In my freshman year in college, I discovered The Communist Manifesto was on my reading list. After years of hearing the book was pure evil, I gasped. A few pages into the material, however, and I learned what I’d been told was nonsense. What’s wrong comaraderie? Coca-Cola touts the idea. So does Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of the social network, Facebook.
Putting America first, our President, Donald Trump, takes a different view. Forget the idea of one world. What we need are more walls. We should create a space between ourselves and the other. But who is the other, I’d like to ask?
Recently, I sat down to read a memoir written by a gentlemen here at the retirement center. In his working years, he was an analyst on Russian affairs for the Central Intelligence Agency. (CIA) He has enough recollections from those early days to fill a novel or two. But his memory of one May afternoon in the 1940’s, somewhere along the Younhiogheny River, between Maryland and West Virginia, moved me Even though the weather was warm and mild, the couple had difficulty lifting their small sailboat from the roof of their car. For a time, it appeared they might have to give up their idea of an adventure. Then, suddenly the boat grew lighter Propelled by an unknown force, the distance between the car and the water grew shorter.
The husband couldn’t see who had offered a helping hand, that hand being on the opposite side of the hull, but it was welcome. Only when the craft hit the river did he glimpse his benefactor: “a sturdy young man with dark hair and a kindly face.”* Not waiting for a pat on the back, the youth gave the pair a nod, then sprinted back to the friends who were waiting for him.
The incident was so brief, it might have passed from recollection, except for one anomaly. Hanging from a gold chain about the young man’s neck was a black swastika.
“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out,” says Robert Frost in one of his poems.** That’s a good question. The human heart isn’t easy to discern. Each of us is a mix of good and evil. Turner Odell’s story about a day on the river reminds us of that. Instead of building walls, I’d like to ask if we’ve worked hard enough to find ways to bring out the best in each of us? It’ll take more than a coke. I’m sure of that. Still, I believe it’s doable.
*quote from Turk’s Tales, by Turner Rutledge Odell, pg. 36.
** “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost