Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On the Wrong Side of the Tracks (again) -- jcarolek

We lived in a typical suburb in Bowie, MD for much of my young life. We had strict rules, because, at least in those days, it was easier to raise six kids by the RULES than to try to convince them the rules were fair, equitable, yada, yada, yada. One of the rules was "never cross the main highway, Rt. 197." Another rule was "always be within earshot of 'the bell'" Mom rang to call us in. Had we been better at complying with that rule the other would have been unnecessary.

Nevertheless, brothers Dan and Ted wanted to “get something” from the local jiffy store. Getting there, even taking the short cut, required crossing Rt. 197. Off they went, for, I am certain, not the first time. The short cut they took included traversing a rather steep grassy incline at the bottom of which ran the railroad tracks.

Boys of ages 12 and 13 are prone to showing off, and Ted was just such a 12 year old. He decided to demonstrate his skiing prowess. Now, please understand, there was no snow and my brother had never skied. We didn’t have a television, so I have no idea where he got the idea he knew how to ski, but that is a moot point.

Basically, it is my understanding that he essentially ran full tilt down the slope, sliding on muddy patches or something like that. Dan, the elder and wiser, was amused with Ted’s antics right up until Ted reached the bottom, for when he did, he stumbled on the railroad track and fell hard.

Dan was at his brother’s side in a moment. Ted was on his feet, but his eyes rolled up in his head and he keeled over. Dan was left with a dilemma. His brother was clearly hurt, they were both where they were not permitted to play, and there was no easy way to get help.

Dan ran to the J-Mart (their original intended destination) and called the rescue squad. He handled everything, and it was after Ted had been rushed off to the hospital that Dan got to face the music with Mom and Dad. I am unclear how or who informed them.

Ted was seriously injured and spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, with bruised and damaged liver, kidney and spleen. But he recovered and went on to live the rest of his life with much that same spirit that got him into the hospital that day.

You see, our parents knew that those people on the other side of the highway, or the other side of the tracks were not bad people. They knew that they were people just like the rest of us with good and not-so-good qualities. They knew that the danger presented by going to the other side of the tracks was in the journey itself.

As an adult, I am free to go where I please, interact with whom I please, enjoy the goodness of others, no matter whether others can see the goodness in them. I don’t applaud the negative. I don’t presume to know the basis for others' views of each other. I just know there are very few on this earth I will be unable to find something good in. Still the journey back and forth across those, often virtual, tracks can be treacherous.

I appreciate that my parents gave us rules to live by, without burdening us with explanations of why their rules were right. If someone presents me with a challenge of why they are right and I am, therefore, wrong, should I disagree with them, I am, by nature, going to push back and at very least debate their assertions.

I choose to accept that you can be right and so can I and we do not need to agree to both be right. We simply have to understand that right for me does not necessarily equate to right for you. Now, if you catch me on the wrong side of the tracks, virtual or otherwise, know that I am visiting someone whom I find to have something to offer. It does not mean that I think others don’t, it means I think they do. And it does not mean that I think everything they have, is “something to offer.” My parents taught me to be cautious on the journey, but not to stay at home, just to be safe. There is a lot to learn from a lot of unlikely sources. Exploration, challenging what I “know”, and sharing what I “know” so that others might challenge me, are all very important to me. I am most happy, when I learn something new and positive, and I cannot learn these things without crossing a few railroad tracks.

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