Lessons from Mom. Thoughts from Me.

Today I am babbling about freedom, rights and responsibilities from a personal perspective.

I’m 62 years and 4 months old. That’s the age my mother died. It took her a long time to do it, but she finally left her world of pain.

Mom as a little kid. Photo from my sister.

She died of lung cancer (spread all around), caused by a lifetime of tobacco use. She smoked through her pregnancies. She smoked while bottle feeding us Karo syrup or whatever poor people used to feed babies back then. She smoked in the car on every trip our family took. She smoked while cleaning the house, leaving long caterpillars of ash behind on the floor she’d vacuumed. She tried to hide her smoking. She’d smoke out her bathroom window. That led to the intake of our family room air conditioner. She smoked while on so much morphine that she didn’t see the burn holes in her polyester pajamas. It was her last pleasure. It was more important to her than her family or her own life.

I resented her for subjecting me and my family (especially my brother and dad) to her addictions. I wanted her love. She loved alcohol, pills, and tobacco more. Calling Dr. Freud!

I truly resented people who continued to smoke around me, knowing what my family had been through. What a relief when I could actually go to a restaurant or bar and not get sick from the smoke. What joy I found when my friends who were addicted started to only smoke outside, away from their children and elders.

I don’t blame the addicts; no one sets out to become addicted. But I sure am happy to see people behaving more responsibly about it. Sure, their freedom to smoke when and where they want to got taken away. And hey, not everyone they smoked around would eventually get sick. Not every smoker gets lung cancer, after all.

Nonetheless. Laws were passed and establishments made rules. Lots of people were pissed off, but they managed.

Today we have people who appear to care more for their right to potentially spread an extreme contagion more than they care for their families, friends, and communities. I hope it doesn’t take watching a loved one die because their lungs no longer work, like my family had to, to convince them otherwise.

Thoughts from me

Freedoms:

We’re free to drive cars, but not to run stop signs, speed, or go without lights after dark. We’re free to burn trash out in the country, but not when conditions are ripe for fire. We’re free to own guns, but not to shoot others just because it’s fun. We’re free to build a home, but not on someone else’s property. We’re free to worship as we want, but not to force others to do as we do. We’re free to love, as long as it doesn’t harm others. We’re free to hate, even in absence of good reasons to do so.

With freedom comes responsibility.

Note: I didn’t write this to judge you or anyone else. I am not telling you what to do. This is just to explain why I have strong reactions to things going on these days. People get to make their own choices. People have rights. With rights come responsibilities, though. It’s worth thinking about what responsibilities we all have to others.

Prejudice and Me

Extreme honesty alert!

Poor bear. What did the bear do to deserve this?

In any case, things I was reading today about other people’s biases gave me pause to think about my own. As hard as I’ve worked to overcome different kinds of prejudice, some seem almost hard wired. I have no scientific basis to go on, but my gut feeling is that these are the ones I learned when I was very young, before my ability to make judgments like that on my own kicked in.

Yep, I’m a white person. I was raised in a Southern US white culture. Some of the prejudices of that group rub off. I’ve spent many years dwelling on this, and it doesn’t make me happy. I know that having slave ancestors as well as slave owning ancestors is something to think about. I know I have biases in other areas that skew my opinions. I know I can’t fix past things. But I know I can work hard to treat people fairly today.

Where Prejudice Comes From (for me)

I sure know where a lot of my prejudices come from, and that’s my mom, whom I loved dearly, but I could tell from an early age had some extra doozies of flaws. One was her wide range of racial and ethnic stereotypes. She had a bad World War II experience (lost a fiance) and was pissed off at Japanese people and Germans (they spit when they talk) her whole life. She was also quite opposed to “white trash,” and kept telling us not to be like them. And she both loved black people personally and said awful things about them them as a group (probably from her own upbringing). All this stuff confused the heck out of me, and even though I was uncomfortable with the things she said and did, I know some of it sunk in.

Skin is just skin. Cultural differences are interesting, not scary. Yep. All images from here down from Twenty20.

Thanks to my upbringing, I was scared of black people and looked down from my barely middle-class perch at poor white people. I have a feeling many of my black and poor white future friends came about from me wanting to distance myself from my mom and not wanting to be like that. At least I stuck around to like my friends as people. But to this day, I get this tiny bit of negativity that my higher thought processes immediately slap down. Whew, no wonder racial stereotypes and prejudices are so hard to eradicate, when even someone who knows better and wants to judge people on who they are, not how they look, still deals with childhood crap.

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