I've been mulling this over since returning from New Orleans. It's a scene that rises every now and then -- mostly when I'm needing a shot of humility to balance off some of the awesome things that happen unexpectedly and leave me feeling just a little intoxicated ... heady ... disbelieving.
It happened earlier this week when there were calls seeking commitments for engagements -- first as a presenter at Stanford for students in Feminist Studies. A professor had traveled from the campus in Palo Alto to hear my commentary in the regular Saturday afternoon theater presentation. She hung around afterward to extend the invitation. I'd already accepted a role as panelist at St. Mary College's International Women's Day all-day conference there on March 9th. (By now my head-band is showing signs of tightening ever so slightly!) And -- I'm this year's speaker for the City of Richmond's Black History Month program in our Convention Center.
Then the invitation came from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services in New York City -- the writer of the email wanted to know if I would be willing to travel to New York anytime during the first two weeks of February -- for their Black History program. What an honor!
The first 3 months of the year are the busiest; January with its Dr. King observances; February as Black History Month; then March being Women's History Month. I've been scheduled for months, and there was just no way to even think about trying to make such a trip for a single engagement. Besides, my persona may be getting in the way of my work, and I could get lost in the hoopla and forget what's important.
Just about the time that I was threatened with a spasm of what could be terminal self-importance, I was reminded of the man in the elevator back in December:
I'd just finished my speech for the International Conference of the WWII Museum in New Orleans. Again, it had happened; that magical thing where I'm just coming to the end of my speech and I become aware of the dead silence in a room of 500 people -- painfully aware of the responsibility one has for delivering something of meaning into that void when you've become the object of pure focus -- and I felt my voice trail off -- uttered something inane and returned to my seat on the dais. At which point the audience rose as one in a standing ovation and my knees threatened to cave ... but didn't. It was a magical and unforgettable moment in time!
Because one never knows what to do after such moments, I sat and waited for it to end, then headed head down for the elevator hoping for a few minutes of stillness before returning to join the other presenters for a walk through the French Quarter to Armand's Restaurant for the celebratory banquet. For now I needed time to reset my buttons, allow the adrenalin to flow back into balance, and then I'd be good to go again.
As I pushed the elevator button for the 9th floor of the Astor Crowne Plaza hotel, a huge hulk of a Southern gentleman rose up beside me. Here was Big Daddy straight out of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". Only the straw hat, white suit and stogie were missing. When the elevator arrived he followed me in and stood quietly in the back. After a few minutes he spoke in an unmistakable Mississippi drawl, ".... Lil lady, Ah wants you to know that you are a credit to yo race!"
There it was. Pure Senator Claghorn (who?) and should have been followed by "that's a joke, son!" What scriptwriter would dare use such words these days? Does anybody really talk like that any more? I looked back at him and smiled a smile that threatened to explode into an undignified giggle! I could think of nothing to say in response, but the quick glance back assured me that this southern gentleman was sincere. He was doing his level best to reach out beyond the barrier. He was praising me for what had happened in that ballroom a few moments ago. This was the deepest part of the South, and only I was out of context. He continued as we approached my floor, "... and Ah sho would like to know what kind of pills you takin' to stay so young!" The little light for the 9th floor flashed and the elevator slowed as I answered, "No pill, sir, but it just might be that race mixin' enhances the gene pool!"
The elevator door closed behind me and my hero was on to the next level; probably muttering to himself!
Today, in thinking back on my rising profile, I was again reminded of just how far there is yet to go, and of how small a cog I am in the Wheel of Life.
... the more they are the same ... .
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