Parents of each generation share a common experience – not just the experience of being parents, but the experience of whatever current cultural phenomenon is influencing the formation of their offspring’s character. Since my children were born in 1978 and 1982, I share the Sesame Street of the 80’s with multitudes of parents across the country, if not the world. And whether we are proud to admit it or ashamed to fess up to it, that show and its messages wiggled their way into our children’s psyche. What I realized, as I watched and listened with them, was that this show for children articulated one of my core beliefs better than I ever could. I believe that “My name is You.”
My parents, both school teachers, are dead now so I cannot ask them what cultural phenomenon helped or hindered them as they parented my brother and me. But I can tell you that my folks conveyed the message of equality in word and deed every day. Come into my house on a Saturday morning and no matter who you were or what you did or how much money you made or where you went to school – or didn’t, my dad would invite you to have an Italian Coffee. (I didn’t know that it was Irish coffee until I got to college.) The Ash Man (we lived in Anthracite Coal country) sat down with the Superintendent of Schools at our kitchen table and no one ever thought anything of it. It was not who you were, but how you lived that impressed my parents. Somewhere in all of this I got the message that each of us was just as capable of doing good as we were of succumbing to evil. The seeds of believing that “My name is You” were planted.
Over the last almost 60 years I have had opportunities to do good and to succumb to evil and I have done both. I have learned the importance of constructing boundaries of civility and I have been aghast at how easily I have been able to step right across those boundaries. I have worked to be merciful and just, and have watched myself be cruel and unjust. I have tried to emulate my mother’s generosity and yet, have fallen victim to greed. I do not excuse my bad behavior – nor do I excuse yours.
Because I believe that “My name is You”, I know that neither of us is above the other. I know that each of us is capable of great things and that each of us is capable of the unspeakable. I know that essentially we are the same, that “My name is You” and that there is no distance between us.
Here are just a few lines from that Sesame Street song…
I live in southern France.
I’m from a Texas ranch.
I come from Mecca and Peru.
I live across the street,
In the mountains, on a beach.
I come from everywhere
And my name is you.
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