don't go back

There are some people in this world who are pure souls. My sweet little boy Calvin is one of them. He affirms it with a sea of unconditional love, his lack of desire to hurt or conquer, his impartiality, and his indifference to material things—all qualities I believe can heal the world. At the same time he expresses a most admirable (though sometimes irksome), determination. And he is a boy who has a penchant to do what is right even when it is difficult.

Of late, Calvin has moved me to ponder this country, which our family is fortunate enough to call home. I feel grateful for the day that this nation of immigrants was founded. It was a landmark moment that represented many freedoms, a time that underscored the escape from religious persecution, from the iron hand of monarchies and the shackles of caste societies. But this utopian birth of a nation was bloodied by its slaughter of our indigenous people and the abominable institution of slavery that reigned for centuries in the name of profit, even in our forefather’s homes. It was a dark time when poor White men, women and Blacks were barred from the right to vote or own property, a time when good medical care and a decent education were reserved for the privileged few.

But thanks to the courage, suffering and tenacity of champions like Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, slavery was eventually abolished and Blacks and women won their right to vote. The Civil Rights Movement in this country worked to end segregation and oppressive Jim Crow laws, and the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies promoted—among other things—birth control, thus improving the lives of millions of women and families. We have evolved into a country in which everyone can marry who they love, an African American can become president, and our disabled people have shed the weight of shame, where now only the ignorant few cast their ridicule and scornful glares.

I reflect on our history and marvel at how far we have come despite so much bloodshed, subjugation, cruelty, injustice, and suppression. We have reached a better place. But there is so much more to do, so many who still stand in the shadow of inequality, pressed under the thumb of those who would deny them the same freedoms that they themselves—who profess to promote liberty—enjoy. And there are those who would build walls and take away the precious freedoms and advances fought so hard to attain, and who mock us and who would gladly cast us aside like a bit of trash, or climb on our backs just to get to the top, never once stepping into our shoes.

And so I look back to see where we have come from, and to learn. But more so, I look forward to a society in which everyone is treated equally—for we were born as equals—one in which each of us is free to enjoy life and liberty, where condescending slurs, misogynous attitudes and biased policies against women, the LGBTQ community and people of color are eradicated, where our criminal justice system isn’t an ugly mirror of blatant racism, where the gap between the haves and the have-nots gets narrower not wider, where corporations are not considered people (people bleed), where the separation of church and state still abides, where everyone who wants to go to college can do so without getting sunk, where sick little kids like my Calvin are not at risk of losing or being denied health insurance. I dream of a homeland in which the value of justice and inclusiveness are a powerful and noble example to the world, not one that would promote bigotry, spread lies, and incite violence against those who are seen as other.

And so, with the pure spirit of my son Calvin in mind, I think to myself out loud:  

lead by example, move forward, embrace progress, keep on truckin’, stay the course, be kind to immigrants, revere women, honor the disabled, listen to and trust one another. And  keep looking back ... but please don’t take us there, because for most of us, it wasn't so great.

A suffrage parade in New York City in 1912. (Photo: Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

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