Today is the last full day at the beach, at least, for this year’s pilgrimage. It’s been a beautiful, peaceful, torn, sorrowful week. When we arrived, we saw that the large ocean front property next door has been sold and undergone another transformation from the tiny, low-lying house with a yard full of gaillardias it used to be in the late 1980s. This year, it sports two double-sided Trump signs on the beach fence and a sizeable American flag, raised so high it seems to be flying at the south corner of our balcony. The flag has been useful for indicating which way the wind blows.It stays out in all weathers, so it’s frayed on the end. It’s not enough to fly the flag all the time. If you’re going to have a flag, you have to take care of it, too.
The signs have been an object lesson in loving our neighbor. We’ve kept our focus on the horizon, the Atlantic expanse, the boats, kites, and parasails, immersion in wave pools, walks with birds, sunrise, sunset and much joy in between. We also had a glorious loss of connectivity that spared us a lot of grief and fury this week until a sudden catch up yesterday.
On Thursday, our dear friend John visited. We talked and talked, enjoyed lunch together and talked more. As it came time for John to depart, we wished we had more time together. Near departure time, John said something important to me, something that silenced me that evening, but woke a clear decision in me when I walked the beach, reflecting, on Friday morning. John, an ardent Bernie supporter, bemoaned our choice between D.T. and “a stodgy, repressed woman.”
Seriously, John!? You spoke so thoughtfully that afternoon about seeking to understand your white privilege. Did you not hear yourself speaking from your male privilege? Understand that you are swimming in assumptions so deep, you think water is air. We all are when it comes to what we can afford to take for granted, when it comes to ways we dismiss, marginalize, condescend to, exploit, and shoot down others without even admitting to ourselves what we are doing. Really, once you’ve said “stodgy, repressed” do you even have to add “woman”? Isn’t it already understood? Would you ever use these words to describe a man?
Let me claim that identity for myself. I grew up educated working class in 1950s and early 60s England, where rules ruled and following rules was a way of survival. At one year younger than Hillary Clinton, it’s still a big deal for me to have a well-behaved dog off the leash in a “dogs must be leashed” zone or to use my time-share towel on the beach if I forget to bring my own beach towel on holiday. I don’t cross boundary lines easily. I struggled with what I learned about Sandra Bland, because I would almost certainly not have had the chutzpah to stand up to the police officer no matter how unreasonable his search and seizure. I was raised to believe that such behavior was lunatic, though now I see it as deeply brave to challenge power at such an immediate level.
I claim the “stodgy, repressed woman” identity because I have kept my stodgy, repressed self sane, centered and grounded for most of my sixty-seven plus years. I survived (and truly hope my children have survived) some pretty crazy, scattered and untethered middle years to find a way to anchor myself in the present again and again. I know that no one knows what goes on behind another soul’s front door, whether they live in a white house, a black house, or any other color of the rainbow. I know that I have greatly benefitted from those who have steadied me (my grandmother and my sister among many others.) I have sought to be and become a steadying presence for others; an encourager to stay in the here and now, knowing where you are coming from, with a plan and a list for where you’re going, but always ready to change plans and adjust the list if the kids get too tired or you realize you’ve forgotten something or someone! I know that no one knows the lightness, the dance and the joy of the apparently stodgy and repressed and no one damn well needs to know it, because it is not the business of our lives to prove ourselves to others, but to love and be there for them the best we can.
So, when we get back to Orlando, I will be putting some time and effort into the Hillary Clinton campaign. She will disappoint me; she already has, but not as much as I disappoint myself sometimes. She will be less than honest. I’m less than honest with myself sometimes. She will start out really tired. Lots of days start like that. She will also keep her appointments, seize her opportunities, know when and how to put on a brave face no matter how god-awful the situation has become, and work tirelessly to do what she believes needs to be done, just as she has for decades.
Forty-four men have had the opportunity to learn from the experience of their mistakes. It is long past time for a woman to be given an equal opportunity. And to younger women who are thinking that they will live to see a woman president, but it doesn’t need to be Hillary Clinton, here’s a reminder to be really careful of missed opportunities. It can be a very long time before the next one comes along. Thank you, John.