Sunday, November 14, 2004

The family politic

We're just back from a quick trip to Boston, where we met my parents yesterday around noon. As it always is, politics was a major topic of conversation among my dad, my sister, her boyfriend, Darren and me. As we took the T to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum - an all-time great museum, especially as an example of the power of one person's vision - several of us discussed the reasons people in the red states voted for Bush. As we rested our feet in the oh-so-noisy second level of Faneuil Hall (killing an hour before dinner), we talked about Ashcroft's resignation.

At Antico Forno - another all-time favorite; we've been going there since I lived in Boston for grad school, back in '97 - we growled about the many and banal ways in which people use the word "terrorized" as we ate calamari and mussels. And this morning, at a diner in Arlington, Darren filled everyone in on the status of his best friend, D., who is in a National Guard unit stationed in Mosul, which is emerging as the successor to Falluja in terms of insurgent activity.

And during it all, my mother said very little.

This is the way it often is: Surrounded by her liberal family, my conservative Catholic mother listens and remains silent. I'm almost certain she voted for Bush; she is a one-issue voter, and the issue is abortion. Back in the days when I interned at Planned Parenthood and NARAL, we fought about this stuff long and loud. More recently, we've agreed to disagree. But it still pains me to think that she isn't comfortable discussing her political views with us.

Part of my discomfort comes from the disconnect I see between her life and her politics. An administrator at a social service agency in one of New Jersey's most maligned towns, she works every day with junkies and the homeless. She excels at it - honestly, she is one of the kindest, least judgmental people I have ever met. She is endlessly forgiving, and extremely compassionate. She is, I think, anti-war, though as I write this I realize I've never heard her voice an opinion on the subject. (When she does say something, she tends to get drowned out by my overly verbal college-professor father, who, like his daughters, emjoys hearing himself talk.) She was sympathetic when I talked about how much the anti-gay marriage referenda affected several friends of ours, how they felt personally threatened and unwelcome.

But, as E., P., Darren and I discussed on the ride home, she probably still believes that they are going to hell. The only positive thing I see is that, unlike the frothing mouthpieces of the religious right, she does practice the Christian tenet of hating the sin but loving the sinner.

I just don't get how one issue could overrule what would seem to be the many areas in which she is aligned with liberal policies. And I wish I could talk about this with her. But a 24-hour visit wasn't the right time to start having that conversation.