Friday, November 8, 2013

* Education: The Alienator

Above top:
my maternal Grandfather,
LeRoi Ward (the blond gent) circa 1915.
 my paternal  Grandmother,
Hulda Bonhau Keane, circa 1920

In the Shadow of Yale

My father's mother was hit and run and killed by a drunk driver as she debarked from a trolley in West Haven, Connecticut in 1927.

The driver fled and was later caught, but served no time.  It was Christmas Eve.  My  father was sixteen at the time and listened to his mother scream all night in the hospital before she died on Christmas. There was no father in the picture, just two older brothers 24 and 28. 

Thy insurance provided a total of $5,000; split three ways that amounted to about $1,650 each, just enough for my father---very bright ---to go to the University of Alabama for one year. 

He was never able to afford to finish. Both his brothers told him that in a family as poor as they were he had no right to spend his money on the luxury of a college education. College was for the rich in 1929.

That divide alienated them for the rest of their lives.  

University of Alabama Quad, circa 1927

Only in their 70's was I able to bring my father and his one remaining (the middle) brother together.  They had little in common by then except forgotten memories and buried resentments ---- and genetics.

My father at twenty, 1933
on his wedding day.
 (He was so poor he had to borrow this suit.)
My mother at twenty, 1931.
(She could not afford  a dress 
for this sample photo 
and appears here with 
the photographer's drape.)

Last spring I found myself  the recipient of emails from an older, 74, maternal cousin ( a retired DC policeman  and air force veteran) and a younger paternal cousin, 45, an EMT and music director for a rock group.

Both emails effectively disowned me because I had offered my mother's grave site to the alleged Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev,  who a Massachusetts undertaker was having difficulty burying. 

Nobody wanted him.



I won't go into the details of the emails except to say that my maternal cousin who may have spent a total of 100 hours with my mother in his entire lifetime (he lived in Maryland) said what I had done to her grave by making the offer was "despicable."  

My paternal cousin, who had never met my mother,  held a different view: What I had done to HIM was terrible because of his profession as an EMT and his exposure to events similar to the Boston bombing  (he was a responder to 9/11) which had caused him to suffer PTSD.



My decision to offer the grave was based on my  professional degree from Yale Divinity School and my mother's training of me as a child to "love thine enemy". She was a Sunday School teacher.

Both of my cousins did not  refer to my reasoning.

Their arguments were based primarily on---and this is not too strong a word for their emails ---  hatred (of the bombing and by extension the bomber) and patriotism (the bombings were self-advertised by the bombers as an anti-American and anti-Christian act).

My decision was based on my training in religion at Yale and my belief that Christianity--- if only it would be practiced in this one radical command  ("Love thine enemy") --- indeed did hold the solution to the hatreds in the world---- which my own cousins and I seemed sadly now to be increasing, albeit  in a minuscule manner.

It seemed painfully ironic to me that just as education had alienated my father from his brothers, education had now alienated me from my cousins.

Of particular objection  to them ( and to the Mayor of Hamden and the Dean of Yale Divinity School) was my choice to use the Press to announce my offer of the grave site. ("Grandstanding" one cousin called it.)

I had decided that if  I tried to contact the Tsarnaev family directly, I would wind up a target of FBI and NSA surveillance if not investigation. (Edward Snowden was not a name in the news at that time, but his later leaking of NSA documents would prove my paranoia to be reasonable indeed.)

By making my offer publicly through the Press, I preempted that fate. 

I had nothing to hide.

Somehow my cousins and the other officials I mentioned seemed to equate Christianity with quiet modesty. That would be news to the Palestinian Carpenter who knocked over the tables of the money-changers in the Temple; but,  that is an argument I choose not to engage.

I believe my offer broke the ice.  

Within days a religious group in Virginia citing the same biblical imperative (love thine enemy) offered a grave in a rural Islamic section of a Virginia cemetery, where the alleged bomber is now buried.

My mother, unlike my cousins, never finished high school.

But she read voraciously and always had a book  by her living room chair---and a huge dictionary on a stand nearby.

She would have approved of my offer of her grave to a social leper.

She would have also have counseled me to love my cousins.

I replied to their emails simply, ignoring the controversy, wishing them well. 

They have never answered.

My Parents'
Fiftieth Anniversary,

(Clothing not borrowed)

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