|I wake to this painting by Clarisse Bois each day ...|
... but is, at times, exhilarating.
Having become a nationally-recognizable public figure has meant accepting responsibility for never leaving the house without checking first to see that my socks match (easy when they're all government regulation and identical), and that I've remembered to attach all my i.d. tags so that they're both visible and lined up properly on my jacket. Beside that, the only thing that seems to have happened is that almost everyone who turns up at our visitors center mentions having seen me on local or national news programs, and never have I had so many requests of folks wanting to have me take snapshots with them for sending home to family and friends. Other than that ...
But maybe there's more.
Our visitation has soared, and more and more people are coming in as the result of having heard of Rosie the Riveter/WWII National Historical Park for the first time only recently, and one gets the feeling that I've become the poster girl for senior centers from coast to coast!
... and one might think that the end of the national Shutdown might have brought an end to the splash of publicity but, to the contrary, it seems only the beginning:
In the first week in December the project manager for the Defense Media Acivity (DMA), formerly the Naval Media Center, which produces content for the Department of Defense to be distributed to the Armed Forces throughout the world -- will be coming to Richmond from Fort Meade, Maryland, to produce a "Betty" profile.
I found myself in a peculiar stance yesterday during my regular two o'clock presentation. I was both delivering my usual unscripted commentary -- but also sitting "outside myself" and trying to hear just what the world is hearing, simultaneously.
Among that small audience (a capacity house of maybe 48) were a white couple who'd come to hear me as the result of having been in the great ballroom of the Astor Crown Plaza Hotel in New Orleans when I spoke there last year before the crowd at the WWII Museum Conference; a CBS National News cameraman and son of a Tuskegee Airman who'd flown over Europe during WWII (and one who worked on my recent pieces for national news -- today returning as a private citizen for a visit); and a young female graduate student from Starr King School for the Ministry -- of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. What on earth were these people from such divergent backgrounds finding in my words?
Surely the attention I'm receiving goes far beyond my status as the "oldest park ranger in the National Park System." The "92 year-old ranger" story shouldn't have developed such "legs" so there has to be more to explain it.
I heard myself speaking truth -- and realized that my words express a unique though in many cases a universal story that gives an authentic picture of the past that we've all lived in some fashion, and a future we're hoping to live into. I heard myself giving hope in a troubled world where several generations have been mashed together by technology into a common need for some way to build bridges strong enough to carry us through to the next stage in our evolutionary process of positive change.
Yet, how do I avoid becoming an older pollyanna who is simply giving aid and comfort to today's Americans who may be more in need of a cold dash of ice water in the face that will waken them to the perils of not facing into the winds of change that still carry the now nearly-forgotten sounds of the screams of Trayvon Martin's parents, and the urgings of today's generations of Japanese/Americans who suffered the most egregious examples of racial profiling in recent history -- 120,000 of whom lost 3 and-a-half years of their lives in internment camps for the simple fact that they looked like the enemy? Of the dangers of old/new restrictions on voting privileges now fully in force to strip voting privileges from people of color in many southern states made possible by recent Supreme Court rulings.
That I must not do.
What accounts for the feelings of obvious good will when my talk comes to an end? Why do we leave that room with genuine feelings of empathy and affection? What am I sacrificing in exchange, and why?
... on the drive home I replayed in my head the words I'd just shared; and found that I'd managed to share that painful history without giving ground in the struggle to be truthful, yet I heard my words as helping to continue the process in a dizzyingly-changing world.
Maybe that's what I'm managing to do with enough success that those audiences are hearing enough of themselves in me and my story to identify and help in this period of continuing transformation.
... but that feels not the least bit exceptional, yet maybe it is just enough to bring attention to the place where it's beginning to happen ...
this new and increasingly important national park.