Last weekend, the blog I didn’t post was about giving up. It seemed like the divides between us were too wide to traverse, the boxes we put ourselves in too sharp, our labels too embedded in our consciousness. In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, I was exposed to more violently racist opinion than I’d ever feared existed, not this far north, not in these 2010s. But I heard it spewed within earshot of my children and what surprised me was my reaction. It wasn’t anger. It wasn’t righteous indignation. It manifested itself in slumped shoulders and resignation. It took the wind out of my sails for a little while.
I was also subject to the bloodlust of conservative arguments, Rush Limbaugh talking points, and the gotcha verdicts of some friends and neighbors who concluded, after finding me reasonable and my thoughts nuanced, “Well, then you’re not a liberal.” I am, though, to my own definition. Probably not to Rush’s. I don’t adhere to everything left. I don’t support every Democrat. I don’t villainize every Republican.
Believe me, it would be easier if I did.
The truth is, labels are bullshit. We separate each other based on differences of human construct and pretend that they are the truth. Republican, Democrat, Christian, Jew, black, white, brown, gay, straight, male, female. There are so many shades of difference within each of these labels that they really fail to conform to what we want them to mean. But it makes it easier to dismiss someone if they’re in another group. Why do you think Columbus called the Indians “savages”? Because it made it easier to slaughter them than if he recognized their humanity. The same with slaves. And so on, with each label, collectively and separately, in different capacities in every stage of human technological “progress.”
And it’s easy to preach inclusiveness. To say that to recognize love and goodness and humanity in everyone could solve the world’s ills. I have a hard time doing it myself, even with some family members, let alone with the George Zimmermans and Mitch McConnells of the world. It’s the transition from recognizing a truth and what needs to be done and actually doing it that’s so difficult. As a whole, we know what needs to be done here. Now. We know that corporations have taken over, that money should not be protected as speech, that the safety of our children should be a higher priority than the profit margins of gun manufacturers, that those who expose war crimes should be protected over those who perpetuate them, and that the convenience of SUVs and plastic water bottles should be curbed to save the abstract idea of a future beyond us.
But making the transition from “I should” to “I am,” is harder than I sometimes imagine. Because anger sometimes gives way to resignation. It makes the shoulders slump. It writes blogs called “I give up,” even though we’re young and smart and savvy. We hold the power to change in our collective hands. We are, quite literally, the future. And if we’re lucky, we haven’t been hardened yet into un-moveable rock. Our minds are malleable. We absorb the blows of indifference and hateful ideas and overwhelming circumstance and then we keep going.
I like to let older generations off the hook, to excuse them for outdated opinions or stalled evolution of thought. Because I really, really like old people. It’s kind of my thing. I have an older friend who I’ve known for my entire adult life. A man whose decisions and opinions I vehemently disagree with, more often than not. But I respect him. And he does me.
Last night, he told me something. He watched his son as he lay in the hospital, sick of a terrible virus that’s ravaging his organs. He watched his son’s husband come and go, the man he referred to as his “daughter-in-law” for as long as I’ve known him. And after thirty years, he recognized the truth of love between them. This tough-as-nails man, in his hard-formed rock of a mind compounded by decades of experience and opinion, changed. Just like that.
I said, “But I thought you’d always accepted that your son was gay.”
“No,” he told me. “I did because I had to if I wanted a relationship with my son. But I never accepted it.”
He opened his eyes to see what connects us beyond labels of what is right or left, or right and wrong. And I realized that I’d put him in a box of my own making. That I’d written him off as too closed to change. That I was the one who wasn’t open to the possibility of someone of that generation surprising me. Not him, not this.
I hung up and changed the title of this post.