Aunt Lee has not been silent.  Sometimes I tend to hoard her letters.  The burden of that selfishness eventually becomes overwhelming and I have to open up.  I am at that point.   That being said, there have not been many letters from her.  Her pondering every word limits the quantity but deepens the quality.  I find a lesson even there.

Much has happened.  Probably most importantly, she dropped Roger (see her last letter).  They had a great time on their motorcycle trip, and they saw each other for a while, but she discovered that Roger was “cheating” on her—her words.  I pushed her—had Roger assured her of exclusivity, of his sole, undying love?  He had not, but that was irrelevant.  Aunt Lee believed that she was enough to take care of by herself (nod to Andy Griffith’s “Romeo and Juliet”) and Roger was simply supposed to understand that.  So, Roger is gone.  Aunt Lee is in her late 70’s, so there likely will be no more Rogers.  Roger, like Aunt Lee, had never married.  Unmarried men of that age are rare, and  Aunt Lee told me one time that she would never be interested in any man who had been “used.”  The pool of eligibles is therefore small and shallow.

Selections from her most recent letter:

Dear Johnny,

First for the mundane (although the older I get the less mundane anything seems;  I recently find the most meaning in things that I once ignored as insignificant):  it is raining.  Hard.  I am sure you remember how rain drops sound on my tin roof.  I enjoy sitting here in the front room and discerning between the different drops.  Some are those little ones that make up a steady, good soaking rain.  They sound like applause, too numerous to differentiate but sufficiently individual that the rain needs each one to be complete.  Others are the big fat ones, the ones almost distinguishable because there are fewer of them.  They splat.  This rain is of the first type: my favorite, especially when the train comes through like it did this morning.  There is nothing quite like waking up to a train whistle filtered by a fine, small-drop rain on a tin roof.   It makes for a fine morning of fresh-ground coffee and letter writing.

The Baptists had their revival last week.  I made it a couple of nights; including the last one, when the evangelist makes one last push to make his quota of saved souls for the week and keeps the invitational hymn going interminably until he gets in the full 144,000.  Of course, the invitation hymn was “Just As I Am,” a fine hymn, mind you; but I find that it loses a bit of its meaning on the 116th verse.     (Forgive me if I sound irreverent, but certainly you are not surprised.  I am not this honest with everyone.)   When I finally got home that night, to complete the day, I took off all my clothes, stood in front of my mirror and sang one more verse!  It is not a picture you want to imagine for too long, I assure you.  I had best move on.

Our discussion regarding the attribution of and response to current problems continues to occupy my thoughts.  I have, however, no conclusions.  This letter may therefore be premature, but my last was long ago.  I at least owe you a current summary of my thoughts.

Do not spend excessive time trying to determine how we got to where we are.  The only benefit to such an analysis might be to determine the way back, but I am in no way certain that we have been anywhere worthy of return.  Some white southerners of my generation yearn for a return to the “halcyon ” 1950’s.  Somehow, I doubt that our African-American brethren would share that view.  The “good old days” exist only in the romanticized memories of those who may have experienced relative good in days of old.  Those memories whitewash the difficulties, hypocrisies and inconsistencies outside the blinders of immediate concern and comfort.  We must start where we are and move forward.  Draw from the past what we may learn from it, yes; but do not romanticize it or seek to recover  it.   For example, a major lesson of our history is that we should proactively and persistently identify the marginalized or oppressed and integrate them “lovingly” into corporate life, for at least two reasons.  First, those of us who at least call ourselves Christian should identify with Christ, at the most basic level, by identifying with those on the outs, as he did.   That is the ultimately noble reason.  The socially pragmatic reason is that those who are marginalized today will one day gain the opportunity to insist on full recognition and acceptance.  We have seen this dynamic during my lifetime, for example, with women, African Americans and gay individuals.  We are beginning to see it with immigrants.  Our society finds it difficult to counter these assertions because our perspectives and actions derive from unthinking prejudice, incapable of defending itself except by sheer force of numbers, instead of  purposeful thought, which, even if disputed, may at least be discussed and thereby integrate itself into the community narrative.  Better voluntarily and proactively to identify, and struggle constructively to address, exclusion and its motivation than  to react when faced with sudden demands for integration.

Walking this path of  proactive engagement requires focus on individuals instead of causes.  You tend to concentrate on issues highlighted by the media as important, be it gay marriage, abortion, the budget, Obamacare, poverty, crime and punishment, etc., etc.    I, admittedly and by choice, have the benefit of having little idea of media pronouncements.  My primary source of news remains conversation.  Several times a week I meet friends at the drugstore for coffee and then go to the post office and grocery store.  I know everyone I see, having taught at least three generations in the same place, much of the time in the same classroom.  My information is much more immediate and personal than is yours gained from media and “social networking” outlets.  My news comes from people affected by it:  retirees directly affected by changes to Social Security and Medicare; families with disabled members reliant upon Medicaid; farmers whose ability to support their families is directly impacted by not only  farm policy but drought and pests; people reliant on governmental funding for a place to live; parents with gay children conflicted between the desire for them to be happy and the conviction that gay marriage is wrong; others who condemn all the foregoing for failure to work or pray enough or to raise their children right.  When you consider these things you more often than not see issues.  I hear names and see faces, think of individuals and families.

Consider this personal approach to life.  Get to know the people with whom you come into contact in the normal course of your day.  Talk with them.  Ask them about their children and their pets.  After you do that a few times, see if you do not soon learn of their struggles.  I am certain that you will be able to align many of those struggles with some of the “issues” you spend so much time thinking about.  The difference will be that you may then be able to understand from the bottom up, from the perspective of real people who are truly affected by real decisions.  You speak of being unable to focus on how you can help, make a difference.   Perhaps names and faces of real people will help; and, again, start where you are.  Love your neighbor by supporting your family and doing good work for your clients.   Watch for other opportunities, but begin there.

The rain is letting up now.  I have mixed emotions about that.  I enjoy a rain like this one, but I do need to get some yard work done.  Maybe Gladys will be out in her yard, too.  I hope so; you know what a gossip she is!  I try to avoid participation in all her talk, but she makes it all so salaciously fun!  I will update you on all that soon.

With all my love, Aunt Lee