On Friday night, September 18th, after returning home from a life affirming and joyous outdoor Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) celebration with seven others, a lovely mix of family and friends, a friend texted me about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I went into a tailspin (aka depression).
What was my problem? Her imminent death had been a foregone conclusion for years. Her heroic mission kept her alive beyond the miraculous. Her staying power was Herculean. Knowing what her demise would mean to Affordable Care, Roe v. Wade and so many other issues of humanity, she left a request to the American people:
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Mitch McConnell used the same rationale while Obama was President. But that was 15 minutes ago and he changed his mind… again.
All right! All right! From the moment I heard of her demise, I found myself wallowing in dark and dangerous thoughts.
Always at these times, I go into a dialogue with myself. Here it is.
Me: (in fear of the future) OMG what am I going to do? What’s going to happen now? Is there going to be a Revolution…Civil War…do I have to join a gang of vigilantes. Is America going the way of Job? First the Pandemic, then the Election, now RBG!
I have to leave this country. Where? Where can I go? Any country I want to go to doesn’t want Americans.
Me: (in the moment): Calm down. We have a lot of grieving to do. Your fears are diminishing her story. Who she was? What she accomplished. Her strength and tenacity as a woman, a wife, a mother, a lawyer, a jurist and ultimately a role model for men and women. If you stay in this minute, I promise, ultimately it will show you how best to live in a world that throws the best curve balls ever.
I GO DOWN TO THE SHORE
I go down to the shore in the morning and depending on the hour the waves are rolling in or moving out and I say, oh, I am miserable, what shall — what should I do? And the sea says in its lovely voice Excuse me, I have work to do.
You know what? This staying in the moment thing is really hard. If I stayed in the moment, felt the grief, felt the power of this petite woman’s life to change what had previously been thought impossible to change , yeah, right!!! What is it about staying in the moment which I know is really the only way to live but, oh, my friends, it is soooo difficult.
I have spent a lifetime believing that to believe in God is to believe that all things are fair and there will be wonderful surprises.
The best surprises come out of not knowing! I think there is a lesson in this.
I have no idea what the fallout will be from this cataclysmic event. It doesn’t make any difference. Whatever happens we will always have RBG’s strength, tenacity and perseverance to keep up us in the light.
I had a recent unsettling experience… let me set the scene:
Two acquaintances on my porch for morning coffee and croissants. As we settle down and begin discussing the topic du jour… our various adventures in and around the pandemic and the election, eventually, in my own inimitable voice of authority, I bring up the wearing of masks.
“If only we had some Federal leadership that would create a national program for the wearing of masks and other safety issues that are necessary for our protection,” says I.
Let’s face it, my friends, I am old enough – barely – to remember the Federal programs during World War II that were necessary to help us survive and help the war effort… ration books for food and gas, meatless days, paper and metal drives.
Oh, sure there were always people that didn’t join in that effort… and there were many Black Market organizations. But for the most part, most everyone came together as part of the civilian war effort.
People died in the war. People died in the pandemic.
End of the aside.
Expecting to have both guests nod heads in agreement, I was heartily disappointed. The female of the duo nodded. The male said,
“I don’t think it’s fair to blame him. We are a country founded on States’ Rights and each state should have their own laws about how they want to handle the pandemic. I think, considering what he has to deal with, he is doing a very good job.”
Shock! Dismay! Disbelief!
I know a few people (and relatives, too) who think he is doing a good job. However, I am not in close proximity with them. You might say we really have perfected long distance social distancing. This was the first time I was sitting near enough where I could see the whites of his eyes. I was struggling to be polite. But when he started quoting Fake News items I realized there could be no discussion.
I quickly looked at my watch, which I forgot to put on, and told them that I had forgotten I had an online class in a few minutes. You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that time had just run out… the party was over.
They left. I was angry. But worse than that I was shocked. This manis a cultured, educated, sophisticated upper middle class white human male. How did this happen? I racked my brain.
And it finally came to me…
After a self-organized reading program of black non-fiction writers like Isabel Wilkerson and Carol Anderson, I realized they were right all along! The white majority is disappearing. I had just been witness to an example of this fact. This white upper middle class man in fear of losing his white majority is going to vote for the man who will guarantee that majority against all odds. As time goes on the white majority will be no more. I am not rabble-rousing. Check the statistics (I can’t believe someone who hates statistics as much as I do is saying this).
And before I let go of this bone, in 1970 you could substitute the silent majority of the Nixon era with the white majority of this era. And never forget it was this silent majority that allowed the wannabe tyrant Joseph McCarthy to flourish.
So alright already… What is this white majority that is being written about and exemplified in books, movies, television, podcasts, editorials, and just plain life? Obviously, I am going to have difficulty explaining it because I am so apparently part of it. I am of the white/caucasian persuasion. Black, white, brown, orange, purple… we are all part of this human condition… with differences. As part of the human condition/nature, consciously or unconsciously, we each strive to be better than someone else. A human animal popularity contest, if you will.
I know as the seventh of eight children I do not remember a day when I didn’t strive to be better than anyone of my brothers or sisters. My parents actually promoted that competition, thinking the competition would push us to excel in our various gifts, which personally I am happy to say it did, but they used it also as a control of a sometimes uncontrollable large family. And because of my race, I could move more easily in the world. And here is the big word that explains how I could do it:
ASSIMILATE – that’s what I could do.
I was acceptable… up to a point… being a Jew kept me back many times in my life and I can still recognize a slur when it happens… even in jokes… but basically, if I chose to I didn’t have to say I was Jewish and then I would always be acceptable because I could assimilate into this amorphous white majority. See how easily it works???
If you are black, this is not possible. A black person is always black. Except of course, black people who look white and then they have to decide whether to pass which is another word for assimilation. So how did the white majority control the black population? During the centuries of black slavery this was easy. Blacks were property, not people. There was no white majority because in fact whites controlled everything and therefore, obviously it did not need to be stated.
It was after the Civil War with emancipation, voting rights, human rights, and civil rights, when whites, most obviously in the South and more subtly in the North, felt the thunder and fear of change.
A brief dream time of Reconstruction was systematically squashed by the new Jim Crow laws of the south, created and enacted by the vanquished losers of the Civil War and legislators of the treasonable former Confederacy.
Ghettos, incarceration, proliferation of drugs, low service jobs, sharecropping (another version of slavery), limited and segregated housing and education, unequal voting and civil rights… all the negative control factors used by the white majority to control black lives.
Whites fear that black lives not only matter but that they will race ahead, leaving white lives in their dust. They certainly have done it in the world of sports and popular music.
Obama’s two-time win (accomplished without the white majority) put the white majority into a tailspin and is the most probable cause for the continued bitter (and what I personally consider un-American) politics of Republic Congressman, Senators and Judges – A black president in the White House? Never again!
The white majority is and will disappear. That’s a fact! The mix of nationalities which, to me has always been the backbone of America’s strength will now add a new strength in the form of mixed colors… HOORAY!
And let us not forget, the President’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders known as the Kerner Commission, headed by Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in July 1967 to uncover the causes of urban riots and to recommend solutions. The report, which declared that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal,” and warned that unless drastic and costly remedies were undertaken at once, there would be a “continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.”
There is a slate up for election on November 3rd that exemplifies a necessary and overdue recognition of this reality.
My reckoning is that this person who came to my porch for coffee and an abrupt departure doesn’t even realize he is part of that fearful white majority. I am sorry for him. But I am happy that his partner will cancel out his vote. I worry about others who don’t have anyone to cancel out their vote. So I ask us all to do what we can to give us back a country with some basic civility and caring to help us heal.
Very recently I had a very challenging and ultimately satisfying experience.
I think most of you received an email about my reading the Edith Wharton short story The Mission of Jane at The Mount (Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts)
This was going to be the fifth year of my reading this story. I had convinced the powers that be that the story was so rich and funny that a yearly reading would plumb the depths of pathos and humor of Wharton’s writing. Thankfully, they agreed.
Enter the villain virus.
It was a challenge for Susan Wissler, Executive Director of The Mount.
There is nothing Susan likes better than a challenge. She took a failing Mount out of bankruptcy and the cultural world marveled at her leadership bringing The Mount into solvency and success.
She accepted the Villian Virus challenge. The latest of which were the live readings of Edith Wharton’s and other short stories. Of course it had to be outdoors and the number of audience limited and distances set. She decided to use the forecourt of The Mount – a beautiful area originally established for carriages and cars to dispense passengers before their entering the mansion. It was perfect.
Wednesday, August 19th arrived with sun, then clouds, then rain and not until 4 pm before a 5:30 reading was there a go-ahead. Leaving this reader slightly frazzled. Hey, guys, those in the know know… it don’t take much for that to happen. Sensitive or neurotic or a little of both. Take your pick.
The build-up to performance was intense. I rehearsed. I tried to forget my age. (fat chance) I love performing. I love the story. I love The Mount.
“Be gone, Virus! You are not welcome here!”
The reading was SOLD OUT. The reading was limited to and audience of 45. I didn’t care. I love saying I played to a sold out house. Sue me!
I looked out over the audience. Two people seated way over left, 3 people seated way over right, 4 people here and there, another double, another triple, and so on spread apart from each other (as required by law) all through the forecourt. There was no audience seating. There were disparate chairs placed all over the space. So that I could not read to one group as I did before but individual groupings which made it difficult for the audience to relate to each other, no less to the reader.
It is something I never thought about before, but when a member of an audience comes into a performance space, he or she may start out individually but as the performance continues the audience slowly but surely becomes unified, sometimes for you and sometimes against you.
I would venture a guess that, seated together as they all are, that unity makes it possible for the actor or actors to create the necessary bond to create a satisfactory relationship. A catharthis, right? (look it up) I am grateful that the story was an hour long because it took me at least thirty minutes to bring this disparate audience into a unified one.
And then there is the wearing of masks. This was a reading in daylight. I looked out at a sea of faces masked to their eyeballs. At the beginning I couldn’t see their smiles or hear their laughter (some advantage… I couldn’t see them yawn, either.) As the story progressed and as the audience came together, the laughter escaped the masks and finally I could sense there was enjoyment.
There was a nice prolonged applause at the end of the story. And, my friends, I have to tell you I think in part it was for me and the story, but I also think it was because the event at The Mount gave 45 people the opportunity to come out from their isolation, from their quarantine and for that they were grateful. Me, too.
I want to thank Susan Wissler and The Mount for the opportunity for me to blow my horn and also for creating engaging, inclusive programs for all.
I was so grateful to be able to provide release and relief in the time of this pandemic. And I look forward (ain’t that a nice word for this time in all our lives!) to more creative and satisfying experiences.
Right? Of course, right!!!!
Love, Sally-Jane ❤️
P.S. Our next opportunity for a creative and satisfying experience is coming up!!
A friend recently sent me a link to this article by George Conway in the Washington Post. To say I had a strong reaction is an understatement! I couldn’t understand how reading a list of his bona fides insanity and ridiculousness could possibly be worth my time. Between the pandemic news of the day and the election news of the day, we are taking a battering.
Well, my friends I had to interrupt my reading at Chapter 2 to write to you…
WE ALL NEED TO READ THIS BOOK! It reveals the truth of how the monster made it this far and what we all did or didn’t do to contribute to our current painful reality. It is from this painful acknowledgement that the solution can be found.
And if I didn’t believe there was a solution to the absurd and terrifying situation we are in, then I’d go out without a mask, touch my face, never wash my hands, go to school in Georgia and buy a Harley so I can join the South Dakota Bike Rally.
So while I finish this book, I hope you’ll start it. Then, let’s tawk!
P.P.S. And finally, amidst all this confusion someone speaks how we can understand and come together…
We trust you to make your own choices if you want to wear a face mask. And, in the same spirit of individual liberty, we allow our staff to make their own choices about the safety procedures they prefer to follow as they prepare and serve your food.
We encourage employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom, but understand that some people may be allergic to certain soaps or may simply prefer not to wash their hands. It is not our place to tell them what to do.
We understand that you may be used to chicken that has been cooked to 165 degrees. We do have to respect that some of our cooks may have seen a meme or a YouTube video saying that 100 degrees is sufficient, and we do not want to encroach on their beliefs.
Some of our cooks may prefer to use the same utensils for multiple ingredients, including ingredients some customers are allergic to. That is a cook’s right to do so.
Some servers may wish to touch your food as they serve it. There is no reason that a healthy person with clean hands can’t touch your food. We will take their word for it that they are healthy and clean.
Water temperature and detergent are highly personal choices, and we allow our dishwashing team to decide how they’d prefer to wash the silverware you will put in your mouth.
Some of you may get sick, but almost everyone survives food poisoning. We think you’ll agree that it’s a small price to pay for the sweet freedom of no one ever being told what to do – and especially not for the silly reason of keeping strangers healthy.
P.S. My experience of this pandemic is that it is wreaking havoc with our emotions and psyche and ultimately physically. People are saying and doing things that in ordinary times they would never say or do.
A friend sent me this Mark Twain quote and it went straight to my Heart, Mind and Soul and I feel better. If it’s relevant for you, I hope it helps. If isn’t relevant give yourself a reality check, pronto.
I really don’t get the hullabaloo concerning masks. If I understood that if I didn’t wear a mask I would be affecting and infecting not only myself but friends, relatives and neighbors and I couldn’t go shopping or walking about, why would I even give it a second thought? I would say to myself right out, “Put the mask on, jerkball!!”
Of course, if I didn’t believe that people had been and were continuing to be deathly ill and dying and dead from Covid 19 and that it was nothing but a political manipulation by “The Enemy”, (and will someone please tell me what the enemy looks like so I can be prepared?), I might think differently. But please tell me, what human in the universe has not heard of or know someone who has contracted the virus. If you are someone who is that someone (talk about isolation!) please tell me where is your desert island and aren’t you just a little bit lonely?
Below is a very simple demonstration of why the mask is essential to your and everyone else’s health.
If anyone is still skeptical after that video, which is as apolitical as it gets, then all I want to say to you is, “Don’t be a jerkball. I don’t care who you vote for but I do care that you LIVE. Got it! Get it! Good!”
And now let me give you a slice of hope and happiness as an antidote to those the little germs from the previous video. I think it is interesting how even in social distancing (and such distances in this video… around the world and back), these wonderful people obviously use their creative juices to give themselves and others joy and beauty.
I firmly believe, as others tear at the fabric of civility in whatever is left of this civilization, this is the kind of enterprise that is destined to keep us together.
Right? Of course, right!
P.S. And whatever you think or do or say, never lose your sense of humor. Survival isn’t possible without one. Thus spake the Oracle (and my cousin Bernie).
In life and circumstances you make and lose friends just like in marriages and other kinds of relationships we lose partners because one or the other changed… grew in different directions… moved apart… (I’ve even heard of divorced partners who were better friends after the marriage ended than before…no comment!) But testing a friendship just didn’t seem necessary because in friendship as in life there is an almost natural flow or evolution of the personalities involved as they navigate life.
The pandemic has changed all that. Who we are and the decisions we make in and around Covid 19 has created havoc with relationships ie, friendships.
In the past, I liked it when my friends agreed with me. However, you didn’t have to. I would say, “Hey, honey, let’s just agree to disagree.” And believe me, as Ms. Judgemental , this always made me feel super virtuous.
Not so today. If you think the virus is not real, or masks or safe distancing is a joke, you are not going to take the necessary steps for safety and healthy living. Right away we have a problem. I was going to write I have a problem. But the pronoun we is the appropriate one.
How can we be with each other, or even talk to each other, if we don’t agree on the basic steps for survival. It feels like being a Jew in Germany 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933… it’s time to leave… the handwriting is on the wall…. How long do you have to wait until you know for sure, if you stay, you are not going to survive? I recognize that hindsight creates 20/20 vision but I think it is through hindsight we can maybe get just a glimmer of foresight.
I have finally earned enough years on this planet to understand how basically we are all the same, but how in detail we are all so different. I want to be able to say with a full and open heart, “I respect your decision”. On a most bizarre level I do. Which, for me, means I love you but dare I say it… KEEP YOUR DISTANCE.
At a time when age itself seems to limit the number of my friendships, I really resent this pandemic for adding another painful reality to an already complicated existence.
And another tree (aka friendship), falls in the forest….
I know this much. I am nothing without my friends and I am sad when I lose one by the appearance of that hooded figure with the scythe or by changes in our life values and circumstances or for reasons even a nitpicker like me does not understand. And as the years pass each loss becomes more difficult and harder to absorb into my life.
All to say to the friends that I have, “Play nice. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Sanitize as you go. Safe distance or no ice cream and cookies!!”
Right??? Of course, right!!!
P.S. This is exactly how I feel:
P.P.S. Here are Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers telling it like it is.
P.P.P.S. Happy Birthday to a loving friend who knows how to play nice.
Of late, a lethargy of sorts has infused my being. I, who explore and investigate the minutiae of my life… ”Why does that damn house mosquito keep attacking the same spot on my neck?”…
These kinds of psychological and philosophical meandering alert me to an important change in my life. Initially that change was so gradual I didn’t notice it. But now as I begin my day I am noticing there is, for lack of a better word, a hesitation, a pause before deciding what I should do next. As I was writing a text of apology to a friend, all was revealed…
I am curious enough to ask, is anyone else experiencing life in the waiting lane?
Sorry it has taken this long to respond to your text.And if you think I can find a good enough reason for the delay other then pandemic pause which is another name for mind and time wandering please think again. I am finally actually living my favorite play. Waiting For Godot. I have always loved that play because these two characters meet to spend the whole of the play waiting. And I find that is what I’m doing on a daily basis. WAITING….
Please don’t ask me for what. My understanding in the play is that they are waiting for God or death or both in various philosophical as well as physical situations. I think I love the play so much because I think on some level that’s my take on life. Not as a nihilist, but rather… ain’t that where life leads us all anyway?
Look what at what I just did. I simply wanted to apologize and say hello and the above kind of mind-wandering is the definition of my pandemic pause
Right? Of Course, right!!
❤️ Love ~ Sally-Jane
P.S. Well! There are some of us who know what to do with our time…
Every time I think I have a handle on how to handle the world I and fellow beings presently inhabit, I lose the handle. Why can’t I keep a steady hand on the wheel of my life? I know the rules of safety. I try my best to follow them… Social distancing, masking, hand washing, sanitizing, travel limits.
I am kidding you and myself because, of course I know why I can’t keep it steady. I am not in control.
I feel like I am between a rock and a hard place. I know the feeling well because I have been there many times before.
I think I am being vigilant. But then, I watch others out of my control, threaten themselves and others with their choices. It then becomes my responsibility to set limits and put out the no vacancy sign. It is so alien to the nature of this here beast.
My door has always been open. In the world today that is not an option. I can make some adjustments. And for this I am so very grateful that I am able to set up for a meal in the garden or the porch with safe spacing, masks and whatever else is necessary for the safety of all.
I did not know the depth and the extent of the migration of Black Americans from the South to the North and to the West from 1915 – 1970. For me, Ms. Wilkerson’s narrative is the foretelling of the ongoing struggle for Black equality we are experiencing at this time. She has chosen three protagonists from three different locations in three different decades of the migration. Their detailed journey from the white racism of the South that followed them to the white racism of the North and West is shocking and a necessary and important tool in understanding how racism, subtle and not so subtle works.
At the end of the book Ms. Wilkerson writes some notes about her methodology in putting this brilliant study together. She quotes from a 672 page report by a white-led Commission on the Chicago Riots of 1919 wherein the commission admonishes all.
THIS MUST CHANGE!
It is important for our white citizens always to remember that the Negroes alone of all our immigrants came to America against their will by the special compelling invitation of the whites; that the institution of slavery wast introduced, expanded and maintained by the United States by the white people and for their own benefit; and they likewise created the conditions that followed emancipation.
Our Negro problem, therefore, is not of the Negro’s making. No group in our population is less responsible for its existence. But every group is responsible for its continuance… Both races need to understand that their rights and duties are mutual and equal and their interests in the common good are identical… There is no help or healing in appraising past responsibilities or in present apportioning of praise or blame. The past is of value only as it aids in understanding the present; an understanding of the facts of the problem — a magnanimous understanding by both races — is the first step toward a solution.
Excerpt, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, page 543
The report came out in 1922. Last time I checked my calendar it was 2020.
THOUGHT 3: IF YOU’RE NOT IN THE OBIT, EAT BREAKFAST
There is no way that I am going to leave you without a smile on your face and a laugh in your heart. Even though my go-to cheerleader, Carl Reiner, left for quieter climes.
I am sure Carl and Snoopy were in complete agreement.
Here is a documentary he narrated when he was only 94:
Love, Sally-Jane ❤️
P.S. Happy July 4th. It’s way past time to put our money (and our votes) where our mouths are…