Changing Identity

Last evening, as on most Friday evenings, I had dinner with a group of friends whom I have known for years. Our group grows and shrinks but has not disappeared for over 25 years. The youngest member of the group is 60: the oldest, 87. Over the years, three of our original members passed away. At the end of the table, the oldest member and myself talked about some of the great performances we had seen last season on HD Opera from the Met.


At one point in our conversation, the discussion slipped from an analysis of the performance to our identification with the characters in Der Rosen Cavalier, especially with the Marschallin, the aging wife of an important political figure who had a young lover. At one point, the Marschallin realizes that she is long past her prime and that she must give up these dalliances with younger men. Neither my friend nor I, as respectable widows, have had a “dalliance” in many years.


For one long moment, we looked at each other with a wistful, nostalgic smile.

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What Is Truth?

Almost fifty years ago, while working in South America, I was faced with a dilemma. Should I remain in South America working at consciousness raising (a big sound bite in those days) among the affluent, or should I return to the United States to work in an inner city (another big sound bite).


One of the reasons that I chose the later was the perception that in Latin America, at that time, one could say, “black was black and white was white”, today; then, “black was white and white was black,” tomorrow. And, be accepted as a rational person by one’s peers. This was all before the Nixon debacle. I still believed that America was the land of truth, even in politics.


Over the years, that myth has been eroding bit by bit until now. In today’s NYT’s Opp Ed piece, in her criticism of Oliver Stone’s interview with Vladimir Putin, Marsha Gessen makes several points of comparison between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Number five is “moral neutrality”. In other words, both men think that it is perfectly fine to say one thing one day and the opposite the next day. I’m all for understanding human words and actions in the light of history and/or enlightenment. I am not for lying for self or country aggrandizement.


In my eighth decade, I pray that younger generations recognize this lunacy for what it is and take appropriate steps to diminish the political and social power held and practiced by these two “world leaders”.


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People Need People

Three Canadian editors were fired due to a social media backlash because they dared to defend white authors who created characters from minority or indigenous backgrounds. The essay went on to say, ”Critics of cultural appropriation insist they are opposed not to engagement but to racism.” They want to make sure that marginalized cultures speak for themselves.


Granted, Western history has taught us that the people in power do not always treat nor write about minorities justly. Over time, civil disobedience and deliberate consciousness raising has lead to more just societies. The great Civil Rights Movement of the fifties and sixties greatly inspired by the leadership and sacrifice of Martin Luther King and many others, black and white, who suffered beatings and jail for equal treatment under the law for all citizens helped to make the United States a country with equal opportunity for all. Singing, “We Shall Overcome” encouraged those who fought. The song did not make the change.  People did.


Sometimes literature, music and the visual arts help to solidify and preserve more just societies. These aspects of culture cross ethnic boundaries reaching up and down, side to side. This phenomenon is not unique to any one culture or ethnic group. Historically, every tribe, nation or country recognized and appreciated the contributions of the other. Sometimes they adapt or adopt pieces of music, art or literature. “Silent Night” is sung in every native language in the world. William Shakespeare’s works have been translated into every major language. Super titles make it possible for opera audiences to listen to great music written in the original language, but read and understood by audiences everywhere.


Having lived through and participated in the Civil Rights movement in this country, I remind all educated young African Americans to review “EYES on the PRIZE”. Ask your grand parents to tell you about “the good old days”. They put their lives on the line for desegregation and equality under the law. Do not isolate yourselves. Contribute what your education gave you to make humankind more humane; use your creative talents, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “… to strengthen and support the rest.” We all need each other.

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Not Being Wrong

Last week a box arrived from Xfinity, my cable company. I knew that it was coming as a young man that I spoke to on the phone about an unrelated manner a few days before told me that I was due for an up-grade of equipment and that he would put said equipment in the mail. I suggested that he back up a bit as I had a couple of questions first; a. was this equipment going to cost me any more that I was currently paying b. was I able to install it myself. He cheerily responded that it would not cost me any thing and that indeed, I could exchange the old cable box for the new one.


When the box arrived, I sat it in the corner of my bedroom for a few days gathering the courage to open it. With much trepidation, on the third day, I opened the box. Although other written materials were in the container, the boldly printed instruction card on the top had a “I, 2, 3” set of directions. The first line read, “If you have a coaxial cable …”. That was it. I closed the box for another three days. That evening in the elevator, I asked a pretty young Indian woman if she knew how to set of a cable box. (Ok. So I impulsively acted on a stereotype). Many of the young Indian men and women in my building, work for Comcast. The young woman and I exchanged apartment numbers and she said that she would ask her husband to contact me.


I waited a day or so, but no one contacted me about assembling the gizmo that sat staring at me the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning. Nearly a week passed before I opened the box again and read past the first line. At the end of the instruction card, I began to think that I could remove the old cable box and install the new one.


In twenty minutes I had removed the old and put in the new. I pressed the “on” button and was met with the notice, “Not connected to cable”. Just what I expected from my non techy hands. After two phone calls in which two different technicians had me repeat all of the steps that I had taken independently, the company decided to send in a “cable guy”. Two days later, at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning, Gustaph arrived.


The pleasant young man unplugged one cable, then plugged it back in. Before he removed the second cable, he uttered an immortal, “AH”. Next, from his tool kit, he pulled out an identical cable, removed the one that I had connected and put in the one from the tool kit. Then he said, (music to my ears) “They sent you the wrong cable. The cables look alike.”


There are few times in one’s life when not being wrong feels so much better than being right. This was one of them

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Sod It!

About three years ago, the county park that I over look took on the task of dredging the lovely river that flows beneath my balcony.  For two years I watched piles of river muck ascend, then descend by the truck load. Much heavy equipment and many man hours brought the plain along the river to a smoother surface.  In fact, a few days ago, at least one and a hale football (American) fields long and half a football field wide was covered in three tractor trailer loads of sod (turf).

All of the above sound wonderful.  The county freeholders are doing their job insuring that our river and park are the perfect location for hosting scull races.  In fact, this spring I watched at least four competitions.  Teams competed from all over the Eastern seaboard, in spite of the fact that, while the river was perfect, the bank was, in part,  off limits for team members and their fans.  Sodding the large area mentioned above will please competitors next season.  If- this is the big -if, the sod lives!

On this morning’s walk I saw two little sprinklers trying to moisten the newly laid sod. The park commission and the local sod farms are closed today.  Be assured that tomorrow I will be on the phone suggesting that the commission rent portable irrigation systems.  If we are going to be so ecologically unsound as to lay sod instead of seed and straw, we can at least protect the tax payers money by keeping the sod’en plain alive!

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Words of Wisdom

At last, words of wisdom from a respected and experienced Republican, Colon Powell, former Army General and Secretary of State. In an Op-Ed piece appearing in the NYT, General Powell states that he has learned plenty about war, but even more about finding peace.


The former Secretary of State believes, from experience and from facts that reducing 30 percent from the State Department and foreign assistance budget leaves a vacuum that makes the United States less safe and less prosperous. This action would be “internationally irresponsible, distressing our friends, encouraging our enemies and undermining our own economic and national security interests.” He goes on to describe how budget cuts after the Cold War looked promising at the time, but proved to exacerbate tensions in the Middle East, Africa and the Korean Peninsula. It is just as important to have well-resourced diplomats and aid workers as it is to have a strong army.


Mr. Powell points out that not since WWII have so many people been displaced fleeing war and instability. The number hovers around 65 million. Fleeing hastily, without adequate preparation leaves as many as 20 million facing starvation. Providing funds for humanitarian assistance to reduce the anguish of those fleeing oppression is a worthy objective for funds provided by the US. Just as importantly, those making budget decisions ought to keep in mind that 95 percent of the word’s consumers exist outside of the US. China, in the mean while, is catering to that percentage of consumers by building railways and highways across Asia and Africa. America cannot isolate itself, nor can it be safe hiding behind its military might only.

Hopefully, members of congress and the house will meditate on the words of a Republican who has made war and peace.  Colon Powell has “walked the walk and talked the talk”.

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You Be the Judge

Yesterday I read a piece of advice from a “Judge” that horrified me. A young bride to be did not want to carry a bouquet when she walked down the aisle. However, she was concerned about what she would do with the hand that was not being held by her father. She sought advice from the New York Times. The advice was given in the form of a bonus in the weekly magazine section of the Times under the general heading of “The Ethicist”. The other questions given by the ethicist (the writer of the column) were thoughtfully researched before he put the answers on paper. My expectation was that the bonus blurb would be researched as carefully, especially since the responder was a “Judge”. The advice given to the bride as she walked down the aisle, presumably of a church, was to, “Discreetly use American Sign Language to spell our, ‘hail Satan’ over and over.”


After recovering from the shock of such advice to a young woman embarking on one of the most important steps of her life, I decided to research this “judge”. All right, so Judge John Hodgmen is a comedian! This advice, I assume, was his attempt at black humor. Hopefully, the young person to whom this advice was given is aware of the non-credentials of the “judge”. He couldn’t have advised that she might just cross her fingers? Or, she might do what the old crooner, Perry Como did during his live television shows, make a fist and carry a Miraculous Medal.


Why is it that some things that I learn do not make me feel more enlightened?

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