Monday, September 24, 2007

Fade to black

My office windows overlook the beautiful Mississippi River, interrupted only by the Mankato stone of the St. Paul Seminary. The seminary's oldest, turn-of-the-century buildings are beautiful and stately, but the administration building and student residence, circa 1985 or '86, have some kind of toxic-looking mold growing on them. Maybe it's from pollution or lack of sunlight on the east side of the building or whatever, but every time I look up, I see these golden stone buildings, blackening. It's a little weird because I feel like it's some kind of sign. Time for a sandblasting, I guess. In more ways than one.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Annals of the unemployed

I'm in the prayer mode for all my unemployed relatives: my recent-college-graduate-with-school-loans-to-pay son, my baby-on-the-way nephew-in-law, my long-unemployed nephew who has been living off the earnings of his now-unemployed girlfriend. Sheesh. What's with all of this joblessness? How's a person supposed to eat? For some, like my nephew-in-law, job loss leads to great offers from competitors. For others, like my son, the luster of that shiny new degree is starting to fade with the reality of the crappy job market; he'd probably shovel shit if you paid him and you can't lose what you didn't have, but it hurts just the same. So say a little prayer, hum a little OMM or remove a pin from the voodoo doll, would ya?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

What's your name?

Someone I know has a penchant for calling one of her buddies, who's a little spacey but of normal intelligence, "Retard." The other day, I asked her, "Why do you do that? You wouldn't call another friend, who has skin darker than yours, 'Nigger."" She was pretty mad at me.

"How can you even equate the two words like that?" she railed. I stood my ground.

When I was a kid, we used to call stupid kids "retarded." That was before we knew much about real mental disabilities, and we called the people who had them "retarded." Like they could catch up if they only hurried. We also had great fun telling "hair lip" stories until one of our mothers had a new baby born with a cleft palate. He couldn't nurse and had to be tube fed until he had surgery. Our mothers shushed our "hair lip" imitations, so we turned the "hair lip" jokes to "retard" jokes.

A few years later, I learned that "Mary," a sister of one of my mother's friends, was "retarded." I was shocked. Hadn't a clue she couldn't add numbers, drive a car, read a map and do other grown-up things. I always thought Mary was just a friendly, funny and kind woman who enjoyed hanging out with her older sister.

Fast forward about 20 years. My son had to do some volunteering (I know, that's kind of contradictory) during confirmation class in middle school. One of his friend's parents invited him to help his Special Olympics swim team. I learned a lot about mentally challenged kids that year, and so did my son. He was lucky to have one of my "Mary" experiences.

Do we ever grow out of our human penchant for making light of others' misfortunes, weakness, difference? Maybe not. Witness what we still make fun of here in Minnesota: Iowans, drunks, Indians, immigrants ("Ole and Lena" now are "Ahmad and Muhammad"). Do we laugh? You betcha. We're sooooo not perfect here. But maybe we can work a little harder to care about the folks at the butt of our jokes, and we'll eventually grow out of the name-calling years.