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?

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