Sidelined by my husband’s desire to take one more irrigation in frosty, freezing Penrose, I threw another log on the fire and hunkered down in front of the wood stove. My husband works is on his own. If it is too hot or too cold, or if I think that a rattlesnake lurks with my name on his lips, I don’t participate.
Curled up on the couch, I opened a coffee table book that had yet to see the light of day. (Isn’t that the way with coffee table books?) This particular book, authored by Carol A. Scribner of Sedona, AZ, was titled To Life in Small Corners. The small corners were not world capitals; rather, they were backwater places where native people live life much as their ancestors did. Travelling to Namibia, Burma, Morocco, Tibet, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Mali, Cambodia and Laos with her husband, Larry Decker, M.D., Scribner photographed the people and places. All her work, to include her text, is rich in texture.
To Life in Small Corners opens with a forward by Bernard Shaw, a retired CNN anchor. Shaw writes: “Ever look at your own shadow? Examine it closely and see humanity’s silhouette stripped bare of religion, nationality and politics?” I love Shaw’s notion of the shadow and the silhouette. When the sun is low in the sky, your shadow grows to great lengths. No matter how small you are or how small you feel, you are larger and more forceful than you ever expected to be. Your shadow affirms your presence and your potential.
In the Preface, Scribner writes, “I hope that this will be an emotional journey for you… that you will see and feel our differences but also see and feel the many tenants of life we all hold in common.”
A few pages on, Scribner includes a poem that she wrote. The poem’s voice is that of the people she photographed. In the fourth stanza the “small corner people” ask, “Can you see yourself in my eyes? Can you see my dreams, my fears, my weariness, my joy? You see that outside our skin our worlds are so different. But you do not see that in the smallest corners of our hearts… we are constructed with the same soft edges.” Always open to a sweet turn of phrase, I love her last line. The “soft edges.” I imagine velvet. If only we could approach our fellowman with this image in mind, how different our world would be.
Scribner’s take on idealized life beyond politics, race and religion is uplifting, but international conflicts around the globe suggest that she is out-of-touch with reality.
The same day that I was reading Scribner’s book, I turned on my computer and read an Open Culture piece posted November 15 titled “Watch Harvard Students Fail the Literacy Text Louisiana Used to Suppress the Black Vote in 1964.” <http://www.openculture.com/2014/11/harvard-students-fail-the-literacy-test.html.>
Should you check out the Open Culture website, I suggest that you scroll past the video of the Harvard students flunking the exam and move on to the test itself. In 1964 those living in Louisiana, who had not graduated from the fifth grade, were required to pass a literacy test as a prerequisite for voter registration. Applicants had ten minutes to answer 30 questions. If they missed just one question, they were not eligible to vote.
Set a timer and see how well you can do in ten minutes. And whatever you do, read carefully. Just one misstep and you will fail the exam.
If there is a plus side to aging, it is that we have lived a bit of history, and we are able to take a longer view. In my case, I had already graduated from college in 1964. A younger person might be appalled at Louisiana’s Jim Crow test designed to disproportionately weed out black voters.
In my case, writing as an elder, this discriminatory test cheers me. Look at how far we’ve come! Not that we “have arrived.” I have dozens of political rants on the tip of my tongue. Wind me up and watch my mouth run. (“Compromise” is not an Old West town in Nevada.)
We are far from “arriving.” If you think that the ugliness seeping out of Ferguson, Missouri, is an isolated case, I would like to recommend your reading Nicholas Kristof in today’s New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/16/opinion/sunday/when-whites-just-don’t -get-it-part-4.html>. Today’s essay is one of four. You can find the link to his three previous essays in a sidebar.
Kristof writes, “Black/white economic inequality is greater in America today than it was in apartheid South Africa at ongoing discrimination against African-Americans in the labor market and a systematic bias in law enforcement.” Statistics ground his essay. “Blacks average only about 6% as much wealth as white households and only 44o% of black families own a home compared to 73% for whites.” I won’t bludgeon you with statistics, but racism is alive and kicking.
Income inequality across racial lines is a time-bomb.
Yes, we have moved forward, but not fast enough. Smugness does not become us. Watching Congress, head-to-head and shoulder-to-shoulder, frozen in a Rugby formation discourages voters. It is “telling” that only 38% of voters bothered to vote in this most recent Mid-term election. My interpretation is that voters are disgusted with Congressional gridlock. Whatever their party politics, they feel that their vote will have no impact.
Someone should send our elected representatives copies of Carol Scribner’s book. They need to be reminded of, in her words, “the many tenants of life we hold in common.”