I imagine that in one form or another, everywhere there is cable television anywhere on the planet, there are reruns of “All in the Family”playing. It’s just a guess. What was cutting-edge when it was aired almost seems anachronistic now, the racist, bigotted, mysoginistic Archie, who works at “the plant” on “the loading dock”, but is King of His Castle at home, waited on by his sweeter-than-honey “dingbat” servant of a wife who never seems to take offense at anything Archie says, Edith Bunker.
Edith used to drive me crazy. How did she put up with the things Archie said to her? Why was she always running to bring him a beer, or to make sure his dinner was perfect? Why did she never, ever ask for anything for herself, including respect?
When I was young, Archie and Edith Bunker were so foreign to my experience that I thought it was complete fantasy. Funny, yes, but fantasy still. I was eighteen when I met my father-in-law for the first time and I remember thinking clearly, Oh, my God! Archie Bunker is FOR REAL!!! In that instant, my mind opened to the possibility that much I had read and seen may have been based upon Real. Life. People.
I had only known my own kind, I suppose you could say. What that means, exactly, is hard to say so many years later. It had little to do with race, though probably a lot to do with a combination of my neighborhood, my private school and my church. I assumed that we all lived pretty much alike and that we all believed pretty much alike and that we were…the same. It’s hard to describe how I could feel so different, and yet think that we were all the same. It’s as if I came from a carton of eggs, all from the same farm, all the same shape, size and color, except that I was a blue egg, and unaware that not only were there other farms and other chickens, but other species that laid eggs as well. This blue chicken egg from Colorado, came up against an ostrich egg from New Jersey.
Edith Bunker is a good egg. She is unfailingly kind, loving, generous, caring, hard-working, and grateful. And she is totally in love with her lout of a husband, Archie. Please understand, Archie isn’t all bad, but he has been raised to see the world a certain way, and he is afraid that the changes will push him out of the way. He served his country and has worked hard his whole life with little reward. He lives in a row house in Brooklyn with old and fading furniture which he can’t afford to replace. He is a faithful but inattentive husband who gets little respect in a world which raised him to believe he should be respected for being a man, a soldier, a husband, a father and a hard-worker.
Edith, on the other had, must have been loved unconditionally as a child, for she doesn’t take any of Archie’s grumpiness or snipes to heart. She has a sunny disposition and lets the bad stuff roll off her. They could have an unpleasant home, filled with arguments and quarrels, but they don’t. Why? Because Edith. Completely sunny, lovely Edith. Why does she put up with him? She loves him.
Don’t we all want someone who loves us at our best, at our worst and everywhere in between? Don’t we want someone who admires us even when we know we aren’t that wonderful? Don’t we want someone whose trust we would hate to lose? When the world kicks us in the teeth and shoves us down in the mud, don’t we want to come home to someone who will bind up our wounds and make us see ourselves as brave and good? Even better, what if I was that person? What if my children knew me as their champion, their fearless defender, the one who saw only the good in them? What if my husband knew me as someone who only saw him as a good man, a worthy man, a man to respect? What if I did not let petty insults, grudges or irritability get in the way of seeing the goodness in that person? And what if I saw people as better than they are in such a way that they would want to live up to that? What if I became that person who was always happy to see you and let it show, unabashed, unashamed, complete love and adoration. Wouldn’t you like that? Isn’t that why so many of us have dogs? (I’m NOT comparing Edith to a dog.)
If there is one lesson I want to learn from Edith, it is to greet people as I really feel, with unashamed, open arms that say, “I’m so happy you’re here!” Thanks, Edith. It has taken me a long time to realize what an amazing person you are.