Good early morning,
Today was the first day of a new semester, the first day of a new academic year, a day of anticipation, excitement and beginnings. Yet, for others, it was a day of being frightened, of being overwhelmed, of wondering how they might merely survive (e.g. Living in parts of Texas or Houston at the moment having lost everything to the aftermath of Harvey; living in this country as someone impoverished to the point they know not where their next meal will be; or waking up in a country that for many seems to have lost its bearings when your skin or language or faith, or orientation does not fit what the outspoken supporters of someone elected. or the elected himself, deems “what makes America great”). Yes, I realize that is a rather convoluted sentence, but it seems appropriate because to say that our present national persona is similar is a profound understatement.
If you return to my earlier blogs, there is certainly a sense of trepidation concerning how the presidency of Mr. (and now President) Trump would unfold. Yet, as I told my students about 10 months ago, I spent time in the Marines to make sure the peaceful transition of power from one to the next president would continue. In fact, contrary to what many might think, unless something that is abhorently egregious is proven regarding President Trump’s past actions, and profoundly illegal, I do not believe impeaching him will be in the country’s best interest. I believe such an event would only further exacerbate the tear in the fabric of our nation, which seems more tattered than many of the over-priced, thread-bare, jeans I see on so many students. What stuns me is how polarized we have become as a people, how uncivil we have become in our discourse not only in the national media or in our reporting, but more importantly among ourselves. But more significant than being stunned, I am saddened beyond words.
What is our national reality at the moment? Who are we as a nation? More importantly who is it we aspire to be? I am not sure that is clear at present. When one wakes up each day to one group of the media encouraging what seems to be division and contempt for “the other,” and another group hellbent on proving every element of our current administration is clueless, the line from Apollo 13, which is certainly apropos for Houston today comes to mind. Please do not take my last statement to be some sort of blanket approval of what seems to be a daily “truth-is-stranger-than-fiction” actions of President Trump because it surely is not. However, those who see me daily, know I have little use for many things he has said or the manner in which he has said them. In fact, the emotion, which I find myself most being willing to admit, is embarrassment, and I do not embarrass easily. The reality for me is simply this. We have made a profound mistake, and I am not speaking about the fact we have elected someone who seems inclined to throw tantrums, strike back an anything or anyone who disagrees with him, or acts in a manner that a attuned to nothing more than a schoolyard bully; I am referring more importantly to the underlying reality of who we might actually be as country.
This is a conversation that I have had with both my Republican and Demoncratic friends or acquaintances, and yes, it is possible to have both. It is, again, a conversation I have had with my conservative and liberal friends and acquaintances, my Latino/a, my black, my gay or lesbian friends and acquaintances, my immigrant or foreign friends – I think you get the picture. In fact, the other day someone asked me, somewhat pointedly, why am I so comfortable or seem to like people who are not American (and by extension, it seemed) or white? The question did not catch me completely off guard, nor did it seem inappropriate. The tone was, perhaps, a bit more accusatory than I might have liked, but the question is certainly understandable, and for a variety of reasons. I cannot explain them all in a single blog posting, and, therefore, I won’t even try, but suffice it to say that part of it is because an immigrant changed my life. It is, in part, because I have been fortunate to travel, both with students and on my own. It is because I have been blessed to be taught by professors who profoundly influenced my thoughts and ideas about history, culture, and faith. It is because the first person I remember calling a parent, who was my grandmother, loved unconditionally and was a living example of goodness. Again, it is because a former student, technically not even in my class, but one who is more like family pushed me, often beyond my comfort zone to understand my privilege as the older white professional person I am. I pushed back against her categorization at the time, arguing I had earned it, but such a statement is not completely true. Indeed, I have worked hard and accomplished some important things, but I have also been given abundant and underserved help along the way. My reality has been cushioned, insulated, and softened from what it would have been.
The consequences are quite evident in some ways. Yet, it is what I feel compelled to do for others that is, for me, most significant. This past Friday, unexpectedly, I had a conversation with a faculty colleague, one whom I have know tangentially, but because of a former mutual student, more completely than I might have. A chance conversation about something that has weighed on my heart deeply concerning that student became an unexpected focus. The words of my colleague were enlightening. Their ability to help me see somethings I knew more clearly as well as things I had not yet considered has provided me a sense of peace that was lacking. The reality in all of this, which now seems more apparent, is simple. If I give, hoping to receive in return, I am not really giving. There are two lessons here. First, it is not wise to give if you cannot afford to do so; and second, be more selective or thoughtful in one’s giving. Certainly, those to whom I have given felt comfortable enough to ask, and they certainly needed it when they asked. Reality again is I made the choice to do it. That is what I did, not what they did. I alone am accountable for that choice. What they have done since is their choice and their reality. How they have moved forward and how they understand that choice and their response to me now is also theirs. I need to let it go, regardless.
Another reality that has become profoundly real from all of this is we are flawed. As humans we are exceedingly selfish and self-centered. I remember a book I once used for a Major Religions class. It was called The Compassionate Beast. The claim of the book was, as humans, we are incapable of being altruistic. We might claim our compassionate tendencies, but we are more likely the beast. It seems that is the reality of our nation at the moment. No longer do we light a torch for the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as was done for our own ancestors be it a generation or five before. It seems we are much more willing to push the tired, the poor, and those who are huddled somewhere else. Before you believe I have no appreciation for immigration laws, that is not the case, but as with many other things the laws we enforce and the reality of the world in which we live seem to be from two different continuums or time warps. There is so much more to this question than merely a wall or a border crossing. There is so much more than simply a person who has tried to offer an opportunity for thblogs, Worde family. I think what boggles my mind, beyond anything I have every known, is that it seems our President has no compassion for anyone. If you can help him you will get some sense of importance, but that too is only there as long as you seem to be able to give him something. He has little sense of loyalty. If you anger him, he will publicly tweet you into exile, or you wish you were. While he speaks regularly about how important people are, it seems that the way in which he dismisses people or changes course demonstrates something very different. There are all sort of things being said; there are daily polls, prognostications, and pundits. They do not matter. What matters is something I spoke of in a recent blog and it is the power of language. What someone says matters and when that person has enormous power, what they say matters even more. When they have enormous power, how they say something also matters. I speak to my students all the time about the significance of words and audience. The more complex the audience, the more carefully things need to be measured. There seems to be a lack in this for our President. That is more than embarrassing or frustrating. It is not really something that is positive when the average person says well “see, I can relate to him or he relates to me.” Speech is power and to speak poorly is to give up power. I know some will argue this and so be it. I am not sure our President relates to the everyday person, in spite of anything he says. That is the reality that I am afraid is going to hit people much harder than they will ever see coming.
We are about one week into classes and I have not gotten this posted, but plan to do it before I leave my office. My new students are beginning their own blogs and with any writing comes some fear, especially when it is public. One of the best things the blog has done for me is force me to see beyond myself. The last three and a half years of blogging regularly has prepared me to be a better person, a better professor, and a better and more thoughtful citizen. I am grateful to all of you who are following me. The picture above is what I looked like when I first began teaching at the college level. A bit larger and grayer now, but I think also a much better professor. Thanks as always for reading and I hope you can, as my former colleague reminded us so often . . . hug the ones you love.