Letter to the Editor – Virginia Pilot

The following Letter was submitted to the Virginia Pilot on June 14. I recently moved to Virginia Beach and subscribe to the Pilot.

It is great to be back in a military town! Growing up in the Air Force, my sisters and I absorbed the pride and pomp of being an officer’s child. Dad flew bombers, the big guys (B48s and B52s). WWII took his crew over the Pacific during low-level bombing of Tokyo and Saipan. They survived—barely.

You might surmise that my dad was a gung-ho patriot, but you would be mistaken. He was a discerning man who thought for himself. War is never an answer but sometimes its all we get when not to go to war would imperil the nation.

If Dad were alive today, he would be alarmed that we are not paying attention to the forces of authoritarianism in our country and the world. This was how Hitler and Stalin got so far. People doubted that such men could rise to power. Some welcomed them thinking they were intelligent, bold men.

It’s a curious thing that people confuse strongmen with strong leadership. If I am not mistaken, these are two different creatures. The first acts as a centrifugal force, sucking minds to its ideology, the latter upholds the law and invokes the principles that we have agreed to live by.

Beware America. Don’t look to strong men but rather to strong leaders who remind us of our common pledge to uphold certain inalienable rights for every person. Each one of us voters signed up for it. We are a nation governed by laws and each of us is responsible for making sure this is a Republic for the people and by the people. Whoever we choose to represent us must abide by the laws that govern us.

Submitted on June 14, 2022 In Response to the January 6 Insurrection Commission

https://www.c-span.org/video/?520282-1/open-testimony-january-6-committee

Photo by Susan Feathers

The First American Democracy

“The future is a construct that is shaped in the present, and that is why to be responsible in the present is the only way of taking serious responsibility for the future. What is important is not the fulfillment of all one’s dreams, but the stubborn determination to continue dreaming.”

~ Gioconda Belli, The Country Under My Skin

Nothing can replace the act of seeking knowledge for oneself. I can read about it, have it explained, or live it through another person’s experience, but in each case I see it incompletely, like the blind man holding the elephant’s tail.

For Americans eighteen and older this has never been more relevant.

In 1990 I sought to learn about our nation’s first people by going to them. I left a high profile position at a well known institution, sold or gave away most of my possessions, packed up my pick up, and traveled to a dusty border town trusting my inner compass. There was a man and woman who agreed to take me on as an apprentice and student to help me understand American culture and my own life’s course through an examination of my country’s historical relationship with the First Americans and with the land, water, air, and wildlife of the North American continent.

Why did I do that, you may wonder. I had come to the realization that instead of my nation being a beacon of light in the world, it was in fact an empire to many other nations and peoples whose cultural beliefs and lands were at odds with ours.  How could there be hunger in a land of plenty? Why were democratic rights applied conditionally to members of our own society and in the world – and my culture accept that? How could we destroy the great natural beauty and abundance of our lands even while extolling how much we love it?

It made no sense to me and created a pervading sense of living a lie. I remember the unreality of my life then as I drove to work where architecturally beautiful buildings and the expansive green of a golf course tumbled down to the deep blue of the Pacific ocean. My day was stressful administering programs at a world renown health care facility where patients—banged up in the American market wars and social striving—suffered from heart problems, addiction, or complications from obesity.

One day I sat looking out the picture windows of my corporate office on a singing blue-sky day in southern California. Internally I felt lost and weak.  My eyes settled on a book that had lain unread on my shelves for many years:  Touch the Earth (T.C. McLuhan.) It is a book of Indian values from Indian voices.

At the first reading I experienced a profound sense of sanity return to me. In them I found a direction to pursue the answers to my deepest questions. I became aware of a pulsing hunger at my core for this knowledge, like something precious lost and then vaguely remembered. Could it be that we have within us the knowledge of past human wisdom buried in our brains at birth? Looking back now, I realize that I had no choice but to make the decisions that led me to seek guidance and leave all I had known before – to clear the decks and make way for something new.

The next three years of living in the daily presence of two American Indian educators (one a Mojave elder, college professor, Korean veteran and social worker; the other an Iroquois artist and musician) changed the way I see myself and the world around me. I still believe the experience made me a better person. But the story of how that evolved is a hard one and definitely not what I had expected. The path to self-understanding is a crucible where falseness is burned away and a tender new skin grown. It requires humility, determination, and humor. It is anything but glamorous.

I hope you will return to my blog for journal entries about my experiences. Until then, here are some links to explore:

The First Democracy: the Haudenosaunee

Basic Call to Consciousness

Beauty: Norfolk Botanical Garden

The Norfolk Botanical Garden history is rich with stories. Ground was broken in 1938 by 200 African American women and men using shovels to create a levee to create a lake, make gardens and trails and to establish a Garden out of a swamp. These men and women held generations of knowledge about soil and plant cultivation. The Garden has dedicated space to honor this original legacy. It has since grown into a 175-acre wonder. Read about the history here.

Many of the images are of hydrangea because my daughter who took me on a fascinating tour of the Garden is an artist studying pattern in this iconic flower. She has studied the history of Virginia over the decades she has lived here with her husband. As she pointed out, Virginia has produced the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Oprah Winfrey, and Booker T. Washington and Henrietta Lacks.

Visit the Norfolk Botanical Garden Website