In 1942, President Roosevelt signed an order allowing the rounding up and imprisoning American citizens of Japanese ancestry. I grew up in Oregon, and went to high school with students whose parents and relatives had been rounded up and shipped to places like Idaho for the duration of World War II. I was astonished to think that “ordinary” Oregonians hadn’t protested the removal of their fellow citizens. Although Germany was also an enemy of the United States, there was no roundup of American citizens of German ancestry.
At that I reassured myself, falsely it seems to me now, that we could distinguish between American citizens and enemy soldiers. After all, many Oregonians of Japanese ancestry were third generation Americans. In fact, some of these Oregonians were fighting in our military forces.
As current events unfold, I say what I was not alive to say then. American citizens are American citizens. No one has the right to question their religion, their race, their political views or their clothing. Terrorists are terrorists, but they come in all religions, all races, all political views and wear all sorts of clothing. Let’s not repeat the view that allowed Executive Order 9066 to be issued.
A fire did irreparable damage to a house across the street from us, but it had stood for 250 years. Now it is being dismantled and the beams and boards are being salvaged so that they can be reconstructed in another home. The builders had a different idea of longevity than we seem to today. They expected the houses to outlast the builders; they built for the generations to come.
I hope that we can regain that sensibility and think beyond our own needs. What are we building to last?
I have always loved New York City. Although I was born in Brooklyn, I spent the majority of my life in Oregon. My father took his family west while his brother stayed in New York. We went “back East” every few years, including 1952 when I was five. Then in 2001 my husband and I moved to Connecticut, just a train ride from “THE city,” as I have always thought of it.
We went to a Yankees/Red Sox game on September 10, 2001, a gloriously blue sky day and I felt I was finally back where I belonged. This old picture captures that optimistic safe at home sense I felt that fall day in 2001, just 18 hours before it was shattered.
It is still a wonderful city. I still love it dearly. Today I thank all the people who go ahead with their lives, refusing to bow to fear. Refusing to scapegoat all the immigrants who saw this city as a gateway to their new lives. Refusing to blame all followers of a religion for the crimes of a few. Here I stand, I seemed to say. Here I stand, I still say.
When I was nine and subject to teasing, my father taught me to reply, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It wasn’t true, of course. Words can do real damage, often invisible, unlike that caused by sticks and stones.
I am familiar with the ways other people’s words wound me, but I am becoming more aware of the way my words can wound me as well as those around me.I am frequently tempted to make snarky comments, since words come easily to me. I want to spit poisonous rhetoric back at offensive words. Yet as I am tempted to respond in kind, I overlook the the effect that the retort is having on me. I diminish myself in my attempt to diminish the other. I add to the noise that is furiously boiling around us these days. Sometimes I even repeat the offensive words as I refute them. Now I have put the ugliness back out there.
When I was growing up, civil discourse was seen as a virtue. “Civil discourse is engagement in discourse (conversation) intended to enhance understanding,” according to the dictionary. I am trying, in my own life, to retrieve an ability to have conversation intended to enhance understanding, both my own and the other person’s.
When I was in eighth grade, Riverdale School had an annual oratory contest. We had practiced speech throughout the year, doing such exercises as 3 minute extemporaneous talks on objects handed to us by our teacher. The later half of the spring was devoted to writing and rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing our speeches.
I chose as my topic The Importance of a College Education for Women. In 1960 this was an issue still actively discussed by the adults around me. Many people thought that college was wasted on women who were, after all, just going to be wives and mothers. I framed my argument within that framework, but argued that college made women better mothers.
55 years later, I watched one woman speak in support of a woman candidate for the President of the United States. I watched women Senators cast delegate votes. For girls in the eighth grade today, this may seem very ordinary. But my grandmother couldn’t vote until she was 32 years old. And 55 years ago I won the oratory contest by tackling what the judges saw as a “controversial subject.”
We live amidst a variety of trees, so we are visited in the summer by a myriad of birds: woodpecker, nuthatch, goldfinch, house finch, tufted titmouse, blue jay, mockingbird, mourning dove, robin, and the ubiquitous house sparrow. All co-exist, feeding on the tubes of feed and seed and cakes of suet I set out under our cherry tree, facing the window over the kitchen sink.
This summer, however, I have been plagued by starlings. In poetic language they form a murmuration. In my yard, however, they form a pack of bullies, driving all the other birds away. They don’t even share with one another. Instead, they fight for every toehold, every branch, every suet holder. They spend so much time fighting, they often don’t feed, so consumed are they with pushing each other away from the food.
Last week I put out one suet cake for the downy woodpeckers I had seen around. I hadn’t seen any starlings in a few days, so I thought the coast might be clear. The woodpeckers had the cake to themselves for five minutes. Then, by some starling signal, five starlings arrived and began fighting–not eating–on the suet cake. They drove off the woodpeckers.
I leave any analogy to the reader.
When my daughter was about five, we passed a street evangelist in downtown Portland screaming about the fires of hell. He scared my little girl, and she began to cry. I was angered that a man trying to tell people about Jesus was having this effect on her. Jesus had welcomed, not frightened away children.
I walked up to him and told him that he was frightening my daughter. He was startled, telling me that was not his intention. I suggested that despite his intention, that was his effect. Perhaps, I offered, he might be gentler in his approach and convey more of the good news to passers-by.
In this current atmosphere of inflammatory rhetoric, it is too easy to loudly attack one another. I hope that we might be aware that though we may intend to counter lies we are hearing, it may be having a different effect. Perhaps we are only increasing the tension, adding our own collateral damage.
After a night when a presidential candidate painted the United States in desperate chaos, riddled by illegal immigrants, violence and despair, I began to reflect on the view of the world we each carry inside day by day.
I thought back to the early 1980’s, a time of turmoil and economic uncertainty for me, a single mother trying to get by on a part-time faculty salary. My world view was one of pessimism, largely shaped by personal experience at the time.
Pioneer Courthouse Square was being overhauled in Portland, and they had sold bricks to raise funds for the construction. I had bought one for myself and one for my daughter, a $30 extravagance at the time. As she and I walked downtown talking about the bricks, she asked me how long they would last. I told her they would be there for quite a while. “Then we can bring your great-grandchildren down to see them,” she replied.
She had a completely different sense of the future that brought me up short. She envisioned the generations to come while I was mired in a view without a future. I decided that day to try to hold onto her vision and put aside my own.
Right now so much literature, television and film is centered on an apocalyptic view. Some politicians imagine a perfect past and posit that only a retreat can restore hope. I try to look ahead to a time when renewal takes precedence over isolation, when my great-grandchildren can read in their history books about the rebirth, not the death throes, of our country.
I guess I have been introspective from a very early age!