Monday, May 27, 2013
... flicking through photos while trying to select the one that best illustrates yesterday's post, stirrings of old images came to mind and took over completely for the rest of the afternoon. I'd tentatively accepted an invitation to visit the S.F. Museum of Modern Art today with Tom, but my mind stayed fully occupied with memories that refused to let go:
The photo below (labeled "Pensive") is one taken by my husband, Bill, at the San Mateo home of our friend, Archdeacon John Weaver of Grace Cathedral. John's wife, Jean, was the benefactor who'd been supporting Bill's UC Berkeley research project through her Orleton Trust through which her considerable philanthropic work was carried out. His Project Community was co-funded by the W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation out of Chicago. Stone's son, Norman Jr., was a graduate student doing his doctoral studies in psychology on the staff of Bill's program.
I'm listing names here because they're important. Who these people are is a critical element of the story. The fact that it was in this same lovely apartment that -- on another Sunday -- we'd watched the thrilling game between the Forty Niners and the Cleveland Browns, the team owned by Jean Weaver's brother.
It was Fall of 1975 and Bill and I were active members of the Vallombrosa Conference which met annually at a stately conference center down the Peninsula. The organization served as the Think Tank for the Northern California Episcopal Diocese, then headed by Bishop J. Kilmer "Kim" Myer. Vallombrosa was the equivalent of the Club of Rome which serves in the Vatican as advisory to the Pope and to which some of the professionals within this circle were also appointees. These are the world academic leaders, and for reasons unknown -- fate had me sitting among them as a faculty spouse and "co-equal."
The two-day conference drew the elite of the educational institutions among them being Dr. William F. Soskin (my "Bill), who often served as counsel to both the Archdeacon and Bishop of the Northern California Diocese.
Over time of attending Vallombosa I'd heard papers that led to highly-acclaimed books; among them was Paul Ehrlich's Population Zero, Stanford's Economist Hazel Henderson theories, and Ken Watts' groundbreaking non-fiction The Titanic Effect. It was here that I was exposed to all sides of the debate on the Peripheral Canal, and met the leaders of the Farm Worker Movement, including Cesar Chavez; and Beclee and John Wilson, VP of Bank of America worldwide -- and president of International Church Women United, respectively. At the time I was struck by the fact that there was this coterie of brainiacs who knew the future and were sharing critical information that would not be known by the rest of us for months and maybe years. These were the futurists.
It was in those years when we served on the planning group out of which came the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Some of those meetings were held in the living-room of our Berkeley hilltop home. Those were heady times that preceded my work as a field representative for two California State Assembly members. This was where I cut my political teeth, and developed both the will and the desire to serve in some public capacity, if needed.
It was in these circles that the growing interface between eastern (Tibetan Buddhist) thought and western physics was beginning to emerge. Sam Keen's Psychology Today, Fritz Perls at Big Sur's Esalan, and Werner Erhardt's Est were changing the social sciences through revolutionary programming. It was a dizzying time of change -- and I loved every minute of this new world of intellectualism that I'd married into by sheer accident.
The evening that this photo was taken we'd gathered as a small committee to begin the initial planning for the Bicentennial Celebration at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. There were probably no more then 8-10 members present and there was electricity in the air. I don't know why Bill chose that moment to aim his camera, but quite obviously he sensed the storm gathering, and that my initial excitement was beginning to turn to anxiety... pain ... he knew the signs ... .
There was talk about how the lower level of the Cathedral would be decorated and the Archdeacon disappeared for a few minutes into another part of the apartment and returned with a long antique musket and a lovely though worn handmade quilt with the announcement that these had been in his family for generations -- since the Revolutionary War. We would all bring family artifacts and ephemera from 1776 to display! This would be the group who would surely own such treasures, right?
I should mention here that Bishop Myers and his wife had adopted two children, one white and one black; children who were now in adolescence. He was surely sensitive to the issues that would enter the room in the next few minutes.
I was silent as long as it was possible to restrain the rising emotions that were making it hard to breathe, and then -- tearfully but quietly -- wondered aloud if I should then bring my shackles and chains to exhibit? In the shocked silence that followed everyone understood that this celebration would be uniquely "white" and privileged since many American ancestors were owned by others at the time of our nation's founding, and many more had been cruelly vanquished as the "Patriots" took over the ancestral lands of the American Indian.
They did.I now know that it was in those moments that I first learned that one could speak truth to Power -- and that Power would listen.
They still do -- on Tuesdays and Saturdays at two o'clock in the afternoon.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
The incident happened about a week ago and is only now coming into consciousness ...
Commentaries at the two o'clock programs are beginning to draw a small following. I've started to notice people who've been in those audiences a number of times, bringing friends and relatives. Invariably there's a growing closeness as my 15-20 minute talk comes to an end, and people begin to file out past me -- each obviously moved by my words. I'm not yet comfortable with the deep feelings that are tapped into as we go through what has become a parting ritual -- I stand against the wall on the stairway as they're leaving - with almost everyone pausing to say a personal word or two -- and as the last person moves past, with head down I exit through the west stairway -- retrieve my belongings from the drawer in the upstairs office -- and bolt for the parking lot. The emotions that rise with the memories is sometimes draining, and I'm suddenly tired. Sometimes I sit in my car for a time before driving into the afternoon traffic for home. How a 45-minute program which includes a 16-minute film can produce such intensity remains a mystery ... .
Without realizing it, I'm discovering the reason why I'm still here. Whenever some one asks, "how'd it go today, my answer is usually, "okay, I guess," but without an ability to say precisely what went on.
Time has taught me that how people in that little theater feel about me is far less important than how they feel about themselves as the result of my work. Sound crazy? Not so. I truly believe that the reason that -- though there are all races represented in the room -- they tend to have a similar emotional response to my stories. Maybe it's because each hears him/herself somewhere within. Ultimately, the social changes that have occurred over a lifetime are largely due to enough of us, together, bending in the direction of fairness and justice so that we've changed society in significant ways, and that we continue to do so.
Then it happened:
In the middle of my commentary a large elderly man and the 3 people who were with him rose in the middle of my talk and walked out! It was a total surprise. I brushed it aside to finish my remarks, refusing to take it personally. Maybe he just needed a bathroom break, right? But that was about two weeks ago, and today the scene rose to mind as I was slowly waking to the day.
I opened my eyes and stared into the dark wondering if I shouldn't do some editing? Maybe I was becoming too comfortable in this role and had ceased noticing rising resentment that might be present in the room. Was I missing something important in those moments?
Maybe there was doubt about the literal truth of my stories ... but I've never claimed to be an historian, always sharing my history as personal; an oral history, and nothing more or less than an accounting of my own experiences. There was no reason to believe that anyone thought of them as anything else.
... and the flash of insight that occurred this morning before day broke through -- as I felt a smile breaking with the dawn.
It matters less that my stories are "true" (when of course they are) and that they match recorded histories of the professionals whose work it is to be accurate and proven. It does matter than I'm rising out of my own shoes -- that I'm authentic. Oh how I wish I'd learned this lesson earlier in life. It's an important one. Comparing my work to that of scholars is like apples and oranges. We are on different paths.
I suspect that it is that authenticity from which the acclaim that I'm experiencing in the world comes. And it is authenticity that cuts through the walls of separation on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons at the two o'clock presentations in our little theater.
... and it won't catch 'em all. It doesn't have to, really. It still matters how people feel about themselves as the result of the work that I'm doing, and I can see the wheels turning as we part on the stairway -- when they clasp my hands in theirs as we go our separate ways.
Maybe I've found the source of the power and the reason for continuing on -- at least for now.