By WENDY HODGE
My very first apartment, when I was a freshman in college, was sparsely decorated in what my roommate and I referred to as “up-scaled curbside/Goodwill treasures.” It was eclectic, which is polite for tacky. But it was ours. We worked hard to pay the rent while going to school. And we loved it! The first piece of “art” that I bought was a framed Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that I got for $2.99 at a thrift store. It made my heart happy just seeing it every day as I walked through our living room. The frame was a sapphire blue, and the quote was written in black script – “Earth endures. Stars abide.”
That same freshman year, I took a British literature course as an elective for the sole reason that Canterbury Tales was on the syllabus, and I had a copy of the book that I actually bought IN CANTERBURY on my trip to Europe after high school graduation. The trip was a gift my sister and her husband worked and saved for so that I could get a taste of the world beyond our small Alabama town. They were as proud to take me as I was to go.
In that literature class, before we ever cracked open Canterbury Tales, we read some old English poetry. Our professor was a small woman who had immigrated from Sweden and had become an American citizen the year before. She didn’t speak English very well, which made the study of old English phrases interesting at best. We did a lot of charades to try to understand each other. A few weeks into the term, the professor decided to take a break from Lord Byron and Tennyson and shared with us that her favorite poet was Ralph Waldo Emerson. “He is not British. He is American, like us,” she said. And then she wrote that same quote on the board – “Earth endures. Stars abide.”
I still have the notes from that class in a folder. Here are her words about the word ABIDE.
“It is a strong word,” she said. “It means you work and you wait and you plan and you STAY. And if you do those things, you are rewarded. It is what the love these poets wrote about really means. When you love, you abide. It is what America means to someone like me. It is why I live here. I abide here.”
My grandmother had an old family Bible with a list on the inside front page of men and women who came before us and are gone from the world. Their names are written in a spidery script using an actual fountain pen dipped in ink and with much love in each letter. Every single one of those people love what it means to abide. They married. They worked their farm. They grew their crops. They raised their children. They fed them all. They laughed and cried and, when the time came, they buried the dead. And through it all, they abided. Their reward was a table that was always full. Their reward was a family that stood together when things were good and when things were bad, without question or hesitation. Their reward was a good name and respect to and for each other. Their reward was watching their children grow up with the ability to abide.
I saw a commercial last night that I can’t quite shake off. What the ad was for I have no idea. The screen was filled with image after image of teenagers from different countries around the world, each saying the same phrase in their own native tongue as closed captions scrolled across the bottom. “We deserve better.”
These kids weren’t from third world countries. They weren’t homeless or displaced refugees. They were well dressed; some rode bikes while other were sitting in a sports car. One young boy even stood on the balcony of a luxury house overlooking the ocean. But without exception, they were angry, sullen and defiant with cold eyes and lips that looked as if they hadn’t smiled in an aeon or two.
As the words continued to scroll, a narrator explained (in a voice that suggested that their anger was a reasonable and justified thing) that their mantra, “We deserve better,” was directed toward just about everyone. They were angry at the government for not making the world a better place. They were angry at their forefathers for not establishing a better country to begin with. They were angry with the “warmongers” from every country who had participated in world wars in years past. They were angry with the police for not keeping them safe while simultaneously being angry that the police existed at all. They were angry with their parents for not doing something about global warming and the “downward spiral of our very planet.”
As my grandmother would say, “Well I’ll be dipped and rolled in cracker crumbs.” And then she would shake her head in puzzlement and say, “Bless ya’ll’s heart. What has happened since I left?”
And I would have to answer with this:
We no longer abide.
We have been so busy building a better life for our kids that we forgot to grow better kids. They’ve learned through all forms of media, as well as in the classroom and in the home, that the following is the politically correct (and therefore healthy) frame of mind:
We want what we want right now. We want maximum income with minimum output. We want no discomfort. We want no inconvenience. We want no hint of any differences between any orientation, but we want everything exactly to our preference. We want inclusion, but we want perfection. We want freedom of speech, but we want to hear only what we agree with. We want justice, but we want our demands met. We want peace, but we enjoy being angry.
Not everyone is like this … not by a long shot. But I fear this is the rule rather than the exception. So when you met a teenager who is happy and well-adjusted, shake their hand and look them in the eye and know they are the hope for our future as a country and as a people. When you see a couple who have stayed married and raised a family, celebrate them. They are the key to our survival. When you gather with friends who have stuck with you and who give and receive respect, hug them close. They are what will get us through. And when a baby is born into your family, promise that child that you will abide and that you will teach them to do the same.