Sunday, January 19, 2014

Betty Reid Soskin "We're All in the Fight: African Americans at Work"

Life is moving so swiftly at this point that -- with so much to report on I'm losing sight of just what to say ... .

Yesterday I found myself in our little theater making 3 presentations to 3 different audiences, all in rooms filled to overflowing.  We've reached the point where the recent national  publicity is bringing visitors from far and near to hear me speak.  If this sounds almost beyond my capacity for humility -- it is fast becoming so, and there are times when it feels unreal -- at others, not so much.  I hear myself speaking logically; unscripted but coherent; and with confidence.  Where was all this expertise until this most recent decade?  Is this really the culmination of a life -- and what is regarded as "wisdom"?

Last week the Voice of America (global radio) interviewed me to provide content for overseas programming, and I was interviewed by a team of two emcees (women) from NPR-AARP out of Washington, D.C.   to be aired in the next few days.  The interview was by telephone and lasted for about ten minutes. As is usual -- no notes nor preparation -- just answering their prepared questions. 

After months of resisting the temptation to actually watch myself speaking before audiences (I'd much prefer not to risk having self-consciousness effect my ability to "do the work"); and after installing Apple TV on my new digital television -- I finally got into bed one evening recently -- tuned into YouTube, went to the search feature in the menu where I entered my full name, and up popped enough Betty Reid Soskin speeches to fill an evening!

Lying back on a stack of pillows with a blanket pulled up to my chin (to protect me in case I needed to cringe!), I watched myself speaking before about 600 (all white and in the Deep South) members of the World War II Museum at their annual convention in New Orleans.  It only took a few minutes of watching before I (magically) found it possible to separate myself from that uniformed woman on the giant screen and listen to her words from a distance of time and space.  She was obviously nervous but she made sense; was lucid even while speaking extemporaneously, and few words needed editing.  Could have used a couple of dabs of strategically-placed PolyGrip, but she was expressing her truth unconditionally, as always, which tended to overcome whatever misses were present in her delivery.

I then (finally) gained the courage to click on another of the links -- this time of the appearance on the Arsenio Hall show now months ago -- and by now my blanket had worked its way down to my knees as I watched "Betty, the 92 year-old national park ranger" bounce from behind the curtains and onto the stage to stand beside the star, and the experience of being there was refreshed -- and the heady feelings of being the only grownup in the room returned.  It felt unreal and wonderful!

However, none of this prepares me for the young woman who  (I quickly pushed it over the edge of my mind as preposterous but she persisted), when after a recent talk in our little  theater asked quite seriously whether I'd spoken before Congress yet?

At the time this seemed to make a mockery of all that had gone before; but ... do you suppose ... ?

... it's all so strange and unlikely, but then ...  all that's happened over the past few years strains the imagination even of one as old as I.

Maybe this is what it's like on the other side of the looking glass ... .