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.

Advertisements

Playing in the Schooltime of Others

A typical day in the life of an American toddler might include a trip to the playground, some television, snack time and perhaps a play date with a friend. With a few inexpensive additions to the normal routine, a youngster’s pre-school experience could be transformed from mundane to spectacular. A field trip to the museums, or a day at a petting farm are just two of the many exciting adventures that might spark a child’s imagination and eventually make an enormous difference in his or her performance in school and on standardized tests.

Very young children learn best when exposed to information that is visual or tactile in nature, that is, if a 2 year old can feel a bunny’s fur or hear a donkey braying, he is likely to recall those events, even unconsciously, when asked to make word associations on standardized tests. Observing the patterns in the veins of a leaf, or watching the legs of a caterpillar as it crawls, or listening to the chord progressions in a Bach melody are mathematical learning experiences more valuable than a thousand classroom hours could ever be.

When my oldest child was an infant, my law school professor suggested I try the Glenn Doman programs. “Teach Your Baby to Read”, and “Teach Your Baby Math” are effective strategies to introduce letters, words and numbers to young children, and we had lots of fun with them.

Aside from the educational value, the time that parents invest in their toddler’s early learning experiences will reap priceless psychological benefits. The emotional bonds developed between parent and child are the foundation for the child’s self concept. A healthy, well-adjusted sense of self is critical in the child’s later efforts to build positive relationships throughout life.

For parents, the seemingly childish act of laying face up on the grass to observe white clouds pass across the sky could be a profoundly relaxing departure from the challenges of the grown-up world. For a child whose parents took that time to spend with them, it could mean the world.

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

Mirror, Mirror

The Evil Queen

The queen stepped before her mirror:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?

The mirror answered:

You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But Little Snow-White with the seven dwarfs
Is a thousand times fairer than you.

When the queen heard this, she shook and trembled with anger, “Snow-White will die, if it costs me my life!”

Standing apart from the widely-accepted archetype of the female as life giver, care-taker, and warm nurturer, is the seemingly aberrant character of the Evil Queen. She crops up in folklore and fantasy literature as the arch nemesis of the likes of Snow White and Cinderella (that’s the evil stepmother upgrade.) Her jealousy, her spiteful and bitterly vindictive nature, and her apparently Godless lack of compassion or empathy are legendary. As villains go, the Evil Queen presents a disarming conundrum since she is usually endowed with physical beauty.

..and as we all know, beautiful people are always good. Right?

In our admiration of the beautiful, do we tend to lower the behavioral standards and norms the rest of us have to follow? Conversely, how accurate or fair is the stereotype of the beautiful, but superficial person who is consumed by ego-dictated goals and desires? Perhaps the Evil Queen and Snow White are two halves of the same whole. Maybe their extremes of character are posed in a manner that allows the reader to reflect on the idea that true beauty lies somewhere deep beyond the formation of cheekbones and eyelids and lips. Maybe real beauty is all about someone’s heart and soul.

Proverb. First found in a work by Sir Thomas Overbury’s, 1613:

“All the carnall beauty of my wife, Is but skin deep.”

In Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters author John Steptoe describes similarly polarized opposites. Manyara and Nyasha are both dazzlingly beautiful, but one is compassionate and sweet while the other is ambitious, cruel and spiteful. They are both sent to see the king as he prepares to chose a wife who is the most worthy and beautiful young woman in the kingdom. Since Manyara and Nyasha share the same upbringing, parents and life experiences, the differences in their character and personality must be the result of deeper, inborn traits. These traits are exposed as they endure the journey to the palace, and the king chooses the daughter who is beautiful both inside and out.

The story raises the twin questions of the nature of worth, and its relation to beauty. In the story, the King desires ‘The Most Worthy and Beautiful’ daughters in the land. What does it mean to be worthy, and must one be beautiful in order to be worthy? If not, why does the King have this added request for beauty? Would he reject a worthy queen who was not beautiful, or a beautiful queen who was not worthy? Which is better, and what do you think? http://www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org/wiki/Mufaro%27s_Beautiful_Daughters#Questions_for_Philosophical_Discussion

For me, American society’s fascination with external appearance and body consciousness is as destructive a force in our collective psyche as any mass hallucination to ever take hold on a people. The questions of who is beautiful and who gets to decide is a never ending fairy-tale that drives sales in cosmetics, hair care, jewelry, advertising and a dozen other sectors of the economy. The deeper, more fascinating inquiry is in the nature of a personal individual quest: If my spirit shines brightly enough to overshadow any physical flaw or imperfection, how could it matter?

Revisions in Renaissance

Christ Supported by Two Angels by Giovanni

Christ Supported by Two Angels by Giovanni

I spent a wonderful day with 3 of my kids at the National Gallery of Art last week. I grew up enjoying Washington’s many museums and galleries, and I’d forgotten how much fun it is to analyze the paintings for their style and content, as well as the hidden historical and mystical references. Not fast-paced like an action movie, but riveting in its own way.

There was great beauty expressed in many of the paintings we saw. The Italian and other European artwork created during the period between the 14th to the 17th century, displays technical brilliance but also an attempt to deal with emotionally challenging parts of human history. I tried to draw the childrens’ attention to pictures that said one thing about an event which we know occurred in a different way. The crucifixion of Jesus is a perfect example.

The Crucifixion by Benvenuto di Giovanni

The Crucifixion by Benvenuto di Giovanni

In this post-Passion of the Christ era, the Italian Renaissance paintings depicting clean, beautiful, pious saints caught up in the rapturous process of Jesus’ crucifixion and death were oddly disquieting for me. The enormity of the lie therein was just too much. This big lie has become a pivotal element of Western Culture. Presenting a gory scene with pristine cleanliness is only valuable symbolism when the underlying truth of the matter is confronted honestly. If not, it’s just a collective hallucination.

How dare European painters make the act of nailing a man to a wooden armature anything other than horrific? The mockery of a trial and the ritual formalities involved in the sentencing are not the issue. Think about the nerves and the skin and the tendons and the bones that were shattered and separated. There would also have been enormous amounts of blood.

From the movie Passion of the Christ b yMel Gibson

From the movie Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson

Without reaching the issue of Christs’ political status among Hebrew men of his time, or his skin color and ethnicity (although that is a big one) or perhaps even his cosmic intervention into humanity’s downward spiral….just think about the blood and the pain and the sacrifice.

I take issue with the way the story is mangled time and again. Titian, Bellini, Francesca. ..the neat, clean presentation of what had to be a monstrously violent, barbaric act. I have read the prophecies of Isaiah and I know of Christ’s experience in the Garden in which he becomes reconciled to his fate. I get it…the martyrdom thing.

Just don’t lie about how bad it really was.

4mac

Blessed Assurance

metropolitaname

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.


Making Sense of the Incomprehensible

The pain of losing a friend or loved one can be traumatic, even debilitating if the death is unexpected. In the wake of a sudden loss, mourners often retreat from society and contemplate what the deceased person meant to them, and eventually, ask the ultimate question: “Why did they have to leave?”

I recently read: Messages from the Masters, Tapping into the Power of Love, by Brian Weiss, M.D. (Warner Books) Dr. Weiss, a psychiatrist, has developed a body of written work documenting the controversial topic of past life regression. His essential premise is that Earth has been created by God as a learning environment and each human soul lives numerous times, acquiring knowledge that brings us closer to true enlightenment. His technique, spiritual psychotherapy, involves inducing each subject into a state of deep hypnosis during which they purportedly recount experiences from past lives. Invariably, the subjects return to waking consciousness with deep insight as to a problem or issue in their current existence. Dr. Weiss’ discussion also encompasses the idea that the capacity to love is in our nature as human beings, and that love is a universal energy which unites all things. I believe him.

On the other hand, life’s tragedies challenge that belief. Hugh Johnson was a wonderful a man. He was my son’s Godfather. In August 1989, he left Washington with Congressman Mickey Leland to go on a mission to an Ethiopian refugee camp. Before he was to leave for the airport, we stopped by to say goodbye and to give him some money to purchase African artifacts. Just before we got into the car to leave, Hugh asked me: “When is that baby due again?” (I was pregnant with my second child) I thought to myself: “Hugh we just talked about that” but I said: “November.” He said: “We’ll be looking out for that.” I remember taking an extra good look at him, and having a vague feeling of dread, but being a worrier by nature, I discounted it. The plane he was on disappeared in Ethiopia before reaching its destination.

After an agonizing week of praying and watching CNN around the clock, Patricia called to say that the wreckage of the plane had been found and that there were no survivors. Hugh, and 13 other people died in the plane crash that killed Congressman Leland. The babies he left behind lost something no one could ever replace. What was the deeper meaning of his death? What lesson did we all take from that loss? Even 20 years later, the ‘why?’ just escapes me.

In September 1992, my husband and I enrolled our then 4 year old son into a Washington D.C. pre-school. Our little boy appeared to enjoy the learning and socialization process well enough. The only other black child in Donald’s class became a special friend. DeVaughn was with Donald constantly. He was bright, bubbly, handsome and completely adorable. I loved him. Donald, DeVaughn, and my 2 year-old daughter Justine had marvelous play dates, spending hours talking, singing, role playing and all the other things little people do.

Then DeVaughn was murdered.

On a Sunday morning before I was to take Donald and Justine to see Dance Theater of Harlem, my husband came in the room looking stricken. Alarmed, I turned off the television and felt my mind break as he told me what happened and that the headmistress of the school called to alert him before he saw it on tv. There is no way to reclaim the piece of my psyche that I lost in the aftermath. I cried every day for weeks afterward. I cried for DeVaughn, that he was hurt and that he suffered. I cried for his Mom, who was also hurt in the attack. I cried for Donald and Justine’s lost innocence, knowing that they would always remember their friend and his loss.

I was angry at myself for not understanding that the life of a black child can be at risk even when it is sheltered in the coccoon of white privilege. In an attempt to sheild my son from the rugged truths in our world, we wound up bringing him to an ultimate truth: the life of an African-American male can be extinguished at any time and for no reason at all. The killer murdered more than DeVaughn’s body, he erased his future. There will be no football, or girlfriends, or college career for him. We will never get to meet his children or his wife. All we have are memories of his smile and delightful laughter. The memories really don’t satisfy or bring true comfort.

I still struggle with this loss. My son still struggles with this loss. He had DeVaughn’s birth and death dates tatooed on his arm on his 18th birthday. Unlike the subjects of Dr. Weiss’ book, I really can’t make sense of DeVaughn’s death. Maybe if I hadn’t loved him so deeply, I would have long ago put this memory away. Does that mean the answer is to love others less to avoid the pain of loss when they are gone? I don’t think so. But the pain and the questions persist. They always will.

My prayers are with Jennifer Hudson and her sister.