A Panhandler’s Christmas

[first posted December 2016]

After we retired to Florida some years ago, we discovered that Christmas there is as jolly a season as any we enjoyed up north, enveloped by snow.  It was especially joyous when our grandchildren came to visit.

Merry_Christmas_on_the_Beach

One evening during our last Christmas season in the sunny south, we all went out to dinner—my wife, our daughter and her husband, and three of our grandchildren.  We’d spent the afternoon shopping at a large, regional mall, and were looking forward to enjoying the cheer of the season and the pleasure of each other’s company.

During dinner, we talked of our plans for their holiday with us.  Unlike the north, where tobogganing, skating, snowball fights, and warm fires were the order of the day, in Florida the beach, the pool, and the golf course were all on the agenda.  We were looking forward to an old-fashioned holiday with lots of singing, plenty of fresh air and exercise, good food, and family to enjoy being around the tree with.

By the time we finished dinner, sharing our happy plans, we were all feeling very fine—warm, full, comfortable.  We left the restaurant, chatting amiably, and began the walk back to the parking lot where we had left the car.

As we waited to cross the intersection, guided by flashing green and red traffic lights that added to the festive Christmas air, we were accosted by a stranger.  He meant us no harm, but his sudden approach startled us out of our contented state.

He was tall and quite thin, and his face jutted out from under a worn cap.  His beard was unkempt, his eyes red and rheumy.  He wore faded jeans, tattered and patched, and an old, plaid shirt with the collar turned up.  The children huddled behind their parents, afraid of being so close to such an apparition.

panhandler

When he spoke to me, I could hardly hear him in the hum of the passing traffic.  He mumbled through that scraggly beard, through missing teeth, his words coming in disjointed phrases.

“Hey, can you….you got anything….any change?  A bus ticket, maybe….got any…?”

He was clutching a sign on a scrap of corrugated cardboard that read:

Out of work   Homeless   Anything helps   Thank you

“No, sorry,” I muttered, watching for the green light that would allow us to escape.  And we walked away, slightly embarrassed, but relieved to leave him behind.

“Who was that guy, Daddy?” one of the kids asked.

“Did he wanna hurt us?” another chimed in.

Their parents reassured them that he had meant no harm.  He was just a man asking for money.

“Is he sick, Mummy?  Will he be alright?”

None of us could really answer.

When we reached the car, we clambered in silently, each of us lost in our own thoughts.  The kids soon put the episode behind them, immersing themselves in their gaming devices.  As I drove back through the intersection, heading home, the stranger was still on the corner, huddling around himself, approaching passers-by.  He looked pathetic, and utterly alone.  I hoped he didn’t see me staring at him.

xmas panhandler

Later that night, after everyone was in bed, I thought of him again.  At first, I chastised myself for not giving him something to help him out.  From somewhere, the scrap of a Bible verse teased a corner of my mind—Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, ye do also to me—something close to that, I think.

But then I rationalized that a token from me would not likely have helped him anyway.  He was obviously past the point where a solitary handout was going to make much of a difference in his life.  He’d probably have wasted whatever we might have given him on booze or drugs, I told myself self-righteously.  At one point, I got angry that he had put me in such an uncomfortable position.

Still, underneath it all, I felt a nagging guilt.  ‘Tis the season to care for one’s fellow-creatures; yet we, so full of the Christmas spirit, had kept on walking.  Because we were fearful, because we hadn’t known how to respond…or because we didn’t care.

Was it best to have ignored him and walked on, I wondered?  Or would it have been better to have given him something, in the spirit of Christmas and with the hope that it would have helped him?  I didn’t know.

As I think about it even now, almost a year later—sitting warm and safe at home at the onset of another Christmas season, surrounded by people who love me—I wonder where that stranger is and whether he’s okay.

And I wish I knew what I should have done.

 

The Passing Parade

Santa Claus has come to town again—waving from high atop his sleigh at the end of a cavalcade of clowns, elves, funny-looking animals, fire-trucks, floats pulled by smelly tractors, and quite a number of marching bands—winding his way through the snowy streets.  As usual, he was welcomed by thousands of cheering youngsters and their freezing parents.

santa 2

I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a parade?

The first one I remember attending was one long-ago winter when I was about five years old.  My memories are somewhat hazy, of course, but slivers of razor-sharp, colourful images still poke through the mists of time.

It wasn’t snowing, but snow was on the ground, and it was frosty.  I was bundled warmly, so the cold didn’t matter.  My father was with me, my mother home with my brother, too young yet to brave the crowd.  I don’t think I missed him, so happy was I to enjoy the undivided attention of my dad.

Lots of people were huddled in our vicinity, crowding the street, some singing Christmas songs, some sipping from flasks (my dad included), some blowing into their hands with icy breaths.  We were right on the kerb beside a lamppost, and I alternated between sitting on the frozen pavement and climbing into my dad’s arms.  He leaned against the post and seemed quite happy to wait forever.

band

And forever was how long it seemed to take for Santa to arrive.  He was preceded by all those clowns and elves, the marching bands, and several horse-drawn floats—each of which was followed by elves with pails and shovels.  Even at my tender age, I knew that was not a plum assignment.  Those elves had been naughty, not nice, I figured.

We knew when Santa drew close to the corner at the end of the block by the sound of the crowds further down the street, closer to the end of the parade.  Strident shouts of “Here he comes!” merged into one loud, excited hubbub, causing all around us to lean out over the street, craning our necks to be the first to spy him.

When he hove into view, ‘forever’ finally came to an end.  His reindeer were seemingly frozen in flight in front of his gigantic sleigh, and I remember shrinking back against my father’s legs, almost afraid to believe it was true.  Santa Claus really had come to town! 

My dad lifted me high in his arms, and we waved and shouted as loudly as we could.  Santa looked right at us, I was sure, and tossed us a friendly wink.  If my father believed in Santa, that was good enough for me.  I was hooked from that moment on.

It’s almost seventy years now since that eventful day, and I’ve attended more than my share of Santa Claus parades—several with my father and younger siblings, and then much later with my own children.  I’ve also heartily enjoyed fall-fair parades, Easter parades, Mardi Gras parades (with their madly-flung beads), and even, believe it or not, a Stanley Cup parade.  Once. 

stanley cup

They were magical, every one.

As I think back on them, however, it seems to me that the best one of all is the daily passing parade in front of me.  Unlike those Santa Claus parades of yore—which returned every year in one form or another—the daily parade passes us by just one time.  We can never again see its beginning, nor can we slow its progress down.  Once past, it’s gone for all time.

That’s the bad news.  The better news is that each additional day brings another segment of this lifelong parade.  We form our earliest childhood friendships; we trundle nervously off to our first day of school; we fall in love, perchance more than once; we begin a first job, probably nervously, maybe joyously.  With any luck, we meet the one of our dreams and marry (or form a union of whatever sort); we find a home; perhaps we have children; and, if so blessed, we eventually send them off to their own parades.  In this great procession of life, we are all participants, enjoying the journey while we may.

But all the while, as we play a part in this passing parade, we grow ever older.

love

I have grandchildren now, and their parents are the ones who take them to all the parades of childhood.  My involvement is less a partaker, more an onlooker.  Not a passive spectator, mind you, for that’s not in my nature.  Whenever I can, I’m with them at their big events, basking in their excitement and wonder—but from the sidelines.

For example, we join in their birthday celebrations, my wife and I, but we’re the old folks now.  Our children’s friends acknowledge us politely, even warmly, for we’ve known them a long time.  But we’re always on the edges of their conversations, not at the centre, because they’re all marching in their own parades.

So, I think of myself as a bemused bystander now—alternately pleased or disappointed, excited or disenchanted, optimistic or skeptical—as I observe the passing parade.  Age, I’m finding, requires a degree of withdrawal from youth’s full-bore involvement in the world around.  Yet I have never tired of witnessing the tumult and the shouting.

tickertapeparade

I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a parade?

Picking Up the Sticks

My grandfathers, when they were just boys in the late part of the 19th century, played some version of a game called Pick Up Sticks with their family and friends.  In their day, it was likely known as Spillicans or Jackstraws, but the premise was the same as when they introduced the game to me a half-century later.

jackstraws

Their sticks were almost surely made of wood, resembling long toothpicks—or perhaps of straw.  Mine, thanks to the unbridled proliferation of plastic in the mid-1950’s, were a colourful array of synthetic sticks, identical except for colour.

The game was simple in concept, difficult in execution.  The sticks were held in one player’s hand, then released to spill on the playing surface in a loose, randomly-jumbled pile.  Any sticks falling separately, away from the pile, were removed before play began.

The first player then attempted to extricate a stick from the pile without moving any other stick.  If successful, (s)he tried to remove a second, and a third.  Each player’s turn ended when another stick was inadvertently moved in the attempt.

In some variations of the game—certainly in the one I played with my grandfathers—sticks of different colours were worth different values.  The single black stick was the most valuable; the most plentiful yellow sticks were worth the least.

I loved when I beat them at the game, basked in the praise they lavished upon me—having no idea then, of course, that my winning was their doing.

Grandpa-and-Grandson

The game helped to develop and test a variety of skills for all who played it:  hand-eye coordination, visual discrimination, spatial relations, and visual-motor dexterities, to name a few.  And patience, of course, and attention to the task at hand.  Every player had a hawk-eye trained on the pile during every other player’s move, watching for (perhaps hoping for) the slightest movement of other sticks.

I haven’t played the game in years.  But I’ve been thinking about it lately as I read about and listen to the challenges facing the legislators we have elected to govern us in our western world.  What a tangled web of sticks they face!

A partial list of those challenges, often directly contradictory to each other, includes:

0 embracing globalism vs. defending sovereignty,

0 pursuing free trade vs. safeguarding home-grown industries,

0 growing the economy vs. protecting the environment,

0 reducing national debt vs. increasing spending on social programmes,

0 encouraging immigration vs. protecting the homeland, and

0enhancing security vs. increasing civil liberties.

I envision such challenges, and countless more, lying jumbled on the table in front of our beleaguered politicians, like a nightmarish game of Pick Up Sticks, daring them to make a move.

Deal with it! the supporters of any particular issue might demand.

protestors

It’s complicated! the legislators might reply, fearful of the repercussions they will face if, by acting, they disturb any of the intermingled sticks—sticks representing issues of equal importance to others of their constituents.

Approve that pipeline!  We need it to move our bitumen.  The economy is at risk!

Stop supporting the fossil-fuel industry!  The environment is at risk!

Can one of those sticks be moved without jostling the other?

Lower taxes to encourage business to spend!  That will expand the economy!

Stop cutting back on the social safety net!  People need help!

You’re increasing debt to unsustainable levels.  It’s a ticking bomb!

With which stick do legislators start?  And will they then be able to get at the others, too?

Fix our immigration system!  We need skilled workers coming in to the country!

Keep those people out!  They’re taking away our jobs!

Is it even possible to handle both those sticks?

consequences

Scott Fitzgerald, the flawed but immensely-talented American author, once wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  Opposed ideas might be defined as those which are not synonymous, but nor are they directly contradictory.

Trying to manage contradictory thoughts or values, on the other hand—or having to synthesize them—can be so upsetting that people who are possessed of two (or more) will often eschew acting on any of them.  This state of mind, referred to as cognitive dissonance, is why most of us seek to avoid situations where it is likely to arise.

Noah Chomsky, an American professor of linguistics, a self-professed anarchist and human rights activist, has written, “Most people…can’t tolerate too much cognitive dissonance.  I don’t want to deny that there are outright liars…[but] I don’t think that’s the norm. The norm is obedience, adoption of uncritical attitudes, taking the easy path of self-deception.”

If he’s right, how can we legitimately expect our elected officials to get it right in the face of so many contradictory realities, and so many contradictory demands from people who have come down on one side or the other of those issues?  Game or not, it must be a nightmare.

My grandfathers have long since passed away.  I cannot remember whatever happened to my game of Pick Up Sticks, long gone as well.  But I do know that I have no desire to play it on the public stage, and I do have some sympathy for those whose job it is to clean up the mess.

clean-up-your-mess

Tossing the sticks down is easy, but picking them up is difficult, nigh impossible, indeed.

My Old Friend

I have an old sweatshirt—very old—frayed at the collar, stretched at the waist, threadbare at the elbows.  Its original khaki colour, now faded, is spotted and spattered with stains, reminders of bygone games of a younger day—softball in the summer, flag football in the autumn.  Hardly discernible, though once printed boldly across the front, are the words Property of the Hockey Machine, a team I played for in my long-ago youth.

Despite the hundreds of launderings it’s endured over the years, brownish blotches—long-dried blood from one cut or another—speckle the sleeves.  Grass stains, acquired after multiple falls and spills, add their random pattern to the cloth.  A few holes, too small to stick my pinkie through, but growing, pock the fabric near the neck and waistband.

Fade-Vintage-Rip-Frayed-Cut-Sweatshurt-Khaki-

These days, for eight months of the year, the sweatshirt lies forgotten in the bottom of a drawer in my closet.  But when fall begins to give way to another winter, when it’s too cold to be out and about in a summer-light shirt, I rummage around for it, knowing it will be there, just as it has always been.

There’s no ceremony when I find it, no ritual, no welcome for a long-absent boon companion.  I simply pull it out, slip it on, and go.  Although clean when stowed away each spring, it still surrounds me comfortingly with the faded, familiar smells of male sweat, grass, and liniment.  It’s comfortable, it’s warm, and it fits.  When I put it on for the first time each autumn, it’s as though I had never packed it away.

Some of my acquaintances stare a tad too long when they see me approach, proudly clad in my sweatshirt.  “You still wearin’ that rag?” one might say.

Another might add, “Why don’t you try wearin’ it inside out?”

“I think he already is!” the first might reply, cackling gleefully.

teasing

They probably wish the sweatshirt was theirs, so their raillery bothers me not one bit.

My wife, however, cringes visibly whenever she sees me wearing it outside the house.  Inside, I never leave it where she might get her hands on it.  I mean, why risk what she might do?

This old sweatshirt, this relic of my youth, has become a fond reminder of a time when I was younger, stronger, quicker—when everything seemed possible and within my reach.

I simply cannot let it go.

Similarly, I have an old friend of more than sixty years’ standing.  When we were young and single, still living at home with our parents, we spent uncounted hours in each others’ company.  We played, we went to school, we took summer jobs together.  We talked on the phone—offering advice to one another, confiding our innermost secrets, fears, and dreams to the one pal we knew would never let us down.  We passed from adolescence into young manhood together.

With adulthood, though, things began to change.  We chose different schools to attend after high school, and divergent careers to follow upon graduation.  In due course, we married our high school sweethearts and began to move in different circles.  Children took up a great deal of our time and energy, curtailing the social opportunities we once enjoyed.  We lived in homes far removed from each other.

Parting-Ways

And as a result, we stopped spending a lot of time together.

But faithfully, year after year after year, right after Christmas, we would join each other for a few days with our young families at my old friend’s cottage.  Tucked cosily in the snow-blanketed woods, nestled on the shore of an ice-covered lake, the cottage was warmed by a blazing fire, the laughter of children, and the comfort of a shared friendship with all its memories and love.

It was never the same as once it had been, not with our wives and children sharing the space and the good times with us.  It was only late at night, by the embers of the dying fire, that we seemed to have time to talk as we used to.  With the others abed, we’d hunker down as in days of yore and talk our hearts out.

Interestingly, there was never any emotion-charged greeting between us when we arrived—no boisterous welcome, no demonstrative renewing of the old relationship.  We seemed, simply, to resume an ongoing conversation that had been briefly—but only temporarily—interrupted.  The flow of friendship followed a familiar pattern every time we were reunited, a veritable rhythm of life.

rhythm

My old friend is warm, he’s time-honoured, he’s absolutely trustworthy.  He’s always been there, and he abides to this day.  I slip into his comfortable embrace as easily as into my old sweatshirt—and with the same joyfulness.

Eventually, I know, both will be lost to me, or me to them.  But until that time, I will rejoice each time we renew the bonds.

I love that old sweatshirt.

I treasure my old friend!

Standing Your Ground

Over the past twenty years, the political landscape in many of the so-called free, democratic countries of the world has become more contentious, more rancorous, more partisan than I can ever remember it.

That’s not to say that the notion of rough-and-tumble politics is a new phenomenon, for it assuredly is not.  One need only read the history books to learn about such scandalous activities as, for example: the Profumo Affair, the Zinoviev Letter, or the Suez Crisis in Britain; the Teapot Dome Scandal, the Iran-Contra Affair, or the Watergate crisis in the US; and the Pacific Scandal, the Munsinger Affair, or the Airbus Affair in Canada.

nixon

The playing of hardball politics has been with us for a long time.

Many of the examples cited here occurred long before my time as a mostly-passive observer of the political scene, so I have no perspectives on them that haven’t already been hashed and rehashed by pundits more astute than I.  Nevertheless, I think such scandals were more the exception than the rule—although I concede that may be more a commentary on my naïveté than an accurate assessment.

Today, however, regardless of whether or not political scandals roil the waters upon which sail the ships of state, there seems to be an especially bitter tone to the back-and-forth among the various political parties in each of these three nations, and even between the factions within those parties.  It seems that no one is prepared to listen to anyone anymore, so desperate are they to trumpet their own messages.

Stand your ground! is the order of the day.

Sixty-five years ago, in 1953, fighting in the vicious three-year war between North and South Korea—which also involved hundreds of thousands of troops from China, the US, and other allied nations—was halted with an armistice.  A demilitarized zone was created as a buffer between the two Koreas, and no formal peace treaty was ever signed to formally end the war.  In all the time since, both countries have fiercely guarded their borders on each side of the DMZ.  Neither side, until very recently, has even bothered to hold talks with the other, relying instead on the issuing of provocative, aggressive threats against each other.

Yet, earlier this year, for a host of reasons important to both countries, their leaders decided to sit down with each other to talk—and to listen.  That, in itself, was a notable and praiseworthy endeavour.  Even more significant, however, was the location they chose—the demilitarized zone that keeps them apart.

korean leaders

After decades of standing their ground, the two men stepped forward, across their respective borders, to stand face-to-face on common ground, the DMZ.

Is there not a lesson here for the politicians who govern us?  The Korean peninsula, by some accounts, is the most dangerous place on earth, a tinderbox where even the slightest spark could re-ignite the long-ago war—but this time with even more disastrous consequences.  Nuclear consequences.

Still, the two Korean leaders managed to take that step on to common ground, even though the precarious circumstances in which they find themselves are infinitely more perilous—infinitely more—than any found in the halls of Congress or Parliament.

So why, I ask, can our elected representatives not do the same thing, ensconced in their much safer environs?  Why can they not forego their squabbling over issues that history will consign to the dustbin, and focus on finding solutions to the real problems confronting us?

Looming environmental disaster.  Decaying infrastructure.  Racial and religious intolerance.  Poverty and inequality.  Spiralling debt.  Food and water security.  To name but a few.

No one knows at this point where the discussions that have begun between the two Koreas will lead, whether to lasting peace or to a resumption of hostilities.  And no one knows, either, how successful a coordinated, bi-partisan, multi-national effort to address the world’s problems might be.

But, just as those two leaders have tried to find common ground across the border that divides them, so, too, must our elected officials do the same thing.  They must try to understand each other, and the opinions each side holds dear, rather than labelling each other as enemies of the people.

parliament

In 1989, in his acclaimed book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote:  Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

To all our elected officials, I would add this:  Stop standing your ground, look for common ground, and have the courage to take the first step forward.

The ensuing steps will be easier.

Messy Bedrooms

A young mother of my acquaintance was recently bemoaning the fact that her kids forever seem to have messy bedrooms.  Although that young mother is my daughter, because those kids are my grandchildren, I was quick to jump to their defense.

“You and your sister were not exactly neat-freaks at that age,” I said.  “Don’t you remember how I used to remind you all the time about tidying your rooms?”

Remind us?” my daughter replied.  “I’d say it was more like ranting and raging!”

rage

“No way!” I said.  But, I did have to admit their mother and I resorted to some sneaky strategies to correct the problem.

Basically, our daughters were never messy about themselves.  They took pains to dress nicely, they kept their teeth cleaned and their hair brushed neatly, and they looked after their belongings.  It’s just that they didn’t keep their rooms in good order.  And that drove their parents to distraction.

It was always difficult to understand this apparent anomaly, how two girls who weren’t shambolic by nature could have such untidy rooms.  My wife and I tried to convince ourselves that the messiness was, perhaps, nothing more than a statement of burgeoning selfhood and a need for privacy, independence, and freedom.

That made us feel good about the girls’ developing personalities, but it did little to assuage our concern with the chaos in the bedrooms.

Typically, the following scene might have greeted you if you were to walk into either of their rooms.  The bed, almost always made up as soon as they got up in the morning (which was good!), would be covered with an assortment of articles and clothing.  Those articles—which could have been schoolbooks, backpacks, dolls, portable radios, magazines, and so forth—were always things they claimed they were “not finished with yet.”

cluttered-clipart-messy-bedroom-4

The clothing, which might have numbered as many as three or four different combinations of blouses and skirts, were “not dirty yet.”  The dirty stuff, we had long since discovered, was often lying under the bed.

Two or more of the dresser drawers might be slightly open, with perhaps some pieces of clothing hanging partially out.  The top of the dresser would be hidden underneath various impedimenta that adorned it.  Previously-used glasses and dishes were sometimes among those items.

The closet door would be ajar, mainly because shoes and other articles were blocking it from closing.  In the dim interior, blouses and dresses would be seen drooping at odd angles from the hangers—those that hadn’t fallen to the floor.

Scattered across the carpet, strewn in an apparently-random pattern, you’d see shoes and sandals of mixed pairings.

“What’s wrong with it, Dad?” I would hear when I dared to comment on the condition of the rooms.  “I know right where everything is!”

“Oh yeah?” I once countered, brilliantly (I thought).  “Then how come you couldn’t find your jacket this morning?”

“Because somebody hung it up in the hall closet without telling me!”

End of discussion.

Their mother and I, whenever we encountered certain of the girls’ idiosyncrasies that didn’t appeal to us, employed a system of logical consequences to change their behaviour.  And it had always worked.

For example, if they didn’t clear off their dishes after supper, they were served their breakfast the following morning on the unwashed plates.  We didn’t have to do that too often to bring about the desired result.

Or, if they put their dirty clothes into the clothes hamper inside-out, they got them back, washed and neatly folded, but still inside-out.  When that little ploy stopped working (they actually started wearing the inside-out items to defy us), we stopped washing any items that weren’t turned right-side out.  Eventually, of course, they became responsible for doing their own laundry.

cute-little-girl-doing-laundry

But, nothing we tried had any discernible effect on the messy bedrooms.  The best we were ever able to do was get them to dust and clean once a week.  Of course, when they discovered that charm-bracelets, ankle-socks, and tiny briefs would be sucked up the vacuum hose, they soon realized everything had to be picked up and put away before they could start.

We used to try to visit the rooms right after they were finished, just to see what they looked like in a pristine state, because in a matter of a few hours they’d be right back to their previous disarray.  Cleaner, to be sure, but messy once again.

At that stage, for our own sanity, we decided it would be prudent to let the girls express their feelings of selfhood by leaving their rooms messy.  And we began to insist their bedroom doors be closed so we didn’t have to close our eyes as we went by!

In any event, I’m not sure the recent conversation with my daughter convinced her I was right about how it used to be.  But, if it buys my granddaughters some flex-room, it will all have been worth it.

They love me.

love

The Disappointment in Her Eyes

The tortured republic to the south of us is currently in the throes of an ugly struggle to confirm the next appointee to the Supreme Court of the United States.  In the bitterly-partisan bog in which the country finds itself mired, the approval or denial of the conservative candidate nominated by the incumbent president has become a political war unto the death.

As part of the effort to block his appointment, earnest liberal voices have claimed that the man, while drunk to the point of blacking out, sexually assaulted women during his high school and university years.  As of this writing, three women have come forth to tell their stories.

The nominee and his supporters have vehemently and emotionally denied all charges.

blasey-ford-kavanaugh-11

The great unwashed masses—at least, those of them who care a whit—have no way of knowing what really happened those many years ago, so they make common side with whichever political party they already favour.

And the quest for truth takes a back seat.

The accusations could be investigated, of course, thoroughly and without bias, in order to bring more clarity.  Both the man and his accusers could then speak to the facts and evidence such an investigation might unearth.  But, anything other than a cursory look would take time, which would delay the appointment until, perhaps, after the impending mid-term election, when the opposing political party might seize control of the confirmation process.  Politically speaking, it is in the interests of the current majority party in the US Senate to move forward with all due haste, to swing the balance of the nine-member court to the conservative side while still they can.

So, the search for justice is set aside.

kavanaugh-cartoon

I, as you might imagine, have no idea where the truth lies in the matter.  The women, to me, sound credible; the man comes across as defensive and dismissive of their claims.  But, that is only my opinion, and differing opinions are in vast supply.

Sadly, facts and evidence are, so far, virtually non-existent.

There seem to be two fulcrums around which the question might be decided.  The first is an examination of the man’s judicial record over the past thirty years—the one preferred by his backers, who believe the record to be impeccable.

The second is an exposé of the moral character of a man who might have committed such vile acts, even as a youth—the favoured option of his opponents, who believe he is deeply flawed.

Is the one more important than the other in making such a crucial decision?  Given the majority of his supporters in the Senate, it is the first, not the second, that is likely to win the day.

More than sixty years ago, as a boy of eleven, I and my classmates took to chasing the girls in our neighbourhood.  When we caught them, we held them until we could force a kiss upon them.  They struggled and squealed, naturally enough, but we thought they probably enjoyed the sport as much as we did.  We didn’t ask them, of course; we simply made that assumption.

A boy and a girl playing chase.

Looking back, I think I knew it was wrong at the time, but I set that aside because it was fun.  It never occurred to me that pursuing, forcibly restraining, and imposing unwanted attentions of that sort upon someone could be defined as sexual assault—not at my age, and not in the mid-1950’s.  We ragamuffin boys would have had no idea of what that term even meant; none of us was yet embarked upon puberty with all the changes it would bring.

I do remember my mother’s reaction, however, after receiving a phone call from the mother of one of the girls.  Corporal punishment (administered sparingly and in measured doses when necessary) was a part of her parenting repertoire, and she left no doubt in my mind (and on my buttocks) as to how she felt about my behaviour.  More than the pain from the narrow leather strop, though, I remember the anger in her voice.

strap

And I have never forgotten the disappointment in her eyes.

Why is this relevant to the US Supreme Court nomination, you might well ask; why do I even bring up such long-ago events?  Well, perhaps they aren’t particularly germane to the deliberations of the tall foreheads who will make their decision very soon, for better or worse.

But, I wonder what trouble I might have got into in high school and university if I had not been brought up short by a caring parent at the first sign of potentially-abusive behaviour—even if no harm was ever intended.  It is the effect upon the victim, after all, that matters most in such circumstances, not the intention of the perpetrator.

And I wonder if the nominee for this lifetime position on the US Supreme Court would ever have engaged in the sort of behaviour that might subsequently lead to accusations of sexual misconduct if he had learned those lessons at an earlier age.  Did his parents turn a blind eye to his sense of entitlement, I wonder?

As a society, we need to do more to ensure that young boys learn that respectful behaviour towards everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, is what is expected of them.

gender-equality

It’s time.