Is America’s Culture War About How We See Our Families?
American Butterfly 1: Introduction
The following story is about my family.
“A people which takes no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors whill [an old-fashioned version of ‘will’] never achieve anything worthy to be remembered with pride by remote descendants.”— Lord Macaulay, from Grandmommy’s book titled Genealogy
I would not be telling it to you if not for a violent end. Without extreme emotion, often graphic violence, it is hard to get our attention. I am just like everyone else in this regard.
We care. It’s just that there is so much to think about today. We don’t have enough emotional bandwidth to pay attention in our distracted lives. If it doesn’t “bleed,” as they say, it isn’t going to “lead” on our social media, news sites, or even in an old-fashioned newspaper. Well, this story does bleed, even if slowly.
The story is told from the perspective of a brother making sense of great losses. From a man working to understand a changing America. He starts by considering his earliest experiences. He comes to see that his Southern family has claimed wonderful patriots and entrepreneurs, good citizens, and good Christians. But it is clear, too, that this family has also spoken words and performed deeds that are surely racist, sexist, and non-gender-affirming.
Grandmommy told me just weeks before she died that I would be my generation’s genealogist. She had compiled a skillfully-typed history on onion skin paper. It detailed who-begat-who, when they moved from Wales and England to the British Colonies, and where they lived in what would become the Southern United States.
This story is not at all like that. It dwells on the events and the experiences that shed light upon our big American family today. In a way it is an homage to the good of everyone’s brother or sister. But it is much more a sincere prayer that we all can embrace the varied stories of our many families, our friends, and our communities.
In a world that cannot agree upon facts or abide theories, bridging the chasms separating us all depends upon listening to one another’s stories, recognizing our faults, accepting our differences, and discovering our many shared virtues. As a younger person I would scoff at the use of the word “love,” but we will likely need some of that, too.
If we can do these things, we might just be able to make it through America’s Culture War together.
Better connections are one of the secret recipes for a better tomorrow. Please follow J. Andrew Shelley.
The above is a modified excerpt from the novel, American Butterfly. The story is told through the eyes of a man raised in the South, living in the North, and struggling to understand love and life in the modern world.
It directly engages recent decades. It embraces the events that have shaped today’s world. And it draws upon the past to help us understand the many sides fighting America’s Culture War.
All through the arc of a family story — different and similar to yours and to mine.