Don Rogers: Weight of humanity |

Don Rogers: Weight of humanity

A proud mom stands up among the rows of chairs at a graduation ceremony for three men who had worked hard to get there.

She had hung on her young adult son’s every word when he spoke earlier about all his ups and downs, all the obstacles he overcame to reach this incredible moment. No one had thought this possible.

She’s proud, never prouder. She prays it all works out for the long term. He’s never gotten so far. She’s never seen so much in him.

The fact this is taking place in an upstairs conference room next door to Friar Tucks, nearly everyone wearing a badge, no gowns or mortarboards with tassels to turn, cannot detract from the gravity of the accomplishment.

Mom’s pride in her son in the moment is no less — and probably greater, considering the road traveled — than mine in my son and daughter’s graduations from college.

Certainly her son came the harder, farther distance. Prison to rehab and everywhere in between. Miracles happen. I believe in this one. It’s that kind of moment.

Graduation from probation surprises me with the intensity of feeling it calls up for everyone — the men, their family and friends, the probation officers, everyone.

The men express wonderment at what made them change this time. Each reflects on as one put it, “I’ve been a real nuisance in this town for 42 years.” Drug addiction is a common thread, as is owning up.

Gratitude to arresting officers might yet be a stretch, I think, as another graduate and cop eye each other warily with something other than pure affection. Save that for the probation officers, all overjoyed, I think, looking proud as parents.

But I’m feeling that way, grateful, about the invite to attend. I leave with a hope and a bounce I don’t feel so much the next day hanging out in downtown Sacramento with legislators, aides and lobbyists.

It’s not that I live in the shallows, greeting the political class in stereotype, judging people unworthy a priori, let’s say.

No, these are people too — well dressed, hard working, quick witted, and more than you might think plainly are warm hearted, too. I believe their belief in making a real difference this way. I admire them. We don’t have to agree on anything for that.

New state Treasurer Fiona Ma slides into a seat next to me at my table during a briefing for members of the National Federation of Independent Business. She’s next up to speak. We whisper greetings.

“I know there’s a reporter here,” she says in her turn at the podium. “I’ll be as candid as I can.” She smiles. I smile. She is fairly candid, but I’m not a reporter, just another representative of a small business seeking clues. Besides, there’s nothing to suggest to our editor when I get back. It is possible to have your cake and eat it too, by the way, breaking no confidentialities.

Still, I drive out of the capital somewhat lost and out of practice with big city traffic, vague futility stronger than gratitude or hope.

Maybe it’s the sheer weight, the fifth-largest GNP in the world if California were measured as a nation, the 40 million people living here, all those suits, so much waste. Maybe it’s an unholy faith in rules to solve problems. Maybe it’s all the smart, smart and expensive policymaking that’s worsened homelessness in San Francisco, center of the progressive universe, whose progressive mayor now is our progressive governor with a progressive supermajority in the Legislature.

This weighs in a misty rain one night last week near the corner of Haight and Ashbury as my wife and I leave a wondrous book reading and bar gathering afterward with the co-editor, Edie Meidav, and some of the writers who contributed to the anthology “Strange Attractors: Lives Changed By Chance.”

We pass people squeezed under storefront awnings on our way back to our car, greeted politely when noticed. That’s what sticks out in my memory, besides my wife’s observation she couldn’t stand to live in one of the apartments upstairs, with the pain accompanying an otherwise beautiful glistening city street view out those windows.

Me, I’m not sure what I feel. Lucky, maybe?

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299.

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