15 Elul 5770
I was speaking to my mom the other day and she was telling me about watching David Letterman and Brian Williams talk on Letterman's show the other night. My mom, 77, is a loyal fan of "Dave," which she always watched with a deep Midwestern pride and an appreciation for his particular brand of humor. She and my dad were this way about Johnny Carson, too, and I'm sure I'm like many people of my generation who grew up sneaking downstairs late at night, unable to sleep, and sat on the couch contemplating what it is that adults talk about. So when we touch base, she often tells me what's on her mind vis a vis what's on Dave's mind.
My mom grew up during the later years of the Depression; married my dad who also grew up in that era and since he was older than she, served in the Second World War. As the country evolved, so did they. She began as "an Eisenhower Republican" my dad used to tease; but moved onto to Adlai Stevenson by 1956 and the JFK in 1960. She's been a proud Democrat ever since. That included getting herself involved in local and national political issues; community organizing; combating racism and discrimination where she saw it; and teaching us to do the same. As a result she has a perspective on what's right and wrong with the world, imbued with a lifetime of hard work, sacrifice and common sense. Lately, with her fight against lung cancer, she's used the experience to reflect openly on how medicine has changed for better and worse. On one hand she marvels at her oncologist's genius and the advance of medicines that have saved her life and kept her in the game. On the other hand, there are times when the insurance industry/hospital matrix have driven her nuts with bureaucracy and insensitivity. She lets me know about it.
The other night when I called and she told me about the Milwaukee Gilda's Club plans to shut down it's operations, she was incredulous. And moved seamlessly to a metaphoric monologue about what's wrong with our culture--the inexorable force to meet the immediate needs of people's desires; the rampant materialism; the mixed up priorities; and the really truly nutty racism that is now unleashed, mostly with regard to evil that's been unleashed with opposition to the Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan. Pastor Terry Jones, for instance, is just the latest in a series of uniquely American expressions of religious fundamentalism and racism. How far a fall is it from book burnings to the kind of detention centers that were established for Japanese Americans during the Second World War? Muslim cab drivers being stabbed in the neck for being Muslim--how far a fall is it from neck slashings to lynchings?
"I usually expect Dave and Brian to joke around," Mom said the other day. "But last night they got quite serious. I really don't know what the hell is going on."
My mom got us up early in the morning to watch the moon-walk; we sat together in front of the television to see RFK and MLK's funerals; we ordered POW and MIA bracelets for soldiers during the Vietnam War and wore them until they either came home or we received the news of their tragic death. In February of 2008, she stood in line in the snow to vote for Hillary in the Wisconsin primary before changing her mind ("I saw all those young people with Obama buttons and thought, 'Why not give them a chance?'") and pulling the lever for Barack Obama.
"It's too much for one person," she said the other night.
Progress is an elusive idea. Disparities have grown between rich and poor but we have an African American President; some pastor is burning Korans in one state and gay marriage is being declared a constitutional right in another. A cab driver is stabbed for being Muslim; an independent Jewish Mayor of America's largest city has used his bully pulpit to promote religious tolerance and a thriving faith in our nation's imperfect but vibrant democracy.
Too much for one person, indeed. We need more hands on deck in the year ahead. Serious winds blow among us. We need all the help we can get.