Fleeing from a Truth Too Deep

My ex-husband and I once had the occasion to rush our then four-year old to the emergency room for treatment of a deep gash in his forehead. Although the wound was cavernous, and watching the technician place the stitches was practically un bearable, an abomination of another kind occurred while at the hospital.

Since the accident happened so quickly, and we were terrified that the injury could have resulted in long-term residuals, we scooped our son up and rushed him to the emergency room. In doing so, obviously neither my ex or I took time to put on ‘the Costume.’

You know…the makeup, suit, heels and hair that supposedly mark our membership in the professional ranks and make us immune from the disses, slights and insults tossed our way like so many chewed bits of gum. All in my mind, you say? Let me recount the story and you be the judge.

As we arrived at the hospital holding bloody towel to the forehead of a limp toddler, an emergency worker yelled at us to enter through another door: “This entrance is for emergency personnel only!!” He bellowed. In my natural plus-size lawyer Barbie mode, I’d have taken him out in one breath, given that I’m not one to back away from anyone’s mistreatment. In my fear, however, I just ran down the walkway and went through the other door.

Once inside, given the circumstances, the usual triage protocol was expedited, and my son was immediately taken to an emergency bed. That should have been the end of the story, but that’s where the real atrocity began.

The emergency room physician introduced himself and the suture technician. I found his relatively matter-of-fact demeanor reassuring.

As he described the procedure to close the wound and the lack of findings on the x-ray, I felt more comfortable that my beautiful baby boy would not be physiologically impaired or horribly scarred by his accident. When he asked if we had questions, I asked: “Will the wound granulate up from the muscle tissue, or will it close from the skin down?”. He looked at me, took a breath, and asked: “How do YOU know that word?”

I explained that I was a medical malpractice attorney at one time, and that I spent many years working as a disability attorney. He then launched into a lecture about how they disliked treating the children of attorneys, and how hard trial attorneys made it for them. I stayed nice and calm, and explained that I was only there in my capacity as a Mom.

I understand that the average urban hospital ER physician meets dozens and dozens of people who may have little or no exposure to medical terms or concepts, and that with curlers, dirty t shirt and shorts, I surely wasn’t wearing the usual symbols of my profession.

That said, what would have happened if I’d taken offense at his question, instead of internalizing the pain that it caused? What was the implication to be taken from his question? That someone who looks like me is so inherently ignorant that I should be patently unable to comprehend anything he had to say? Was I rendered unworthy of a straight answer because I hadn’t had time to put on the ‘face’ that morning? The little indignities that we hurl at one another all add up to a monstrous truth: We make assumptions about each other based on superficial factors, then back up those assumptions with hurtful or harmful actions. Because America’s social hierarchy still clings to the value system that places people of African descent at the bottom, we continually inflict harm or suffer. When will it stop? When can people connect to each other spiritually without regard to race or class? I have no answer, and since this is not a polemic challenge to the system we live in, I’m posing these questions simply because our survival as a species depends on our ability to take stock of our collective pain, get past these issues, and develop more compassionate, loving ways of dealing with each other.

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Book Review: War Anthem by Keith Andrew Perry

War AnthemWar Anthem by Keith Andrew Perry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

War Anthem, A Review

From the evocative use of language to the stirring plot, this novel provides an insightful analysis of human behavior and politics.

The rich emotional life of the main character, Jason Diggs, is the backdrop for a description of historical events few have known of before now. From the rise of Washington, D.C.’s Black intellectual class to the development and implementation of DC Home Rule, the writer, Washington, DC lawyer Keith Perry, chronicles the dazzling changes which occurred in Washington from the late 1950’s to the present time.

War Anthem takes an unblinking look at the superficial value systems and shortcomings of the Black middle class, much like E. Franklin Frazier’s Black Bourgeoisie. However, Mr. Perry also makes a largely positive and optimistic critical analysis of the way in which unique challenges and opportunities were confronted by Black Washingtonians.

Many DC political figures will recognize themselves on the pages of War Anthem. From the late Dave Clark and Walter Washington to Marion Barry, the personalities and behavior patterns of well-known individuals are clearly described. Without exception the writer treats individuals characters with respect and kind detachment.

Like all good literature, War Anthem tells more than one story. This book is a beautifully-written memoir about coming of age in Washington, D.C. as a fully conscious, self-aware Black male who understands the leadership responsibilities placed on gifted individuals.

“I understood how death changes both the future and our understanding of the past.

Gray images flashed before me of mother’s heroism during her illness and I considered the vacuum she was leaving behind. Had I been a weaker man, I might have passed through this time immune to my suffering, spurred by some grief induced amnesia; but like my mother, it was my privilege to consciously endure.”

Mr. Perry amplifies many archetypal themes in War Anthem, and in so doing provides a great service for us all. His achievement in this book is that he has woven a magnificent human tale regarding rites of passage and manhood with a story of political intrigue and municipal history. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I most assuredly recommend it as a piece of literature which I suspect will soon be required reading for young men matriculating through colleges all over the world.

Julianne Robertson King

Wayne’s World

216again

I received a priceless gift one afternoon as I left my office to grab a bite to eat. Before I focused on the temperature, or the people jostling along the sidewalk, or even my appetite, my attention was drawn to a man sitting in front of the building in a motorized wheelchair. He had an oxygen tank beside him which was hooked up to an outlet in a bank lobby next door. As I walked by him, as is my custom, I made eye contact, smiled, and said “hello.”

Because Washington, D.C. has so many homeless people, the average pedestrian has to make numerous split second decisions about whom to engage or avoid. The criteria for these choices probably arise from each individual’s values, beliefs and upbringing, mixed with the survival skills, or “street smarts” all city dwellers acquire over time. Also, The House of Ruth, a Washington shelter, used to have a van run, in which volunteers distributed food, blankets and warm conversation to homeless people. Working the van run taught me to trust my instincts about people, whether they were homeless or not.

I was drawn to this man in the chair. His face showed a kindness and intelligence that forced me to ask myself: “Oh God, how did he wind up here?” We introduced ourselves: “My name is Wayne.” He said. We talked for a good hour, about his term of Army service in Vietnam and having been confined and tortured for a time. It didn’t matter whether the story was factually accurate, he believed it, and the events he described were clearly a source of emotional trauma for him.

I eventually left to get a sandwich. As I passed by again to return to work, he asked me to look at the paperwork for a 501 (c) 3 filing. He was creating a non-profit organization for vocational training for homeless veterans. His filing was in order, and I took the papers back to him after I looked at them.

By this time it was cold outside. I had to work until 11 that night, and I was alternately worried about where he was going that night, and how, if at all, I would ever know what happened to him. When I told him I was going back in to work, he thanked me and handed me a bag from a local bakery.

That day was 3 years ago. I never saw Wayne again. The bag, which I opened later that evening, contained fresh bran muffins. Of course I had a fleeting doubt about consuming something given to me by a homeless person, and I examined them very carefully before sharing them with my family. The bigger lesson, however, was that someone who had suffered more than I can ever imagine had offered me what he could afford. Believe me when I say the muffins were all the more delicious because they were offered from the heart.

I think about Wayne frequently. I will never know where he is, or how he is. His innate nobility surpassed that of many of the ‘bluebloods’ I encounter throughout life, and pointed out that degrees and social status are not the primary indicators of a person’s quality. My wish for Wayne is that he is healthy and happy in whatever he chooses to do. My wish for the rest of us is that we allow ourselves to be touched and affected by the plight of others around us, because truly, you receive as much as you give.