Whatever is True, Whatever is Noble, Whatever is Right

So, I’ve been trying to get back to writing and posting regularly —kind of an unofficial New Year’s resolution. When my family headed back home, I started to reorganize the house as well as my approach to writing.  It was right then that January 6th happened.  All these months, while I’ve been home, I tried to stay out of politics, but I’ve become one of those folks on social media. You know, the one who tries to knock some sense into perfect strangers who are happy living in their irrational state of mind.  It’s hard to ignore the rhetoric when you care about our country and have seen social injustice grow stronger and unchecked in the last 4 years. I try to keep it down, to limit my posts and tweets, but quite frankly, that doesn’t work very well for me.

I thought about starting a second blog dedicated to the events of our time but decided there are already many others doing a fantastic job with that topic. My blog would probably be little more than a rant. I don’t mind putting my thoughts about politics out there, but I don’t want to get caught up in that madness. I have many friends and extended family with very conservative views, and I find that I am always careful about what I write. Being cautious though, has no substantial value because it takes away the freedom to say what is honestly on my mind.  Even with a self-censor, I’ve had to take social media vacations from some people that can not accept that I will never be a fan of DJT. The break usually starts with me saying, “Let’s shake on it, and peace be with you.” In my mind I add, “hopefully, we can regroup after the election.”

However, after President Biden and Vice President Harris’s Inauguration, I’ve decided to write at least one blog post in response to all the gloom and doom that I found on social media the day after. Just for the record, I thought the Inauguration was impressive considering all the limits well-defined by recent events. I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of music, which highlighted the message of unity, diversity, and of course, the tradition of peaceful transition of power.  I felt President Biden’s address to the nation was heartfelt and sincere. 

Many other Americans, though, were devastated. I saw posts of people grieving, afraid of the unknown, questioning their faith, questioning our democracy. The broadcast of this time-honored tradition was put out there for the world to see. It was as if watching it was anathema; many could or would not hear the message of hope and healing transmitted for hours across the networks.  

Sadly, the narrative playing in their heads was that DJT was pushed out of the White House by socialists and communists. They “stole the election.” What happened to the promises, the prophecies? In the other world of DJT, I read that the “Proud Boys” were mad because he gave up too soon. Reports are that they call him “weak,” “a total failure.” The truth is that after the call to arms, the threats, and violence, DJT rode off into the sunset apparently without looking back. He provoked their toxic patriotism, then just walked away, and left them holding the bag. He went back to his 128-room mansion, back to his golf course, back to his exclusive club where these “patriots” are not welcomed.  He never conceded, never told his supporters that the lies about election fraud had been another of his smoke and mirror stunts to confuse his followers and stay in power. I read that instead, he appeased them by declaring that he would be back with a new party – The Patriot Party.  In doing so, he sent a veiled threat to the GOP for not supporting his “Stop the Steal” agenda and confirmed to his followers that he was not done.  As of today, it seems to have worked. 

But really, before I get carried away, this post is not about DJT. Neither is it about the extreme radical conservative, white supremacist movement, for which he proudly takes full credit. Far be it for me to tell him that he is just a symptom of this movement, like a cold sore or herpes. This post is for people who may have gotten caught in the crossfire, if you will. 

It’s for the people I grew up with, people who stood by my side after my kids’ dad died. It’s for people in my family who continue to carry the conservative, fundamentalist values that our parents taught us. It’s for those, like the widow at the Temple, who give generous offerings of what little they have because they believe. It’s for those people who have genuine and pure faith in the God of the Bible but are so confused by what they hear, which is often in contrast with what they see.  

I am reminded of many Bible passages where Jesus is recorded to have given warnings to those who would lead his followers astray.

Mathew 7:15-20

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire… Therefore, by their fruits, you will know them.

Last Thursday, I started to see negative posts and comments on social media in response to my optimistic expressions about the inaugural activities. I don’t fool myself to think that we are creating heaven on earth or a eutopia. I didn’t expect everything was going to be Peachy Keene on the morning after. Nor did I imagine I would sing Kumbaya with my gun-toting, confederate flag bearing neighbors. However, I didn’t expect the genuine level of sorrow and despondency from some of my Christian contacts.

This is not Nirvana, but I am confident that it is an opportunity to continue working on the principles and the ideals that I believe were intended by the founders of this great nation. I consider that in the last four years, the country strayed from the fundamental principles of “we the people,” not to mention any semblance of honesty and decency.

I was not bothered by the social media responses but rather sad that people were so blindly disheartened by the election outcome. It seems unfortunate to me that honest, decent, hardworking people would be swept up in this “movement” of hate and destruction.  I keep thinking of a passage in the Bible where Jesus calls out the religious leaders.

Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but, on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

This uprising in the name of God and traditional values not come as a surprise to us who were paying attention. We have seen such history repeat itself for generations. After all, wasn’t it Caiaphas, the high priest in Jerusalem, that organized the plot to kill Jesus? Wasn’t it the council of the Sanhedrin that turned Jesus over to the Roman courts? Tradition gave these high priests lots of power and prosperity. They were charged with interpreting the ancient scriptures and keeping the law as they had done for centuries.

When they saw that Jesus had quite a following, outside of the Temple, they accused him of blasphemy because he taught the community that He came to fulfill the laws and the prophecies. He said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are My disciples if you love one another” [Gospel of John 13: 34,35].

Crowds followed Jesus for three years. The people received spiritual and physical healing. Yet, when Pontius Pilate offered to spare Jesus from death, the high priests incited the crowd to demand crucifixion for Jesus. Likewise, they called out instead for the release of Barabbas, an insurrectionist imprisoned by the Romans for his revolutionary activities.  And so, it was, that despite everything that the people had heard and witnessed with their own eyes, in that moment of pandemonium, that multitude in Jerusalem turned against Jesus and His teachings.  They forgot about the promises, about Jesus’ message of a loving God, and the beauty of the Spirit.

Let me pause a minute to review. “Picture it:” Jerusalem, AD 50-85, a group of powerful men in robes, afraid to lose their high paying jobs with benefits, plotted to kill a young Rabbi who was teaching the Children of Israel about God and the scriptures.  According to the law, the Jews had to come to the High Priest to reach God.  

Some of the charges as I understand them were:

  • He told a young man faithfully following The Commandments, that to inherit eternal life, he had to give ALL his money to the poor and follow Him. Not to the Temple or the High Priests, but to the poor.  
  • A couple of times, the High Priests caught Jesus healing the sick on the Sabbath!  One of those times, Jesus healed a lame man and told him to pick up his bed and go on his way, he was healed. Imagine, he told the man to pick up his bed – on the Sabbath! It didn’t matter that the man had been afflicted for 38 years, and on this day, Jesus came to him with compassion.  The Priests were the keepers of the Law.
  • Jesus stopped a legal stoning of a woman prosecuted for adultery. Then he dared to turn to her accusers and tell them “Let the one without sin throw the first stone!” One by one they left.
  • Jesus used a Samaritan as an example to teach them that our neighbor is anyone in need to whom we show love and kindness.  He encouraged his followers to visit the sick, those in prison, and to care for the widows.

There are many more examples like this, but these are enough for now.  You can always read more about this on your own.

 In the centuries that followed The Crucifixion, wars raged to secure the places sacred to Christian values and traditions. Since then, Christians brought with them the mantra of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” as they forced Muslims and Jews to accept Christ as Savior or else. These nonbelievers lost their lands, material wealth, and sometimes their lives.

When we remember Jesus’ words to Pilate, that if his kingdom had been of this world, his followers would have already physically saved him from this fate.  These wars and abuse were not in His plans. As a matter of fact, when Jesus was arrested, the story was that the Apostle Peter took up his sword and chopped off the ear of one of the guards. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. Jesus had to complete his mission.

In the Sixties, we sang a folk song that said, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, by our love” – not by our sword – by our love.   We also sang, “Not by might and not by power, but by my spirit…” I still find comfort in these melodies that continue to lift my spirit.

How simple it is to believe that all good comes from God or the Spirit of a Higher Power.  And yet, in witnessing the past four years, it baffles me how people -Christians especially, can compare the 45th Administration to all that is good? Anything that appeared to be “good” quickly vanished in the light of the truth.

Examples that “came to light” just over the last week were:

  1. Although DJT had used Warp-Speed to get vaccines out. The Administration misrepresented how much was actually in stock and how effectively the plan was rolled out.
  2. No matter how many court cases were brought to overturn the election, NOTHING in the reports reached a level of credibility.  Not even judges appointed by DJT for this very reason, were able to confirm widespread election fraud.
  3. These last two examples shed light on DJT’s character and his narcissistic patterns of behavior. Let me start by clarifying that I am not a fan of Mike Pence, but if anything, he has been loyal to DJT.  If Pence is the kind of Christian he has led us to believe he is, standing by DJT must have been quite a challenge. It almost reminds me of the Biblical account of King Saul and David. David, according to the story, knew he was to be king after Saul, but given the opportunity, he refused to take the life of God’s anointed.  In contrast, however, the moment Pence publicly disagreed with DJT about certifying the election, he sent his goons after him at the Capitol where Pence was doing his job. DJT’s people chanted in the streets and up the steps of the Capitol about death to Pence and even put-up gallows with a noose. All because DJT put his loyalty in doubt before this crowd of radicalized militant extremists.
  4. NOT ONCE DID TRUMP DISANNOUNCE THESE ACTIONS AGAINST HIS FAITHFUL VICE PRESIDENT.  WHEN HE SAW WHAT WAS HAPPENING, NOT ONCE DID HE CALL TO STOP WHAT HE HAD UNLEASHED ON THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Instead, watch it unfold on TV and dawdled, hemmed, and hawed in deciding if he should approve the National Guard deployment to the Capitol.  

 As I am writing, I can almost hear – “but this, but that.” I know I am only touching the surface with these observations.  Maybe in the days to come, I’ll continue with more in-depth commentary of how I see things in the light of “non-fundamentalism.”

I’ll just leave you with one last verse for your consideration. Perhaps it will help someone measure by faith what they are witnessing with their eyes. It is a verse from a letter credited to Paul and Timothy to the congregation at Philippi.

Philippians 4:8-9

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

(Photo from pixabay)

The Curve Ball

Discover Prompts  Day 8: Curve

So “curve.”

The first thing that came to mind when I saw the prompt was “curveball.” As I continued reading and I smiled when I saw the rest of MW’s line. Life has thrown a big one at a lot of us these days: a curve.”

I was excited when I saw that the Discover page was going to offer daily prompts in April. When I first started blogging a few years ago, I found the DailyPosts and WP Blogging U very helpful.  But alas, I fell off the blog wagon awhile back.  This year I don’t have the energy for NaNoWriMo and/or the A to Z challenge.  It has nothing to do with COVID 19.  Life happens, and my creativity is “Meh.”

Truth be told, I’ve struggled with these prompts this time around. The prompts and alternate ideas are creative and engaging, but I spend all day churning ideas in my head that don’t get to my page. 

For example, prompt # 2 Open, brought me to the Grand Canyon, but that trip came with ghosts of the past.  I saved the essay for another day.  Prompt # 6 Hands. brought me the question, “what is the sound of one hand, clapping?” It was one of those days that I started to do research to make sure the riddle was not about one hand slapping.  That post didn’t even make the page.  I was going to tie that prompt in with # 7:Below.  A suggestion on that day was, Think about the last time you were emotional — angry, or elated, or sad, or nervous. What lay below, feeding that emotion?  I was not ready to go there on day seven.

Here I am today, talking about The Curve, with a post I started in March. 

If you’ve read my posts before, you may know that I’ve been working part-time at a public library. I really like the place. We are one of the smallest branches in our county’s system of 10 sites, including three larger regional libraries.  Its hard work and we regularly deal with staff turnover, but we’ve also got a great team of volunteers that come in each day to help.  

I have enjoyed everything about the job.  In shelving books, I often find some treasured tome that I didn’t know existed.  I enjoy people, and actually, my favorite part is dealing with the patrons, especially the regulars.  What a great crowd.  Most are old-timers and have been coming to that little branch for over twenty years. The full-time senior staffers know just about every person by name.  They look forward to seeing them each winter when they come back.  Upon returning to town for the winter, many patrons consider their first stops, the library, and Publix – in that order! 

The staff often know, and most importantly, they genuinely care who is sick, who just got a promotion, took a trip, started a business, or wrote a book.  Some of the elderly and the lonely stop in to read the newspapers or use the public computers. They also come in to connect – that irreplaceable human contact that we all need.   Everyone gets a warm welcome and a free smile.  

Sometimes the place feels as if it were an episode of the sitcom “CHEERS.” The tv show is about a neighborhood bar in Boston.  We don’t serve drinks, but the atmosphere feels similar – friendly and accommodating.   

“Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.” (Intro theme from Cheers.)   

On Wednesday mornings, one can’t help but smile as the children’s laughter, and singing spills out of the storytime space and into the great room where most of the action happens.  There is such excitement when they come to check out the books they picked themselves or have found all the pictures of the scavenger hunt around the library.  They bring the classics – princesses and dragons, dogs and cats and of course tv favorites. I’m hopeful that these experiences will remain stored in their little minds and hearts, as they have remained for me. I still believe libraries are a treasure cove of amazing things and a vital part of communities.

Last month, however, the libraries closed to the public. A few days after that, I made the decision to stay at home. 

The library offered curbside service so that patrons could pick up books or materials that they had reserved before the emergency declaration. We have plenty of e-resources online, but because for some people, the web feels overwhelming, staff is available by phone to assist in navigating the resources. 

Behind the scenes, due to the potential risk of contamination with COVID 19, the library staff was disinfecting equipment and preparing materials to be placed in quarantine.  Because of the life span of the virus on paper or plastic, books, and DVDs can not be put back on the shelves directly.  The library materials need to sit out in quarantine for days.  As I said before, our site is small, and the only place considered available to quarantine books was in the great room in front of our circulation desk.  Due to the health risk involved, and after consulting my medical provider, I made the decision to stay home. 

As more information becomes available, new risk management protocols are in place to keep staff safe and patrons informed.  I tip my hat to those who continue to work for the library patrons in different capacities. I pray for them and their families, for they are part of the remarkable army of unsung heroes we’ve come to recognize during these difficult times. 

Currently, there is no opportunity for me to telecommute. It has been three weeks. I’m not sure where I go from here as there are so many unknowns.  My life right now seems up in the air, but this is not my first rodeo, I will get back to living my true life soon enough. 

As I searched the web for a photo to add to my post today, I found this quote on Google Images.   I think it suits me perfectly.  What do you think? Blog Curve

Puerto Rico In my Heart

airplane flying under white clouds during night time
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I wrote this story sometime last year in response to a prompt about a map and the best trip we ever had. On occasion, I pull it out and tweak it a little. With protests occurring all over the world in support of the people of Puerto Rico, I decided to share it again.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.” Douglas Adams.

On a jet plane

One summer as soon as school was out, I found myself on an international flight sitting next to my little brother; with my mom and the twins across the aisle. We were headed from JFK to San Juan. It was the late 1960’s; it was the year my paternal grandfather died two days before my thirteenth birthday. His death was unexpected. I don’t remember him, and I don’t think he ever met the twins. My father didn’t join us on this trip; he had been there in the winter for the funeral. When my father returned, he and my mother started planning this trip for us to spend the summer on the Island.

I was in Puerto Rico as a toddler when our parents returned to start a business. Their venture didn’t work out, but my brother was born there, and as soon as they thought he was old enough to travel, we returned to the mainland to start over again. I’ve seen the photos, but I’ve no memory of being there.

I don’t know if it was my grandfather’s sudden death that created the urgency for my parents then. I expect that while he was there, my father noticed that the Island was rapidly changing, moving beyond his treasured memories. The facts were that every one my parents knew back home was getting older, and we were growing up without them. Things were shifting all over the world, and after so many years, it seemed like it was time to get us over there to meet the rest of the family.

I was apprehensive about this trip. I had a lot going on at thirteen. I had been thrust into a different world the summer before, and I was finally starting to get my bearings. I preferred to be ready for what was coming, but all I knew about Puerto Rico were the anecdotes of people and places that my parents remembered; history lessons tainted with nostalgia. Whenever we got together with my aunts, uncles, and older cousins, they would repeat the same stories of the “good old days.” The trip had always been one of those things that seemed more like a warning from my parents “we’ll go someday,” but now we were actually on our way. “Puerto Rico is a beautiful place!” they said. “You will love it; wait and see.”

In my American History class, all I learned was that Puerto Rico was an island that Spain gave to the United States when they lost the Spanish-American War. Since I grew up in the era before Google, I spent many afternoons at my local public library researching for the trip. The little information that was available to me was exciting but unsettling none the less. I found out the Island sat on one of the corners of the Bermuda Triangle, and there was huge radio satellite telescope somewhere in the mountains, actively trying to contact life on other planets! As a nerd, I didn’t think it was a coincidence, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

I knew from my parents that they were born American citizens. I learned that Puerto Rico became a United States territory in 1898, and the people were granted United States citizenship one month before we, entered World War I in 1917. President Woodrow Wilson signed the Compulsory Military Service Act two months later. Puerto Ricans have been serving in the military ever since, and there were several military bases opened on the Island. That explained why we were “Americans” even though Puerto Rico was not a state.

Who are we?

Adolescence is a time when we are all trying to figure out who we are and where we are going. Things were a bit complicated for me as I started the process of growing up. When relocated to this neighborhood, one of the first things my parents told us before we moved in was that we could only speak Spanish inside our apartment. Understandably that raised a lot of questions for me. At home, conversations flowed easily from one language to the other. I had never given it a second thought. Some of my new friends also spoke different languages at home. It was a blue-collar neighborhood of first and second-generation immigrants. Some kids even spoke two languages in addition to English. Joey spoke Lebanese and French; Barbara spoke Ukrainian and Polish, Anna spoke Italian. What was wrong with Spanish? Should I be ashamed to be able to speak Spanish?

Since I was the oldest, my parents explained that to get this apartment in a “better neighborhood,” my dad had lied and told the landlord that we were Italian. One of his friends from work, who was Italian, had a sister who was married to a Cuban who worked with real estate rentals. That was networking in the ’60s. I remembered going to the office and minding my siblings as we sat quietly waiting for the adults to finish meeting with the agent. As it turns out, all these grown-ups had decided that it was best to tell Mrs. Mary DeVito a little white lie until she got to know us better. Should I be ashamed to be Puerto Rican in this neighborhood?

We are a light-skinned bunch with “good” hair, and my mother had green eyes. We were able to pull it off – we “passed.” The Fair Housing Act was signed in 1968. In my Current Events class, we touched on the Civil Rights Movement that rocked the country at the time; we saw it on the news. One time driving back from my aunt’s house, we saw the multitude marching, but I didn’t make the connection to what was happening to us. When my parents thought it was safe to do so, they told Mrs. DeVito the truth. We went on to live there for many more years as Puerto Ricans (African/European/Taino.)

What a beach!

As our plane approached the Island, I began to feel excited. My siblings and I strained to catch a glimpse through the tiny windows. Maybe this trip wasn’t a bad idea, after all. The colors were the first thing that amazed me. From the sky, we could see the vibrant greens and soft browns of the mountains with ribbons of rivers running through them. We could see the crystal clear turquoise waters and sandy beaches like refined white sugar. There were no boardwalks and no amusement park rides. It was just palm trees, sand, and water. It was breathtaking. The pastel-colored houses and buildings in the cities looked festive from our birds-eye-view. I remembered when my aunt visited us a few years before; she was so disappointed to see the beaches in New York. “You call this a beach? You have to come and see what a real beach looks like.” She laughed. Now I understood what she was talking about. This was a paradise compared to Manhattan Beach, Brighten Beach, and Coney Island. I decided then; I was going to enjoy this adventure.

My mother’s youngest sister, Rosita, still lived at home with her parents. She took time off from work to show us around. Our first day-trip was to the beach, of course. I couldn’t get over how clear and warm the water was. The waves didn’t crash on shore; they gently rolled in and quietly rolled out. We didn’t need a beach umbrella; we had put our things between two palm trees and hung a hammock. To this day, Luquillo Beach is still my favorite, and my go-to mental place is a vision of effortlessly rocking in that hammock and listening to the rhythmic sounds of that beach. On our way home, my aunt took us to the thatch-covered eateries that lined the road by the beach. We each tried something different Rellenos-de-papas, (deep-fried meat-filled potato balls), alcapurias de jueyes (mashed green plantain ovals filled with crab meat), and meat-filled turnovers, to name a few. We were in heaven! Everything was delicious.

Spaceships in the mountains

Our next outing was to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the United States. My aunt said that many people believed spaceships regularly landed on the very top of this mountain. I told her about my research, and she promised to take us to Arecibo to see the Observatory in a few days. I was not worried anymore. If beings from another planet had chosen this place, they were OK by me. We spent the rest of the day exploring the trails and the waterfalls. Before we left, we swam in one of the pools that form along the river as it flows down to meet the sea. I had never been swimming in the river! The water was cold and cloudy after it rained. I was concerned now about what creepy crawling things might be swimming there with us. Fortunately, I couldn’t see any. On the way back, we bought tropical fruit from a stand on the side of the road. They were terrific; juicy and sweet, just as our parents had told us.

During that summer, we traveled around with other aunts and older cousins visiting many beautiful places. We crisscrossed the Island at least a couple of times. There are plenty of travel sites and tourist magazines that talk about the natural wonders of Puerto Rico, but my story is not about the tangible but about perception and self-discovery. It’s about a young girl confronting the unknown to find her truth.

Who are these people?

As we got to know family and friends across the Island, I began to see Puerto Rico different from the images I had formed in my head. We visited my paternal grandmother on her farm just outside of town. We were told that her small farm was a remnant of a large plantation that had been in her mother’s family since Spanish colonial times. From old photos, we recognized her thin figure wearing a black headscarf and dressed in mourning gray. She was waiting for us on her small porch as we drove up the long gravel road to her house. Her eyes, black as coal, glistened as she greeted us. Her skin wrinkled and tempered by the sun felt leathery on my cheek. She was a woman of little words, but she quickly went in to get something for us to eat. We had fresh bread and homemade white cheese from the two cows she kept for that very purpose. We had refreshing tropical drinks from her fruit trees, and of course, the smell of fresh coffee filled the air. As the grown-ups talked, we were encouraged to go outside and explore the farm, but I didn’t know where to start everything was so bright, warm, and impressive.

Nearby, we met our uncle’s children. These cousins were kids our age; boys and girls who laughed and played like our friends in Brooklyn. They used dried palm tree shafts like sleds to go down the grassy hills in the countryside. They confidently ran right by the cows, pigs, and horses as we followed staring and walking cautiously slow, afraid that any sound or fast movement might call the animal’s attention to us. Our cousins shook their heads and laughed at us. I thought it was all fun and exciting.

In Brooklyn, I didn’t know any Puerto Ricans outside of my family. The ones I saw depicted in movies or on television did not reflect my reality. No one in my family had been to jail or belonged to gangs or sold drugs on the street corners. We went to work or school and church. My family in New York was made up of all hard-working folks, trying to survive all the challenges that came their way in this new land. They were printers, handymen, electricians, seamstress, and clerks. I didn’t know of any Puerto Ricans who were doctors or lawyers. In school, we didn’t learn about the artists, poets, musicians, songwriters, and authors.

Here while visiting extended family, we learned that both of my grandfathers had brothers who had been the Mayor of their respective hometown. Our great-grandfather had been a well-known “troubadour” in the region. Other family members were respected members of the community educators, laborers, merchants, and artists, to name a few. It was a life I had seen on TV, but here the characters were real, and they were Puerto Rican!

For the love of art, music, and literature

I was glad my entire family took turns to take us to museums to show us the stories of our people. We saw folk dancers demonstrating the variety of cultural influences from Europe and Africa. We heard traditional music, played on instruments that originated on the Island. We got to listen to some of the Danzas, and ballads that were written by Spanish and Puerto Rican composers.

There was a Symphonic Orchestra! When I was assigned to my school’s strings orchestra the year before, I didn’t know which instrument to choose. I preempted a conversation with my mother by telling her that I didn’t want to play a squeaky violin. I loved the more profound, soulful sound of the cello but was afraid that for cultural reasons, she would think the cello was not an instrument for young ladies and would balk at the idea. To my surprise, she told me that there was a Spaniard that played the cello and lived in Puerto Rico. I was glad to hear it. I chose the cello. Although I never got to see Pablo Casals perform in person, it was great learning about him and knowing he was there in Puerto Rico. I was fascinated to hear about the Pablo Casals Festival established on the Island; maybe next time I visited, I would get to go.

Heart of the matter

I fell in love with Old San Juan and the “fort” that protected it, El Morro (Castillo San Felipe del Morro) where I could look out to open sea and get lost in all the wonder. I felt the strong winds that seemed to gather there, and it filled me with boundless enthusiasm for this adventure and the future. To this day, I can’t find quite find the words to describe what I felt.

Despite necessary modern upgrades, the city was still picturesque and quaint; something that one would see in Europe. It was old Spanish Colonial architecture painted in pastels with cobblestone streets. I imagined the aristocratic senoritas from Spain walking with parasols and chaperones to the Plaza on a Sunday afternoon.

I was amazed at all the cultural richness that I found in this tiny place. By the end of the day, I was absorbed entirely in all of it. I wanted to twirl on the lawn of El Morro and dance down the narrow streets of the Old City like a character in a Roger’s and Hammerstein musical. Picture Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music”; now transform the image to a brown-eyed girl singing Le lo lai, and Hector Lavoe’s “Que Cante Mi Gente” while strumming a guiro in her hands. Suddenly I understood why my parents loved to sing “En mi Viejo San Juan” whenever they had a chance. From this day forward, I would sing along with them.

A new me

When school started again, I was excited to share this marvelous adventure with my friends. My aunts had given me books and souvenirs that told our story, the story of my people. I brought these things to school on the first day. My friends were not interested, not even the pictures of cute Puerto Rican pop stars from la Discoteca Pepsi made them look. They were still in seventh and eighth grade, and the world didn’t matter much beyond the pretty boys in the next class.

It hurt my feelings at first, but no one could take away what I had learned that summer. I wrote about my experience in my English class and had a piece published in the school yearbook. I argued with my history teacher and told him whatever he was teaching had nothing to do with me. We talked after class, and he became one of my favorite teachers. It was in his class that I learned to paraphrase George Santayana’s philosophy that if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. I Aced his class. That year in my Orchestra class, I played my cello as if I was playing a solo at the Pablo Casals Festival in San Juan.

The new me was glad we made that trip, and Puerto Rico continued in my dreams for a long time.

“…y asi le grito al villano. Yo seria borincano aunque naciera en la luna.” Juan Antonio Corretjer

Gratitude and Thanksgiving

I sat here in front of a blank page for a while wanting to write something but couldn’t get started. The season brings many memories, most with warm and loving feelings.  From our earliest days in Brooklyn to most recent holidays in Florida so much has changed around us. The family has grown and spread out around the country.  Last year we spoke about having one big family holiday like the old days at some midpoint probably on the East Coast.  It’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s still a work in progress. We gather in smaller groups, now. Some of us have become part of other families while others create new traditions with friends. 

As I reflect back through the years, I think of the faces at the table that have come and gone; friends who’ve moved away,  partners that didn’t work out, loved ones who have passed.   I am amused thinking how the contents of our table have changed through the years as well.  Often persons who join us being a part of their traditions.  Through the years we’ve added things like homemade stuffing, collard greens, sweet potato casserole with pecan toppings from the South; kremsnita, a phyllo cheese pie from Croatia, or yucca marinated with onions, olive oil, and vinegar, common in the Carribean.  

Thanksgiving was not a tradition in Puerto Rico for my parents growing up in the 1930s and 40s, but I remember in Brooklyn in the 1960s we celebrated it every year with my cousins, aunts, and uncles. Our parents blended their traditional foods and flavors with what was usual holiday food in the NorthEast. Growing up we would have a roasted turkey prepared with a rub of garlic, salt, and oregano; it was the same type of seasoning Puerto Ricans traditionally used for roast pork during the holidays and special occasions.  We had baked sweet potatoes or yams and guineitos en escabeche; pickled green bananas that were marinated days before. These were served alongside a dish called arroz con gandules; it’s like a paella, prepared in one pot with pigeon peas, peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, and tomatoes or tomato sauce.   My mother loved to cook and often made pumpkin pie,  flan, and Pillsbury sugar cookies.  

All the years of memories tend to blend together, and in my recollection, I remember our faith practice of gratitude and singing; in old photographs, I see dancing. I distinctly remember lots of laughing and warm smiles.  My mother had started experiencing symptoms of her illness, and my dad took to drinking every day after work and yet,  I remember feeling safe and loved. With all their personal struggles, they made us, their children, a priority.  For that alone, I am eternally grateful.  I think that supportive foundation helped me tackle a lot of challenges throughout the years.

It was that feeling of love and security that I wanted to re-create for our kids.  My siblings and I did.  My daughters and their cousins remember the holidays with the same nostalgia.  They want to pass on the same love, laughter to their own children.  Thankfully, as the family grows, they have added new traditions along the way. 

Today as I contemplate the holiday season, I wonder why Thanksgiving is not a more important holiday in this country. Of all the holidays, I think Thanksgiving can serve to unite us as a nation.  Many cultures and religions practice gratitude. From earlier times people have celebrated a good harvest giving thanks to a higher power.  Even folks who are not “religious” recognize that living in gratitude and being appreciative is to be in a good state of mind. One would think that given the emphasis that our leaders place on God’slaws and God’s rules, that they could agree to celebrate gratitude with more enthusiasm.  Giving thanks seems to be a common denominator, even if you are a humanist you can be grateful for your particular abilities and achievements. 

Perhaps someone’s White House can one day hold a service and invite religious and secular leaders of diverse groups to a Thanksgiving dinner.  There is something about literally breaking bread together that unites people and overcomes barriers.  I know it’s not even remotely on the agenda for this administration but its something to consider for the future. I understand that similar activities have been attempted at different times without success, falling apart at party lines, but I am sitting here living in the moment during a season of hope and so I continue to believe in our democracy.

I am mindful that not everyone feels the same during this season, perhaps some can’t find anything to be grateful for, not past or present.  Itis actually very common to feel sad and alone especially during this holiday season.  I would encourage my readers to open your eyes, look around and reach out to a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker and perhaps invite someone to join you.  My family has never had excessive material wealth, but there has always been room at the table for one more.  To those who may get an invitation, don’t turn it down.  Its never too late to make a pleasant memory. 

I am thankful that you stopped by today.  Peace be with you. 

My color is Ecru Cream

Alternative title – A Roze by any other name is still a Roze

I Have Been Weary

The other day, Jill Dennison of Filosofa’s Word posted “A SHARED OPINION …” in which she shared an article by Charles M. Blow of the NY Times, titled “You Have a Right to Weariness.” As usual, Jill’s comments to this article echoed my own thoughts.  It is a great opinion piece for our time of unsettling barrage of news stories. I have been weary.”   It’s not in my nature to ignore world events around me.  My eighth grade Social Studies teacher taught me, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Winston Churchill.  Unfortunately, watching current events unfold makes me feel like I’m watching a train wreck about to happen, but I’ve no superpowers to stop it.

I thought I was Over It

As I attempt a smooth transition to my “Third Act of Life,” I am dealing with feelings and frustrations that I thought I had overcome or mastered years ago.  You see, I am a woman of color, I like to say it’s “Ecru Cream.” I describe Ecru Cream as a very light beige, like raw linen- almost white, but not quite. I lived most of my life that way-almost white.

I  am No One’s Anchor

I was conceived in Puerto Rico, and when my grandparents found out that their 22-year-old, unmarried daughter was pregnant; they sent her to Pennsylvania to stay with her married older sister, Evangeline.  Evangeline had migrated to the States a few of years before when her husband returned from his tour of duty for the US Army.  They bought a house and started a family.  My grandparents decided that Evangeline would be a good role model to help her sister in this situation, and so my journey of life began just outside “the City of Brotherly Love.”

No, I was not an “anchor baby.” My parents were born American citizens in Puerto Rico, and my grandparents were granted citizenship as young adults in 1917.  My grandfather was drafted to the US Military shortly after, just in time for WWI. Brooklyn

Nuyoricans “Passing” for an Opportunity

After I was born, my father came to see us at Aunt Evangeline’s house, and since my mother was “the love of his life;” we moved with him to New York City.  We joined his older sisters and brother who migrated and settled in Brooklyn. My parents seemed to quickly become accustomed to the new culture and way of life while maintaining and blending the traditional customs of the major holidays. We used to tease my mother that she learned how to be “American” by watching “I Love Lucy” and Days of Our Lives.”

My parents socialized very little with friends outside of work so that we spent our weekends and holidays with family.  For the most part, my family is very light skinned; my cousins and I grew up without accents, and our last names did not end in “Z.”  These characteristics gave people an opportunity to get to know us before realizing that we were just an illusion of whiteness.  Yes, we were “passing” as a means to have a chance.

In school, at the church and in the neighborhood, our friends were not Puerto Rican. Our friends were the first or second generation of immigrants.  They were Italians, Irish, French, English, Polish, Canadian, Brazilian or Middle Eastern. Most spoke a second language at home.  Together we navigated the Melting Pot culture of NYC and were absorbed into the American Dream.

Celebrity Magic Shows and Miracle Excelsiors

It wasn’t all easy peasy as my granddaughter likes to say and when I hear the rhetoric, I can’t help but feel a bit of fear and frustration.  I continue to say that DJT is not the problem. He is who he is and who he has been. He didn’t get more obnoxious on the campaign trail. He did gain more visibility. I was not a fan of his before, not as a businessman or as a celebrity. I never watched his reality TV show and rolled my eyes whenever he did a cameo in a movie that took place in NYC.  I was one of those that would have bet my last dollar that he would not get into the White House.  The American people would never vote a con-man into the highest, most powerful office in the country.  By Election Day, I had changed my mind.  I watched how Americans adored his bravado and his magic displays with smoke and mirrors.  I was not surprised by his win at all.  Mostly though, I was hurt.  I continue to feel betrayed by friends and family.

A Christian Education 

I knew race tensions existed, and I was aware the KKK was still alive and well, but the events of the past couple of years reach me at a very personal level. I am reminded of my years as a young adult, my first year away from home in a Christian Bible college.  It was a small Bible College in the North East, about an hour outside of The City.  In was presented as “interdenominational” in promotional events and material.  The leader of my city wide “interdenominational” Christian high school club recommended it highly.  Interdenominational meant that all Christians around the world were welcome. Even though Baptists founded it, the school welcomed students from Presbyterians to Pentecostals in all shapes, sizes, and color.  We had to include a photo with our application.

By the end of my first semester, I learned that indeed all that glitters is not gold and whitewashing walls is a quick, effective way to cover up dirt and imperfections.  We learned that the school accepted minorities and international students of color in pairs, one man and one woman.  It was preferable if they were already married.  One of our friends was “spoken to” because people saw her around campus accompanied by a Brown student.  To be truthful, I don’t remember what country he was from, but in my memory, I recall him as perhaps from India or Pakistan.  The girl was so upset by this situation that she did not return next semester.

The Founder and President of the school taught a class on Dispensations. It was in his class that I decided not to come back after my second semester. I did not go back to my local church either.  His beliefs did not resemble the Christianity I learned at home.  His lessons were peppered with digs and condescending, derogatory remarks about other denominations that were not entirely in accord with Baptist dogma. I questioned my beliefs, my faith.  It was years before I returned to an organized religious community.

Who Are My Friends?

There were many other things about the school that made me uncomfortable,but the most hurtful thing occurred after I left the school.  I had become close friends with my roommate and a few of the girls in my dorm.  Gwen, Margaret and I were inseparable.  Margaret and I made plans to visit our boyfriends at a Christian College in New England next semester. I continued to correspond with the girls by snail mail.  One day I received a letter from Margaret.  One line in the message hit me like a gut punch.  “Gwen and I miss you so much; we had to adopt another inner-city girl.”  Wow! I thought we were friends, real friends.  I thought she was my friend because we had a lot in common because I was smart, witty and fun to be around.  She saw me as an inner-city-girl who went to her school on a partial scholarship and lived in her dorm.

Disguised, They Came For the Immigrants…

Years later, I was working at a psychiatric day services program is a New England city nicknamed “The City of Immigrants.”  One day, after the clients left, and we were meeting to review the day’s events and planning.  There was construction going on around us, and the noise prompted a co-worker, Doug, to make some awful comments, similar to DJT’s views, about the men who were working on the project. 

The workers were mostly brown men if I had to guess they were probably from countries in South America and the Caribbean.  “I can’t believe you just said that,” I told him. His response to justify his words was worse. I explained that these men could very well be my cousin, brother, or father.  While he had never been disrespectful to me or made racist comments of our clients in front of me, it hurt me that he thought this way of these people he didn’t even know – just because of the color of their skin and their accents.

Doug was a man that I worked with for several years; we co-facilitated successful groups, we walked together at lunch, had our coffee together, I considered him a close friend.  He finally said, “I’m sorry, I  just wasn’t thinking.”  It didn’t make it any better if anything, it made it worse that he wasn’t thinking about the impact of his words.  Things were never the same between us.

Then They Came for Me…

People forget I am not “white,” I am a woman “of color,” Ecru Cream is my color.  If our country were to continue to erase all the progress made regarding equality for all people; if as a nation we lose respect for basic human rights what is left for us?  What becomes of me, of my family?  If someone comes knocking on my door and drags me away because of a flippant comment I made on Twitter, will my friends stand up for me?  Will they say, “Well, you shouldn’t have said that after all, he is our President.”  I remember the words of Martin Niemoller, “… Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

All this rhetoric brings all these emotions to the surface. DJT did not get to the White House on his own merits.  Witnessing day after day that our lawmakers condone and defend his actions is very draining.  I am reminded again: “…and when an experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  — George Santayana

Hope for Rational Government

The recent elections bring some hope that people realize that the current events are not just politics and business as usual, nor are they healthy for our Democracy.  On the flip side, the recent election shows that there is still lots of work to be done. The numbers were too close for comfort, and there were too many mistakes and too much irregularity at the polls. Yes, I am weary, but I am hoping that tempered and rational thought comes with the new legislators to Congress before we resort to “Hunger Games” for the dignity and survival of the 98%.