My 81-year-old mom died on Jan. 5, 2021, ending her brief yet intense ordeal with cancer. On Jan. 6, the U.S. Capitol exploded in mob rage: My face contorted into an Edvard Munch scream while viewing cable news. Mom's funeral ceremony and cremation occurred on Jan. 7, and I performed her last rites in Sanskrit with the able assistance of a Hindu priest surrounded by family in a COVID-restricted environment. These were three achingly surreal days in Columbus, Ohio, then, and now in retrospect.
A salve that helped this loyal citizen deal with both shocks to his system were the words and remembrance of Sen. Robert Kennedy, who, upon arriving in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968, being informed of MLK's assassination and cautioned not to speak publicly, proceeded anyway, grounding his ameliorative remarks around Aeschylus' apt poetry:
"He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God."
Kennedy movingly commented on the need for unity in the country, and as many commentators have noted, Indianapolis was the rare city that did not erupt in riots that night. No politician rose to this level on Jan. 6, 2021, to calm a disoriented and still disbelieving nation. And from insider testimony, it appears our resident Caesar watched the mayhem with appreciation and a wink and a nod to his fans, a confident archfiend comforted by John Milton's aphorism that it is "better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven": a paradise lost indeed.
Me? I am left with the memories and ashes of my dear mother, but hopefully not of the beloved country, "the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Arvind Subramanian, Eden Prairie
"I'm so damn old, I was there as well," said President Joe Biden about the civil rights era in his Jan. 11 speech in Atlanta ("Biden targets filibuster on voting"). I'm a bit younger, so I watched on TV when Freedom Riders were discovered murdered, John Lewis was beaten and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Following much death and destruction, we got legislation and progress. It was enough progress and lasted long enough to lull most of us into believing it was permanent. Who imagined after all these years that states like Georgia would so quickly regress to cementing power for one group by legislating obstacles for so many others.
What has already happened in Republican state legislatures is destroying America's claim to be a democracy. We're barely in that club thanks to the greedy and power-hungry folks who captured the Grand Old Party, the party of my parents. It's no longer a trusted partner in governing.
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris made fine speeches. I hope the Democrats in the Senate take their words to heart and "restore the institution" to one that can and will pass laws to protect every citizen's right to vote. The voting rights proposals continue to be popular with voters across party lines. Let's not look for votes from GOP senators. They've stopped listening to their voters.
Clara McIver, Plymouth
Learning must begin sooner
"Through no fault of their own, these children were born into poverty and lack the [early] learning opportunities other children are getting," argue Sondra Samuels and Ken Powell in "Our kids can't wait for Congress" (Opinion Exchange, Jan. 10). Many of us white privileged folks have cast about trying to figure out what contribution we can make to dismantling the systemic bias that prevents full participation by all Americans. Samuels and Powell lay out an exceptional opportunity.
Much effort has been put into K-12 programs to address Minnesota's one-of-the-worst-in-the-nation achievement gaps between white students and people of color, with only incremental returns to date. However, considerable research convincingly demonstrates the effectiveness of quality programming long before K-12, which is no surprise since science shows that 80% of children's brain growth occurs by age 3; 90% by age 5. Minnesota has rich community nonprofit programs that pair high-quality early learning with parent coaching and empowerment (e.g. Samuels' Northside Achievement Zone Family Academy).
Samuels, Powell and research on closegapsby5.org make the undeniable case that strengthening these programs and providing access to them for low-income parents and children are investments with huge payoffs for individuals, communities, schools and business. If we want to put money where our mouths — and hearts — are, let's urge our legislators to invest, now, in early learning.
Rich Cowles, Eagan
Why are we blaming the problem of kids' mental health entirely on COVID? No doubt COVID has contributed, but what about seeing a man with a knee on his neck taking his last breath and dying? What about all of the violent political rhetoric they have been exposed to? Continued school shootings? What about seeing in real time the mass attack on the U.S. Capitol where they saw fellow citizens attacking law enforcement, calling out to kill/hang elected officials in an attempt to overturn our election? What about hearing that the insurrection on our Capitol was just a friendly protest or that it didn't even happen when clearly they saw it with their own eyes? What about that every time they go for a car ride, they now have to worry about getting carjacked? What about hearing over and over that all police officers are bad, that we shouldn't trust them and that we should defund them?
Don't these things also impact not just children's mental health, but all of ours? Everyone is tired of COVID and the tremendous amount of death and destruction it has caused. But there are additional crises causing poor mental health in our children. We can easily reduce COVID's impact by significantly increasing vaccination rates. It won't be so easy to reduce the impact of the other issues.
Vicki Pond, St. Louis Park
Let's not mock fellow humans
Opinion pieces like the one published online by Michael Hiltzik ("Mocking some anti-vaxxers' deaths is necessary," StarTribune.com, Jan. 11) concern me. I'm reluctant to label anyone (including myself), but for the record, I am a vaxxed and boosted liberal who lives in the Twin Cities. But I firmly believe (and try to act upon) the principle that all human beings deserve respect, whether I like them or not and whether I agree with what they do or don't do. Once I begin to consider someone as less valuable than me, I have entered into the savage downward spiral that shreds the fabric of our civilization. By all means, hold people accountable for their choices, but never use accountability as a tool to demean the inherent worth and dignity of a person.
Whether we like each other or not, whether we agree with each other or not, the fact remains that we are, in a very real way, all in this together. As Leanne Betasamosake Simpson says in her book "Noopiming" we "must practice being an ear of corn, not a kernel."
Tom Ehlinger, Bloomington
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