Monday, January 31, 2011

There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.
Jane Austen
Once upon a time, I found myself in the presence of two Elvis impersonators, a gang girl reading Jane Austin and an assortment of actors, longing friends, new family and a turtle cheesecake. Maybe more. The wedding had its own story—true love almost missed, almost grieved, almost forsaken. Cruel families, sad childhoods, dogged determination. I (a 50 something Grandmother) went to give the bride away and who would have missed an opportunity like that? I left early on a Friday morning, driven to the airport by my son in law and 5-year-old grandson. It was early and I forgot to hand over the Firefly series I had promised to pass along to the son in law. My hand luggage (all my clothes PLUS the Firefly series, 4 DVDs in a box of increasing weight) was carried on my shoulder through everything, for what if the airline sent my wedding clothes to Houston? As indeed happened to a gentleman ahead of me. Almost casually, the check in person in Columbus said to him, “oh, your luggage was sent to Houston by mistake. Be sure to take care of it when you arrive in Atlanta.” He staggered onto the plane under the weight of that misfortune.
It was in Charlotte that the two Elvis impersonators swiveled up to the gate, turned their muscled backs covered by leather and studs and fringes to the airline workers and watched the crowd. They stood like statues and watched like the best secret service men, one tall and one short, for twenty minutes. The woman next to me spoke Spanish, I spoke English, but we now had two Elvis impersonators in common and we carried on an increasingly giddy conversation. I surreptitiously searched them for tell-tale gun bulges and coiled wire coming from behind an ear but saw nothing. I had a vision, possibly Divine in origin, of a phalanx of Elvis impersonators guarding our President. They would walk solemnly beside a bullet-proofed black stretch limo, scanning, always scanning the crowd. They would wear white fringed leather jackets and black pompadour hair that no wind could shake. They would sing as they walked, like prisoners in a chain gang—softly, with grunts and moans and beautiful tremolos. They would sing about hound dogs, and shoes and true love. And the President would find his heart at ease, surrounded by a force-field of pure joy.
But then I got on the plane to Atlanta, behind the man whose luggage went to Houston. He was truly staggering now, with hands to forehead, and he was moaning. The stewardess greeted his pain with some murmured concern and after looking at his luggage sticker reassured him that his luggage would meet him in Atlanta, that the woman at the gate was mistaken, that the sticker was hard to read, that he was in the right universe and tilting at the right windmills. The Elvises swaggered onto the plane ahead of me, fringes swaying rhythmically.
I had brought Emma along to read, that Jane Austin book that takes a little work because the main character is so wonderfully unaware of herself, while we are watching her from a higher moral ground, of course. I had been reading the book in snatches for several weeks and was within just a few chapters of being done. Having seen some movie versions of the book didn’t give the meat of it. Emma as a book is very satisfying. How great to know that there is one beautiful, young, rich and educated aristocrat to whom I am morally superior. I am grateful that Mr. Knightly has the patience to work with the girl and I think her truly humble attitude toward learning bodes well for their future relationship. Of course the whole aristocratic lifestyle and economy of the Regency period of England was based on the false assumption by many that money just appeared or didn’t appear. The millions of inhabitants of the British colonies who were slaving away for a minimal existence in sugar fields or on tea plantations—well, it stirs the darker emotions in me. So I read Jane Austin with even more of a sense of moral superiority, even while I buy goods made in China for pennies. . .
I was met in Atlanta by the bride to be, the beautiful Bria. When I saw her last she was puffy from weeping from some poorly managed endocrine problems. I had seen the endocrine problems blossom before my eyes, but when Bria tried to explain her symptoms to an array of doctors they sent her home with anti-depressants. She was persistent and eventually a doctor found the subtle thyroid condition.
She has a college degree now, and had been working out for several years and I was greeted by someone who was almost a stranger to me. She is now so full of light and energy and hope and love. I just basked in her warmth and she kept telling me how lucky SHE was that I had come to be part of the wedding. Ha. I was surrounded by youth and love. It was better than a spa.
She and I got some pretty good Chinese food with a side of turtle cheesecake in the Atlanta airport atrium and waited for the next wedding guest coming from Chicago. We ate, we talked, we ate, we talked. I noticed the girl at the table next to us, eating her Chinese food with a side order of Italian. The girl was young, with a Goth/Gang look about her: tattoos, piercings, leather, dyed black hair. She looked tough. Each knuckle of her hand had a letter on it, spelling out something lethal, although I didn’t stare long enough to actually read an entire word. She was reading Pride and Prejudice, and was obviously pleased with something in the book, something with a pretty dress on, no doubt. I held up Emma so she could see it and she smiled broadly. “I’ve been wanting to read that for a while, but none of the airport bookstores carry it,” she said. We talked about Jane and her books while some part of me was having a pretty good time watching the conversation from a remove. Was this really an aging me having a sweet and lovely conversation with dangerous youth? The watching part of me was pleased. Both of us loved the men in Austin’s books. “You don’t meet men like that in real life,” she said. “I wish there were men now who were gentlemen, men who kept their word.” Bria commented about her own true love being better than any man of this generation, but Gang Girl and I looked at each other with the secret understanding that comes of experience. As Bria and I got up to leave I handed Gang Girl my copy of Emma. She didn’t seem surprised, but gave me a brilliant grin while around us sang the music of our people, our mighty people, leaving home and coming home again.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"We're all related through Noah." * (Mitakuye Oyasin)

My golden-haired, five-year-old grandson couldn’t wait for his turn to talk at the dinner table. “Do you know something special about Barack Obama?” he asked. His parents and I replied, in chorus, “No, what?” “He’s the first African-American President!” he yelled, so pleased with himself that he could say “African-American” with all the vowels and consonants in the right place.

“Do you know any other African-Americans,” I asked. This was a trick question and the adults looked at him expectantly.

“What IS an African-American,” he asked. He could tell it was a trick question. He’s pretty smart for a five-year-old.

His mother answered, “An African-American is an American who has family from Africa, even if that family was in Africa a very long time ago. And,” she said, “sometimes you can tell if they have ancestors from Africa because they have darker skin. But not always.”

Before I tell you the trick part of the question posed to my Oh, so smart grandson, I want to take us back to 1958. I, the tricky grandmother of this tale, was seven years old. I was in the second grade in Anderson, Indiana. There was only one child with dark skin in my school and this was fascinating for a child surrounded by only one ethnicity. I found her waiting in the kindergarten line-up one day and asked her, “Are you a …..? I can’t even think the word now without an internal battle, but it was already in my vocabulary in 1958. The other child just looked at me and I said yes you’re a ……., you have black skin, so you’re a ……. Tears began welling in her eyes. My teacher, Mrs. Poffenbarger, took her out of the line and I don’t remember ever seeing that fascinating child again. Mrs. Poffenbarger called my mother that night to explain what I had done. My mother took in ironings for grocery money in those days, and in 1958 she had rarely traveled farther than Indianapolis. My mother’s own mother remembered the country’s last public lynching in Marion, Indiana. My mother sat me on the kitchen counter that night and began a series of lectures about race and history and slavery and injustice. And about looking for gifts on the inside of the box, not in the wrapping paper.

Those lectures allowed me to grow up with a mission, even in Anderson, Indiana. My mission? To learn as much as possible about other cultures, other races, other languages, other ways of living. To be a part of creating a world in which children would not be hurt by ignorant prejudice.

I was feeling the weight of those lectures still guiding me last week, when my grandson asked, “What IS an African-American?”

Very gently I said, “Well, your great-grandfather is a famous African-American. (Lt. Walter J. Palmer, Sr, of the Tuskeegee Airmen.) And your grandfather (my ex-husband) is African-American. And your mother. And you.”

“No way!” he yelled.

I realized that he sees skin color, but because his cousin has dark skin and his aunt has light skin and his grandfather has dark skin and his grandmother has light skin—because of his history of loving hearts while seeing differences—he is able to see skin as love, as beauty, as a way of telling light from light.

He will learn the whole history of race, dominance, politics and power as he becomes older. But here is what he knows now.

“Yes, you ARE an African-American,” said his mother and father.

And he stood up, crowing,


A fundamental teaching of Bahá'u'lláh is the oneness of the world of humanity. Addressing mankind, He says: "Ye are all leaves of one tree and the fruits of one branch." By this it is meant that the world of humanity is like a tree, the nations or peoples are the different limbs or branches of that tree and the individual human creatures are as the fruits and blossoms thereof.

*title quote from Walt Palmer II
Mitakue Oyasin is a Lakota prayer meaning "We are all Related."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

It was time, I thought, to move into the cloud. . .

I have a hand-sized angel with a missing wing sitting on my desk under the apple logo, hands outstretched, reminding me that flying is probably more about faith than physics. This bloggy venture is really a leap of faith that I have something wise enough to say in public, but I am reassured that we all have a lifetime of wisdom to impart to the world. I have been blessed with a life full of wise friends who soon be asked to do some serious imparting in the cloud. Poetry, painting, videos, news, photos, advice, stories--I want to have it all. There will be, in the future, a diary posted. A script. Bad jokes.
and here, this poem....

of all possible worlds

In that land, the inhabitants
dreamt of buses, trains and timetables---
with practiced ease they spent sleeping hours occupied
with worrisome jobs, polluted streams, unquenchable desires
and unstoppable cruelty.
When they awoke it was with relief and joy
to the true world they loved to inhabit,
where children flew in stately golden flocks over crystal seas,
and time moved backward,
and kisses lasted forever.