Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memories and habits...

Memories are a kind of personal history. As we grow older, we watch the flow of events in our lives and events outside of our personal experience and form impressions based on what we see, hear of and experience.

Sometimes, after a a particular memory has been held long enough, it becomes a habit just as do physical actions that we've become accustomed to. We tell the same stories repeatedly, smoke another cigarette, have another drink or sometimes, drive familiar routes without being able to recount any specific detail of the trip. We form habits.

I, personally, have a habit that I can’t seem to break. That statement isn't really quite true. If I were to say that I have a habit that I don’t wish to break it would be more correct.

I talk to random people I meet. Sometimes when this happens, I come away with a smile and other times I find that the person I spoke to has far more to say than I really wanted to hear and at those times I'll often listen patiently while they tell me a story of their life.

There have been times when the person I'm speaking with will do odd things to illustrate their story as did the older lady I met recently who spent quite some time, there in the grocery store, telling me about the advantages of natural remedies and how the doctors had made her sick. She apparently told the doctors to take a hike and cured herself with herbal teas.

To illustrate the efficacy of the herbals, she related that she’d had a lot of trouble with her knees (not uncommon among those of us who’ve worn out our knees quite before we’ve worn out our welcome in life) and then put down her purse and demonstrated to me (a total stranger) how she could now stand on one leg like a flamingo (her description). In fact, she did this demonstration several times while I stood there watching and listening to her recent medical history.

This conversation took almost an hour there in the store next to the meat displays but it was amusing and friendly and I patiently listened to her as she went on to tell me about her family and her children and their children and the doctors that had made her sick. It was actually a rather remarkable experience. Considering that I’d gone in the grocery store to buy 3 cans of mixed veggies and 2 packages of hot dogs for dinner I managed to get out of the store in just under an hour and a half, but I enjoyed it.

She was amusing to listen to and her adventures with the doctors were right along the lines of many people’s stories in that she’d gone to the doctor to get cured and claimed that she’d have been better off staying at home and saving the money. I also learned that it might be a good idea to read up on herbal teas because if what she said is true then the right herbal tea can cure everything from bad knees to fleas.

I make astounding discoveries talking to people sometimes. I had made just such a discovery earlier that same week when I was leaving the dentist’s office and stopped to look out the glass wall onto the scene outside. The dentist’s office is in an office tower in Dallas, Texas and is on the fifth floor so the glass wall in the hallway outside the office commands a view of quite an area including the drive, the street and the surrounding environs.

It is also just about even with the top of the flagpole just outside the front of the building. What caught my eye as I walked past was the flag flying at half staff and that got my curiosity working as to why this was so. Rosa Parks (noted civil rights icon) was lying in state in the capitol rotunda in Washington but I was unaware of that at that moment.

I sat down and was watching the flag wave gently in the breeze and wondering why it was at half staff when someone came down the hall and I let my habit get the better of me. I turned to the gentleman and innocently asked if the man might know why the flag was at half staff and what important personage might have died and thereby, I embarked on a new adventure in learning about history.

I'm caucasian and the man I addressed was black. He had an engaging smile and an easy manner and stopped to look out the window with me for a bit. As we spoke about the flag he suggested that it might be for Rosa Parks, who had recently passed away, and I agreed that if it wasn’t then it was certainly appropriate, if so, as she was one of the major icons of our times and had created a turning point in history that day in the heat of an Atlanta, Georgia summer on a city bus.

That led us to a discussion of the civil rights movement and the changes in our lives and I commented that he might be the same age that I was and so was all too familiar with the changes. He turned to me and with a smile said, “I’m going to surprise you.”

I was quite willing to be surprised by then and he looked at me and said, “I’m 75. I was born on November fifth of 1930.” He looked as though life had been a great deal kinder to him than it has been to me though and I was delighted to be in the presence of a man who’d seen a lot of the major events of history and still had his smile and his graceful personality.

This man had seen or participated in WW2, had seen the Korean War, the Viet Nam conflict, the UN actions in Bosnia, the Persian Gulf War, the overturn of the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, and many other actions of the US overseas. He’d lived through the “Cold” war, raised children under the laws of segregation and like myself, remembered all too well the “separate but equal” policies of the states that were anything but equal although the "separate" was pretty heavily evidenced.

He’d been around to see the dropping of the atomic bomb, men land on the moon and remembered the advent of the polio vaccine. More importantly to me at that moment, he’d been active in the civil rights movement, but he was active long before the 70’s. He’d started his involvement in the early 50’s.

Whereas many people watched history he’d been making it happen years before I was entered elementary school.

We spoke for some time there by the window, talking about Rosa Parks and desegregation and the civil rights movement. It seemed all too short of a time for me. I was hungry to hear history as seen through the eyes of a man who’d been there and would have willingly sat there by the window for hours listening to his soft voice explain how things had been and how things had changed even though I had, in my time, also contributed to those changes.

Martin Luther King had a dream, but contrary to many people’s understanding, his dream included all men and women. M. L. King's dream for "all" people was for mankind to walk hand in hand through history, helping and loving each other in equality. To Martin Luther King, all people should be one people.

The stories about him are legion and includes one wherein he was scheduled to speak to a church gathering at a small church in Alabama.

The people he was to address had gathered to hear him and the small church where he was to speak was open. It was a beautiful but hot day. The time came and went for Reverend King to speak but he wasn’t there. Time passed and people became anxious lest something might have happened to him, for the times were perilous and Alabama wasn’t known for its open hands attitude towards people of color.

Phone calls were made to his hotel and people there said that he’d left and should have arrived already. People became worried. Finally someone was dispatched to look for him in case his car had broken down on the way to his speaking engagement. Somebody else was sent to gather up the children who were playing behind the church under the shade of the trees back there.

The Reverend Martin Luther King was behind the church playing with the children on the small amount of playground equipment there, pushing the children on the swings and riding the merry go round with the kids. The man who made history made time to play with the children. He loved children and although his fiery rhetoric inspired people to take action to change their own world into something that they had no experience with, his courage to face an unknown future and take people with him to see it happen became legend. Notwithstanding his activity and speaking schedule, he still found time in his life to play and enjoy the children for to him they were the future and deserved the love he had for all men.

The man I was speaking with was a preacher himself and had known Martin Luther King personally. They shared a dream together. As we spoke he told me of his belief in God and without any preaching, anger or attitude in his voice he quietly deplored that so many now believed that Reverend King had not intended that equality meant that one race should be privileged or favored over another. Reverend King hadn’t meant that the blacks were to become “more” equal because there is no “more” in equal.

Equal is what it sounds like just as in mathematics. The same rights for all embodied the dream that King cherished and worked for. Rosa Parks became a symbol either by accident or design as many stories are told of the incident aboard a bus that hot afternoon in Atlanta and perhaps the truth is a mixture of all of those stories rather than one or another. Whatever is true, she deserved her place in the history books and the US capitol rotunda.

The gentleman’s words just before we parted were a passage from the scriptures wherein man is reminded that “As ye sow so shall ye reap.” This was his only remark on how King's Dream was being misinterpreted since his death.

Perhaps my "habit" is not always welcomed but often I manage a smile or two with my usual opener of “Are we having fun yet?” In this case, I met a man who took a few minutes of his day to talk to a stranger and filled me with joy at having had the experience. I felt lifted that perhaps mankind had some good left to share with itself after all. After he left I also went on my way but the rest of my day was pleasant because my habit had entitled me to have this wonderful interlude.

I smoke tobacco and that’s a habit that maybe I should break. I used to drink when I was younger and that never quite became a habit but could have. I was an angry man for much of my life and anger can become a habit too although I didn’t let it. Talking to people is a habit I think I’ll keep. It’s worth it in the history of my life to add the experiences of others to my own and that’s a good habit too.

Smile at strangers and if you get a chance, talk to some of them and learn some history of your own at first hand. History learned this way is so much richer than history learned from books and we all need a little enrichment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just found this blog. I am also 61, have been riding my entire life and live in California.

I enjoy your writing style and philosophies. Plase continue with more.