I’ve wondered what MY ancestors did when the Japanese were interned during World War II.
I’ve wondered what MY ancestors did when a ship with Jewish refugees was turned away and refused entry into the United States (as well as every other country they tried) during that same period, eventually forced to return to Germany where they were all exterminated.
I’ve wondered what they did when women were trying to get the right to vote.
I’ve wondered what they did when Americans were being enslaved by other Americans.
I don’t know. I have no family legacy in terms of those issues.
Two things I do know about my ancestors. One of my great Grandfathers immigrated from Ireland to Canada, and later snuck into the USA. Snuck in, because in those days the Irish were on the “banned from entry group”, because they were Catholic and poor and were “bad, very bad” people. My other three grandfathers were here before the Revolutionary War. I wonder what that makes me in my president’s eyes, as I sit here today’s America?
I recently found this poem by Drew Dillinger:
“It's 3:23 in the morning and I'm awake because my great-great grandchildren won't let me sleep My great-great grandchildren ask me in dreams, what did you do while the planet was plundered? what did you do when the earth was unraveling? surely you did something when the seasons started failing? as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying? did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen? what did you do, once you knew?..."
My great-great grand-children, my descendants, have the right to ask me the same questions. I wonder what I will be able to tell them?
I can imagine my granddaughters asking even more questions.
Grandfather, what did you do after you began to understand that the Vietnam war was a mistake?
What did you do when some Americans were fighting for their civil rights?
What did you do when children were dying from gunshot wounds they received in school?
What did you do when women, like your mother and our grandmother and your sister were being mocked for being women, by a person who eventually became the leader of our country, while thousands of bystanders cheered?
What did you do when your president bragged about sexually assaulting women like us?
What did you do when men decided what us women could and couldn’t do with our own bodies?
What did you do when physically disabled people were made fun of, while thousands cheered?
What did you do when health care insurance was taken away?
What did you do when a person who hates public education was selected to create the direction of our education?
What did you do when poor and marginalized people lost their right to vote?
What did you do when people who were legally allowed to be in our country, one day, suddenly, were not allowed to be here anymore?
What did you do when the boatloads of people seeking refuge during your lifetime were turned away?
What did you do when the governmental agency designed to make sure we had safe air, water, and food went away? SURELY, you did SOMETHING, right?
I realize that my answers to those questions, until a few months ago, would have been, “I did nothing of consequence, really.” “I left those kinds of things up to other people to worry about. My institutions, my representatives, my senators, my president.” Not a very honorable legacy. Nothing to be proud of there.
Over the last few months, I’ve realized that I have abdicated far too much of my responsibility, and it is crystal clear now that I cannot count on who I thought I could count on to take care of those issues and protect those people. Those who have been given responsibility for taking care of those things are now the perpetrators of those very acts.
I’d like them to know that I did something. I don’t want them to have to guess. I’ve said that one of my guiding principles is to die with as few regrets as possible. When I ask myself “What did I do when”, I want to be able have no more regrets in my response. I’m doing things I have never done before. I am not sure exactly what to do, but I am learning. I am showing up. I am reading about how others before me, facing similar circumstances responded. I’m showing up in places and in situations as I have never done before. I am speaking up. I am listening.
How about you? I’m wondering how you might answer questions like this from your descendants? I’m wondering if it matters to you.