In New York, where I come from, we are always told that the two taboo subjects of conversation in bars is religion and politics. This blog will break both rules. For anyone who is offended by this I apologize.
I recently wrote a short story for an anthology. First let me recommend the anthology which can be found here. It contains a number of stories from some excellent writers. There is another related anthology with “dark” stories, including horror and mysteries.
What happened is that one of the readers commented that he felt that my story had provided him an excellent way of dealing with the differences between people in a constructive way. The story takes place in New York City during the holidays and takes on the omnipresent issue of “What you can’t do because someone will be offended”. We’ve all watched the parade of news stories about court buildings being asked to remove the Ten Commandments, high school football teams being asked not to pray before games, the “politically incorrect” Christmas decorations seen over the walls of work cubicles.
What has fascinated me since the beginning of this onslaught is the evasive “person who takes offense”. I can’t think of more than a few instances where a live person is identified as the person who is offended. It is a mystery, and a disturbing one, that does a lot to cast doubt on the claims that this is a problem in the first place. There is pure ignorance in this campaign of intolerance. I have been amused and amazed when someone implies that the Ten Commandments in a court building may offend non-Christians, something I’ve heard several times on television news. The Ten commandments. Old Testament? Jews? You get the idea.
In the story “Test of Faith” a company is saddled with a politically correct HR manager who begins her reign by targeting employees who have religious holiday paraphernalia on their desks. Here is where the story takes a turn that readers might not expect. In New York City people make lifelong friends that are not of their faith or race. This is not what people used to call “Pollyanna peace” where people of different backgrounds join together to make a political point about how things should be. In New York people make friends with people of other races and ethnicities that rise to the level of family, lasting for decades.
This is something I have experienced personally. What you might ask is how people deal with strongly held religious beliefs that conflict with that of their friends. While this might be hard for some people to understand, religion is discussed and faith is sometimes compared but there is generally no anger or discomfort. Feeling that close to someone who you have been friends with for years makes it impossible to dismiss their faith and, in fact, you often feel the need to defend your friend’s faith when someone makes insulting remarks.
This is the situation that the story, “A Test of Faith”, portrays. A fictional HR manager begins to police the work areas of a company’s employees, starting with a catholic woman who has a ceramic manger scene on her desk. The main character is Jewish. This is significant for two reasons: I am Jewish but, far more important, the character is a perfect example of one of the people who is supposed to be offended by Christmas decorations.
The reaction of the employees beleaguered employees is typical New York City: there is argument and outrage. All of the employees, Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Atheists have been good friends for years and have been to each other’s houses for their respective religious holidays.
I’ll leave the rest of the story for your reading pleasure. I’ll just point out that the last holiday season I was in New York, we had a party. The first half hour consisted of presentations by three people. An African-American discussing Kwanza, a Christian discussing Christmas, and a Jew talking about Chanukah. I can’t say that there aren’t any bigots in New York but in some ways growing up there allows us to be better people and to love each other as brothers and sisters. In some corners of the earth, that is supposed to be the goal of life.
I’ll leave with something my own mother said. A Jewish girl from the Bronx, she sold her house she and my father had owned forty years in Queens. It was a sad occasion for all of us, brought about by the fact that both my parents needed to live in a life care community. Some of the sting of ending that chapter of her life was mitigated because as she put it she put it, happily: “We sold it to our kind of people”. In that part of Queen that phrase doesn’t mean the same as it does in other places. In this case “our kind of people” were a family of Irish Americans with a solid Queen pedigree.
If you don’t understand any of this I’ll suggest a slightly different trip the New York, one not involving Times Square or the museum of modern art. Keep your eyes open. There’s more there than meets the eye.