Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Side By Side And Hand In Hand

"Hands across America
Hands across this land I love
Divided we fall, united we stand
Hands across America..."


Two months later it was still a joke. We'd mock the song and the promotional video and all the stars who appeared in it. We'd mock the do-goodness of those millions of dinks who held hands from city to city and state to state. We were twenty-somethings who didn't have a clue as to the why of the movement and didn't really care. Maybe it was something about helping poor families and the hungry and the homeless. Whatever. It was just cheesy and easy to make fun of.

Until David kept singing the theme song over and over and over again. One minute he'd be standing there catatonic staring at me as if I wasn't really there. And then the next he'd break into a passionate rendition of the "Hands Across America" theme song, his clear blue eyes locked on mine as if he was singing it directly to me, his arms and hands outstretched to simulate holding hands with people on either side of him.

Over and over and over again.

The summer of 1986 I worked as a YMCA camp counselor for kids and teens with developmental disabilities like autism, Down syndrome and more. Prior to that I had never done anything like it, and to this day I still don't know why I applied for the job. I even convinced my sister to apply, who was much more reluctant than I was to be a camp counselor, especially for special needs kids.

I did the job for less than two months, and although it wasn't a volunteer position (I did get paid a little money for doing the job), in retrospect it was one of the most transformative experiences I had at that stage of my life. David, the camper who sang the "Hands Across America" theme song, had severe autism and struggled to connect in any way to others around him. Except with that song that he obsessively latched onto. His parents would tell me at the end of camp that David had never been so engaged with others until the Hands Across America movement. He watched it live while it happened and anytime it was referenced after the fact on TV he would be glued to the repeated coverage.

But it wasn't until the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I had children of our own when we started to pay more attention to the world around us, to how it affected us and we affected it, to the movements that moved us to activate and participate in our community. To try and make a positive impact in our lives, the lives of our children and others. And we most certainly want our children to know they can and should stand up for what they believe in and continue the active, positive path.

And even then, it took some time for us to fully activate. After years of polarizing economic and political events that rattled the hell out of us, we activated to participate fully -- the Mama becoming a Kidpower instructor, the Mama helping to organize the local Women's March in January, my being accepted to join the Santa Cruz Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, our whole family participating in the local Science March, our whole family participating in the local Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, and simply volunteering more in our community where and when we can.

Whatever movement you support locally and/or globally, get off the ground, activate your family and participate. Of course we won't all see eye to eye; we'll support what we support, or maybe nothing at all. And yet every little bit of positive change can go a long, long way in a world that continues to rattle the hell out of us.

These activist families today with their peaceful marches and their homemade signs and their spreading good will and their walking a mile in women's shoes. Be the change, kids.

And thank you, David. Divided we fall, united we stand, side by side and hand in hand.



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