The Democrats usually march and show their colors in Westcliffe’s Fourth of July parade. By “colors” I mean that we show the “others” that we still believe in the stars and stripes… the red, white, and blue.
As a minority in a conservative ranching community, we are always keen to project a benign image. We are not depraved. We are a lot like “they” are.
Despite rumors, we are not necessarily Communists, members of the Green Party or the Socialist Workers Party. If we lived in Alaska, we would not necessarily belong to the Alaskan Independence Party. Actually, a lot of us are Centrists, and we probably have more in common with moderate Republicans than anyone would credit.
Last year, in an effort to broaden perceptions of just who we Democrats might be, we chose to march with signs that were specific to ourselves. The signs were various: teacher, rancher, mother, accountant, hiker, salesman, neighbor, electrician, artist, hunter… you get the idea.
I chose to march with a sign that read Grandmother. First off, I am a grandmother, but also, aren’t grandmothers soft and cuddly? Aren’t grandmothers full of non-conditional love? Aren’t grandmothers apolitical? Last year, “Grandmother” seemed like a good choice.
This year, I chose to march with a sign that read “Friend.” I was trying to be more inclusive, but I had second thoughts about labels in general. Isn’t it the labels that pigeon-hole us?
Take the word “banker.” Immediately you have a negative image. How about “used car salesman”? Or… back in my day… “divorcee”? More and more I’m thinking that labels… any label… is divisive.
This past weekend, I was a road marshal for the three-day Courage Classic, a fund-raising bike ride through Summit and Lake Counties to benefit Children’s Hospital, Denver. With over 2,000 riders, the ride annually raises over two million dollars. It is a good cause, and despite the long days, a feel-good event.
Saturday morning I was posted on the west side of Lake Dillon, Frisco. The cyclists were miles away. I stood ready, camera at-hand. At exactly 6:30, the tympani sounded and the curtain rose to reveal a sunrise designed by Metro Golden Mayer. Nearby, a hulk of a man with a better camera was trying to capture the same moment.
The moment passed, and I walked over to take a look at his camera. I wanted to talk cameras, but the first thing I saw was a miniature AK-47 hanging from a chain around his neck. (I don’t know guns, so I’m guessing. It was not a deer rifle.) His choice of jewelry labeled him as surely as if he had “gun-nut” tattooed on his forehead.
Nevertheless, we chatted. I did not ask him about the gun. Rather, we talked about the sunrise and the weather. Brisk but not freezing. Is photography a hobby or your profession? He said that it was only a hobby, but his work was featured that weekend at a gallery show in Breckenridge. Have you been interested in photography since your youth or is it a new hobby?
At length, he told me about his hobby. On return from military service, he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. His doctor recommended that he take up photography… to get him out of the house… to get him outside his head. And the doctor’s insight had proven true: he was taking delight in photographing the landscape, and he was outside the house… outside his head.
I was so glad that I got past labeling the man based on his AK-47. I think there is a good story behind the man’s jewelry, but I didn’t ask. I don’t have to know everything about everybody. I don’t want to deal with labels. I’d rather deal with people. A month or so ago, after an unfortunate verbal exchange that left me wounded, I decide to calm myself with a mantra. And the mantra was “We are all wounded… we are all wounded… we are…
So imagine my surprise when reading Julian Barnes‘s newest book, The Sense of an Ending, that I came across the same concept. Briefly, a man of late middle age, looks back, reflects on his youth, and wonders who he was in the past, and more importantly, who he is at present. (Tony lies to himself a lot. He is the master of self-delusion. As we all are.) Quoting a passage:
I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not, except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbors, companions? And then there is the question, on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealing with others. Some admit the damage and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and then there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost.
I am trying to rise above it. Whatever “it” is. I’m trying to be more generous… more flexible. Starting with the recognition that I am wounded, I am trying to see others in the same light.