Tag Archives: imperialism



This is the place I never thought I’d be.

We anticipate the loss of family members. We agree ’til death do us part, at the altar.

But, John.

Did we all have one?

John was my first love.

By that, I mean John was the first who loved me, too.

We were 21. The setting was at once predictable and incongruous: a Bible conference. Yearly, those from among our fundamentalist sect knew full well that a week spent on the beautiful, sprawling, verdant campus of Grove City College would bring together all the young to wed. And, every summer, with manic anticipation, we girls would giggle our way onto the grounds in our newest Sunday fare, a wardrobe meticulously planned for each morning, afternoon, and evening of seven blissful days away from everyone else on the face of the earth. Jesus was the reason, but….the boys. The boys were what made the purpose desirable, irresistible, and unbearably delicious.

He’d been a stand out, from the first. Most of the young men English, Germanic or otherwise Midwestern, this one was short, honey haired, and Polish/Armenian?, with the most luminously large dark eyes in the room. And, those almond orbs had looked back at me across the gymnasium seating, meeting my own deeply set brown ones – fixed, locked, a slow smile on his mouth to confirm I wasn’t dreaming. I can’t remember anything that happened after that – until we stood, at dusk, on the sidewalk leading to the girl’s dormitory, he with his Bible clasped between both hands and his enormous dark eyes never leaving mine for a moment. With one hand he’d taken the tip of his index finger and touched the center of my belly, and a spark of fire ignited my whole body. I would not know this as a hormonal response. I wouldn’t care. Completely and without any hesitation I was his, from that moment until the end.

The end came harshly.

But, in between, the blush and glorious ecstasy of true love.

Seven years earlier, I’d had a brush with profound spiritual terror. Formal operational thought having kicked in spontaneously that summer, I’d gone in the space of one week at the conference from “ho-hum” to “Is God even real”? So agonizing and mind blowing was the maelstrom of doubt that, after two years of fixated poring over any literature on the subject available to me, I’d resigned to a detachment from all things related to religious faith in order to preserve my emotional sanity. If I didn’t think about any of it, then none of its power – good, or evil – could any longer either suffocate or scare me to death.

But, then, along came John.

And, he was, first and foremost, an intellect.

John wasn’t just the boy who’d been saved at age 14 from hallucinogenic drugs. He was a Christian thinker.

John was an apologist.

We spent that week facing headlong every dumbfounding question, he with his ready analysis, all delivered with the softest, most gentle timbral inflection. He eagerly addressed my countless questions with answers more stimulating than the next. The hours we spent in dialogue, about Francis Schaeffer, Rookmaker and, his beloved favorite, C.S. Lewis, long since ceased being numbered; they began directly after morning Bible study, continuing on the walk to lunch, resuming during the afternoons across the bridge, and persisted until the sun was soon to set, campus curfew tested by every tantalizing dilemma left for the next morning.

And, every encounter so sensate, he with his continuous caress. Every nerve ending, from the soles of my feet to the corner cubby of my frontal cortex, was electrically charged by his mind and body.

By the end of the week, I was committed. This boy was perfect, in every way. With him, I could return to a faith which was expansive, all encompassing; with him, I could find my identity both as an artist and a devout woman. He would be my husband, and I would be his wife, and we would be together forever.

But, melodrama would have its day.

Evil would cloak, and creep.

By the final morning of our conference that summer, word would leak; some girl with a crystallized reputation had let a story slip into the gossip chain, a shocking accusation which involved my John. And, so many of the women in attendance ripe for a life-affirming scandal, talk of it flew through the wireless air like emergency radio. I gave it all a mere passing scoff. Couldn’t be true; this was my man. If it were, so be it; he was still to be mine, God ordained. I’d never been more sure of anything in my life.

However, the hierarchy of control which held our desperate sect together had received their call to arms. By the time he’d arrived home to Baltimore, four men had already flanked him; ordering him to appear before their court, he was to accept their full assessment. And, their conclusion was swift: John was to be removed from the fellowship, and placed under an indefinite period of discipline.

I would have none of it.

Re-enrolling in college that fall, I would commence a switch from fine art to a rigorous major in music education with a looming recital requirement. After the six hours each day spent alone with my cello, he and I would spend as many, on the phone, four hours at a stretch, and every weekend he could not be with me. Once per month, he’d drive the spider infested rattle trap car with no heat that he got for one dollar all the way across Pennsylvania to western New York to be with me for two, enraptured days at school. For Christmas, I gave him the very first flip phone, so he could talk to me in private; from him, I received a diamond necklace, from Zales. This was a promise gift, he’d said.

My dreams grew. John was a pure math major, at Towson. Had a job, as a draftsman. I could transfer to Peabody Conservatory, where my professor was urging me to go, and switch to performance. When we got married, I could shoot for the Baltimore Symphony.

But, the tribunal would not be mocked.

His own mother, he’d said, was wondering about this girl from PA. She’d never even met me, but had come to an unsettling conclusion; I was too “independent-minded” for her son. I’d likely not be right for him, as a helpmate. Perhaps his disciplinary period should include time away from this relationship, to leave room for a companion more willing to subject herself to God’s authority.

Once again, my resolve deepened. Let anybody try to separate me from the love of Christ, as manifest in this, the love of my life.

Then, the letter came.

Hand writing in blue ballpoint ink, John poured out all his carefully analyzed reasons for ceasing our communication. For every in-depth conversation we’d created together, this was the razor’s edge. I was cut, and cut, and cut again.

Enraging grief overtook me. They had stolen him away. The whole army of them – the tribunal; the entire, alleged fellowship; and: his mother. This was beyond abandonment. This was destruction.

For weeks thereafter, I drifted. Tried a surrogate, a Jewish boy, same size, no further resemblance. Crushed on a pianist, who shared his dark eyes and gaze. Then, succumbed to the charms of a tall rock and roller, with similar intellect. He rejected Schaeffer’s apologies, writing blasphemous comments in the margins of the books John had sent me, and then dumped me for a psych major with buck teeth willing to go all the way.

I was lost.

We’d had one more chance, a few years later. I sang at his best friend’s wedding. We rode to DC, in the dark, and lay on the sidewalk under the stars at the Lincoln Memorial. But, I’d been spoiled. There was no going back. Not for me. I’d been all in, and left to paddle ashore alone. One doesn’t jump back into the brink.

He married, raised a family.  I married. Divorced.

We grew old.

Today, word came to me. This morning, John died.

And, I wept.

I wept for every moment of hope. For every chapter in the book that was never published. For all the dreams of that fantasy life of mutually deep and lasting love. And, for John, because he had to die at the hands of a disease which destroyed his body.

His mind and mine had been so beautifully aligned. Then, the stars of imperious power over the spirit crossed, and wrenched us apart.

Beyond all the horizons of deepening mystery, where we can all slip these bonds, know as we are known, and be together in one Spirit, there will be a place.

Save one for me, John.


John was a wonderful husband and father. He was committed, devout, devoted, hard working, loyal, faithful, and true. He and his wife Melissa had four beautiful children, all young adults now. May they all forgive and accept this tribute.



© 1/21/19 Ruth Ann Scanzillo    This is a tribute to John Licharowicz. Share with the author’s permission. Thank you for respecting his family, and the rest of the broken hearted.


















The Importance of Being First (Take Two)

The First and Last.

Whether we realize it or not, we’ve all been both first and last. The first, or last in the check out line; the first, or last one chosen for the new product survey at the mall; in first, or last place in Monopoly; or, first or last to finish dessert. One ends up being last for a host of reasons, and first, either randomly or because, occasionally or persistently, one excels (at Monopoly).

Yes; way back in the ’60s, when all good music was live, I came of age. And, my embodiment seemed to be one of extremes: having never crawled like a “normal” baby, I could not seem to organize my arms and legs. So, in school recess, I learned early on how it felt to be the last one chosen – for kickball, for relays, for any team. Absolutely, dead last. In fact, not even actually chosen, I was simply the one left; any team whose captain didn’t select carefully was stuck with me, like a second, immature, flabby bladder budding from a blowfish.

But, as nature, ever equilibrious, would have it, and due to a certain cerebral bent and what my generation stubbornly called inherited “talent” I was also known, to an increasingly grating degree, to be somewhat of a first. My student profile dragged a moniker with it like a Hello! sticker at the annual sales convention. The smarty pants. The gifted girl. The weird, annoying child. I also hailed from a particular neighborhood in a small city, a verrry small pond where the gene pool was, shall we say, gracious. And, perhaps due to repeated experience with playground rejection, I found a private solace in finally being considered first choice – to play the piano, to draw the picture, to sing the song.

[*Important Aside: This is, by its nature, a sensitive topic. One calls to mind the blonde Brit who fancied herself so physically appealing so as to determine, in her own mind, the litany of reasons why her coworkers treated her badly. That story was rather sickening. Do not equate this halting attempt with anything addressed by her monstrosity.]

Over time, I grew not only familiar with being the first, but worse: to expect it. And, expecting to be first brings its own, strange burden. In fact, it becomes a real load.

For the past nearly thirty years, I have been fortunate to make my living, in part, as a professional musician. When orchestral instrumentalists convene, they create a room full of firsts. The energy, present in that isolated space, is tremendous. Nobody even gets a seat, in a professional ensemble, without proving mettle to a very high degree that is concurrently physical, mental and – often forgotten – emotional. And, those seats are a visible hierarchy: principal (first); second chair, third chair, etc. And, as we all know, human behavior can be curious. Taught by well meaning and often well cultivated parents to be polite, civil, interested in others, socially sophisticated…….the bee dance begins.

Nobody really knows how to act. Who is going to be supremely “first” in this room? To whom do we owe allegiance? And, where do we fall in the line-up? Most importantly, will we accept our position when our rank becomes clear? What if that with which we either expect or feel familiar is not our lot in the calculated draw?

And, why is this even a problem?

Well, and here’s the theory. Perhaps maintaining the status of being first actually becomes not merely an expectation but an emotional  n e e d. Yes; some no longer merely want to be, or expect to be. Some   n e e d    to be  – to feel stable, to feel whole. And, sometimes, individuals beset by this matrix of need present themselves in ways that leave an awful lot of chaff in their wake.

Now, this isn’t meant to be a treatise on self-importance (it works though, doesn’t it?). It’s simply about the learned belief that, if one does not come out “on top”, then something is inherently wrong – not with the system, but within the mind and heart of the one who has come to believe that, in every scene, there is always a first place to occupy.

There isn’t. And, dispensing with the notion can be life-altering.

Two years before attending my [first] Suzuki Summer Institute (Stevens Point, WI)  as a trained string player, I accepted my [first] music teaching job in, of all locations, the public school system wherein I was raised. The position as advertised was choral, but the district had, apparently, more pressing needs. In a rush of self-possessed confidence, I heard myself declare to the high school principal on the interview committee, in satin plaid skirt and white pumps: “Yes! I would love to teach marching band!

After all, my outstanding father, lead bugler for the 3rd Armored Division, 9th Field Artillery, US Army, had led his unit in a parade for the dignitaries. This had earned him the rank of Corporal. Surely, “daddy’s little girl” could follow in those footsteps. Ten hut. That’s all it took. Yes?


Enthusiasm for the shiny new job, and the fantasy of leading a parade, faded within a week. I learned so fast and so hard, there are no words to describe it. Yes; well, here are some: Teenagers; “F horns”; graduated bass drums and quad toms; flag-making( thank y.o.u., Mum); float-building; floppy graph paper drill designing; parent booster club organizing; and, that cultural phenomenon with which the film community has its own field day: “band.camp.” All for fifteen minutes of live music, performed seventeen times in nine and a half weeks. This, from a fledgling who never took so much as the weekend marching band mini-course in college. My students, who came from the most underprivileged sector in the entire county, had almost no background in holding their instruments correctly, let alone presenting themselves in front of a stadium full of football fans during half time.

The slog was first hot, then cold and long and wet, and it went on for weeks. Any notions of personal grandeur were soaked to the bone under pole lights and sleet. I was so terribly proud of my students, many of whom are my friends to this day, but the competitive marching band association in our region was ruthless and provided for them not so much as a wall plaque for Most Developed in the Shortest Amount of Time. We, according to everybody else but ourselves, came in profoundly, and completely, last.

Becoming a Suzuki-trained educator changed the whole scene.

Here, I was introduced to the concept that every child can not only learn, but excel. Imagine my amazement. Gone was the “best” in the room, and, with it, the expectation. Everywhere one turned, there were bests of every description — really young children, from all over the country, performing at a standard my generation used to call masterful. And, they were genuinely happy human beings. I was floored – and, subliminally, relieved.

Competition, for me as an artist, is a paradoxic state. In fact, in my heart, I do not even see it as a legitimate arena for art. Cinematic director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, in his acceptance speech at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, echoed my sentiments almost to the letter; if art, by its definition, is an expression of the soul’s experience, the mind’s eye, the heart’s beat, then placing oneself on a block in a formidable space and performing a work of art on demand against that of others’ offerings seems counter to its intuitive intent. The requirement can be alienating, distancing, interruptive, like blood flow stopping for a clot.

Nearly two decades ago, I inherited a position of leadership in an orchestra from a very gracious woman who had occupied her seat until an encroaching physical condition prohibited her from continuing. She was a lovely musician, and an even sweeter person. There was no competition for this chair; rather, I simply slid across to assume the position at her leave taking. To this day, I honor both the chair and the responsibilities required of it to the best of my ability. But, every so often, during a reprieve in our process, I look around and remember the days when hormones drove every decision, nigh every thought.  I recall how many times I wondered whether I truly made the cut, whether there was someone in the wings with an eye on my spot.

And, now, this. Over the past decade, reality television has provided for our culture a strange and riveting phenomenon: The Bachelor. Some twenty five eligibles appear in front of camera to vie for the prize – a future spouse. And, over several months of episodes, the world watches as the pack is narrowed down to one, final “rose” – the winner, the one deemed most adored by the prize waiting to be offered up.

Who will be first? Who will be last? Who decides? And, why? How important, pray tell, is isolating a “best one” in matters of the heart? in matters of anything, for God’s sake? How many more decades will our society persist in preening its feathers, ready to declare absolute preeminence?

I’m not sure I care to find out. The winter may end, after all. There is a garden waiting to be nourished and nurtured. Soon, there will be vibrant growth everywhere. Some blooms will be large, some small, but all will be beautiful. Every single flower, every ripe berry. The first one, all the way to the last.






© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

3/6/15  all rights reserved. Thank you for enduring.