Whatever you did for one of the least of these…
you did for me.
11 is one of my favorite numbers, not for itself, but for its repetition, and more so for the way it emphasizes something I’ve found to be true: We are one.
I remember where I was when this thought crystallized inside me–at an intersection near my apartment, with a gas station on my left and a Pizza Hut diagonally across the way.
I was in my mid-twenties, just beginning to come to terms with what it meant to be an adult and a citizen, particularly after moving back to my hometown where I had been hired to teach social studies.
As I waited for the light to change, I heard the radio announcer relay the story of a monster–a man who had done something despicable.
I have no recollection of what that was, but I imagine it had something to do with a woman given the response it engendered. What I do remember is that those who called into the show shared the same sentiment: String him up.
I thought about this as I passed what had once been a restaurant (with a cool library theme) and later became a bar (at which I flirted with the man who would become my husband) and now was shaping into a nightclub, I suppose, with a name that I found deeply disturbing, not just because I worked children, and was expecting myself, but because this establishment was at the entrance to our resort town which sought to shift its image to a family destination.
As I passed CR Fannies, I thought more about the monster, who apparently was a man of color. Although I grew up as an Army brat, and knew first-hand that a black man could be a Major, just like my father, there was an older reality in my hometown.
The blacks all lived in the same impoverished area, just a few blocks north of my neighborhood, and if I found myself stopped at a light, particularly near the Projects, I would lock the doors to my car, while feeling ashamed for doing so.
Here blacks weren’t called Sir, but Nigger, and prejudice was a widely accepted norm, best illustrated by the mother of a college friend who refused to allow the black classmate of her future son-in-law, the lawyer, to serve as best man, or another mother of a friend, who jumped out of the chair at the dentist office saying, “No Nigger is going to put his hand in my mouth,” or by the very absence of people of color in any establishment except in the back of the house near the dishwasher and the cleaning supplies.
As I approached the drawbridge that led off the island to the mainland, I thought more about the criminal and the callers, and later shared the insight that came to me with my husband–How every man comes into this world as a baby–perhaps without the love and adoration with which our child would be welcomed–but nonetheless innocent and deserving.
Even this man.
Even a monster.
This may explain what has always seemed an odd interest for me: society’s orientation toward criminals; and while this interest never manifested in a career path, it most likely shaped the way I managed employees at a restaurant, students in the classroom, and children in the home.
Punishment has little, if any, place among my parenting tools, for the simple reason that it’s counterproductive. I shaped our children’s lives around clear expectations, consistency, support, collaboration and consciousness; and it seems to have served them well.
Our boys are still young (16 and 21), but they regularly express gratitude for us as their parents, just as we regularly express our appreciation of them. In between there are the hard conversations and the occasional recriminations, but these are coupled with deep re-connections and the ever-seeking resolution of what it means to be in relationship and to share a home.
This brings to mind a quote I recently came across by Gloria Steinhem: “We will never have a democracy until we have democratic families and a society without the invented categories of both race and gender.”
Which brings me back to President-Elect, and the eleven days between us and him.
I refuse to call him a monster, or vilify his person, because in him, I see what I see in all men–a precious child, one deserving of love and affection.
At the same time, I share in the responsibility of bringing attention to his words and his actions, again and again, because everything he does to one, he does to all.