Good morning, Connor. I loved the picture of you and Charlie Rex Junior that your MamaDada texted this morning. You’re both wearing striped gray “cat” pajamas and that made me smile. Nothing beats a kid and a kitten with my morning coffee. Did you sleep in your own bed last night? I wondered because the covers were all cat-a-wam-pus, so to speak.
I have a question for you this morning: What super hero are you going to be when you grow up?
You don’t have to decide when you’re only three, But come 23 and 33? Well, I’m going to need you to be a super hero. Over the next two decades your MamaDada and the grownups who love you — and the ones who don’t know you, but will need you — are going to teach you how to be a super hero. Because, if we think things are a mess now, they’re going to get a whole lot worse. And, you will have to fix them.
Our country walks an inexorable path to implosion. We took the first steps in the late 1960s when young baby boomers first flexed their “me first” might and stopped a war, murdered civil rights leaders, burned down universities and cities and blew up businesses. Our mantra was “don’t trust anyone over 30” and we dismantled the very institutions — from family structures and charitable organizations to big businesses and cultural values — that allowed us the freedom to tear them down.
Over the next five decades, baby boomers powered the roller coaster, and while the litany is long, we tore down whatever stood in our collective paths to “get mine.” We brought the Fair Voting Rights Act of 1965 to today’s Jerry-rigged, political districts that take away most of those rights. We twisted the Second Amendment into an excuse to arm your neighbors in case the folks in Sugar Hill feel they’re being invaded. All in the name of “I’m right’ you’re wrong; get out of my face.”
I saw a beautiful picture the other day out of Baton Rouge, where residents were demonstrating peacefully following the shooting in Dallas where a sniper killed five police officers. The woman — unarmed — was standing gracefully alone in front of a line of combat-armed policemen. Powerful and peaceful picture; you can look it up someday.
We’ve seen hundreds of peace-versus-power photos over history. There’s something heart-warming and reassuring about those “make love, not war” photographs that Americans sanctimoniously intone they prefer over violence. It’s a lie we perpetuate to cloak our secret preference for swaggering hostility. We equate strong with brutal. Women in flowing dresses; children with flowers? Just so much window dressing.,
I guess the photo should have been comforting. Maybe it would have been in a different time, when we were not a country armed to the teeth and just spoiling for a showdown. Instead, what I saw was the specter of future confrontations. Confrontations when thousands of legally armed American citizens stand opposite each other and pull the trigger.
We did that once before, you know. Back in the 1860s when 600,000 Americans died in a civil war over doing the right thing and protecting the wrong thing. I believe we are perilously close to doing it again, and, from where I sit this beautiful summer morning in Key West, I don’t think we can avoid it.
Which is why we need you to become a super hero. We grownups are likely to finish over the next few years the destruction we started in the 1960s. But during that inevitable firestorm, babies will be born, people will fall in love, jobs will be found and lost and found again. Meals will be prepared and your MamaDada will hug you every night. Life, as they say, will go on amidst the conflagration.
So what do you need to learn to be a super hero? Really, just five things:
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
- Accept the possibility that what you know and how you perceive things is not right — and be open to change
- Say “I’ll do it” even when you are tired and would rather play or let someone else do it
- Explore the wonders and possibilities of unknown places, ideas, people and things, even when they are scary
- Know when to speak and when to be silent
Those are good reminders to grownups, too, as we cast about for solutions to the awful place we are in right now. We cannot fix the big things, but we can do one thing every day that makes us a super hero.
Today, I’m speaking. It is not a time for me to be silent. And, I’m saying “I’ll do it,” even when I’d rather being sitting down by the ocean enjoying the Key West breeze.
Love you, Connor Cunningham. Don’t forget your prayers.
“Dear Connor” will become a collection of occasional blog posts written for Connor Cunningham by his grandmother, Linda Grist Cunningham. I began writing these as my construct for making sense of the unraveling American community. Connor may never read them, nor might others; but they’ll help me distill solutions from the cacophony that passes for discourse in the summer of 2016.