This is not my fight song. This is my sorry song. During this weekend of reflection, while I watch the MAGA Covington Catholic High School kid/Native American war veteran Nathan Phillips story unfold, I am filled with great sadness. The blind and tone-deaf comments, from both sides (myself included), which used to fuel me, impassion me, now show me who I have become. I wish everyone would take responsibility for their actions, and stop the vicious cycles of hate begets hate, and hate excuses hate.
I am sorry for a lot of things. Genuinely. I am sorry to the people I forgot and who feel forgotten (*this and all following apologies do not apply to those who are actual racists, bigots, and assholes). I am sorry they are still forgotten. I am sorry for the times I took a side just because it was “my side.” I am sorry for the unkind things I have said, though, I am thankful for my right to free speech, which I hope we all continue to take advantage of as a vehicle to voice our frustrations and differing views. I am sorry it has come to this. This is not who we are as a country, and I am heartbroken.
I did not vote for Trump, but like everyone (statistically), I know and love some people who did. Sometimes I am filled with so much frustration and anger towards them, it feels like hate. But, I know and try to remember that when my day or theirs comes, I may not be thinking of the political choices and missteps I felt they took, but how they treated me, how they loved me.
It is difficult to know who represents me in the ivory tower now, certainly not the extremes or the fringes, maybe sometimes the outraged, but not always. I grew up a “Republican,” became a “Democrat,” but now, I don’t know what I am or what those terms mean anymore. What I do know, is that I miss the character and leadership of President Obama, even though I did not agree with everything he did. I am inspired by Senator McCain. Just as he called Obama “[m]y President,” McCain was my representative, though I have never lived in Arizona. He was a war hero who fought so I could enjoy my rights, freedoms, and safety as an American citizen. He conducted himself in a way that made it clear he put our country before himself, even when his love of country was not reciprocated. I find comfort in President Bush Sr.’s words, “I am a quiet man, but I hear the quiet people others don’t” because it reminds me that there are people listening.
To the members of Congress, I know it is hard. Hard to do the right thing, hard to do your job, and hard to keep your job so that you can do your job. I hope that you will dig deep and find the strength to do what is right for our country, and to learn to have compassion and understanding before you are personally visited by what you oppose. The federal government employees that are affected by the shutdown are not pawns, they are mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons; they are public servants whose job every day has been to protect and serve all of us.
It is becoming clear as additional details come to light that the Covington/Phillips incident is more complex than initially reported. As this investigation progresses, I hope we fight the instinct to double down on what we think we already know, have the humility to put aside pride to seek the truth, and do the right thing. Apologize, where apologies are due. Learn from the mistakes that were made. Own and take responsibility for our actions. It will be cathartic, and show credibility. For their part in any wrongdoing, the Covington High School kids involved and their parents should suffer shame and remorse and face consequences, as we all should when we do things that are wrong. As this story unfolds, same to whoever else may have had a part in instigating or otherwise cooperating with what culminated in the showdown caught on video. Hate cannot excuse hate. Shame is a minimum cost of doing business when we make bad decisions, but also a motivator to be better. It was an important preliminary step for Covington High School and the Diocese of Covington to apologize and clarify their position as they did.
Despite the current confusion of what actually happened and whether it could be a mutual misunderstanding that escalated, every time I watch the video, the confrontational intent behind that smirk seems so clear. Even if the video only captures a single moment in a larger context, the visual of that single moment as experienced through that particular angle/point of view, fuels a desire to personally expel the kid with the “punchable and untouchable” smirking face, physically wipe that smirk off his face with my fist, and watch him cry. Admittedly, if the kid’s account is true, this is probably undeserved. Even if the kid’s account is false, however, there is a last, minuscule, struggling spot of optimism left in me that still wants to believe that compassion begets compassion, that education will matter, and reform is possible. My hope is that this is a turning point for the kid and he becomes a champion for the people and issues his recent actions appear to oppose. I know that a hope like this may sound naive, but I also believe that it is this type of hope that is the thread of the fabric of our society, and that which may inspire this kid and others to do better. We cannot give up hope.
I implore everyone (including myself) that while we continue voicing frustrations, to not be lost in them. That instead of being stuck in “remembering how we got here,” we reach forward for the strength to act effectively. Or at least, strategically. Because we need to get out of this massive ditch. For those of us who know and have the ability to do better, actions such as “going low,” calling people stupid, and constant reminders of the difference in education level between those who support Trump and those who don’t, with certainty (and even under the rules of logic), will not win the discussion or alter beliefs/positions. These actions may, however, distract from the objectivity of “real” facts that are presented, and isolate and push people more extremely into their beliefs–just as those in Jim Jones’ cult, who may have been reasonable people, but became so isolated that they only had each other as sounding boards and to guide their behaviors.
My hope is that we open our arms and our ears, if only ajar to start, and have the tolerance to accept opinions we cannot change for the benefit of moving through this dark, divisive time.