The Long Way Home 12.29.23

I’m not sure if it’s possible to be more or less reflective than I’ve been in the past. But for some reason, this year of turmoil, at home and abroad, has me thinking more deeply about what the coming year brings.

The coming year will have some dark times. I could wallow in fear and uncertainty, but I’m not sure Mama built me that way.

My mom was a “stay-at-home” parent when we were young, only becoming a school lunch lady when I graduated into junior high. Nothing embarrasses a pubescent, four-eyed geek more than having Mom in the school lunchroom. It was even worse having all the other lunch ladies chirp, “Hi Stevie,” as I picked up my pizza burgers or hamburger gravy. I felt profound empathy for my peers in the geek world. (Apparently, the word “geek” originated over 500 years ago in Germany to describe a fool or simpleton--Guilty).

Mom did pass on other things besides a profound angst about school lunchrooms. Thanks to her genetics, I was blessed with dark brown eyes, prominent cheekbones, a full head of hair to this day, and an anxiety-driven digestive system that creates constant awareness of where the nearest toilet is.

Much as I’ve tried to deny it, she also instilled in me a love for family history and a profound empathy for those suffering loss, poverty, or illness. No family member or friend could ever do wrong in her eyes, even when they did. She loved them despite it all.

When I had a school assignment to attend a precinct caucus in one election year or another, she insisted that we go to the DFL caucus. “The Democrats are for people like us,” she said. Despite that statement, I did flirt with the party of the elephant for a few years in young adulthood before learning that Mom was right.

I don’t always feel blessed by the physical things I inherited from Mom, but I feel blessed with inheriting empathy. I’ve always cared about underdogs and the downtrodden. I’ve had cordial relationships with the rabble-rousers, the troublemakers who intensely annoy those with some power. We seem attracted to each other.

I credit that empathy with making me a better manager when practicing that particular art. 

Empathy drove me to adopt the phrase, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Finley Peter Dunne, a writer in the 1800s whose character is the bartender, Mr. Dooley, spouts that quote in a commentary about the role of newspapers in society. 

Although I’m not usually combative, I have often taken the second half of Mr. Dooley’s quote to heart when writing opinion pieces or practicing politics. I often end up like Miguel de Cervantes’ classic character Don Quixote, making lots of noise but leaving the windmills of the comfortable still standing, if afflicted a bit.

I look forward to the new year when I can get out after some windmills. Through my writing and commentary, I want to afflict the comfortable. 

My mom would say, “Don’t stir the s#*t.” 

But I’m thinking, “When I stir the s#*t, should I stir it clockwise or counterclockwise?