The TexPat has spent much of the past two months on a Western odyssey. While at a writer’s residency in Northern California my latest Huffington Post article was published re my reflections as an alum of the sister school of one of the expelled University of Oklahoma frat boys. The bravado with which he spewed racist rants among his homogeneous crowd of “brothers” (and a number of dolled-up sorority women nervously laughing along, lest they lose their shot to snag the right sort of beau) is so antithetical to my experience in the community that produced him – the first schools in Dallas, Texas to integrate years before the Dallas public schools, which I entered as a shy but happy-go-lucky kindergartener in 1968 (see above – ready for my first day of school with my new book bag, though I’m not sure that I was reading yet), that I had to take a moment to reflect. My weeks in California and then driving from Cali to my native Texas provided much room for reflection as well – more to come!
Running into the sun, But I’m running behind.
Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive.
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive.
From “Running on Empty,” Jackson Browne
Image courtesy of nike.com
The TexPatch is a small (solo) start-up operation, so a seamless string of (at least) daily posts is still a goal rather than a commitment. The TexPat gets distracted – this past weekend in a good way when I ran the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, DC. Beautiful run, beautiful city, beautiful experience shared by some 15,000-odd women (and a few good men). Even for turtles like me, running is exhilarating and meditative all at once – an antidote for life’s stressors and sorrows. And a means to clear the head and deal with all the crazy out there without resorting to self-immolation or violence or something equally destructive. I’m often running on empty, running blind, running into the sun, running behind, a la Jackson Browne. But I keep running. This past week or two I’ve been running FROM empty. The emptiness of bigotry and intolerance and folks just plain actin’ ugly, as my Texan peeps would say.
As much as I try to pursue a life path of substance and soul, empty hearts and empty minds constantly invade my route. And, of course, I’m not alone. One of my coping mechanisms is to zero in on the path I’m running and try not to be deterred, though I don’t always succeed. In running you’re advised to keep your vision slightly above the horizon and to look down the road rather than down at your feet. You try not to bog yourself down by the pebbles directly in front of you, but sometimes you are tripped up by that unexpected pothole or speed demon that sharply cuts too close in front of you and almost knocks you down as they try to pass you. For some running is a means to keep score and feel superior to someone. It’s a shallow conquest, not a purpose-filled journey. So too with the bigots that cut into our lanes as we try to focus on the broader horizon beyond them.
Cliven Bundy poaches on grazing lands that you and I pay for, but boasts that some of his benefactors (i.e. folks like me) would be better off as slaves. He’s cheered on by self-proclaimed “patriots” that would have shot Mr. Bundy on sight if he did the same thing on their own private lands (and don’t get me started on how all of us gained “ownership” of these lands from the Native Americans). How about some perspective based on real life and not empty sound bites? My college-educated, Texan grandfather worked at a paper plant to support his family – a scholar training illiterate white men to become his supervisors. But my grandfather was not empty. He kept his eyes focused on the horizon, viewing the world as a place larger and greater than himself or the immediate obstacles that popped up in his path. Rather than struggling to raise a family on a Negro teacher’s salary, he switched to work as a laborer, which enabled him to send all 7 of his children to college and 5 of them to graduate school, in addition to purchasing a house and retiring with savings. He was not constrained by the norms of the time and encouraged his daughters as much as his sons to do their best, whatever that “best” happened to be. Segregation and bigotry was a reality but did not deter them from their paths – my mother and her older brother were valedictorians of their high school classes and both received phDs. My oldest uncle became an attorney. Two other uncles received masters degrees in pharmacy. My dad and my uncles eligible to serve enlisted and fought in Europe during WWII (my Dad participating in the Normandy invasion on D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge). One of my uncles was one of the first African-Americans to receive a phD in mathematics from Cal Berkeley. Among the grandchildren and great-grand children, we have educators, veterans, lawyers, financial types, social workers, scientists, Ivy League and MIT grads and all sorts of hard working, responsible folks among us. This is not to boast – it is to reflect that a heart and a life path filled with love and compassion and vision broader than the status quo (or the past) can make what seems impossible possible. Can one really say that my family would be better off if our ONLY choice in life was to pick cotton in East Texas? Of course hard work is noble and deserves respect, particularly when that hard work doesn’t immediately result in riches or fancy degrees. I am as proud of the cotton pickers and farmers in my family as the mathematicians. But to say that an entire race of people is only deserving or capable of one path in life is a shallow, empty perspective. To categorize an entire group of people as “lazy” or lacking a work ethic while getting something for nothing – whether it’s free grazing land or free labor in the form of slaves – is empty.
Donald Sterling degrades the men and the community that make him rich while expecting sympathy for his ailments. A KKK leader who shoots up a Kansas Jewish center solicits Black male prostitutes when he thinks no one is looking. Far less credentialed or hard-working politicos and rabble rousers than the President feel entitled to call him a zebra-donkey, and worse, rather than engage him in a respectful debate about their differences. Empty.
Let’s run from empty and do what we can to keep our love alive, not our ignorance.