One lifetime in which any one of the great adventures of these past few years should occur, is unimaginable, yet ... .
Saturday, May 13, 2017, will go down in my personal narrative as comparable to the Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, or, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, or the sharing of the tree lighting ceremony with the First Family -- with that frayed-around-the-edges little picture of my great grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen, clutched in that little maroon velvet pouch in my left hand as I introduced the president to the nation; the memory of the warmth of the hand of President Barack Obama as he slipped that coin engraved with the presidential seal into my palm ... all of it was embodied in that moment when the beautiful cowl was draped over my graying head and slipped into place by the gentle hands of President Elizabeth Hillman.
There were two teams of filmmakers somewhere out there in the audience of 4000, filmmakers who by now have become indistinguishable from my friends and were no longer to be feared or even noticed as they go about their work of documenting this extraordinary ordinary life of Betty Reid Soskin. They've now been with me in the shadows for over a year, and by Saturday had become almost invisible despite the paraphernalia necessary to their mission, simply because there was so much in the way; family and friends scattered throughout the VIP section, over 200 graduates capped and gowned eagerly and daringly standing on the threshold of "Life". I'd caught a glimpse of my two sons and granddaughter, nieces, cousins, friends from my Unitarian world who are no longer a part of my daily life, but who helped to get me over many of the rough patches to today. Friend and mentor Farai Chideya who had flown out from New York a few hours ago just for this ceremony, and would be back on the afternoon flight for her return trip! My National Park Service family was well represented.
From the moment of arrival, I'd been shepherded from place to place by gracious Mills faculty, board members, all manner of hosts and hostesses, so that there was never a moment in which to connect with friends and family, which was one of the unexpected disadvantages. I'm now receiving loving messages from many who were witnesses to my great moment, but were unable to ever connect during the event.
Also unanticipated was the strength and power of the "virtual" community that has now become the source of energy and courage that I'm consciously drawing from each time life hands me one of these larger than life experiences. Some in that "family" have been with me for the past 25 years, from the world we created on Seniornet, an online community emanating from San Francisco many years ago. Quill, Janina, Jayne, oh so many, whom I've never laid eyes on, but who have been the wind beneath my wings for a very long time.
So much is owed to so many ... .
In those rare moments between thrills sitting on the platform as the graduates paraded past receiving their diplomas, I was so aware that -- rather than "We shall overcome" playing in the back of my mind in the rich contralto of Mahalia Jackson, it was something quite unexpected. This was my Brigadoon moment, and my black metaphors were hopelessly overwhelmed by a long life in the rich diversity of the greater Bay Area. It wasn't the voice of the noble Dr. Martin Luther King whispering in my ear, but a tiny brown leprechaun resplendent in green garb sitting on my left shoulder channeling Al Jarreau riffin' on Look to the Rainbow!
Oh, and this song, "Look at me", was written over 40 years ago. Only the last line was changed to fit the occasion. My music, including Look at me, is becoming the sound track to one of the documentaries now being filmed. There is talk of an album to be released along with the films.
Which brings us to yesterday, the day after this memorable celebratory ceremony, but while I'm still in my paper hat ...