The inspirations for this blog come from a variety of sources. Most often they come from my muse…. my wife Sandy. As a weekend approaches I typically ask her for a blog idea and she will rattle off a slew of topics. Sometimes I don’t need to ask… a story is of such importance that I have a moral responsibility to talk about it. Other times a court case, or an impending piece of legislation, requires my attention. Then there are the other times when there is so much, or so little, to talk about that I find myself struggling for direction. This is when Sandy invariably comes to my aid.
Something akin to this happened last week at a Costco of all places.
While we were in Sedona, Sandy’s sister had agreed to “guinea pig sit” for us. When Chaney was home from West Point during the “Covid Closure” she decided to buy a “pet”. Since a new dog was out of the question, she settled on a guinea pig. She named the beast Covi and for weeks the two bonded, as only a budding Army Officer and a South American rodent can do. Then she left again for West Point leaving us to care for and feed the pig.
My sister-in-law and her family live near Anaheim Hills, so on our way back from Sedona we were going to stop by and pick up the newest member of our family and bring him back home. Since we arrived early we decided to swing by the Costco off the 91 Freeway and reminisce about free samples of food.
As we were walking in, I asked Sandy what I should write about and she began thinking. As I waited for her response, I saw a “gentleman” walking through the parking lot completely clad in black, wearing a full face gas mask and biker gloves with built in polymer knuckles. Across his chest was the now familiar “Black Lives Matter”. Through his gas mask it was completely apparent that he was Caucasian.
The Costco worker looking at ID cards happened to be an older African American. We showed him our card as the gentleman behind us was quickly approaching.
“Hey Bro!” the protester sans protest exclaimed to the card checker.
“Hey,” he said in a muffled dismissive tone.
“Black Lives Matter, Bro!”
“Yeah,” he said under his breath. Evidently he did not share the same enthusiasm for either the message or the messenger.
Dejected, the political billboard walked into Costco. I assume he was looking for a greater degree of solidarity than he received.
Sandy watched these events with me, and calmly said…”You don’t need me for this one… you have the subject of the blog.”
She was right… sort of. While this did inspire me, there was a deeper context she brought up that I felt nailed it on the head.
“You should also talk about your hunt with Arthur, and how this ties into the idea of presupposed cultural identity.”
(If you have arrived here from our newsletter, continue reading here…)
The hunt she is referring to was a wild boar hunt I went on with Carolyn, my older daughter, when she was 12 years old.
We had gone to Tejon Ranch and we were both set to take a wild boar each. This was to be her second big game hunt.
The ranch accommodated its hunters in communal cabins. Each night all of the hunters and guides would sit around the table and eat dinner together under the watchful eyes of the taxidermy that decorated the hunting lodge.
Two of the hunters in attendance were an older gentleman and his wife. For the purposes of anonymity I will call him “Arthur,” which is not his real name, but I do feel the need to protect his identity as you will soon see.
During the day as we were checking in we met Arthur and his wife. They were an affable couple. Both had strong German accents and were probably in their seventies at the time. Arthur’s wife was far more reserved than Arthur, who immediately introduced himself to Carolyn and me and was extremely warm and encouraging of a father / daughter hunting team. Arthur and his wife did not have children, and were pleased to see I was passing on my love of hunting to the next generation.
While we were on our first hunt my guide turned to me and asked me if I had met Arthur before. I told him I had not.
“Oh… he comes here at least twice a year. He is a good guy… but there is something you should know about him.”
“What is that?”
“His father was a very high-ranking Nazi in WWII Germany.”
I instantly felt a combination of dread and guilt. While Carolyn is my daughter, she is my adopted daughter. When I married Sandy I also adopted Carolyn who came from Sandy’s first marriage. Sandy’s ex-husband was Korean as well. While Carolyn has many of my idiosyncrasies and mannerisms, there is no mistaking that she is Asian.
Had I put my daughter into a potentially uncomfortable position? Would the fact that I am Jewish cause some sort of social disturbance at the lodge that night? Once I was told who Arthur’s father was, I instantly recognized him from history. He was a particularly famous Nazi and definitely part of Hitler’s “inner circle”. I was also vociferously angry. How many lives had been lost because of his father’s philosophy and work? What type of responsibility did I owe to those voices that had long been silenced?
This was supposed to be a pleasant hunting trip for Carolyn and myself… now it had turned into an unwanted “situation”.
That night at dinner Arthur sat next to me, not by design… it just turned out that way. He was as affable as he had been when we first met and continued to dote on Carolyn happily asking her how her afternoon hunt had gone. Carolyn had no idea who this man was and regaled him with her story of spotting a group of pigs.
Arthur could sense my discomfort.
He looked at me with silence, studying my face and I saw a genuine sadness in his eyes.
“You know who my father is, no?”
“I do.” I said curtly.
“Steven, my father and I are two different men. I am not him. I cannot apologize for what he did for I cannot apologize for the actions of others. I am only responsible for myself.” With that he looked quietly down at his napkin in his lap.
I sat back and looked at this man who was both troubled and embarrassed. He held this baggage that he was never complicit in picking up. I, on the other hand, was being both rude and unreasonable. I was literally condemning this man for the sins of his father.
“Arthur, I am the one who owes you an apology.”
“Oh no, Steven! You don’t, I should have told you…”
“No, Arthur just as you have no ability to apologize for the actions of your father, you have no responsibility to acknowledge your ancestry to every stranger you meet. I am the one who has engaged in prejudice. You seem like a good, decent man, Arthur. Thank you for dining with me and making Carolyn feel special.”
Arthur smiled at me and reached out his hand to mine. “Steven, it is good to eat and hunt with you. I think we are going to be good friends. This dinner alone is evidence of the enduring power of good. My father and his cronies sought to destroy and dominate; one generation later we sit here in this hunting lodge, a Jew, his Korean daughter, and the son of a Nazi enjoying each other’s friendship. This,” he said waiving his hands around the table, “is the ultimate repudiation of my father’s disgusting philosophy.”
Arthur and I stayed in contact long after that hunt. When we opened up Artemis the first “congratulatory flower arrangement” to arrive came from him.
Something I learned from Arthur, and it is visceral knowledge, is that individuals need to be judged as individuals. The actions of our ancestors for good or for bad, have no bearing on the strength of our own individual humanity.
That political protester who saw the African American ID checker at Costco fundamentally does not understand this. I suspect many of the aggrieved, on both sides of this great national crisis, do not comprehend the fundamental truth of this. We, as individuals, have a unique dignity that makes us worthy of our humanity. As members of a collective, we lose that identity and, by extension, the very thing that rises us up above simple animals.
This is not a novel epiphany.
When Angelica…(her nome de guerre is “Seraphim” for a reason)… was proofreading my blog she pointed out a connection to Ezekiel 18:20…
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.