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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Differing realities? Dimensions? What gives?

I suspect that it is the gift of being able to remain in the now that controls the phenomenon, but whatever it is; I'm experiencing a new awareness that excites me down to the molecule level. It rivals time travel in ways that are undeniable:


It is possible to attend a meeting of seniors almost anywhere in the liberal Greater Bay Area and find myself amid hard-working, thoughtful, caring white-haired liberal/radical/progressives who are striving for equality at all levels. They can be found standing on street corners with picket signs damning war and demanding peace in our time. Stalwart members of the NAACP and the Civil Liberties Union are valiantly supporting their causes come rain or shine on any given day. They have surely been found at the gates of San Quentin protesting the inhumane death penalty. Life would hardly be worth living did I lose sight of their presence in my life. I've surely spent enough time during my long lifetime sharing and/or acting on those concerns. But they're but one reality in a life filled with complexity. Among primary concerns has always been racial equality -- something to be achieved at all costs.

Yesterday I spent a part of my day with the combined fourth grade classes at Joaquin Miller Elementary School in the East Oakland hills. It was African American Day, and the children had recently completed a unit on "the wartime migration of African Americans in the 40's"; intended to fulfill the requirements of the California History standard. I'd been invited by a member of the faculty (referred by the Oakland Museum) in my park ranger role to help to add life to their studies. The visit was to include lunch (typical African American menu of macaroni and cheese, potato salad, chicken wings, yams, mustard greens, corn bread and red soda water). In celebration of the day the children were costumed in the working garb of the period with little girls wearing colorful bandanas, the signature of the Rosies of WWII. It was pure delight to find a photo of myself (a laminated copy of the front page story in the Oakland Tribune) in their exhibit right along with the icons of the Civil Rights struggles.

I sat with the children during lunch and watched and listened quietly -- trying to figure out just what I could possibly say to them that might bridge the vastness of the space between their youth (9 & 10 year-olds?) and my 87 years. How on earth could that be possible? And if I couldn't build that bridge what purpose could my visit contribute to their learning?

Then through half-closed eyes (while sipping red soda from a paper cup) I suddenly saw the rainbow before me. This was surely one of the most racially diverse audiences I'd ever experienced. And it was all completely natural. The teaching staff as well as the children represented the full spectrum of the demographics of this remarkable American city.

Suddenly I realized that there was a congruence, a continuum of experience that meshed those white-haired activists working so hard to make right the world and these beautiful children with whom I was honored to share the day. It was this. They represent separate dimensions. Neither is aware of the existence of the other. Those sincere elders are still working hard toward goals that have already been achieved! The children in the All-Purpose room at this elementary school were the end result of that heartbreaking effort of the past decades of struggle. The questions and the answers were at hand in the here and now. And I was the bridge! Because I'm able to remain in the now, I'm experiencing both realities simultaneously!

Were one to question these children about their feelings about the election of the first black president, they would probably have no idea why we were even asking such a silly question! For them, the conversation is hardly worth engaging in. Were people ever so silly as to believe that they could own other people or lynch men because they refused to step off the sidewalks when confronted by another man or woman on the same path -- or that we would refuse to allow some people to ride in the front of the bus or that we would confine some to only the lowliest of labor because of a difference in skin color -- or, be so uncool as to refuse to share drinking fountains or attend the same schools because of race?

How to let them know what they'd taught me yesterday ... I tried in a small way by starting off saying, "... I'm not sure how to make the bridge that I'll need to tell you about my life -- I'm 87 years old. My great-grandmother was born into slavery in 1846 and my mother in 1894 and I was a little girl before there were ball point pens, bridges across the bay, push button telephones, or television or Harry Potter or cell phones -- etc. What is it that you'd like to know about me?" And from there the questions flowed.

It worried me that I may have been talking over their heads, but even if they were having to reach a bit, I felt connected to them, and even if I couldn't tell them that I'd discovered the differing realities, dimensions, and connections between the work of those dedicated elders and the perception ... that I had -- in a crazy few seconds -- slipped into a dimension where the questions and the answers had blended into a unified whole -- in a single moment of time -- in an instant that defied the limits of time and space ... .

As I was leaving after some picture-taking (which I'm hoping will be forwarded soon), it was clear that the teachers had heard me. It's possible that ... if my words were obscure -- maybe they'll evoke different questions from the children in days to come, and that new learning may occur because new thoughts have been introduced. I don't really know. I never know, really, except that I can sense viscerally when that human connection has been made.

But I drove away - back into the afternoon traffic on the Warren Freeway -- grinning to myself and feeling well-fed and affirmed in the knowledge that the world is in good hands and that those lovely children now growing into the process of democracy are being well-prepared by a diverse team of adult graduates of Sesame Street. That it took us all to reach this place, and that those caring elders may or may not ever know that they(we) were more successful than we could ever have dreamed. (I hope you're catching all this, Jim Henson, wherever you are!)

None of this will make sense tomorrow -- but this day, Saturday, May 9th, in the year 2009, I learned that I'm able to navigate differing realities and dimensions almost at will -- and as it is destined to be -- those distances between here and there and then and now will continue to narrow as the years taper into oblivion.

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