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Escape from the Past

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Tomorrow I head north again, up to my writing retreat in New Hampshire. In June, the place was overrun with house painters, carpenters, and roofers. Not so this trip — just four weeks of solitude and freedom with my two felines.

Expect a change in tone here. At least that’s what I’m hoping for: a departure from the darkness, anger, and cycling grief.

It’s been a long and difficult July as I began the task of cleaning out my deceased brother’s house, which is also the house I grew up in. My personal upheaval has been exacerbated by the evil and violence going on in the world. (See recent rant at God.)

I knew cleaning out the house that we’ve owned since 1958 would be not be easy, so I hired someone to do the bulk of it. I thought it would be a relatively simple matter to pack up what I want and leave the rest for the folks who have no emotional involvement. I thought I’d get used to it, and it would become mindless sorting: keep, trash, give away, auction.

Not so much. Every box, cabinet, and drawer contains treasure beyond measure. So many memories, so much life lived!

Well, you can't just throw away Davy Crockett!

Well, you can’t just throw away Davy Crockett!

You don't expect me to toss my very first 45, do you??

You don’t expect me to toss my very first 45, do you??

 

 

Sadly, there have been enough wars in my lifetime to fill a whole box with protest paraphernalia.

Sadly, there have been enough wars in my lifetime to fill a whole box with protest paraphernalia.

Drama in the Basement

I started in the basement, going through boxes of old toys and books while seated on the grey-painted stairs that used to be my stage coach as I rode into dusty western towns and was greeted by that handsome cowboy who bore a striking resemblance to my brother.

“Howdy Miss,” Biff would say, his spurs clinking as he swaggered towards me and tipped his cowboy hat. “You must be Brenda Starr, that new reporter.” I’d giggle and gather my skirts around my ankles as he extended his leather-fringed arm to help me down off the stairs. “I’m Texas John Slaughter,” he’d say. I’d giggle again. That’s pretty much all I did. You have to remember, I was about five or six to his eleven or twelve.

After I had sifted through six boxes of my personal souvenirs — girl scout paraphernalia, notes from fifth-grade boyfriends, matchbooks from long-defunct bars, school band pictures and report cards — I  picked my way down narrow aisles of teetering boxes of books to the other side of the basement to look for my dad’s workbench that I thought I might want to keep.

Fifty-something years ago, that workbench served as my throne where I sat draped in moth-eaten blankets and played Queen Anne to my brother’s three musketeers. Throwing one blanket or another over his shoulders and switching swords, he would quickly morph from the dashing D’Artagnan discussing palace intrigue, to the humble Porthos begging a few coins to fund his exploits, to Aramis thrashing about with his fencing sword and repeatedly stabbing himself, which made me — giggle.

Survival Tactics

Behind the workbench on some rickety pine shelves, I found a few rusty cans of food (Spam, believe it or not, and corned beef hash) that my mother used to keep in the event of nuclear attack.

nuke fallout

Like many American families, we stockpiled food and water in the ridiculous belief that we could survive a nuclear attack. We used to say that if we had enough warning, maybe we could jump into the car and head north to the house in New Hampshire.

It may not have been a nuclear attack, but there’s still plenty of fall-out from Biff’s death, and I’m grateful to have a safe shelter up north where I can hide out for a month before tackling the rest of that house and its attendant memories. 

What Color is Pride?

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What color is pride? For many baby boomers like me, I’ll bet the first thing that comes to mind is red, white, and blue. With stripes. Growing up in the post World War II era, the whole country was awash in the hues of Old Glory.

My father, being a Texan, had his own proud blend of red, white, and blue. As kids, we had a fine selection of confederate flags, which we draped over plastic replicas of General Lee’s horse Traveler, raised on toothpicks over little statues of the Alamo, and wore as magical capes as we pranced around the house fighting bad guys.

I was told that being half-Texan meant I could do just about anything I put my mind to. Bigger and better than anyone else.

My mother, on the other hand, was brought up under the red, white, and blue of England’s flag and passed on the idea that while we were better than everyone else, we were never to say so. “Don’t brag, it’s unbecoming,” was followed by, “No, dear, you mustn’t play with them — they are not our kind of people.”

What’s worse? My Dad’s resounding pride or my Mom’s false humility?

Oh well. My childhood understanding of pride may have been confused, but at least it all fell under red, white, and blue, so there was no question about the color of pride.

American Flag

The British are coming, the British are coming!

The British are coming, the British are coming!

256px-Confederate_Rebel_Flag.svg

Until Vietnam. That’s when those colors began to divide America and my family. I sided with my older hippy brother over my Commie-fearing father, and my understanding of the color of pride morphed into a bright tie-die unity with the anti-war crowd. Proud to be a pacifist, proud to be against the machine, against the system. Proud to “let my freak flag fly,” as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young put it in their song, “Almost Cut My Hair.”

Going Green

When the environmental movement took off, my sense of pride took on shades of green. In college, I began marching under the green and white eco-flag.

In surveys I did while working at the Sierra Club, we often found that people associated the word “environmentalist” with “arrogance,” and I can understand that. There’s an odd, almost combative pride that develops when people are devoted to a cause they feel means life or death. That’s particularly true when for policy reasons, they must define “the solution” and push for it, which comes across as “we know best.”

Still, the way I see it, when you are up against an opposing force that simply denies the reality of biology, climatology, or any other kind of science for that matter, it does no good to search for a “middle ground” — you have to push if you love humankind and the rest of creation. So I’m still green and proud of it.

Marching under the Green Flag

Marching under the Green Flag

A Child of the Universe

Speaking of loving humankind — in my thirties, I chose a path that truly confused my notions of pride. I became a committed Christian, which meant that I got serious about being open to personal transformation and healing. I had to lay down the prideful ego that, unbeknownst to me, had been driving my life up until that point.

When God was gracious enough to show me how much my ego and my need for recognition and esteem drove my actions, I was disgusted and dismayed and quite willing to change. I wanted to tear out the thick black threads of pride that ran through my being, binding me up and making me dance like a marionette to the tune of other people’s opinions.

At the same time, if you dare to believe that you are a beloved child of the Creator of the Universe and that you — yes, you — are unique and uniquely gifted in all of history, part of a cosmic plan to make the world a better place, well . . . well, just wow.

That’s a different color pride.

As I’ve gotten to know myself in the light of Love, I have become gentler with myself. Like any child, I have built-in needs for affection and approval. That’s OK; that’s sweet. I believe those needs are driven by our natural inclination to be close to God and to other people. (And, yes, also by our evolutionary need for survival in community, which I don’t think is contradictory to the God-part. We are wired that way by the Master Electrician.)

These natural emotional needs simply get warped by the world. Now that I’m aware of this, I keep watch, and on a good day these traits don’t run my life. I can smile fondly at them and go about my business.  I think that somewhere in the dynamic tension between our beloved uniqueness and our egoic drive lies a perfect balance of pride that is pure white like a dove in the sunshine, or perhaps transparent, clear as a pristine stream.

I’m nowhere near that color pride, nor do I expect to be in this lifetime.

creek

Abundant Yellow

Right now, I am experiencing pride as yellow — bright sunshine yellow. It is warm. It is glowing. It is good.

Last week, I graduated from Johns Hopkins with my Masters in Creative Nonfiction and gave a public reading from my thesis for close to two hundred people. I did well. People smiled and nodded and laughed in the right places. Am I proud of myself? Damn straight! I busted butt for four years to get to that podium, and I think I did a really good job. (Sorry, Mom, I know I’m not supposed to say that.)

At the Podium

At the Podium

Thing is, everyone else in my graduating class of sixteen also did a really good job. I’m super proud of them, too. We’re all standing in this sunny pride. There’s plenty of it to go around, enough of the good pride for everyone — it’s not something to clutch. It bathes the whole world in its warmth. We all glow from it. I think it comes from God, and I think it’s related to love. Which raises the question, what color is love? Another post.

Speaking of love, as I was writing this, my blog stats reached three thousand followers, adding to my golden glow. Thanks so much to all of you for accompanying me on my writing journey! I love you guys!!

And now, after that commercial break for a moment of pride, I will return to my false humility.

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/what-color-is-shame/

Photo credits: Wikimedia.com, Public Domain Photos, Publicdomainpictures.net

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