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What I Remembered and What We Can Be

I’ve been thinking about families this month, what with the marriage of our younger son Sam to his fiancé Kelsea on June 17th, which was also Father’s Day. In the hustle and bustle of their wedding, they forgot to get me a Father’s Day present, which I will let slide this one time.

Sam and Kelsea stayed with us a week, before heading home to Georgia, then on to Texas. The day before they left, I came across a picture of Sam, taken when he was three years old and wearing an Indian costume Joan had sewed for him the Christmas before.

The picture was taken by a newspaper photographer who had come to our house to take my photo for an article. I was standing at the bottom of our stairway, gazing off in the distance looking studious, when Sam leaped off the stairs onto my back just as the photographer snapped the picture. It’s my favorite Sam photograph of all time—Indian Sam at the age of three ambushing his cowboy father. It captures everything I love about my son and to have stumbled upon it a few days after his wedding was a joy.

Growing up as I did in the era of American exceptionalism, I naturally believed Americans were superior to other nationalities. To be honest, I still discover vestiges of this myth in shadowy, unexplored areas of my inner self. I remember being surprised by the realization that people from other nations loved and valued their children just as deeply as I did mine. Why it took so long for me to realize that is a mystery, not to mention an embarrassment.

When I began reading about children being separated from their parents at our borders, I thought of my own children at that age, which inspired me to go in search of photographs so I might remember what it felt to love a child so deeply, and might, by way of imagination, better identify with the families separated by a nation I no longer recognize, whose days of exceptionalism are no more if this is to be our future.

What surprises me most is our surprise. We were given ample warning things like this would happen. When disabled people were mocked, people of other nations dismissed as criminals and rapists, women objectified, NFL players scorned and reviled for respectfully protesting racial injustice, political opponents ridiculed, the free press vilified, and lies told with such ferocious and disarming ease, why were we surprised when children were held as pawns? And not just held as pawns, but held as pawns in the name of God, by those who quote Scripture to defend that which cannot be defended.

We are Christians. And not just Christians, but Quakers. We have spoken and acted for justice when others have not. Thus, our past priorities inform our current mandate, which is to speak and act, and keep speaking and acting until our nation acts with compassion and righteousness, until our better angels are heard and heeded. So help us God.