Jesse Helms--the North Carolinian senator who was passionately loved and hated during his long political career--was laid to rest this morning in Raleigh, North Carolina. http://www.newsobserver.com/politics/politicians/helms/story/1135448.html
Throughout his political career, Senator Helms always stood by his extremely conservative opinions on sore issues such as race, sexuality, and education, and was mostly considered a bigot by the newer generations; yet, those who had a chance to talk to him and meet him in person, unanimously claim that Jesse Helms was as gentle as a lamb and a true southern gentleman, very approachable and always ready to chat.
Jesse Helms labeled himself a country boy who was fascinated by the sleepy ways of the South, and spent his life fighting to maintain those traditions of honor, respect and southern hospitality he was raised with. Jesse Helms was as southern as fried steak.
For those who are not familiar with Monroe, NC, it is hard to fully understand the lifestyle of this little town tucked into the warm blanket of Union County, which still reflects the southern charm people have only glimpsed at when watching ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ and ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’.
Most residents in Monroe know one another, and are united in their resolve to resist the northern influence, which has already changed iced tea into Espresso and fried chicken into Tofu, in many of the other larger towns and cities of the State.
Monroe is the town where Jesse Helms was born, eighty-six years ago. I never met the man, but I am sure that, in his youth, he was one of those kids whose mothers spent the day exchanging polite gossip with neighboring ladies, while snapping green beans for supper, or jarring homemade jam. Jesse Helms was the product of southern thinking, a gentleman who did what he thought was best from the perception he had inherited in his youth. He never understood the meaning of each individual being a necessary part of a whole, because, ultimately, he was taught a different reality.
As children, we paint our world with the colors that are handed to us, and absorb the perception which stems from the point of perspective our caregivers adopt, as they form their own views on life. To us, our family unit is the privileged keeper of universal truth, and we assume that our parents’ opinions are sacred and righteous. In attempting to understand this concept, we can just glimpse at children who rally against abortion, while they walk down the street holding huge signs inscribed with thoughts and opinions they don’t even understand: As Jesse Helms spent his life expressing Monroe’s values, these children speak the truth of their parents, and honestly believe that they are fighting for the greater good of all.
Our perception is directly impacted by our upbringing, and by the lifestyle we have identified with, but as we shift toward a greater understanding, people are becoming more open to embracing a merger between the new and the old, slowly shedding the fear of losing the individual identity born from pride in one’s heritage.
And hopefully, between now and then, somebody will come up with a recipe to make Tofu taste as good as fried chicken.