to read, Where the Redfern Grows. The book is around 300 pages long and, although sweet here and there, was far removed from my experiences at the time. Still, I was expected to keep up a reading schedule and make all the assignments within the same allotted time. I still don’t know if the teacher was attempting to make a point for me, my parents, or just wasn’t that engaged in the farce of “teaching” me anything of value. What I did garner from the class was of little use in helping me meet the requirements related to my assigned book. Isolation was a well-known companion, if not a comfortable one.

Fast forward a few years to a high school class when the book being read is Bradbury’s 451. I don’t recall if permission was required and, quite frankly, I wouldn’t have bothered. However, this too was an interesting experiment in education. The books provided to the students were purchased by the school. Our teacher purchased hers at a local bookstore. Then the games began. As we started to read various passages out loud in class, it became quite evident that we were reading somewhat different books. I remember one passage being “sanitized” by scrubbing even the word navel. All four-letter words were banished, and some passages had been re-written changing the intent and the impact. All in a book about censorship.

Young minds are not to be daunted and so, under the guidance of our teacher, we composed a letter to Mr. Bradbury explaining our shock and dismay that someone would tamper with his work in order to “clean it up” for our young impressionable minds. Bless his heart. He responded with a lovely letter and sheets of stickers for each of us, so we could spice up our editions as soldiers in the fight against those who would burn pieces of our books without our knowledge. I read a forward to a later reprint and saw hints of this experience in his commentary. (see also:  this blog for the quote from Bradbury’s CODA).

I believe what I fear is that in a world that constantly screeches “fake news” at us, we will dim our drive to discover, to check, to be aware of all the information available to us, even if it is unpleasant. Even if it exposes something in ourselves that we are not prepared to acknowledge. Not so long ago I saw that an award named after Laura Ingalls Wilder was dropping her name because of some of the attitudes in her books. These are phrases she herself called out in later years surprised at how insensitive they sounded now even though the language was commonplace when she was a child. I have heard the uproar over Huckleberry Finn and the language and attitudes shown in that story. I am here to tell you that if we bury this past, we will never be forced to acknowledge it. Apparently, it is far more appropriate to shoot a black person today than to acknowledge the attitudes of a society that enslaved him; and in some ways still does.

photo credit plymouthherald.co.uk

The current mood in our country is a symptom of the live burial of the past. We choose to ignore the symbols of hatred and division from the past because it is inconvenient, and we may have to face the same thoughts and actions in today’s world. Consequently, some will up the cry and shock us with their naked anger and hatred to preserve a past that never was. I must ask you, though if this is not the path you would choose; what are you doing to turn down the temperature, to educate, to seek the wiser course? It is crucial to protect the joint heritage of humanity with all of its glory and destitution, with all of its great loves and deepest darkest hatreds – and from that muddled soup of human emotions and aspiration – perhaps we can build a future worthy of living. Don’t hide the past but do your best to seek out the truth and defend it from those who would re-write it into a story that never was.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, Personal Journeys