Check your pulse

pulseI was putting on a piece of jewelry yesterday when it reminded me of something my husband did nine years ago that angered me. Almost nine years to the day, in fact, and I know this because the events are tied into my birthday so the timing is unfortunately easy to remember.

Click here to like the Dalai Lama

Click here to like the Dalai Lama

Nine years, I think. That’s too long a time to stay mad. Certainly about one of those bits of behavior that any girlfriend would shake her head at and agree I can’t believe he did that, but which, in the grand scheme of truly awful things that humans do to each other, was pretty insignificant. I remember reading somewhere that human cells replace themselves at a rate such that every seven years we are made up of completely new material. What a wonderful concept. I realize that my husband is not the same man he was nine years ago, literally, and therefore it’s about time that he should be forgiven for inconsiderate behavior.

As I apply a little make-up to a face that is not the face it was nine years ago, I take this a little further. We do all change, albeit slowly. What if you could only be held liable for wrongdoing committed over the last eight years? I mean, what if society really accepted that as truth? How much personal guilt would be washed away? How much would forgiveness change families and friendships? Hell, how different would our world be if our penal system was designed around this belief?

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Click to like Hippie Peace Freaks

Everyone would be totally liable for their recent behavior, no excuses. But eight year old behavior? No, that was another person, long ago and far away. You can’t even remember what they were thinking. As I start the daily fight between my hair and the hair straightener, I am warming to this new approach to life, to this idea of a total reboot after eight years.

Then I make the mistake of getting on the internet, to verify my new found insights. Damn. Guess what? The seven year cell replacement story isn’t true at all, as this online naturalist and several of his friends are all happy to explain. Some parts of your body grow new cells at an amazing rate, and some don’t. Your colon, for example, is all shiny and new. Your brain? Not so much so. The neurons in your cerebral cortex are yours for life.

Seriously. The Dalai Lama deserves a like.

Seriously. The Dalai Lama deserves a like.

Maybe this physical fact doesn’t negate the wisdom of the original insight, I think. Those neurons may be there from birth, but the heart, mind and soul that they feed with information is a work in progress. That is one of the beautiful things about life. We change, we grow, we hopefully improve. Forgiving ourselves and others lets us move on, lets us move forward in time. We we can chose to embrace this progress without regard to how fast our body replaces our cells.

I had the good fortune to be born around the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful confluence, because each time I face another year on this earth, I am reminded to be grateful for all that the past years have brought me. This year, I’ve decided that I’m not going to be grateful for the past. This year, I’m concentrating on gratitude for the future, and for all the hope that the very concept of change brings.

Wise words spoken

torch3For all the tales of hatred and abuse that one can find throughout human history, there are times when humans rise above. Sometimes, in those moments, they speak out and their words leave a bit of glowing light. Those embers now shimmer at us from the past. On a good day, a fellow human will look up and point to one of those faint beacons to remind us of it.

Two such sets of hopeful words crossed my trajectory this past week, and I’m thankful for it. One came from a fellow blogger who posted this speech delivered by Charlie Chaplin in a 1940 movie called The Great Dictator. Made before World War II began, it made fun of Hitler and Fascism and was intended to both amuse and support the cause of democracy. Once the real horrors of Nazi Germany became better known, much of the movie seemed a poor choice for satire. None-the-less, the speech at the end was moving then and its moving now. The modern photos and videos that have been spliced into this version give it an extra punch. Thanks to the fascinating blog Ha! Tea ‘n’ Danger for this post.

The other bit of shiny light has to do with the Gettysburg address, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln exactly 150 years ago today. It has been receiving a lot of press, of course, and part of the appeal of the speech is its eloquent humility in assuming that the words themselves will pass away and only the men who died will be remembered. We all know how that really worked out.

A recent video put together by filmmaker Ken Burns splices together famous people reciting the address, including all five living presidents, who are joined by politicians and popular media personalities that cover the political spectrum. One of the things that I did not like about about the Charlie Chaplin remix is that there was a sort of faint demonizing of all recent U.S. presidents, implying that each had lost his way. This second video hints to us that there is another side to each of them, whether we agree with their politics or not.

Tonight I say thank you for two shiny bits of light from the past that, when put together, leave me feeling that there is hope for the future.

Wearing the confederate flag as part of a costume

I don't think so

I don’t think so

As a resident of the deep south for over half of my life, I have strong feelings about the confederate flag. I believe that there is no place for it in the modern world other than as an historical item. It represents not only the enslavement of the ancestors of many southerns, but it also represents decades more of their mistreatment. My views on the subject are part of the plot in z2 and I am glad to see this more empathetic view becoming more accepted by southerners of all races.

A friend who knows my beliefs on the subject sent me this question posed in Teaching Tolerance, fall 2013, a publication of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
hillbillynerdOur school sponsored a “Redneck Day” during spirit week. An African-American parent complained about a student wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag. It was all in fun. Any advice?
SPLC responded: One of the most important principles for school leaders is a version of the doctor’s oath to do no harm. A corollary might be: Don’t poke fun at anyone. Yet for spirit week, in the hope of promoting unity, schools routinely sponsor events that rely on stereotypes – encouraging students to dress like nerds, rednecks or hillbillies. When school leaders approve such plans, they invite students to take lightly things that should be taken seriously – stereotypes, slurs and powerful symbols. Our advice is to consider initiating a dialogue among students about the power of symbols and find ways to bolster school spirit without drawing on divisive stereotypes.

bankerI found this interesting. Years ago my teen-age daughter chastised me for using the term “trailer trash” to describe how a place looked. It had never occurred to me that it was pejorative, but of course it is. Over the years I have come to believe that no group deserves to be lumped together and judged as one, whether I tend to like people from the group or, like the banker pictured here, they are less likely to have my sympathy.

In fact, the “don’t poke fun at anyone” suggestion above is wise, even though the idea of a “spirit day” at a school sounds so harmless. The truth is that whether it is dressing up as nerds, wall 30 Rock - Season 7street bankers, or dumb blondes — you are in fact making fun of somebody. And much as I dislike seeing people wearing the confederate flag, I can’t really fault a kid for wearing it on a t shirt when instructed by the school to dress up like a redneck.  I mean it’s a little like asking kids to dress up as famous despots and then sending one home for using a swastika on his Hitler costume….. what did you expect?
Surely there are ways we as humans can enjoy camaraderie and a few laughs without it involving making fun of someone else …. surely ….