Chronicles in Ordinary Time 25: Yearning to Breathe Free


I started teaching art in a middle-school, after-school program this afternoon. Two classes, once a week. One digital, one traditional. The first class was survival, the second was a disaster. My battered body complained for about 4 hours after I returned home.
Teachers don’t get nearly the credit they deserve.

When I was in my middle-school years, I lived in almost entirely White neighborhood in Portland. While not particularly prejudiced, I lived in a White world. I was First Generation on my Mom’s side of the family; Second Generation on my Dad’s side. My family came from Scandinavia. I didn’t go to school with African Americans until high school, and was generally in a different program. I knew a couple of Asian kids. My first real conversation with an African American was during my third year of college.  Nearly all of the surnames I heard were of Western European origin.

My class list was filled with surnames I’ve never seen before. Eastern surnames and Western given names.
While many people of my generation would be distressed over the loss of the ‘America’ they grew up in, I see my class lists as evidence that America is working.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

So many seem to feel that the Golden Door should have been locked and bolted after they arrived.

I see right-wing comments on Facebook nearly every day, speaking of all the people who are taking handouts that aren’t deserved. I don’t go out of my way to meet people, but in 60 years I’ve only met one man who seemed to think that the world owed him a living. For many years, his wife supported that notion; and she worked her tail off, working herself into illness many times.

While I know almost nothing of my Norwegian and Swedish roots, I never forget that I am an immigrant son. My forebears came here looking for a better life. I don’t really know if that better life was found, since I know nothing of the life they left. It is only Grace [unmerited favor] that Scandinavians don’t have brown skin; living so far from the Equator. Americans have never been particularly welcome toward peoples of darker skin colors. Americans used to be opposed to Irish and German immigrants; but they blend in more easily.

C.S. Lewis, in his Reflections on the Psalms, writes that history is filled with writings that have more depth than was originally understood. Prophecy is realized in retrospect, when predictions are discovered to be true; and meanings appear that weren’t possible in an earlier time.
I am of the opinion that the Founding Fathers, when they wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” they were probably talking about White Males. History has enlarged that meaning toward, ‘all [American] humans’.  My hope is that one day it will mean that all people are equal. We aren’t there yet.

We have a Black President; one of the most reviled Presidents in our history. Both adulated and reviled. I am of the opinion that President’s Obamas Nobel Prize was an acknowledgement that at last a Black Man could accomplish that which Americans brag about, but don’t want to see happen. As someone recently quipped [referring to drones], ‘probably the first Peace Prize winner with a hit list.’

We export ‘American Democracy’ as if it was a proven product, forgetting that this is still an ongoing experiment. It’s worked for 237 years, having wiped out the indigenous population. The nations of the other continents existed LONG before we were even thought about. I do not believe in the ‘divine right of kings,’ nor do I believe in the Empires of the past. This country frequently appears to be attempting to create an American Empire, a plutocracy. As Churchill stated, “democracy is the worst form of government; except for all of the others that have been tried.” Can we rule ourselves?

Perhaps my students and their peers can finally make that happen.

Declaration cover

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One Response to “Chronicles in Ordinary Time 25: Yearning to Breathe Free”

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