Last week, while hiking up Mt. Marcy with two of my boyhood friends, I was overcome with joy from a story.
Jon Miller, my neighbor in Mahopac, N.Y., turned to me during a particularly long stretch of nothingness and said, “You know the one thing I remember most about you from when we were kids?”
I had no idea, but I would have guessed either:
A. My love of Ken Griffey, Sr.
B. My jarring dorkiness.
C. My awful haircut.
“There was this time,” Jon said, “when we were all playing something in my front yard. Maybe football. And a car pulled up and a white woman rolled down her window. She and her husband were considering moving to Mahopac, and she asked whether there were a lot of black families in the neighborhood.” (For the record, Mahopac was white. V-e-r-y white and v-e-r-y socially conservative. And when someone asked such a question, she wasn’t seeking out diversity).
“You looked at her and, without pausing, said, ‘Oh, man, there’s a black family down in that house over there, a black family up the road there, a black family around the corner, a black family around the bend …’ I’ve never forgotten that.”
If this sounds like I’m looking for credit, I assure you I’m not. I was just a kid, and don’t even remember it happening. I do, however, consider the story to be an enormous tribute to my parents, who—even in the painfully homogenous world we occupied—insisted we embrace different cultures and experience as much of life as humanly possible. That’s a powerful ideal, and I absorbed it.
I also think (and this is a pat on the back), it took some guts. At age 12 or 13, it would have been easy to say, “Nope, all white.” But I surely knew what they were seeking, and desired no part of it.
Strangely, this whole thing reminded me of one of the more cowardly moments this nation has witnessed in a while. Remember a bunch of months back, when an Iraq-based solider named Stephen Hill asked the GOP candidates about being able to serve openly … and was booed? Wait, here’s the video:
I remember, vividly, watching that and thinking, “Where’s the courage?” I’m not saying a Mitt Romney or Rick Perry has to support gays serving openly (thought, obviously, they should). But how could nary a one of the men and women on stage not stop the proceedings and say, “Look, I know this is a tough issue, but how dare you boo a member of our armed forces? How dare you? Gay, straight, whatever—that man is fighting for your freedom. Let’s not forget that. And let’s give him a round of applause for his service.”
Of course, that never happened. Because saying the right thing, and standing up, isn’t especially easy. Or comfortable.
Even for a 12-year old.
PS: This woman makes me sick.