Practical spirituality for a complicated world.
"I once had a beautiful Fatherland. It was a dream."Heinrich Heine
I live in New Mexico, which is a minor administrative district in the Super-Empire called the United States of America. I was born in the United States of America, five years after the end of
World War II. I grew up in the 1950's, when the middle class was at its apex. The US had won the war, and was engaged in an ideological battle with the Russians, both sides backed by enough weapons of mass destruction to blow up the whole world several times over. I was young, but as Bob Dylan once wrote, "I was so much older then". I didn't know a lot about the Russians, except that they were the bad guys and we Americans were the good guys. I remember in 1959, we had a special ceremony at school. We all gathered around the flagpole. Our school principal lowered the old flag with 48 stars, and raised the new one with 50 stars. Hawaii and Alaska had become states. Our small school band played the national anthem. It would have been a modest affair according to most standards, but to my grammar school mind, it was grand, indeed.
My world was small. It revolved around my dog, Princess, school, my difficult parents, my little sister, and thank God, my paternal grandparents, who were my salvation. Many people in our small semi-rural community in South Mississippi did not have televisions. We did, although reception was a problem. Television was only on at certain hours. We got WWL from New Orleans, and later on, stations in Hattiesburg and Biloxi, but bad weather often interfered. My favourite programmes were "My Little Margie", "Ramar of the Jungle", "Gene Autry", "Roy Rogers and Dale Evans", "Our Miss Brooks", "The Life of Riley", "Ozzie and Harriet", "George Burns and Gracie Allen", and "The Mickey Mouse Club". My Grandmother Odom bought me a Mickey Mouse hat with mouse ears, and I wore it while I watched the show. I rode my bicycle to school. There was a long metal rack in the school yard, where everyone parked their bikes. There was never a bike stolen. The community was so small, a theft could've never been concealed. The entire school was on one campus. The elementary school was in its own building, as was the junior high, and high school. The school cafeteria served the most delicious food you could ever imagine. Lunch was five cents, and always included fresh baked rolls and homemade dessert. At recess, we bought small half pint cartons of chocolate milk for two cents. I went to that school for twelve years, from first through twelfth grade. I cannot remember one instance where a student sassed a teacher. It would have been unthinkable. If they had, they would've been expelled. There were a few thugs, of course, but they usually dropped out in the 7th or 8th grade and hauled pulp wood. Generally, our community valued education, and supported the school. It was, along with the churches, the centre of the community.
Every Halloween, we had a carnival, with a haunted house, bobbing for apples, and a small rummage sale where the adults could purchase things on the cheap. Even the fundamentalists participated, and no one ever mentioned worshipping Satan or paganism. Each class had a group of "Room Mothers" who helped the teacher with the Christmas party, an exchange of Valentine cards, and the end of the year party.
I was always a good student. Back then, they gave us a grade based on how we behaved, called "Deportment". I always got A's in Deportment, mostly because I knew what would've happened had I misbehaved. The resources our school had were quite limited, compared with today's multi-million dollar budgets. Yet, we all learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide. We memorised the multiplication tables, we learned to read and write. All of us learned those things, with only a tiny fraction of the tax money and other resources available today. Drugs? Yes, the adults had alcohol and tobacco, but that was it. Metal detectors in school? I don't think metal detectors had even been invented, yet.
Perhaps you will find this difficult to believe, but there were no burglaries. Most people never locked their doors or windows. After I finished college, my parents sold the house I grew up in. They couldn't find the key to the back door. We never used it. By that time, however, things were beginning to change. Even in that isolated corner, the new USA was emerging.
All was not love and light in those times. We lived in a community where racial discrimination was the law of the land. This was a terrible injustice that can in no way be justified. The government should never be allowed to legislate for or against someone based on race, religion, gender, or gender orientation. There were laws and social customs that held women at a great disadvantage. That was wrong, and I'm thankful that those barriers were removed. There is still work to do, but much social progress has been made. I wonder, though, why we think that in order to remove unjust barriers, all standards have to be abandoned. I wonder why, when we mention European-American civilisation, or the USA before the tumult of the 60's, everything is defined by its shortcomings? Why must an entire way of life be totally discredited because there were injustices? This is especially confusing to me since so much progress has been made. Why are people so insistent on holding on to resentments, and hatreds? I'm the first to admit that awful things happened, but why still define ourselves by those terrible things? It is unhealthy to define yourself based on your failures, instead of on your successes. We'll never be able to heal until we're willing, as individuals and as a people, to move on, and to live in the present rather than the past.
Perhaps the USA I grew up believing in, never really existed. I don't know. But, I do know for sure that our little corner of it was a lot more peaceful than today. White and Black families were mostly intact, functional or not. Gangsters and hoodlums in both communities were called gangsters and hoodlums, not heroes. Segregation as the law of the land was a poison to both White and Black communities. People of good will in both communities realised this, and knew that things had to change. What puzzles me today is why so many of the good, positive aspects of that society had to be shelved in the process. It seems as if the revolution, which indeed it was, devoured its own. There are social evils that I am happy we got rid of. There's still room for improvement. But, there are simpler values and standards we could return to, and be the better for it.
As a gay man, I have been, in many ways, the beneficiary of the social revolution begun in the '60's. But, I've come to see that we cannot change people's minds. We can only encourage them to change their hearts. We cannot legislate equality. The most we can hope for is to remove legislation that forbids people from the opportunity to participate equally. We don't want to continue throwing out the baby with the bath water. Unfortunately, many social activists seem to be ruled by their passions rather than a reasoned approach. Many of them seem more motivated by a hatred for European-American, Judeo-Christian civilisation than by a sincere desire for social justice. They spend little of their time in dialogue or debate, because they're always screaming and shouting. It's a pity.
If you found anything in this column you can use, take it and enjoy it. If you have no tolerance for what I've written, tear it up and throw it away. In either case, we can both be part of the same community of concerned people who want to make things better. We don't have to agree on everything to get along, do we? OM
Robert Ransom Odom is an internationally published author and teacher. Robert has been a leading figure in the metaphysical spiritual community of Santa Fe since 1990.To ask Robert a question, visit his website at www.RobertOdom.com, email email@example.com or send mail to PO Box 33, Santa Fe, NM 87504.