My dad (he died too young at 69 years old in 2002) was a letter writer. He sent letters to the editor- often to the hometown paper (The Big Stone Gap Post) and The Catholic Virginian (a newspaper out of the Diocese of Richmond distributed in Catholic churches throughout the state.) He entered the public forum with an open mind and looked forward to the response of readers.
He wrote a letter after my mother and he attended the annual Columbus Day mass held at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on the one year anniversary of 9/11. I watched him weep as firemen from Italy marched up the aisle in their gear to honor the memory of their brothers, fellow firemen, in America. A few weeks later my dad would die, but before he did, he put his feelings down on paper.
His final letter to the editor was his most heartfelt. He wrote that any worries he had about his country and his church were assuaged after the Columbus Day mass. He felt confident about the future and the decency of the young people who would shape it.
Typically, his letters were acts of defiance and civil disobedience. He tackled themes employers and workers could agree upon: unnecessary tax burdens, government waste and the oppression of creativity and new ideas by bureaucracy. He was green when it wasn’t a given. There was always a bit of humor or a cryptic turn of phrase that had the readers conversing about what he meant. There were less subtle messages that included: get involved. Don’t put your destiny in the hands of a bunch of politicians and chuckleheads- pitch in. Let your voice be heard. His sign off: I don’t ask you to agree with me, just think about it.
These days my dad’s invitation to debate would be met with silence. If we know in advance that we are going to disagree with someone, we clam up. We stop communicating because we can’t imagine that we could ever win the person over to our way of thinking with facts. I remember when a good argument expanded my knowledge and opened my mind and heart. Now, we avoid them. We stick with the folks who think as we do- which is a shame. There’s room for growth no matter what you believe. There are subjects that are now taboo. Nobody, and I mean nobody wants to talk about politics. Even when you find someone who agrees with your point of view, you never go wide with it, you whisper. Conversation would become too heated, and nobody wants that after a friendless, loveless, isolated and lonely pandemic.