I’m in Georgia looking after my Mom, who is 88, with Alzheimers and in a wheelchair in Assisted living. But she can still laugh. Meanwhile, I’m having rather a good time. I ate a moon pie. (This Southern delicacy has its own Web site.) I borrowed my cousins’ Cadillac to drive over to Troy, Alabama to visit family and pay my respects at my grandmother’s grave. I’ve enjoyed walking around the lake near my cousins’ home. The other day it was a cool, bright late afternoon, and on the sun-struck water across the lake I saw three small white triangles which had to be either the sails of toy sailboats, or (which they actually were) the white fluffy sterns of three gray geese!
This trip I’ve pondered my family history on my mother’s side. There is bad (the locus of which was my grandfather) and there is good (centered on my grandmother.) If I had to pronounce a verdict, it wouldn’t be “good” or “bad” but both – in spades. I don’t think the lives in this family are unique in that regard. Wars and politics, ill will and personal problems can make any times the worst of times. But one way or another it doesn’t last forever. Social progress and personal fulfillment can make any times the best of times – although good things don’t always last either. We need to be vigilant to protect and increase the good. There’s a great quote from the Rev. Peter Gomes – I think it was in his superb book about the Bible, The Good Book: “Virtue cannot be a hobby when evil is working overtime.”
Because many brave people worked overtime in virtue, the South changed in my lifetime. The best and most important change is civil rights. Social injustice still plagues black people, but it’s not the poisonous abscess on society that it once was. Meanwhile women gained rights, options, and freedom to leave bad marriages. And abusive, wayward husbands have a lot less cover than was the case in my grandmother’s day. These are all good changes, not that they’re inscribed in some eternal stone of progress – if history teaches one thing it’s that all all good developments need guarding. But great good can happen in the personal, social, and even political spheres. In the end, I think my own times, my grandmother’s times, and most times in history are both blessed and cursed, both best and worst.