Category Archives: contemplation

The Rule of Disparity.

I just spent about four minutes scanning a Yale professor’s piece on the nature of genius. Nothing really grabbed me until he touched on gender bias. Women seemed less interested in competing for intellectual superiority. (As if such were even possible, in a woman’s world or any.) When I reached the professor’s self-devised formula for defining genius, I stopped reading.

Apparently, in his equation and in order to qualify, one’s life had to have the fated S. You know, G = S + whatever. S stood for Significance; one life contribution had to reach a wide swath of other people, such that its influence either affected social change or altered the course of history.

Don’t worry. I’m not about to make any claims of cerebral superiority; my elder brother wears that mantle. Plus, all the sugar consumed since retiring from public education has likely dissolved much of whatever there was of pre-frontal cortextuality.

What struck me was the term. “Significance.” That’s really what I’d been seeking. Not Recognition, or even Affirmation. Just the feeling associated with having done something to make being on the planet worthy of breath.

Just under four years ago about to the day, I’d embarked on loving somebody. What made the decision so jarring was just having come off perhaps the peak of my performance career, a collaborative piano recital garnering the, okay, affirmation of those I’d clamored after for decades – full professors of music, whom I’d called colleagues in the privacy of my mind. Had I stayed on that new plateau, really traveled across its terrain, I might not be sitting here in the silence of my house typing this story at all.

No. Instead, I arose the morning after that concert and met up with the man. We walked his dogs. We talked. He would have kissed me, as we parted. He came back, instead. And, we were off.

Off, that is, to pursue and indulge and submerge and strive and cleave and hew and cry, then wonder and fret, antagonize, apologize (me), modulate, recapitulate. The song was way too long. The theme was nothing new, and the composition simply would not hold itself together.

Yet, the whole time, I told myself I was loving somebody.

Somebody, other than myself. Not the artist, the creative, the somehow talented younger sister of the celebrated family genius. Some one other person, alone in the world, fraught by a history only a handful could claim, really difficult to crack open, the ultimate challenge of other-directedness. This project would elevate my life beyond petty competition for rank or station. This would transcend securing a position as staff pianist for a university music department. Choosing to love more than mere aspiration would be a spiritual quest, requiring every facet of human awareness and commitment.

Growing up in the shadow of genius makes a person acutely aware of all the disparities. Not in social opportunity; I’m talking about what’s between people, that which separates them, the stuff that makes people different rather than the same.

I learned early that what I did easily, what drew me, occupied me alone. Nothing I really wanted to do involved anybody else. And, as I grew, my value became about what I could do which distinguished me. By adolescence, my body told me that this would never be enough. I looked outside of myself, and discovered a need to feel more than merely the object of curious attention.

We siblings were all taught the same things, but how we made them relevant in our lives was as different as we were from one another. The genius went out, and made the world come to him. I stayed home, and waited for what was born in my imagination to appear. When it only manifested inside my head I relinquished to what I’d been told: if I wanted love, I must first give it.

My attempts to do so were always wholehearted; the results were repeatedly bewildering and, ultimately, heart aching. I poured myself back into my art.

Choosing to try, one more time, coming just as I had finally hit my expressive stride will have to be explained by the one looking on. Veering off a path so clear, the mind specialists might offer, is about a certain fear. Perhaps I had acquiesced to the rule of disparity. Perhaps I could not accept that fortune and artistic satisfaction were my future, and chose instead to give myself away.

Somewhere, the tune changed. Then, the music ended. Everything cliche’d about intention and mutuality played in a loop, on an old cassette recorder in the corner of solitude. Whatever I thought I’d been doing just stopped.

The object of my love wanted no part of my intention. He repeatedly extracted himself until only figments remained in final retreat. Absolute absence left no ripple.

Pianos don’t move; they just wait. I’d been playing, all along, kind of on low grade maintenance as a service; but, slowly, each new piece began to bespeak a strange promise. Today, I played like my life depended on it. And, that piano loved me back, with its own, unconditional song.

Perhaps what we do and why we do it isn’t for us to say. Maybe we really are just a flicker in the flow of life, as insignificant as we can be. Even the genius has a moment or two of wonder mixed into all that grand earth shaking. Ask the child with special needs; even brilliance has its season.

I suppose the Yale professor, and all those whose time is spent observing those on the floor above might have something to say about all this. But, while he and his ilk are figuring out everybody else, you’ll know where you can find me. I’ll just be starting up where I stopped, perhaps differently than anything deemed significant, but loving in the only way I ever knew how.

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© 1/29/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. Please don’t parse out this piece, or translate and then publish it. I wrote it, and it represents what was born in my head. You have something in yours. Go, find it. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Revelation.

[ newly edited ]

In an age when diversity is celebrated, and all implicit or similarity bias is being expunged, individual identity faces a mandate: who am I, and where do I belong?

Even as we pursue that definition, we should be ready to accept that each living human has a story which is distinct, not requiring any classification. As a new friend reminds, can we not just be the best “me” we can be? Can we dispense with seeking alliances?

Alliance assumes a need for protection; feeling a need for protection acknowledges the presence of threat. But, wherein does threat present, if every story is recognized and accepted as unique?

If the focus shifts to a recognition of individual value, whence would any group need to band together? Would the BLM movement no longer be required to raise awareness? Would other movements, for other marginalized groups, cease their relevance as well? Banding together, while the need to do so seems immediate, is a far cry from bonding. Motivated by a need to protect one’s own, banding can provoke animosity and enmity, yielding more hostility and strife; by contrast, healthy bonding fosters nourishment, sustaining life. Could we not bond with one another, irrespective of classification by race or ethnicity?

There is an expressed fear, for example, among some members of the Jewish American community – a fear that anti-Semitism will be revealed among those they call friends. Why? Because of a need to feel intact, safe from suppression? Such fear is not unique to the Jewish population; sectarian Christians, for example, experience similar reactions in countries where religious intolerance prevails. Such fear pervades all ethnic groups, races, and religious subgroups when they differ in representation from those in close proximity or when those from outside of their group express bias or prejudice.

Being confronted recently by accusations of anti-Semitism, I was brought into discussion intended to enlighten and educate me. The outcome of the exchange led me to question many things.

To what extent do we derive inherent personal value from our heritage? Should we?

My paternal history is Italian. While I can claim some genetic connection with its rich artistic contribution to world culture, I am also forced to acknowledge the thieving Roman conquerors and even Napoleon, whose progeny in Southern Italy is undeniable. On the maternal side, William the Conqueror emerges in the family line; who was he but yet another marauding narcissist, overtaking all of central England, erecting castles in his wake and siring those who would colonize Africa and India, enslaving millions.

Taken in totality, my “heritage” leaves little to celebrate.

So, whence “identity”?

Accentuating the positive, as the old song intones, I find that elements worthy of distinguishing us can be found in culture. What of the food, the clothing and other textiles, the furnishings and various decor, from every people and part of the planet? What of the art forms – the song, dance, sculpture, design, architecture, and drama? How many different ways can we, as individuals, embody that which binds us historically?

As individuals, we can represent these cultural aspects of our heritage without desiring or seeking any recognition for their relative value. No aesthetic feature is superior to another; neither should any group be.

Every child needs to feel valued; every adult deserves to feel valuable. Each of us is a part of the grand history of humanity. Can we move away from fear and threat, and toward universal acceptance of every feature we contribute to the picture of earth’s people?

This realization was a revelation to me – a revelation of which we can all now be a part. Maybe its insights will lead us toward Renaissance, rather than revolution – and, that, one identity at a time.

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© 1/21/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. Sharing permitted via blog link, exclusively. Thank you for respecting original written material.

littlebarefeetblog.com

How the Good Souls Are Taken.

After not one, but two, articles appeared in major newspapers covering so-called “White Christian Nationalists” devotion to the Trump regime, I figured that piece I’d been toying with writing had better hit the page. God’s inspiration should never be ignored, after all. Oh; and, believe me: I mean that, sincerely.

For all practical purposes, I am a voice of the “white Evangelical Christian.” My family was established into the fellowship of the Fundamentalist sect of the Plymouth Brethren by our grandfather, a street preacher who’d migrated from eastern PA to get a job building cranes and raise his children. A couple elders of “the meeting” on East Avenue in Erie met him, at the local jail, and invited him to join their assembly. Soon Henry, his wife Mae, and their four daughters Dora Mae, Betty, Frances, and Martha, would be born and raised among them, attending Sunday School, Morning Worship and Gospel Meeting – all on Lord’s Day – plus, Prayer Meeting and Bible Study on Tuesday and Friday.

Aunt Frances, the most liberal thinker among his offspring, would go radical and marry a Baptist minister. The rest raised all of us on the self-same attendance regimen and its accompanying rules for dress and decorum; head coverings for the women, seated silence for all females in the presence of their men.

Pappy, as we grandkids would come to call him, was a closet Republican who came to accept that, like the rest of the Brethren, his citizenship was in Heaven and that God would put into office whom He will – with no need for his actual vote. My parents, and our entire extended family (with the exception of the Baptists) modeled after their patriarch, listening intently to the election results on the radio but refusing to participate in the democratic process.

I accepted Jesus into my heart at age six, but registered to vote at age thirty one, in 1988, the year our grandmother’s soul left her body for the seventh Heaven. The competition for the office of President was Bush/Dukakis and I, torn between Dukakis’ education plan and Bush’s GOP platform of fiscal conservatism and social traditionalism sat, biting my nails until the polls closed – never placing my vote.

The next time being a Christian became relevant in my political world was the year 2000. For some reason, though I’d long since left the constraints of the PBs and church culture in general, I’d found myself in the convocation of our local mega-congregation, curiously named at the time “First Assembly”. Movie screens were mounted to the left and right of the sanctuary, primarily intended to present praise lyrics but, on this occasion, the projectionist was preparing a form of worship from which there would be no escape.

I don’t remember what was said from the lectern, by way of introduction. I just remember the ceiling lights dimming and strains of the Battle Hymn of the Republic wafting from speakers mounted throughout the large, wide church as an authoritative baritone underscored in narrative what we were about to experience.

This was no missionary appeal, with its opening report about life in the Caribbean or African interior. This was a film about George W Bush, designed specifically for the church congregations of all America. There were images of uniformed military, and family photos of the Bush dynasty, splayed out across a metamessage of persuasion as moving as an altar call at the City Mission. I was aghast, astonished; what was politics doing amongst the faithful? Furthermore how, two thousand years after the birth of Christ, did a piece of campaign propaganda ever find its way into the First Assembly of God?

Now, twenty one years hence, I think I know.

Now, I recall my immediate family’s open defense of the President soon to be history. I trace back further, through conversations with my beloved former student, a high ranking military officer of the US Army Air Force and born-again Christian, his ardent support of the George W. whom he actually met filling his eyes with light. Mostly, I call to mind prayer breakfasts for whose keynote speaker politicians were pinned, political rallies populated by entire church contingents, the voice of America’s morally upright finally being heard by a mainstream society clearly in precipitous decay.

Here’s the thing about “true” Christians, the ones who read the Bibles they own and who live for the Christ they call their Saviour. Once they’ve accepted the doctrines which dictate that the Truth is theirs for the delivering, they hear the mandating call to go out and preach that gospel to every tongue, people, and nation. These having spent generations separated from the World and all its fleshly lustings, some shrewd political strategist finally realized that one more call, tactically placed, couched in all the trappings of a real conviction to act, would render an entire demographic literally clamoring for a place in the palm of their hand.

Now, there would be no need for the subliminal strains of an electric organ cued by a pastor’s gentle request for bowed heads. Just a country song, sung by a Christian entertainer, and youth group car washes popped up in every church parking lot in the nation – complete with bumper stickers declaring the candidate of consensus. Just a message, insidious in its power, that the marginalized faithful were important, thrust into the spotlight of the Almighty God’s intention for His people and summoned to a service no true Christian could, in good conscience, refuse.

What nobody calculated was the incredible intractability of the true Christian. To say they are an emboldened fringe is a dangerous oversimplification; this is far beyond extremism. These are both Fundamentalist and Evangelical. This is an entire mentality of infinite scope, with eternal life its branded hallmark. Psychologists would say that theirs is not a dilemma. The path is clear; wavering is not part of their lexicon. They shall not be moved.

Somewhere between the promise of prosperity and sinless perfection, the message these march has the Kingdom of God all over it. Pandora’s box should have been left tightly closed, just like the fellowship of the Plymouth Brethren, exclusive unto itself. But, politics played its ever-greedy hand, and now we all pay the price for that unforgivable sin.

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© 1/18/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting authentic original stories.

littlebarefeetblog.com