Back in the summer of 1995, I was sitting on a grassy hill in the middle of UC-Berkeley’s campus with my daughter Caroline. It was new-student orientation week, and she and I were there to be oriented before she began school that fall. We had driven to Berkeley from Provo, Utah, our home for the previous four years and just 45 minutes down I-15 from Salt Lake City, the epicenter of Mormonism. Now if Mormonism teaches anything besides Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon, it teaches about the importance of families. We have Family Home Evening. We have the song “Families Can Be Together Forever.” We have temples where families are sealed together for “time and all eternity.” We have “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” In short, Mormons like families. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that some of us may actually believe Mormons invented the family.
So there I was sitting on that hill with my daughter in the middle of possibly the most liberal college campus in the United States, across the Bay from possibly the most liberal city in the U.S. and the second largest city in maybe the most liberal state in the Union–sorry Massachusetts. And what did I see? Hundreds of mothers and fathers sitting on the same grassy hill with their sons and daughters, eating box lunches before the afternoon’s activities. Their children, like my daughter, were about to separate from their family and move on. Then it hit me: Most, if not all, of those parents were not from Utah. Few were Mormon. Yet, like me, they were excited for their children’s future even as they were anxious for their safety. Like me, they were going to miss their children. Like mine, their family was about to be changed forever. I laughed because I realized that I had spent so much time in the Utah Bubble that I had almost come to think that Mormons had the corner on families. Seeing all those mothers and fathers on that grassy hill brought me back to reality.
Now Utah doesn’t have a corner on bubbles either. I’m mean count ’em: There’s the Beltway Bubble, the Liberal Bubble, the Media Bubble, the Conservative Bubble. Bubbles here, bubbles there, bubbles everywhere. The world is a virtual Lawrence Welk Show.
With that in mind, I’d like to step outside my Conservative Bubble for a moment to point you towards a blog post by Nina Camic, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She tells the story of her stint as an au pair to the daughter of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger. Upon hearing about his recent death, she wrote:
A pause for reflection.
I came to live in the States as an adult (if you can call 18 adult) because of the goodness of a person who died today. I was an au pair to his little girl. I learned through him and his wife how to transition from Warsaw to New York again. I came with barely a flight bag full of clothes and possessions and joined a household that had a staff of helpers and an extended family of cousins, aunts, nephews — all intensely close, bonded in ways that history sometimes bonds people because of unusual circumstances. That I was treated kindly is such an understatement that I can’t even quite say it. The father of my charge will always in my mind be the person who liked nothing better than to drive away from the city, to the country home, fire up the grill and throw some meats for an evening supper with just his little girl, his wife and the au pair from Poland. After dinner, he and I would clean up in the kitchen and if I learned how to wipe down every last inch of counterspace it was because he taught me well. He was too kind for words and his little girl was just like him, making my au pair duties about the easiest that could be.
So, my thoughts are very much with the kids he leaves behind. Kids… How oddly stated! Kids. We were that once.
Yup, we were all kids once, and we’re all grown-ups now, men and women. Most of us, most of the time, are even good grown-ups. In the last days of this never-ending and way overheated presidential election, it’s worth remembering that even the former publisher and CEO of The New York Times–that bête noire of conservatives everywhere–was a kid once and was, apparently, a very good, kind, and generous man.