Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"...Feed them on your dreams..."

"...You, who are on the road,
Must have a code
That you can live by
And so, become yourselves,
Because the past
Is just a goodbye...

...Teach your children well
Their father's hell
Will slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The ones they fix
The ones you're known by.

Don't you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you
And know they love you...."

- Graham Nash

There are three very special non-celebrity heroes I would like to pay tribute to on this dawn of a new day...

One is my high school civics teacher, Gary Dehmcke.   Gary was cool.  I say Gary, because he was the first teacher I ever remember asking us to call him by his first name...Mr. Dehmcke was his dad.  Besides being cool, Gary loved democracy.  He loved elections and politics and "one man, one vote".  And most of all, he loved us.

Gary loved us enough to share with us, his passionate love for this country and her "most excellent" system of peaceful transition of power.  He loved debates...and did I already say he loved voting.  Every junior in our high school took his civics class.  But Gary also taught a current events class for seniors and since we all got to know Gary our junior year, you were a crazy if you didn't try to get into his current events class your senior year.  We all wanted more of his insights, more of his music (Gary's classroom sounded like the soundtrack for "Good Morning Viet Nam" everyday...if you haven't seen it, or heard the soundtrack...you must!), and we wanted to bask in his passion for news and its relevance in our lives.

Best of all, Gary took an interest in your interests.  If you loved the arts, Gary made voting all about the power to impact funding for the arts that your one vote would make.  If you cared about China, or your boyfriend had been drafted and was stationed in the jungles of Vietnam, Gary made voting all about foreign policy and war theory.  If domestic economy was your concern, Gary would talk budgets and taxes with you until you felt the impact
not voting would have on your children's children's social security benefits one day.

Gary found the ember of your own unfanned passions and blew upon them with the breath of his own deep longing for social responsibility. The day I turned eighteen, it was Gary who drove me, and three other students whose eighteenth birthday fell that week, to the County courthouse to register to vote -- Gary did it for every senior who wanted to participate in what he thought was the greatest free speech and protest activity on earth. Gary didn't want us to miss any of it. If we had a vote, we had a voice, and he made us realize that it would be a shame not to use it.

Thank you Gary.

The next is my dear friend B.  B. walked into my life at a time when I was ready to bask in the warmth of finally
not having to work three jobs and never sleep.  I was newly married and both my husband and I had salaried jobs and a mortage we could actually afford to pay without a struggle.  B. accepted a position with another department in our organization, and all alone,  moved herself and her very young sons across the country to a new city.  

By then I had almost forgotten (by choice) the hardships my own widowed mother of eight children had faced as a single mom...in countless new cities...when B.'s plight woke me out of a self-deluded comfort zone with a cold splash of reality.  A single African-American mommy with grade-school age boys, she let me experience her pain vicariously and in doing so saved my soul.

Unable to find affordable housing anywhere near our workplace, B. ended up renting an apartment far outside the gentrified neighborhoods near our office in a more "urban" part of the city.   The terrors she faced and the dark nights she stayed awake in order to protect her sons from unimaginable hardships is too unsettling to describe...but she did it.  When the schools in her district proved to be unacceptable, she made a commitment she knew would put them in traffic for hours each day and drove her sons untold distances to get them to schools where they would have some hope for educational  opportunity...and with her love and devotion...they would thrive.

B. faced almost unbeatable odds as a single African-American mother whose career path was narrowed by the limited "extra hours" she could put in when choosing to pick up her sons from school and "be there" for them while they did homework. Her tenacity as a mother would teach them (and me) so much about human dignity and spiritual grace by example.  B., and her precious sons (whose school photos graced my desk as "sons" long before I had my own children's photos to display) resurrected my waning 1960's social indignation and breathed new life into an unfed hunger for making a difference in the lives of those who faced almost insurmountable barriers to realistic pursuit of their dreams because of  socio-economic circumstances, race, educational opportunity, or gender.

Thank you B. for keeping my soul vigorously alive...

The last is my daughter.  When she was a child, one of her dearest friends was a sweet girl whose family had moved to the states from another country.  Her friend spoke English, but only as a second language.  Because of her friend's sometimes halting English, others often made that friend the central character in their attempts at sitcom-inspired humor. 

Our daughter never wavered.  She never allowed an ugly joke...told at the expense of her friend's dignity...to survive in the bright light of her love for another human being,  friend or foe.   She was unwilling to sit still for anyone's cruelty.   Because of this, she suffered the dismissiveness of adults who wanted to be thought "funny," and were insulted by her obvious discomfort.  She survived the lumping of her own "simple" kindnesses towards those less sophisticated, into the swill and swirl of racial prejudices.   And she refused to bow to the lowered expectations for her own potential...based on "the company she kept"...by those whose hearts were hardened to diversity of success models.  She often shook with grief, but she never wavered from the high ground of justice and love.

My daughter taught me that we are never too young to become teachers, and never too old to learn from our children.

Thank you for letting me walk this journey with you...your footsteps continue to lead me towards my better self.

As I heard
"Fanfare for the Common Man" during an Inaugural event this weekend, I couldn't help but think of these three heroes...a man, a woman and a child who have given me countless reasons to hope that a common man could become a president...a world leader...for the common man.

I am so grateful for all the heroes in my life...there have been so many (and without knowing it, you are probably one of them), but these are the ones I couldn't help but think of  on this most wonderful of days. Each of them is a living witness to this line from Kate Colby's timeless hymn, "True to our God whose name is Love, we shall fulfill our Father's plan..."

By being true to the love in their hearts, they have not only fulfilled God's plan for themselves, but for me and countless others who have been touched by their examples of fidelity and courage.

I am honored to know each of you and to have cast my vote with your life stories echoing in my heart...with Love.. 

Kate

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