different ships

“We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.”   
― Martin Luther King, Jr.

I know what it feels like to be marginalized, to live, in some small ways, on the fringe of society because of my son’s disability. I know what it feels like when my child doesn’t get invited to birthday parties and can’t participate in play dates or sports, concerts or plays. I know what it feels like to be in a group of mothers exchanging stories about their children’s accomplishments while I sit silently trying to smile through the conversation until it moves along to something new. I know how it feels to be gawked at by strangers as if my kid and I came from another planet, and what it's like to wonder if others think I'm culpable for making my child the way he is.

Perhaps I was born with my hunger to know other. As long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to those unlike me. The town I grew up in was mostly white, but I had a childhood crush on a cute Chinese American boy and was friends with an African American girl who lived nearby. I befriended introverts, Jewish kids and gay kids who were still in the closet. In my sophomore year at college, my best friend was African American. After college, I kissed a Muslim in Montparnasse, fell in love with a black man—we were together five years—befriended Japanese women, Filipino and Chinese co-workers, gay men and women, octogenarians and loners. It feeds my soul to visit with homeless folks and our town’s intellectually disabled, to acknowledge that they exist and matter when so many people simply turn away. I understand that intimately knowing people who are different from us can enrich our lives, communities and nation in meaningful ways.

I suppose my predilections might be why I was so offended by the words of two local school board members responding to a request by our town’s Jewish community to include three Jewish holidays on the school calendar, mostly to serve as a gesture. Two board members, both middle-aged white women, had this to say:

I don’t know how jazzed I am about having outside groups put their information on our, um, school calendar.

And this:

“Those Muslims, um, some of the other unusual, or, not the mainstream religions, I guess, have holidays and ... long periods of time ... and, I don’t know ... I mean, we’d stop having school pretty soon.”

The women’s ignorant rhetoric, particularly the use of the words outside groups and those Muslims, to describe good people within our community, incensed me. Regrettably, the first person who came to mind after hearing their statements was Donald Trump. I sat and wondered how folks like these can populate our public institutions in this fairly diverse nation of ours. I mused a while longer on Trump, describing him in my mind ...

boorish. cocky. misogynistic. racist. bigoted. caustic. jingoistic. inflammatory. pompous. vulgar. thoughtless. hot-headed. bully. fascist.

... and then I imagined the words that likely spew from his mouth to describe his fellow Americans. I started typing them here, but then erased the long and vile list of contemptuous slurs I reckon he uses to refer to women, blacks, rural whites, gays, Muslims, Hispanics, poor, homeless, disabled and addicted people. Suffice to say I have little doubt he'd call my son Calvin a retard.

... and then I wondered why anyone would toy with the notion of having someone like Trump lead our nation when, clearly, he loathes most of us. I'm having a hard time getting my head around support for such an offensive person for president, a man with seemingly zero humanity, a man who likely detests the very folks who say they'll vote for him. How is his behavior and manner of thinking worthy of our praise, of receiving our nation's highest honor?

In my mind, the best leaders show restraint, patience, thoughtfulness, kindness, compassion, empathy, mindfulness, composure, intellect, courage, tenacity, respect—people like our current POTUS and Martin Luther King, Jr. They are champions for society's underdogs, apostles of justice, crusaders for us all, even the little guy, like my boy Calvin, and of people who practice different religions and who came on different ships.

Yep, we're all in the same boat now. Give me a skipper who won't throw me overboard simply because he doesn't respect my religion or like the way I look.

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