My Grandfathers, My Privilege

The woman arrived late for worship and quickly rose, prefacing her message with: “I can assure you this is spirit led….” She spoke at length about white privilege, systematic injustice, the civil rights movement, the death of Micheal Brown and her recent visit to Ferguson. I didn’t catch the whole message because a Friend needed an urgent ride home and when I came back she was still speaking.

I watched her through the half-light doors of the meeting, catching snippets of “reparations” and “brutality” and “mass incarceration” through the cracked doors, waiting to return without disturbing worship. Clearly as folks shifted in their seats many were already disturbed.  Eventually a Friend stood and asked that the speaker allow for some silence to consider her message.  She broke into song, spoke a practiced “don’t silence me” line and sat.  I returned to my seat and mulled what I’d only half heard.  I was bugged by the break in norms, but sometimes we can use a shaking up in meeting. I agreed with parts of her message, but the delivery was rambling. At the end of meeting she confirmed “her mission”, spoke briefly with supporters and was gone.

Missing most of the actual message, my churning emotions about policing, racism and my own privilege lead to my grandfathers:

My dad’s dad was in the New Jersey State Patrol.  He’d retired by the time I came around, but his official patrolman’s portrait used to hang in the garage “to scare the rats away.” I’m certain my Pop-pop felt what MC Killer Mike recently described about his father: “Being a cop must be hard. My dad was one, and never wanted any of his children to follow in his footsteps.” I knew he deployed to Newark in 1967 during the riot there, but that topic was as off limits as discussion of the South Pacific beaches he’d crossed as a Marine.  Near the end of his life, I asked him if he’d ever shot anyone.  He avoided the question. I think of the words Killer Mike adds: “The police have the power of life and death in their decisions — they need to know that Americans hold them to a higher standard than these examples, of American men laying lifeless like deer.” I think of my own standards as his grandson: how can I evaluate his service, knowing so little but also fearing to know more?  Perhaps for some people it’s enough to know he served in uniform, especially as a white man, but I still want to find a lesson there.

My mom’s dad Jack was the Quaker, the one who’d gone to Europe in the war and came back resolved to changeMe and my brother with Grandpa Jack, 1987 things. While I’ve heard a little more about his military experiences, everything after was meant to transform that violence.  He’d moved my mom and her siblings to a majority-black school district in the 70’s to sensitize them to the importance of race relations. The most vivid images of this experience have come from his kids though, and they describe getting beaten up by black classmates and fear. He’d done American Friends Service Committee work camps around the country rebuilding poor neighborhoods. At Thanksgiving this year I found a picture of him at one of those work camps.  He’s dressed in a shabby work outfit handing a bemused looking older black woman a glass of milk on a plate. I guess.  It looks even more staged than the state patrol portrait, and gives little sense of reparations or restorative justice. What is his lesson of transformation?

I ask myself:  Didn’t all three of these people believe they were being of service?  Their methods differed, but it seems to me the self-styled prophet, the white man and his burden, and the tight-lipped officer all wanted to make things better.  What I wonder is whether their service could have been better served in a broader community, a beloved community. If you bring a message to worship meant to change things, can you really expect anything if you leave right away?  If you followed orders you regret, can you heal or be accountable without telling anyone what happened?  If you wanted to transform pain and violence, can you succeed without accountability to those you “serve”?

A Californian Vision

It reached 80 degrees in Cazadero on the ranch!
It reached 80 degrees in Cazadero on the ranch!
Federica and Lila with burning wings on Ocean Beach, San Francisco
Federica and Lila with burning wings on Ocean Beach, San Francisco

I reconciled myself to having a different attitude about California about 5 years ago, when I drove my newly purchased 1982 Yamaha Vision to San Francisco from Olympia. At the time, my attitude about California was that it seemed shallow and consumer-driven. Contempt prior to investigation.  It was an interesting period for me, right about the era I began this blog in preparation for a trip to Palestine and my heart warmed a little in the sunshine and landscape I saw.  I was struggling on a personal level, trying to figure out my life purpose, and the motorcycle was “witness” to that period in ways I’m still only just understanding.

I sold the Vision as I reached the Bay to an old friend living in the hills of Western Sonoma County. My friend Frank was looking for just that kind of motorcycle, and at the time I didn’t feel so attached or appreciative of it.  Almost 5 years later, he passed away unexpectedly recently and at his memorial his family suggested I come back to pick up the bike. He was such a kind man, and his love of mechanics (especially marginal ones) meant a lot to me as I thought about him and that vehicle.  As Federica and I prepare to travel to Italy for 5 months and my job wound down, we had some time to make a visit.  I didn’t know what condition the motorcycle was now in, but regardless our main interest was taking a kind of honeymoon and visiting our many friends (grieving, recently moved, old and new) down there.  If all went well, we’d motor home on the bike along Highway 1 as our return trip.

3 lambs were born in the week we stayed in Sonoma County, these one's are minutes old.
3 lambs were born in the week we stayed in Sonoma County, these one’s are minutes old.

We have spent the last two weeks wandering San Francisco’s Mission district full of murals and encroaching gentrification, burning a new friend’s artwork on the beach with her for a film project, traveling into the hills to live entirely off the grid, catching rides all over backcountry roads, and connecting with the restorative power of community.  We have not been riding a motorcycle. While Persephone, as I now remember I called her, may one day ride again, at the moment she will bask (languish?) a bit longer in the warm Californian sun.  She now holds a more complete story of origin and a myth for me, as a point of reference in the last 5 formative years of my life.   We did a little ceremony at the ranch to appreciate the tools in our lives for the service they provide us, and I reflected on how a tool can serve a purpose we didn’t plan for it at all.  Persephone now carries a little bit of Frank for me and she’s fired inspiration and driven me places without even starting to leave the driveway.

 

Independent Life Skills

View out onto Hood Canal this weekend.
I have been working for the Squaxin Island Tribe for 5 months now on a Federal grant project helping teens transition to adulthood. I am hoping that my job will continue after the grant period ends this week, but even if it does not I am very grateful for what I have learned here. I was honored this weekend to join a 2 day training on the Hood Canal for some of the young adults I work with here. The participants are really not that much younger than myself, and were receiving a training about how to teach independent life skills to their peers and younger youth of the tribe. I sometimes wish that I had had the opportunity to learn about how to make a budget or work on a team or live in a healthy way from people other than my parents. I was very lucky to learn a lot from my folks but the reinforcement of community sharing, of standards passed down from generation to generation was more gleaned than spelled out for me. Several of the folks participating this weekend spoke of hard life experiences and a wish for connection to their traditional culture. The stories that the trainers shared, the discussion of how native people historically lived and flourished here, helped all of us remember the context were we live. Though I am sharing more as a witness than I participant, I feel very lucky to be here and be invited to join these young people on a few steps of their journey into adulthood. I guess I’m still trying to figure out that path myself.

New Life

The rosy tint is wearing a little.  As Federica and I drove to her Operation Dove Office this morning, across the freezing landscape of fruit trees and suburban traffic circles, we talked about how we’re feeling.  She’s struggling with her sense of responsibility for her work in Palestine, as well as the tug of her biological family’s farm plus the added stress of the Village family’s needs.  I’m struggling to form complete sentences and get a sense of natural beauty here and there.

And now I’m sick. We’re both sick.  It’s pretty clear in circumstances where we’re not 100% that our patience for fitting into the family system wears thin.  On the one hand, it’s really heartening to know that both she and I are on the same page about not feeling particularly “nesty”  On the other, we’re not exactly sure what else to do. We both don’t really have income.  In any event, in the next week or so we’re schedued to do some traveling.  Let’s see how that goes.

My Family members

Sergio-Father- Sorta gruff, straightforward type.  Does not like it when we speak Italian around him.  Valid point.  I know where he stands. Curious, playful side.  From  Venuto, the Venecian provence.

Elena-Mother- Motherly, a midwife for “troubled pregnancies” technically I think but spends a good deal of time at home. Curious but somewhat detached.  Clearly tired by parenting yet contained about it yet clearl tired.  Paradoxical.  Good english vocab and pronunciation.

Martina- Civil servant in our house.  19-20ish?  Quiet, does a lot of cleaning, cooking, ironing.  poor dear.

Anna-family’s oldest girl. 17 Outspoken but clearly not really an envelope pusher.

wow, it feels wierd to be “telling” on all of them.

Lazzaro-16-17ish  Slightly indoor kid, historical origins in India.  Has sweet looking motorcycle (50cc) and equally intimidating needling

Paola- 15-16ish.  Very 16yo girl.

Simone-14- Good guy, shy but with creative and theatrical side.  We do english lessons.

Mima-10- Foster child with Morrocan roots.  Sweet but a little out of place.  She’s given the shaft a lot by the teens.

Diego-3- little shit.  just a normal 3 yo.

Bruno-rat dog

A cheese by any other name

While I feel slightly guilty for considering a trip to Turkey old hat, I console myself in the adventure and curiosity I saw in Federica as she met it for the first time.  Once she left and I got over the swine flu 😉 I had an opportunity to reconnect with my family there in a way I have been missing.  Bickering over the morning olives, baking soda and vinegar rockets in the driveway, tea and cigarettes with Lütfiye, and even a rare bachelor night with Melih.

My girls are getting so big!
My girls are getting so big!
Lest I forget, we also had Mr.WW along too
Lest I forget, we also had Mr.WW along too

So as I left my now-familiar family, biological and non, behind in the Republic I was ready for a new adventure.  And it came, in the form of beautiful European countryside and a beautiful tour guide to match.  I’ll post more about it as I’m inspired, but here she is in meadow of alpine flowers near the Faggioli family’s little house in the Parco Nazionale Foreste Casentinesi….. yeah.  Fede in the Park

It even has a name (the house), Ca Mandrioli. Everything has a name; whether it appears to be much different than the cheese before it is insignificant.  Chances are good the name’s been around long before the US of A was a suppressed twinkle in a Puritan eye.   Hot.