I am not an itinerant world traveler. Indeed, at the age of sixty, I have recently completed just my second trip overseas.
Like the first trip three years ago, I primarily visited the country of Italy, with just a day trip into Slovenia, which it turns out, is pretty lovely and felt quite familiar, but more on that in another post.
And while this was my second trip to Italy, it was a journey that included some firsts for me.
For instance, I ate my first fish heads at a restaurant on the Venetian Island of Murano.
I watched Anthony Bourdain eat them numerous times and swore I would NEVER eat whole sardines with their glassy little eyes and pouty little mouths. Plus they must have bones, no?
Turns out they don’t have bones, or not any that I could detect, and once they are in YOUR mouth their mouths are forgotten. They are pretty tasty really. Not fishy at all. Who knew?
Bourdain knew. I just didn’t believe him. In honor of his memory, I had to try them, head first, in a tempura type batter and lightly fried, and it was really not gross at all. Just a slight crunch.
Murano is also famous for it’s blown glass, which is surprisingly sturdy, and takes considerable more effort to crunch, as illustrated in the showroom of the Ferro-Lazzarini Glass Factory Show room, where the hard sales pitch included the slamming of a very expensive and beautiful hand blown glass goblet onto the table top. Several members of our travelling group were impressed enough to buy some after that unnecessarily violent display, and a number of women purchased jewelry, but since the abstract glass sculpture I was intrigued by included a thirty thousand dollar price tag, I abstained from purchasing anything in that particular venue. Photos were not allowed in the showrooms.
I encountered another first in the charming city of Parma, where our passionate guide Ugo shared more historical information about his small city, it’s monuments and it’s art than could possibly be digested at one time, which was how I felt about most of the meals I was served this trip.
On the two consecutive evenings we were there, we reached our dining destinations by walking the wide tree lined paths of Parca Ducale, located just behind our hotel.
That is where we encountered the juggling jogger, first I’ve seen far as I can recall. Overachiever.
Parma was a lovely town, and the crowds there were very tolerable. They also produce awesome cured meats and parmesan cheese in this region of Italy. We spent a lovely afternoon there and ate in a small streetside cafe. It was very relaxing and welcome after the hustle of Milan.
On this trip, I also had my first near death experience. It was on the bus to some venue I really can’t recall due to the trauma. It’s not what you might expect. It really isn’t.
It’s just that I had to pee so bad, and I was so embarrassed, because we had only been on the bus for like half an hour. I tapped my sister in law in front of me on the shoulder and asked her to inform Carla, our tour director, in front of her, that I had to make a restroom stop.
Then I waited. I watched as Carla spoke to Natale, our bus driver. I watched as Natale spoke back. I watched Carla settle back in her seat.
Oh dear, I thought.
Ten minutes later I was creeping up to Carla’s seat in the front to tell her that things were urgent. She spoke to Natale in Italian again. He spoke back. I sat down behind Carla.
Eventually I saw signs for a rest stop. We passed it…under construction…CLOSED.
We passed numerous pull off’s on the side of the road. Too small for the bus.
The minutes ticked by. Carla and Natale exchanged more words I couldn’t understand.
I began eyeing the bushes along the highway edges longingly, the way Cosmo often does as we are travelling. It was all I could do not to wimper like he does because he can’t pee on all those glorious bushes.
I get it now.
Then, finally, just as I approached the edge of wetness…
THE REST STOP!
As I exited the bus, Carla directed me to go to the restroom on the right. I was moving with the speed of a sloth due to the pain in my bladder.
It would have been a shame to have come so close only to die now, wouldn’t it?
A couple of other buses had pulled in and women were marching purposefully in the same direction.
I limped into the rest stop store, headed straight for the toilettes, and got in line behind nine or ten other ladies.
Next thing I know, Carla, our most awesome tour director, comes along side, takes my arm and gallantly leads me into the inner sanctum of the restroom as she explains in loud and authoritative Italian that this passenger has an emergency and needs the very next stall that opens up.
I love Carla. I also love the sweet German girl who shared some cranberry tablets with Carla for me, a kind of homeopathic treatment for bladder issues.
Carla saved my life. Or at least my dignity.
And while I didn’t find myself walking through a tunnel towards a bright light or see my dead relatives waiting for me as I walked to the restroom alone, or any of the other things that constitute a true Near Death Experience, I did think I was gonna die.
For a little while.
When I left that restroom, there were a couple of young German teens glaring at me, there were stern faced Italian women wondering who this overly demonstrative American was babbling “Grazie a tutti” as she exited the toilette and there were other women just lining up to wait their turn. I hope none of them were in distress.
Thanks to Carla, our most awesome tour director, a funny, smart and compassionate lady, I no longer was.
My distant neighbor Molly complains that the bunnies in her yard eat her stuff–crops, flowers and ornamental plants, but at our house, the rabbits eat dandelion stalks and leaves almost exclusively. I’m down with that.
It think it’s because her husband Dave grooms their lawn so scrupulously that the rabbits don’t have access to good healthy stands of common weeds, like they do at our place, so they eat his wife’s plants.
My old man does not groom the lawn.
He mows and chops and drags and digs and does all manner of fossil fueled mechanical processes, generally of a destructive or reductive nature, but no, he does not groom.
So we have dandelions and lots of them. Acres of them.
But I won’t let him spray herbicides on them because we are organic here and I won’t let him mow them when the bees are working either.
I never said I was easy to live with. But the birds, bees and bunnies are, so he concedes.
Not surprisingly, the dandelions generally get ahead of us and turn to fluffy white seed heads before we mow them and isn’t Mom Nature the mother of intelligent design because just when the dandelion seeds are bone dry, she whips up the wind a little to help spread them throughout the good Earth, or at least my little corner of it, so I never have to worry about next years crop of weeds.
It’s a beautiful thing for the bunnies, which were prolific this summer. We spent a lot of time watching them enjoying the bounty of our weedy lot.
There was one little bunny in particular we grew especially fond of.
He was teeny tiny when we first noticed him in the yard. He looked too young to be out of the nest. I could have held him in the palm of my hand and don’t think I didn’t want to because I seriously ached to do so.
I immediately felt protective of him and worried about the ravens, owls and hawks that frequent the neighborhood, and sometimes our yard. Occasionally he would be out in the company of one or two bigger rabbits, but he was usually on his own, which made me wonder what kind of derelicts his parents must be. I kept a wary eye on the trees for predators and would have wrestled him from the talons of an eagle if I had to.
For several weeks he came in and out of the bird thicket adjacent to our back deck, which is a small naturalized area of native plants–salal, Indian plum, huckleberry and elder berry–that provides food and cover for birds of all kinds, but it was kind of quiet this summer due to the drought.
One day when my sister-in-law was visiting we sat out on the deck and watched him nibble his lunch below us and then retreat into the shade of the thicket for a little nap. How sweet is that? Of course I loved him fiercely!
A day or two later I stepped out on the deck to the obnoxious screeching of blue jays in the bird thicket. I ran at them and shooed them away. I didn’t see the bunny or anything else in or around the thicket, but I know they act that way when the feral cat is about, or the owl.
Later I caught a glimpse of the bunny running under the deck and into the front yard. Linda and I moved to the front porch and watched him sitting motionless beneath a patch of oregano for the longest time.
He was still there a while later so I sat on the porch again, watching him watch me. Eventually he took a few cautious steps towards me, looking right at me, which was odd, so I took a moment to scrutinize him. That was when I noticed the wound on his hind leg. It looked bad. My heart sank.
We managed to catch him and bring him inside, cradled in a towel, to examine the leg. The flesh was stripped clean exposing the bones and he had a couple of puncture wounds on his ribs. in spite of his famously weak stomach, Glenn held the cradled bunny while I tried to clean the wounds with a syringe of warm water. God I love my old man.
I applied some antibiotic cream and wrapped the leg with gauze bandages, but the wound was profound. We made him a little den of soft towels and grass in a box in the bathtub and left him to rest while I tried to contact an animal rescue for advice.
Twenty minutes later when I went back into the bathroom to check on him, he was stretched out on his side in the box, as if trying to reach the the pile of grass in the corner. He was in distress. I stroked his fur and talked to him gently, hoping to comfort him. His breaths seemed so shallow and he whimpered a couple of times as I petted him. Moments later, he went altogether still and his soft brown eye went glassy.
I have tried to save wounded birds, butterflies, broken dogs abandoned on the road, and now, a baby bunny, without much success. Other animal lovers I know have shared tales of reviving birds and saving baby squirrels and other wildlife, but for me, it just seems to end badly. And I so want to help them.
I contemplated this as I buried the bunny in the yard. My friend Teresa once told me I was a helper, because I often came across animals in distress and even people and tried to intervene and help, but I’m beginning to feel more like Joe Black.
Maybe I am a helper of a different kind. Maybe I am a helper that walks with you through the shadows. Like Joe Black.
Maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud. I could lose a lot of friends.
Death is something we all have in common and yet we rarely discuss it in this life. I think that could make the dying person a lonely person. I know from the testimony of a friend who lost her daughter that it can make a person grieving over the death of a loved one very lonely.
Last Spring I was approached by a tiny injured wren as I worked outside, just like the bunny. And like the bunny, I tried to make him comfortable. I placed him in a box in the warm greenhouse, filled with grass and birdseed and water. I hoped I could save him, but I couldn’t.
You can’t change your calling, even if it sucks and is kind of morbid. If I am meant to be a helper that walks through the shadows with the dying or stands in the shadows that death casts on grieving loved ones, so be it.
I have sat with three dying dogs and two dying parents, a handful of birds, and a baby bunny. Every one of them represented a loss to this heart, in varying degrees.
No one can spare the dying from that last lonely walk or lighten the shadows their leaving casts over the survivors, but we can offer companionship, a quiet place to retreat to, a listening ear and soft words. We can attempt to mitigate the loneliness.
We can try to rescue injured bunnies, broken birds and shredded butterflies and practice kindness towards the Earth also.
Which brings to mind the words of a song by Jewel:
In the end, only kindness matters.
Amen and Amen
…at least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice, and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism, and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols. But zeal, dogmatism, and idealism exist only because we are forever committing intellectual sins. We sin by attributing concrete significance to meaningless pseudo-knowledge; we sin in being too lazy to think in terms of multiple causation and indulging instead in over-simplification, over-generalization, and over-abstraction; and we sin by cherishing the false but agreeable notion that conceptual knowledge and, above all, conceptual pseudo-knowledge are the same as understanding.
1956 Essay Knowledge and Understanding by Aldous Huxley, from the book THE DIVINE WITHIN, Copyright © 1992 by Jaqueline Bridgeman, HarperCollins Publishers
I’ve been trying to get some spiritual work done lately. It’s not going great.
I’m not talking about meditating, levitating, studying scripture or attending religious meetings five nights a week.
And no, I won’t be ascending any staircases on my knees next month in Italy either.
I just want to murder my ego. I want it dead as a door nail.
I want it to stop following me around all day making me expect special treatment–like pretty birthday cards from my old man, foot massages and good customer service from Tracfone.
Leave me alone you nasty ego.
You make me say assanine things on Facebook.
You make me angry when I don’t get the reaction from people that I want.
You make me feel embarrassed over things that happened decades ago.
You make me whine like a baby when I’m hot and tired and dirty and just want a bath but it’s only 2:30 in the afternoon and I’m no where near done working in the yard yet.
You make me act like people I don’t like.
You make me have a meltdown in a smokey I-84 rest area because I have to sleep there in 100 degree heat and I’m hot and tired and dirty and just want a bath, like every other poor soul stuck there, and there are plenty, because they can’t find a room or a campsite, or because they are homeless and sleep there every damned night but I have to act like some privileged old white lady with her first world problems and have a bitch fit…because of you.
Damn you ego, you did that to me.
I dislike you immensely.
Like I said, it’s not going so well.
But I’m working on it.
I’ll get that bitch yet.
And I’m open to suggestions.
I used to enjoy travelling around the interior western United States. But I never wanted to live there. In spite of it’s towering mountain ranges, mighty river systems, geological wonders and preponderance of National Parks, Forests and Monuments.
I was always glad to get back to the west side of the Cascades, where the air was softer, cooler and saturated with oxygen, not smoke, all summer. And of course it’s beautiful right here at home.
But the last decade or so things have definitely changed.
We spend more time indoors now in the summer…with the air conditioning on.
Actually, it’s recommended this week due to the smoke and haze that is blanketing the Northwest with thick cottony air that stings our eyes and throats. We are surrounded by fires that are pumping out a steady supply of carbon rich smoke. California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia. Some of it is coming from as far away as Russia!
We have had under an inch of rain in the last 120 days here. The woods around our home are an abundant and overflowing tinder box. It makes me wary. It makes me crazy. I know I’m not imagining that things are getting worse.
It’s been far too many summers that I have felt this way.
Being stuck indoors on these long summer days is so irritating to me. It’s why I have never felt the desire to move to a warmer climate, even if the winters are more tolerable. When the days are long I want to spend them outside, like I used to, not inside hiding from the heat until after the sun goes down. What a waste!
There isn’t a pool in the world, lighted, beautifully landscaped, and just a step or two from the back door, that could make that lifestyle attractive to me.
Today I feel like a prisoner. Today, I think maybe we all are:
Prisoners on an earth ship that is precariously out of balance.
In a prison of our own making.
None of us knowing the length of our sentence, or if we will outlive it.
Perhaps it’s a death sentence. Some people think so.
We don’t know absolutely, but we know enough to make educated guesses, and the educated among us have been pretty accurate in their projections. More drought, more prolonged heat, more vicious storms. Less temperate and more harsh conditions. More crop failure, less food security. More wildfires and floods and famines. More political unrest. More refugees. Less diversity. Less life.
Less life. Yes, that is what I’m feeling. The life-less-ness.
I’m living it, and I recognize the irony.
But I have no basis to complain. I’m part of the problem. I’ve lived sixty years on this earth, in a fairly conventional western manner. I am an American, which by birth makes me a master consumer in comparison to people in many other parts of the world.
My attempts at reducing my ecological footprint have been paltry.
I undoubtedly deserve to be punished for the part I have played in the climate crisis we are facing. I feel the weight of it following me around these days the way a guilty man carries his sentence with him, with a sense of the inevitable.
Certainly the Orcas and the salmon and the dolphins and manatees don’t deserve to suffer for my dereliction of care for this planet. Or yours.
Another blogger mentioned reading an article about how studies confirm that the IQ of human beings has gone down in the last few generations. I believe it without question.
Think about it.
WE ARE POISONING OUR ENVIRONMENT.
There is nothing intelligent about that.
And we can’t feign ignorance, not anymore. We know what we are doing.
We are a lung cancer patient continuing to smoke.
We are a dialysis patient continuing to drink.
We are an advanced species with the ability to reason acting in a completely unreasonable manner.
In other words:
Forgive me, but I needed to get that off my chest. Must be the smoke.
I spent the first twenty years of my life in a post-war cape cod style home with four finished rooms and two unfinished attic bedrooms where my four brothers slept. Those boys froze up there in the winter–it was New England after all–and in the summer, it was steamy.
My sister and I shared a room across the hall from our parents. The boys hated that we got to enjoy both a heat register and the cooling effect of the old silver maples, sleeping on the first floor, and thought we were spoiled. But we were just girls. And besides, they got away with all kinds of shit up there that we couldn’t get away with downstairs. Our parents weren’t dummies.
Across the street from our house, behind the neighbors homes, was a Pond.
When I was growing up it was known as Niggs Pond, but it has since been renamed Walker Pond, in Milford, Connecticut. I did not know the origins of the name and scoffed at the legends–a black man drowned there, or another was lynched. I found those stories unlikely and offensive.
Try as I might I never could find any real historical explanation for the name and for a time thought it might be referenced to an old village and parish in Scotland, which just might be so as Milford is also a village in Surrey, England and those roots run deep in this colonial town in Connecticut which was settled in 1639.
In the good cold winters of my youth, we engaged in some fun snow play at the pond– sliding down the hills on our flying saucers and flexible flyers, gathering around bonfires under freezing cold night skies, and jamming as many humans as possible on a single toboggan before flying down the hill and onto the ice. God save the last person to squeeze on. They were usually the first to fly off into space when the going got rough. I’m a witness.
My favorite activity by far was ice skating. This was the era of twelve foot long scarfs, and I still remember the whips we would form. A line of warm bodies all clutching the scarf and skating in unison until the line turned sharply at some point sending those at the ends into centrifugal motion, whipping them across the ice at high velocity. Such fun!
In the summer the pond was chock full of sunnies and catfish, painted turtles, bull frogs and black snakes, and some pretty formidable snapping turtles too. My brother Dana brought home at least one of each for a pet at one time or another, and even came home with a chicken he named Harvey and who was a fun family pet, until he froze to death.
Nigg’s Pond wasn’t a swimming pond. It was too murky overall and got slimy in the heat. But it was water and trees and birds and squirrels and once, only once that I can recall, a great blue heron. And while it pales in comparison to the lakes and ponds I’ve been privileged to observe in my adult life in the west, it was shangri-la enough for me as a kid.
When I was a teenager, Nigg’s Pond was party central, a speak easy and infamous gathering place for Milford teens. Kids from other neighborhoods would visit from time to time, but the regular crew was just local kids. For the most part, we all went to the same school, with the exception of a few poor souls who were enrolled in Catholic or Prep schools.
And while we were not a gang, just a loose bunch of friends, we had monikers– the “pond boys” and the “pond girls”. We still refer to ourselves in that manner at times, and stories about those days often dominate the conversation when we see one another.
The Pond. We owned that place.
Except when the neighbors called the cops to complain about our noise.
The cops weren’t particularly stealthy though. We could see them coming with their flash lights blasting through the darkness of the woods and we would douse our cigarettes and ditch our beer cans in the brush, and beat feet out of there. Once, when we decided to hold still and be defiant, we all ended up at the police station. My friend Kim and I were fifteen, our birthdays only two weeks apart, but she lied and told them she was sixteen and then so did I.
When we got to the station and fessed up that we were really fifteen, the police were exasperated. They couldn’t detain minors, and, had they known we were underage earlier, would have probably just driven us home and had a little chat with our parents. But now here we were at the station and what to do??
The young policeman called my father and told him he had me at the police station.
“I’m not coming to pick her up. You can keep her there.”
“But sir, we have no detention facilities for minors”–especially girls is what I’m thinking.
“Well I am not coming to get her so you can lock her up as far as I’m concerned.”
End of conversation.
Oh great. Now I’m crying. I hate my hard-assed old man and I know I am gonna be in huge trouble if and when I finally do get home.
So the rattled officer calls Kim’s father, Joe, who is a roofer and a musician and like the coolest daddio on the planet as far as I’m concerned.
“Yes, I’ll come pick up my daughter.”
“Yes, I’ll take Ilona also and see that she gets home to her parent’s.”
Easy Peasy. Told you he was the coolest daddio on the planet.
I believe another phone call was made to my father to explain that I would be coming home and not staying in the joint that night and I guess Dad agreed as long as he didn’t have to come get me.
I remember the ride home with Kim and her father. I remember being depressed and feeling un-loved and concerned about my future.
I remember Joe Capello being incredibly kind and possibly being concerned about my future too. I think he might have been wondering what kind of hard assed old man would leave his daughter in the klinker overnight for a minor offense.
My hard assed old man, that’s who.
Funny thing is, I don’t remember what happened when I got home. The old man was probably pissed off. He might have given me that look. He might have grounded me. Maybe he yelled. If so, he probably swore a lot. I don’t think he laid a hand on me.
He also might have shook his head and chuckled, his “that will teach you” chuckle. He might have uttered those words that left me cold and clammy and seething with teenage resentment:
You wanna dance, you gotta pay the fiddler.
In other words, your actions have consequences.
God I hated those words, and shortly I would learn that lesson in the hardest way.
But for the time being, I was home again, sleeping in my own bed, feeling a little wounded, and wondering if my father loved me at all.
He did. And he would prove it over and over again as time went by.
Maybe he wasn’t the coolest daddio on the planet, but I was his daughter and he was my father and it was his job to take care of me and try to lead me down the narrow path, which wasn’t an easy task. But it was his, and he did it the best way he knew how. And now I can say without any reservation that I love him for it.
The old hard ass.
©2018 by Ilona Elliott
What does the nut in doughnut refer to?
Why is there not a national chain of organic doughnut shops?
Do healthy people not eat doughnuts?
What is wrong with them?
Why would anyone drink coffee black when you can drink it with cream or half n half?
Why does imported cherry syrup from Italy not taste like Robitussin?
Why does cherry syrup, (or cherry anything) made in the USA taste like Robitussin?
Why aren’t cannoli as widely available as cheese cake?
Does anybody really like low fat ice cream?
If not, why even make it?
Is there any correlation between the statement that “life is short” and our propensity for fast food?
Is the latter somehow responsible for the former?
What does: “In physics, spacetime is any mathematical model that fuses the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time into a single four-dimensional continuum” mean? Wikipedia
Is it possible to speed up time and project the world into the year 2020?
If so, how?
Can the POTUS also be an astronaut?
If so, can he be the first man sent to Mars? Please…
How can a grown man watch Perry Mason three times a day and Svengoolie every Saturday?
©2018 by Ilona Elliott
I spend a fair amount of time reading other people’s blogs. I have a nice little collection of blogs that I follow that interest me or make me laugh or encourage me to think. I enjoy reading and commenting on the posts. I feel a certain kinship with the writers.
Plus, it’s a lot easier than writing posts of my own.
Before I started blogging five or six years ago, I took a free on-line course through my library on creating a website. Then I took five additional writing courses which I thoroughly enjoyed and learned from and that complimented my short but illustrious career as a writing student at Blue Mountain Community College.
I also took a music reading course, which ruined me for trying to learn to play the mandolin I had recently acquired. I hated it. It was like high school and college algebra all over again. AGONY! I completed the course work, open book of course, but in the end I had not learned a thing about how to actually make music that floats through the ear and stimulates memory, passion, longing, booty shaking and all the other lovely things music stimulates in your every day run of the mill savage beast. It might have worked better if I had a keyboard to translate all of that book learning onto, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it on the mandolin.
It was demoralizing. It was like learning that before I could eat a piece of cake, I had to know how to convert the recipe into metric, understand the physics of combining liquids, carbohydrates and fats under the application of heat, and figure out how to grow, harvest and mill the wheat for the flour…before taking a bite.
It was a lot like watching Alton Brown cook just about anything.
I never picked up that mandolin again.
But I did start writing my blog.
I was pretty ignorant of what a blog’s purpose was or was not, or could or should be.
I was familiar with bloggers who wrote about specific activities or pursuits such as cooking, decorating, child rearing, fashion, and how to save enough money to buy a Maserati by clipping coupons.
I wasn’t as familiar with blogs that were not trying to advise or instruct or report but were mainly interested in communicating thoughts and experiences in a meaningful or artful manner.
I did know that I wanted to write essays and poems and memoir, the things I had enjoyed writing in my course work and that lent themselves to the kind of things I wanted to communicate. So that’s what I did.
And it’s been good. I’ve done alright. I’ve written a few posts that I’m proud of. I’ve communicated some thoughts on important and sometimes delicate issues that seemed to strike a chord with folks.
And I’ve found a community of other like minded writers.
A casual friend of mine who recently started reading the blog told me that she thought I was a good writer and that I wrote with conviction and she liked that. It felt really good to hear that from someone other than a relative or a loved one. I appreciated her praise more than she knows.
I don’t know what the purpose of my blog is. I know that it is a place to write, and that my writing is an exercise in trying to understand things, and that writing things down and putting thoughts into words and organizing them into cogent form helps me to work through the issues and emotions and experiences I describe.
I guess that’s enough.
I don’t have to make money–and I don’t. I’ve always sucked at that.
I don’t have to reach a huge audience–and I don’t. I know a few people who will remain unnamed with audiences in the millions whose words and ideas are completely incoherent to me.
I don’t have to have a degree to do this. I don’t have to write to a deadline. I don’t have to be an expert. I don’t have to follow the rules.
I don’t have to please anyone but myself.
Writing this has made me realize something about the music course that derailed my hopes of learning to play that mandolin.
I don’t have to strive to learn how to read music. I just have to enjoy making it.
It’s not like I’m planning on composing a symphony. I just want to jam along to my CD’s and with my brother.
I think I’m ready to pick it up again and do just that.
©2018 by Ilona Elliott
I just finished reading My Beloved World by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
It’s a delightfully readable and inspirational book by a woman who admittedly struggled with writing cogently well into her college years.
Sotomayor grew up in the projects in the Bronx. She contracted juvenile diabetes as a child, and because her parents were too squeamish to learn how to properly give her the insulin injections that were necessary to sustain her young life, she learned to do so herself at the tender age of seven.
Sotomayor’s father died when she was nine. Her mother, a native of Puerto Rico, came to the US mainland as a young woman, herself orphaned, when she signed up for the Women’s Army Corps during WWII. She worked hard all her life, and even as a widow managed to provide her two children with a private Catholic school education. She preached to her children continuously about the importance of getting an education.
Justice Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican heritage insured that she had a rich community and family life nurtured by the love and support of her parent’s extended families. It also helped to insure that she received the best education available in the United States due to affirmative action admissions policies at the Ivy League institutions she attended–Princeton and Yale.
But when Sonia began her education at Princeton, she was at an academic and cultural disadvantage. Her knowledge of the wider world outside of her home in the Bronx was limited. She was not familiar with higher forms of literature and had never attended an advanced learning class or had a private tutor, like so many of her more privileged classmates had. She struggled with writing essays due to a lack of schooling in proper grammar and syntax and the colloquialism of her humble upbringing.
But what Sonia lacked in schooling and cultural development, she more than made up for in determination and intelligence. She may have had a slow start at Princeton, but her excellent academic performance and her civic engagement in the school earned her membership in Phi Beta Kappa and the coveted Pyne Prize for “excellent scholarship, strength of character and effective leadership”, at Princeton, and a spot on the Yale Law Review later on. She graduated Princeton summa cum laude in 1976 and went on to complete her law degree at Yale.
The trajectory of Sonia Sotomayor’s law career was not typical of a Yale graduate but was indeed indicative of her commitment to public service and the greater good. She worked primarily in small law firms before accepting a position in the DA’s office in New York. There she honed her skills at interpreting the finer points of criminal law along with her propensity for understanding how the law actually affects individual lives, a critical skill for someone who would one day be administering justice at the highest level of the U. S. judicial system.
Sonia Sotomayor dreamed about being a judge from the time she was a young girl watching Perry Mason on television. Her autobiography describes the measured, intuitive and methodical path she took to achieve her private dream. That and the personal nature of her narrative gives us a window into the steadiness of character and the agility of mind she possesses that has served her so well throughout her life and esteemed career.
In 1992 her appointment to the U.S. district court under the G.W. Bush administration was a major accomplishment for a 38 year old Latina woman from the Bronx. In 1998 she took a seat on the US Second District Court of Appeals.
In 2009, Sotomayor was nominated by President Barak Obama for a seat on the Supreme Court. Upon her acceptance, she became the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history.
The story of Sonia Sotomayor is the story of America. It is a testament to the American ideal of equal rights and opportunities for everyone.
When I was a young woman, working as a contracts administrator in a construction firm, the owner of the business quizzed me if I would be uncomfortable if he hired a black man who had applied to fill an opening in the accounting office. I was shocked that such a question would even be raised, that a persons skin color would even be considered to be a potential disqualification for his or her employment. It was then that I realized the absolute necessity of programs that insured equal opportunity in the workplace for people of color.
I believe stories like Sotomayor’s need to remain part of any discussion or debate for programs of affirmative action or equal opportunity. We hear so much from the opponents of such programs about the unfairness of them and how they convey special benefits upon people simply because of their race.
I can’t help but wonder how many of those opponents have ever had first hand knowledge of what race discrimination feels like. Have their ancestors ever had to fight to use a public restroom, sit where they chose to on a bus, or attend the school of their choice?
I do believe that affirmative action should always be expansive enough to consider economic disadvantage under it’s umbrella of protection and should not be based solely on a persons minority status.
The last words in My Beloved World are these:
I am blessed. In this life, I am truly blessed.
That same grateful attitude prevails throughout Justice Sotomayor’s book. I perceive that it has propelled her forward each step of her way. She did not take affirmative action and the opportunity it provided to her for granted, she took it and ran with it, and through her own diligence and hard work, she multiplied it’s blessing in her life exponentially.
Americans are blessed. Truly. And yet in these times of ever widening income inequality and re-emergent racial tensions, who can deny that some of us are most assuredly more blessed than others? Are the blessings that America conveys to her children abundant enough to be shared with those among us who would aspire to things normally outside the realm of practical possibility?
I believe that they are.
©2018 by Ilona Elliott
Copyright © 2013 by Sonia Sotomayor