Photo by Marco Secchi on Unsplash
THE CRACKED EGG
by J. Palombo
My six-year-old grandnephew Andy found himself in an unexpectedly poignant predicament the other day. While coloring Easter eggs with his grandmother, grandfather, his older brother Jack and me, Andy, unbeknownst to us, dropped one of the boiled eggs on the floor – deciding to throw it in the garbage and to say nothing about the accident. It took some time, but Grandma (can anything ever escape the eye of a grandma?) noticed the short-count of eggs in the final tally. In her asking, “What could have happened to that other egg?” older brother Jack simply remarked that he had no idea. And Andy, squirming suspiciously in his seat, also held steadfast that he had no idea how the egg disappeared.
It was only a few minutes later that Andy appeared with the cracked egg announcing that he just so happened to discover it while looking in the garbage. Of course this started a more formal inquisition by Grandma directed particularly at why he would be casually glancing into the garbage. At that moment Andy decided to confess and with his best “boys will be boys” demeanor pointed out that he certainly didn’t mean to have dropped the egg and to cause such a ruckus.
Despite the plea, Andy couldn’t escape the admonishment of the grown-ups over the issue of his choice-making – in short, his choosing the option of not admitting to the missing-egg fiasco in the first place. In this context, the point was made that the truth always works better than anything else, an axiom that we all knew would be tested time and time again as Andy grew into adulthood.
Clearly, Andy is a lucky boy. He is surrounded by loving parents, a model older brother and a host of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even teachers who, without doubt, have his best interests at heart. In other words, there is the trust and hopeful expectation that all will be well with little Andy. And in this light his foray into the world of “right and wrong” shouldn’t have garnered any more attention, especially by yours truly.
However, it just so happened that only a few hours earlier I had a rather lengthy phone conversation with a U.S. Senator’s staffer. This conversation was related to my interest in the creation of a non-partisan, public initiative that would ensure by civic mandate that the Mueller investigation be allowed to continue. As a professor and public policy advocate I had sent several emails to the Senator’s office noting the initiative, asking for his assistance in pursuing the matter, and the phone call was intended as a follow-up to my yet unanswered inquiry. In short, I reasoned that especially given that he, as well as all the members of Congress and the President, actually worked for me/the public, and because the topic was of such a serious nature, Senatorial assistance in making this type of “public good” initiative happen should fall under the purview of Senatorial responsibilities.
Be that as it may, the staffer found herself in the unenviable position of trying to avoid getting the office involved in anything so sensitive as public initiatives, which of course seemed hardly acceptable. And the “brush-off” situation was only exacerbated when she proceeded to ask her immediate counsel about my inquiry and got a response that encouraged her to make the incongruous case that the idea was simply too political. (He by the way refused to take the phone.)
Of course I called her out on the dubious answer, noting that she in fact reminded me of any one of my students who had not thought through the logic of their response. And upon my doing so she began to break down a bit, admitting that she was indeed a student (Masters in Public Administration at a university where I once taught) and that her work as a staffer was like being on a hypocrisy-driven merry-go-round that never seemed to stop. In fact she too had recognized that her response, despite her attempts to make it stick, simply didn’t — nor shouldn’t — hold. She then confided to me that she felt trapped and was losing hope that she could ever do anything to actually stop the amusement ride she found herself riding.
This rather profound observation led to a conversation about holding to the notions of hope and optimism, and I did my best to extend some wisdom about the import of both amid the country’s chaos. In essence, it seems the grand charge of every generation’s contemporary policy thinkers (like her) is to sort through whatever was left to them to try to build more legitimate political and economic bridges to public concerns. This was always difficult and frustrating stuff but this was the challenge that she and her colleagues were now facing. And they should keep in mind that we all had the confidence that with the aid of their energy, creativity and access to information they would be up to the task.
Well, this appeared to calm her anxiety, yet it seemed the remnants of this exchange were still on my mind as I watched the scene with little Andy unfold. In some senses he was dealing with elements not dissimilar to the young staffer. In short, both of them, at different experience levels, were in the process of confronting the real-time elements that would continue to fashion their lives. And many of these elements would be hard to digest as the often convoluted pieces of the world continued to churn around them.
But the staffer incident was not the only link to the “Andy effect.” The previous evening I happened to have met with a social worker and a high-school teacher who were about to engage in a public discussion regarding the opioid problem and the teenage violence developing in the community. They were feeling overwhelmed in terms of the concerns that spoke to the issues, especially in regards to their respective caseloads and coursework, and they were wondering to what extent their input, especially in regard to any positive offerings, would make any real, productive difference. Here again I did my best to encourage that dialogue was always positive and important and that their efforts to address the serious nature of the problems at hand were of utmost significance. After all, without dialogue, what are we left with? Obviously it was much the same kind of response I found myself offering the Senator’s aid – in short there had to be a belief that the “goodness” in their efforts would prevail.
In essence, then, there was a convergence of situations, spurred on by little Andy’s episode, that fed into my already fixed worry about all that was on the table for those figuring out how to engage with the world. And for me much of what would transpire seemed to be framed around the nature of hope, and the pragmatic, shaky ground on which it now rests.
In other words it’s becoming more and more difficult to hold to the sentiment’s true meaning while noticing the shadows hanging over issues and concerns tied to a whole slew of concerns. Just as examples: How are people making their choices? How are individual and societal responsibilities playing out? How are principles like justice, fairness and equality being interpreted? How are the ever-increasing influences of the market/$ impacting our civic behavior? How are gender and racial similarities and differences being translated? What will happen with our earthly and outer space environments? How will terrorism and war ultimately affect us? How will the zeal of people banging on tables while spouting their rights from wrongs get settled? Will the characteristics of alienation and anomie become more prevalent? What will happen to the spiritual aspect of the human condition? And who will guide our younger societal members in thinking about all the things coming their way?
Indeed there is so much to the present, so much to contend with. But despite the fact that there is a lot to be anxious about and that the enormity and pace of things may be encouraging us to think otherwise, it’s our world, for better and for worse. In fact, I recall the reference by the late, great Leonard Cohen that relates to little Andy’s cracked egg. Leonard’s refrain reminded us that there is a crack in everything — but that’s how the light gets in. So let’s keep that in the forefront of our considerations no matter what, if only for all the Andys and the staffers and the social workers and the teachers who are out there.
About the author:
Politics editor James Palombo’s work focuses on issues related to social, political and economic concerns in the U.S. and abroad. He is the author of several books, the most prominent being his autobiographical discourse, “Criminal to Critic-Reflections Amid The American Experiment,” Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. The book chronicles his experiences from drug dealer and convict to social worker, professor, world traveler and public policy advocate. While continuing to travel he divides his time mainly between Endicott, New York, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.