Awakening in the USA

Some ask, what do all my posts,  health policy mixed with family, memoir,  have to do with moments?  We live in them!  Moments have content.  These current times will be remembered when most national elected officials from both parties share some of history’s lowest approval ratings. Moments, where we live, how conscious and intentional we are, how we use them, are really all we have.  Relationships happen within them.  Relationships end within them.  Both lead to change and either forward or backward movement. I am a generalist and have many domains in play at any given moment.  There are many who can attest that I cannot be narrowed: my parents and grandparents, my college advisor, my grad school advisor, the specialists who wanted me to pick their field during med school, and on and on and on.  For me the threads connect. My hope is that readers will see what the moments mean when I write (and maybe want to read the book if someone takes it and it moves from manuscript to book, Life Lessons, What Our Patients Teach Us)

Today and this week  the press is reminding us of 1863 and 1963.  The events they remember were touchstones in my life. 1863 was having its hundredth anniversary in 1963 when many moments were pivotal for me.

There I was, a recent transplant (August 1962) from California to Virginia, sophomore in high school.  Me: a pudgy teen with acne and a decent brain in the throes of who am I, though I did not know it.  There were existential crises like when I found out my friends would think I was a snob when I did not recognize them because I was too vain to wear my new glasses.  I had my first real boyfriend, a congressional page.

My world turned on the events of 1963 in ways that shaped me.  I am sure there were the foundations laid by other circumstances in our lives, like having an older brother whose brilliance I accepted and being a young girl in the 60s whose guidance counselor told me, because I was female, that my aspirations should aim at state teachers college “and not higher” or my mothers flight of fury to take on this woman for trying to limit my dreams.  I can write more about all of that and my development in those contexts, but tonight is about 1963.

To get there we need to fast forward to 1964.  It was the World’s Fair in New York.  My brother was off to college. My parents, my two younger sisters, and I boarded a bus to NY to meet my mother’s parents, see New York, and do the World’s Fair. On the bus, I was working on a talk for my “expository speech” in debate club.  Titled “Building Bridges,” I called for racial equality and inclusivity. I showed it to my mother.  She actually asked if I had written it or copied it from somewhere.  I was taken aback, furious, and with a typical 15 year old posture, I cried, “How could you even think that?” silencing those in the seats nearby. This was the most original piece I had ever written. How dare she? Did she know me so little that she could not understand from where this came?  She imagined I plagiarized it?  Really? It came from her upbringing of me…and 1963.  She raised us with  “all are equal; we are the same.” The 1963 opened my eyes.

1963

January of 1963 was the 100 anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863).  We were studying the civil war in class.  It was on the news.

I was that teen with my first boy friend, that Capitol Hill Page whose dad was a congressman from somewhere.  We would go to DC for dinner, me with my fake id, have steaks and wine and cigarettes.  There was the luau at LB Johnson’s house, then Vice President, because Lucy Bird was also dating a Page. That made me a grown-up, right?

June of 1963: John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation ordering the Governor Wallace of Alabama to comply with the 1954(!) law of school desegregation. When Wallace blocked the entrance to the University, JFK brought in the National Guard and Wallace stepped aside.

Dulles Airport had been built and sometimes my friends and I would drive out there, all dressed up, just to be in that space, new with driver’s licenses, acting adult.

August of 1963, with the 100 year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863) and of the Gettysburg Address (11/19/1863), Martin Luther King and 200,000 others marched on Washington.

August of 1963, my brother was leaving for college on the left coast and I was convincing my parents that I could have his room and paint it pink, (which by the way was on a different level, allowing me to both sneak out and smoke cigarettes with the window open and, I thought, be undetected.)

Also in 1963 the Beatles hit the US.  They were not on Ed Sullivan until 1964, but as my musically talented brother validated my more visceral very positive response and said:  “this is very talented and complex music.”

November of 1963: I was sitting in a class when the announcement came.  “The President has been shot.” JFK was dead, just weeks before he could have hoped to have the civil rights bill passed, or would it have been?  How did that moment bring history forward with a big tradeoff?

Regardless of that answer, for me it was a year of awakening to a larger world, to the imperfect union we have, to the work we still face, as Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg address. In this week and year 2013, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address and the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, I sit here knowing what the cumulative moments of 1963 did to grow me and they feed me still.  And you?

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3 thoughts on “Awakening in the USA

  1. Elsa

    Wonderful post combining your personal history with a history I remember well.

    1963-64 a tumultuous, formative time for me and hard to tease out the threads of national politics, segregation in the South where I grew up, high school, and family events. Kennedy’s death and my father’s 3 months later were certainly the end of childhood for me.

    Reply
  2. Wendy Rollins

    For me, 1968 – the assassination of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War – I was 7 and these events and how they changed my life swirl around frequently in my memory. They color so much of who I am, who I struggle to become and what I want for my children and for their children. It is why I am, at last , at peace with what I do to earn a living – not just helping people, but helping veterans – mostly from the Vietnam era.
    And in the middle of all that, adding a new person to our family. A stranger in our midst (my step father) in a time when I was questioning everything that I had known to be safe.
    Tough for me to trust him and tougher for him to try to find a place in our world.

    Reply

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