Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores
Photographer Patricia Gulick

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

3-25-13 RMB Saving Lives
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
I am on page ninety of A Plain Brown Wrapper. This is one loaded book, loaded with insights, possibilities, perceptions, issues relevant to the years leading up to 1976, when it was written, issues still relevant to today.
“Lesbian silence is nothing new to me, but it never fails to piss me off.” I like that line.
I started a list of things that piss me off, including myself every time I consented to the silence and followed it by a list of things that give me hope, including you, Rita Mae Brown. Those were the highlights, the rest was boring.
If I understand correctly, in this book you speak of a possible community of equality, for men, women, every race, lifestyle, class…every person. I admire your vision and wonder if you still hold that vision.
I don’t see that possibility in people, although it is a sweet dream. I see anger, issues, pain, challenges and frustrations masked or overcome by hope, love, inspiration and compassion. And then overcome in the other direction. Like a wheel turning from one to the other. Some spin out of control, some find a balance. At any point in time some are up and others are down, some well, others ill. Someone is always needing cared for, while another becomes caretaker, instilling dominance. I don’t know that we can all live together as you envisioned. But I know we need one another to live and I know there is a better way than any we have found thus far.
Perhaps that is where the concept of God (or whatever name one gives a higher power) enters, why so many turn the focus away from self. We know our inadequacies and search to give power to another entity. No one wants to be left holding the bag, ultimately responsible, even those who dominate.
Maybe I can’t see as far as you did thirty-three years ago. By reading the words in this book, I see through your eyes what you thought possible. This grain of sand planted, in my mind, may turn into a pearl of wisdom.
One thing is for sure, whether it is by the grace of a God or not, it is through our own hands that we will be saved, individually and collectively. By “saved”, I mean that in both the ominous all powerful way and the “Have a good day” way too. The two are connected.
In Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble Rouser, you mentioned fans that said you saved their life. You wrote that they saved themselves. You are correct, as are they. You gave them hope, inspiration or the like, something that helped pull them along. And they saved themselves because their life moved on their own volition. You didn’t physically push them, but you did give them mental and emotional sustenance when they needed it, no small feat.
In Reverend Millie Landis’ classes often another would ask a question I’d been pondering. One evening a young man said he wished he could help more people, like someone broken down beside the road, or someone injured that he saw on the news, all people. Did she have advice for how one could be a better helper?
Her response was pray for them; send them your love, your strength; ask your angels to assist them. That seemed simple enough. My favorite part of Reverend Millie’s instruction was that she constantly said “Test it out.” And so I did.
I took it another step, I asked for knowledge, to know when to help and even to be put in a position to help.  One day I drove down a street just off the freeway. Cars exited fast on to this street, as did I. I slammed on my brakes to stop abruptly before hitting a car in the center lane. It had no brake lights on. Cars approaching quickly behind me swerved around. I started to do the same, but thought of that night’s lesson.
I put on my flashing emergency lights, got out of my dark blue ’66 Mustang and walked up to the driver’s door. There was a young woman in the driver’s seat. She was nearly in tears. I told her to put on the emergency lights (duh!). She practically melted “I can’t, they won’t come on. It’s the battery or something.” Her hand was shaking, as she showed me the cell phone. “I called my husband. He’s on his way.”
“I almost hit you.”
“I know and my baby is in the backseat.” I looked back to see a wide eyed baby with a concerned look. That baby knew this was no ordinary drive to the park. Its mouth was open, but not making a sound. It looked aghast.
Cars were still approaching rapidly but stopping in time because of my flashing lights. I estimated that I parked far enough away so that, if my car were hit, it would not move up enough to hit her car. Still, I wanted them out of the street. “Get the baby over to the sidewalk. I’ll direct traffic.” I called AAA (the Auto Club of Southern California) while I waved cars by.
She got the baby out and safely across the street. The AAA tow truck driver arrived and assumed it was my car in peril. I took a lot of grief for driving my old Mustang, but more often than not Little Blue was more dependable than any car the grief givers drove. It probably helped that I was dating a mechanic, my Navy guy.
The woman’s husband arrived. He was a nice Mexican guy that also happened to be a Border Patrol agent. They signed up for AAA on the spot. They insisted on getting my name and address. They thanked me over and over, for helping, for getting them out of the car in the middle of the street and then directing traffic around their empty car with mine behind it, for calling AAA and basically for caring enough to stay with the young mother.
I left feeling quite full of myself. This was the beginning of a neat objective… “Who can I help today, Lord point the way.” Sometimes it’s exciting, sometimes scary, always worthwhile and heartwarming.
No, I didn’t “save” their lives. But I made their day. They were so awash with gratitude that neither one was upset about the car breaking down. That is the most important element, our hearts. Are they full or breaking, content or tortured? The next day a beautiful bouquet of flowers arrived at my door with a thank you card.
Whenever we help one another, by words written or deeds done…we save ourselves and each other.
Good night and sweet dreams Rita Mae Brown,

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