Monday, October 31, 2016
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.|
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.