Took a trip to the Illinois Holocaust Museum with the Boy Scouts on Sunday. In a theater we watched a 3D hologram of a man, Aaron Elster, who told his story of being 11 years old, the same age as my youngest, who hid from the Gestapo in the attic of a Christian Polish family for two years. He went without bathing, he was alone, hungry and silent, only being able to cry out when the rain hit the roof and muffled the sound. His experience of hiding in a family friend’s uninsulated, lice-infested rooftop with no plumbing, hot or cold, alone and hungry, was one he never talked about until he was an older adult in America. He made a point of stating that he never wanted to be seen as a victim because there are two ways people see victims. Either it makes people feel sorry for them or it divides people.
I sometimes read the comments from neighbors and friends in Forest Park on social media. I revel in those voices that are strong and are responsible.
A small trend of comments, however, categorizes people into “types of Forest Parkers.” They are insightful, I suppose, but I’ve noticed that in these groupings, my family and I do not belong to any of the sides. I wasn’t born here, I don’t know any Oak Parkers or River Foresters who look down on people from Forest Park, and I treasure the community of friends I have gained from sharing for the past 11 years within our community public schools.
Forest Park has been dealt a hand, and whether we like it or not, we face the hand that was dealt to us, together, and if we can find a place to trust one another, we might find it’s a pretty good hand after all.
In the next few months we will have an opportunity to meet and engage with people whose desire it is to serve our community in an elected position. I will be looking for those leaders who do not see themselves as a victim. This is a very tiresome and toxic form of leadership.
Aaron Elster, in his holographic talk, also mentioned that holding hate only hurts the hater. He said he has forgiven much hurt in his life — the loss of his parents, his older sibling, his home, his extended family — but he admitted he still had not forgiven the people who took the life of his 6-year-old sister. That choking pain was a burden he carried with him and, even 80 years later, he could not let go of it.
Two weeks ago, there was a social media post, in poor taste, about the #MeToo Movement by our mayor. I do not believe he intended to make a hurtful statement. But his gaffe was subject to the wild west showdowns of social media, and a citizen replied by calling the mayor a name, and threatening to contact this newspaper.
The Forest Park Review did an interview and the mayor shared that his words were taken out of context.
But seeing it on the front page, somehow, crossed a line for me. This tiny spark that ignited a full social media storm, one that few social media sheriffs could manage, now was in the paper, and even more dangerously, created an opportunity for our mayor to feel like the victim, if he chooses. The repugnance of social comments staking a claim, once left to the battle grounds of late-night discussions, often unread until the dawn of a new day, now were now considered newsworthy.
I realize that everyone has a voice on social media. I also realize that once every three weeks, I have a voice in the Forest Park Review, and this time I am devoting my words to both the Forest Park Review and to its readers.
Intentions matter. I do not want to be in a town where people feel powerless, like victims do.
Actions speak louder than words. I ask each of my neighbors and community members to confront the parts of town that make you bitter or angry, first by recognizing that you are holding onto a hurt and you have the ability to create a new outcome. Show up at the public meeting. Attend things. Show your face, not just the avatar from your living room. There are far more people good, decent people who live here than those who would take out their personal bitterness on others or take political advantage of a distressed community. Sometimes good, decent people remain silent in the face of hate and social bias which renders the good and decent … powerless.
Don’t be a powerless victim. Be a powerful citizen.