Thursday, December 15, 2022

Love in America Changes for the Better

 A positive change in attitudes concerning sexuality occurred in the opening years of the twenty-first century.  In the year 2000, the little state of Vermont became the first in the country to sanction civil unions - the legal equivalent of marriage – for same sex couples.  Fifteen years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that under the Fourteenth Amendment Americans everywhere have a right to marry the person they love.  And now, this month, Congress passed a Respect for Marriage Act guaranteeing (just in case the Supremes change their mind) that the law of the land remains in place.  

A generation ago, moralists warned that homosexual unions would mean social breakdown and the end of the traditional family.  Instead, the Institute for Family Studies reported that in 2020 the divorce rate hit a fifty year low, not seen since Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were a TV couple. True, fewer folks are getting married.  But those that tie the knot are staying together, which can only be good for kids.

In fact, the Crimes Against Children Research Center, which gathers data reported to family protective services around the country, documents a fifty-three percent decline in physical abuse and a whopping sixty-two percent drop in sexual abuse over the last three decades, between 1992 and 2018.  Cases of child neglect have seen a more modest eleven percent decline.  Still, we are talking about millions of kids saved from mistreatment.  While the reasons for this wholesome trend are not entirely clear, what is beyond dispute is that all this happened just as Americans were beginning to embrace and normalize lesbian and gay relationships.

Correlation is not causality, but with diminishing rates of child abuse, one might also expect a drop in crime.  In the cycle of violence, youth from  abusive environments are more prone to delinquency.  Safer homes mean safer streets, and this is exactly what we see.  According to FBI statistics, gathered from law enforcement agencies across the nation, violent crime plunged from a rate of 758 incidents per 100,000 population in 1992 down to 395 incidents in 2021, a forty-eight percent drop.  The rate of property crimes saw an even more precipitous fall..  So the perception that America is experiencing a crime wave is just wrong. The country has seldom been so law abiding. 

Why aren’t media outlets reporting these stories?  Divorce is down.  Children are flourishing.  Crime is on the run.  

Given so much good news, the current raft of “Don’t Say Gay” laws, book bans and rhetorical vitriol directed at the LGBTQ community seems especially ill-timed and misguided.  Gay people coming out of the closet pose no threat.  Trans and queer folk exploring their own forms of gender expression and identity may be a very healthy development.  As Americans began to acknowledge and accept the full spectrum of human sexuality, the social unraveling  that was predicted never happened.  The numbers show just the opposite, and it should come as no surprise.  People flourish in relationships that are honest and open.  They thrive when their primary emotional bonds are mutual, consensual, caring and voluntary–freely chosen rather than dictated by dogma or enforced by morality police.   Enabling people to be who they are and to love whom they love seems to be leading to  happier marriages, fewer children at risk, more stable families and, ultimately, a more civil society.   

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Holiday Small Talk

 Small talk matters.  

Wednesdays seniors ride free on the train linking Santa Fe with Albuquerque and points south. On the way home, the gentleman riding in the seat in front turned to my wife and I to smile and say hello.  “How are you doing?” he asked.

I answered that we were terrific, taking advantage of the senior citizen freebie.  I suggested that he looked to be in the golden years himself.

We fell into conversation.  He was a tribal member of the Kewa Pueblo, on his way home to Cochiti.  His uncle had served thirty-five years in uniform at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, not far from where I grew up.  We talked about the pandemic and when the reservations might be opening again (there’s a National Monument on Tewa land that’s been closed since 2020).  He asked where we lived and, referring to my firefighter vest, I explained I lived in the Hondo District of Santa Fe County where I’d worked with a battalion of volunteer hose jockeys.  He’d been a hotshot in his younger years, at the top tier of that firefighter world.  We were two old men, making old man talk.

Before we parted, I wished him a happy Thanksgiving, quickly adding that I knew it could be a fraught holiday for some native people.  He thanked me and returned the Thanksgiving greeting, telling me that he would probably head out tomorrow and shoot a duck to celebrate.  His parents were gone and he had no other family.  He’d be feasting by himself.

Part of me wanted to ask deeper, more probing questions, the kinds that have become part of our national discourse in a reckoning of how Americans deal with their complicated past.  How could Euro-Americans atone for a history of exploitation and begin to mend relations with the original inhabitants of this land?  But I sensed this was not the moment for those harder topics.  We were just two guys, strangers on a train, making conversation to ease the loneliness and pass the time.    

Maybe that’s not enough, but it’s a beginning.  Before we can tackle the big questions, we have to be able to make the small talk.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Playing Real Good For Free

 Who do you admire?  I have a friend named Kevan who plays guitar.  In the summertime, we get together and strum, occasionally writing new tunes for the instrument.  What I admire about Kevan is his focus and concentration.  His lifelong career was in law enforcement, special weapons and tactics.  Because he is fluent in Spanish, he still sometimes teaches "Spanish for Cops" to make a little money even in retirement.  But his real ambition, at this stage of life, is to be a street musician, a busker.  He wants to sit on the corner and play the blues for tips.  

Kevan is totally devoted to this dream.  He has a strict practice routine.  He attends music camps for songwriting.  He studies music theory.  Whereas I have all kinds of pastimes and am not very proficient at any of them, Kevan makes progress at his chosen endeavor in a way that I can only envy and try to emulate.

Here's a song I wrote this past week, in homage.  

Un viejo sentado a lado del camino con su sombrero
Espera dinero sin cuidado en verano como niño
Toca la guitarra por divertimento

Un cansado viejo que conoce la guitarra
Es un estrella que brilla y canta as poemas de mujeres olvidadas
Y enamoradas anticipadas

Por favor, escuche, Señor.  Por favor, un propina mejor!
Por favor, escuche Señorita.  Por favor, llamame tu favorita!

No hay una vida tan benedito como un viejo con su sombrero
A lado del camino en el verano esperando por tu dinero

Por favor, escuche, amigo.  Tocaré la guitarra con brio!

An old man sits by the side of the road, with his hat, waiting for money,
Without worries in the summer, like a child, playing the guitar for amusement.

A tired old man familiar with the guitar Is a star, shining and singing
The poems of forgotten women and anticipated lovers.

Please listen sir. A bigger tip!  Please listen, lady. Call me your favorite!

There is no life so blessed as an old man with his hat
By the side of the road in the summer, waiting for your money.

Please listen, friend. I’ll play the guitar with brio!

Next time you pass that old man or young man, or woman on the street, playing guitar, or violin, or harmonica, won't you stop to listen?  It's their passion, their gift.  When you stop to listen, los ángeles sonreirán.  The angels will smile.  

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