“Conversation with Theresa and Ed — Chapter 5”

“Conversation with Theresa and Ed — Chapter 5”

Background: To reiterate from my other recent blog posts, Theresa and Ed Wynne are my deceased parents. My father died in 1966 at the young age of fifty-six and my mother forty years later in 2006 at eighty-eight years of age.

I came up with the idea of having imaginary exchanges with them about my memoir as a unique literary technique to help illuminate the foundational aspects of my life’s journey in “understanding racism” as well as other discoveries.

So, I have developed these conversations in ways we may have talked with each other as if they were still alive… and perhaps they are actually whispering in my ear right now! I have also attempted to frame the dialogue in a way that provides some insight on who I think they were as people of the times they lived in, as well as the significant influencers they were as my parents.

I have been adding similar blog posts for each chapter and perhaps beyond, so these conversations will be continuing. Chapter 5 of my memoir is titled ‘The 1990s: Separation and Renewal’.

Theresa: “Well, hello again, Bill. You sure left us a lot to think about the last time as well as all our other previous conversations. Chapter 5’s title suggests a lot of possibilities for discussion. So, what will you offer us this time?”

Me: “The title and concept of ‘Separation and Renewal’ brings up a lot of possibilities so in this discussion, I would like to focus on page 103 towards the bottom of that page. Mom probably recalls the ‘Oliver North’ discussion (and eruption) in the late 80s at a family gathering when I said North should be in jail for the crimes he committed in the Iran-Contra scandal.

The other one referenced on that page occurred a few years later in 1992 just prior to the Presidential election. I was with your grandson, Sean, and was chastised by two family members about my support for Bill Clinton while attending a Notre Dame game. I hardly ever engaged in conversations like these again within a family setting until years later in the 2010s when ‘I discovered (and overcame) my own sin of silence’ (a quote from this page).”

Ed: “It’s too bad this happened at a Notre Dame; if I had been there the focus would have been entirely on the game.”

Me: “Oh yes! … I obviously recall your being a Notre Dame fan and listening to their games on the radio growing up. But, as you will see later on in this conversation, this pattern of behavior primarily on the part of one person continued including some recent family discussions via today’s modern text messaging and e-mail platforms. The resulting dialogue unfortunately provided opportunities for some unnecessary commentary including dispersions and epithets towards me.”

Theresa: “Bill, do you think this is a good idea to get into this here in a public forum?”

Me: “I am sensitive to your concern and I hope you have seen in our prior conversations that I can no longer remain silent on what I view as important matters. That’s why I wrote the book which is one of the best public outlets to channel conversations and perspectives viewed as important to share with the public. Another is this blog. But in light of your question and concern, I am not going to identify anyone specifically by name and will primarily be speaking about someone I will identify simply as ‘Z’.

It’s also important to note that our family is not unique these days with being split on many important topics such as racism and like in the book, I continue to share my own personal experience with others who are in similar situations to demonstrate that they are not alone.

Ed: “I note that in the Preface on pg. xix you list some of comments “from relatives” you received in 2020 regarding your reflections about the George Floyd murder, related protests, Black Lives Matter, and more. I would appreciate if you could give us an idea as to whether these were from a number of your relatives or is it narrower than that?”

Me: “Virtually all of them and others I reference in the book were from ‘Z’ with one exception. On the flip side of this, the positive responses I have received from dozens of other relatives has been at times overwhelming for me. So, I know I am on the right path despite the negative input from ‘Z’. That individual is uniquely a distinct outlier especially when you add in the hundreds of other friends and people who have bought the book, forwarded encouraging messages, and have sat in on my book presentations. I have been blessed with tremendous support and encouragement, more than I could have ever imagined.

Theresa: “That’s wonderful, Bill, but family is important so can you enlighten us about what happened recently?”

Me: “Sure, but first I have to back up a couple of years with some other background. In the early days of COVID two years ago just before Easter 2020, Z called me while I was out walking. We proceeded to get into a conversation about the unfolding COVID situation, shutdowns including Easter services, government involvement, etc. and Z got perturbed about the discussion and my views and hung up on me.

A few months later, the things I wrote about in the Preface and Z’s associated dispersions and rage once again manifested itself as outlined in the book. There were also some other encounters over the years especially one in the Adirondacks just a few years ago where Z’s enragement influenced by other factors developed into a real bizarre conversation.

In any event, a year went by from early 2020 with virtual silence between Z and me; so around Mom’s birthday in 2021, I took it upon myself to write Z a letter and in the initial few words I said the following: “it’s hard to know where to begin but I thought it best to start by offering this (letter) in the full spirit of ’70 x 7’… i.e., synonymous with God’s eternal forgiveness from Matthew 18:21-22: ‘Then Peter came to him and said, Lord how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

Me (continuing in my letter): “I will share with you (Z) that I’ve probably kept this passage in mind at least that many times (during the past year) and include it in all my emails as an ongoing reminder for myself.”

Ed: “I honestly don’t think I could have done what you did if someone said the hurtful things to me that you mentioned in your book. As you know things like ‘catching my breath’ or’ counting to ten’ were not exactly part of my normal reactions! So what happened?”

Me: “There was literally no response from Z and no direct communication until last weekend, almost a year to the day after I sent the letter. Without getting into a lot of detail (and where you both are now you probably know all about it!), I made a mistake in how I approached Z via some text correspondence. I told Z that I ‘disagreed’ on a particular thing Z said when I could have said something like ‘I don’t understand; can you tell me more?’”

Theresa: “I don’t see the problem with what you initially said; disagreeing with someone can and should lead to a dialogue. It’s simply the starting point for a conversation.’

Me: “I agree with you, Mom, but in light of all the things that have happened between myself and Z, I should not have responded in the way I did. I subsequently apologized to Z for the approach but not for disagreeing. I was not condemning Z’s input, merely taking a position. Unfortunately, despite Z subsequently saying that there can be an agreeing to disagree with respect, it appears to be typically a one-way street if you don’t agree with Z; and the track record  belies that Z can actually agree to disagree with anyone let alone me on many things.”

Ed: “So, let me get this straight. Over two years ago Z hung up on you, then a few months later Z said all those things about you when you were simply expressing your views on events of the times, then another year goes by and you write a letter starting off by basically suggesting forgiveness, and then a second year goes by, you disagree with something Z said, Z erupts, and then you apologize. Do I have this right?”

Me: “That’s basically correct but let me tell you some of where Z is coming from based on some text messages I received after my apology. These are exact quotes: “Don’t diminish me; You seem to have all the answers; … (do such & such) if you can get away from book signing; Don’t preach; (my) preaching from the pulpit; (my) slanted elitist viewpoint; I see you evangelizing; (I’m) pushing an agenda that is contrary to beliefs (I — me) find faulty; I believe that there is a force out there that you are helping to promote that I abhor; I have no resentment towards (you) and it’s shameful (i.e., that I would call the question on Z’s apparent resentment); Get off the high horse and become what you pretend to be— open-minded; I’d much rather be in my space than living in yours; What a self-absorbed narcissist you are; I’ll still continue praying for your recovery.

These comments are all very similar to what I outlined in the Preface.”

Theresa: “I’m overwhelmed and shocked by all this especially since you have gone public with views that are important to share and as you suggest, to hopefully foster a dialogue going back to your three open-ended questions two years ago even before your book. What are you going to do now after seemingly doing everything you can do with Z? I hope you have some support on this.”

Me: “As mentioned, my support network is comprised of hundreds of friends and family and many, many others I have met on this journey. One person like Z, and that’s literally all it is in my life, is not going to deter me. To be honest, I intentionally am not going to get into the things at all that Z is attracted to and supports … Z owns those matters and has to account for them. I think you’d find it very enlightening if Z could communicate, share, and explain a perspective about those beliefs without getting enraged in the process.

But you raise a good and obvious question. Perhaps this blog could kick-start something if Z reads it, but any go-forward conversation is going to have to be done carefully and to reiterate once again, with respect. If Z starts out with the dispersions, epithets, and general enraged nastiness which is Z’s typical ‘modis operandi’, that’s not creating trustworthy space and any conversation is virtually doomed.”

Ed: “As your parents, we offer you all the best wishes on this path you are on and hope you get some assistance from other family members and the close friends you mentioned.”

Me: “There are also several inspiring, reflective models I draw from such as an excerpt from a recent Richard Rohr meditation (July 13) as follows:

 ‘I’ve spent the last decade calling in the peacemakers to view their peacemaking in light of the Hebraic concept of shalom. I define it as God’s dream for the world as it should be, nothing missing, nothing broken, everything made whole. Because shalom is God’s dream and God is love, our shalom practices must be rooted in love. Therefore, I’ve invited peacemakers to resist peacemaking that is rooted in anxiety and to choose peacemaking out of a posture of love. When love enters the equation, everything changes. We begin to ask ourselves what we’re for instead of what we’re against.  (There is) …   a distinction between “keeping the peace,” which often allows injustice to flourish, and actively “making peace”.

Note: please refer to picture at the beginning of this post that underscores the importance of peacemaking.

To add, this is why forgiveness is so necessary as a starting point and that’s why I have forgiven Z for the rage and words demonstrated and spoke. Further, in an interesting and somewhat ironic way, Z is partly responsible for me writing the book in the first place.”

Theresa: “You are definitely living in some challenging times overall and I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg with other things going on in your life. Your father and I had our challenges too and life goes by very quickly. Your generation is now moving on (and out!) and soon you all will be joining us … so make time your ally and be very conscious how precious it is.”

Me: “You both are very wise and I appreciate the insights you provided in my growing up your years, and fortunately the significant memories of those times assist in these conversations as well.

Specifically, I recall that Mom, being the eldest of her family just like I am and a peacemaker in her own right, was a steady hand with us as well as her family along with her youngest brother, my Godfather. The oldest and the youngest of your family were a great tandem! In Dad’s case unfortunately, your immediate family had all passed before I knew them but I still recall some of the stories you told. These experiences were all extremely formative for me and the memories continue to guide my life.

In regard to what Mom said about recognizing the importance of time and specifically related to important family dates, as a special remembrance, I am posting this conversation on the anniversary of Mom’s 104th birthday. So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!  We all miss you both including the many celebrations over the years on this day and other important dates.

In closing, Bob wanted to make sure I said hello to the both of you. Also, this week I had lunch with Terry Strauss to catch-up and discuss the book. He always thought very highly of the both you as you know.”

Ed: “Thanks for sharing all that you did in this conversation; I know it couldn’t have been easy. We are both proud of you, your siblings, and respective families. Please give them our love.”

Me: “Will do … and in terms of today’s chapter discussion, here on earth I pray that whatever the causes of any ‘separation’ are will be abandoned so we can earnestly work on ‘renewal’ both in the world and on personal matters; e.g., nastiness, using terms such as ‘abhor’, and other name calling and labeling must be left at the door in order to build bridges. Note that there is a picture of a bridge at the beginning of this chapter as a symbol of renewal and reconnection.

So, until the next chapter discussion … Peace and Shalom!”

Theresa: “Before we end, I’d just like to ask you a last question, Bill. Is there any possibility with all the antiracism knowledge and experience you have accumulated over the last 8-10 years, that you might be posing an intimidating presence to some people on very challenging topics? I ask this because it might be a blind spot you should be aware of if you aren’t already.”

Me: “Well, that’s a great question and it’s interesting since the subject of ‘intimidation’ has come up a couple of times recently. This is a challenging concept to acknowledge since I have been more or less self-taught regarding antiracism based on my overall experiences, readings, and other aspects of knowledge gathering. I don’t have a formal degree in antiracism studies although it’s interesting that I was on a Zoom conference call this week with Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research which is in the process of developing related curriculum and other programs.

I guess I would say that just because I might have a little more insight than the average white person (note: any purported knowledge I have would not come anywhere close to the enormity of Black racist experiences!), it should not in and of itself be intimidating. Why?

We all have things that we might be more informed about or subject matter experts on than others. Secondly, I don’t typically bring the subject up unless someone wants to talk about it or the book. Third, I am still learning. I recently had a good friend who had read the book tell me that “I know there’s racism, but I don’t believe it” … now that statement really got me thinking and back to the drawing boards! Fourth, it might be my long-ago telephone company background, but I do my best to balance ‘transmission and receiving’ (i.e., active, empathetic listening) … but there’s always room for improvement and I’m still learning there too!”

Ed: “But to add to your mother’s question, could this still be thought of as preaching?”

Me: “Although Z has consistently suggested that he is disgusted by what he alleges and describes as ‘preaching’, simply expressing my view is not preaching whether in my book, in a blog post, or in an email. Typically, it would take the form of a statement I make or presentation of relevant information that can automatically be ignored, deleted, or become silent about if one chooses to do so.

Essentially if someone’s intimidated by me expressing my views (vs. any semblance of “preaching” and telling people how to live their lives), I believe that’s on them … I can’t control their feelings. However, I do try and stay balanced on the approach I take and pose clarifying questions if there is a response.

 But I would ask the question whether it’s me they are sincerely intimidated by or is it their own fears about possibly being considered something they may feel they aren’t. I ask you to really think about that … I would love to get into a discussion with anyone on that especially if they feel I’m intimidating them. Said another way, I would say there’s a strong possibility that it could be more of an excuse to point the finger my way about intimidation or preaching when they in fact deliberately choose not to communicate or to look in their own mirror.

I’m going to leave it at that for now since this has already been a long conversation.

In closing for real this time, I really appreciate the questions from the both of you as well as your love, concern, and interest; but sometimes people just have to step up to the plate and swing the bat! Inaction and silence I feel are unacceptable and have the potential of making things worse … and perhaps that could be considered preaching. But I’m in good company with many famous inspirational and biblical passages on those subjects from others including in the Eight Beatitudes!

Another one is: ““The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.”

“With Love … and again, Peace & Shalom!”

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