In the devolution of the species, hope

I was at a meeting outside of city today.  I took a commuter train.  It was exciting for me, the ultimate city dweller.  No, I can’t imagine an everyday commuter thinking this way.  And I was “reverse commuting” so the uncrowded train made it like I was going to spend a day in the country. (Except that I was in a dress and heels.)

Yes, it is ok to roll your eyes at the seen-it-all-yet-wide-eyed New York City girl.

I went to the 125th Street stop because who needs to schlep to Grand Central Station if you live on the Upper West Side?  First thing: look at the landscape and determine that the on-coming train was going in the right direction.  To get my bearings, I noted the Triborough Bridge (ok, the RFK Bridge to those born yesterday).  The sky and views on a Fall morning were in fact spectacular (if you are a city kid, like me).

Then, I had to ask the conductor or engineer (whoEVER) if it was getting on the correct train.  Never, ever, ever, in decades of riding New York subways, have I ever had to ask such a question of train personnel.

But the truth is that for all my New York smarts, I have no confidence that I could navigate the commuting life successfully.  Checking train schedules, timing it just right, missing a train because of subway delays, would send my blood pressure into the stroke zone.

It was a great meeting and a valuable trip.  Business potential, brain engaging projects, blah blah.  A promising day on the road to a working person’s Utopia.  (Where did those days of idealism go? Oh, mortgage and tuition.  Right.)

And then.

After our day long meeting, an assistant at the company drove me the three steps to the train station.  (I am exaggerating; it is a FIVE minute walk.)  She was so gracious and insistent and I was wearing heels, that I couldn’t refuse the offer and the hospitality.

We were having a lovely conversation on the way down to the parking lot and through the quaint suburban streets.   A crazy driver with his (I assume) family nearly sideswiped us (at the time, I couldn’t help but think the road aggression was personal), as he tried to barrel ahead through non-existent traffic.  Then he started to weave on town streets (but not drunkenly so), only to come up beside us and yell:

“Snapperhead!”

Whaaat?  I never heard that word before.

“Well, that was unpleasant,” my gracious host replied.

“What does that even mean? I have never heard that before.”

“It is a derogatory word for Korean.”

Whoa.  Did I imagine the earlier aggression? Was he gunning for her?

“Can I get out and beat him with my heels?”

I was so mad and so outraged at this man with a child in the back seat saying such a thing, TEACHING such a thing, that I was ready to fight hate with violence.  And that is the wrong way to change hearts and minds but it would have felt really good, especially since he was getting ready to drive away and I only had a few seconds to deliver a message.  And I thought a “FUCK YOU” message was the least I could do.

“I have heard worse and the really sad thing is that there is a child in the car who will learn from him.”

“I know.  I get that.  And I am sorry that about my outburst about beating him with my heels.  That is not the answer.”

“I get called names a lot.  It hurts but I don’t let it get me down.”

That stunned me.  A lot?  What is happening to this country?

“I sort of get that, in a small way.” But really the only reason I, an otherwise white, privileged woman, get it is because I am gay.  So, I continued, “I am gay and the hateful things people have shouted at me when I least expect it is so much harder for me because my guard is down.  Here we are having a very funny conversation, and someone spews hate out his window.  What a misguided coward.”

“Now,” my new friend said, “I don’t get that discrimination. . . .”

I was shocked.  How do you think of others in this situation?  My new friend has a kind and gentle soul  Our conversation continued as to how to undo and prevent these types of prejudices.  I was almost late for my train.

In the midst of suburban quaintness, immense wealth and potential deal-making, there converged narrow-minded ugliness and the resilience of the derided person’s sense of humanity and justice.

And a moment shared between two women of different backgrounds, cultures, economic classes, and races, who have both been bruised by prejudice, albeit to different degrees.

That was moment that turned a good day into a great day.  And filled an otherwise cynical New Yorker with hope.

A wish for a New Year and a New Beginning

A dear friend posted the following on her FB page:

The homeless go without eating. The elderly go without medicine. The mentally ill go without treatment. Troops go without proper equipment. Veterans go without benefits that were promised to them. Yet we give billions in tax breaks to the wealthiest 2% of Americans — those who need it least.

Reminds me of Tracy Chapman’s 1988 song, “Why?” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4bBff9aBRw)

Why do the babies starve
When there’s enough food to feed the world
Why when there’re so many of us
Are there people still alone

Why are the missiles called peace keepers
When they’re aimed to kill
Why is a woman still not safe
When she’s in her home

Love is hate
War is peace
No is yes
And we’re all free

But somebody’s gonna have to answer
The time is coming soon

Amidst all these questions and contradictions
There’re some who seek the truth

But somebody’s gonna have to answer
The time is coming soon
When the blind remove their blinders
And the speechless speak the truth

In 2011, let’s try to judge our success not by the toys we have but by the success of the most needy or vulnerable in our society.  Surely, this nation was founded upon the frontiersman’s rugged individualism.  But most people stop there (in a self congratulatory way) because they forget that the sentence doesn’t end there. This nation was founded upon the frontiersman’s rugged individualism AND community-giving that sustained the frontier settlements in harsh times.

There is a portion of our society that thinks that the fact of one’s wealth proves his or his entitlement to it.  They forget the parents or grandparents who struggled to provide them with everything, the teachers who taught them, the bosses who took interest in them and, the importance of that mercurial of all things, luck.

Wealth is not yours alone; it belongs to many whose efforts culminate in the success of you.