50 Years after Bloody Sunday – Where is Elderhood?
ANSWER: It’s in every one of us.
Even in the headliners criticized by the vast and varied media. Overt or latent, Elderhood ™ is in you and it’s in me. It’s in Obama. It’s in Boehner. It’s in Netanyahu.
And, most surely, Elderhood ™ is in John Lewis and each of the original Selma foot soldiers gathered today to remember Bloody Sunday – the horror they survived 50 years ago as they walked peacefully in support of voting rights for all American citizens. En masse, the solemn protesters had just crossed the center of an Alabama State highway bridge – a bridge named for a known Ku Klux Klan leader – when scores of uniformed state and local police were ordered to stop them. And, quite violently, they did. The walkers were tear gassed. They were bludgeoned with billy clubs. They were trampled by horses.
Unrelated to this historic anniversary, at least by conventional interpretation, another event marked this first week of March. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister of Israel appeared before Congress at the unilateral invitation of the GOP leadership. Fairly transparently, those leaders offered the unprecedented invitation to attempt bringing shame on the U.S. President for his strategies in relation to the country of Iran.
Thinking about both of these things, I’ve found myself looking for wisdom from the Elders.
That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Now go and learn.
― Rabbi Hillel
Rabbi Hillel lived and taught 2100 years ago. He was an Elder – even called The Elder.
Every time I’ve read this quote, I’ve been inspired. The Elder’s words echo by what many since have referred to as The Golden Rule. Simple in construction, Rabbi Hillel’s advice can be profoundly complex in the living of it. Mostly, this is because each listener – me, you, President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Speaker Boehner – must define “hateful” for her- or himself, and then act accordingly.
…Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.
― Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Rabbi Heschel lived between 1907 and 1972. In that time, he outlived Nazi persecution even as it claimed the lives of his mother and two sisters. As an impeccable scholar, Heschel offered what have come to be powerful philosophical interpretations of Judaism. And, in March of 1965, he joined Dr. King as one of the foot soldiers in the March from Selma to Montgomery. Up front with Dr. King, he walked every mile. His devotion to Civil Rights for all was unswerving.
As for Netanyahu and his recent speech to Congress – his words indicate grave concern for the violence he attributes to Iranian forces. His resolve is with countering those he sees as enemies with violence of sufficient enormity to overtake them.
That was Governor George Wallace’s reasoning in March of 1965. It was Bull Connor’s reasoning when he enacted the governor’s wishes and ordered mass violence on the part of Alabama state troopers and local law enforcement personnel the first time peaceful protesters walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge. As a result, over 50 people were hospitalized.
That day, a New York Times article described a makeshift hospital near the local church: “Negroes lay on the floors and chairs, many weeping and moaning. A girl in red slacks was carried from the house screaming.” That girl was Amelia Boynton. Soon, she was semiconscious, her body lain on a table. The article went on, “From the hospital came a report that the victims had suffered fractures of ribs, heads, arms and legs, in addition to cuts and bruises.”
When growing up, I saw segregation. I saw racial discrimination. I saw those signs that said white men, colored men. White women, colored women. White waiting. And I didn’t like it. I would ask my mother and ask my parents over and over again, why? They said, that’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way, don’t get in trouble. I was so inspired by Rosa Parks in 1955. I was 15 years old. I was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. I heard his words on all radio. It seemed like he was saying to me, John Lewis, you too can make a contribution.
– Congressman John Lewis
Congressman Lewis is in Selma right now. He has been there throughout the many events organized by local and national groups. For 50+ years, he’s been there every single step of the way. No matter what Dr. King was actually saying when the 15-year-old Lewis heard his voice over the radio, John Lewis has persisted in his civic right and his sense of duty to make a difference. His acts – his life – represent his understanding of Hillel’s ancient admonishment. Both parts: The refusal to impose “hateful” acts on another, and the unflagging willingness to “learn.”
Elderhood ™ is about these two things.
I haven’t heard much wisdom from Congress lately. I don’t find models there for how to bring my own Elderhood ™ forward. But I do hear it. I hear it in old people. I hear it in youth, and I hear it in the wisdom of children. With that hearing, I’m reassured. Particularly in the face of needlessly immature tactics like those demonstrated this week by, among many, the Israeli PM and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
I’m pretty confident these gentlemen and their colleagues have capacity for wisdom, but I don’t see them choosing wise ways of making decisions as public leaders.
By welcome contrast, inspiration and hope are underway as I write. In the town of Selma. On the Edmund Pettis Bridge.
Today, these foot soldiers are my teachers. Today, Elderhood ™ walks in Alabama.