The incredible soundtrack to the Broadway musical “Hamilton” (which tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the American Revolution) has this line:
“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”
I have three stories for you.
My son and I were playing foosball; I was getting my ass kicked, as per the usual. The subject of the election came up. He told me the story of how children were chanting at mock election (before the actual election) “build that wall” in the lunchroom.
I had not heard that story.
So a discussion ensues; one of the topics was that our country was founded by immigrants. That Americans, unless they are Native American, we’re from everywhere. I asked my son “Do you know your heritage?” His response: “Aren’t we from Mexico?”
Now, before you ponder that any further, let me tell you that my son is a blonde, blue-eyed boy. And we have no family from Mexico, at least that I know of. His heritage is England, Germany, Scotland and Ireland.
So why would he think his family tree originates from Mexico? He’s grown up hearing both English and Spanish; we still use simple Spanish phrases in our every day conversation. He grew up listening to Spanish popular music. We celebrated some holidays not typical to other households. For example, Dia De Los Muertos; we have fond memories of the annual celebratory trip to the local Panaderia for pan de muertos, breads marked with a little skull and crossbones made of dough.
It was never intentional, but we have very few traditions that hail specifically from the various countries of our heritage. I don’t have as many stories to tell that connect us to those cultures. Yes — I burn a bayberry candle all the way down on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve; — that’s a German tradition that was passed down to me. But most of the other celebrations; the egg-dying, the Christmas tree; they tend to be woven into the fabric of America culture. They don’t specifically bring up tales that would connect him to these faraway lands.
The other point I recognize is that we’re not surrounded by family; it’s pretty much just me and my children; and I’m realizing that he hasn’t heard the stories of his family from a voice other than mine.
Fast forward to another evening; my son and I are driving and we pass a local chapter of the VFW. It’s in a grand, old house and there is a war memorial and a tank out front. We drive past this place often, but usually in the daylight. That night it was late and it was dark; the tank featured prominently in the spotlight. “Umm, Mom … why is there a tank in front of that house?” I explained how it isn’t a house – well, yes, it IS a house – now it is a place for Veterans to gather. And that the tank is a memorial to remember that real men and women died. “Oh” he calmly replied; “Maybe we need more of those.”
I’ve heard some stories of war from my parents, but none directly from my grandfather who served in World War 1. I have heard some stories from my brother, who did tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But those stories have never reached the ears of my son; the horrors of war are far removed from him. Even the tales from my parents of blackouts and shortages and there not being enough food; he doesn’t know those stories. All he sees is a tank.
A conversation with a new friend; we were discussing the flu shot and I casually mentioned that I don’t get them. He began to feel me out on the topic of vaccines. You know, being Ms. Crunchy Yoga Girl some people might assume that I am anti-vaccine. But that would not be true; I believe in vaccines, just not the flu vaccine for me, personally. You have to dig beneath the surface; you need to know the filter of my experience. The story of how my mother contracted polio as a child, the symptoms were recognized early; she received immediate medical care and she suffered no permanent paralysis. The story of my mother’s brother dying of tetanus — a teenage boy who fell out of a tree and broke his arm. The doctor forgot to administer the vaccine; he contracted tetanus and died of lockjaw. These stories shaped my viewpoint and informed my decisions.
I wonder, have I told my son these stories?
In our communities and in our nation, we have lost track of each other. Our insulated and casual electronic connection means broken communication. Lost connection with friends and acquaintances. Our interactions with strangers has become more and more defensive.
We’re afraid of each other.
And because we are cut off from each other, the exchange of ideas has ceased. We are separating off into groups. I’m black; you’re white. I’m rich; you’re poor. I’m blue; you’re red. I’m wrong; you’re right.
And that right there is the danger. We have become less than human to each other.
When we become less than human to each other, society breaks down.
When we become less than human to each other, that’s when people start getting carted off to be put in ovens. When we become less than human to each other that’s when people get strung up in trees and nailed to crosses and burned at the stake. When we become less than human to each other, that’s when good people can get lost and do horrendous things.
So much of what is happening is happening BECAUSE we don’t listen to each other. We talk and we post and we tweet and we spout and we offer opinions through the filter of our experience; but we don’t listen; we don’t have the back and forth exchange of conversation. We spend less and less time interacting with people who are different; we spend little time considering what it is like to walk in the other person’s shoes.
Often because those can be some damn uncomfortable shoes.
We are, right now, at a tremendous crossroads. We are writing the first chapter of a new story. Will it be about community and connection and healing and understanding and doing what must be done for the good of all? Or will it be about warring and factions and death and hatred and separation and so much SO much pain?
You have the power right now both to tell your story and to write the new one; so, tell me; what’s your story?