vendredi, novembre 27, 2009

Roots and branch

Before President Obama and his wife Michelle made the White House a symbol of racial and ethnic diversity, I interviewed a Unitarian minister from New England. The place was the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. He and many ministers from other denominations had gathered for a service of reparations for slavery. I was covering it for RNS, and wrote about it when it happened.

Having had a DNA test done, he had found out that in his family tree ran the blood of slaves and slave-holders. Or perhaps it's more correct to say he had DNA from Africans and Caucasians as well as some Native American blood.

I wish I could say the same. Not that I wanted to have ancestors who owned slaves -- I could tell it was something this man had to work through. My Hebrew great-greats were more likely to have been slaves. Not that this gives me any borrowed nobility -- as it doesn't give him any intrinsic blame. But since that time, I've wondered about taking the DNA test. Maybe I've got some Spanish blood from an ancient converso marriage. Maybe there is some ethnic diversity way back on the family tree.

Since I spoke with him, I've been, well, a little jealous. How cool it would be to be to testify to the possibility of a postracial world in oneself.

It's not that I had an "Obama" moment -- I just had the sense that the dream of racial equality might come faster if some of us lilies found out we were really tulips and roses.

It's so absurd that we judge by color -- and yet pervasive, like the pollution over Los Angeles. How many millions of people have been killed for being black rather than white, for speaking a different language, for having Semitic features? I have friends with biracial kids, and I have a feeling even they will encounter prejudice.

Many judge President Obama by how dark his skin is. Bias has just gone a little underground.

I'm proud of my heritage, and appreciative. But it seems to me that the closer we get to tracing our common ancestors, the better off we will be.

I asked my ex yesterday if he would get a DNA test -- some of his relatives go back centuries here. But he didn't seem interested. So I guess I'll be happy with the genes God has given me -- scholarly, left-handed, Semitic, near-sighted, flat-footed (and a runner) , and a reformer. We don't all have to symbolize the melting pot -- we just have to make sure there is room for all of us at the table.

Bowling Alone -- Together

"We are in the middle of a revolution" I said to my ex as we sat in his living room, sated with turkey (him) and sweet potatoes (me) and his fabulous apple crisp (both of us.) "We're struggling to keep up so hard that we really don't understand what it means."

Downstairs, our son and daughter were playing Guitar Hero on the Wii. Next to me on the sofa, the "on" button of the DQ's Netbook blinked blue, waiting for her to return. Upstairs in my ex's bedroom, an LCD television that my ex, who mostly watches sports, cedes to our daughter for Disney movies.

As my kids remind me, often, I don't have the good toys at my house. Our television is a young, robust, 10 year old (maybe older, she lies about her age). The computer downstairs takes about ten minutes to load AIM and Mr. C's chess websites. But for Christmas (don't tell them) I'm surrendering enough to buy an LCD television for the downstairs. I may even go wild and begin forking out an enormous amount for some extra channels.

Go on, call me a mini-geezer (sometimes I feel like one). But those of us born before 1990 recall when the phone was in the hall, or the kitchen, not under the pillow. If you wanted to use a computer, you had to sit, by and large, in a public space. Even if you wanted to be available 24/7, at a restaurant or in church, it wasn't possible.

The downside of the technological revolution is how easy it becomes to isolate ourselves. At her dad's house, my daughter can take her Netbook downstairs and disappear for hours. He won't let her text, which I heartily applaud -- but she and I battle over keeping the cell phone (she's already lost four or five) in her room at night.

Another dilemma? It's become very easy to hide things you don't want others to see. A researcher I interviewed for a story on sexual misconduct among clergy commented on the fact that it's very easy now to start a tryst privately, via email and cell phone calls, developing a language of intimacy before the actual snogging starts (well, she wasn't that crude).

Did you know that Wii bowling leagues are a hot number among seniors? Last week an NPR segment on tech innovations for older folks noted that there are at least 86 American leagues.
They seemed to consider this a step forward. I'm not so sure. I can see grandma and grandpa standing in front of television screens, miming the game they used to play until bad backs and knees caught up with them. Virtual reality for the senior set? Is this a positive?

Not to mention what this does to relationships -- more on that in my next post.

lundi, novembre 23, 2009

The mystery of an intriguing life

What is it about some people? Why does serendipity seem to find them, fame touch them with her windy garment, strange encounters seem to fall into their laps?

We've all known people who, for one reason or another, seem to be lighting rods for adventures.

As I've commented in a prior post, my aunt Marilyn has had encounters that no one could have predicted. How many Brooklyn girls going on an senior's cruise had one evolve into a relationship an with Alaskan fisherman?

How many women in their 70's move West and start a volunteer drama group in a house where a flock of chickens just happened to roost?

Do you think, if you moved to Los Angeles (if you live there already, your odds may be slightly better) your veterinarian and ancient dog would be chosen to be trained by Cesar Millan?

I'd never heard of the Dog Whisperer. And I'm not sure Auntie M had, either, before...well, before...

I can't explain it. So I won't.

These adventures just seem to fall into her path -- and she navigates them with the same spirit that she has called on when faced with larger challenges, like my dear uncle's illness and death from lung cancer.

She's not wealthy, or socially networked (although she has lots of pals), or famous.

Maybe certain outsized personalities beckon other such personalities. Maybe having adventures doesn't make her anxious.

The more open one is to out of the ordinary occurences, the more they seem to present themselves.

But we observe with amazement, and admiration, and gratitude. Of course, those phone calls are always longer than either of us intend.

Gail Collins, the New York Times columnist, said recently that even if she doesn't believe things happen for a reason, they do happen so that they can be turned into a column.

Or a good story. That's the only rationale that clicks, right now.