Mothers' Day and This American Son...
First, on one hand, I’m really sorry about the way our conversation devolved this morning. Especially considering that I really just wanted to call you, if for no other reason than out of societal (e.g. Mother’s Day TV commercials) obligation, to wish you a happy Mother’s day!
Second, and on the other hand, I guess I’m really not that sorry…
Mom (and Dad), you cared about and tried to help me my whole life! And for that I will always owe you more than I can repay. I guess the way most children reward their parents is by giving birth to another generation. But then that goes to my point. Because, you see, I find that I am just too much a thinking person to embrace the concept of human reproduction in the face of humanity's obvious inability to solve basic existential problems. I find that I contemplate existence, perception and reality far more than most. And as such, I cannot ever bring myself to perpetuate another “all too human” generation (“all too human” is a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche – who to me, and many other so-called “intellectuals,” is as Jesus is to Christians. I studied Nietzsche in college. And as such I can never see the world the default way -- a most seem to -- again.)
So what we have , I guess -- relationship-wise -- is two parents, only 18 and 21 years older than their child, but with dramatically different world views...
And, yes, I do harbor a veritable boat-load of resentment -- Resentment that I can’t seem to stop from having and clearly, if not always intelligibly, expressing , especially and unfortunately in front of those to whom I am closest. Not because that’s ALL there is inside me – there is love and there is joy too – but because we trained intellectuals, analysts, designers, engineers -- we fixers and critics of all things rendered by human hands -- simply don’t work that way.
Fixers don’t focus on what we have or with what is right or OK with it – our job is to focus on whatever problems still need fixing. All else we largely take for granted – as it should be in any well-functioning computer system, in any fine running car, in any clean, sturdy and well equipped home or office, etc. That is simply an engineer’s job – to fix what needs fixing, to right what is obviously wrong, and to largely ignore, or take for granted, the rest.
Thus, when you shared the anecdote about my cousin Michelle's daughter, Lea, needing a charity “benefit” – to pay her medical bills for brain-stem surgery… Well, when I hear stories like that about the children of honest and hard working people in this country, a switch flips inside me. A switch that says: that is just too WRONG!
- Wrong -- that people should work their whole lives – only to be poor! As Robert Reich, former Clinton (and I’m no Clinton fan, except by comparison) Secretary of Labor said, the economy should work for us, not the other way round.
- Wrong -- that people in a country with extreme, almost vulgar wealth such as ours become sick then die simply because they lack the money to pay their medical bills. After all, let's examine the case of one Dick Cheney – two heart attacks, one pacemaker, and counting… Dick Cheney, who is worth hundreds of millions (former CEO of Halliburton Corp.) receives, basically free, the best, taxpayer subsidized health care in the world. Simply put, if a 21 year old girl that needs a liver transplant (as I saw on PBS last night) is denied medical care by her insurance company (she had insurance) and then dies – then shouldn’t someone with Dick Cheney's medical problems be dead too? We cannot call America a Democracy -- when such imbalance and injustice is the norm. We just can’t. And I and millions like me are finally, simply refusing to hold our tongues any longer!
- Wrong – that 5% of the people on this planet control more than 50% of its wealth – and that the rest of us dutifully work for them – for their table scraps – quoting phrases like “... That’s just the way it is… Always been that way… And always will be…” I say the time for such surreal platitudes is past. And either we ALL succeed or we all fail – together – as one human society – as one human race!
- Wrong -- that Grandma Marty or Dad or me or my wife Mary should be held 100% accountable for every bit of anger and hatred that festers inside us -- when I struggled from age 17 to earn money (first as a paper boy, then a dish washer, then a stock boy, then a soldier, then an engineer); When Dad worked -- starting at age 14 or 15 hoeing beets – and still works, because after more than 50 years of work, he is still afraid and anxious of what might happen – to his family – if he ever stops; When my wife Mary started working at age 12 – to provide food for her single parent family.
What I am trying to say, Mom, is that you find it too easy to blame others for feeling economically exploited and angry – when I think that mostly what we really ask, as in the poignant scenes from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, is that “some attention must be paid" for people such as this – for people forced by economic necessity to devote our lives to a system designed to exploit weakness then call that exploitation arbitrage. Simply put, it's a relationship that, if my case or that of Miller's Willie Loman is any indication, many times ends in bitterness, alcoholism and possibly some form of insanity.
But some attention must be paid – and that is what I found myself demanding this morning – not to be told, as it seems you have so many times in my life, that the problem is my problem. That all I need do is fix me or pray the rosary -- as if there is absolutely nothing wrong or simply nothing to be done to address the ever wider, ever deeper mean-streak running through this world -- that shaped and shapes me still.
How easy it must be to remain enlightened -- filled with joy and Christian Love -- when someone else's wages pay the mortgage?
Mom, I love you with all my heart. But I suspect that you will never understand my worker-centric ideology and I will never find a way to meaningfully express real, working-class pain to you -- not mine, nor my father's, or his mother's or your father's. But I pledge to keep trying and hope that you will at least continue listening.