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Mary Garrison

Hendersonville, NC

Out with the old, in with the new

What’s to love about January? This winter month is known for cold and the occasional ice storm. Tax season is out of the gate as 1099s and W-2s appear. Holidays bills are due, and old papers need shredding.

Clutter-busting is in order per that old rule: When gifts come in, old things must go. For introverts, winter brings nail-biter TV basketball, good reads by the fire and time to listen to the quiet. This season also spells claustrophobia and a yearning for spring.

January has another face. In fact, the word January is based on Janus, the Roman god of gates and doorways. Janus has two faces, in opposite directions. Just as we clear the doorways of our homes to make way for the new, this is a time to sweep away the cobwebs in our thoughts, practices and prejudices. This leaves us open to change and new ideas.

Last week, our community celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For me, this holiday is the time to adopt new attitudes about our fellow man, to celebrate diversity and to take the opportunityto celebrate community by volunteering.

In today’s environment, this task is more important than ever. Last year brought an unprecedented uptick in racial violence, more gun deaths and strong debates on the role of police, more gruesome slaughters by ISIS and more fanning of the flames of hatred.

Sadly, there are people so filled with bitter venom that they either target people for their race or target the police upon whom we depend to protect us. Refugees around the world clamor for safe haven from violence, presenting a new set of ethical questions.

How do we combine humanitarian relief and safety for our citizens without succumbing to religious prejudice? We have every right to be frightened and seek protection. We must also remember that one of our country’s founding principles was freedom from religious persecution.

In the midst of this angst, we have leaders to elect. The political primary season is earlier than ever in North Carolina, and a new voter ID law goes to trial. Whatever your politics, register to vote, and offer a ride to someone to register and vote.

Speaking of candidates, there have been columns on these pages concerning the candidate with the noticeable hair. You know — the one with no filters who is an equal-opportunity insult-slinger. Sure, in some ways it is refreshing that someone has the nerve to toss political correctness to the wind. Everyone is tired of politicians’ double-speak. But should someone with this dearth of impulse control be anywhere near the “nuclear button”?

Years ago, my book club read “Stones from the River” by Ursula Hegi. Though fiction, this book did a better job of explaining the insidious way that prejudice creeps into a community and spreads. It shows how little by little on a daily level people accept the unacceptable one small bite at a time. Until it grows into horror beyond imagination.

If, like me, you wonder how Nazi Germany ever came to power, think about reading this book. Yes, it is a fictional account, but it is a wake-up call to anyone who thinks this would never happen here. In fact, it can happen anywhere. It’s up to each of us to speak up and act.

Immigration reform, border fences, deportations and the meaning of “natural-born” are frequent topics. If we are honest with one another, we will acknowledge that we all are immigrants. In fact, the only true natives here may be the fossilized dinosaurs, mastodons and saber-toothed tigers. The first immigrants came over the land bridge between North America and Asia. This was thousands of years ago.

Then came the Spanish, the French, the English explorers, the Pilgrims seeking religious freedom, and enslaved Africans. The Irish came with the potato famine, and Asians during the gold rush. Next, Italians and Jews. Each newly arriving ethnicity met with prejudice. Twelve million people came through Ellis Island from 1892-1954. So none of us are natives.

A TV show I recommend is “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates on PBS. Conservative columnist Cal Thomas recently commented that “it decimates racism. It shows that we are all a melting pot of multicultural DNA coursing through our bodies.” Many have hailed the program as a great dispeller of racial myths. Watch this show to learn about our heritage. And guess what? Bill Maher and Bill O’Reilly share a common ancestor.

Last weekend, a black family who were total strangers put our dinner on their tab at a restaurant. The waiter, who was moved to tears, came to deliver the news once they were gone; all we know is “they really wanted to do something nice for someone.” Was this a handshake of friendship across the races, or a random act of kindness? We will never know, but we will pay it forward.

We all have more in common than we think. We all want food, shelter, good health and companionship. The majority of us are moderates, not the shrill extremists we see on TV.

Every MLK Day, we have a lot to learn from the past. Let’s take that knowledge and use it for a better, brighter future. Mary Garrison lives in Flat Rock. Reach her at .