I spend considerable time discussing and writing about what is wrong with our country, our government and Republicans (Shhhh don't tell anyone, but Democrats too!) Today, Christmas eve, I played tennis with our gang at a public park in Southern California near San Diego. We are a motley crew, and it's so much more than just the sport of tennis like you may see on T.V.
It's mostly older guys, some women also, who gather together during a time period of 7:30 to 11 in the morning. Some for the early period for an hour or two, and some like me after I've spent time writing my emails and essays that are vital for the survival of our world! I take my responsibilities quite seriously.
This tennis group manages to be a celebration of what our country is. Sure, we are in a sort of upper middle class area, and most of the people are retired, not struggling. But not all. One guy lived out of his car, a few others work at hand to mouth jobs, and there are those from the other extreme. One was a highly successful international lawyer who enjoys this more than the games at various private clubs he belongs to. And then there is our diversity of backgrounds and religions.
We often get together at the local McDonalds for coffee and discussion afterwards, led by Norm, now 92 who is a retired public school teacher. He is of Jewish heritage, as am I and H., but while Norm is an FDR liberal Atheist, H. is a AIPAC conservative and a Republican. He had been an atheist, but when his daughter was dying of cancer in Israel he made a deal with a God he hadn't believed in. "If you let me be with Rachel when I die, I will accept and acknowledge you." He has never gone back on that deal and fully expects the other party will do the same.
And there is John D who is a serious Catholic, who tries to say that Mussolini wasn't so bad to Jews, and I can't convince him of the reality, that many Italians of the era saved Jews from extermination in spite of Il Duce. A very rational retired government executive, who enjoys life and actually reads my blogs, even asks when the next one is coming. And then there is B., an African American who is proud of his heritage, yet has a sense of irony over the contradictions in life. He is bi-racial, not genetically but in that he relates to blacks as comfortably as whites-both real if somewhat different. What I can never share is not a source of conflict, since we both appreciate how much we can empathize, how even though he and I would have been on different sides of the Jim Crow line when I was a kid in 1940s D.C,. it doesn't matter, and it is even more sweet that now we can enjoy each, play together, unlike what was prevented in my childhood. B. happens to be a true believer in Christ and in miracles, describing one by a transient minister that convinced him forever that God is real. We respect each other in our atheism and our faith.
Perhaps it's our advanced age, our playing the same sport, our having lived through a lot of life, but there is both enjoyment and understanding for each by everyone. And this can grow, not by intentional effort, but by bantering, conversation and bruises. O.K. not all the time, as this is reality folks, and we can get pissed off. But it goes away. I actually can be more honest with this group than I can here, as there are no taboo subjects or viewpoints that would make me unacceptable to this crowd. No danger of HRs or Banning, as we know each well enough that the affection now runs deeper than any possible hurt. There is so much diversity, from hard core admirers of Sarah Palin, to a few whose values were formed when their messiah walked the earth in the form of Franklyn Roosevelt, whose 1944 State of the Union Address proposing an "Economic Bill of Rights," is something they still are expecting
We do get into these heady things, along with sports, dumb jokes and talking about cars. It is a melange that can only occur in an open setting with no authority other than each other. Rather than this Christian holiday being a source of conflict as one would expect by the Fox created "war on Christmas," there is a sense of hilarity that some people can make this into a battle. We enjoy each other, and our differences are what makes our interactions both rich and enjoyable.
I think this is appreciated more this day since one of the old timers recently had an injury, a series of falls, so that his wife just wrote us all that Ralph will not be playing tennis anymore, since one more fall and the doctor says it could fracture his hip, which would mean a nursing home. She also said that he is emotionally spiraling down since the last accident. I know how he must feel. I wrote telling him to drop in and I will hit some balls right to him so he won't have to run for it. I don't want him to feel that he lost his friendships.
This day was good: after tennis a happy lunch and then a walk along our greenbelt with the dog. While this may be a Christian country, it is also one that accepts, and even relishes our differences. I wouldn't fit in Israel or in the burgeoning newly Orthodox communities of young Jews in the Upper West Side of N.Y. Nor would I fit into a Seniors Community where people talk about their grandkids and doctor visits.
On days like this I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have been born in this country, where rather than killing people over our differences in religions or politics, at least in this little group, at this time, this can be a source of laughter and affection.