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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Culture Shock

Papa and I in our canvas 'tennisses'
I'm sick again. This never happens. I almost never get sick. This winter hasn't been particularly harsh, and I can't ever remember a time when I took better care of myself in terms of diet and exercise, and yet here it is. I do get it though. I've been having nightmares pretty regularly too, and the tone of them is always the same. Sometimes the dream is about people I love joining a cult that does terrible things. Sometimes it's about people I love having friends that kill and torture people, but they have no issue with it. In my dreams, I always try to talk to my loved ones, and they either answer me in a foreign language and then laugh when I don't understand, or they tell me I need to get over it. Sometimes during these conversations there's screaming in the background. Sometimes it feels like I'm in hell and I can't find the way out. That feeling stays with me into the waking world sometimes, when I remember what the world is now. That's why I'm writing this. I won't stop getting sick until I acknowledge that what I really am is heartsick. What I feel is disconnected, because they changed and I didn't, though they think it's the other way around.

There's all this talk about going back to 'what was', but that's not the direction we're going. We're going in a direction that is as anti 'what was' as it is anti progress. I know what it's like to grow up in one world, and suddenly find yourself in a world that you don't really fit into anymore. I grew up in a small town. I knew and loved everybody. I would ride my bike to the library and know who lived in every house on the way. I always had quarters in my pocket (courtesy of my grandfather) so I could stop at Mr. Alberghini's store for a chocolate bar or some peanuts. If I picked up the mail on the way home, I always made sure to say "Hello" to Mr. McIntyre at the post office. There were dirt roads, farms, cows and horses. There was a roving pack of dogs that spent their days together (our dog was one of them), and who all were home by dinner time. I used to have brand new, homemade hats and mittens to wear to school every year. The town was overrun by kids riding bikes and horses every day in the summer. I went to church every Sunday and to catechism, and sometimes the priest would have dinner at our house. I sat on the front porch in a rocking chair watching it rain while my grandfather sang "Pennies From Heaven" (our family liked to sing), I played pick-up softball with the neighbors in the summer, sometimes until the sun went down. I was a girl scout, and learned to care for the planet and our natural resources. I was in 4-H and learned how to take responsibility for my animals. I learned that no man is an island, and that we are part of a community and in that way are responsible for each other. I watched westerns with my grandfather, and I wanted to be a cowboy (or an Indian. Either one, as long as I got to ride FAST) We went ice skating in the winter. We had a phone with a cord, and if you wanted a private conversation you had to sit at the top of the cellar stairs and talk quietly. We used to wait until it was dark, and then play hide and seek or tell ghost stories. I rode in the back of pick up trucks, my long hair usually in a ponytail and covered by a bandana. I went to drive-in movies and drive-up eateries. I remember when TV would end the broadcast day at midnight.

Back then, kindness and respect were the norm. We didn't have to legislate it or talk about it, because it was just a part of life. People who had respect for themselves treated others respectfully. It's just the way it was. It was part of the fabric of everything I knew. I said "Thank you" to my school bus driver and the lunch ladies every day. I always called folks who were older than me "Mr.", "Miss", or "Mrs." unless told to do otherwise (still do), out of respect. My grandparents weren't just real Republicans, they were real Christians. They always put people before money, and they were generous. When somebody needed help they were there if they could be. Most of the neighbor children had at least one toy fixed by my grandfather, or a boo boo tended to by my mom or grandmother. I learned that 'fiscal responsibility' meant spending carefully, and taking good care of things so that they would last a long time. That way, you'd have the money when you needed it for something important, like people, especially family. I learned that when you help somebody you do it without strings and without need of recognition. My grandparents helped me a lot financially, and they would refuse repayment (Nana: "I'm not taking your money. Do I look that cheap?"). But we grew up understanding that we were very, very fortunate to have the money, and that not everybody was. The lesson was that, as adults, we should be just as willing to share our good fortune with others should we also be so blessed. We also learned to love everybody. We didn't have to like them, but we did have to love them. We learned that it wasn't our place to judge other people, and that hating others was like poisoning yourself. If I came home talking smack about somebody (rare), my grandmother would say something like "Nevermind! You just worry about you!" I didn't really know anything about gender equality issues because my mom did whatever the hell she wanted, and didn't feel any need whatsoever to explain herself. It was through teachers and school that I learned how "scandalous" that was and how difficult my mom's path really had been. I admired the hell out of her because I saw the toll it took sometimes, but she kept on going.

Compared to the world I grew up in, the world I live in now seems cold, crass, tactless, selfish and often cruel. And it's getting worse, on purpose. I think it's part of why I have such a hard time with the current version of the Republican party. I'm an Independent, but will admit to leaning heavily to the left by default. I go where my inner morality takes me, and much of that morality was shaped by my grandparents who helped to raise me. My grandparents were REAL Republicans, when it was the party of the people, of workers rights, of empowerment of the individual through fair and ethical employment, and of fiscal responsibility. If you had asked them which party was more important, they would tell you that they both were important in order to create balance. I was too young to really grasp the specific political beliefs of my grandparents, but I knew and respected their personal values, and have tried (and continue to try) very hard to emulate those values in my adult life. I have to wonder what they would think of today's political climate. I know a lot of wonderful, decent people who still support the Republican party by default, despite it's departure from the party's real values. I have often wondered how that's possible. But I heard a story (parable, tale, whatever) the other day that sort of explained it for me. I can't remember where I heard it (TV?), but it was about how to boil a frog.  As the story goes, if you drop a frog in boiling water it will simply jump out and be on it's way. But if you put the same frog in cool water and turn up the temperature very gradually, the frog wont realize it's being boiled. Kind of a gross analogy, but you get the point. We've slowly, so slowly, given ourselves over to financial priorities. We have reality TV and cable news keeping us complacent and entertained. We've allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered for profit. And I'm so damned angry. I remember 'great'.  Great was ethical, kind, respectful, reasonable, inclusive, and GOOD. It was humane and careful and responsible. That's not where we're headed, not at all. And those good values I grew up with are being erased and made a mockery of. The truly Christian values I was raised with are being twisted and used to punish and hate. We're being sold an enormous lie and we are just going along with it, selling out what's important and to our own detriment. No wonder I feel sick. I wish there was a way I could shake people awake and remind them of who they are, but I don't know how. We're boiling. We're boiling like crazy, and people are cheering about it.

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