By Bruddah Hank
Hello everyone. My friends call me Bruddah Hank, and I’m a study in contradictions. I’m sure some psychiatrist would have a field day diagnosing me with cognitive dissonance, a stressful condition that’s caused when you attempt to hold two contradictory opinions or logical proofs. I was raised as a Christian, but I’m genetically Jewish, and as an adult, I go to both a Christian Church and a Synagogue (where my heart is, is the subject for another day). I’m a conscientious objector with a concealed carry license. I do my cowardly best to avoid dangerous situations or conflicts, but I once stayed in church to put out a fire while everyone else fled and, another time, stepped in, fists flying, when I saw an adult trying to abduct a child in the streets. I guess I’m a man of peace, reluctant but ready for war.
When I read the news about senseless violence, I feel despondent and depressed, but then I look up and see clouds that look like cities or catch a baby in a stroller, giving me the most beautiful smile an innocent can conjure up. My dark mood dissolves in a flash.
I’ve been told I make people around me crazy because they can’t figure out when I stand. Today, I open a small corner of the broiling contradictions that is my heart. I hope that at the end of this article, some may be willing to give an opening to “the other side.”
“The other side.” How I hate that term. As a child, I lived on “the other side.” I looked like I belonged on that side, but the outlook and the expectations never took. I actually never realized how bad “my side” was until much later. My teachers never taught me that I belonged on a certain side. My parents never spoke about being on “the other side.” My friends and I never decided as to which side we belonged. These things are either learned much later or taught by adults. As I child, my hopes were for ice cream at Carvels or the arrival of the chemistry set I’d purchased with my allowance savings. I hated cleaning day at my house as it would smell like Clorox and Pine Sol, and welcomed the chance to play outside. My world was filled with cartoon characters, and although my community was, in reality, unsafe, dirty, and dangerous, I was safe in my bubble. Later, I learned to avoid the stairways, identify potential muggers, and run like the wind if danger was about. I also learned how to fight, tie a necktie, play a bass, and even speak French (sixth grade). For a kid from one of the worst ghettos in 1970s NYC, Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Sty) seemed like the best place in the world to live.
We all have read about the goings on at the Hernando School District. It feels like a war has just been declared, and as I read the different opinions and “sides,” an appeal is being made to make up our minds and choose a side. Both “sides” have passionate speakers. Each side paints the other as evil, and both claim to have not only moral high ground but the best interests of the children. I have seen how brutal and cruel each side can be, and the more vicious the attack, the better. My heart breaks.
My boss is gay, and I love him with all my heart. He adopted two children whom no one would take in and raised them to be good kids. We would both complain about how our kids wouldn’t eat their vegetables and, later on, how to get them off their darn cell phones. His husband is a good man, but he won’t do the dishes (neither does my wife), and we commiserate about how we, being the bigger breadwinners, still have to do most of the chores around the house. He says I’d make a wonderful gay husband, and I tell him that women dream of having a man like him around.
What does my religion say about homosexuality? It says to love my neighbor as myself. Oh yes, I have an opinion about whether I want topics of a sexual nature taught to my children (well, hopefully, grandchildren someday), and I wish a compromise could be reached where these topics could be introduced when these matters become important, but I also feel that the goals of schools are to impart knowledge and rules of the road for dealing with other humans.
I had a classmate in fifth grade who would not recite the pledge of allegiance, and one day when I asked my teacher about it, he said, “Her religion believes that making oaths, even good ones, is not a good thing for them. We have to respect that.” Years later, I learned she was a Jehovah’s Witness. I respected her determination to honor her religious beliefs, and my school made provisions for her.
The time has come for us to realize that perhaps we may not understand “the other side,” and they may not understand our position, but we all love the kids, we all want them to be ready for life, and we want what’s best for them.
Starting from that vantage point, the best side may lie a little bit on both ends of the debate. Perhaps I’m confused, perhaps I don’t see things the right way or am forgetting valuable religious teachings, but I can’t forget how my broccoli bread recipe solved my issue and my boss’s issue with getting our kids to eat vegetables.
“Bruddah Hank” was born in Brooklyn, but has lived all over the US and abroad. A deeply spiritual man yet circumspect person, he learned the most valuable lesson at the feet of a Hawaiian Kupuna: time is the only gift that can never be taken away. Spend it wisely.
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