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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Just returned from a weekend in Mendocino ...




... the occasion was for the intimate memorial service for my longtime friend and fellow traveler, Tom Freund.  It was a sorrowful event, but inevitable as it is for all of us mortals.  It was held in his beautiful home on a bluff at the ocean's edge with family and friends gathered to remember ... .

Tom was of the scientific world; a chemist -- and the son of the eminent chemist Jules Freund; Ivy League educated and a naval veteran.   But more than that, he was a gentle and compassionate being who worked passionately for those causes in which he believed fully until it was no longer possible to do so, though his irascibility and gruffness might deceive the uninitiated.  If there was a flaw in any endeavor, tool, instrument, composition, or thesis, Tom would find and bring it to light -- even when you didn't really want to know!

His failing health made it necessary to maintain two homes, one in suburban Walnut Creek where he spent about 25% of his life and where his small family lived, and where his doctors were reachable -- just in case, but also in the scenic splendor of quaint Mendocino where most of his time and community involvement took place.  He was an inveterate political activist and art enthusiast.  He gave generously of both time and financial support to those things in which he believed fervently.

It was this friendship that provided for me a place in life that offered context.  He was my contemporary and had become more and more important to me when our peers began to die off, and my world was increasingly made up of the young.  Each year this friendship seemed to become more important to my sense of balance.  There was never any doubt that he was intensely proud of the work that I was doing in the world, and never questioned my dedication to my chosen role in life.

Romance?  No, there are things that become more important as time wanes.  Companionship moves into prominence, and mutual respect, and a sense that one is appreciated in ways that may have been invisible at an earlier time; ways that transcend gender or sex or even power or a sense of powerlessness.  Those things just don't factor in when time becomes precious and the end times begin to emerge into everyday consciousness.

Sitting in that big chair with the expanse of an 180 degree view of crashing waves against monstrous rocks; with a lighthouse piercing its blinding rays into the blackness of night every 9 seconds -- from just a couple of miles away; with deer frolicking in the greening meadow just below; with 3 months of New Yorkers stashed right beside your big chair waiting for your return ... .

We'd celebrated birthdays together  for years -- mine being on September 22nd, and his on the 28th.  This year -- while I was in Washington -- he passed into eternity on the night of mine.  I knew the end was near, but I'd spoken with him by phone the week before leaving, yet I was not prepared for the news when it came after a day of celebration at the Department of Interior; such irony.  A few days after returning home I attended his burial with his small family and the caretakers who'd been so important in those final days when the way back was no longer in sight.

I will miss him.

I hadn't visited for over a year, though we'd had an occasional dinner together when he was in the Bay Area. This became less and less frequent as his health continued to weaken and as his future became darker.



You can imagine my surprise and delight when -- on Saturday in an idle moment I -- for the first time sat in my big chair to reach for the pile of New Yorkers and -- as I lifted them to sort through for the most recent, found lying underneath a copy of Elaine Ellison and Stan Yogi's book, Wherever there's a fight, a brilliant  history of the ACLU in California.  Though I have a copy given to me when it was published (there's mention of me and my  work with the National Park Service on two pages), I hadn't known that Tom was even aware of it.  I tend not  to mention such things.


I opened it to the dedication page and noticed a handwritten inscription from Elaine Ellinson which read:

          
To Betty --
Thanks to Tom you are getting another copy of this book. Thank you for sharing your story with us and for all your work for social justice. You inspire me!

Elaine Ellinson


It was like a message from beyond ...

... obviously Tom had attended a book signing at his favorite bookstore in Mendocino at some point during the year, and had bought this copy for me; had set it beside the chair that is mine alone when I'm there;  and -- though I'd not visited him for more than a year -- it had been dusted around and carefully replaced in wait for my return -- whenever ... .

That my return was for his memorial was almost too much to bear.

Out to celebrate Bastille Day
Sweet memories of walks on the Headlands covered with spring wildflowers; drives in the little red  Deux chevaux to find wild rhododendron hidden among the redwoods far back from Highway 1; visiting his favorite seaside winery above Fort Bragg; dinners at Noya harbor;  trips to Mendosa's for organic whole milk in glass bottles (because he wanted the very best for me); stopping in at the small shops where the most beautiful of the woodworker's pieces in every imaginable shape could be seen and -- i you weren't caught doing so -- fingered to feel the richness and texture; then to Nancy's -- his jeweler friend just to see what new designs she may have dreamed up to tempt the tourist ... then back to the Timbers -- the name of his oceanside home above the sea just in time for the magnificent sunset or the sight of the fog rolling in silently to enclose us in that wonderland I'd come to so love ... .

The Timbers was constructed some years ago from the redwood logs salvaged from the old bridge at Casper when it was torn down and rebuilt.  Craftsmen built in all of their love of wood long before Tom discovered and purchased it.  He then seamlessly added to the original design and the result is breathtaking! Can you imagine a beautiful redwood structure covered by a copper roof now oxidized to a soft grey/green patina ... ?  I know, it's just as beautiful as mere words would have it sound.

I will miss him dearly, at least until the healing begins -- as it is wont to do over time.  Yet one cannot live in the sadness too long lest it diminish those things we cherished in the living of it.

Rest in peace, dear friend.


How on earth does one respond to the state of the Union?

As are we all, I've been in a state of shock for a week, and grateful for whatever was built into the human anatomy that allows us to retreat into ourselves for whatever time it takes to recover.  That, I suppose, is what we call "shock."  How else can this state of numbness be described?

I'm guessing that I'd secretly kept a corner of my mind in enough doubt to retain the capacity to see the possibility that my country might well slip into a period of regression.  The hints have always been lurking in there somewhere.  We all must have known this, but chose to ignore it.

The fact that the electorate had been persistently dumbed down over past decades by a failing system of public education colored by the introduction of reality television being pumped into every home at the sacrifice of the nation's values and eating away at our cultural base until little is left with which to fight off cynicism and hate of "other-ness" and the empathy needed to support community.

Over coming months we may learn the painful lesson that Democracy cannot be sustained without an educated electorate.

My fear that the cause of the rise of hate -- gradually going dormant in our society but now being given one last chance at dominance -- may have been the growing apathy and disconnections within the democratic process. The 39% turnout in the last general election did not bode well for our ability to sustain our system of  governance, and the 50% participation in 2016 simply may not have been  enough to turn us back to the painfully slow progress being made over recent years

I suppose I'm less concerned with how the incoming administration will effect our fate as a nation as I am of the ascendance of hatred and bigotry into an electorate that has been inching its way toward forming that "... more perfect Union" over recent decades, and now will be slowed in that progress as we try to figure out where the Ship of State hit this reef!

I am fairly convinced that we may be seeing the final frantic defense in the attempt to reinvigorate white supremacy in a fast-changing world.  These may be the last gasps as the nation begins to realize and accept that our strengths are in our diversity, and that the inexorable creep toward that realization and acceptance might well be our final chance at eventual salvation.

Universal mobility and an irresistible system of communication has made of us one world; a world that might well begin to achieve a relatively peaceful existence, but only if we can come to terms with the urgent needs to save Planet Earth.

Just how we will manage to do that when the Evangelicals are now holding the reins of power -- good folks who sincerely erroneously believe that the "... scientific warnings of global warming, rising sea levels, climate change, are a hoax created by China",  -- and that this global concern is irrelevant since they are hoping to hasten the Rapture when Jesus will return to the world to carry them up to Heaven!  How do we deal with the deniers when everything in which they believe has convinced them that scientific evidence is simply humankind's wasted effort in the face of what they know is profoundly real and biblically verified by myth?

How could I have ever guessed that there would come a day when I would view Christianity as a detriment to any hope of sustaining life as we know it?

How can this be?

And how can one dare to utter such blasphemy yet feel the ring of truth in the utterance?





Monday, October 31, 2016

Almost from the day that the  first shipment containing my  ranger uniform arrived ... .

I've felt the pride that must surely be shared throughout the National Park Service -- the pride in the wearing of the "green and grey."  I was a part of that culture now, and from that first day I've felt at least 3 inches taller as I walk out into the community.  It never fades but continues to add spice to my work.

I remember being on an escalator at Macy's floating down in full view of all!  It was such an intoxicating sensation gliding noiselessly from on high onto the floor below and into a family gathered at the bottom with a lovely little young brown-skinned child looking up at me with such a look of wonder in her eyes ... and I was keenly aware that it was I who was the object of that look.

It was then that I realized the power in my image; that of being suddenly able to effortlessly and silently announce a career path into the  lives of every child of color I encountered.  To this day, that miracle repeats in elevators, on public transportation in all its forms, wherever I go and it continues to be heady and exhilarating each time it happens.

This image of "Ella" appeared yesterday through an email from 3 different people, Bonnie Allen, Judith Wilson-Pates, and Alonzo Davis.  It's a photo of Ella's halloween costume that was (according to the message) "an homage to Betty Reid Soskin, park ranger."

This 'lil' munchkin has been on my mind ever since.  There's something important here.  This little girl is probably being introduced to the concept of "respect," something she'll not understand for years, and it has little to do with me, personally, as much as with this flat hat, the brass i.d. bars and shiny badge, the meaning of respect for authority, and it will date back to this feeling that, hopefully, will be born in these early years.  This is what I saw in that little girl's face at the landing of the escalator in Macy's housewares department in those early years of the wearing of the "green and grey."

... but Ella will also know -- as we all must learn -- that one can only learn respect by being respected.  There is no other way to do so.  It may be an over-simplification, but I doubt it.  That simple truth might be useful were it given its proper place in community policing manuals.  This is the principle embedded in Black Lives Matter.

... and after so many years of reality television, this has been lost in the general population.  I truly believe that this abominable cultural development has eroded respect as well as any sense of empathy by its promoting of competition for its own sake, and selfish boorishness repeated ad nauseam throughout our systems of communication and social media --  so pervasively that we've ceased to even notice that we've been devolving now for decades, and that it is dangerously corrosive.

How else could we have ever arrived at a possible Trump presidency?




At Frederick Douglass House in Washington.
Busy and feeling hugely guilty these days ...

Ever since the home intrusion there has been this corner of my dining alcove where an accumulation of large plastic bags are stowed that hold the countless cards of best wishes, gifts from well-wishers from every corner of the nation -- all waiting appropriate thank you notes of acknowledgement ...

For a few evenings after the incident dear friends came with their own well-wishes offering to help to read through them (we did that for several healing evenings), with every intention of continuing until we'd properly expressed gratitude ... but that came to a natural end after I returned to work and to a calendar now crowded with future commitments which I've been dutifully fulfilling ever since.  The publicity created new exposure from parts of the world previously beyond my experience, and this was followed by trips to an amazing several days spent in Telluride, Colorado, participating in the Mountain Films Festival; then a few days later on to the WWII Museum in New Orleans to be honored along with others from that era; followed by ten days in Washington, D.C. for the opening of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.  All of that was packed into just a few weeks, and in between my presentations in our little theater 3-time/wk have gathered a following that is running at capacity.  Hamilton has nothing on us except a much larger theater; ours only holds 48 seats, but we're sold out at each performance!
with the family of Emmit Till at the opening of the NMAAHC


I cannot begin to tell you how unworthy it makes me feel each time those piles of cards, letters, and thoughtful gifts loom into view each morning as I sit sipping my tea with cereal and toast beside the harvest table that is now crowded with trophies and souvenirs, certificates of awards, proclamations -- all undeserved and reflecting my feelings of guilt at having accepted such honors from my community and the world!  I know that folks need heroes, but why me?  The crown does not sit comfortably on this greying head.

I must try to find the time soon or the weight of the guilt will follow me into my grave... .

You need to know that through all of this there are two sets of filmmakers working on two separate pieces (one that will capture my theater talks -- because the parks know that my shelf life is limited -- plus other aspects of the Rosie park story -- and the other projected to be a 90 minute piece about my family through the years).  In addition, the interview with Tavis Smiley on PBS resulted in a contract for the publishing of my memoir to be released next fall by Hay Publishing out of NY in connection with the release of the longer film.

How one deals with this fame would probably cause havoc in the everyday existence of one far younger than I, yet here I am at 95 trying to deal with it all at a time when I should be concentrating on End of Life issues, right?  The problem is that this is precisely where I find myself; thinking on all those levels and attempting to remain in the present; impossible!

But Life has never felt richer, despite all.

Monday, October 03, 2016

One of the WPA (Works Projects Administration) murals in the Department of Interior Building ... .

These were from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt era, and are truly treasured artifacts of those progressive times.  They turn up throughout the building, and one can take a guided tour to see them all.

This one is by an artist's whose name I've forgotten -- but will retrieve and post -- and pictures the audience at the Marian Anderson's historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial.  If you'll recall, this was due to the Daughters of the American Revolution's refusal to allow her to sing at Constitution Hall.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt -- with the help of Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes arranged for the concert to be staged on the steps of the Memorial to thousands of citizens.

The murals are controversial in some cases, reflecting the politics of the times, but were allowed expression without comment or objection.

To have the chance to see them on my 95th birthday was such an honor and a privilege.  That this would occur on the day when I met with 30 Freedom Rangers, 12-14 year-olds who had just returned from a bus trip through the South where they'd visited Civil Rights sites of the National Park Service -- to be followed by a birthday party 'down the hall' with Director Jon Jarvis and the WASO staff; then for a visit to the Ford Theater across town!



It was a day to remember.



Stopped in for a short visit with Rep. Jackie Speier before heading off for another with my representative, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier.  The invitation had arrived prior to our leaving the Bay Area.  It was our first meeting -- before we participate in an all-day conference for seniors held in her district every year.
Rep. Jackie Speier's birthday gift


Rep. DeSaulnier's role has been critical to the effort to gain the support of the president toward a final resolution of this lingering stain on the nation's home front history.  It occurred in those tumultuous times before we became more open to the lessons of democracy.



The Friends of Port Chicago has worked valiantly toward that end for years.  Since this is a member of our 4-Parks -- it seemed only fair that Kelli and I make the attempt to breathe whatever life we could manage to while at the seats of power.



Got to discuss the stalled petition submitted for the exoneration of the Port Chicago "mutineers", and was disappointed that so little has happened to move it forward for the families of those courageous dissenters whose convictions for refusing to return to loading explosives after the disaster of July 17, 1944.  Their brave action brought on the desegregation of the Armed Forces in 1948.

I've never understood the resistance to exonerating those young men.  If only our leaders would see -- if only we could communicate that it is not simply some isolated case of navy men disobeying an order during war time, but is the perpetual -- down through the centuries -- under-valuing of black male lives (that "3/5th of a human being" thing) -- that was the reason that over 3 thousand blacks were lynched over a century between the mid-1800s and the 1900s; the reason that they're disproportionally imprisoned; the reason black men are being destroyed today on the nation's streets in questionable police actions; and the reason those 50 young black males would have their lives dishonored by the refusal to exonerate them in the face of refusing an order under circumstances in which all white officers were given 30 days trauma leave.

If ever we are in need of sending a positive message to young black males who live every day in the fatalistic belief that their lives will end prematurely ... it is now.

This is not a new story.  To the contrary; it is centuries old.  It is tragically etched into our national consciousness, into the nation's DNA, and needs to be recognized and finally rooted out!  The exoneration of the Port Chicago "mutineers" is so much bigger than the story, alone, but could well provide a breakthrough in black and white relations between young black males and the authorities who, theoretically, are sworn and expected to protect them.

This is all of-a-piece of a despicable old normal that needs to be re-classified as an aberration!

How much more clearly could we state that Black Lives Matter?


We're still hoping to accomplish this before the Obama administration leaves office.



Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How will I ever catch up with myself?

Since the last post so much has happened; including a ten day trip to Washington, D.C., that was jam-packed with events, honors, surprises, etc., with not a minute to waste!

The YouTube Google talk happened on Monday, September 12, in the week prior to our leaving for the grand opening of the National African American Museum of History and Culture on the Capitol Mall.  This architectural wonder sits on a knoll next to the Washington monument and is the most exciting and beautiful addition to the Smithsonian museums that one can imagine!

Prior to leaving with my colleague and travel companion, Kelli English, our staffs here and in Washington had been planning an itinerary that surely have required "Helen," had I been aware of how impressive, how demanding, how intimidating that might be.

It came and went, and both "Helen" and I survived, and were none the worst for wear.

We arrived in D.C. late Thursday evening, and would you believe that I was recognized in the Baggage Claims at Reagan Airport even though not in uniform?  That should have prepared me for the week to come, but I'm suspect that I was still in denial (which I am no longer).

The trip to Google on Monday (just four days before our departure for the Capitol) had been a revelation.  Despite the publicity, I had no idea of the size of the Google campus.  It is like a city within a city, and is all that advance knowledge claimed it to be.

It seemed ironic, however, to note that in preparing for this video in one of their little theaters, 3 techies could not get the main screen to work!  We had to watch the video on a small screen because -- for all their effort -- no success.

During the first part of my talk I found myself disconnected from the audience because -- in order to meet the needs of the film crew -- it was necessary to use lighting that would cause the audience to disappear.  At home, I make certain that all of the house lights are on in our theater so that I can see the faces -- the eyes -- of those to whom I'm speaking; absolutely essential.  I need the connection in order to feel their presence.  Without that visual contact, I'm lost.

I learned in the process (after a few minutes of confusion because of the sense of being blinded and separated from the audience), that it could be overcome.  That I could still hear them stirring.  The stillness, once contact had been made, need not be threatening; and that we soon were caught up in an experience-in-common, and it was alright.  That's good to know.  This will surely happen again, and the next time I'll be prepared for the momentary loss of visual contact.

One of the delights of the Google trip was meeting this young Nigerian intern who has been with Google for about 6 months.  Here he is shown standing before a large Google Map pointing out his home, his school, and the pathway between.  The wonder of how this young man (about 20 years) has bridged the physical,  cultural, and generational distances between is miraculous.  For me it was like stepping into the future only imagined less than 20 years ago.

Wishing for a way to make a Faustian bargain for another ten years or so; at least enough to see into whatever comes next ... .



Betty Soskin: "Opportunity and Discrimination in WWII Shipyards" | Talks... 


Sunday, September 04, 2016

It was waiting at my desk on Thursday, the beautiful invitation to the Preview of the great National African American Museum on the Capitol Mall ... .

This photo was taken in June by Martha Lee as we stood outside the construction site of the still incomplete Museum.  It was thrilling to know that it would be open in a few short months, but at that time I had no idea that I would be invited to the festivities, though I was aware that our staff was working on that possibility.  Everyone knew that I was dying to attend this opening.

Finally, a few weeks after returning home from the WWII Museum's annual Gala in New Orleans, I learned --not only that Secretary Jewel would be bringing along the replacement coin from the White House to the Port Chicago Day of Remembrance -- but that she would see that the invitation happened, and it has.  Not only will I be able to attend the opening as her guest, but that I will have ten days in Washington to participate in a panel before the Congressional Black Caucus Conference with former National Park Service Director Bob Stanton, and a signature ranger from the East Coast,  Ranger Cassius Cash.  I will be involved in activities yet unnamed, but listed on a growing itinerary that no one is allowing me to see lest I'm overtaken by the vapors!

I will present to the museum a photograph of the convent of the nation's first all-black religious Order; the Holy Family Sisters.  The convent was built by my grandfather, Louis Charbonnet, out on Gentilly near the campus of Dillard University in New Orleans.  In June I saw among the temporary exhibits, one on that historic Order of Nuns, and vowed that I would locate that fading photograph and contribute it to the Museum to take its place among those artifacts.  I'll now get to do that.

I will not only attend the preview on September 17th along with the Collection Donors Preview & Reception, but will be attending the grand opening of the Museum on September 24th as well.  And that means that this 'lil ole lady ranger will be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Laura Bush, Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Willie Brown, General Colin Powell, etc., and we may all be wondering just how on earth she ever got on the A-List!



Celebrating the National Park Service Centennial with a Rosie Rally ... .

... which always leaves me with a feeling of being underwhelmed since I still lack the sense of relationship to the concept.  Rosie, for me, remains a white woman's story, with little relevance to my life.  I know.  It's silly.  I do spend almost  my entire life, currently, in the context of that history, right?  But try as I may -- those memories of exclusion are with me still after all these years.  I chose to wear my regular uniform on this day and to not participate except from afar as an observer.

I truly do not harbor any resentment, nor do I envy the women who remember that period of WWII with feelings of triumph over a social system that was pretty disrespectful of women in general.  It is a great feminist issue, and I firmly believe that today's women should use whatever they need to in order to bring light upon the issue.  I just isn't my issue, and I'm alright with that.

But there was a moment of amusement when I first saw those amazing women who'd gathered in the Craneway Pavilion of the old Ford Assembly Plant in the attempt to reclaim the Guinness Record for having the most women dressed as Rosie gathered in one place -- a friendly competition entered into with the women of the WWII defense plant in Dearborn, Michigan.  We broke the record with over 2000 people, a number that included several who traveled from Michigan to join with us in the attempt!

As I looked on that scene in the Craneway it was all I could do to not make note of the fact that -- given the context of my life and culture -- they resembled Aunt Jemima of pancake fame more than anything else!  Did they know that?  And in the script running through my momentarily demented mind, I was creating my own story where I would call in the NAACP legal team to make claim that these folks were expropriating another black symbol -- our icon -- and without our consent!  (... and, yes, I DO understand that this is not a legitimate black symbol, but simply a questionable logo created by the advertising industry.)

I backed out of the Craneway giggling to myself, as my fantasy went on to envision slave women in the cotton fields with their heads wrapped in red and white polka-dot bandanas added to by the descendants of slaveowners adopting this now iconic symbol without realizing what they were perpetuating, and now being joined by African American women in this Guinness competition!    And even if they knew, would it have mattered?  So much for traditions in these days of blending cultures.

After using the image to tease, I found myself going with the flow after a time.  It was a usual day for me, and I silently observed that the National Park Service only has 5 years on me, and that if I was feeling underwhelmed, it was probably to centennials not being such a big deal to one of my age.  Maybe I'll feel it more deeply when I get to Washington on September 15, where it is so much easier to relate to history; our collective narrative, which is so very powerful.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

So much has happened -- with so much waiting in the wings ... .

But at the top of the list is a very surprising email message received a few days ago from a publishing house in Chicago, the head of which -- in a few sentences -- informed me that he'd been looking for me for a very long long time, and he then shared a few words from a song I'd written and performed many years ago -- maybe 50?

At first I thought there must be some mistake, and responded with my doubts, yet, the song was clearly one I'd written long ago ... .

It was quite lovely.  Wind Song was written during one of our annual trips to Asilomar for Stebbins Institute of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  The kids and I looked forward to sharing that mid-August week with other UU families each year, building friendships that have lasted our entire lives.

The song was later picked up by a filmmaker, Charles Peterson, and used in Farallon Light, a documentary about the impending removal of the centuries-old beacon that had served on the island  to warn seafarers of hazards -- but also to serve as protection for shorebirds along the Pacific flyway --  instead of automated surveillance that could not provide enough of the necessary protection along the usually fogbound coastal shoreline.  I believe this prize-winning film influenced the decision to maintain a small team on the island supervised by the Audabon Society.

Wind Song came out of that rich yet personally painful period, but had been buried deep in the suburbs as our lives moved us in and out of one marriage and into another; the kids grew into their own lives; and I gave up my secret life of singer/composer of art songs in favor of a multitude of new edges to live out of into the next decades.  I'd truly moved past young Betty and deeper into the political activist/merchant/ranger Betty of today over those many years.

Shipley is seeking to include it in a compilation album along with other as-yet undiscovered artists of the 50s, 60s. and 70s.  How he ever found this obscure recording so many miles from its place of origin is a mystery I'll never understand.  About 3 years ago, another collector contacted me to announce that he'd turned up another of my songs ... once "out there," art seems to never die, I guess.  I marveled at the miracle and allowed the interest to return to the past without revelation.

You can imagine how Ken Shipley's message would reawaken those long-forgotten embers by breathing oxygen over them at a time when -- only last week I'd given a disk on which 7 original songs were etched -- for consideration for including in a documentary about our family; a work now in production.  After more years than I can count, here was my music stubbornly coming to life again in unpredictable ways, and having to be dealt with. This time I would pay attention.  This time there was a context in which it might live again.

Shipley included in his email the link to the little song.  Someone had taken a recording of my quite lovely little voice singing to my own barely adequate guitar accompaniment -- added a bass and flute -- and, Voila!, young Betty sounds quite professional, and with all those intervening years now past, I can now listen to her without ego or passing judgment, as if in the third person, and find myself responding to her as "audience."  Amazing!

Can you imagine having your younger self emerging into a suddenly-exploding life of "the nation's oldest park ranger," at a time when your older self is being caught in a flurry of floodlights and peering into camera lenses and speaking into microphones, giving interviews to Der Spiegel, the BBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, etc., none of whom has ever heard of young Betty the singer/composer!  She snuck up on all of us, and I'm not certain what to do with her at this point.

I will be leaving in 3 weeks for Washington, D.C., to serve on a panel before the Congressional Black Caucus Conference,  then to New York mid-week for another commitment, and then back to Washington for the grand opening of the new African American Museum on the Capitol Mall.

Surviving a home intrusion burglary may have been easy compared to trying to juggle September on the East Coast where my 95th birthday will be spent along with everything else, and now young Betty turns up at this late date -- opening yet another door into a fast-fading and very fragile future ... .

Sunday, August 14, 2016

It has been a very long time since I've posted ... and so much has happened ... .

I DO blame Facebook mainly for sapping most of the energy that once went into blogging.  That program tends to drain off the immediacy that once went into the processing of "...life as it unfolded," (I remember writing those words once to explain some other temporary issue), by having created a world of "friends" who now inhabit my world -- but not really -- and who tap into my reality in sometimes disconcerting ways.  There's something faux about it in that the word friend has been redefined into something that defies reality -- but that has loomed in the background of my life in ways that seem actual but are not.  Except that in a real emergency situation those friends who were virtual became quite real at a time when my life appeared threatened.

It was the early morning of July 1st (my late mother's birthday) when I woke at one-thirty to an intruder standing within six feet of my bed.  I live in a second floor apartment.  He'd climbed up using the drain pipe -- climbed over the railing, broke the lock on my sliding balcony doors and entered surreptitiously in the night.

He was a slightly-built white man wearing a hoodie and (I suspect) lightweight pajamas.  I knew that he was a white man because he spoke while trying to get me to stop screaming.  I would have recognized a black male voice.  He was probably 5'7-5'9.

I rose from my bed with my cellphone in hand (I'd placed it next to my bed) but had no time to summon the police before it was wrested from  my hand in a struggle that took us from the bedroom into the hallway with his arms pinning mine down and his hand over my mouth to silence my screams.

Had either of us been armed, my gun would have been taken from me in those same few seconds that my cellphone was knocked out of my hand and slung across the room.  I might well have not survived.

Gift on my return to work
He straddled my body as we struggled on the floor of the hallway and he beat me about the head and face with his fists leaving bruises and a split lip that would last for days.  As we struggled on the floor with me screaming as loudly as I could to no response (I didn't know that the two apartments downstairs were empty and there was no one to hear), but a sudden memory of defense strategies gave me the chance to reach into his loose-fitting (pajama pants?) garb and squeeze his genitals as hard as I could which caused him to back off allowing me to escape to the nearby bathroom where I immediately sat upon the floor with my feet propped against the door and my back against the cabinet housing the sink.  I remembered that my electric iron was stored under the sink -- let my feet loose for the few seconds it took to plug it into a wall outlet beside the sink and turned the dial to linen -- the hottest temperature -- and sat while it quickly gained heat enough to brand the culprit for the police to find him once caugh!

I have no idea where that power springs from under  such circumstances, but I do know that as I sat down on that floor I was suddenly as calm as a cucumber, and knew that I was going to survive this, that I was surely not a victim.  Though I'd never had to know this before now, I had the distinct realization that I could take care of myself, and that this intruder was not going to be allowed to change my life, nor to make me fear.  I suspected that his beating me was for the purpose of silencing me.  That he had no intention of killing me, or seriously harming me, that I was interfering with his intent to steal items that he could sell and that -- had I stopped screaming, or, if I'd pretended sleep and allowed him to do his work I might well have escaped personal harm.

I was told that this is a "victim's" way of blaming oneself, and not a healthy attitude, but I suspect that I'm right.

As I sat in that bathroom listening for signs of activity (at least 30 minutes), he was busy going through my apartment picking up items (my computer, my IPhone, a lovely hand painted bamboo fan and teak box beautifully adorned with abalone shells sent by as gifts by the South Korean National Park Service for an aricle I'd written for their journal; and the presidential coin presented to me by President Barack Obama at the national tree-lighting ceremony last December.  That, along with other challenge coins collected over time and together in a small wine-colored velvet drawstring bag that lay on the table in my living room along with other personal treasures.

Of the items, it was that presidential coin that I treasured most and felt most the loss of.

The physical bruises were not serious enough to require a physician's attention, though the fire and police departments were well represented in my living room within a few minutes after my neighbors placed the call.

They were outraged!  My community was outraged!  I think that I just felt lucky to have survived the encounter.

I was distraught, but held together until late the next morning when -- after a sleepless night -- I fell totally apart ... .

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