I’ve been a witness to two struggles in life that made me wonder how I would have responded and acted.
The first of these struggles was the blossoming of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. I became very concerned about civil rights while still in high school. At summer camps, I worked and played with other black and white workers. It gave me a close up look at the similarities between races, far more than the differences.
We worked, we played, we drank, and we watched Joe Louis fight Billy Conn. We went down to Harlem to celebrate Joe Louis’ victory.
As I read of the plight of the Southern Negro, I became more and more concerned. In 1952, I jumped at the chance to transfer to the University of Connecticut to join Beta Sigma Gamma, an intercultural fraternity I’ve described in blogs (3/6/13 and 6/12/13).
That was an exhilarating experience and I thought just maybe I was making a contribution to the very beginning of the civil rights of all Americans. History has shown otherwise, but at that time we felt we were striking a move for equality.
Then came the 60’s. There were several events. The first that created national attention was the Freedom Riders in 1961.
They were people of all colors, predominantly white, who went to some of the states in the Deep South to assist in registering black people to vote and to assist in other matters—some got beaten and some died.
They were effective in calling attention to the problems, but many paid a price.
Then in 1965 came the events in Selma, Alabama, so well depicted in the recent film “Selma.” Martin Luther King, Jr. led a series of marches, which created national T.V. exposure of harsh police tactics and eventually led President Johnson to get the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed.
It was a seminal moment in the struggle for equality.
Through all these events in the 60’s, I was the married father of three small children, struggling to carve out a living in Phoenix, Arizona.
Had all this happened when I was in or just out of college, would I have become a Freedom Rider or joined the marches in Selma? I don’t know for sure, but I wonder, I wonder.
The Second Struggle—Advancing Age Requirements
My brother-in-law, Al, had to stop teaching at Columbia University because of his diminished voice capacity due to cancer. He forged a life built around writing as well as travel and social activities with my sister.
In 1991, my sister lost her battle with colon cancer. Al became a reluctant widower. He stayed in their comfortable Valley Stream home for a number of years and then moved near his daughter in Larchmont (Westchester, N.Y.).
He maintained an active life, playing golf, poker and bridge, and was a regular at the track to play the ponies.
This went on until he was 85, when he developed bladder cancer. The treatments went on for quite awhile. During this time, he was forced to give up golf and gradually decrease his other activities as well. This was noticeably depressing. It reached a point in 2009 where he was not really able to live alone.
With some urging from his children, he moved to a beautiful Hyatt Senior Residence overlooking the Hudson River. It had everything, but he hated it and became more depressed. He refused to participate in any of their activities, and the depression deepened.
So, now the question: How would I fare in those circumstances? I have a decided advantage at the moment. I have a partner who is supportive and very conscious of our advancing frailties. It doesn’t stop me from pondering a question I don’t want to have to face.
I’ve had a good life—interesting and, in some ways, adventurous. I have few regrets (another blog sometime) and am anxious and eager to try to live out my remaining years as active as possible.
The question remains though. If I was alone and had to move into a senior living arrangement, would I maintain my normal positive attitude or I would become as depressed and be a hermit like my brother-in-law? I don’t know, but I wonder!