Anne Horrigan Geary: Seeing with new eyes

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DALTON — Life was simple when I was a kid. Things were easy to understand. Rules were clear. I did what I was told; I listened when elders spoke. I learned my history from a textbook and passed the test at the end of the chapter.

Only with the wisdom of age and experience did I question some of those simple, clear, and easy ideas. I am still learning and questioning; I think that's a good thing. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I do have some well-thought out beliefs.

"In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." That's a readily accepted fact; but little else about the voyages and discoveries of Christopher is simple. If we could go back in time and question his crew and the inhabitants of the lands he "discovered," I'm sure we'd have a very different view of his accomplishments.

It wasn't until I was teaching reading and read the young adult novels by Michael Dorris that I began to see an alternate view. "Morning Girl" is about the landing of Columbus in the Caribbean, and the changes to the indigenous peoples which came about due to his conquest. Columbus was not a benefactor to these people. Their lives were forever changed by what he took from them, and by what he left behind — things like smallpox which decimated the population.

Celebrating Columbus Day without understanding that his achievements were not without criminally culpable acts is to view history with the eyes of a child, or through the rose-colored glasses of ignorance.

Now, let's take another beloved national holiday and check the facts on that one. Thanksgiving Day, celebrated in November by most Americans of European heritage, is all about a turkey dinner with family and friends. Many Native Americans, whose roots are more local such as Massachusetts' own Wampanoags, have taken to observing a national day of mourning on the steps of the Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth. Not only did the natives bring most of the food to the feast, they were largely responsible for the Pilgrims' survival. For these good deeds they were eventually rewarded with degradation, loss of tribal lands, and death. Michael Dorris's book, "Guests" provides a great insight into this time from the perspective of Native American children, but I highly recommend it for reading by children of all ages.

Beyond holiday observances, there are many other times when a simplistic, childlike view should be replaced by a more thoughtful, nuanced reaction. I am personally offended by all the ridiculous "shaming" attacks on complete strangers by folks who pretend to know better. Social media provide too easy platforms for some cynical or spiteful people with too much time on their hands. I like to keep in touch with a few special friends and family members on Facebook because it provides a way to bridge the geographic space that divides us. But it's becoming harder and harder to find personal updates among the plethora of sponsored messages and annoying chatter.

It's even getting harder to watch television news now. I tune in to the local channel to see the weather forecast, but constantly use the mute button to prevent hearing the 30-second sound bites of irrational national news. I especially object to the way politicians and fake news connoisseurs bandy about the term "patriotic" and its opposite. Before we had a football team named the Patriots, we had Revolutionary War heroes given that epithet. I'm not sure any of them would understand the flap about the president and the NFL.

As we grow "in wisdom and in grace" I hope we can all take time to think about what we truly believe and educate ourselves about complex issues of the day. There are often no easy answers, but thoughtful people armed with knowledge and understanding can still make a difference in the world.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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