What I’d Do Different Now

[Woolworth’s Sit In, Jackson, Mississippi, May, 1963]

Some years ago I began to wonder: Whatever happened to those two African-Americans who desegregated E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1962? So I found Dr. Lynda Woodruff and Reverend Owen Cardwell, Jr.—and wrote a book about what unfolded because I’d wondered.

These days? Now I am moved to wonder: What would happen if I found one of those despicable young men abusing the Jackson, MS sit-inners? (Surely some are still alive?) Could I possibly sit down with one of them; could I ever listen with an open heart? Face to face with a white supremacist, could I remember to seek “that of God” in the old man seated across from me? Not try to “fix” what I’d hear; offer neither advice nor comments but merely ask questions? (Why do you suppose X happened? How do you make meaning of that? Why do you think Y said that? How did you feel when Z happened? Tell me about how you learned about X? etc. ) And then write a book about what I heard? And learned? Could I?

Not lacking in (compelling, passionately engaged-in) writing projects, I am nevertheless tugged at, nudged to wonder: Where does hate come from? What, in all my studies, all my close attention to race and class and gender and education and all the other variables that make each of us who we are; what have I missed, what have I never understood? What do I need to know?

 

 

“Progress Is Our Most Important Product”*

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[Russian submarine from the Cold War era, Maritime Museum, San Diego, CA]

Saturday I spent some time at FirstBuild, a state-of-the-art machine shop cum high-tech appliance incubator in Louisville, KY run by GE. Talk about a layered experience!

A little background: My beloved father, who died in 2010, worked for GE for many years in war time and peace time, inventing both the butter conditioner (the little box in your refrigerator that keeps butter at its optimum temperature) and the computer used as a machine-gun defense system for the B-29; “the plane that won World War II.” He also sold GE television equipment in the earliest days of TV and as a “Cold War warrior” (and self-labeled “merchant of death”) negotiated contacts between GE and the military. So wandering through GE factories or TV studios some random Saturday to stare, stupefied, at work benches and machinery and dials and gauges and fancy, mysterious equipment, carefully stepping over jumbles of wires as my father excitedly explained The Latest Thing/GE’s newest project was something I did as a kid.

More context: A couple of weeks before, I’d given a talk re Way Opens and my own experiences during the Civil Rights Era to a group of bright, tender middle-school students at Cambridge Friends School. Who were “heavy,” as their teacher put it, Freddie Gray’s death much on their minds. Their collective heaviness stays with me.

So there I was, gobstruck by the cool, nifty appliances in FirstBuild’s showroom and my first look at a 3-D printer and, knowing how much my dad would have loved every single moment, desperately missing him. And aware that despite all this progress, just blocks away people of color were living under pretty much the same conditions as they had during the Jim Crow era.

See what I mean by layered?

* GE’s slogan during the 50s and 60s, i.e. the Civil Rights and Cold War era.

 

Branded # 7: Amity*

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Last night I attended a reading at Porter Square Books by Debby Irving, an attractive, personable, and righteous Cambridge resident, re her brand-new book, Waking Up White And Finding Myself in the Story of Race.

Reader, I was upset. And jealous. Especially when Irving flatly stated that after taking a course at Wheelock College—where I went, for heaven’s sake!—and awakening to race matters, she couldn’t find any memoirs by white people on the subject! So decided to write one, herself.

Still stewing, I came home to find an e-mail from my dear friend, Delia, with this link. “Apparently I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this poem first thing in the morning lately!” she wrote. As Delia knows,  Robert Hayden’s incredible “Those Winter Sundays” introduces Chapter 2 of my memoir re awakening to race in this country. How grateful I was to be gifted with such loving—though inadvertent—support of a dear friend when I needed it! How lovely to again contemplate, “What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” !

My memoir’s entitled Way Opens: A Spiritual Journey. That journey continues. So when, ahem, I woke up this morning, I realized I’d heard something else last night: How there’s another, little-known narrative in this country about people of color and white allies. (And, yes, although although our record has been definitely checkered, Quakers have historically been counted among those allies.)

Post Way Opens, here’s where Spirit had led me: To be, as best as I am able, a criminal justice ally. And here’s what I believe I am led to explore: how best I can support Jobs Not Jail. (Not completely clear; need more discernment for sure.)

Reader: care to join me?

PS: Upon reflection, I realized that the above was clumsily written. Let me be clear: I commend Debby Irving and the wonderful and important work she’s done. There can’t be too many books on this incredibly important and difficult subject!

* “Friendship, peaceful harmony; mutual understanding and peaceful relationship.” My alma mater runs a National Center for Race Amity; who knew?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 17, 2011: “There are no coincidences.”

My friend KT says that a lot.

And, after tonight, I’m giving that more consideration.

Here’s what happened:

I was in Central Square, I was pooped after a vigorous yoga class and lots of walking, I was early to meet a friend for dinner. So I gratefully sat down on a park bench near the restaurant where we’d agreed to meet on a glorious spring afternoon. An obviously drunk guy—heh, it’s St. Patrick’s Day; greater-Boston is full of drunks today—sat on a bench facing me, then abruptly jumped up and drunkenly lurched across the street, narrowly missing being hit by an approaching bus on Massachusetts Avenue. I continued sitting there and, lo, he returned, and again sat across from me.

My city survival meter now on HIGH ALERT, I decided to go into the restaurant early rather than to deal with him. As I got up, he said to me (by now the sun had gone down behind the Square’s buildings), as clearly and as lucidly and as kindly as he could be, “Don’t get pneumonia, now.” Then he pulled out a cheap, plastic flute and began to play. Badly.

My, God, I realized, approaching the restaurant. He’s the same guy I had that whole, challenging interaction with at Park Street Station a couple of weeks ago! [see my February 27th blog: “Let Go, Let Surveillance.”]

At the restaurant, I immediately got caught up with spending time with my friend, eating, etc., so hadn’t really had time to process that coincidence. But after she and I had parted, I was walking down Mass. Ave. and wondering what there had been about that man—and me—that made him not obviously the same guy and me not able to recognize him.

Well, I thought, he was drunk. So I didn’t want to make eye contact; look at him too carefully. He’s black. He’s a street person. Does this mean I simply don’t see black, homeless people?

OK, now it gets weird: JUST as I’m mulling this over, I spot another black homeless person sitting on the sidewalk. She’s hunched over and holding out a cup for spare change. She’s wearing huge sunglasses and a big-brimmed hat and even though I can’t see her face I know who she is! It’s “Crystal” (that’s the name I gave her in Way Opens. Pages 178, 179 for all you folks dying to read about her.)

I go right up to her: “Crystal?” I say.

“Yeah.”

It’s Patricia,” I tell her opening my change purse.

“Patricia Wild.”

“Right.” I notice a huge bag of books beside her. “I see you’re still reading,” I observe as I drop all my change except the pennies into her cup.

“Thank you.”

Then she starts spewing forth a huge, writhing mess of words, most of them having to do with sexual organs, male and female, and a white cop who. . .but why bother to report what she said. Crystal’s not doing well. And not making a whole lot o’ sense.

But neither does my absolute confidence that I knew who she was.

Hmmm.

January 10, 2011: Reflections re yesterday’s visit

Here’s what I learned after visiting the JP Green House yesterday:

I don’t know enough. Not about the basic scientific principles of heating, nor about the current political support re alternative energy. I don’t know how I really know what’s best for the environment. So I guess, like the woman I met last night studying bees, I have some deeper research to do.

Here’s what I was reminded of last night:

Like the leading that resulted in Way Opens, like working on the daunting issues of our criminal justice system and climate change (I must be nuts!), like the writing of a novel or screenplay, devoting X amount of time to completing a project—like learning everything there is to know about heating my house this month—ain’t gonna happen. For one thing, I need more time. And for another, “continuing revelation” happens. Everything’s unfolding.

So the trick is: stay open.

August 2, 2010: Wind of change

[“The wind of change is blowing all over the world today. it is sweeping away the old order and bringing into being a new order.” Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963]

Tomorrow I leave for Baltimore Yearly Meeting to give a workshop, “Winds of Change.” To spend time with Quakers from Maryland, Virginia and DC and to listen to what winds of change blow through their meetings will be exciting and enlarging.

Daunting/exhausting, too. Kind of like those earliest visits with Reverend Owen Cardwell and Dr. Lynda Woodruff when, moment by moment, I’d ask myself: “Is this significant? Is this? What about that?”

I’m remembering, for example, that very first trip to Virginia when I was to first meet Lynda and Owen. Deacon Sharon Boswell from Owen’s  church picked me up from the airport. When I got in her car, I noticed her radio was set on the gospel music station. “Is this significant?” I wondered. Yes, it was.