Not only was she determined and brilliant and patient and desperately kind, she was sometimes quite funny. If I was stumped, she’d say, “Just give it some time.” If my letters sucked, she’d shake the bag. “Drowning in vowels? Jump in here and swim for some consonants!” Sometimes she’d say, “Let’s see what you’ve got; let’s do it together. I’ll help you. Then you can help me.”
Every game with her and my three sisters was a lesson in friendly competition, in loving cooperation. I learned from her — and My little sister — that the only real way to lose was to give up in frustration, was kicking the table and sending the letters flying, was ruining it for everyone. But this was no “everyone gets a trophy just for participating” sort of game. There was always a winner, and it was never me, not for years. Still, I kept playing, and when I finally won all on my own, she couldn’t have been more proud. And then we played again. And I lost.
I told someone just the other day how we used to play: how, although there was always a winner, we thought the real competition was getting the highest overall score — that the Total of All Our Efforts mattered the most. That Someone thought I was crazy; she truly believed that the only point of a game — every game — was to crush the competition and emerge victorious and alone.
How sad for her, and for all who live like her. For all who think like her. For all who vote like her. For people who never knew my mom.
A couple of days ago, America held an election. Less than half of the country voted. Then, thanks to the unfair nature of the Electoral College, less than half of the voters — let’s call them People Who Never Knew My Mom — kicked our national card table from below and chose a new president. It was a low blow, a hard kick; it sent the pieces of our lives flying. Some of these People Who Never Knew My Mom had recently been kicked out of the game for deplorable behavior. (Racism, Misogyny, Homophobia, Religious intolerance…) Others were hard-working folks who quite rightly felt left behind for years, felt like the Rest of us always won and they didn’t have a chance, because the game was rigged against them and no one seemed to care. And they weren’t wrong, but they were conned into voting for the very worst of the riggers. (Just sayin’.) They wanted to “drain the swamp”; they wanted change, and they voted for it. They voted anti-establishment in the primary, and anti-establishment in the general election. Except, not so much. The facts are that they voted Godzilla in to drain the swamp, but left the same old GOP gators guarding the plug. Still others — mostly white, financially secure, educated voters, let’s call them GOP Gators Who Never Met My Mom — voted for their interests and their interests alone; they clearly saw what Trump would do for them: maintain uncontrolled gun rights, lower their personal and business taxes (if they were rich enough), install Christian right-wingers in the court, gut social programs that THEY don’t need, and try to bleach our multi-hued nation just that much whiter by keeping the immigrants out.
We don’t yet know where all our letters will land, but it isn’t looking good. These people, my countrymen and women, think they have emerged victorious. But everybody lost.
They’ve had their tantrum, and Folks, it was a doozy. The world was watching, aghast and in disbelief, and we’re embarrassed for them and for ourselves. And we’re scared. And some of us are having tantrums of our own. Both sides are capable of bad things — deplorable things — for the sake of their idea of good. But we’ll pick up the pieces and play again. And this time let’s Remember it isn’t just a game, the world is watching, and millions — billions — of real lives hang in the balance. No one really stands alone and victorious, unless they stand on a pile of ruins.
As for the worst of us, we won’t let them ruin it for everyone.
If they think Deplorable Behavior will be fun for long, they’ve got some new words to learn. We all need to learn them. “Empathy” would be a good start: seven letters, you can spell it on your own. “Tolerance” and “Cooperation” would be good, too. Both are words that take more than one turn to accomplish, that take building on another’s word.
Seven years ago today, my mother died. I wish I could have played Words With Friends with her on Facebook. Fact is, I’ve had a few Words With Enemies on facebook lately and while I’m up to the challenge, I’d rather play Words With FRIENDS. There are millions of folks like me, and we’ll keep playing until all Americans, especially those hard-working folks who’ve been left out, are winning.
Well, almost all. All you Deplorables — you racists, misogynists, homophobes and religious extremists? Let me spell it out for you, metaphorically of course:
Go stand in what was once your nice, safe corner of the world with your blinders and your Deplorable Dunce Caps on, and think about what you’ve done. Because it isn’t Safe anymore. Beyond this place, there be dragons…
It’s too bad you never knew my Mom. Metaphorically.