Let go of history and grudges

Published 10:23 am Friday, December 23, 2016

First contact with strangers often results in awkward or uncomfortable feelings.  Such was the case this week when I met someone for the first time. I  had gone to a lady’s home on an errand. While there, she introduced me to her son.

I commented that I was sorry he had to live in the cold in Wisconsin, and he answered that we have too much hot weather in the South.  That was okay, so I went out to my car to get the rest of what I was delivering. My new acquaintance followed me out to my car. When he got there, he said something about too many people buying Japanese cars.  My car is a Honda Element.  (Should I have mentioned that for some “foreign” cars, more of them is made in the USA than elsewhere? For instance, another Honda, the Accord is 81 percent American made, and the Chrysler 200 is 76 percent. That probably would not have mellowed his anger.)

Nothing appropriate came to mind as a response so I said nothing.  Almost without a breath he told me that he never bought Japanese products.

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“They bombed Pearl Harbor.  I’m a veteran.”

“Semper Fi” came to my lips, but I said nothing.

He went back inside with the stuff I had brought while I got in the car and left.

The exchange bothered me for a while.  A simple Thank You would have been fine, but to find myself suddenly in an exchange or political prejudices was unsettling.  Frankly,

I don’t give much time thinking about where products are made.  Perhaps I should.  Opposition to various products crop up now and again, protesting the poor treatment of workers who make them. Should I avoid watching tennis matches on television when fans cheering for one team are waving white flags with a big red ball in the middle?  Pointing out a “meatball” flag is sure to elicit a “What are you talking about?”   Am I supposed to remember the war’s atrocities?  Should a Volkswagon passing by elicit a raised fist?  Do I then again lament the gas chambers and storm troopers?

What bothered me about the exchange over my ugly little car was the spontaneous tension it caused.  And since those few moments, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering when we should let the past go, stop holding old grudges like the Hatfields and McCoys.

When China comes to mind, the problem is more convoluted.  During the war China was on our side, but now that Eastern power seems poised against us.   Of course, holding most of the IOU’s from our government and exporting a huge portion of everything we consume in our country, China holds some powerful cards.

Perhaps it’s not so sad that kids learn little history anymore.  And now that it’s become fashionable to erase vestiges of times and events that offend some people, we’ll end up with a homogenized culture that encompasses everything and thus stands for nothing.

TJ Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.