Intolerance seems to be rearing its ugly head more now that Donald Trump is President. Intolerant people seem emboldened by Trump’s tolerance — even embrace — of intolerance. I grew up hearing a family story that illustrates an early twentieth-century version of prejudice and rigidity. The price the family paid for it was huge.
A young cousin named Adele was married off to an older man who had a decent job and could take care of her financially. He was considered ‘a good catch’ but Adele hated him. He was mean to her and often brutal. He raped her regularly.
She had a child with him, but he continued to abuse her. Adele went to many family members and asked them if they would please take her in if she left her brute of a husband. The family was shocked. Divorce was not considered acceptable under any circumstances. It would bring shame and dishonor on the entire family. So the family sent Adele back home.
After the second child, Adele got more desperate. This time she cried and pleaded with everyone who would listen to her in the family. She begged to be taken in so she could get away from her hellish life.
No one in the family would risk the scandal a divorce would cause. Everyone told her to just make the best of it like many other unhappily married couples did.
Adele had a third child. This baby was my cousin, Eunice, who was my mom’s age. One day, Adele took Eunice to the park in her baby carriage. She parked the carriage on a bridge over a river. She removed her wedding ring and placed it in the carriage next to the baby. Then she jumped into the river and drowned herself.
If only the people around Adele could have looked at her individual situation with common sense and humanity. People stuck in horrible marriages, before divorce became socially unacceptable, just like people stuck in the closet, burdened with unwanted children, or having the wrong genitalia.
It is never fair or compassionate to apply rigid rules to people’s lives. There’s enough pain in the world we can’t avoid. We shouldn’t create additional categories of angst by refusing to accept people as they are.
Acknowledging everyone’s unique needs will make the world a better place for everyone.