Southern Exposure

Ruminations of a Native Son


Greater Washington. DC., United States
February 06
Compulsive writer (mostly memoirs and sociopolitical rants), musicologist, hermeticst, fiscal conservative, radical centrist, agrarian socialist; Charter member, Factualist Party; born and raised in DC, healthcare professional, retired businessman, civic and political activist on two coasts, civil rights movement veteran. An empiricist's worst nightmare, I believe in everything but I don't believe everything, including many things I believe in. Turned down by US Army in 1966 for medical reasons, thrown out of Col. Hasan's Black Man's Army in 1967 for being "too militant." Scion of a family only Tennessee Williams could have dreamed up. There's more. There's always more.


NOVEMBER 22, 2012 11:48AM

Beyond My Wildest Dreams

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“The path to paradise begins in hell.”

--  Dante Alighieri

When I entered the world - backwards, as I've always done everything the hard way - it was a world in the midst of a great war, World War II, but the Marines had landed and the situation was well in hand. Our "Greatest Generation" was in the process of saving the world from itself, so I became aware during a time of great joy, uplift, sorrow, angst, and most of all promise.

There was also Joe McCarthy peering out from under the bed, and that goddam A-bomb drawn by Herblock of the Washington Post. 

We were poor. My parents and I lived with my apocalyptic granny in an apartment over a store on a side street that was in a down-cycle at the time, a little narrow urban heat sink where even snow couldn't find a landing place, usually melting before it hit the ground. A living room with a skylight but no windows (probably a blessing, considering what was routinely going on outside), just off one of the main drags in DC. 

It was paradise. 

Thomas Traherne described my situation nearly to perfection in his "Centuries," aka" "Centuries of Meditations": 

 All appeared new, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful. I was a little stranger, which at my entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys. My knowledge was Divine. I knew by intuition those things which since my Apostasy, I collected again by the highest reason. My very ignorance was advantageous. I seemed as one brought into the Estate of Innocence. All things were spotless and pure and glorious: yea, and infinitely mine, and joyful and precious, I knew not that there were any sins, or complaints or laws. I dreamed not of poverties, contentions or vices. All tears and quarrels were hidden from mine eyes. Everything was at rest, free and immortal. I knew nothing of sickness or death or rents or exaction, either for tribute or bread. In the absence of these I was entertained like an Angel with the works of God in their splendour. and glory, I saw all in the peace of Eden; Heaven and Earth did sing my Creator's praises, and could not make more melody to Adam, than to me: All Time was Eternity, and a perpetual Sabbath. Is it not strange, that an infant should be heir of the whole World, and see those mysteries which the books of the learned never unfold?

Or as my later dear and now departed friend John Fahey, wrote in "How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life," of his world view at age five: 

"I could not see that any purposeful activity was going on. I was still quite dumb and backwards. It looked to me like everything looked to me. People were just wandering around talking about things I couldn't understand and doing things I couldn't understand. I had no understanding of 'purpose' yet. Or 'sequence.' The way I saw things, it seemed that everything happened at random. And you could never tell what was going to happen next. I had a very primitive understanding of cause and effect.

"But I felt things."

And as cause and effect slowly burned into my tabula rasa of a brain, I began to not only feel things but to know them. 

I did not understand, however, that we were poor. My parents were both victims of the Great Depression, so neither ever got past the 8th grade, but both were brilliant, well read, and taken out of their hiding place in my crazy grandmother's apartment they appeared to the world as worldly, well-educated, celebrity-caliber people of great material success, style and, yes, "class."

Talk about silk purses.

And the daily riot in the street was my viewing screen from the three windows across the front of the bedroom facing the street, the room I shared for almost eight years with my parents:

Knife-fighting women rolling in the street halting traffic, a little girl falling three stories to the sidewalk when the screen in her parents' apartment gave way. Hindus and screaming Italians and fugitive Negroes rushing through from their menial jobs to the safety of the east side of 14th Street, and everywhere hillbillies, from which I was descended. 

My mother's soft, loving, instructive and often loonily humorous voice sometimes raised in sarcasm above my father's Cajun version of Foghorn Leghorn, something that served him well in bar fights and Masonic lodges, but not so much so in the long hall that led to the kitchen where we at brains and eggs for breakfast (calve's brains) and dear old dad stored in the refrigerator the gutted squirrels he had shot in Rock Creek Park. 

I am thankful for the gift of poverty, that gave me dreams of wonder and greatness and the assumption that everyone else lived in the same paradise that existed in my mind. 

Christmas ornaments, the Nat Cole Trio, "The Wreck of the Old 97" on 78 RPM, books books and more books, reading "Tobacco Road" at age six alongside the "Babar" series.,  my mother's singing the American Songbook all day, "Amos 'n' Andy," the Tivoli Theater and watching hundreds of movies from the balcony designated "Colored," because my mother was a radical of sorts, and besides it was more fun up there; my father's drunken revelations of Masonic secrets and mysteries to me, which in the fullness of time would come not only to make sense but to make the world make sense...

And illness. I was sickly from the time I was little, then again all through high school, yet somehow driven to complete high school despite dysautonomia and connective tissue disease and a sometimes broken immune system, till, years later at age 49, a coronary artery came apart and all that illness culminated in one life changing moment that I would not trade for anything. I am grateful for sickness and near-death and ressurection, which would later be re-enacted in a darkened Masonic lodge hall, raised again from the dead in to New Light.

Thankful for mistakes, each one the result of a dream wilder than the one preceding it, for the heart breakings and the learnings that came out of them even when I thought I might die from feelings alone. 

For my never-ending college education, which perhaps is only a journey with no defined destination, because, after all, I am blessed by ignorance of everything I do not know, alongside the pitiful little I have learned, no matter how much that may be. Stacked up against eternity it is a nothing. But it is what I have.

And what do I have after all this, three marriages and three divorces, three children, some cross-country journeys that were misguided, yet necessary so that I might do it all over again and rejoice in discovering  how good it feels to do it right at last? 

I have promise. I have whatever lies ahead. I have a future overflowing with love and goodness and some probably horrible things, all beyond my wildest dreams, and I will take and keep the best of those and live in them as I move forward into the unknown, as I go to work this evening, to spend Thanksgiving giving what I have of myself to people showing up at a hospital instead of the groaning board or perhaps simply fleeing the dysfunction of trying to jam too much togetherness into one evening of gluttony and football. 

I will be there, and I will work with some of the finest humans in the world, and I will come home just past midnight, burping a little from the sliced turkey turned out for staff by the cafeteria crew, and I will settle into my empty house (save for the cat, who is always happy to see me), alone but never alone...

And I will plan the next voyage, the next adventure, the next birth or rebirth, the next move in this crazy, truly random yet absolutely purposive universe into which I fell some time ago, and I will fall asleep and dream wild dreams, but the future, I already know, holds for me blessings, gifts and compensations far beyond anything I could ever have imagined, because I live constantly on the threshold of a dream,  out on the blue horizon, ever following the sun from its rising place in the east to where it sets in the west with an ecstatic, momentary and almost illusory green flash.

Paradise lost. Paradise regained. How many of us get to survive Morgan le Faye and, in the most mixed literary metaphor I can create,  at last find Beatrice, who we now know was not the stranger in our bed all those other times, just as every Lost Word becomes just a step towards the True Lost Word, not lost at all, but simply hidden in plain sight, given to us when we have been through sufficient aggravation to appreciate what we are being given. Beatrice, Pandora, oh  yes, she has many names, but so do I. No wonder it took so long. 

The next moment, the next hour, the rest of my life, I am blessed by what brought me here, to this moment of the most profound thanksgiving for a life that continues to unfold, like a triumphant Gaudeamus Igitur, absolutely and unfailingly, beyond my  wildest dreams. 


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This was wonderful. We do have our whole lives ahead of us, don't we. Many more happy trails to you!
A great retrospection. It is all about how we "see" ourselves and our lives. It is about our "perspective". What is abundance. It is always there, within us, our experiences, who we are. Great piece. Thanks for a great thanksgiving read.
I'll have to read this again. Too much to absorb in one setting but this phrase is certainly one that stood out and reminded me of my early days ; "the gift of poverty, that gave me dreams of wonder and greatness."
OS lost my brilliant comment -- It'll probably show up in triplicate later
What a rich and magical childhood, and life...thank you for sharing this!

Oh, what a difference two years makes... l-fuckin'-o-l
re·sil·ience noun \ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\
: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens

: the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.
Your credo is remarkable, the essence of a life story. Well done.
in a sense, we've only just begun...
Fascinating and well depicted.
It confounds me that somehow I never came back to the comments here, all of which are wonderful and much appreciated. Something must have been going on. I don't recall what, now, but thanks to the last few who just now commented and caused me to be notified you'd been here. Thank you, thank you all. What a difference two years makes indeed. It keeps getting better. Wow!
I loved this so much I came back. You're not an annual but a perennial, not a late bloomer but a re-bloomer- one of those enduring living things that keeps popping up and looking around. And the mysticism is not lost on you. That's the part I like best.

Plus, damn, you can write.

My goodness, Denese, that is without doubt one of the most wonderful comments I have ever received. It goes straight to the heart (and plainly comes straight from the heart). I cannot thank you enough, or even know if "thank you" would be the proper response. Still, it will have to do for now. Thank you -- so very, very much. This means a great deal to me, all of your words.