Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Me and My friend Seth

Gangs of New York, 2002

My friend Seth is forty years old and has outlived at least half of the 9 lives allotted to even the feistiest cat. We now live a thousand miles apart, as we have for most of our adult lives. He has remained in our hometown, built a family and a life there around the seasons, while my husband and I came north fifteen winters ago. Our connection is sporadic but always warm and fraternal, like a big brother who has seen anything I'm about to show him but endures my antics anyway.

Seth's mother braided my hair and baked apple pies for all of our childhood. When his cat gave birth to kittens in his bed -- a handbuilt lofted bed perfect for forts and scary stories -- his stock rose exponentially in my five-year-old mind and has stayed there since. We played hide and go seek among the spruce trees and trailer parks of our densely forested, working-class Alaskan island. The snuggly rhythms of early memory gave way to some chaos in our respective homes, and we've also shared the messier milestones of adolescence and adulthood.  

Our parents are probably more surprised to see us raising ten children between us and baptizing them into a faith neither of us were raised in, than they were to pick us up from the police station together off and on in the early 1990s. Seth taught me about weed, subversive music and the delicate balance of supply and demand. We played F*ck the Police at top volume and did our best imitations of the bravado presented on MTV. His father was my only visitor when I was shipped to a nearby island for residential drug treatment. 

I will note here Seth's physical presence: he is massive. Foreboding, even. An uncle of mine who employed him as a commercial fisherman remarked that Seth is the quintessential gentle giant. He was a wrestler in high school and has always kept his strength in check; never bullying and even using his imposing physicality to defend would-be victims from teasing or worse. There's one particular story about the school bus that brings me near tears each time I tell it -- and the irony seems to be that the boy being bullied was of correct breeding and political class but wispy and nerdy, while Seth was the scrappy hero. That boy from the bus went on to some really prestigious East Coast college I can never remember the name of and now works for a Fortune 500 in the art dept (last I knew), while Seth put down roots in the same neighborhood from which the school bus shuttled him to & fro. When I watch the (glorious) movie Overboard I still see Seth in the oldest son. Noble and quiet but certainly not without spine. Perhaps his power lies in the suggestion of violence without having to deploy it. 

I thought of Seth in a special way after reading this piece. I emailed it to him, along with a half dozen other men and women, childhood friends all, with whom I often share banter about current events. We don't agree on every issue nor seek to convert each other -- we just like to stay in touch and rap about lifestyle and philosophy between diapers, work and errands. We're able to learn from one another without resentment or bitterness, pride or retribution. I see now that our unity may be a threat to those without agency in the present White House. Seth shared the piece on social media only to be accused of racism and effectively silenced. I would laugh if it weren't so sad and entirely missing (or proving) the point of the post.

Today, taking stock as if I were a raven perched in the treetops, listening to the foment of human pettiness in the wake of President No Good Really Bad, reading scribes from all corners, ruffling my feathers -- I see that the erudite leftist minds neatly bunch us all together. We are White. We are to be aggregated and educated, or at least ignored. Our varied opinions and experiences do not matter, for we share the embarrassing ethnicity of being Anglo-Saxon. Our immigrant stories are irrelevant, for we must absorb fresh wisdom, prostrate ourselves to the latest arrival. We're descended from countries that lack the exotic pedigree to grab the audience of National Public Radio with tales of victimhood. 

Never mind that Seth's children aren't even white, or that my husband is only second generation American, with grandparents who came as illiterate teenagers hoping to earn enough money to return to Portugal and buy a horse. If that hints at a certain pride, it's simply pride in the achievements and perseverance of someone else. It would never occur to me to ascribe pride to my race. I don't need census bureau stats to validate my existence, and I have 2,000 years of cultural heroism in Christ and His Bride to "fall back on" for identity. My kids attend a school with just seventy students. Laotians, Alaskan Natives, African Americans, Hispanic children from pockets of Central and South America, Caucasians. No one notices. We have families with foster children, families of truckers, clerks, engineers, physicians, pilots, families built by adoption and those with transient children. Our stated goal is to make saints. We look to martyrs, soldiers and scholars with equal fervor. We are not divided and we are not afraid.

As I said in the email scribbled to friends when I shared Dreher's post this morning, the weird alt-right thing gets no traction with me -- but the objective point being made by his commenter is quite illuminating.  Foreboding? We'll see. I do know this: the guidance of a nuanced gentleman who takes no guff is an invaluable force for children. Come what may, both Seth's children and mine have that in their fathers. 

If the American Left insists on fragmentation along lines of race, the carnage is predictable and its genesis rests squarely on them. They play with fire. Although the USA is unique, and this experiment of unity is worthwhile, we are all still human beings. I grieve the idea that men like Seth (who I use here without permission and not as a mythic hero; he's just a dude I know) are being trashed. Again to repeat myself --- white men are allowed to be anything except victorious. I would submit that the creepy racism of America was exposed, burst like a boil on Satan's ass, not with the election of a black man to the Presidency, but of a white one. Why is that?