Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Lost and Found

(For my children, Robert and Esther)

I want my god back, my soul requires it.

I lost him somewhere between my Catholic grade school “let’s beat up the nigger” days and the high school guidance counselor telling me I’d make a good butler.

I lost god when my New Year’s Eve hangover was ushering in 1973 with the news that my hero, Roberto Clemente, had died in Puerto Rico trying to bring help to earthquake victims.

I lost god but I know where to find him.

I want my people back, my heart demands it.

I lost them somewhere between feeling odd and out of place my first day of registration at an all black college then later having a corporate customer marvel at my being so articulate.

I lost them when I heard my Achilles snap so loud like a car backfire on the basketball court and I couldn’t bang under the boards or glide to open space and rain jumpers anymore.

I lost my people but I know where to find them.

I want my history back, my family needs it.

I lost it when my fist crashed into my father’s face knocking him down and out of my life.

I lost it when the furious heart beating in my chest was so loud after my aunt called to say my mother had died that I couldn’t hear her words over the roar of the blood in the vessels in my ears.

I lost it when I passed, but unlike my uncles, aunts, and older cousins who did it to put bread on the table, I did it passively, sitting quite and still after someone entered a sales presentation, looked around and said, “Sure glad there aren’t any niggers here!”

I lost my history but I know where to find it.

Where will I find my god?

I find him when Robert takes my hand in front of his friends, when he kisses me and says, “I love you dada!”

Where will I find my people?

I find them bouncing on my bed in the morning, pleading with me to get up.

Sometimes when I search for my history I sit in front of my computer, the page blank, cursor blinking. I feel Esther’s arms pressed against me like a heat pack on a damaged muscle and I feel my blood flow.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Dispatch from Hunlock Creek

Last week I wrote from The Air Conditioned City and the writers’ workshop sponsored by VONA (The Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation). I can report that this entity (Hunlock Creek) in no way resembles The City, nor am I surrounded by the intellectual and spiritual questing that occurred at the workshop. I am, however, surrounded by an abundance of testosterone of the young teen and pre-teen variety and loving parenting by my sister-in-law and her husband as well as from Sheila and myself.

Tomorrow, Friday, I’ll get up early and get over to the soccer camp where Robert has been all week and watch the morning drills. He, along with about one hundred or so other children from seven to fifteen have been at this all week and apparently have become as one in their approach to drills and other coach directed activities. All of this in the exurban splendor of eastern Pennsylvania in the shadow of the Pocono Mountain range.

Quite a contrast to the sophistication and cosmopolitan feel of San Francisco.

But I gotta tell ya (pardon me while I slip into the vernacular of the natives here) it feels comfortable to me, while I have yet to spot my first person of color I feel welcomed here. For instance the guy next to me in line for coffee at the convenience store/gas station effusively thanked me for pouring his coffee and proceeded to tell me of the back roads back to Washington when, noticing my Virginia license plates, he asked if I were going back during the expected heavy traffic over this holiday weekend. Then there was the clerk at the local supermarket who gave me my sister-in-law’s discount for the ice cream I bought for desert for the kids because she recognized my nephew. That saved me three dollars on an eleven dollar purchase! I dunno where you’re reading this but that buys a gallon of gas in my neck of the woods!

To be honest I’d rather be in San Francisco, but one doesn’t always get to choose where his in-laws live. One could be said to have limited choice of in-laws period but why quibble, you pick your spouse and the rest comes along for the ride regardless of your preferences. Unless you come from one of those families that refuses to acknowledge those parts of their families they find disagreeable. Wow, I wonder what that’s like. I haven’t seen much of Hunlock Creek and I’ll suspend this report until I do. The next five hundred words, or so, will fill you in on what I find tomorrow.

Friday: Still in Hunlock Creek. And for the most part still ambivalent about how this area strikes me. I suppose fifteen year olds the world over would have the same reaction as my nephew, he who saved me three dollars yesterday, had when he asked what I was reading today (answer, “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani). He looked truly perplexed and asked, “Why?” Even with the answer (so I can be better informed about people who are much in the news these days) he still looked perplexed. Some fifteen year olds in the DC metro area would have already finished the book when I picked it up. But DC offers many more opportunities for our children to actually meet an Arab, which is not to say that proximity precludes prejudice. It certainly helps dispel some myths.

Speaking of myths, I’d like to get rid of one about rural, or exurban, areas. They aren’t all rednecks, and if they are, all rednecks aren’t narrow minded bigots. I met a good number of them at the soccer camp today, both in the morning for drills and this afternoon for scrimmages, and they were more than pleasant enough. I will confess to wondering how they would have treated me had I been in a large group of ‘colored’ folks, either black or Latino. But that’s pure speculation. Still, it’s a curiosity of mine. Maybe next time instead of a Ponce (P.R.) baseball shirt I’ll wear a Malcolm X shirt with a replica of a gun and the “by any means necessary” quote. And yes, I have been accused of looking Puerto Rican…

I’ll be hitting Pennsylvania again in September with Robert for a road trip to Roaring Spring and to gather up Victor and his son Christopher to wander over to Pittsburgh for Roberto Clemente Day at the ball park. Victor and I might have become friends without the two of us having had Clemente as our boyhood hero, but it’s doubtful I would have given that much of a chance at the time we first met almost twenty years ago. Perhaps I’ve learned a lot of compassion and tolerance in the years since as then I might have been the one screwing up my face at someone reading a book about ‘others’, like Arabs, or, for that matter, Pennsylvania ‘rednecks’.

Life can teach us valuable lessons when we are open to them.

From the book I’m reading: “We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign peoples. For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself.” (al-Kindi, c.801-66)

Well anyway, today’s my birthday and I’ve had enough of being a good dad, an inquisitive reader, and an aspiring writer. Chicken wings, pizza, and beer are in the offering, hopefully some birthday cake too.

I’m going to pack the laptop, the Hourani book and live the life of a blissfully ignorant fifty-eight year old who somewhere deep inside still remembers what if feels like to be fifteen. I’m happy with the incredible love of good friends, an expanding circle of compassion, the support of my wonderful wife and children bolstering my way through life.

Damn, but life can be good.