|More about Thomas Morris... and the twisted ironies of the place... here.|
"My nature comes of itself." -T'ao Ch'ien
I'm the round pegdenied by the square hole.I'm the rusty cogthat revels in being rusty. (from Field Journal)
So there was a BLM protest march in Bethel, Ohio this past Sunday. Some of the more yokely locals decided to attack a peaceful protest, yell, cuss, steal signs, and generally embarrass themselves -- sort of like the high school varsity football team did my Junior year when they celebrated finally scoring a safety (That's 2 points) at the end of a scoreless and winless season like they'd won a state championship.
It's times like this I remind myself that "Bethel" is a biblical term meaning "A Holy Place." I also remind myself of the short list of points I tell people on the rare occasion I talk about where I grew up:
- the afore mentioned celebration over a safety;
- the fact that Bethel, Ohio wasn't on a map until 1998; and
- the fact that Bethel only ever makes the news when bad things happen like that time a kid got off the school bus to find his parents murdered (never solved), or the time the barned burned and people died (never solved), or the time an alumni from my graduating class tried to rob a gas station with a pocket knife (got caught).
I remind myself that it's the same place where some of the "good and faithful" people collected money to buy a billboard proclaiming Satan had taken over the school board because the high school biology teachers continued... as they did when I was a student... to teach the Theory of Evolution. In a biology class.
Bethel has never been a holy place -- not for me, anyway. I can't even say that I hated it that much when I was a kid; I just always knew I was going to leave. The things I hated about it had mostly to do with the fact that I was socially awkward, which presented in all the usual ways. I didn't really connect with most of the kids I grew up, though I had a circle of friends. Looking back, it wasn't really anyone's fault that I didn't connect with most people. Even though we all grew up in within the same geographic boundaries, I had very little in common with most of them, and most of them had very little in common with me. Probably the only thing we had collectively in common is that none of us knew a damn thing and we were all wandering around lost, hormonal, and generally confused by the mixed messages we were getting from the adults around us and from television.
I've mention before that until I turned 16 and got my driver's license, I never saw a black person except on television. Think about that minute. Then think about the depictions of the black community on television in the 1980's. I know for a fact that there wasn't a non-white student in the schools there until after I graduated. So, 1991. I remember asking an adult -- an elder in my church, no less -- once why there weren't any black kids in my school and why there wasn't a single black family in town. He leaned in, smiled, and answered "What's out here for them?" He went on to tell me in a tone that suggested official, though not necessarily heartfelt, regret that there HAD been a black family that moved into town sometime in the 70's and that "someone" burned a cross in their yard.
Local police did nothing about it. The family moved not long after that.
This is where I grew up, but it's not my home. And maybe it never was. My mother hasn't lived there in almost 30 years. My dad is buried there, but I'm not the victim of that sort of sentimentality that feels rooted to dead bones. The last of my father's family that lived in Bethel, my Uncle Bill, died recently. My cousins on my mother's side have scattered. My Uncle Jack, my mother's brother, still keeps his house there, but he and his wife Kathy travel a lot and also have a house somewhere in Florida. What little connection I ever had to where I grew up grows more feint by the year. I'm good with this, though growing up in a small town does leave it's mark no matter how long ago you left.
The absence of that sentiment in my make-up doesn't mean I don't love my father's memory, because I do. But attachment to dead bones is memorialization, not memory, and certainly not history. Maybe that's why I could care less about Confederate statues or the confederate flag. The Outlaw Josey Wales may be a good movie, but it doesn't ennoble the confederate cause. I could probably suss out the delusional nostalgia and faulty logic that would compel a Bethelite to attack peaceful protesters. But to be honest, I don't want to spend the energy on them. They're not worth it; they weren't when I was a kid and they're even less worth it now.
No one there cares what I think. They never did, and that's fine. But I love that there are people there who will march in support of Black Lives. If there is hope in these Byzantine times, it's rooted in the fact that positive change is knocking on the door of a place that, while it's not as holy as it's name, it damn well should try.