Bucking tradition

We may have walked into the party like we were walking onto a yacht, but that wind shifted quickly when one of the suburban cowboys told my girlfriend he wanted to turn her upside down and lick her like an ice cream cone. Any notion of propriety vanished when one of the older “it girls” peed in the bathtub and told us she would kill us if we told anyone. That party and its accompanying commentary, would serve as my introduction to Hank Williams, Jr. and many future rousing renditions of “Well I have loved some ladies, and I have loved Jim Beam. And they both tried to kill me, back in 1973.”

Why does Hank drink and roll smoke? Alcoholism is the likely answer, yet disease makes for a far less zippy song title than “Family Tradition,” still on my iPod after all these years. Traditions, like secrets, can make us miserable, or simply no longer serve us, so in the spirit of the season, it’s time to retire a few, especially in light of the great big ball about to drop and usher in a shiny new year. If Nigeria can ban female genital mutilation, and Saudi women can vote, we ought to be able to amend election law to appoint, rather than elect judges and get rid of that wiggly, gelatin-in-it, runny, frozen fruit salad on our bread plates at Christmas once and for all.

Traditions that make sense now could very well wear out their welcome later, and it’s up to us to stay loose enough to edit them according to what works. My family went from lavish Christmases with four Christmas trees and presents under each in our home and a celebration and gifts in two other homes, to a meal on Christmas and a movie at the Kentucky Theatre. Life may indeed offer its own terms, but nobody said we couldn’t make a few alterations here and there.

Eyedia owner Martha Neal Cooke spoke at a seminar I attended probably 20 years ago and shared some powerful words: “If something doesn’t work, change it.” It may take a long, long time and a lot of hard work to make the shift or create a new tradition, or it may come seamlessly as circumstances force it or grace bestows it upon us. The inevitability of it is weaved both into our DNA and into our history. Change is gonna come.

My friend and cohort, Nima Kulkarni, an immigration lawyer, said she thinks the political vitriol and mistruths of the right wing are so pronounced now because it’s the power structure’s recognition of its last days. Instead of focusing heat in its core to keep its organs toasty, and ensure its perpetuation, it has focused its energy on its extremities, in a move sure to hasten its most vital parts shutting down. What the most outspoken Republican candidates’ handlers intended we take away from the “Go Hate” strategy is a vision of an America restored to what it “was.” Their volume has to be deafening to distract us from the death rattle of those in the party that think what “was” is in any way sustainable.
While it’s arguable the civil rights and women’s rights movements simmered change in a crock pot, while gay marriage, or another current social media movement, flash fried it in a pan, the Internet has placed firmly in our faces inequity and injustice and plated it in a nanosecond to be served around the globe. What may have once been deniable, and maybe even excusable to some, is no longer so. Our only question now should be, is the structure we have in place working and if it’s not how do we fix it? We can foment the change, but can we build the infrastructure to make it last?

Deftness and preparedness may be the key to activism in the 21st century for us all to stay on our toes to quickly cure what ails us. A recent public radio story on the international space station featured an interview from one of its astronauts. Water was filling up in his suit, which unknown to him could be potentially life threatening, although, he did know the suit shouldn’t be dripping water from prior trial runs. He told the interviewer his rigorous training saved him as it enabled him to forego panic and move straight into finding the solution to the problem rather than focusing on it.

A local filmmaker friend, while not an astronaut, but an angel to some, focused on the solution and made a new tradition when her beloved godfather, Wick Gregory, died. Every Christmas, she and her mom went to Gregory’s house after they did makeup for over 50 children for a church nativity pageant. Now in their 13th year of their revised family tradition to dress up as elves after the nativity pageant and act as Santa’s helpers at Wayside Christian Mission, Soozie Eastman said, “When confronted with uncomfortable change, it’s within us to find a new way to create happiness for ourselves and others.”

From her lips to the dying power structure’s ears. Somewhere an angel just got its wings.