When I was a child, we had classroom drills about what to do if the A bomb was dropped. “Hide under you desk and don’t look at the flash!” As though the advice given to Lot’s wife was any more useful to us than it was to her. No wonder she didn’t have a name. They couldn’t identify her remains.
It was the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis. Communists were lurking in the bushes, pursued by Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover. We were urged to build bomb shelters to protect our loved ones. Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on the podium of the United Nations and Walter Cronkite reported the body count in Viet Nam.
We saw the leaders of the civil rights movement on TV, standing arm in arm and with great dignity, a bullet away from martyrdom. In those days, minstrel shows were common in small towns all over North America. There was one every year at our local high school. My parents refused to let me go even though I desperately wanted to, too young to understand the insult to human dignity they represented.
My parents took me off the street every year during the Orange Day parade because we were Catholics. Service clubs were restricted so my Dad was not eligible. But we were proud when a Catholic was finally elected President of the United States. It was as significant to the Irish Catholic community, even here in Canada, as Barrack Obama is to the black community today.
Although my childhood took place at a time of great turmoil and social upheaval, we witnessed something significant emerge from the humus of oppression: visionmaking. They killed Jack and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King right in front of our eyes but it only added fuel to the fire of vision. In my childhood I learned that visionmaking is more powerful than violence.
© Patrick O’Neill 2008. All rights reserved.