LET ME TELL YOU WHAT IT’S LIKE…(Memory Lane: 1979–1989 and now)

The latest immigration “humanitarian crisis” probably came to a head today, with Peter Fonda tweeting that Baron Trump should be put in a cage and gang raped (I won’t link…you can find it easily enough if you’re interested) and Donald Trump promising to end the wailing and gnashing of teeth and sign an executive order overturning the laws passed by Bill Clinton with the understanding, previously adhered to by Bush the Younger and Barack Obama, that they would be selectively, rather than faithfully, enforced.

I was going to let it all go, but Fonda’s additional insistence that mobs target the children of Border Patrol agents by “scaring” them (which I assume need not stop at caging and raping them), put me in mind of what it’s really like to be anywhere near the front lines of human suffering.

My parents were appointed home missionaries for the Florida Panhandle by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979. My mother was 60 at the time, already in terrible health. She passed away in 1987. My father was 59. He retired in 1989.

Perhaps things have changed since (I doubt it but I haven’t checked), but, in those days, the Panhandle was the dumping ground for Florida’s refuse population, home to most of the major state and federal prisons, the state mental hospital and the state’s largest and most notorious reform school.

The latter is where my father began his road to mission work by volunteering while he was still attending the nearby bible school. He was led to volunteer by a good friend of ours, a minister in training, like my father, who was already witnessing there.

His name was Joe.

What Joe and my father and, health permitting, my mother (whose biography convinced the Mission Board to take a chance on an oddball fifty-nine-year-old man and his ailing wife) did was minister to the lost: prisoners, inmates, mental patients, people abandoned in jails or nursing homes (often by their families), kids in reform school for rapes and murders.

My father once asked a twelve-year-old why he had killed his brother–Because he beat me up. How often? Every day. Was there no one to stop it? I did.

It’s a hard school, helping the forgotten.

Encountering, in the abstract, a tiny fraction of what Joe and my parents, and thousands like them who dedicate their entire lives to missions or social work, see in the flesh every day, broke Peter Fonda’s admittedly feeble mind. And made him feel good about himself.

Those who do the hard work never get to feel good.

They enter each day knowing that they will minister to a thousand in hopes of saving one. That they’ll be mocked or ignored or patted on the head when they fail and get “certificates of achievement” when they succeed. (A dear friend’s mother volunteered at a battered women’s shelter for three years, got such a certificate and a handshake from the Governor of Florida…and promptly split for California to run a pot farm. Did I mention it’s a hard school?)

One of my father’s best achievements was getting local tomato farmers to allow anyone who wished to come on designated days and claim the “culls” (perfectly edible tomatoes with small imperfections which are left to rot because they don’t look pretty on grocery store shelves). The chief beneficiaries were the migrants who picked the best tomatoes in the first place. That such an action has to be fought and bargained for tells you a lot about the world–and a lot of what you have to deal with if, by chance, you don’t get to sit in a Hollywood mansion and cherry pick your fights because you don’t like the guy in the White House.

When it’s your life, you don’t get to ignore sex trafficking and slave labor–as nearly every sobbing Hollywood celebrity managed to do for decades when the office they now deem responsible was held by people they voted for.

When it’s your life, you don’t get to ignore any of it–because it’s your life, the one you chose.

Your work is never done, or even ameliorated, and the “help” offered by those who are fueled by the grievance of the moment is worse than useless.

But one thing you (and those you live with) learn in such work, is that fighting fire with fire is never an option.

You are not permitted to hate. You are not permitted to scream back: Not at the people who swear in your face for trying to help them; not at the endless stream of bureaucrats (be they religious, corporate or government) who threaten your pension if you fail to sign a requisition for funds in triplicate; not at the likes of Peter Fonda, who ride in when there’s a movie to promote, a headline to be made, an emotion to be fed, and disappear whenever there’s real trouble. No one. No hatred. Ever.

Only forbearance.

And what do you get?

My father–healthy as a forty-year-old and uniquely suited by both temperament and experience to weather the emotional maelstrom–was forced into retirement at sixty-nine (he only made ten years because the people at the top of the chain, who remembered my mother’s biography–and her sacrifice–insisted that he be allowed to work until he could qualify for his hundred-and-twenty-a-month pension). The nonprofit clothes closet and food bank he had operated for years, so successfully that the honchos who had laughed at such an idea would have been forced to call it a miracle if they had believed in such things, closed in a matter of months. These days, such centers–many run by religious organizations, including my fellow Southern Baptists, specialize in “helping” immigrants. For profit, of course.

My mother spent the last three years of her life breaking down into uncontrollable, wailing sobs when an abused child appeared on a television screen or was even mentioned in a conversation.

Our friend Joe blew his brains out.

That’s what’s waiting for you when you decide to care in the manner that does not allow you to escape or forget or pretend your righteous anger has solved anything.

That and forever wondering if enough of you, who are trained to stand against the wind, will be left to make a difference when Peter Fonda and the like, who call for gang-raping children in the name of righteousness today with perfect confidence that the wind is at their backs, are running for the hills, wondering when the weather vane turned, and why the mob in which they placed so much misbegotten faith wants to set them on fire.

8 thoughts on “LET ME TELL YOU WHAT IT’S LIKE…(Memory Lane: 1979–1989 and now)

  1. What I wonder is why actors (read: people who make a ludicrously good living pretending to be other people) think their opinions are more significant than those of others, and moreover, why anyone in the news media pays attention to them — the real problem — and makes their statements into “news” stories.

    As if it’s going to sway anyone. I remember cracking up at certain singers’ pronouncements of emigration pending Trump’s victory. Whose mind is that going to change? “Hmmm. I was going to vote for so-and-so, but if he wins, we lose Cher.”

    You know I don’t understand the latest faddish social platforms anyway. They seem more suited to twelve-year-old girls than, say, adults, as glad as I am that someone as politically incorrect as Trump is president (but get off Tw*tter! You’re the president, for goodness’ sake!). “Tweets” (phewww) being presented as real news is confounding to me. It’s hardly even criticism; it’s simply a matter of sheer incomprehension on my part.

    Since it’s trendy to say one hates the current president, it almost seems as if it’s merely good PR to jump on the bandwagon. The interesting part is that the only people I’ve known whose parents, cousins, etc. were deported (I’ve lived in New Mexico for several years) saw this happen under Obama.

    We’re supposed to fight over “right versus left,” never caring to expend some brain power looking outside the frame in which the debate is presented to us, when there’s hardly any difference. That also goes for actors and singers who draw publicity based on trendy hatred. The likes of Fonda are only exposed to immigrants when they peek over the seat to see who’s driving.

    • Yeah, they don’t call it selective outrage for nothing. I’m having a harder and harder time disconnecting these rants from my feelings about their work…okay, I don’t have much invested in Peter Fonda, but the relentless inanity is catching up nearly everyone. And, of course, Trump waited until everybody had exposed themselves and then signed the executive order they were calling for…at which point they immediately said “not enough” in one form or other. It’s almost like helping those in need wasn’t the point–that’s the mindset I became very familiar with watching my dad struggle with the voices in the cheap seats. What was it Thomas Paine called them? Summer soldiers. Sunshine patriots. Something like that….

      Anyway, the other point is they never learn. I don’t have a dog in the political hunt (my world view is too bleak–I think tweeting is EXACTLY what presidents should be doing (lol)) but, yes, it’s become amusing to watch Trump play the celebs like drums. Every time I see Robert De Niro from now to the end of time, I’m gonna think “Hey Punchy!”

  2. “It’s almost like helping those in need wasn’t the point” — exactly. As usual, you’ve concisely expressed what takes me five paragraphs! Here’s a sincere question (i.e. no sarcasm or criticism implied; I’m genuinely curious): Why do you pay attention? It’s not as if you’re going to watch / read any news that will put you in a *good* mood, let alone find worth-the-time “tweets” or whatever — especially about modern politics. I’m certainly not trying to be sanctimonious, or do what the kiddies call “projecting,” but I haven’t watched or read the “news” on purpose since the late ’80s, because I realized that all it was doing, when it could be trusted at all, even minus the inevitable spin, was ticking me off. Hearing about current events / current arguments has never improved my day. Life goes by quickly enough as it is.

    I’m just wondering, because I *know* you have a reason (you don’t seem to be flippant about such things), what you gain from being so attentive to all of the irritating, maddening and / or heartbreaking crapola.

    • I was not much of a news consumer until Donald Trump announced for the presidency. In truth, I knew nothing whatsoever about Trump himself except that he was a celebrity who had some sort of TV show. Had noe idea, for instance, how he had made his money. (Assumed Wall Street finance, turned out it was real estate.) Then I heard snippets of his first speech and I knew that he was a possible player who might catch lightning in a bottle. Since then, I can’t look away. As you’ve probably noticed, I call the period from 1980 to 2016 the Frozen Silence, because American time seemed to stand still (not least because Rock and Roll America, which had driven the culture for thirty years, fell apart and nothing really replaced it).

      Whatever mixed bag Trump may be, he isn’t frozen and he isn’t silent.

      Unfortunately, to get at any sort of the truth, I have to read all across the spectrum which means I have to absorb a lot of dross to find a nugget or two. So far, it’s been worth it…I don’t say this will last!

      I do find it ironic (and I’ve mentioned this a time or two in various posts) that Trump, who may have benefited from the Silence’s grand political bargain (social iibertinism promoted by one side, economic feudalism by the other, with each tacitly promising not to interfere with the other’s agenda, rendering all campaign rhetoric so much noise) more than ANY SINGLE INDIVIDUAL, is now making some sort of attempt to ameliorate and even overturn the consequences. And he’s having at least a small degree of success, despite massive opposition all around.

      I find it fascinating…even as I know my bible just well enough not to put my faith in princes!

      • Fair enough — I just get concerned, perhaps more than you’d like me to, that the overall effect will be one of……well, reverse-“Beneath the Blue Sky.” You’re good people. You don’t deserve a dark period. But you surely know yourself well enough to pull back if enough stress accumulates, so maybe I’m just a worrywart!

        • Hi Chris. Sorry for the slow response…internet was down all day. Much thanks for your concern but, no, i’m in no danger of reverse “Beneath the Blue Sky!” The only thing that ever depresses me is when I obsess on a mistake I made when I was eighteen which reoriented my life for good…happens about once a decade (latest last December as you may remember) so I should be good for another ten years at least! And I only follow the news when it helps keep me sane. I know to turn it off if it starts to drive me crazy!

  3. Allow me to congratulate you on the happy fortune to have parents of such integrity. And I know it can’t have been easy for you as a child. But without such people of genuine caring, there really would have been less hope for many. You never know where a seed will sprout.

    I hope this comment goes through but if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. My opinion is just that and nothing more.

    Hope all is back to go with your work.



    • Thanks so much April…and glad you got through. My dad was a rough cob to say the least. Was a carny con man when he met my mother…over time, she converted him back to the roots that made him a Conscientious Objector in WWII (they drafted him anyway…that’s a story I’ve been thinking about telling on the blog lately–stay tuned!). Those skills he developed in his earlier life turned out to be most helpful as a missionary because what missionaries do is get people who can afford it to those who can’t–same basic techniques, just for a worthy cause. It wasn’t an easy ride, as you rightly intuit, but the first thing I said at dad’s funeral was “I was very lucky when it came to my parents…” By then, I had lived long enough to know.

      Lovely image by the way! Along with everything else, Ford was the only American director who got poverty. I can never watch that scene where they enter the migrant camp without thinking of my folks.

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