Essay–Memories and Lessons

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PrintI was born in 1970. Some of my earliest memories are of Cronkite presiding over the death-knell of the Vietnam Conflict. Strange how those images, both black and white and of a sepia-toned “color” nightmare, mix with the bright, welcoming colors of Sesame Street and The Electric Company. At some point, it all melds together without rhyme or reason. When I think about Canada, those images always flash in the back of my mind.

In 1976, my family moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada for my father’s job. And that is when for the first time, I knew “hate.”

America was just coming out of the Vietnam era, although it was still in denial it hadn’t been able to “save the little yellow people from themselves.” There was still a great amount of animosity that I wouldn’t understand until I was much, much older, but the animus certainly reared its head in Canada.

I went to first grade there where I was told my country was nothing but baby-killers by other children. Where I was told that if I was from Texas, I was some kind of cow-fucker. That I was shit. That I was nothing.

Seven-year old children said these things. They bullied me. They threw rocks at me. The only real friends I had were immigrants from present day Bosnia, Ireland, and Scotland.

There were fights. There were always two or more kids trying to beat the shit out of me. Why? Because I was an American. Why did they feel that way? It’s what their parents were saying.

Children have to be programmed to hate and loathe. It just doesn’t happen otherwise. They are either trained by their parents to embrace those qualities, or they’re linked to some sleight or incident that otherwise marks them for life. Children are the quintessential tabula rasa. Parents and the society we live in are responsible for filling their brains with ideas and lessons. They absorb them. They are parrots. They are exactly what we make them.

By the time we left Canada, I’d been in the principal’s office more times than I could count. To my knowledge they never called my parents. To be honest, I think the school staff was a little more than embarrassed about the situation or they didn’t want to chance a conflict with a large pissed off Texan father. Either way, the shit continued unabated.

My sister had it worse, I guess. Probably because her level of pride in her country rubbed everyone the wrong way. When you are a guest in someone’s house, you don’t tell them that their decorating stinks, they are uneducated morons, and that without you, they’d have nothing. Maybe that’s what happened, maybe it’s not. I don’t know. Memory is an unreliable beast, especially through the eyes of a child.

Regardless, we left Canada. My family was so unhappy that my father quit his job and got us the fuck out of there. My father rolled down the windows as we crossed the border and told us to say whatever we had to say. There would be no spankings if we cursed. I don’t remember if I said anything or just screamed. Perhaps that’s for the best.

My sister still carries a lot of rage for Canada. I, however, do not. And here’s why.

These were children. Their parents, angry for thousands of reasons I can’t even begin to justify or understand, told them these things, as did the PM at the time, a certain Trudeau type person. Yes, he’s the father of the current PM. The rage, disappointment, and all the ire filtered down through the TV, loud conversations at the dinner table, the press, and Garaaga knows what else. That time period no longer exists and I’ve let it go.

At the moment, I’m hearing stories of folks painting “nigger” and swastikas on buildings. I’m hearing mixed-race children being told they’re little more than dogs. Mosques might even burn before this is all over. Not to mention another mass shooting of the “godless queers.” After all, I was told that only “faggots” vote Democrat.

I’m an American. I think EVERYONE in this country IS created equal and MUST enjoy the same rights and privileges. To marry. To love. To live. All without fear of racism, bigotry, homophobia, and sexism. I’m not concerned about the economics involved in last night’s decision. That shit is so far above my pay grade I can’t even speak to it. I doubt the POTUS-elect even has a clue about it, much less the majority of Congress.

No, what drove me to vote against the GOP nominee was the fear that certain politicians, namely his running mate, not to mention the hate-mongering group swept in when a black man was elected, would do their best to repeal the laws designed to protect Americans, ALL Americans, from discrimination in the workplace, in their homes, their neighborhoods, their country. With any luck, all this hand-wringing is much-ado about nothing. I hope so. I really do.

I don’t think any kid from any country should have to go through what I went through in Canada. I’m not naive–this was still a problem for many long before the year 2008 and the ridiculous hate continues today. So, my fellow Americans and human beings, especially those of you with children, do me a favor: think before you speak. The words DO matter. The parrots repeat them. And when they’re repeated often enough, they become thought. Then they become action.

I don’t hold a grudge against ignorant children. I refuse to hate a country because I had a bad time there. I refuse to hate an entire race of people because of a few unfortunate altercations. I just refuse to hate. Hopefully, you will too. And maybe we can save another child from growing up to think they are shit, to be afraid because they’re different, because they’re not like everyone else. Maybe because their parents are heterogenous in color. Or maybe because their parents raised them in a different religion. Not everyone is going to be like you. And who the hell would want that world anyway? Our differences are what makes a society function. And the moment it becomes a crime to be different than the status quo, it all goes to hell. If you don’t understand that, then you have no idea what we were fighting about in Europe during the 30s and 40s.

Okay, back to editing. I must finish this book so I actually have money to pay for my mortgage. Be safe. Be kind. Live up to the decency you claim regardless of your creed.


This essay is copyright 2016 by Paul E Cooley and is protected by a Creative Commons non-commercial, attribution, no derivatives 4.0 license.

This has been a presentation of Shadowpublications.com where sometimes, we believe in happy endings.

Posted in Essays
11 comments on “Essay–Memories and Lessons
  1. Elliot Cohen says:

    Paul E Cooley,
    All I wanted and expected from you is literary entertainment. I’ve admired your writing and narration skills for a long time. You are one of the best at what you do.
    You chose to alienate me and probably a number of other fans by contaminating your podcast with bigoted, self righteous political
    Rhetoric.
    You don’t like Trump or conservative thought, fine. But you clearly have been indoctrinated into the ways of the SJW movement. So feel good about your identity politics and trash 100 mil good, caring ppl.
    Just as I don’t have the right to not be affended- you don’t have the right to my time and patronage.
    An extremely disappointed ex-fan

    • Paul Cooley says:

      I value your opinion and if I’ve lost your patronage, so be it. But I have a question. Can you please explain to me what I said that has so drawn your ire? I’m curious.

      • Elliot says:

        I went back and listened again to Memories and Lessons because maybe I missed something. I got it right the first time.
        Starting at minute 4:05 you talk about what you are hearing is happening. You talk about the possibility of Masques burning. That hasn’t happened yet. You are conflating the election of Trump with racial hatred and intolerance.
        It was Obama who stoked, encouraged and nurtured racial division and class warfare among the ppl. Race relations were getting better not worse before 2008. Gays are being abused and killed almost exclusively by Muslim radicals- not white male Trump supporters. Most of us want the world that you want. Stop painting everyone with a wide and indiscriminate brush.
        I’m willing to reevaluate my opinion based on your response.

        • Paul Cooley says:

          I live in Texas and have for the majority of my life. I’ve been hearing the words “nigger,” “kike,” “spic,” “sandnigger,” “faggot,” and every othe possible racial slur you can imagine. That was during the Reagan administration, decades before an Obama administration. So you can’t blame that one on Obama, mate.

          Because I heard all these things as a child, it imprinted on me. Big time. It wasn’t until college I realized gays weren’t an enemy, but people. It wasn’t until I spent time around people that weren’t like me that I realized they were people. Insults such as the above serve to demean and gain power over others. They always have, they always will.

          The KKK is now confident enough to hold rallies. Vandalism of a racial nature is starting to rear its ugly head. Unfortunately, that’s to be expected. My hope is these are fringe cases, as I thought I made clear in the essay. Unlike some of my brethren, I don’t believe every GOP supporter or Trump voter is like that. But that also means that those who supported him need to also make it known to their fellow supporters that racism is not to be tolerated. That will do more to heal the country than anything else.

          When the children of this country heard our POTUS-elect claim that most illegals were criminals, murderers, and racists, how do you think that’s processed? Maybe it’s just my brain and I was an idiot child, but I think without context, without explanation that this is an opinion and not a fact, children take that as an all or nothing. Children, in my experience, don’t find much gray between black and white without being taught to do so.

          I’m not painting everyone with a brush. I’m saying there are outliers regardless of political affiliation that engage in this crap. There will be stories in the coming weeks of racial crimes on both sides as well as vandalism via both sides and etc. The hate is what got us here in the first place.

          So while I advise my friends on the “leftish” side of the spectrum to chill out and wait for something to actually happen, I suggest folks on the “rightish” side of the spectrum do the same. Think all Americans deserve rights and respect? Make it known. Think not all Trump supporters are racist rednecks? Make it known. If you sit back and just say “they started it,” then that’s not helping anyone. I’d like to think this nation can be a nation of adults who can actually sit down and solve problems rather than constantly being at each others’ throats. Alas, my adulthood has only seen that divide deepen until there’s little to say to one another other than “fuck you.”

          We seem so interested these days in finding a villain without actually checking facts. Read history. Read how we got here. Try to understand the other side. Try to see their point of view rather than simply casting it off. Let’s talk philosophy, let’s talk needs, let’s talk about being human beings for a change, about being Americans, rather than being Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, alt-right, alt-left, or whatever else. The anger and hatred is what needs to stop.

          As I mentioned in the essay, “I hope” that these fears are groundless. I’m not one of the people sitting here screaming “the sky is falling!” I remember when Obama was elected the first time how many folks said it was the end of the country. It wasn’t. So while everyone is screaming the same thing now, I want to remind them to look at the past and learn from it.

          I condemn racism. I condemn homophobia. I condemn thinking that having money makes them better than those that do not. I condemn the idea that only “my god is right and everyone must live under the laws I think my god has set forth” regardless of whether you’re Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or whatever. Those are my feelings. And if someone believing in the tenets of Christ’s message “Love your fellow man” makes me some kind of leftist, communist, hippie, un-American, libtard, “social justice warrior,” then I think there might just be a cognitive dissonance that I frankly will never understand.

          Thank you for your past patronage and support. If this missive doesn’t clear things up, then I fear the divide between us is too great for any more meaningful dialogue to take place.

          • Elliot says:

            Your missive did clear up a great deal. Thank you for taking the time to address what I see now was a limited and inaccurate interpretation of Where you stand. I jumped to conclusions about you that were inaccurate. My defensiveness springs from countless accusations thrown at me by ppl who never bothered to try and really understand my POV. I did the same thing to you.
            Thank you for sharing your history. It’s valid and I appreciate it.

          • Paul Cooley says:

            I have a feeling that for the past 12 years, a lot of misunderstandings have been going on. Cheers.

    • C. says:

      To call someone who is very simply and very clearly rejecting oppression “indoctrinated” into ANYTHING really says loads about your own “indoctrination” into the hate narrative Paul is illuminating here. Here is an example of the anti-compassion, anti-humanity ugliness rampant in America right now.

      -An extremely disappointed lurker

  2. Criswell The Psychic Weatherman says:

    I will be playing the audio version of this essay on my Sunday show. Never stop saying what needs to be said, in your words, or in those of your characters.

  3. Scarlet says:

    I am a very late listener to this essay and I was moved to pop in to thank you for publishing it. As you said in comments above, there is crap on both sides and the lesson that children learn what they see is a valuable one. Thanks again!

  4. Aleleeinn says:

    Well I’m still behind on too any things. It’s thanksgiving and I’m just reading this essay. Thank you for the candor and Thank you for repeating many of my life lessons.
    My father was a paratrooper in WWII. He was surrounded at Bsatone. He was releived (saved) by a group of tankers serving under George Patton. Those soldiers were black. He never forgot that “Those people” had been soldiers for their country and saved his ass. He served as a quiet example of how to treat other people. I don’t think I was indoctrinated. He never preached at me. He showed who he was by his actions. The little league team he coached in our poor small Ohio town included any kid who wanted to play. Black or white didn’t matter. My younger brother was on that team and he learned that lesson too. He taught me how to live without hate.
    I lived thru the Viet Nam War. I was not dreafted and I soon developed an anti-war stance. The debates were loud but civil and honest. But a fact (perhaps only a perception) surfaced after that war was over for a few years. I couldn’t find anyone who thought it was a good idea and it seemed no one supported it. That was my first lesson in national saving of face.
    In defense of those of my father’s generation, they were ruled by an unrelenting fear of communism. The fear persisted long after Joe Stalin had died, and remained the dominant theory fueling our foreign policy. Joe McCarthy was dead but his twisted spirit remained. So now we have the fear of Islam. This time the fear is far less grounded in reality. But this time like the last go round we as a nation have lost our historical perspective.
    But that discussion is a long one and would involve several bottles of Tuacca.
    I think you hit on one very key point in your original essay. The economic one. I doubt that even the economists on this planet truly under the beast. I suggest you read “Freakanomics”. It is an unusual look at some causal economic chains. Remember that butterfly. Perhaps not that strange, but things we may miss contribute to trends.
    But there is one other lesson that this nation must learn. No politician can fix the world by passing a few laws. You have to fix poverty, hate and fear. And even the worlds religions have failed miserably to fix those. When I voted for the first time; for George McGovern, I had no illusions about the perfection of politics or politicians. Time hasn’t changed that one bit.
    You wrote a good essay. I was in no mood for calm sanity after the election.
    Now, I preparing for four years of reality TV with a different dramatic cliffhanger every week. In other words I hope I survive.
    Take care and keep writing.

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