Francy That: It's rinse, repeat on discord -but don't let that dash hopes
January 29, 2021
It comes with age, not wisdom necessarily as the Bible says, but rather an ability to recognize and fathom the depth of the divide facing our democracy. We have been here before, in the lifetimes of Americans identified as “Baby Boomers,” the generation that witnessed the Civil Rights Movement, peaceful marches, burning and bombings of African American churches, the deaths of four little girls, the intimidation and murders of advocates for civil rights, equality and freedom. We thought it was settled then.
We have been here before, the generation that sparked the Vietnam War protests, burned draft cards and American flags, hailed the slogan, “Make Love Not War,” and witnessed the deaths of four young college students on the lawn of Kent State University. Families developed schisms, hair grew long, musicians raised a chorus of anti-war lyrics, and over 58,000 soldiers died on the battlefields of Indochina. We thought the issues that could rend so many families apart had faded as prosperity increased in America.
For many of us Boomers, the future unraveled with the assassination of President Kennedy. We lost the hope of a changed democracy. We were young, vibrant, energized to ask what we could do for our country. All stolen by an assassin’s bullet. Our country moved on, however, democracy prevailed, new leaders took up the torch, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Hope, always hope that justice and freedom for all would prevail. Until the assassin’s bullets struck again in 1968 killing Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy just weeks apart. We had been here before.
America revealed its ugliness and divisions. Life ground on. Saigon fell as did Richard Nixon. The economy staggered under an oil embargo. The future looked grim. Somehow the country pulled through. Boomers turned to raising families, planning retirement and enjoying the American dream.
History does not stop, however, and neither do life-changing events. The new century brought 9/11 and two new wars, endless commitments, more young soldiers killed and injured, wars that dragged on so long that they really don’t catch the headlines unless there is a tragic loss of life. But, we have been here before, we Boomers, so we accept the situation, retire, travel, enjoy family — especially those grandkids who never have time to listen to our stories, to hear what it felt like to live through all those points in history, how we always had hope everything would work out and our democracy would endure.
Now we stand near the end of our lives, we Boomers, at a place where we have never been before. We face a virus determined to attack and possibly kill many of us, our loved ones, our economy and life as we knew it. In addition, there is another place where we have never been before. We have seen political divisions, riots, and demonstrations, but never an attack on our nation’s Capitol. The images of ICUs filled with masked and gowned medical staff and a Capitol under siege with police being beaten with an American flag now mingle in our memory with all those other tragic moments of our lifetimes.
We witnessed the recovery from all those previous divisions. Many remain hopeful that our democracy can weather this storm. Fredrik Backman is a Swedish author who has written two novels that explore multiple societal problems and divisions that pit people against each other. In his book, “Us Against You,” Backman includes astute observations revealed in characters’ insights to explain our human community no matter where we live. He writes, “What is a society? It’s the sum total of our choices.” During this time of reflection and reckoning, we all need to ask ourselves: What kind of society do we want to have? How will our choices make that possible?
Just because we have never been here before, does not mean we will lose hope. As Amanda Gorman declared in “The Hill,”her inauguration poem:
“The new dawn blooms as we free it / For there is always light / if only we’re brave enough to see it / If only we’re brave enough to be it”
Francy Chammings is a retired English teacher and clinical psychologist who loves living in Carlton County.