Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reflections on Growing Old

"The more things change, the more they stay the same." I don't know who said that, but it does seem that change is hard to come by. I suppose that depends on how we define change.

I am the grandson of a Methodist minister (and proud that my brother took up the profession, because I always felt like I was expected go into the ministry -- until my mother corrected me decades later!) and the son of civil rights activists in Florida. My grandfather once said in a sermon that we were lucky enough to attend that "you change the world one heart at a time."

I've never forgotten that. And I really believe that.

Having fought for Hope and Change for two years starting in 2007, I won't ever forget the euphoria in electing the first black president in our history. And, despite the warnings from Barack Obama, many of us are disappointed at the progress -- or lack thereof -- that's been made.

Change don't come easy. You change the world one heart at a time.

It's a lifelong project. But I'm a baby boomer, and we want immediate gratification. Hell, it took years to mobilize people, to get them excited enough to take a chance -- to risk the country, even (according to some) -- to "get what we want."

But nothing's changed. You change the world one heart at a time.

I don't agree that nothing has changed. It seems to me that this president has been extraordinarily successful, pushing through major elements of his campaign agenda, tackling health care, Wall Street reform, instituting equal pay for women, beginning the drawdown of forces in Iraq, instituting transparency in the federal government, signing the stem-cell bill, rescuing the economy from the Bush recession, and working on climate change (and accepting it as a credible threat to the country). Our standing in the world has increased, and people can start to feel good about America again.

But not everyone agrees. You change the world one heart at a time.

I got into an argument this morning with someone here in Illinois, in part because I'm proud of the small part me and my family played in the civil rights movement in Florida. I can't pretend to understand the discrimination that others have felt because I've led an incredibly blessed life. I get how lucky I am. But that doesn't mean I don't understand how others have been effected.

When I was a freshman in high school, we had race riots at my school. For a week that fall we had policeman around campus. Our coaches told us to stay out of it, and I suspect most of us did. But during that week, a cross was burned in the front lawn of one of my teammates and ended up damaging his home. I went to the varsity coach to tell him about it, expressing my concern. My (freshman) football coach was none too pleased, but that's life. The next day, the "cowboys," as we called them, beat up a football player, and our coaches told us to "end it." We did and the police left.

I understand what it's like to fight for change. I can't claim to be a pacifist or a believer in non-violent solutions to all the world's ills, but I understand that violence should only be used as a last resort. More importantly, I understand that those who resist change can -- and have -- resort to violence a lot quicker than those who work for it. And it's not always appropriate to just stand by.

During the Pennsylvania primaries, we had one African-American volunteer calling for Barack face two nasty barrages of racist rhetoric in one day. I'm convinced they didn't realize that she was black because I seriously doubt that you could have told from her voice. A nice Philly suburban housewife who lived in a pretty good neighborhood, she didn't deserve that. "This country isn't ready for a (black) president," one of the callers told her (using the pejorative for black).

You change the world one heart at a time. It's a long frickin' process.

I'm not sure I would have wished any of this upon Barack Obama. But, then, sometimes it takes a tectonic shift to rest people out of their slumber. I'd like to think that we were doing that, but it seems that the forces of good are exhausted, disappointed and uninterested. I've even heard one (black) Democratic party "leader" express greater disappointment in the president than you'd hear from Tea Party leaders, because he didn't immediately make everything better for black women.

Man, that's a lot of expectations to carry while one is burdened with leading the country. But you change the world one heart at a time.

Last night, I had another political activist call me a radical. "It's not necessarily a bad thing," he mentioned. Hadn't heard that since high school -- and it probably got me thinking about things. I guess I stand out, although I can't say I meant to. But I'm fairly certain I don't see myself the way others do. Thank god for my wife, who often interprets the world for me. (Only one reason why I adore her!)

I tend to think of things on a continuum. Things don't always go the way we want, and generals like to say that all battle plans fail once contact with the enemy is made. It's the ability to adapt to a changing environment that makes one successful.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. You change the world one heart at a time. It don't come easy. But it's worth the fight...

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