Some days you wake up, thinking that the world has changed more than you imagined possible already, and then you go to bed surprised again at what has occurred.
Saturday I decided I needed to visit my parents. Fortunately, I live just 90 miles from them, and its relatively easy to drop by for a surprise visit. But I have never made the drive feeling like I was entering foreign territory. I live in San Francisco, perhaps one of the most diverse, wonderful cities in the world. In the last few days, I have seen even this place fall prey to nationalism and racism. One of my students, from Pakistan, tells me that his boss has been harassing him all week, and his landlord has been suggesting that he isn't welcome anymore. The news is full of hate, some of my students are calling for blood, and I'm afraid to tell people what I think. My parents live in Manteca, one of the more conservative, middle-class towns around, where most people commute to work in the Bay Area. As I drove, I imagined American flags on every car, waving from every house, and I imagined my family (and my grandfather), and their reaction… and it terrified me.
So I scouted around for a bit before I got to my folks' house, and found that while there were certainly more overt displays of patriotism here than in SF, it wasn't overwhelming. I walked in the front door, called hello, and my mother came running out, half tackling me in a hug that she didn't let go of for several minutes. My niece (3yrs old) was there, and she came running out to hug me, and we all talked about our relief that everyone we knew was alright.
I didn't really intend to turn the conversation to my interpretation of recent events, but it happened, rather quickly, and I found myself backed against a corner. We've never talked politics before, at least, not since I left home 7 years ago. I didn't want to fight with them, and I respected their beliefs. So we've always instinctively avoided such things. They are conservative and Christian. I am anarchist, agnostic, pacifist. Such things don't generally lead to understanding.
They've also been watching the network news all week. Which means they're going along with the calls for war, and they've always liked Dubya.
So Dad left for a few minutes, and I was talking to Mom for a bit, and I told her one of the reasons I had come home-that there will be protests next week against attacking Afghanistan (or any other country), and that I intend to be part of them, and that I want them to know before it happens. I told Dad the same when he came back in, and we all talked for a few hours, about economics, history, the media, justice, and peace. I unloaded a lot on them all at once, and apologized. How could I expect them to process all that in a day? When it has taken me 7 years to get here?
We all cried, and they talked about their memories of Vietnam, how they had not participated in the protests then, and had seen how much hurt the protestors caused, through their hatred of American soldiers when they finally came back. They talked about their worries for my safety, and eventually, they both told me that they would support my decisions, even if they did not agree with them.
I went out with my brother for a while, and he stunned me too, by agreeing that the United States should learn from this that its practices throughout the world need to change, if we are not to continue supporting tyranny, and creating the conditions from which terrorism is the only escape. This is remarkable, as my brother laps up Tom Clancy and other such writers like they're the gospel. We've tended to agree to disagree in the past, though we have at least been able to discuss things before.
I went to church with my parents. The sermon was an up-and-down affair, with some great sentiments followed by things I just could not agree with. The minister laid down an excellent case (for a social conservative) to not trust the government totally right now, but he then argued that our government is ordained by God to lead us in times of trouble. He said that our leaders need our prayers, and our unwavering support right now. And then he closed by singing God Bless America.
Now I actually believe that he meant well with this, but the song stunned me, and I found myself unable to sing. That song is being used right now for hatred, to promote the myth that America, Christianity, and freedom were attacked on the 11th, and to support the gearing up for war that we see right now. My mother grabbed my hand and squeezed it, and held it tight through the whole song.
We went for food, and then got back to the house, and sat around for a few more minutes, and my mother asked the question we've been skirting for several years: "Mark, the one thing this comes down to, and we support and respect the decisions you're making, but the thing that terrifies us, is where is God in your life?" I responded, quietly, "I'm sorry, I wish it were otherwise, but I just don't know right now."
Dad was almost in tears as he told me that he would support "to the death" my choices and right to protest, but that he was afraid that the things I talk about may be construed by some as "unamerican", and supportive of terrorism, and that I need to be very careful.
We all cried some more, and prayed, and both my folks thanked me, for telling them what I thought about this, and helping them to open their eyes, and that they hoped I would continue to talk to them about these things. Mom hugged me, and whispered in my ear, "Let me know when things happen, and I'll come over to the city and carry a sign with you."
And then I was off, driving back to SF, in tears, and thinking of the words of the Christian peace prayer, which I just wrote out yesterday:
"Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be known as the children of God. But I say to you: love your enemy, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To those who strike you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from those who take away your cloak, do not withhold your coat as well. Give to everyone who begs from you; and to those who take away your goods, do not ask them again. And as you wish that others would do unto you, do so unto them as well." (Mattthew 5:9 and Luke 6:27-31)
And from the Old Testament:
"Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, that we may walk the paths of the Most High. And we shall beat our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation - neither shall they learn war any more. And none shall be afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken."
My parents will walk the line with me, I've never been so proud, or so full of hope.