My America (written for contest)

To understand, My America, I wanted to embody a lifetime of experience that could speak directly to my concept of living as a white man in the Midwest. I was fortunate to grow up with conscientious siblings all of whom were driven by values instilled by parents just trying to keep up with the norms of their day. My folks raised five kids, most of whom came of age in the sixties, experiencing the death of JFK, RFK, Shirley Chisolm running for President, the assassinations of Malcolm X and MLK Jr., and countless other life changing events wrapped around the atrocities of the Vietnam War. My sad claim to fame was that in 1972, Kent State had occurred on my birthday. These events all of them tragic had a huge impact on who I am today.

 

I love America, I truly do, I am a patriot by all accounts, thankful for my freedom and the many men and women that sacrificed their lives to help maintain our free society. However, there are times when I am made physically sick by the actions of many, all of whom could find more peace in their lives by just opening their eyes. There is a systemic method of discrimination in our society that permeates every aspect of our lives. Interestingly, as a white person in this time, it seems I would be just fine if I ignored everything around me that is hostile or demeaning to my way of life. I wouldn’t have to deal with it because I am of the color of skin that these realities do not impede. For me personally, that is a problem, it always has been and is resultant in my writing this story.

 

When I was a young boy, I took a trip to New York with my family. I was 12 years old. One night a group of us went to the corner grocery store. I noticed a number of black kids playing about outside the store, and I asked the person I was with if they knew any of them, as the market was only a couple blocks from their home. They immediately responded with, “I don’t mess with any (n-word).” It was at that moment I was struck with fear. I had never felt this way, I didn’t know how to feel. I was raised in the whitest of white America in the Midwest and had never experienced any aspect of the African-American culture, beyond my readings about MLK and X, and my mother’s insistence we recognize authors of color in all of our studies. I was scared for the first time in my life of something I had no control over, I felt threatened without knowing why. It wasn’t until the next day that I could understand my fear was based upon the person I was with and not the people at the corner store who left me feeling curious.

 

The next morning our family was given an auto tour of Manhattan and several surrounding Burroughs including Harlem. As we drove past The Cotton Club and I noticed the streets were filled with black people, I said emphatically to my mother, “That’s who I saw last night mom, black people.”

 

She looked out to the gatherings of people going about their morning, turned to me, and provided me a life changing suggestion. “Thom, those aren’t black people you’re seeing, those are people,” and then she smiled and continued to finish her Tareyton cigarette, like Katherine Hepburn standing with a foggy backdrop, showing logical purpose.

 

Fast forward 30 years, and I am a teacher in a high school classroom. I finish my licensure and am fortunate to be given my first theatre program. During that summer, while working on the coming year, I scour multi-cultural scripts, the only one I know firsthand is Raisin in the Sun, and I keep it on my shelf for future consideration. I can’t find anything I like or understand. I’m having a hard time maintaining my goal of becoming the ‘multi-cultural teacher of the year’ if all I can produce are mainstream script ideas. I call a friend at a local high school with a unique demographic and ask for her suggestions.

 

She states calmly, “I’ve never used a multicultural script.” And I think about that for a moment, and I’m suddenly thrown off wondering how that could be possible. When I asked her why not, her response was my first lesson of a new cultural awareness that I suddenly realized had nothing to do with race and more to do with talent.

 

“I cast only the right person for the character or role,” she stated, and I was in the moment humbled. I suddenly felt like a racist, because rather than focusing on the content, I was centering my aim upon the color of every students’ skin that would eventually audition to be on my stage. Years later that lesson echoes in my mind every time I hold an audition. However, I wish that solution could remain that easy.

 

In today’s world there is a greater need to understand diversity and how it works in our society. Gone are the days of suggesting that issues only apply to one minority. They apply to everyone, and right now as I write this I am questioning my own ability to be an open minded citizen of America that recognizes and respects every culture that I have the opportunity to encounter in my daily life. It’s not easy, but I didn’t come here to whine.

 

In recognizing My America I try to look to the future, given the present turn of events since our last election. We are in the middle of a crisis, that one group of people would suggest is overstated, while another group will cry out, ‘when will it ever be enough?’ Today, my focus is on racism and how it permeates our society to a greater level than even I was kept sheltered from in my formative years, beyond the television and books. Through my family’s eyes, I did experience Civil Rights and I did value its importance on our society. Today it seems all those battles in the 60’s have been summarily dismissed and we are faced with re-tooling our ability to open our minds to an incredibly diverse and beautiful world of people.

 

I don’t have the answers, but I do certainly have the passion and that desire and hope remains with me in every waking moment. My dreams are what fuel an idealism that allows the world to imagine being one.

 

In the words of John Lennon and Malcolm X, with liberties to merge ideas:

“If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliché that must have been left behind in the sixties, that’s his problem (Lennon) … I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation” (Malcolm X).

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To Reach The Sky

When on a walk one early summer morn

A man began to think of life beyond

He paused to watch while children so forlorn

Seemed occupied in games they thought so fond.

 

While certain parts of life seem unattained

If standing here today would measure love

Then all the man would need to feel restrained

Might be a song, a cooing of a dove.

 

Where have the days begun to slide away

A man who stands alone knows no despair

Yet when the people call there is this way

The sky becomes the answer though we swear.

 

To gather storms to help define a sky

Would leave the afterward a silent cry.

Life In Chance Encounter

In discovering one another, we all recall

the indecision, the wonder, the what if

this person has totally different views on

how to live my life, in response to

how I see their life evolving.

 

And then there is the church gathering,

where everyone does smile, does wear finery,

does hope to be noticed for their altruistic attitude.

 

Walking down a busy street, we pass by known entities

people who have crossed our paths,

yet,

we will never know who they are and why.

Instead, we’ll notice their eyes,

in some quiet familiarity,

until the light changes,

and the darkness reappears.

 

I read about a friend today, speaking of another,

we probably know similar lifestyles,

outspoken attitudes,

private scenarios that describe a personality,

and then later he cried,

and his tears continued,

for no one else understood just how deep

was his compassion.

She left him without telling him why,

just how,

and we are decidedly the purveyors of

survival.

 

I crossed paths with someone today,

he knew me,

by sight, by locale, by industry,

yet we know each other,

not at all, though others,

know us both,

very well.

So today, I continued the facade,

that human interaction,

need to when eyes connect,

at least finish a complete sentence.

 

The next time we speak ill of our neighbor,

perhaps a second glance,

a chance encounter,

could mean a world of forgiveness,

beyond our second nature.

Dad

How close do we come

to understanding

where it is that we belong,

when

alone

we sudden realize

we remember a song, a laugh,

a sort of posture always held true.

If I could see you in the manner I feel you,

would that be all I need.

There’s so much more

beyond the memory of your kindly heart.

So often can I recall your beauty,

when

just in the Grace of your being,

I see so many faces

they exist around me,

I always have you nearby.

If I ask, you’ll go away,

so I find myself

using peripheral vision,

my ideal is to not frighten you away,

with some mortal insecurity.

Did you know I am working on bringing you back,

well it’s a facade,

a sort of well put together imagination,

brings you to mind,

every time I hear the word

Dad.

Ode to Truth

I struggle

a day can change

weather is so fascinating

long before predictability,

when last night I believed I was clueless

to how life might impact

this moment.

As I stand here now,

debating the path to challenge

no longer is there an evening stroll,

the casual nature of the human condition,

now put to the test.

I believe in my heart,

let logic come later on,

I do want love to be a central truth,

long before my ego finds satisfaction.

A sad day

occurs when we no longer might recognize

friendship,

a ‘like’ less powerful than frivolous need.

I am a product of social media,

as are you, me, them, each one of us,

finds our own personal

stamp

has a clear motive for passing on

a reminder,

that truth told

defines our reality.

Question an honesty when measured against time,

perhaps we might understand

when acceptance becomes sublime.

Second Chances

We’ve all had them,

known them,

witnessed an account,

wondered about our own.

We delight in opportunity,

look for an opening

a way to move our ego

beyond that of nature’s

sacrificial lamb.

When witness to change

our actions become an exchange

for the former self

hoping an eventual transformation

might give our hearts pause,

beyond the scrutiny,

a lesser adamant cause,

to find peace,

imagine a world beyond

the ugliness of …

needing a chance.

In Succession

How many times in a day

must I try to overcome

my mindful traces along the way

those doubtful winsome

~

notions capturing my way

I walk inside a foggy emotion

stuck in some simple sway

I want only to stop the commotion

~

If I listen to jazz on a Sunday night

could it be the muse I speak of

or does that same melody that might

give me peace, release a lovely dove.

~

I want to understand my pain

I do wish only to leave this place

the way I cry at night a refrain,

must somehow leave a sort of trace

~

I want the world I know inside the word

to wish for easier time with life

I would be grateful if beyond the absurd

I might experience less strife

~

I suppose it is foolish to imagine a release

freedom enough in spiritual term is peace