To Solve America by Fred Wilbur

Photo of tree
Photo by Fred Wilbur.


                                                       I got to have it (just a little bit)
                                                      A little respect (just a little bit). Otis Redding, as sung by Aretha Franklin


As Memorial Day approaches and graduation season is in full tilt, there will be many inspiring speeches: some will have a few humorous lines thank goodness, some will be overloaded with platitudes and sound bites, a few with creative insight in reading our times accurately. A rare few may have prognostications which are useful, inspiring, and come to pass.

One meaningful and heartwarming event, though perhaps not unique, on Memorial Day in my rural community is the presentation of a quilt to honor a local military veteran. The county quilt club plans, cuts, and sews a patriotically themed quilt (in mostly red, white, and blue of course). Twenty or so women contribute their time and expertise to the project.

It is not an off-the-shelf trophy as for an athletic contest, but a many-hands-made gift embodying thought and effort, attesting to the respect of the community for the recipient’s personal service for the greater good of the country. Memorial Day is thus an occasion for respect beyond the fractures of politics. Regardless of your views of the military, the occasion is impressive no matter the ribbons and/or medals the recipient may have been awarded.

As meaningful, no doubt, many words will flow from valedictorians and guest speakers at high schools and colleges across the country concerning current events and the student protests on college campuses responding to them. Young men and women are aware of the happenings in the wider world, the global village. And this is a good thing. These students will be very soon creating our future history. The watching world is the arena for their action. We earnestly wish them our best and hope they have learned from the mistakes of their elders.

My wife was a high school teacher for nearly three decades and she always tried to establish rapport with her students. Definitionally, the relationship between her and her students was based on understanding each other’s concerns and feelings which, in turn, established trust and respect.

Because she had respect for the teenagers she taught, they learned to trust her. Naturally, there were always a few “live wires.” Ours is a small community where everyone in the one high school knows everyone else. This relationship might be harder to come by in a high school with a few thousand kids where sub-set cliques are the norm. Part of the educational mission in such places should be to facilitate cross-over among them.  This relationship, of course, should be part of the larger community and, indeed, of our country.

Both of my granddaughters work in retail food businesses and constantly deal with the public. They often tell of customers who act and say things that are inappropriate, rude, and even belligerent. Some customers have taken the old adage that the customer is always right to extremes without any clue as to the efforts of servers to perform their work politely and efficiently. Some have zero compassion when snafus occur. One similar example are folks who are out of control on airplanes or display ‘road-rage.’ Or politicians who love chaos and are desperate for attention. In other words, there is a lacking of decency and respect in our culture. Yes, there are customers who leave tips in appreciation and leave with a smile.

Why is our public discourse so mean, so primitive, so devoid of simple respect? There have always been little people who can’t think for themselves, but in the past, they were called out, held to account, ostracized by the moral character of community, the common cause for dignity and decency. Sadly, the controlling factor seems to be the threat of violence by these ‘little’ people.

To have differences and to have respect simultaneously is the mark of a man or woman with integrity and compassion. They have few enemies because they listen with interest and equanimity. Objective reason wins over emotional belief. The point is that respect and trust are the bedrocks of a civilized society.

But back to the warm fuzzy feeling. Originally, quilts were a practical way to keep the family warm, to make use of old clothes, or left over scraps of fabric. Like many traditional crafts, quilting is now an art form with sophisticated designs and new and numerous techniques. The notion of bringing many pieces together to make a whole parallels the process of a democratic society where individuals, regardless of cultural backgrounds, spiritual beliefs, and political persuasions come together. The only way a democracy works and survives is when respect is endemic to the people.

Frederick Wilbur
Frederick Wilbur has authored three books on architectural and decorative woodcarving. His poetry collections are As Pus Floats the Splinter Out and Conjugation of Perhaps. His work has appeared in many print and on-line reviews including Shenandoah, The Atlanta Review, The Comstock Review, The Dalhousie Review, The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, One Art, and New Verse News. He has also written The Nelson County Garden Club: The First Fifty Years, 1935-1985.

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