If the C Word Fits . . .

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Arcady Eugene performing “Reclaiming ‘Cunt'” in 2010

I’m not sure how I even feel about the word “cunt.

My stepdaughter Arcady Eugene performed the Eve Ensler monologue “Reclaiming ‘Cunt’” flawlessly in the 2010 Tri-Valley Haven production of “The Vagina Monologues” in Livermore, California.

She reclaimed it.

When I hear a man call a woman a cunt, I know he doesn’t mean as women have reclaimed it. It’s not just pejorative, it’s aggressive. Much like the aggression tRump displayed in the debates between him and Hillary Clinton. Not to mention his bragging about grabbing women by the pussy. Not to mention . . . well so much to report so little time.

So what about when a woman calls another woman a cunt?

I’m not sure that I ever have, but with all due respect (don’t you love how politely rude that expression is?) to Ivanka, Samantha Bee hit the nail on the head when she called her a feckless cunt. I particularly like that she qualified the word cunt with “feckless.” That shoe definitely fits.

I wrote a post on Facebook that I supported Samantha Bee because many of us women are enraged that women who have power play the mother card while condoning (at least by their inaction) the horror of children being torn from the arms of their mothers and fathers. These are mothers and fathers who are coming here to escape violence.

So forgive me if I don’t feel that calling Ivanka a cunt was vile. I think what is happening is vile and she is vile for doing nothing to stop it. I understand Samantha Bee’s rage:

Ivanka snuggling“You know, Ivanka, that’s a beautiful photo of you and your child, but let me just say, one mother to another: Do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless cunt! He listens to you!

“Put on something tight and low-cut and tell your father to fucking stop it.”

~Samantha Bee

It’s time for women to woman up and apply our “mothering” nature to a world broader than snuggling with one’s own child. We need to take action so that the world cannot act as if one child is worthy, but the other is not.

I said at the beginning I’m not sure how I feel about the word cunt. But, here’s how I feel about Samantha Bee’s calling another woman a cunt: If Bee had simply called her a cunt it wouldn’t have resonated. That she calls her a feckless cunt—well, you know if that Ivanka-line shoe fits, wear it.

We need to stop the march into facism. It’s the facism that’s vile, and anyone who can stop it and doesn’t is vile and feckless.

Fish Out of Water

fish out of waterI thought I would be writing a post on a different subject. I thought I would be writing  “Our War”—about the Vietnam War— as a follow up to my last post, “The Nazi Flag in the Attic.

But then Wednesday, February 14th happened. Fourteen high school students and 3 faculty members didn’t come home from school that day. Seven minutes of carnage changed the lives of every student, faculty member, administrator, custodian, and whoever else was a part of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

And then there are the families of those who were killed. For everyone who died, there are at least two people, and likely many more, whose lives will now be defined by before that day and after that day.

But something else changed as well. It was in the voices of the students from Parkland. Voices that were so clear and strong they drowned out the NRA’s oh-so-familiar “We can’t talk about guns. If we talk about guns, we’re politicizing it.”

As Obama said, “You are who we have been waiting for.”

I wanted to know what was happening with high school kids locally, so I did what I know best how to do: I talked with some of them.

I went to the coffee house where they hang out, and found four young women. They told me there would be a school walkout on March 14th, some of them could participate and others couldn’t. I asked them if they felt safe in school, and they said they realized it would be easy for someone to gain access to their campus.

And then I asked them why they thought it was young men, boys, who were the ones who were consistently behind the carnage. “Because boys get away with things girls don’t,” one of them said.

This led to a discussion about what has and what hasn’t changed vis a vis gender roles since I was their age. Some has changed, but it distressed me to learn that girls still have some mountains to climb.

They also talked about how the Internet has changed things for their generation. The Olympic Peninsula can have an isolating quality to it—can foster an island mentality. But while their parents and grandparents had limited contact with the world outside the Peninsula, the Internet showed them a world that extended beyond theirs.

Smart girls. Long may they wave.

I ended up going to the walkout to support the kids. And thus I stepped into a mess that probably has to do with a cultural gap between me and where I live.

There were several adults (it’s Sequim so most of us were of the white-haired persuasion) who had also come to support the kids. I asked a vice-principal where they wanted us to be. Basically, it was don’t mingle with the kids, stay on the sidelines. But nothing was said about not engaging in conversation with them.

As the students gathered, a handful of students one carrying an American flag and a pro NRA sign, stood in opposition to the larger group, some members carrying signs asking for sane gun laws.

Just before the silence started, I motioned to the students in opposition and stage-whispered that they should go and join their classmates. By which I meant, take your signs and join them to remember those who died.

After the silence ended, I stepped towards the boy who carried the American flag and NRA sign and said, “My only problem is that you are equating the flag with the NRA.”

Isn’t the flag about America he asked. Yes, I said. What’s America about, he asked. Well this, I said and pointed to the students who walked out. Don’t I have a right to protest? he asked.

Before I could answer a school official guided him away. As I was checking out of the main office, he walked by and I said, of course you have the right to protest.

And that was that.

As the two women with whom I attended the walkout and I made our way back to our cars (about 3 blocks from the school), a very large black truck pulled over to the curb, two boys rolled down their windows, their faces disguised, took photos of us, and then spewed black exhaust at us as they peeled out. They came around for a second time. It was threatening behavior, intended to intimidate.

I reported the incident to the police, then later called the high school to let them know what had happened. I had a partial license plate. I told the school that what the 3 of us wanted to happen was to meet and talk with the boys in the truck.

Long story shortened: the school Resource Officer let me know in no uncertain terms that talking to the boys wouldn’t/couldn’t happen because of confidentiality—they were minors. And then he let me know that a woman had been very aggressive at the walkout so that both sides behaved badly. I should let bygones be bygones.

That didn’t sit right with me. So I wrote him a letter, said that while I might have missed the opportunity to not share a great idea (join your classmates) I thought talking, using words, was not equivalent to the boys’ menacing behavior. I hoped the boys would be held accountable for their behavior.

Long story shortened, the police just didn’t want to hear my concern. Or probably more accurately, they just considered the incident to be a closed issue. They wanted me to go away.

So, I, being me, hunkered down into confusion and guilt. What had I done wrong? What taboo had I broken? Would I finally be arrested for tearing the tag off the mattress?

In the meantime, I had attended a meeting of a group who are hell-bent on hardening the schools—the NRA way. The meeting was in a Security firm’s building, where they have that human-outline target with what looked to me like two mock (I assume they were mock because they looked plastic) AR-15-type rifles leaning against it. I assume it’s where they train their security personnel.

Mixed in their multi-layered approach to school safety was their plan to bring in teachers to show them the weapons and then students to show them the various magazines and how many bullets are in each so when they are under siege they can count the number of shots, recognize the magazine is empty, and so know they can make their escape.

Yikes!

I don’t believe they will be successful in their plan. I think our schools are in already in safe hands here.

Back to my confusion and guilt. I asked around enough that I finally put the pieces of my puzzlement together.

To me, talking to the kid with the flag and the NRA sign was a sign of respect—for him. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to complete our conversation. Reporting the incident with the boys in the truck was the appropriate thing to do in my mind. In domestic violence terms, their behavior is considered stalking. It should be nipped in the bud—boys using aggressive, intimidating behavior to shut someone up.

But these things collectively might be my cultural gap.

My town is small enough, with enough entangled relationships, that upsetting the apple cart can be more akin to waking the bear—and then poking it.

My actions upset the apple cart.

I’m a bit of a fish out of water here. But, then, I just might be a fish out of water. Period. Full stop. I’m beginning to think that might be who I am.

But, here’s the thing. It’s not just schools that aren’t safe from the young male with an assault rifle. It’s also waffle houses. And churches. And open air concerts. And so on.

We need to have that conversation. The one about guns, why certain young men are turning to them, and why the carnage appeals to them. And, also, why certain young men turn to intimidating behavior, rather than words, to confront someone with whom they disagree.

It’s an uncomfortable conversation. Probably even volatile. But I can’t help but think that if we open up the conversation, eventually we might be able to get past the discomfort and find common ground.

I’m still a bit concerned that my encounter with the boys in the truck is being dismissed as boys will be boys. I suspect my reporting it upset the apple cart, maybe even woke then poked the bear. I suspect that entangled relationships might have something to do with just wanting to put the incident to bed. And, it might just be that not putting it to rest is poking the bear and this might not be the best time or place to poke the bear.

But, I hold out hope that my reporting the incident models something. I hope that the young women I spoke with in the café see it the way I do. Men or boys using aggressive intimidating behavior to shut them up is not acceptable.

The Nazi Flag In the Attic

lincoln2-300x150This is not a story about a white supremacist or neo Nazis.

I found a Nazi flag in my father-in-law’s attic. It was 2001. He had moved to an assisted living facility and I was doing what one does when that happens—clearing out a life’s accumulation of things and memorabilia.

There were 200 pieces of carnival glass. Confederate money. A pre-runner for IBM’s Magnetic Tape “Selectric” Composer. Books and books and books on cars.

And the Nazi flag.

This was an actual Nazi flag—it had clearly been confiscated by American servicemen. In the white circle that encased the swastika, they had signed their names and included their ranks and hometowns, big and small, that ranged from Missouri to Pennsylvania to Alabama to New York to California and so on.

The flag itself was blood-chilling beautiful. I believe it was made from wool, the deep crimson color setting off the white circle that contained the black swastika. One could not dispute the perfection of the design.

Yet, its beauty was its malevolence. And malevolence rose from it like pain from a third-degree burn. The signatures of the American servicemen bore witness to the desecration of the human spirit perpetuated under its spell.

My father-in-law’s name was not on it. He had been in the Navy and the ranks indicated the servicemen had likely been in the Army. It was a mystery why he had it.

We did not know what to do with it. I began searching by towns to see if any residents by that name still lived. This was 2001; many WWII veterans were still alive. I found a few phone numbers, called them, and left messages.

In the meantime, we wrapped up the flag so it would not deteriorate, and returned it to the attic when we moved into Tom’s family home. On occasion, we would tell people about it, bring it down to show them the signatures of the servicemen. Each time we unwrapped it, its malevolent beauty sucked the air out of the room. We’d return it to the attic where it was out of sight, but still, we felt its presence lurking above us.

After about five years, we got a phone call from a man who recognized his father as one who had signed the flag. Because Tom and I do not share the same last name, it took a while before the man realized that he was Tom’s cousin on his mother’s side. It still was not clear when or how the flag had been turned over to my father-in-law. It didn’t really matter. The flag, at last, was going to where it belonged—the son of a man who bore witness to the desecration perpetrated under the Nazi flag.

Current events kindled my memory of this story. I’ve been pondering this post for a week or so, then decided to watch two movies and an episode of Band of Brothers to provide some contextual research: “Conspiracy,” a 2001 HBO film that dramatizes the January 1942 Wannsee Conference in which the final solution for ridding Europe of Jews was devised, and set in motion the laws that enabled it; “Judgment at Nuremberg,” the 1961 film that told the story of the trials of the judges who were instrumental in enforcing those laws, as well as those that preceded them; “Why We Fight,” the episode of Band of Brothers in which they discover a concentration camp.

“Conspiracy” is chilling. The conference, planned by General Reinhard Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh) and Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci), takes place over the course of a few hours. “I want to be done by 2:30,” Heydrich proclaims. “Evacuation” becomes the euphemism for executing Jews. They cite and revel in the statistics that show how efficiently they can exterminate Jews in concentration camps, up to 60,000 a day. All the while they partake from a sumptuous array of food, wine, and cigars. One participant interrupts his praise for the plan to note how tasty the wine is.

They end by 2:30 and go their separate ways and the final solution begins days later.

“Judgment at Nuremberg” pulls you into the horror of what was. Spencer Tracy is perfectly cast as the American jurist who is selected to preside over the tribunal. He is conflicted, reads the writings of Emil Janning, one of the judges on trial, wants to admire him, wonders if they have in common good legal minds. The prosecutor, played by Richard Widmark, had liberated one of the concentration camps. He shows films from the camps—the ovens, the “showers,” the emaciated bodies that for health concerns, were bulldozed by British soldiers into mass graves. I suspect it was the first time the American public had seen the reality of the Holocaust.

Emil Janning (Burt Lancaster) who you almost come to admire, begs of Spencer Tracy to understand that no one thought it would end in the horror that it did. Spencer Tracy replies,  “It started the first time you sentenced a man you knew was innocent to die.”

“Why We Fight” made me think of the servicemen who had signed that Nazi flag I found in my father-in-law’s attic. They are tired of the war. Want to go home. Do not glorify it. And then they discover the concentration camp on the edge of the small town they have occupied.

We Americans, of course, began confronting our own demons after the war. The internment of American citizens. The terror inflicted on Black Americans as they registered to vote and brought to light our own racial atrocities. Our history of slavery not even 100 years gone when we entered WWII. The inklings of recognizing that genocide is at the core of the settlement of White Europeans on this piece of real estate we call the United States of America. The war in Vietnam.

I have always believed that we could look at our flaws, acknowledge our own atrocities, and find a remedy that would find room at the table for everyone. The distribution of power over three branches of government along with an adversarial press would, in the end, turn us to the better angels of our nature.

Then this past year happened. This can happen here. I fear that it is happening here.

What particularly struck me in “Conspiracy,” was that the Nazi and SS officers greeted each other with a salute and a “Heil Hitler.”

They pledged their loyalty to Hitler.

As we pondered what to do with the flag, before we heard from Tom’s cousin, someone told us we could sell it, that it was unique and therefore more valuable because it had not been urinated on.

Those servicemen did not urinate on Hitler’s flag. They bore witness to its depravity and their triumph over it. We need to honor them for bearing witness to how it ended, and remember that how it ended was also how it began.

We Matter: #metoo Part Two

IMG_1238I was thinking it was that I had lacked courage. But, I think it was that the scales hadn’t fallen from my eyes yet.

Writing that last sentence sent me on the Google search to find out if a) that really was the phrase, and b) what is its origin, and c) what does it mean?

I learned, a) that is the phrase, and b) it probably comes from the story of Paul (who once was Saul) in the book of Acts when he stops persecuting “Christians” after being struck blind on the road to Damascus. He regains his sight three days later having embraced a spiritual awakening (the scales fell from his eyes), changes his name from Saul to Paul, and allegedly begins defining “modern” Christianity. Scales might refer to something like glaucoma, so maybe Paul smoked some dope.

(Note: I’m not particularly fond of Paul. He probably was a misogynist, homophobe, anti-semite who thought slavery was just dandy. You know, a Roy Moore who would not be able to immigrate to America today because of his country of origin.)

As for c, this is my favorite definition: “To suddenly be able to see a situation clearly and accurately: ‘the scales had fallen from her eyes and she saw clearly what perhaps she should have been aware of earlier.’”

Nice that the reference uses the pronoun she, because that fits with what has ensued since #metoo went viral. I would change the definition, however to read: she saw clearly what she had been aware of earlier, but had not yet learned to trust her own eyes.

I don’t think it’s just me. I think (hope) we are on a roll with women locking arms and saying loud and clear, “I know chocolate and that’s not chocolate; that’s shit in that sandwich.” 

As the scales fell from my eyes, I also disengaged my cloaking device—that thing I used whenever I smelled that I was perceived as a threat. I often used humor and self-deprecation to deflect the perception, retreating behind the cloak where I huddled in humiliation and seething rage.

The humiliation and rage has disappeared along with the cloak. Amazing how fresh the air feels.

The Dark Side still abides in the form of he-who-I-shall-not-name who has the codes necessary to launch nuclear Armageddon. He, of course, had to respond to Senator Kristen Gillibrand’s call for him to resign for his misogynist ways by calling her a whore who had come begging to him for money. Metaphorically, he launched nuclear warheads to destroy her.

And, just to prove the problem is not just men, but also women who don’t run with the wolves, Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to humiliate April Ryan, an African American woman reporter, well-respected for her intelligence and integrity, by telling her to get her mind out of the gutter. “Don’t believe your eyes, girl. Shut up and believe what I tell you to believe.”

The Dark Side does abide. But it doesn’t make me want to engage my cloaking device. The air feels too good without it.

I don’t think it was a lack of courage that kept me from believing what I saw with my own eyes. I think rather that #metoo shone light on my courage. I have been mouthing off since forever, telling my truth pretty much over and over again. What courage has saved me from is the shame and humiliation I felt when my truth was twisted into lies and weaponized against me.

So, now what?

 “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

That’s what.


Note: I do not think Al Franken should have resigned. I think he is a mensch, was smeared, and knew that if doubt was cast on his accusers, it would demean all those women who are speaking out.

Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s campaign manager, said that women will need to be ruthless in their pursuit of power. He said that Kirsten Gillibrand effectively removed Al Franken from her path if she wants to run for president. I have to say I had that same queasy feeling when she led the call for his resignation. I hope that isn’t true. I don’t want us to ascend to power that way.

What do you think?

Falling Into Grace

IMG_1045 (1)Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a day in which the very ordinary—a meal, can be turned into the extraordinary—a meal. It is a time to transform surviving into thriving. A time for gratitude.

But, today is much like a Thanksgiving more than a decade ago when I could not see my way clear to feel that. I could not muster up gratitude no matter how hard I tried.

So, I did a meditation where I invited gratitude in. She took me through a dark tunnel that formed after the lava from a volcanic eruption hardened into black rock. It was not comfortable making my way through through the tunnel. It was the blackest darkness I had ever experienced. But there was an end to it. It led me into a cave covered in paintings that told the stories of those who had lived eons earlier.

I placed my hand on a painting of a horse and heard a chorus of voices say, “This is what it means to be human.”

That’s how I found gratitude that year.

All over Facebook I see messages that encourage us to be thankful, assure us, or maybe demand from us, that there is always something to be thankful for. I’m not big on that. Sometimes, there is just too much in the way. And I think we have a right to feel the grief we feel and the despair that accompanies it. It is the black-dark tunnel we must walk through to find our connection to being human again.

This past year has been one of grief and despair. Some of it from an accumulation of losses that fell one after the other over two decades with no time in between to give grief its due. And then there was the election and the pall of meanness and cynicism that has descended on our country.

More than once, I had to pull myself out of my own La Brea tar pit.

So this Thanksgiving is a subdued one for me. Tom and I used to host dinners for as many as 12 people. I miss that. But, Tom and I have found a way to honor the holiday with just the 2 of us. We are grateful for each other.

I think the most difficult thing about grief is it feels like we have fallen out of grace. I don’t think we actually do, but it is certainly a loneliness of the soul that is part of being human. It’s what makes us unique and connects us to eons of being human.

I like this definition of grace: the unearned gift. It is the life spirit that allows us to thrive regardless of our surroundings.

I think my time for grieving is drawing to a close. It’s time for me to venture out into the world where grief becomes a distant memory rather than a constant companion. What I learned from my journey through this latest tunnel is my own tenderness. My natural inclination has been to be a warrior—to fight for the higher purpose. So I’m not sure what it means for me to be tender, disarmed and without armor.

But, I’m certain that the tenderness of being a warrior is as powerful as the warrior wading into battle. Both require banishing fear from my workshop.

Maybe the only thing in the way of grace is fear.

Joy and sorrow are flip sides of the same coin. We really can’t have one without the other. That’s what it means to be human. Why we must treat each other with kindness. Banish fear of each other so we can let grace through.

Let Stories Happen

Radical womanA year ago on this day, I woke in despair and disbelief. I had planned on either literally or virtually wailing at the sky last night, to mark a year of despair. Despair had remained, but disbelief had turned into belief. That is, I broke denial and came to believe that the worst actually had happened. It was not a nightmare I would wake from. It was one I was living.

But then, another election happened.

It wasn’t simply that my “side” had won. It was that the true face of America had prevailed. The pale-pink-anger-contorted faces of men had been replaced by faces of many hues and genders, including the face of a transgender woman, and a red-headed man whose grief for the woman who was taken from him by a gun rose to action for gun control.

I don’t believe that women are better than men. Nor do I believe that the hue of one’s skin determines either inherent value or inherent racism.

What I do believe is that the voices, the authentic stories of women and people of color have gone unheard long enough. It’s not that the stories weren’t being told. They were being unheard.

On Tuesday, stories were heard and they resonated and people were moved to change our cultural story.

Confederate statues isn’t our history. Slavery is our history.

Conquest of a continent isn’t our history. Genocide is our history.

Neither is a history that has been relegated to the past anymore than an abuser’s apology relegates abuse to the past.

We can only relegate our history to the past when we reconcile it. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution don’t make us a great nation. Our adherence to them is what gives us the tools for greatness. Not a greatness that means we are better than any other country, but rather, a greatness that strives to rise above fear of the other.

We reconcile and overcome our fear of the other by telling and hearing authentic stories.

On Tuesday, stories were heard and they resonated and people were moved to change our cultural story.

Tuesday was preceded by a year of what I can only call awfulness. Charlottesville. Las Vegas. Sexual assault and predation exposed and condemned, except for the alleged acts of the man who holds the office of president. Bullying disguised as strength. Racism and xenophobia vaunted as patriotism. And then seven percent of a Sutherland Springs’ population was massacred within minutes, including 8 people encompassing 3 generations from the same family, within minutes.

And then followed the story told by opining politicians: we can’t politicize the massacre by talking about gun control, only by becoming a nation of armed citizens at churches, schools, shopping malls, and so on. We must always fear the other is that story.

That is not the authentic story. That is the covering story.

Fear of change is powerful. Especially if the change means a loss of power, or a perceived loss of power. So, we need to hear the stories those in fear tell, and receive them with compassion, hearing the sub-text behind the story, then transform them.

When I hear former general John Kelly tell the story of the sacredness of his son’s death in combat, underneath the stoic acceptance I hear the unfathomable grief of losing his son, “my boy” he called him.

That, to me, the unfathomable grief of losing a child, of having a child taken violently, is the authentic story—the story that Black Lives Matter is trying to tell. That is the story Blue Lives Matter is trying to tell.

That is a story that can connect us.

We need to change the cultural story from one that divides us to one that connects us.

The only thing that will prevent massacres like Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs is to relegate assault-style weapons to their intended purpose: war. There is nothing sportsman about them. Period. Full stop.

In the late 70s Physicians for Social Responsibility used a medical model for arguing against the use of nuclear weapons: if there is no treatment or cure for a disease, the only medical option is to prevent it. I think we need to apply that argument to assault-style weapons.

That, I think, is how we can change that particular story.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.” ~Anne Frank

The quote from Anne Frank’s diary is one of her final entries. I never thought she was foolish for writing that, for believing that. I think she saw that we all have, in our hearts, the choice of darkness or light, and that in the end, light would prevail, though it might come too late to save her. Her diary is her story. We owe it to her to tell the story again. Her family, like the families in Sutherland Springs, was massacred. As were the children and teachers at Sandy Hook, the concert goers at Las Vegas, the high school students and teachers in Columbine. Columbine is no longer one of the top 10 massacres.

On Tuesday, stories were heard and they resonated and people were moved to change our cultural story.

I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Those Words of Wisdom

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That’s Mr. Fraser in the middle

The future does not seem as inviting as it once was. It’s not that I see the glass is half empty so much as I fear it is being inexorably pushed to the edge of the counter, not by a playful cat, but rather by a spiteful man with a heart that cannot humanize his experience of being human.

Fifty years ago, I read William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech. What we should write about, he said is the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself. That alone is what is worth writing about, he says, worth the agony and the sweat.

I return to that speech at least once a year. The memory of it comes to me rather randomly. In a strange way, in much the same way that grief decides to pay a visit. But, unlike grief, Faulkner’s speech is welcome.

I read it in my senior year of high school, in my English Honors class, taught by the lovely-hearted Mr. Fraser. I had also been in his freshman English class where he read us passages from the Shakespeare plays we studied—read them with the voice of an actor who understood that Shakespeare wrote about the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself.

I was in his freshman English class the day JFK was killed. Mr. Snodgrass had rushed into our classroom to retrieve a radio just before the bell rang. As we pulled out our books, the news that President Kennedy had been shot floated across the hallway.

For the next twenty minutes, Mr. Fraser held that class of 14-year olds in his steady heart as we waited, not knowing what we were waiting for. First we heard he had been shot. Then we learned he had been shot in the head. Twenty minutes into the class, the news that he had died floated across the hallway.

The president has died, the announcement came over the school’s public address system. School is dismissed.

A few of the 14-year old boys sprang to their feet and cheered that school had been dismissed. I suspect their reaction didn’t come from malice, but rather a 14-year old boy’s confusion about how to react to his emotions.

Mr. Fraser, who had been so calm and comforting, pulled off his glasses and glared at them. He was barely 5’4’’ tall, but he loomed over the classroom at that moment. “A man has died.” He said it with his Shakespeare voice. “Respect that.”

Mr. Fraser was the adult in the room that day, though he was probably no more than twenty-four. What he spoke were words of wisdom.

I cherish my education at Granada High School in Livermore, California. It comprised literature, history, science, and civics. It gave me no absolutes. It gave me a foundation to think, and taught me how to learn. It gave me a way to be in the world, to navigate what was to come.

That is why I fear the glass is about to be pushed off the edge.

dad with still

My dad in his khakis — he wore them everyday when he went to work in Saudi Arabia. Here he is with his still—homemade hooch because alcohol was illegal in Arabia.

I come from a working class background. My dad was an electrician, a proud member of the IBEW. Whenever I hear that the working class white man is angry and feels forgotten I understand what that means. My father did get left behind. And it was Ronald Reagan who left him behind by weakening his union, breaking its ability to negotiate the value of his labor. He spent the last five years of his life without getting a cost-of-living raise. That ate into his pension and left him feeling that his labor was not valued and so he was not valued.

What I don’t understand is how that justifies the trope, “the heartland doesn’t care about whether Russia interfered with our election — all they care about is not being left behind economically.”

If that indeed is true, that those in the heartland feel that way, I say shame on them. My father never would have bought the bullshit that is being spewed by our current president. He never would have believed that this man-boy born into financial privilege was anything like the men who toiled as my father did, counting on their paycheck to care for their families. He understood that we are a self-governing nation. And he was proud of that and understood that meant vigilance.

The easiest way to gain control over a nation is to divide it. To convince those who have been left behind that that “other” over there is the one who took from them their God-given right to whatever was taken. God chose them, not the other.

What I learned in high school has never been more clear to me than it is now because I have never felt that what I cherish about my country is in danger of being overtaken by men and women whose conflicted hearts have been turned to stone—who have spurned the better angels of their nature.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”~Abraham Lincoln

Whether that glass is half full or half empty, once it is pushed off the edge, there is no more glass, nor what was in it.

I don’t know how to protect that glass or how to catch it if it is pushed over the edge. I have never felt so hopeless and helpless as I do now.

And then I re-read this by Joseph Campbell in “Thou Art That”:

We can no longer speak of “outsiders.” It was once possible for the ancients to say, “We are the chosen of God!” and to save all love and respect for themselves, projecting their malice “out there.” That today is suicide. We have now to learn somehow to quench our hate and disdain through the operation of an actual love, not a mere verbalization, but an actual experience of compassionate love, and with that fructify, simultaneously, both our neighbor’s life and our own.

So there they are—the words of wisdom I was seeking. And these:

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which (sic) have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail. ~William Faulkner from his Nobel Prize speech

Write about the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself. Recognize the darkness that lurks in the heart, but glorify the better angels of our nature. To write is to hope. And so I will.

Post Script: Tom and I saw Mr. Fraser, by then we called him Bert, in 1995 while visiting New York City. Sadly, that was the last time we saw him. He passed away shortly thereafter, leaving the world a little poorer.