Saturday…in the Dark

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University of Massachusetts Amherst at Night

Perhaps pain is a catalyst for growth.  If that is so, going to UMASS made me a giant.

Julianne Robertson

Washington, Adams, Coolidge, Kennedy.  Anyone who attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, commonly known as UMASS, recognizes these names as Presidents, yes, but also as the high-rise dorms in the Southwest residential section of campus.  Low rise dorms were also named after notable Americans:  Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville and others, but the names of each dorm had dual meanings.  The UMASS residence hall system, like those in other universities, groups students according to class, race, career interests, and other demographic considerations.  Accordingly, each dorm had its own flavor and unique atmosphere.  Pierpont, with it’s beautifully rendered psychedelic murals was the Pioneer Valley’s drug haven.  Coolidge and Adams, the high rise women’s dorms, were relatively proper, clean and quiet.  Kennedy was 21 stories of chaotic, rabble rousing madness.

Then there was Washington dorm.  As a 17 year old from Washington, D.C., I enjoyed meeting people from New York and Boston.  The men in Washington were invariably stylish, confident and very attractive.  Two in particular, I will call them P and M, were each bright, handsome, charismatic and intriguing because they’d been friends before they arrived on campus.  In September 1978, they were a wonderful addition to the small Black community in the midst of UMASS’ 25,000 student body.

Racial tension existed in Amherst in the aftermath of the the Boston Public School desegregation riots.  Many students in that era had attended recently desegregated schools, and horrific stories about South Boston were heart breaking.  On the other hand, Amherst is a bucolic college town setting with picture-perfect scenery and a post 60’s peace and love atmosphere.  In theory, every student could learn and grow in a safe university setting without ever experiencing the harsh realities of the outside world.

Theory and practice diverged wildly one Saturday night.

30 years ago, one of my African-American classmates was attacked by a group and badly roughed up while we were gathering for a party.  The instant he walked in a massive group of men left with him to confront the attacker.  I will never know exactly what happened, but eye contact with a returning member told volumes about the sorrow of brutality.  We all tried to comfort one another and get through the evening.

In the morning, Jose was dead.  1_soilingJose was an African American of Puerto Rican descent, but had not been at the party, and he took no part in the attack or subsequent events of that horrible night.  On Sunday morning, my dear friend Ike Bradshaw found Jose leaning against the wall of his dorm room, apparently strangled.  No police investigation ensued, no forensic evidence was collected.  Nothing.  In late November, the University had to prepare for finals and UMASS’ month long wintersession.  A community meeting was held in which we were all advised to stay calm and avoid commenting on the events until further notice.

No grief counselling, no funeral, no justice.  We were a community under seige, and only our youth and resilience allowed us to manage the confusion and anger.  Really, the experience plunged me into what I now recognize as a dangerous depression.  I got away from campus, weathered the storm, and returned to finish  the remaining 3 years there.  But I never forgot Jose.

I will never forget Jose.

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My Sister’s Keeper

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Adri VanWyck


She is my sister and thus one half of me.

Mary Boleyn

While driving home from an early errand this morning, I spotted a man and woman walking through a park, along an embankment above a river.  The man had the woman by the arm, and appeared to be pulling her along.  Although she wasn’t exactly resisting violently, something about their stride and body language seemed amiss.  The ‘woman’ could have been a teenager, as she was wearing pajamas and a hoodie.  I observed for a few minutes, then pulled over, got out of my car and yelled to the lady:  “Hey are you okay?”  She didn’t answer.  They walked several more yards, then the lady stopped and suddenly lay down on the ground while the man walked away.  I called 911 and described the situation.

“I’m sure she’s probably okay, I told myself,  but what if…I can’t just leave her there.” I waited for the authorities to arrive.  The lady didn’t move until police approached her location on foot.  The man who had been with her was escorted back to her location from the other side of the park.  I watched in relief as she got up and conversed with the officers, but I drove away feeling uncomfortable that I’d misread the facts, and inserted my personal judgments and suspicions into an innocuous circumstance.  I really hope that I didn’t cause pain, embarassment or incovenience for the couple that was trying to get from point a to point b on foot.

I’ll ponder my behavior and the decision to get involved for a little while, then perhaps take solace in the knowledge that for every false alarm, or misread situation, there is a violent and tragic act for which no one chose to get involved.

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Blessed Assurance

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The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.  Isaiah 58:11

Isaiah wrote his  book of prophecy approximately 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.  This specific verse creates the image of a lush, verdant sanctuary where God’s love is a source of spiritual refreshment. The verse also advises that God is always there to guide us.  I believe that with all my heart.

I’m always amazed however, when the nexus between scripture and religious practice exposes the vicissitudes of human nature.  A recent church meeting included discussion of the pastor’s proposal to decrease the number of Sunday services  to 2, including Sunday School.  A long line of my Christian sisters and brothers confronted our pastor with reasons why that shouldn’t happen.  For the most part the discussion was civil and respectful.

Then the pastor discussed allegations of money laundering that had been levied against him by a church member.  The church member, who was present, then went to the microphone in anger, and yelled at the pastor.  Bedlam ensued, and the pastor offered the possibility of police involvement to remove the offending congregant.

How could this outcome have been avoided?  What was the divine purpose served by this fiasco?  Aside from my personal distaste for conflict, I wondered how the children of the church learn conflict resolution in a climate of hostility and distrust.  I wondered how the church population can grow and receive the Word in the face of fractured loyalties and hurt feelings.  As an individual, I know that God is a source of Love and healing.  My personal life is a testament to that.  But after this meeting, I can only wonder how we translate those very passionate human emotions into collective Christian action that glorifies God.


The Skin I’m In

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I never take movement for granted, least of all pain-free movement.

Last year I was unable to take a step without a shock of arthritic pain blasting through my body. Daily hand-fulls of over-the-counter pain killers dulled the pain only enough to allow me to go to work and come home.

At 11, I’d had surgery for a condition called ‘slipped capital femoral epiphysis’. That’s a mouthful. Anyway, 37 years, 4 children and who knows how many pounds later, I was in trouble.

Enter the internationally noted orthopedic surgeon, James Cobey, M.D. I’d done my research. I knew of his participation in Physicians for Human Rights, and the thousands of free surgeries he’d performed in developing countries. He glanced at my x-rays and told me my prognosis: I needed hip replacement surgery. No surprise there.

I was surprised by other things. My insurance company’s wrangling over coverage and refusing to provide rehabilitation or physical therapy. So much for government employees’ Cadillac health care. I was surprised by the length of the snakelike scar which still wraps around the left side of my body. And I was surprised by the pain and the humiliation I felt while walking with crutches, then a walker, then a cane.

Almost a year later, the healing of my body and the healing of my soul are simultaneous. I started with Yoga at the local dojo. Now my visits to the gym include exercises that I could only have imagined before. A treadmill!! Me? I run and listen to my favorite music while working through the anguish of fearing that I’d never walk properly again. I run to restore my bruised ego, to achieve the body I’d always hoped for, and I run just to prove that I can.


The Perfect Man? No, the Perfect Me

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If only I could find the….

How many times did THAT though float through my mind? Irrational as it sounds, as I grew up, many girls in my age group assumed that the perfect companion would drop at their feet, and PRESTO! everything would fall into place. So, you meet dozens of wonderful people, then judge them against the Prince Charming myth. What a recipe for disaster.

Fast forward 25 years, and my younger friends say: “I just don’t believe in marriage” Wow. Ok, now that I’m at the end of my 21 year marriage, I can understand that. I think about the hardships and the struggles and the chores and the problems, and I wonder whether it was worthwhile.

On the other hand, the laughter, companionship, the adventure and the achievements are parts of my life that I would never trade. If I could bottle and sell the joy I felt playing with my 4 babies, I’d be the wealthiest woman on Earth.

The truth is, it’s time for me to grow. I have to develop the gifts I was given without fear of being judged, ridiculed or undermined. It’s also time for me to take the love I devoted to others and focus it toward myself in a way that allows me to be a better person. Confident, strong, unapologetic, kind and loving…

it’s just time..