Thursday, June 3, 2004

Some personal reflections on a summer sunday

I know that many, particularly on my side of the political spectrum, may have found it hard to abide the week-long funeral for a man with whom they disagreed. I knew the man and worked for him, albeit at a distance. I had my chances to disagree at the time, when it mattered. And, on occasion, I did...and sometimes even won.

But that's all past and so now, too, last week. And, upon reflection, I'm happy for the respite...and the time for reflection. How petty all the politics, when we pause to catch our national breath.

It came at a good time for me. For thanks to you and your feedback, I've found myself receptive to thinking again and a little more deeply about what this and we are all about. I hope, therefore, you'll allow me some personal reflections on a sunny summer Sunday.


One of you reminded me this past week that of those primary virtues - faith, hope, and charity - it is charity, love, that is paramount, pervasive, and never-ending. I don't know why I had to be reminded, but I did. Let me assure you I now remember.

But let me also confess that I must constantly struggle between that love, which I know will triumph, and the daily anger at the manifest injustices and myriad killings in our world, be they in Baghdad, Belfast, Bangladesh, or Bay View-Hunters Point. It is sometimes hard to maintain one's equilibrium in the face of the outrages that assault us every day. But we are called upon to do so - to soldier on, to be prepared to forgive, and to bring peace.


There is a difference, you know. Sunny optimism in the face of such daily outrages is not what we need. It does not do to say things are right when they are not...which they are not. There is a difference between "Morning in America" and that "City on a Hill." That talk of "morning" merely papered over manifest shortcomings and inequities. Striving for that "city," however, we are called upon to hope that we can be better than our feet of clay remind us we are.

That difference is what Gunnar Myrdal so eloquently described in his 1944 classic sociological study An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. In that book, still dear to my heart, Myrdal posits the "dilemma" as a "moral issue" that is "a white man's problem." There was nothing to be optimistic about in 1944, neither on the part of a Swedish sociologist nor of Americans, black and white. But, he made clear, there was reason for hope in what he called the "American Creed" - you know, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the 14th Amendment. Those as yet unattained aspirations, he reminded us sixty years ago, remain a burning coal to our shortcomings, a goad to the fulfillment of what we profess to believe. That is cause for hope!


During the week of eulogies and political point-making over the memory of Ronald Reagan, I could not shed a tear in the face of the orchestrated public grief...until, that is, that final Friday sunset, when Nancy collapsed in the arms of her children, clutching her flag and her memories.

In that very private moment, I recalled what she had once said of her relationship with her Ronnie: "We completed each other." I know what she means, for this week I have been ruminating about my own life. And, rummaging through old letters, I came across one from January 21, 1966 in which my Mimi wrote "You make me feel complete and whole"... as she did me.

I know how Nancy feels tonight - incomplete.


Two of my heroes growing up were I. F. Stone and Max Lerner. They taught me ethics and educated my sense of patriotism. Two of their books - Izzy's In a Time of Torment and Max's Ideas for the Ice Age - taught me how to be a courageous American. Won't you indulge me this tribute?

Izzy wrote of torment,
Max of icy times.
So what to name this current weight
that presses so
upon this heavy soul?

In my pain,
my gaze turns north
in envy
to those less bellicose,
more thoughtful,
and so free of attitude.


Weekend before last - June 5, to be exact - I marched in that parade for peace submerged halfway between United Nations and Justin Hermann Plazas by news of President Reagan's death.

Not knowing - and it would not have made a difference - I afterwards paid homage to other people, other things in North Lori Haigh and Guy Colwell at Capobianco Gallery, to City Lights, and, almost as an afterthought, to Black Oak Books, incongruously snuggled between the Condor and the Hungry I, corpses both.

Rummaging through the eclectic offerings at Black Oaks, I came upon the following broadside drawn from Thomas Merton. Some of you, I'm sure, know Merton, that once-Trappist monk who sought solidarity with his anguished world. For those of you who don't, there's a quiz at the end. The broadside reads:

One of the great tragedies of our time is that in our desperate incapacity to cope with the complexities of our world, we oversimplify every issue and reduce it to a neat ideological formula. Doubtless we have to do something in order to grasp things quickly and effectively. But unfortunately this "quick and effective grasp" too often turns out to be no grasp at all, or only a grasp on a shadow. The ideological formulas for which we are willing to tolerate and even provoke the destruction of entire nations may one day reveal themselves to have been the most complete deceptions....The American conscience is troubled by a sense of tragic ambiguity in our professed motives for massive intervention. Yet in the name of such tenuous and questionable motives we continue to bomb, to burn, and to kill because we think we have no alternative, and because we are reduced to a despairing trust in the assurance of "experts" in whom we have no real confidence.

And now the quiz. What was Merton writing about? Who were those experts? My experts let me down. Don't let your experts lead you similarly astray.


In the Vallejo Times-Herald article announcing this year's Gay Pride Celebration spokesman Brian De Vries assured us that "It's not just a night for gays and lesbians. It's a night for everyone to celebrate this important piece of our city's diversity." I hope so.

I enjoyed last year's first "Pride" event at Mel's, but here and over the years have felt somewhat shunted aside as the forgotten "T" in LGBT. I will be there June 25 for two reasons - solidarity with the Vallejo-Benicia Humane Society, which gave me my loving Tibetan terrier Salsa, and with our LGBT community.

I must question, however, the decision of the Vallejo lesbian and gay community to spotlight "queens" and "drag" at Pride Two. So soon?

Did it ever occur to the organizers that the transgendered community, particularly the transsexuals in that community, might be offended by "drag" "comedy?" Did it ever occur to the organizers to consider that - to us - such "comedy" is not unlike the "black face" of my earlier generation to my African American cohorts of that generation?

The general lesson? Isn't it time to stop seeking another group, a "lower" group, to dump on? In Poland, where I lived for three years, there were no Polish jokes. Everyone told Russian jokes or Bulgarian jokes.

I'm at the bottom of your ladder - gay, straight, or otherwise - and I'm here to say enough!! If we're about PRIDE - and I am - let's talk proudly about who we are instead of putting down the least in our midst.

I accept you, embrace you, as my brothers and sisters. Won't you in the LGBT community accept me as your sister? Won't all of you embrace us as fellow human beings who, like you, cry when we are sad, bleed when we are pricked, and suffer in the news of tomorrow morning's paper?

God Bless.

Posted by Vicki at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)
June 03, 2004