Tag Archives: history

We All Do

Was anyone surprised that Trump turned his first press conference as PEOTUS into a rally, complete with staffers paid to cheer, more bluster than fact, half-baked plans for avoiding a kleptocracy, and shouting hashtags over questions he didn’t like?

Yeah, me neither. He’s a one trick pony–that P.T. Barnum show that he’s relied on to get this far is the only way he knows how to interface with anything even close to public scrutiny. It’s a master class in abnormal psychology, or maybe just staying on brand.

I compare that carnival sideshow with President Barack Hussein Obama’s farewell address the night before and can only shake my head at the disparity. Elegance, eloquence, grace, intellect, wit, generosity, and gratitude–we were lucky to have a leader with all those qualities for eight years.

Today, I read a tweet (because that’s where America is going to happen now, right?) in regards to the Trumpertantrums. The young person lamented, “But who’s going to stand up to him?”

A crystal thought rang into my mind like a small bell of a memory: “We all do.”

I’m borrowing those words from Bill Bryson, one of the most entertaining travel writers in the history of passports. In his book Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, tells a story about visiting the Netherlands when he was a young man. He witnessed the great love the Dutch felt for their Queen Beatrix, and how she enjoyed spending as much time as she could out and about. It was her habit to walk freely around the city, running errands and greeting her fellow citizens.  When Bryson, the young American, heard this, he remarked, “But who protects her?”  His Dutch friend laughed at the question and replied, “We all do!”

Who protects her? We all do.

President Obama mentioned citizens–the American “We the people”–in his address:

So regardless of the station that we occupy, we all have to try harder. We all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

….

But protecting our way of life, that’s not just the job of our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.

….

It falls to each of us to be those those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen. Citizen.

….

My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop. In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days. But for now, whether you are young or whether you’re young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.

Who protects American values? We all do. Who defends the Constitution? We all do. Who demands justice and equal protection under law? We all do. Who has the ability to bring about change? We all do.

Who holds the most important office in a democracy? We all do. We the people.

Our job description is on file in HR.

Our job description is on file in HR.

So on Friday, January 20, at 12:00 noon, I want you to hold your right hand in the air and repeat a little twist on the Oath that is encoded in  Article II, Section One, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of Citizen of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

 

Then let’s get to work.


And right before I hit the Publish button on this post, I saw this cool project from artists Shepard Fairey, Jessica Sabogal, and Ernesto Yerena:

We the People: public art for the inauguration and beyond

fairey

We the people are greater than fear, defend dignity, and protect each other. We the indivisible. We the resilient.

Your Name Is Your Shield

At my nephew’s Jackson’s graduation last week, the valedictorian–Ivan Alejandro Lopez Castillo–thanked one in particular.

“Mrs. Prothro always called me by my full name.”

The young man had thousands of people listening, and he used that stage to thank a teacher for calling him by the name his parents gave him. Born in Mexico, an immigrant to America, there’s no guessing how many names he’s been called. We can be casual about learning foreign names. Anunziata becomes Nancy because it’s just…easier.

His story reminded me of a day 25 years ago when I was calling the roll on the first day of ENG101 at Auburn. “Srinivas Pochana?” A lanky young man who had folded himself into a desk in the front row raised his hand slightly and nodded.

“Did I say your name correctly?”

“You can call me Tom.”

“Do you prefer Tom or Srinivas?”

He laughed softly. “I grew up in Alabama–I’m used to being called Tom.”

I think of Richard’s grandfather Jack, who was given the surname Grayson by a bureaucrat because it was “more American” than his Russian Jewish family name.

We show respect to one another when we learn each other’s names. I knew Grandmama Irene had accepted Gennaro into the family when she said, “What a minute…it’s not Geronimo….I think of that old movie star Ray Navarro and then I put the G on there….Gennaro!”

Names matter. Learn to pronounce them. Ask what they mean. Ask how your new friend was given that name.

Honor names. If Tiara become Terrence, honor Terrence’s name. His father does, why shouldn’t you?

If we can learn how to pronounce Tchaikovsky, Monet, and Kardashian, we can learn to pronounce Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I’m all for nicknames and endearments among friends and family. My grandfather called me Punkin Snooter, Miss Priss, or sometimes Lucretia because he said I looked like his mama. He called my cousin Pat by his middle name, Luke, to the point that someone at our family reunion once asked about the twins, Pat and Luke. He himself was named Meredith Gaither Mathews by his own parents but went by Dick. My sister, his first grandchild, was given his name. My brother is Samuel Joseph after our father, Samuel Fuller and his father, Milton Joseph. Joe passed along Samuel to his first son and Joseph to his second. We like family names.

 

roots

 

With all this thinking about names, I started watching the reimagined “Roots” tonight on the History Channel. It’s tough to watch but deeply worth it. No fact in it was a surprise. Every story of the slave trade takes us back over the history but this one tells the story with such excruciatingly relatable detail that the story of Kunta Kinte breathed for me. He was a young man in the trading city of Juffure (in Gambia), a man whose father taught him to ride a horse and whose mother sang to him at night. A man who prayed when he felt lost. A young man with a history and a duty to his family. A young man whose family connections got him taken captive and sold as a slave by a family his father had angered a generation before.

Even when Kunta Kinte is enslaved in Virginia, and dubbed “Toby” by the lady of the house, he insists on his own name. It’s not a spoiler (since the original miniseries has been around almost 40 years and 50% of Americans who owned a TV watched the original) to say that even when he is whipped and the overseer screams, “Say your name so you know what you are!” Kunta Kinte will not surrender his name.

Because as his father had told him under the stars back home, “You are Kunta Kinte, son of Amoro Kinte….your name is your spirit. Your name is your shield.”

Our names, and the family they connect us to, are our key to connection and our shield against being lost.

rufus mccrary family

We inherit so much along with our names. This is a photograph of my grandfather’s grandfather, Rufus C McCrary, and his family. Rufus fought for the Confederacy at Gettysburg and was one of the few members of his unit who survived. When this photograph was taken, his eldest daughter Lucretia was already married and away. In 1902, Lucretia gave birth to her youngest boy, Dick, would one day have a girl, Janice, who would one day have a girl, Ashley…whose grandfather told her she looked like Lucretia. Whose father fought in the Civil War.

It’s all that close. Still.

For Anne, Who Was Still Growing

For Holocaust Remembrance Day, I stood in the cool and cluttered pantry of my house. I took a few breaths and thought myself back thirteen years to the first time I visited Amsterdam. Then I took this picture of the doorframe:

Always growing.

Always growing.

What does my dinged up pantry molding have to do with Remembrance?

If you’ve been to Amsterdam, I hope you’ve been to the Anne Frank House. If you haven’t made it there yet, I hope you will go someday. Take a virtual tour.  Read The Diary of a Young Girl.

Richard and I went on a snowy morning. Both of us were so moved by the experience that we couldn’t really speak. When you step behind the bookcase and climb into the Secret Annex to occupy the same space where eight people hid from the Nazis, you can’t help but understand the horror of that time. The floorboards creak. The blacked out windows still let in the sound of the church bell a few blocks away. The walls are covered with magazine pictures of Anne and Margot’s favorite actresses. And on one wall, their father Otto drew lines on the wallpaper to show how much the girls were growing.

Anne and Margot Frank growth lines on wall.

Anne on the left, Margot on the right

 

Anne grew 13 centimeters while they were hiding.

At the Imperial War Museum in London, I watched raw film footage taken by the British when they liberated the death camps and had to use bulldozers to bury the dead. In Prague, I walked through empty synagogues that have become museums because the Jews who built them are gone. I told the story of one in “Doris and the Dragon.” In Paris, I crept down a flight of cold cement stairs to the river bank where boats were loaded with Jews for deportation. I’ve stood in a cattle car and tried to imagine when it was filled with terrified families. I’ve read the statistics and the history and the memoir, but nothing brought the story of the Holocaust home to me like these narrow pen marks on a wall.

I can hear “6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust” and believe it, but not comprehend it. When I look at those marks climbing the wall and know that Anne was still growing, still becoming who she was meant to be…I understand that because my wall looks the same. We so often try to learn history from the big numbers down, but I learn so much more when I start from the one–the one life.

Every single one of the six million had a life. A mama who reminded them to shush now and then and a papa who marveled as they grew. A first kiss. An annoying sibling. A dream of becoming something in the world. A story to live.

Anne_Frank_M01

The Smile on His Mama’s Face

baby MLK

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has compiled 30 photographs from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I learned so much from them that I thought I would share the link with you today.  Click here to view the gallery.  As a picture is worth a thousand words, this gallery left me speechless.  

Dr. King died before I was born, so I’ve only ever known about his life along with the knowledge of his end–that’s why that smiling laughing picture on the balcony in Memphis is so heartbreaking to me.  We can’t look at it these days without also hearing the sound of the gun cracking.  It’s hard to see a moment for what it is, when we know how it all worked out.  Some of these pictures took me back to see the joy of his life.  The hard work that was worth it.  The delight in living.  The great well of love that drives courage.  Before today, I had never seen the smile on his mama’s face.  

Your Voice

This is one of my favorite quotes about speaking up for yourself:  

Maggie Hahn, social activist and founder of the Gray Panthers.

Maggie Kuhn, social activist and founder of the Gray Panthers.

I had heard it as “Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.”  Then in the course of researching who said it, I found the full context of the message–Stand before the people you fear.  Insist on being seen.  Insist on being heard.  Use your voice even if it shakes.  

When’s the last time your voice shook?  

A Veterans’ Day Salute to Some Bad Mothers

Happy Veterans’ Day to some of the Baddest Mothers In History!

These are just a few of the remarkable women veterans included on the Pinterest board:  Baddest Mothers In History.  Check it out today and learn more about their achievements.

admiral

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

lori

 SPC Lori Piestewa

opha

Opha Mae Johnson, USMC