Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

We Are Fam-i-ly

The developing 1950’s neighborhood where I grew up was nestled just beyond the city limits of our small town…where taxes were higher. The blocks around us weren’t filled in with houses then, and across the street from our house squatted a gigantic old lilac bush—big enough to allow a person to slip into the middle and hide. The woods near the lilac bush were overgrown with scrawny trees that must have begun after whoever cleared the land gave up and went elsewhere. I was in middle school before our family visited Hartwick Pines Logging Museum and State Park and I saw what Michigan trees looked like before people clear-cut them—not as big as California giant sequoias, but BIG. Their shadows wouldn’t permit the tangle of undergrowth that gave me places to install my secret camps. The peaceful woods were my neighbors and we were great friends.

Elsewhere, children grew up in neighborhoods crowded with people who watched out for one another and argued and knew each other’s business. Being a famous actor, director, writer, and producer, Kenneth Branagh had the advantage of being able to reconstruct the city block that nurtured his childhood for his semi-autobiographical film BELFAST (rented from Netflix). There, children ran free in the street, parents yelled for them to come to dinner, and neighbors openly discussed each other’s lives. In his block, people had forgotten to care about their differences. They were like one rowdy family that worked and played and grieved together.

But the world is peppered with people who look for reasons to blame and resent anyone they identify as different—for race, gender, ethnic traditions, and—in the case of Northern Ireland at the time—religion. As a boy, Branagh was traumatized and confounded when families that had been neighbors for generations were terrorized for being Catholic and driven away with flames and violence. Although his family had deep roots in their neighborhood—parents and cousins and friends and memories—the violence eventually became so intense that they chose to leave the country. Luckily, his father had been offered a job in England. If he had stayed, he would’ve been murdered for being liberal. The haters demanded everyone choose a side “for or against” them and fight for it. Branagh’s family didn’t want to be on a side.

Many American neighborhoods have experienced deep sadness as extremists have divided us. Americans used to be famous throughout the world for our open-hearted optimism. We were proud to be a melting pot of foods, traditions, and—most fun of all—celebrations such as Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, Holi, the Cherry Blossom Festival, and Christmas. We love many types of literature and music and sports and arts. We admire innovation, even when it means we have to adapt to change. The majority of us don’t want to choose a confrontational side, preferring instead to enjoy and thrive on our diversity, cooperating to make it function fairly.

It’s time for us to come together to prove to the haters that they deserve to be in the minority. Americans don’t want to fight their neighbors. They don’t want to see innocents assaulted and murdered or our institutions gutted. Our way of living—including goals President Franklin Roosevelt detailed as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear (echoing the Bill of Rights), combined with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (as in our Declaration of Independence)—is more precious than cheap gas. They were the goals Roosevelt cited as distinguishing us from the Nazis. We can work out problems together…honestly, given enough chance.

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