Last week I finished listening to an audio recording of the bestselling book, The Help. I started listening while I was working on several sewing projects that I had volunteered to make, but the story was so gripping, there were many times that I just stopped sewing, sat, and listened.
The story takes place in Mississippi during the early 1960's, just as the Civil Rights Movement is beginning and gaining momentum. The primary focus of the book is the nature of race relations during that time period, in that part of the country. What also captured my attention was the interplay between and among the wealthy young white women who formed the "society" of the time...their fears, jealousies, rivalries, and the basis for and fragility of their friendships.
This weekend, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I've watched several specials on tv - all devoted to remembering. They talk about the horror and destruction, and they also talk about how NY City, and the country, all came together in unprecedented and unexpected ways. All physical differences were forgotten....skin color, age, socioeconomic standing...everyone, friend and stranger alike, just pulled together to help one another survive and cope.
So here we are 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement and 10 years after 9/11 and I have to ask: are we any different? Have we learned anything? Do we treat one another any better than we did before? Are we more compassionate? Do we care more deeply? Do we extend our hand in order to help or just to grab more for ourselves? When we see each other, what do we notice first - our similarities or our differences? Or do we even really see each other at all? And what is it that motivates us?
I have never lived in the South, so I can't speak about that part of the country with any first hand knowledge. I live in the Northeast, in the suburbs, in an affluent town. We have good schools, beautiful parks, houses of worship, libraries, and our fair share of minivans and SUV's. We also have lots of after school activities for our children: various sports teams to play on, clubs to join, and lessons to take.
Where there are groups of children, naturally, there are groups of parents. And where there are groups of adults, there seem to be noses just itching to poke into other people's business and mouths at the ready, spreading news of what the noses have sniffed out. Of course, there also seem to be no lack of ears waiting for the latest and juiciest tidbits that follow that ever popular question, "Did you hear?" And you know as well as I do that 'did you hear' is almost never followed by stories of the generosity, kindness, inherent goodness, bravery, or compassion of the subject. Nope. It seems that our conversations have descended into the realm of sensationalistic tabloids.
It makes me sad to think that 10 short years after 9/11 we're busy picking each other apart rather than supporting each other. We'd rather slam someone behind their back instead of extending a hand of friendship, or at the very least, civil fellowship. We think the only way to raise ourselves up is to push the other guy down. And we do it all within earshot of our children. What are we teaching them?
Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.
What have we learned?