Yesterday, I felt like I was in a time warp. All day the sky tried to drop snow but kept sending sleet and that's what my brain felt like— slushy splats of history hitting me in the face.
It all started during home school with Taylor and Cody. I decided to use Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I had a dream" speech as the focus of the lesson. We were reviewing comma conventions. I gave them copies of the speech and read it aloud. Since the vocabulary is dense for kids in 5th and 7th grade, I told them to circle words that were unfamiliar and we would discuss their meaning after I read the speech.
Simply reading King's speech dropped me back in time to my high school days when the construct of desegregation was driving its way into my brain. Reading the speech, I recalled vivid black and white TV images from Alabama and Mississippi. Then I got yanked into the present when 10 year old Taylor asked what "negro" meant. I grew up with the word "negro." It was the polite way to describe dark skinned people and highly preferable to the N-word, as the more derogatory term is now called. I don't remember hearing the term African American until the late 70s or maybe even the 80s. I can't describe the feeling that arose when Taylor asked for the meaning of this word. It seemed like progress in terms of the language we use about race, but it also revealed a piece of history that was yet unknown to her especially when one of the other terms she asked about was Emancipation Proclamation. Both the Civil War and Civil Rights are part of her history lessons, and I had lived through one of those lessons.
When I drove away from home school, sleet was hitting the windshield and a segment of This American Life was playing on my iPod. It was a story about blacks in the Navy during WWII, men who were stationed at Port Chicago, an ammunition dump near San Francisco. Apparently Port Chicago was the site of the worst stateside loss of life during the war. Fifty-eight black Navy men died and many more were seriously injured when two ships loaded with ammunition exploded in 1944. But here is the detestable part of the story (not withstanding that blacks were not allowed to man guns in the Navy during WWII but were assigned to handle dangerous ammunition). After the explosion, 50 men refused to go back to work loading the dangerous cargo, so they were charged with mutiny and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Even today, the Navy refuses to speak about the Port Chicago incident or to exonerate the men who were charged with mutiny. This American Life interviewed 5 survivors of the explosion who were jailed. By the time I got to the post office where the sleet had turned to rain, my heart was heavy with sorrow. How simple it would be to apologize to these men for this degrading mistreatment.
At the post office there was a card from a long ago friend, Janet. She was my best friend when my 37 year old daughter was a baby. She sent pictures of her grandsons. The resemblance between one of the boys and his mother who I knew as a little girl shot me back in time again to the 1970s and young motherhood. My friend closed her note with "I think of you often and I love you." WHEW!! The tug on my heart to visit this friend was powerful as I drove back up the hill through heavy sleet toward the charter school where 3 grandkids were giving oral presentations that I'd helped them prepare. Can you feel the warp? Thinking about my friend and our children at 4, then 7, then 10 as I drove to see my grandkids, ages 8, 10, and 13 give their speeches.
You'd think after all this mental time travel that yoga would be a welcome relief, but NO! This was the day my yoga teacher took a democratic vote: get in down dog, raise your right leg if while we do yoga you want to listen to a radical CD with Martin Luther King and JFK and Ani DiFranco talking against a back drop of rap and other alternative music?? I did not raise my leg. I'd had enough radical time travel for one day. But it was a democratic vote and my choice lost. No soothing Indian chants or Dali Lama Oms for me. Instead I tried to do yoga while the sound of JFK and Willie Nelson and DiFrano rocked my fragile spirit, bringing tears that dripped from my cheeks while I held strong in forearm plank.