When horrible things happen, I go in overdrive to find a positive. I'm not a Pollyanna. Yes, bad things happen to good people all the time. Reality is.
This weekend a group of young people organized a peace rally downtown. They were young adults--from late teens to early 20s. One of the chants they bellowed as they marched was, "This is what democracy looks like!" And indeed it does. All races and genders were represented--a true rainbow of young folks planning, collaborating, and linking arms. I was heartened.
E.L. Doctorow was my mentor back at NYU. Even though I was a committed writer, like many of my peers, I was both wild and clueless. During one of our sessions, I remember he said he was disheartened by the lack of student advocacy on American campuses. That the Civil Rights' momentum gained much-needed traction when young people in communities and on campuses showed commitment and support. Likewise with Vietnam. He was basically saying young people had to be actively involved in the shaping of their future.
On Saturday, his words came back to me, and I understood what he meant. Although I plan to be around for a long time, young people now are different from my generation, and their future will, hopefully, be different from ours. I have always said that racism and gender bias never surprise me because many of the same people who fought vehemently to maintain segregation and the status quo are still alive and well. And many who aren't did a fine job of indoctrinating their offspring.
But those who are now coming of age (at least those in larger, more urbanized areas) have a different history. Many, if not most, have not lived in fear of differences. Interracial dating and marriage, gender choices, biracial children, interracial and interethnic adoptions, interfaith communities have existed during their entire lifetimes. Many of their neighborhoods, classrooms, sports teams, transportation systems, workplaces, etc. have exposed them continually to differences. From my perspective, they've grown up in a world that, I hope, minimizes the fear factor.
There will always be outliers,. But I (optimist that I am) truly believe that sometimes when bad things happen, it casts a much-needed light beneath putrid underbellies requiring exposure and healing. I sometimes view the victims as souls whose lives become symbolic of change and enlightenment. Change generally happens slowly, and sometimes very painfully.
When there's violence, hatred, ignorance, I believe fear (in one of its many guises) is the true motivation. On Saturday, it was good to see young people putting themselves out there saying they are not afraid--especially not of each other.