Sometimes When You Get Too Close, You Get Too Far genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Nouveau Thoughts & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation
"Sometimes when you get too close, you get too far" is one of many pearls of wisdom handed down from my Italian immigrant grandparents. They used the expression to warn their children that all relationships weren't the same and that there are circumstances whereby getting too involved is ill advised. Fortunately, my parents passed those same words along to their children. I've been focused on the saying for several weeks as I've been seeking an understanding of my own indeterminate malaise.
Let me offer some background and then some explanation. I love politics and psychology and I often focus on their overlap when writing. I've done so because I'm convinced that all of our actions can be traced back to the individual's psyche. Try as we might, I suspect we actually understand very little about the mechanics of that entity...other than the fact that it undoubtedly makes each of us uniquely flawed individuals.
If we look close enough, perhaps we can find themes or threads that connect some of us. At the same time, it seems safe to infer that the reverse is true...meaning there are also threadbare holes in this imperfect human tapestry that divide us. Politics is thus the tundra upon which these commonalities and these differences unfold.
This current election cycle is a unique moment in our American history. Never before has it been inevitable that either a woman or an African American would be the nominee of one of our political parties. Part and parcel of that eventuality is the concept of change. Confronting this change, in my estimation, involves many of the same dynamics found in my grandparent's thoughtful insights.
There is a spoken belief that our nation long ago confronted issues of race and gender and set in motion the removal of the barriers associated with either. There is also an unspoken reality that neither has been achieved. As we approach the moment where our lip service may well be forced to acquiesce to the living of these lofty proclamations, we begin to see that the closer we get to its achievement, the further we may be from its existence.
The evidence that exists is no doubt the equivalent of a DNA match. Whether it's a product of our capitalistic mindset that idealizes winning and posits that the opposite is losing, I don't know for sure...but I suspect it may well be. If so, then nothing could be more divisive than to ask voters to affirm one oppressed group over another. It's as if fate is bringing us to the precipice of progress...only to ask us to make a choice that will catapult one group to the pinnacle while seemingly pushing the other into the abyss. While this isn't actually the choice, it may be the perception.
Worse still, those groups who lack a contestant in the competition for the quintessential prize worry that the elevation of one of their fellow second class societal equivalents may well result in the further disproportionate distribution of the spoils of success. Hence, if the perception exists that the proverbial pie isn't large enough to nourish us all, then the thought that one's longtime competitor (for the crumbs that fall off the table) is about to receive not only a place at the table, but a plate...and a bigger piece of the pie, is apt to create angst...and resentment. Therein lies what we must attempt to understand.
An example might be beneficial. I received a distressing call from my younger sister last week. As I picked up the phone and said hello, all I heard on the other end was my sister sobbing...telling me that she had just gotten off the phone with my mother. My heart sunk as my mind raced to guess who had died or was diagnosed with a terminal disease or fallen gravely ill. It's amazing how many thoughts can occupy a few seconds. I immediately asked, "What's the matter?" As I braced for the bad news, she replied, "I told mom I had caucused for Obama and she got mad and hung up on me".
You see my mom is in her seventies...and the thought that a fellow woman would choose to support "the other candidate" (a man who happens to be black) is akin to treason. Add to that the fact that she grew up in a small Colorado community as a Catholic whose Italian immigrant parents had distinct accents and customs that were foreign to those around them and one begins to see the generational impact.
Such is the insidious nature of discrimination and prolonged periods of lost or limited opportunities. Let me be clear...my mom doesn't have a racist bone in her body and I can't recall a single disparaging remark about any minority (save for her angry comments at my announcement many years ago that I was gay). Nonetheless, she is a product of a society that relegated her and other women to a lesser status and in so doing served to rob her and many others of the same opportunities as their male counterparts. The fact that she saw similar limitations placed upon her foreign born parents only exacerbated her awareness of the issue.
When I subsequently spoke with my mother on the phone, the gravity of the situation was revealed when she stated, "I want to see a woman elected to the presidency before I die." Yes, the same woman who idolized the charisma and the hope she found in JFK couldn't envision that my sister had seen the same in Barack Obama. She could only feel her own sense of loss and sadness at the fact that time is cutting short her chances to witness the culmination of her dreams and her hopes.
2008 will be a historical election...but whether it will be a transformative one remains to be seen. Sometimes the closer we get to fulfilling the hopes and dreams of the least of us, the more difficult it can be to preserve them for the rest of us. Hence, transformation can be a double-edged sword.
My love for my mom and my sister is unlimited...and yet it can't always bridge the gaps that come between people from disparate eras. When injustice has been administered and experienced over lengthy periods of time, it may be impossible to repair the damages or remove the regrets that accompany it.
We each see life through our own prisms. We occasionally see the same thing when looking through those prisms...yet if we see those things in our lives at differing chronological points, they will likely have different meanings. In the end, sometimes when you've gone too long without, you've gone too far within. Perhaps the lessons learned in 2008 will bring all of us closer to where we belong.