Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Where Is The Light?

Washington, D.C. and Me (1961 – 2011)

June 29, 1961

Now here I am two weeks into newlywed life, living in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. We have come here for Camelot.

Two weeks into my brand new life as a real adult, still not yet even old enough to vote. Two weeks after that major rite of passage; marriage and having lost my virginity, and two weeks into the bondage of what will become, over the next three years, an emotionally and sexually abusive marriage.

Looking back at this time, reflecting on this beautiful day, June 29, 2011, up in the mountains, I ask myself:

Where was the light?

November 22, 1963

I am married now for close to two and one-half years. I’m a stay-at-home mom with a baby daughter. And, like other nice, young, Jewish mothers of my era, of course, I have “a maid.” Or, as my mother would call her the “shvartsa” (the black cleaning woman) that comes once a week.

Later I will know that the name my mother calls my house helper is derogatory and racist. Later, I will also remember that the sister of my mother’s “shva” (short form for shvartsa) is my next door dorm mate, Sara, at Ohio State. I am so ashamed when I realize that. And, I understand the irony of its implications for me. I am already germinating the seeds of what will become my social activism.

I will be even more painfully impacted when I realize, years later, that Sara’s best friend at Ohio State, is the beautiful daughter of Jesse Owens, Marlene Owens. Marlene will become our Homecoming Queen with her father, the Olympic Gold Medalist, crowning her there on our football field.

Jesse Owens is an Ohio State alumnus. He crowns Marlene on that field with heartrending words that proclaim his gratitude as a free black man, attributing this grace to it being a privilege “only in America.”

My heart will cry forever more when, after Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated I understand the gross indignity of that event.

But this particular day with my maid to clean and baby sit my daughter, I am only intent on going out to lunch with a friend who has her “maid” that day too.

We never make it out the door. JFK is slain in Dallas.

We are young, newly married Americans, come to Washington, D.C. for Camelot.

Where is the light?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Washington, D.C.: Center Of Light? Or, Is That Light Somewhere Else?

Washington, D.C. and Me (1961 -- 2011)

In 1961, a young idealist, married or not, did not arrive in the nation’s capitol expecting to deal with the dark side of human affairs. The world as we knew it, then, just didn’t work that way. For us Washington might as well have been the center of light.

Most of us were raised on the pledge of allegiance and the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays as special school occasions, designed for celebration.

Small wonder, then, that after my newly wedded husband and myself unpacked and settled into our first apartment dwelling, we were soon off to see the sites of Washington, D.C. and revel in the light it brought to our youthful minds.

Washington monuments offer tribute to our leaders of the past. Their gleaming white stone edifices giving testimony to the greatness of those shoulders upon which we, particularly the youth, build our visions of a brilliant future.

The awe I experienced when I visited the Lincoln Memorial that first night of being introduced to Washington, its brilliant marble structure bathed in a light that inspired the loftiest of my American democratic ideals, is still with me now. Should I wish to access it.

But the magic of Camelot is long gone. As is the aura of Jackie’s new, though short-lived, glamorous model for American womanhood (On this precise date, however, Mamie having only recently moved out of the White House, feminism was not yet quite “in”).

I, of course, had no notion of women’s status as I climbed those steps that first night in wonderment at the magnificent edifice built to honor Lincoln.

I knew only of the greatness of men, taking it wholly for granted. A personally limited perspective that would encounter a rude awakening in the year’s ahead in the nation’s capitol.

The Washington power game, masculine version, up against, the awakenings prompted by feminism, would, of course, give the words, male power and dominance and feminine submission, a multi-faceted sheen in the years to come.

Coming awake to these realities would all take awhile. But, of course, I would catch on over time.

That’s how one learns to survive.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

We Came For Camelot

Washington, D.C. and Me
June 16, 1961

I am grateful today to be making some headway, finding ways to balance the day-to-day physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of my eye problems. Yet staying the course with my greater goals; teaching, guiding, mentoring, creating meaningful community conversations and telling stories, in order to contribute what I can to a world that might, hopefully, somehow be better when I leave it than when I came.

Today my mind, along with my gratitude, is drawn, particularly, to beginning to take stock of things I’ve learned, moving from the innocent I was fifty years ago to the wise woman I am today. Anniversary dates have a way of calling such considerations to mind.

I was a bride of one day when, fifty years ago today, I first set foot on the soil of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. This was to be the locale, give or take some miles, that would be both my home and the fire pit of my initiation into adulthood; the cauldron that sourced my transition from innocent to masterful dark side transformer, a role I would never have wished for myself. Nor do I particularly even like it now.

Until that day I had dreamt a child’s fantasy; swimming the English Channel was the only goal I had in mind. What was my Plan B???. I hadn’t thought quite that far that day I came into Washington.

Emotionally I was a mere child who could barely think through a single thing in those days. Stories for a later time perhaps.

How does one come to recognize, truly know darkness in oneself and others? And, then develop artistry in transforming it?

Certainly the answers are wrapped in tales of adventure; lessons learned through trials by fire, often getting burned in the process.

Though I don’t remember the details of the day, it is unlikely that the vast array of D.C. tourist attractions; the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson monuments, the White House and Arlington Cemetery, had any priority that first day.

We needed to start with setting down our travel bags in our newlywed apartment. Then quickly make our way to the nearest buy-cheap furniture store. But perhaps that was day two. I can see that warehouse-like store today in my mind’s eye though its name is obscured.

We had quite simply come here for Camelot. Jointly selecting a starting accountant’s position for my new, recently graduated from Ohio State, husband at the GAO in Washington, D.C., called the General Accounting Office in those days, we had passed over an alternative opportunity for New York City. However, familiarizing ourselves with that which had enticed us here would still be days off until we could even take our first steps into the scene.

The “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” bug had infected us. Like countless other young idealists who would join us as the sixties era progressed, the lure of being near our esteemed president and his hoped-for visions for the future of our country, seemed just right for us and our new life together. Jackie’s pillbox hat had somehow, also, gotten into the mix, at least, for me.

I lost my virginity as we made our way to Maryland and the nation’s capitol. And, in the coming years ahead, my life in this locale would take all that remained of my innocence.

We would stand on the sidelines watching the funeral procession of our fallen hero, JFK, the riots that ravaged Washington after Martin Luther King Jr.s’s assassination, the shock, not long after, of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and Watergate. There wasn’t much left of innocence by then.

By the time Nixon left behind his prestigious seat in the Oval Office, however, I had started to develop an eye for understanding the dark side of human nature. And, begin to develop adeptness on how and what to do to transform it, if anyone cared to take on that challenge.

Mastery in the art of successfully maneuvering this gamesmanship would come with experience and time.

Of course, Washington’s power games and the infrastructure that, not only breeds and supports these games, but makes them legendary, can almost destroy the young idealist, if one is not careful. It certainly almost did me in for awhile.

But then, if you are to survive, you get to know the strategic moves to make and the ones to avoid. Still the game always remains a tricky one, the tricksters, the best in the world.

Marty Groder, my psychiatrist mentor, provoked my ire back in the early 1980s before the Iron Curtain came down when he said –

“Washington is next only to Moscow as the world’s center of darkness.”

I defended this home territory of mine saying –

“You are wrong. Washington is the center of light.”

But that was the ‘80s. In many ways I was still a novice at dancing with the dark side.

Today, I believe we were both right; the nation’s capitol is a teeming cauldron where an ongoing battle is fought between the dark and the light, both publicly and behind the scenes, night and day. I know it well.

However, those of us, who like many others came to Washington for Camelot, now make our homes a comfortable distance away from Washington, D.C., hoping we might still use our hard-won wisdom to affect the darkness without letting it suck us in as once it did.

For myself, the clear, clean air of the mountains, about an hour’s drive from D.C. for me, is what suits me best.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The American Way

What would you do, if you were me?

The American way has only one viable option in my mind, win or learn.

We are pioneers. Adventurers.  Cutting edge people.

And, personal transforming is my style.

So that's my plan.

More to come.

Anastasia, Making lemonade out of lemons