Friday, April 16, 2021

Lisa the Tower of Pisa

 I recently learned my childhood crush, the youngest of three rambunctious boys, passed away. Since his rascally ten-year- old face is the only one I can conjur, it is
extra hard to believe he is gone.


He lived across the street. His father, a very loud man who knew nothing of

pig-tailed little girls, had composed a song in my very young honor:


Oh, Lisa, the Tower of Pisa!

She bends and she bends, but she never falls down!


It was shouted at me over the years, until this father retired and moved away.

The song always made me feel a little uncomfortable. Maybe it was the shouting.

Maybe I sensed subtle innuendo. But it also made me proud to know I was the

subject of someone’s original ballad.



The song has different meaning now, some 60 years later. It is a song of resiliency,

of survival, of flexibility in the face of gravity and a lifetime of leaning, bending,

straightening, bending again.


I’ve not fallen once. Nor do I plan to anytime soon.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Once Black, Never Back

 I can no longer do what I once did. My energy and strength have waned. Yet, at 65, I can still dig into the earth, still kneel to plant, still carry 40 pound bags of dog food and mulch. I can push the behemoth vacuum cleaner through at least three rooms at a time, before stopping to catch my breath. I can wrangle two energetic dogs on leash, without letting go. I can walk a few miles without fainting.

Once, maybe 15 years ago, when I was going to the gym on a regular basis, my friend (who was a personal trainer there) confided in me. He said, "I asked a client what her optimal goal was coming to the gym. She immediately pointed to you, and said, "I want to look like her."

I no longer look anything like this person's goal, yet still, I am happy with the body I have. I can walk unruly dogs. I can run if I have to. I can lift 40 pounds of dog food. And while my biceps have become the saggy tops of my elbows, I still consider myself the Black belt, badass mama I once was. 

We are, not only what we see today, but a compilation of all we have been and
done. Like the black-belt martial arts community says, "once Black, never back." 


Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Walk


 I took a walk tonight. It was just after sunset in south Florida, where the sunsets are particularly beautiful. It is January 21, the day after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President, and Kamala Harris, the first women of color to be our Vice-President. Yesterday, I watched the swearing-in, with all its wonderful songs and poems.

Tonight, I take stock. I have been lucky to have received my first COVID vaccine, and am scheduled for my second. My kids are healthy and weathering the pandemic storm bravely. I am surrounded by those who care. I am safe, for the moment.

Tonight, in this south Florida walk, I remember my brother, who did not quite last until the pandemic hit, I celebrate my kids who are stoically weathering these hard times, and empathizing with my neighbors, whose houses still light up with Christmas decorations, or whose houses are dark and still, because their residents are old or sick. Some of these houses had proudly displayed Trump signs, and a few, Biden signs. 

A month ago, we were awakened to sirens and flashing lights. Our neighbor's brother had passed away in the night. All of us came into the street to talk to, and comfort the family. No one spoke about politics, or beliefs. We all gathered (masks on) to offer comfort to our grieving neighbor.

Let us go back to this time. This raw reality is real America. We come out in the middle of the night to comfort our neighbor. We do not ask about religion, race or political alliance. As often as needed, no questions asked. Always. This is my America.


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Other

 My wonderful , thoughtful, brilliant partner is Jewish. Her father was a survivor of the Holocaust, as are many of her family members. Her uncle is Eli Wiesel. Photos of her family in concentration camps are displayed at Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem.

I am an Irish-Italian American who still (even in Trump times) believes in an America where we are all safe from mass extermination. 


In my job, I tutor all kinds of people, from all over the world. I think of myself as being the kind of person who is there for everyone, regardless of background. I received my degree from a New York City university (CUNY Queens College). I worked at another New York university, where my students were from every imaginable country on the planet. I now work In Miami, where, again, my students are from everywhere.


This is what I have learned.


All people, women, men, local or not, are remarkable in their knowledge, drive, understanding, and hope. I am always humbled by my students. They represent a future for the planet that I cannot imagine, a future that, (first of all) exists, and a future every human can be a part of, and proud of.

 

My life has had its twists and turns. But I never had to risk my life, or that of my children for the freedoms I expected. My wonderful, thoughtful, brilliant Jewish partner knows better. Her family has been on the run for centuries. Now, in this time, in America, all thoughtful people should be concerned for their neighbors -- Black, Jewish, Other.


No human is “other.” We are so much more the same than different. Is it white male supremacy that is the problem? It very well could be. Or is it the basic fear of whatever is different? I dress differently. I speak differently. I am different. But not really. I am the same as you, I want the same things as you. I hear you, beyond language, beyond culture. We breathe the same air. We walk in step. We marvel at the same stars.


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Escaping the Plague

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of my younger brother's death. Despite his weakened state, his passing shook me through and through. His downward slide was rapid in his final months, and our moving him from New York to a nursing home just down the road from us did nothing to help.

Never in a million years could I have then foreseen the encroaching threat of a virus that reserved its most insidious tentacles for those older or infirm. 

I do not imagine, if Chris had survived the year, that he would have been able to stave off Corona's attack. Did he know something we did not?

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Take It or Leave It

CUNY Queens College's Powdermaker Hall is tattooed with quotes from famous writers and thinkers. By far, my favorite quote is one I pass each morning on my way to class. It is posted somewhat obscurely on the outer northwestern wall, and it is the one I have memorized and constantly call up within my own mind. It is a James Baldwin quote: “The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”

baldwin-quote

Baldwin, who was poor, black and gay, often joked that, rather than being thrice cursed, had “hit the jackpot.” “How much more disadvantaged could one person be?” he asked. Baldwin’s search for self, like Ralph Ellison’s was more of a lifelong journey than a destination at which to arrive. I believe Ellison, whose path diverged significantly from Baldwin’s would nonetheless appreciate his contemporary’s quote.
After following in the angry, and somewhat separatist footsteps of his mentor Richard Wright (Native Son), Ellison evolved into more of an integrationist, insisting that blacks would succeed by excelling and mixing it up with the larger world, a view also held by the founder of his alma mater, Booker T. Washington. His contemporary, and fellow Wright offspring, James Baldwin, (Notes of a Native Son) also came under Ellison’s harsh criticism. Baldwin was much more a separatist, finding no real home for himself in America and eventually emigrating to Paris.
One thing all three have in common is their search for a sense of self. Ah, that all-important word, which to Antonio Damasio can be deconstructed into three levels. Ellison (et. al) understood that unconscious Protoself level — that’s an easy one. But dive deeper into Core Consciousness and Extended Consciousness and these writers each take a different road leading to Rome. Ellison seems to narrow down his search by first finding what and who he is NOT. To white people, he is as invisible as a shadow which passes along as near nothingness. In the prologue to Invisible Man, Ellison states, “That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality” (Prologue II).
Ellison’s self is there. He just has to find it among the sea of black faces and its accepted group identity, as well as within a larger, (optic) white-washed world. His allusions to Jazz as metaphor for individuality or self-ism (my term) are intrinsic to the story.
In the end, Ellison’s nameless (self-less?) narrator comes back from his trip around his own inner world to say, “I had no desire to destroy myself even if it destroyed the machine; I wanted freedom, not destruction. It was exhausting, for no matter what the scheme I conceived, there was one fatal flaw — myself. There was no getting around it. I could no more escape than I could think of my identity. Perhaps, I thought, the two things are involved with one another. When I discover who I am, I’ll be free” (11.103).
This book and topic is so very timely. Black Lives Matter, racial profiling, the fires that burn in Charlotte, Chicago, Kansas City and elsewhere, all indicate Ellison’s point, while shining a hopeful light onto Baldwin's message. Once we discover who we are, perhaps, only then will we all be free.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Hold the Door

At the school where I work, the campus buildings have heavy double doors. Most come equipped with large square buttons to push for extended automated entry. This is South Florida, so winter winds blowing through the halls is never a concern.

Despite the automation, I still check behind me to see if another person is also intending to enter. I hold the door and smile. That person, whether student or staff, smiles back and says "Thank you." A small event in an otherwise uneventful day.

Yet I do not think this is such a small event. My campus is host to a rainbow of students and faculty. This rainbow embraces ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, religion, age, and economic class. When I hold the door, I am saying, "I honor you, I respect you, I am your friend. Your entry into my office, the restroom, the dining hall, my life, is a joy, and a blessing."

Small actions can offer bigger meanings.

If I could choose the title of my own eulogy, it might read: "She held the door."