For the last couple of months, I have been staying in the house where I grew up, sleeping in the same bedroom that was mine for 18 years, before I went away to college. Back in December, I purchased a house that needs some restoration, and until a few items can be completed, I’m enjoying spending some time living at my original home with my mother.
My move from my small downtown Corinth apartment began in late February and ended in early March, after which I immediately boarded a flight to Austin, Texas the first weekend of the month. Not long after I returned, the world changed. The pandemic was about to be in full swing, having finally migrated to the U.S. In mid-March, following my air travel, I was mildly ill for over a week and, in fact, was tested for coronavirus antibodies this past week, which, fortunately, or perhaps, unfortunately, ended up being negative.
Thus, it has been an unusual spring season for me. It has been comforting in some ways to go to sleep and wake up in the same place where I did for so many formative years. However, this week, I lay awake one morning, thinking about how the world seems so drastically different in these last few weeks, especially in the midst of a spate of senseless violence in the wake of the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.
The current events and my temporary living situation cued me back to the world in which I grew up, which, in some ways, seems a million miles away from this one. In those days, essentially the entire decade of the 1980s, I had both my mother and father, who were two of the best parents in the world. I felt protected. It was a time of innocence, of riding one’s bicycle on dusty gravel roads and playing hide-and-seek until dark under the umbrella of fragrant mimosa blooms.
That era, too, was an unusual time politically. I remember it through my own particular childhood lens, of course. When I was in first grade, a cowboy who wanted to “make America great again” was inaugurated president, and my father, who remembered his acting days, wasn’t at all fond of him. Every night we watched Walter Cronkite, and then later Dan Rather, to catch the tenor of things in the world. I recall revolution and civil war in El Salvador, resistance and solidarity in Poland, and the fear and loathing of the potential USSR “red line” of Russia.
However, in school, I also recall the instilling of the idea that we had overcome much of the racism of a few decades before, in this same Jim Crow South, where, because of my lack of years, I have no recollection of separate facilities for African Americans. The ads in magazines for a thin, glamour-inspiring brand of cigarettes – with willowy, fashionable models – urged us to believe that women had “come a long way, baby.” Our history books implied that all of those protests of prior times had helped solve the turmoil of inequality in America.
Since that time, I made that necessary transition from innocence to experience, leaving that pastoral world of childhood naiveté, and I have learned that the adult world can be a darker one of corruption and repression. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle and ubiquitous social media platforms, though, I wonder if the world has truly gotten crazier, or if the populace simply knows more about certain events than we used to know when we had only daily newspapers and 30 minutes of the evening news to relay the information to us in my childhood days.
At present, it seems as though we might be thrust into some sort of time warp, a revisit from the early 20th century, when the Spanish influenza was raging in 1918 – with a bit of the mid-20th century sprinkled into it, not unlike the 1950s or 60s, where we witnessed violence against people based on nothing more than skin color. Further, as much as Phillip Morris may have wanted us to believe from their Virginia Slims cigarette ads, maybe we haven’t come as far as we thought. Come November, we will still have two aged white men duking it out to see who can become president – circling back to almost any other previous presidential election in America.
We are always reminded, of course, in school that history is cyclical. Thus, as I think back over the past and my childhood experiences, perhaps it is. I was reminded this week of a quote from African American writer James Baldwin, who said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be faced until it is changed.” I found that statement from Baldwin, who faced great adversity in his life for more than one reason, to be apropos.
One day maybe we will be able to surmount not only our present epidemiological challenges that impact the physical body, but we should all look closely inside ourselves, reaching toward the depth of our empathies, knowing that we can do better when it comes to the perceptions and treatment of other people. I’d like to see one day that we have truly come a long way – but obviously we are not there yet.
Daily Corinthian columnist Stacy Jones teaches English at McNairy Central High School and UT-Martin. She will be serving as a Tennessee Education Leaders Fellow this summer for the Tennessee Department of Education in Nashville and has worked as an independent assessment consultant and educational curriculum writer. She enjoys being a downtown Corinth resident.