Monday, September 16, 2013

Biggest Mistake

This is going to be a very personal post, so if you are only interested in general observations, this one isn't for you.

Many years ago, when I was 15, I spent the summer at the Foreign Language League program in Mayrhofen, Austria.  I loved learning a foreign language and I was good at it.  So, the following year, with the support of my parents, I applied for and was accepted as a foreign student with Youth for Understanding.  I spent my year, which was actually closer to 14 months, in Germany with a family of three girls and had a wonderful year.

My American parents were conservative Republicans.  They were supporters of the war in Vietnam.  They voted Republican in virtually every election.  My maternal grandparents were also religious and staunchly Republican.  I even got to see some of the Republican presidential candidates when they came to Iowa.  Politics isn't really my thing, but what I heard growing up was mainly Republican rhetoric and Methodist religion.

I have also enjoyed singing for most of my life.  I played violin in my high school orchestra and in the Des Moines All-City orchestra.  Like most teenagers, I also listened to popular music.  One of the popular songs at the time was The Ballad of the Green Beret - a very pro-soldier, pro-war song.  Imagine my surprise, when I found out that the song had been translated into German, but in German was a very anti-war song.

The family that I lived with wasn't wealthy.  The father was a baker and the mother worked in the bakery.  But, interestingly, they were much better informed about politics than I was.  They actually discussed politics and important news events among themselves.  Reading the newspaper and discussing its contents were regular parts of the day.  They weren't religious, although some of them were members of the church (you had to sign a formal document withdrawing from church, otherwise you were deemed a member of the church).

So, I discovered that interested and informed people could have completely different opinions about the world situation.  I discovered that good and moral people didn't have to attend church to maintain their righteousness. 

After I returned to the United States and went to college, I tried briefly to be religious again, but my politics had changed.  I was no longer a Republican and I protested the Vietnamese War.  And over the many intervening years, I have remained much, much more liberal than most of my family and I am now non-religious - close to being a secular humanist.

It was a big shock to me a couple of years ago that my mother told me that sending me to Germany was the biggest mistake she had made in raising me.  I was too young, too vulnerable, too easily swayed to the "other side".  I understand that she disagrees with my liberal positions and especially my support for the Democratic party, but I have long since been an adult and to think still that I have been brainwashed by my experience in Germany makes me feel as though I am being seen as a child - incapable of making my own decisions in a reasonable manner.

I feel that my year in Germany was one of the best years of my life.  It was a turning point in helping me understand other cultures and other people.  It was a turning point in understanding myself - or at least an important beginning.

I am very sorry she regrets that I had this wonderful experience.  It feels very much like rejection to me.  And it is too late to salve it over.  My mother is now 98 years old and suffering from dementia - but she wasn't when she made those hurtful statements. 

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