Category Archives: Fundamentalism

sectarian; Christian;

Just Girls.

 

A long time ago, when there were “used books” and “junior high”, and something called “playing outside”, we were the American girls. Much has been said, steeped in nostalgia, about how much simpler life was then. Implied in that descriptor is the unspoken conviction that life was also somehow better. These days, we “downsize”. Yes; we crave a return to that something.
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Come with me, back to 1969.
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Now, we in our family were Christian fundamentalists; as such, we were taught to “come out from among them, and be separate”. I was never fully in on that concept but, back then, I obeyed my mother. God’s retribution scared me into submission, He nothing if not male, and females were taught from breath number one to take second.
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Many things mattered to my mother. One of them was territorial protection. She didn’t want me to have school friends for sleepovers, and I was not allowed to stay all night anywhere but at my cousin’s house in Lawrence Park. So when Darlene, from school, invited me to spend the night at her parents’ barn out in the county,  literally in the hayloft, I held out little hope.
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Who knows what went on inside my mother’s head? One thing was certain; plenty did. Mum was a romantic. She’d read every Christian romance novel in the Elsie Dinsmore series. She’d had a French soldier pen pal for years before she met Dad and, even when she became old, hoped I’d find him on my first and only trip to Paris. Perhaps my mother thought sleeping overnight in a haystack in a barn was just as pure and worthy as her best fantasy because, to my astonished surprise, she let me go.
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And, it was all that. Darlene was great company. She was among all the other girls the embodiment of what used to be called “self possessed”, and she knew – in spite of the sprawling city planning maps we built in our “Urban Geography” class – that everybody should experience what she had to offer out there on the county farm.
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Because, even though we had a grand time romping around the property into the late afternoon, and crawling all the way up into the loft by nightfall, what we’d witness the next morning Darlene knew would trump all the rest of it.
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I was always a night owl. That night, I can’t tell you if I slept at all. But, I do remember that Darlene was up at the crack of dawn and, somehow, managed to wake me, too. And, she was eager. I had to follow her, out the barn and down into the field.
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The field…of wild strawberries.
The morning dew was peaking. But, the berries weren’t even host.
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It were the spider webs. Dew drop decked spider webs, dozens of them, draping and lacing rows and rows of the nearly hidden wild berries beneath the early morning sun.
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We squatted all the way to the ground, and peered down each long row as if gazing through an infinite prism. The glistening geometry rivaled a crystal landscape.
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Everybody knows that there are some things impossible to forget. It all has to do with the senses. If one is sufficiently aroused, every detail imbeds in memory. And, there was something about that whole idyllic scene: the musty crackle of the hay bales, the scent of unseen critters, the feel of farm living, setting the backdrop for the secret which had unfolded that morning.
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For two days, I was with my friend. We were just two girls. Her father was quite away, inside the farmhouse, just enough presence to play landlord. He left us to our own. We didn’t have to obey him, or God, or anyone. The farm, and the barn, and the field, and the strawberries, even the spiderwebs bathed in dew. There was no fear, and no reason for any.
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At the end of this past year, Darlene came back. I hadn’t seen her since junior high, she being one of only a couple who hadn’t remained with the rest of us in our class. She’d been married, had five kids, divorced, married again, one more baby. Six children, and her husband, the love of her life. That precious man had just passed away, far too young, succumbing to the side effects of a disease. Months before, her mother had also died. Yet, just as I had remembered her, the girl was still in possession of herself. She, in spite of everything happening around her, remained visibly undefeated. She still knew, even in the wake of death, how to find what was so special in the simple life and, even after over forty years, was ready to share that essence again with a girl she still called her friend.
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The disparity between the haves and have nots widens every day. Technology has produced more collateral for consumers to covet than ever before, so much so that even the Christmas stocking is obsolete. But, that which fills our senses and our hearts has not changed.
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Find the freshest air, the clearest water; go to the untouched places, and leave them undisturbed. Take only the sensations with you, when you go.
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And, then, share them with your oldest friend.
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© 1/12/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.     All rights those of the author, an old girl, whose name appears above this line.   Thank you, Darlene Pitonyak Brown.
littlebarefeetblog.com

Personalities.

 

We all have them.

In plural.

For every rare individual, in the grip of dissociative identity disorder, there is the vast remainder of relatively normal society. And, society, whether or not we are ready to admit it as fact, seeks to shape our personalities.

The earth is populated by so many nations, within them so much distinct culture. And, what each civilized group of persons grows accustomed to is a set of mores, actions, and reactions which are profoundly influenced by the behavior of those who founded and perpetuated them.

Back in the 18th century, Scottish philosopher David Hume developed his theory of social behavior and led his fellow citizens to assimilate it. He believed that a people is profoundly marked by its public persona, and established a specific protocol for interaction. As such, the Scots as a society became characterized by Hume’s notions of what was both a healthy and proper comportment.

Centuries hence, the essence of who we are has come to be known as personality. Within that, there are potentially many subsets of behaviors, all influenced by those with whom we have had to do since birth.

(Enter DNA. We are still learning, and most of us not privy to, the exact nature of genetic expression. What we do know is that we inherit much which will shape how we choose, act, and react to the world around us.)

But, if we are encouraged, from infancy, to express a wide range of emotion — smiling, laughing, crying, giggling, as well as reactions including surprise, shock, and even dismay — we will develop habits which include these expressions. Moreover, if we are rarely taught to suppress emotion, we will become capable of spontaneity. If, conversely, we are taught to stifle, we will become characterized as stoic.

Now, what of emotional range? Could a correlation be made between the degree of emotional expression and the capacity for multiple aspects within personality?

Some scenarios seem to call for grace, latitude, and acceptance; yet others demand assertive action, such as those of sudden health emergency or public threat. The degree of importance one places upon each as they emerge might call up a wide variety of personality expressions. The Scots, in the 18th century, likely never had to endure either challenge or threat to their social securities.

And, what of intellectual expression? How do distinct personalities demonstrate the way they think? And, how is this valued in a society?

Perhaps we might reflect upon those who seem different from ourselves. What are the aspects which distinguish us? Which among these could be encouraged, deemed of value?

America is unique, in that we have been attempting to survive as a society within which innumerable social mores and personality expressions have coexisted. Proximity has proved a challenge, for many. Judgments have been made. Inherent bias has ruled outcomes of disagreement. Crime has become a hallmark, instead of a rare aberration.

Consider these points for contemplation, the next time you register the following thought: “I don’t like that person.” Perhaps add a Why? And, then, take that additional, sometimes painful but objective step. Find something worthy in that personality. Then, inspect yourself.

Each of us has so many glorious features. Even as we celebrate diversity, let us broaden that resolve to include the details of multi-faceted individuality. We would feel so much better about each other, and our collective personality would become something of a masterpiece.

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© 12/15/18 Ruth Ann Scanzillo All rights those of the author, whose personality you may not favor but whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting original material.

Covering the Mirror.

 

The henna tinted haircut had become oily and matted. Clothes, twice worn, and I’d missed the shower in the a.m. It was nigh on 5:37, and the service was to begin at 6.

I looked a sight. Yet, the temple being a scant four minutes from the house, my heart told me that missing their open invitation would be the greater regret. Dabbing some under eye concealer, a bit of pink powder and a neutral lipstick, I fluffed what remained of the haircut, grabbed the short raincoat, and headed for State Street.

Turning left at the top of Cherry Street, my Pontiac soon joined a steady trough of traffic. Parking at the temple’s Jefferson Society lot was limited, and street options could extend north all the way down the hill if we didn’t get all the greens heading east. I wondered how many from as far away as Fairview had also accepted the invitation?

West of the stadium, cars were already lining the curb. But, two schoolbuses were also present, next to the academy. The stream of drivers was intended for their evening football game. My thymus relaxed, a little.

Reaching the temple, I was relieved to see a spot up from the Jefferson entrance. People were still walking from lot to front, and I joined them, hugging the mustard yellow rainjacket around my jeans to cut the wet chill. Sure enough, ladies were in mid calf skirts, men in dark dress, and then Jack, looking pensive, the news cam man who’d taken my one and only career black and white decades earlier. I resumed my customary cringe. Find a seat in the very back, slide in swiftly, say nothing. Stepping past the security guard and the packing, body armored special agent, I entered the foyer. There was Charles, standing at the door.

We greeted, me offering the self deprecating reference to shabby attire and he quick with the witty retort, something about God not caring and me hoping so. He, with his hearty, reassuring laugh.

My seat awaited, one of four in the far right rear row, two fellow Gentiles on either end. I sat beside Maria, who looked as Bavarian as if she’d just arrived from northern Minnesota.

The room was filling, rapidly. I recognized several, from various stages of my own history in our ageless community. The men, in their yarmulkes. A respected surgeon, in his, plus blue scrubs. An extremely tall gent, in his, ball of the hand curved over a carved walking stick. The current Erie County Executive. A former Mayor of Erie. At least two Mizrachi, with stronger noses in profile than hardly anyone saw anymore, likely never in a fashion rag. And, me, feeling every percentage of the Persian/Turk in my Ancestry.com DNA reveal.

I missed, quietly, Rabbi Len and Faith Lifshen, and their son, Moshe. This had been their temple, prior to the move south and Rabbi’s subsequent death. Turning to Maria I made mention of them, and pointed out the Ark of the Covenant glass encasement in the center of the altar. After my lengthy paragraph, she mentioned the Torah scrolls, me realizing that, yet again, I’d presumed the role of teacher rather than learner.

One of the last to enter was a short young woman, who chose the remaining seat beside me. She was the only female in a yarmulke within my sight line, and I hadn’t remembered ever seeing a woman wear one. Just as she became settled, removing her coat, around the aisle came a slender man who extended his open palm to the Gentile on the left end. He took the hand of each one of us in the back row, introducing himself and asking our names. He was the new Rabbi up from Pittsburgh, where he lived, to conduct the Shabbat Kaddish at Temple Brith Sholom.

This was my second Jewish service. At Yom Kippur, several musical colleagues and I had been invited to the other temple, across town, by another of us who, being a Jew, was slated to play the Kol Nidre on her flute. The rabbi that night was a woman, a guest from New York, and the remaining four vocal musicians and their pianist were all Gentiles but one.

The music at this Shabbat was all vocal. It was produced by the Rabbi, and his seasoned congregation.

After an earnest and warm welcome from, surprise! Doris, a retired teacher with whom I had worked nearly thirty years earlier, the rabbi explained in detail what we as the guests could expect from the service. He encouraged us to select a prayer book from the racks attached to the chairs in front of us. The prayer book pages were turned briskly, from rear to front, as the rabbi chanted in fluent Hebrew and the congregation sang along. I was reminded that, let alone a language strange to my tongue, unless I could see the notation my ability to retain a new melody was woeful. We sat, and stood; remained standing, and sat. Stood. Turned; bowed; sat, again. At each rise and return, a room filled with slightly damp athletic shoes squeaked, in chorus.

The Kaddish, Rabbi explained, was the congregational prayer, uttered in unison aloud. Some Shabbats were mourning Kaddish; this one would have two aspects, the first for private mourners and the second for the victims of the tragedy at Tree Of Life.

Just before the time had come to offer up the Kaddish, the Rabbi spoke in short sermon. He described the innumerable traditions which were the foundation of conservative Judaism. One point in particular spoke to me, as an aspect of mourning.

He said that Jews, by their nature and by their tradition, are open. They encourage emotional expression. Crying during mourning is a given. But, he also insisted, mourning was to be embodied. There would be no preparation of fine adornment; instead, Jews were to begin by eliminating bathing. They were to immerse themselves, entirely, in grief. And, to render this practice intently selfless, they were to cover all the mirrors in the house.

My eyes opened, wide. I looked at the Rabbi.

For that moment, and in the moments later, I stood in solidarity with God’s chosen people against both the recent horror and an entire epoch of vile hatred which had wrenched their global family. Soiled, unkempt; unclean, I was right there.

Out of body, present in spirit, I no longer saw myself.

Only Adonai.

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© 11/2/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.       littlebarefeetblog.com