Saturday, June 20, 2009

Juneteenth 2009

Days of watching American politicians and pundits debate about how to handle the unrest in Iran and then I stumble across what I need, which is the feeling of connection to the people of Iran whose lives are at stake. The video of the rooftop communication, where people call out in the darkness to one another and to God, repeating "Allah-o Akbar", and where the narrator seems at times to be on the verge of tears as she fears for her country and shares her thoughts, is more than enough to make me care. I have been so wearied by the complicated names and the history and the blaming and the opportunism that I forgot about the people. And they are young people, mostly. I've heard several estimates about the unusually high number of those under thirty who populate Iran, and I wondered how that happened but didn't really think about how it would feel to be so young and in such straits. I found a Slate article about how that happened, and it's interesting, but now it's less important to me than the cries on the rooftops and the feeling of destiny that these young people have.

The video starts with a declaration of the date, June 19th 2009, and that reminded me of our own American Juneteenth, and for me the hook was in. I thought about last night's Hardball show, where Chris Matthews went off on a legislator (Rep Steve Cohen D-TN) who co-sponsored a fairly meaningless apology for slavery and other racial inhumanities and was so caught up in his own bluster (Matthews' bluster that is) that he ignored the date: June 19th, which isn't that obscure in its significance, especially considering the topic he was discussing and Matthews' own self-professed humanitarianism. It would have been nice if Rep James Clyburn D-SC had put in a reminder, but, of course, there was almost no time for him to comment at all, plus he had to get in his thought about health care. The past is prologue, not priority.

Anyway, Juneteenth 1865 is worth remembering and parallels what is going on in Teheran in 2009 because it's about FREEDOM. What's so very, very different is that in the 1860's news traveled so slowly that slaves in Texas weren't informed about their freedom until June 19, 1865, two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered in January of 1863. Freedom isn't so easily denied in 2009. You can close the borders, expel the media, threaten freedom seekers with death and still they find ways to communicate with each other and the outside world. Allah-o Akbar! God IS Great. And He made the human spirit.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I Didn't Ask To Be Born

"I didn't ask to be born!" I don't think I ever said that to my parents, but I KNOW I thought it, and I know I've heard it from my progeny. Kids get away with a lot more disrespect than that these days, but that's not really my point.

Last Sunday's Wall Street Journal page in the now combined Beaufort Gazette Island Packet carried an intergenerational article about personal finance that is one of a series written by a father and son, the Yoders. Often I don't read them, but this one interested me. Isaac, the son, is musing about how he should deal with the good fortune of having successful, hard-working parents. He is wondering about what moral obligations might attach. He says that there are "two basic ways to approach this issue".

"The first way to look at it is that we kids have an obligation to take full advantage of the opportunities given to us because of our parents' hard work. This would mean immersing ourselves in the education provided, going on to get a good job and living life in a way our parents find acceptable. This choice seems like the natural answer, but it also seems to mean that privileged children have to live indebted to our parents, always with something to pay them back for. In other words, we'll always live our lives according to their standards. That doesn't feel quite right.

"The second approach would be to say we kids have the right to basically ignore our parents' expectations. It wasn't our choice to be born. If we follow this argument, we could claim full moral freedom to go in any direction in our lives without feeling like we had to make decisions that our parents would be happy with. There would be no shackles and no indebtedness. This approach feels even further from the truth."

No one has ever asked me for advice on this question, but if they had, I think I might have said something like what Isaac's father, Steve, said, which was maybe not so much about obligation but more about recognition of how his son's good fortune was achieved. He said, "Your debt, like my debt and your mother's, is to the generation before us who passed blessings down to us. And it's to the countless others in the world today who are not as blessed."

I say "recognition" rather than "obligation" because the former sits lighter with me. Obligation is constant and feels less free to me than recognition, which I may choose or not. But with that small distinction and not much difference, Steve Yoder is describing what is for me a way of life. Long ago I was taught about the "haves" and the "have-nots" with a sense that I should always care about social justice. But as an adult, I have chosen to live intentionally, every day, with gratitude. It's true that there are days when what I am grateful for is that things are not worse, but even on those days, I am aware of the blessings in my life, and I thank God for His company.

So whether I asked to be born is irrelevant. I'm here and I live in a world with billions of other souls. I don't feel guilt for my comforts, but I DO appreciate them, and I DO wonder why I have them. And I wish for others every measure of peace and ease that has been given to me and more. I wish for young people who are just starting out the wisdom to see their own way, to not be burdened by unfair expectations, but also to be free to make use of their own special gifts. This is not a particularly easy time to be young. The pace of living is fast and the choices are many as are the temptations to waste precious time. But life goes so quickly. You wake up and you're nearly seventy years old. If you're so blessed as to get that far.

"For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." Luke 12:48