Aunt Esther was my favorite aunt. Born in 1918 to a middle class family in Michigan, she married the love of her life and lost him to radiation poisoning in WWII, married again and had three children. She went to college – not all that typical for a woman in those days – was a member of Chi Omega sorority, and I still have her sorority composite picture in my albums. She and her family moved frequently because of Uncle Mike’s job, but always seemed to relocate to parts north – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, upstate New York, Massachusetts.
Her kids were grown when Uncle Mike passed away, and she reluctantly relocated to a city “down south” to be close to her son and his family.
It was about this point that I learned something interesting about Aunt Esther. She was a bit of a bigot. There were a lot of “those people” in the southern city, and it confounded her.
Now, there was no one more loving, caring and compassionate than my Aunt Esther, and this insight just didn’t compute. I had been raised by a mother that grew up dirt poor, and cherished the idea that anyone….anyone could thrive in this country and it didn’t matter what color or gender you were. Had she been born later in life, she probably would have turned up in Haight-Ashbury or Kent State, protesting the rights of citizens everywhere.
So it was puzzling to hear some of Aunt Esther’s ideas. But I loved her, and visited as often as I could. When she passed away, I mourned.
New subject, but I’ll return to Aunt Esther, I promise
This election has been ugly. Very ugly. There are a lot of things that trouble me, but I am most angry that I am being lumped into labels that don’t fit. Even though I didn’t vote for either candidate, my leaning is slightly right. Very slightly. But because I cross the proverbial line, I am now being labeled as someone who is against women’s rights, against affirmative action, and ready to take our country back to the good ole days when white men ruled the world.
No, folks aren’t saying this to my face, but the inference is there in all of the Facebook posts and memes. If you don’t agree with me, you are in the wrong.
So here’s where Aunt Esther comes in. She was, and we all are, products of our upbringing. We learn, whether from positive experiences, or from pain and challenge, what we believe in and what we hold dear.
Had I judged my dear aunt on her lack of understanding of those different from her, I would never have experienced her love and kindness. Somewhere in her early life, her experiences formed her beliefs. I didn’t try to challenge them; there was no real reason to.
We are in a different world today, and we can’t keep judging each other by our outward appearances, and not go a little deeper to talk and understand. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough about why we believe the way we believe, so that we can let others in. We have to open our minds to why others believe the way that they believe, so that we really listen.
And we have to respect the fact that we are all different. The very thing that makes our country great – diversity – is also the biggest challenge we have in front of us. We will NEVER be able to satisfy every citizen; there will be concessions for someone, somewhere.
It will NEVER be possible to generate legislation that makes everyone happy. Your happiness may be my pain. But we have evolved to a place where power and lobbying mean demeaning the “other side” to ensure a win. This has to stop.
I shared the story of Aunt Esther because it was an analogy for me of how much I could care for someone who had a different set of values than I have. Perhaps had we talked about it, we might have learned from each other about an array of different subjects. Or perhaps we would have agreed to disagree. But it wouldn’t have changed my feelings about her.
Can we begin to look beyond the surface to find common ground?