Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hurting Each Other

This happened a long, long time ago.  I was a child.  It was just after the last dinosaur had lumbered off into the petroleum pits. 

I was a regular at Sunday School in those days; it was all part of our lives to be there for Sunday School and regular church services and MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) on Sunday evenings.  We belonged to a small church right in our small community, and there was a succession of preachers.  One, I remember in particular.  He joined the volunteer fire company and drove the engine like a bat out of hello, there he was out on the bay on the old tugboat that he bought, and there he was cruising the roads in his old Dodge.  He set aside a portion of every church service to preach a special lesson to the children of the congregation, and there were lots of children to be preached to.  You could hear the baby boom very clearly in our town.

But this happened before the Rev. Archibald came along.  It was at a Sunday School Christmas party, and the teachers had all gotten together nice little stockings full of small gifts for the kids in their classes.  A very nice thing to do, but as so often happens, the best of intentions still can lead to trouble.

It was after the little party had ended and the parents were coming in to round up the broods.  There was a little girl whose attendance had been sporadic at Sunday School, and she had come to the party and the teacher had not planned on her being there.  I don't know what went wrong. Maybe the little girl's mom was supposed to have indicated her plan to bring her to the party. Maybe the teacher could have planned for this sort of thing and had an extra stocking or two.  All I know is, we were all playing with the little toys and gizmos that we got and the little girl's mother asked her where her stuff was. 

And the little girl burst into tears and said, "I didn't get a stocking!"

And I felt so horrible for her.  I still do.

A couple of years later, into our classroom full of Roberts, Johns, Stevens, Barbaras, Janes and Susans there came a young man named "Herman".  "Herman" was a new kid, which is a tough thing to be in school, and he was Jewish.  While a team of guidance counselors tried to prepare the young man for his new situation, our teacher calmly explained that "Herman" would not be taking part in our pre-lunch prayer. 

Way to set the boy up, ma'am.

The worst things were the things she didn't say... such as not pointing out to a flock of early-60s whitebread Ozzie and Harriet kids that to be Jewish was not a crime, not anything wrong.  It might have been nice had she pointed out that Judaism was one of the leading religions of the world, practiced by millions and millions of people the world over.  It was easier to let the class know-it-alls pipe up with "They don't believe in Jesus!" and not give some elementary education about the Judeo-Christian tradition.

So, for this and a couple of thousand other reasons, I am for the underdog and very interested in the rights of others.  If you can just imagine how it felt to be a minority, how it felt when you and your entire family were marginalized, minimalized and rejected, then you can imagine how those kids felt.  I'm not noble or a freedom fighter or anything special at all, but I am a sentient human who sees people being hurt for such trivial reasons and I wish it would stop.

Of course, the latest is this damning of the president of the United States by the grudging admissions of putative religious leaders that "I GUESS he's a Christian, but you know he was born a Muslim."  No, he wasn't.  He was born of an atheist mother and an atheist father and he has embraced Christianity.  You remember when the haters were all in a spin over the minister of his church, Rev. Wright, and things the preacher had said or done.  But that wasn't enough proof for some that Barack Obama is a Christian.

I've lived long enough to have seen people treated like second-class citizens because of the color of their skin or where they live or where their ancestors came from or any one of a host of reasons that people trot out to justify their prejudice.  It is about time to stop hurting people's feelings over their personal choices.


Ralph said...

You just gave me one more reason to be grateful. I had Jewish kids in my Fairfax, Va elementary classes, too, and not a single word was uttered about them by any authority figure whatsoever. Even in second grade, I knew a "Melnikoff" kid was somehow different from a "Williams" kid or a "Johnson" kid. But all of us, the Melnikoffs, the Massas, the Hertzogs, the Mysongs, the Upchurches, Williamses and all the rest, were treated as just part of the mix. (Except, of course, the Cherry kid. For some reason that name was fair game!)

splendid said...

Very important words today Mark, thank you so much! Growing up as the fat kid, I learned early how to please and praise others to try to get them to accept me. The lessons I have learned about other's prejudice has helped me innumerable times; by somehow developing an internal crap detector...I love when people show their true colors, it makes it so easy to walk away. Life is way too short to spend it with people who focus on division and separateness. I really enjoy reading you everyday, thanks again for making me think!

Mark said...

Dear Ralph - I think Fairfax must have been a little bit more cosmopolitan than the outskirts of Towson were in those days.

Dear Splendid - thank you and please keep reading and writing. I hope never to set off your ICD!