I met up with an old friend recently in an unexpected way. When I retired a few months ago I talked about what I wanted to do with my time. Not surprisingly I didn’t have a clue. Much like my mother many years ago, I had not done much thinking about what I would do once I stopped working. I am one of those people who spends most of his time on the computer and rarely answers the telephone. My sister tells me that our mother doesn’t have friends from work that she could talk with or go out to visit. But frankly so am I. Once I finish working with you I rarely want to see you again. But there are a few exceptions and this person is one of them.
After hiding under the blankets a few weeks I announced that I would volunteer at a literacy center. But when I looked into that I found they wanted me to fill out a long form so I thought that was more hassle than it was worth. I also thought about visiting some drop in centers where I had referred people. I even wondered about applying for a job at the centers.
But those were not the right places. I remembered that my favorite type of volunteering was at food pantries. I was in such a state of burn out that all I wanted to do with people’s problems was to help them get some food and send them on their way.
I made some inquiries about a downtown pantry that the First Unitarian Society co-sponsors and got almost immediate responses. They would welcome a new volunteer without paperwork. Great. However on the second day of becoming the perfect volunteer I happened to meet someone who recognized me. And then I saw her I realized we had been friends who went our separate ways a few years ago. We only spoke for a short time but it was exciting to learn that she was working again, going to school and feeling pretty good. She was considering taking the certification test to become a peer specialist.
As excited as I was to hear about my friend working on her life, I soon discovered that I should go back to work. Find a new place where I could use my talents in a different way. I started on my recovery towards work.
The Black Lives Matter Committee at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee which I chair, manged to have a successful event on Nov. 18th. We had a screening of The Blood is at the Doorstep which tells the story of the killing of Dontre Hamilton by Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney on April 30, 2014. The Black community arose in protest and people from across Milwaukee including the Unitarian Universalists joined in solidarity. This movement achieved many positive results including the firing of Officer Manney, a commitment by Mayor Tom Barrett that police would undergo 40 hours of training to help them better understand how to deal with persons who were living with a mental illness. In addition the City of Milwaukee made a $2.3 million settlement with the Hamilton family after they filed a lawsuit. However, neither the District Attorney John Chisholm nor US Department of Justice filed charges in the case against Manney and he was later awarded disability based upon the stress that the shooting had caused him.
The story was well known throughout the community and the movie has been shown several times since its premier at the Milwaukee Film Festival in 2017. However, there is still interest in learning more about what people could do to assist the Mothers United For Justice, an organization which Maria Hamilton, Dontre’s mother, founded. News of the event took place through word of and Facebook. Black Lives Matter successfully recruited three co-sponsors: Mothers Against Gun Violence, Mothers For Gun Sense and Progressive Mothers of Wisconsin.
I chaired the event and helped recruit the sponsors. Maria Hamilton was the featured speaker and spoke about her goal of being able to mentor parents like herself who lost loved ones to police violence. Mary Devitt, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, spoke of her commitment to finding justice for the Hamiltons. Khary Penebaker of Mothers For Gun Sense spoke at the event. He detailed his experience as the son of a mother who had committed suicide with a gun. People from the co-sponsoring groups contributed a lot to the success while coping with illnesses and injuries. Like the song said, I get by with a little help from my friends.
I looked at the world through the curious eyes of a young African boy seeking to understand the world. As children we are told to keep our hands to ourselves, to be honest and respectful. We are supposed to wait until it is our turn to speak and to answer questions as fully as possible. A child would look at the picture of the snarling Brett Kavanaugh and wonder if he or she had been deceived. That in fact we get ahead by becoming angry, making baseless accusations and not answering questions at all. How was it that Kavanaugh transformed from being calm, polite and judicial into a Republican party operative from one week to the next. It was clear given the speed with which Republicans produced lists of his supposed long time friends that they had expected to hear about Kavanaugh’s past. The idea that he kept his appointment books from years ago was unbelievable. What purpose would it serve?
Would I want to be judged according to what I did 30 years ago? Why not? I was in mm mid 30s and had completed bachelor’s and master’s degree and started my professional career as a librarian. It was a brief career but the things I learned enabled me to adapt to the changing environment and explore different careers. And I am happy to report that I had completed high school and college without committing any sexual assaults. I never found that I needed to drug girls and I seldom found that getting drunk improved my ability to enjoy myself.
Once I experienced having the room spinning around from being drunk I learned my lesson pretty quickly. I thought about Kavanaugh portraying himself some kind of young innocent and laughed. I remembered that I was in a hurry to find a woman to have sex with as soon as possible after I finished high school. I had been warned by my family not to get a girl in trouble in the days before Roe v Wade. I learned to resist doing things that I did not understand and that would have had long-term consequences. Several years ago I met up with an old girl friend from high school and relived the memory I had buried in which I had angrily left her after I learned she had become pregnant after we broke up. I also learned she had overcome struggles with alcohol and had been sexually assaulted.
My proudest moments of my youth were of marching in various cities for peace, racial equality and justice as a member of several different political groups. Although I am not proud of everything I did I am glad and aware of boundaries I did not cross. I have seen some statements by people who suggest things that Kavanaugh should have said as an apology in explaining his behavior as a youth. He was not a big enough man to say them. Instead he became the man who showed most clearly why he should never be appointed to the Supreme Court. If it was in my power I would impeach and remove him from the federal court altogether.
Our church has a history of attempts to create more racial diversity and the most recent was in response to the events from 2 years ago which exposed the dominance of white supremacy in Unitarian Universalism. I found that I was not seeing this white supremacy all around me. I just thought, oh that’s how the services are supposed to be. Oh they haven’t been able to hire African-Americans. I was strangely distant from the few African-Americans who I saw due to my introversion.
Last week there was an event conversation across differences which offered an opportunity to talk. One interesting aspect was that there was a small group set aside for people of color. I participated in this group which was more diverse than one would have expected. There were four of us and I was the oldest. Two people were bi-racial in very different ways. While I cannot divulge what we discussed I can say that it made me think about the ways in which my introversion was preventing me from becoming as effective as I believed I could be.
I retired from work recently which gave me more time to pursue committee work. We have a very exciting project underway to develop and submit a grant proposal to a fund created within the church. Our project would provide resources to a small struggling organization which assists mothers whose children have been murdered. I see the project as something I could be involved with in a way that will allow me to overcome my interpersonal problems while aiding the community. I am quietly optimistic that by learning how different African-Americans can be, I will be a better person and a better leader.
If there was ever a song that changed my life it was Young Gifted and Black. I heard the version by Aretha Franklin which was the title track of an album in 1969. I was graduating from high school and going through a lot of changes. I was depressed, becoming more politically radical, facing the Vietnam war and wanting to surround myself with more black people. I was trying to decide which college to attend. There was St. Bonaventure a local Catholic university or Howard in Washington, a traditionally black institution. I was also struggling with depression and my role as a support for my younger brother. i was desperately in love with a woman I had met at a campaign headquarters a few blocks from our family’s house. And there was Aretha and young gifted and black. And I knew that somehow I would survive even if my brother did not.
Since that time I have attempted to live up to the vision of that teenager I still have some years to go, maybe even 20 or more years. What surprises me is that this seems to be a song that most impacted the baby boom generation. Music has changed. Maybe one of younger performers has already created the song for this generation and I have yet to hear it. But I will be listening. She told us “yours is the quest that’s just begun.” There are new quests out there.
Well this is quite a shock. I had expected to keep on working at the same place because the money was good and it would pay for the things I enjoyed. But suddenly I decided no I could not. It is the end of the week in which I simply walked away. My work phone only rang a couple of times. I am facing the usual problems of the newly retired wondering what to do and how to manage a schedule. There are a couple of meetings next week I could attend but they are in the evening. I talked today about the things I enjoyed: I had volunteered years ago at a literacy center for adults. I also though about getting exercise. I noticed that I had a surprising lack of energy although with a brief rest I was able to keep going. I saw an enjoyable photo exhibit that reminded me of my family. Well so long youth.
The third phase of life begins just before retirement and includes the lose of one’s siblings, the death of your spouse and the separation from one’s work colleagues. That is where I am at now. I discovered, much to my surprise, that I am at the age where I can collect full social security benefits. I was also told that I may be losing one of my siblings sooner than I had expected. And I cried off and on. It is difficult to have someone as your main support over almost 70 years and then face the possibility that person may no longer be around. In pre-retirement, collecting social security while still working seemed appropriate. Paying off bills and creating new investments while paying off debts seems like a realistic plan. I expect to live well into my 80s so I need a means of making money that won’t involve working all those years. I don’t intend to be anyone’s Walmart greeter. I will be working on the computer and talking with retirement experts to make this happen.