Summer of Discontent
By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Summertime once meant slow, sultry days; the lazy drone of locusts, lulling us into a doze beneath weeping willows; finding faces in the clouds or taking lady bugs for walks from fingertip to fingertip; lolling and waiting … waiting for someone to spur the sweltering group to action.
And then the herd of kids would up and move — to the road’s edge to pop tar bubbles, coating toes and infuriating mothers at bath time. To the garden to make rose petal lipstick, blackberry war paint, and perform vignettes of classic tales. Under the fence to steal neglected rhubarb from the wild patch next door and run from the crotchety old lady who rightly treasured every wilting stalk and weed. To the rubbish heap to see who could pee the farthest, disregarding gender. Down by the train tracks to flatten pennies and marvel at the loss of Lincoln’s features. Over to the abandoned chicken coop to practice burping on demand and talk of things unspoken by parents.
Whatever we did, we did it together; it never occurred to us there was another way. Our parents had varied incomes and faiths, disparate origins and pursuits, but their distinctions were lost on us, the children of our block. We had a community of kindred souls, a cohesive force that wound us inextricably together in those days of one-car families and parents unconcerned about tossing their kids out into the world. We’d fend for each other and show up at one home or another only when hunger forced us. In those days, everyone could come out to play, and summer’s freedom was our endless stage, our indivisible barefoot pursuit, despite our differences. In those days, we could imagine no boundaries.
But today, as summer swiftly approaches, boundaries run rampant — and deadly in word and deed.
Anti-legal abortion fervor erupts in murder, as Scott P. Roeder crosses the threshold of Reformation Lutheran Church — crossing from advocating for life to destroying it — and shoots dead a physician who crossed picket lines to treat patients with disastrous pregnancies. And the cooks who help whip up that fervor, Randall Terry, Operation Rescue founder, and Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly among them, chalk up Dr. Tiller’s murder to his comeuppance for being a “baby killer.”
G. Gordon Liddy, of Watergate fame, whose radio show is not extolled for its level headedness, takes a header from the fringes into the absurdly vulgar, fretting about what might happen when President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor is menstruating. And it is not an ill-conceived joke.
James W. von Braun enters the U.S. Holocaust Museum — an institution dedicated to confronting hatred, preventing genocide, promoting human dignity and strengthening democracy — and draws a bloody line between free speech and murderous demonstration, leaving hateful destruction on both sides of his path, the indignity of a victim sprawled in death. And pundits argue whether blame falls to the left or the right.
The National Organization for Marriage, sponsor of the Gathering Storm ad, steps yet again from advocating against same-sex marriage to divisive propaganda: “Same-sex marriage isn't just about two people living as they please, but about whether a large majority of Americans are going to be marginalized as bigots by a group of elites determined to force their new vision of marriage on the entire nation.” And the fearful fail to ask what actual harm same-sex marriage will to do their heterosexual marriages, their children, their nation.
Today, it is not the hopping anticipation of barefoot pleasures that makes the days seem so long, but the disingenuous and deadly discourse of social debate gone awry, the replacement of news with uncivil commentary, the marketing of anger and derision as information.
But it seems a futile complaint, when audiences blindly accept the “either or,” the “us or them” as absolute; when people continue to watch and listen and absorb the fear and hate. How many reactionary murderers until they question; how many vulgar and dishonest statements until they refuse to listen?
Just what would it take for them to instead seek the satisfying smell of tar, the joyful tang of rhubarb, the forthright competition of unashamed peeing, the camaraderie of unbiased children, now bigger, but still in full knowledge of how to play well with others — despite their differences?
© 2009 Kit-Bacon Gressitt