Saturday, January 10, 2009
Not only will I be going to the Inauguration next week, but I'll be audible!
The strange things that the mind holds in reserve ...
Somewhere between the years of 11 and 13(dated by the image of the Elmhurst Jr. High School auditorium that crops up in the remembering) there was a blinding insight that has been a major factor in the becoming of Betty for over a lifetime. This had to be associated with the absolutism of childhood combined with an awakening sense of social responsibility. The insight was life-altering and has been incorporated into a value system that persists to this day.
I recall that it was in that school assembly while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance that it hit me with the force of revealed "truth." I found myself instantly falling silent at the words, "...with liberty and justice for all." Not only that, but I continued to mouth the words while holding back the sounds. I recognized the phrase as absolutely untrue. I realized, perhaps for the first time, that the words didn't include me or anyone like me, surely not my dearest friend and grandfather, dark-skinned Papa George. I also realized, instinctively, that those young classmates standing around me with hand over heart and the piety of youth didn't know that. That the teacher whom I adored and who was leading the pledge -- was unaware, as well. I didn't know at that point where the blame should lie, but it wasn't with anyone here in this hall. That I was certain of, and I had no wish to dishonor their patriotism by allowing them to be witness to my dissent. I only knew that somewhere I'd read an anonymous quote (perhaps in a tiny box in the center of a page in the Readers' Digest) the words, "Every day in every way what I am to be I am now becoming. Words to live by" -- and with the passion of a small well-read and uncompromising little girl to support it. I would not participate in the lie. Not then -- and not ever.
Later I would extend the practice to falling silent at the words, "...under God" and not because I'd intellectually worked my way out of religious orthodoxy; that would have required a far higher level of sophistication than I could claim, but because I found the words non-inclusive of other belief systems (whose God?), and was inserted into the Pledge for all the wrong reasons. But that came much later and from a far more reasoned place.
So that left two "audible" blanks in my personal pledge to my country though I continued to rise in respect and participate to the extent that my values would allow. I'd never discussed this with anyone and presumed that I was alone in this practice of censoring and deleting appropriate to my personal beliefs.
On Inauguration Day in this year 2009, I will stand and (for the first time since childhood) I will bring sound to the Pledge. I'll take my place as one of "We the People," and I'll "promote the general welfare" and "form a more perfect Union", and boldly proclaim my part in the re-creation of all that may restore our once glorified and now badly tarnished image as the undisputed leader of the nations of the free world. And those words held suspect for so long will finally ring true.
...and I'll do all that while witnessing the swearing in of the nation's first black president -- completely awed by the arc of all of our American lives that has brought us to this place of reconciliation and patriotism of a kind that now begins to make sense to those of us who have been silent and/or conditional in expressing it.
As I watch that historic national rite on Inauguration Day from the stands, I will be the only member of that audience of flag-pledging Americans who will know that I've uttered those words
"With Liberty and Justice for All!"
aloud, for the first time in over 70 years, and that I will be doing so as the full-fledged member of
"We, the people!"
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
It was in reading back my last entry that I discovered something that has eluded me all these years ...
At dinner a couple of days after Christmas my son Bob was speaking of his phone interview with author Bruce Frankel. He told us that it was while he was trying to think back on just when he believed I started life as an emancipated woman. "It was after the death of my grandfather and my father -- the main men in her life -- that she found her voice," was the statement he'd made to Bruce. I whole-heartedly agreed -- that is until I was re-living the Gregory Gardens meeting while writing about it a few nights ago. I think that I've always believed that I came into my own only after being forced to confront life without the men in my life who defined me. I think that I saw them as the positive space to my negative; that I had always been the other half of a whole. This is clearly not so, in retrospect.
When I read back over the account of that traumatic summer evening in Pleasant Hill I saw for the first time the actual description of my metamorphosis. I'd written that I'd suddenly stepped out of the role of victim and taken on that of defender. I know now that after spending those 3 years from 1950 through 1953 living as "other," and having to be seen as an outsider in that community with no way to escape the madness -- that I'd finally broken free. It was on that night in that frightening meeting that I tossed off the shroud of victimization that had held me in its grasp and became a full-fledged mature woman.
But it seems now when looking back that it was not possible for me to negotiate a way for that mature woman to exist in a marriage entered into by a 19 year-old girl with no expectations of emancipation and no idea of how to live in freedom. I was suddenly on a collision course with a reality that life had not prepared me for.
It must have been the Pleasant Hill event that changed the course of my life and started the process of slow erosion of my first marriage. I'm wondering now why I didn't see that the path I'd taken that fateful night would inevitably lead to full independence and complete emancipation at some point. Why did it take so many years? Why did I slip back into my traditional wife's role rather than proceed toward this new direction?
I'm assuming that it was easy to ignore the new restlessness since I'd found an avenue of expression through my association with the Unitarian Fellowship. I'd finally walked away from my restricting Catholic upbringing in favor of the intellectual and spiritual freedom of a new faith.
As it was with David Bortin, I can't recall ever speaking with Mel of my trip to Gregory Gardens. He was absent from our lives -- totally involved in his business at that point. About that time so much of my life became secret and unshared which probably caused the mental break a few years later when my distinctly different realities could no longer be held separate -- and when no amount of logic could bring them together with any semblance of order.
It was during those years that the threat to my sanity became real and when the artist Betty came into being. She was my defense against the growing split that would eventually have to be tended to. Fortunately, she found expression through a gift of a beautiful Martin guitar (still standing in my living room against the wall) that Mel gave to me at Christmas time that year. He had no idea what it would bring with it over the next few years.
The secret "Betty" that friends and family in my current world have no idea ever existed moved front and center for many years -- a talented young woman that I left in the suburbs in the early Seventies -- eventually abandoned but never quite forgotten.
She has been reclaimed only recently, and with no regret. She's back at a time when I'm able to integrate her into the whole and recognize her gifts with little ego involvement.
If only I'd found her sooner ... but then, I seriously doubt that she could have stood her ground before the Gregory Gardens Improvement Association the way that "defender" Betty did. And it was probably Defender Betty who saved us both, eventually. This is the "me" who took over our lives at that point and who (apparently) still runs the show.
I recall now saying to Bruce Frankel, "...life is about choices, and I'm quite satisfied with mine."
That is most decidedly true.
Photo: This was the frail (86 lb.) young mother who is seen here in the throes of a deep depression that evolved into Artist Betty after two years of great therapy and much support. (Click for enlargement.) The lower picture was taken a few years later after full recovery and after having written and performed a full repetoire of original songs.