On Seeing Both Sides

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ON SEEING BOTH SIDES

Facebook – what can I say? I love it and I hate it. I love it because it keeps me in touch with what is going on in the world. I hate it because it keeps me in touch with what is going on in the world. Comments, mostly from strangers, I read a lot of them. I read them until I can’t stand it any longer. Does each of us know exactly what is right? Our side, and only our side? Abortion, gun control, politics. So many sanctimonious posts and re-posts, always of sites and data that support our specific beliefs, regardless of authenticity or truthiness. And, oh, how we like to make fun of anyone who disagrees with us. Ridicule, mockery, caricature, satire, irony, and invective, we gleefully type, look, laugh, and share, all the while congratulating ourselves for upholding the moral imperative. How stupid are those who do not see this and who do not join our bandwagon of ridicule for the other guy? Just ask us and we’ll devise an image to tell you.

What is it that makes us feel better, more informed, more liberal, more conservative, more, more, more, when we denigrate those who think differently from us? Dr. Seuss, where are you when we need you? We are the star-bellied Sneetches, sure that our mark shows us as smarter, holier, always on the side of righteousness. And I’m right there, shaking my head, laughing at the ignorance of those who disagree with me. Even in this post.

Sometimes, when I read those comments, I am taken aback. Vitriol, hatred, contempt, maliciousness (I have now run out of synonyms) that transcend the bounds of decency, even when those on “my side” are the ones posting. And I think of my morning Buddhist readings….”but maybe I’m wrong,” they say. Just “maybe I’m wrong.” Who would we be without our Sneetch stars? Do you think, just maybe, we could be wrong?

Suppose that, for a day, for an hour, when we are in high dudgeon about an issue where we are sure that only we, and those who agree with us, have the answer for, we stopped, took a breath and saw the issue from the point of view of another. We may not change our minds;  chances are that we won’t. But considering, respecting, that opinion, and that person, might just lead to an authentic connection, a real communication, some actual dialogue, and perhaps the realization of a third, more efficacious solution. Holding two opposing opinions, sitting with them, and thinking, respecting, and talking, caring. Recognizing that we are, after all, connected.

But then, maybe I’m wrong.

On Being Left-Handed

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On Being Left-Handed

I’ve always loved being left-handed, and I consider myself a lucky southpaw. In the second grade, when we learned how to write cursive, Miss Habighurst, my wonderful teacher at Westchester Consolidated Elementary School, taught me to tilt my paper to the left, thus avoiding the smeared-paper, hand-curled-around-pen posture with which many lefties are burdened. A simple solution. I don’t know why all teachers don’t use it.

I didn’t mind using scissors upside down; I use my knife and fork like a rightie, so I don’t need to transfer my eating utensils before taking a bite. I knit and crochet right-handed because my mother didn’t know how to teach me any other way. My needlepoint slants in the opposite direction, but, so far, no one has noticed and I wouldn’t care if they did.

My grandfather, a semi-pro baseball alum, taught me how to field, using my left-handers mitt. I loved it. He taught me to bat, right-handed, and it wasn’t until much later that I realized that this took away my hitter’s advantage. When I wondered about it to my husband, he answered, “Maybe your grandfather knew you wouldn’t play pro ball.” Ah, he was right.

In college, I learned to sit in the left half of the classroom, and pull over another desk so that I could more easily use my left hand. In my last year I discovered that there were actually one or two left-handed desks in some of the classrooms, though never in any of the ones that I used.

Then I discovered the left-handers’ store. Scissors. A soup ladle. Oh, the delights.

I blame my inability to tell left from right on my left-handedness, but am not too sure of that. So, politics aside, in a world of right, I’m glad to be left.

But the Library Stayed Open

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This is a love song to libraries, one in particular.

Last week, Al Jazeera aired a documentary on the aftermath of the April riots in Baltimore. Its focus, people working hard to save the city. Revealingly, it featured no politicians.

But one of the organizations it did highlight was the branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library at the corner of North and Pennsylvania Avenues, the corner that the media dubbed “the epicenter” of the rioting. The infamous burned CVS stood in the same intersection. And while a store was burning, while CNN and MSNBC were reporting that Baltimore was on fire, a library stayed open. While a mayor dithered and sought someone to blame, a library stayed open. While looters pillaged the very stores that served their neighborhoods, a library stayed open.

In a forlorn neighborhood where hope was in short supply, a beacon flickered that represented hope, and caring, and a future.

My own love affair with the Enoch Pratt and its books started many years ago, when my father “exaggerated” my age so that I could get my own library card before I was five years old. I used the Central Library then; it had not only its own Children’s Department, but its own entrance on Park Avenue. Later, while at Grace and St. Peter’s School, my daughter would experience those same delights, including the special entrance.

In high school, I discovered Thomas Wolfe at the Edmonson Avenue Branch, and faked a three-day virus to read Look Homeward, Angel. Years later, my love and I sat in the Towson Branch writing our wedding vows. Most recently, the staff of the wonderful Maryland Room in the Central Library provided not only information, but a sense of belonging as I researched my book.

I left Baltimore years ago, though I go back for research trips. But even if there were no book, even if I never get back to Baltimore, the Pratt Library will stay in my heart. For while the city was burning, the library stayed open.

Spoiler alert:  Shameless Self-Promotion Ahead:  The Enoch Pratt Library is featured prominently in my historical novel, Another Sunday. It will be available later this fall.

None of Us is Golden

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None of Us Is Golden

We’ve lost some good souls these past weeks – two young, bright lights in Roanoke, and a few older ones, whose radiance remained bright through the years, Oliver Sacks, Wayne Dyer. These were the “famous” ones, the ones in the news. And some of us also lost people whom we loved, who contributed to our lives as only they could, people whom few outside their small world would know, ordinary people, ordinary, just like us. We understand why we feel sad, bereft when they leave us. But why do we ache when strangers, but only some strangers, die? We feel sad, for a few seconds, when we read about fifty Syrians who suffocated in a truck; we shake our heads in sorrow when 100 are drowned in a hurricane that struck an island that is “somewhere down there,” or the forty-five people who were murdered in Baltimore in the month of August. It is sad, but far away from us. We breathe a sigh of thanksgiving that it was they, not us, and feel, for a moment at least, that death cannot touch us.

But a young woman, beautiful with a million dollar smile, a camera man, who looks exactly like someone we all know, murdered almost in front of us, that hits home. We carry books written by Oliver Sacks, feel that he is speaking just to us. We read Wayne Dyer, and take to heart at least some of his advice about the power of intention, the personal power that each of us possesses to find and bring happiness to our lives and the lives of others. These two left a legacy, a written one, as well as one written on our hearts. When those whom we admire from afar vanish, it brings us back to reality. If it can happen to them what chance do we mortals have? For none of us is golden, none of us is safe, from life, from death.

The two young journalists left us a legacy of appreciating the moment, of a spirit and a smile, and perhaps a groundswell for reasonable dialogue on gun control.

And for those of us whose losses are more private, those we love have left us a legacy as well. And it is ours to remember:

“They leave holes that cannot be filed, for it is the fate – the genetic and neutral fate – of every human being to be a unique individual to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”

Oliver Sacks, 1933-2015