Met the love of my life 35 years ago today. New York Health & Racquet Club.56th Street and Sixth Avenue. A Wednesday. Went for coffee and she paid for herself. She didn't want any obligations.
Tomorrow January 19th would have been my Mom Adele's 90th Birthday. She loved America, literally baseball and apple pie (but definitely not beer, see photo below), and was thankful for the life she had here after her wartime adolescence. She remained loving and hopeful even as declining health over a number of years took its toll. She is so very missed. Sometimes it's hard to remember how vital and protective she was when I was young, how passionate she was working at Gimbels and Sterns later, how determined she was in 1987 to get her GED despite having had her education interrupted by Hitler at the beginning of 4th Grade. Mom was a terrific writer, especially for someone who spoke not a word of English until learning the language while working at Macys Herald Square in the late forties. Here's an excerpt from a project I definitely will finish for her one of these days:
"....And I would dream of the faraway places where some of my closest relatives had journeyed. There was my grandmother Miriam, recently returned from living with my Aunt Adele in Palestine. Life in Palestine had been exciting, a challenge, but quite simply she had missed us. And there was my Uncle Benne, who had been living all my life in that strangest of lands, America, of which I knew little. Sometimes we would discuss it at the dinner table. New York. Chicago. Miami Beach. They all seemed so far away and it was hard for me to believe that I actually had an uncle in a place called Brooklyn. Sometimes my parents would be at the dinner table, reading a letter from Benne with its Brooklyn postmark or from Adele sent from Haifa, and the discussion would quickly turn to whether our own family should relocate. As the 1930s progressed, Hitler was increasing his power and the sounds of hatred were growing louder. It seemed that some of our fellow Poles were falling in line and my parents could sense the daily tension growing even in our remote village. But my father was totally against moving, especially out of the country. This was his home, his village, his native country...."
I met a wonderful young teenager today for coffee to answer questions he might have about my alma mater. He was bright, disciplined, sincere, focused, eloquent, polite, and outstanding in so many respects I don’t have space here to list them. With a passion for computers and learning everything he can about the world, plus a background that already includes founding a successful charitable corporation, the world, and our nation in particular, are better for having him in it. Late in our meeting I learned that his role model is his father who worked so hard as a young man in one of those shithole countries in Latin America and was able decades ago to matriculate at a fine American university. That man is now a senior executive at a large American corporation with a son who has already made him proud.
The café was closing this afternoon as we finished our talk. I noticed that the manager letting us out was wearing a yellow Pittsburgh Pirates Clemente t-shirt.
“Greatest of men,” I told the manager and he smiled and thanked me.
Outside, the teen asked who Clemente was and it was hard for me to contain my enthusiasm. “Go home and Google him,” I replied. “He was one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Tragically he died a young man in a New Year’s Eve 1972 plane crash delivering needed emergency supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua, just a few countries away from the place your father came from.”
We said good-bye. By now, I am supremely confident that this young man has searched the name Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker and learned more about him than I ever did. He knows I’m sure that Clemente was born in Puerto Rico, a United States unincorporated territory since 1898 that has been exploited for a very long time and (were it not for last fall’s lingering hurricane tragedy putting it in the news daily) would still be one of those countries to our current leadership. He knows that as a Black Puerto Rican entering baseball just a few years after Jackie Robinson, Clemente experienced his share of racial discrimination but always took the high road above derision and division, quoted as stating that he did not believe in color. He knows that Clemente won 2 World Series titles with the Pirates and was MVP on one of those teams, played on 12 National League All-Star Teams, won 12 Gold Gloves and 4 National League Batting Titles, had 3,000 hits, and of course gained posthumous and early special election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He knows that Clemente served honorably as a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserve between 1958 and 1964. And he must surely now know that after years of off-season charitable work, Clemente chartered at his own expense and boarded that fateful flight to Nicaragua after learning that the aid packages on three earlier relief flights had not reached the victims in need due to government corruption in that country.
My sorrow from last week’s latest hurtful words leaking out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is dissipating a bit. The disdainful cynics run amok these days will surely point out that the lad I met and his father are exactly the kind of meritorious folks we ought to reserve America for. But merit’s a tricky concept, showing up in the most unlikely of places, and equity, freedom and peace are even trickier, showing up only when hearts are open and hands are extended down to help others up. The America I believe in wants to be a land of freedom and opportunity for all and a beacon of light for an entire world in dire need of justice and compassion. Roberto Clemente’s heart and hands knew no borders. With young people like the young man I met today leading the way neither will our future.
by Peter Brav
All I ever wanted was freedom
To be me, at home with my family
On my farm, on my ranch, in my mine, on my couch
But you came calling, making it hard
I had the television on
And there were so many foes
I couldn’t hardly name them
Just knew they were there
But I had my long rifle
And hunt’s old reliable
Handgun in my waist
I was ready, always ready
Trust me, I meant well
But when the bullets came raining down from on high
From a place God should have been
Thousands of shells, automatic
For minutes, for hours, for the eternity we allowed
We just ran, we had no choice
And you looked the other way
For the next time
For the thousands of next times
Don’t blame you, not at all, I’m past that now
A well regulated Militia
To the security of a free State
The right of the people to keep and bear Arms
Shall not be infringed
I am not Militia, I am not secure, these are not Arms
Infringe me now
Millions of moments of silence
That’s all we’ve had
And I’ve been silent past one moment
To the next, and far too long
Because all I ever wanted was freedom
What the hell when we live in hell?
I give up my gun and demand yours for the flames
This is not freedom
Burn them all, I will find my freedom in the fire
I’m late to HAMILTON, listen to the cast album all the time, waiting for tickets to come down in price below a mortgage payment. Daydream on occasion of creator Lin-Manuel Miranda bouncing into my 1968 history class and waking me from my slumber. But most often I think about the beautiful multi-talented and multi-colored creative team and cast that puts this masterpiece on stage every night, who tell the story of a ragtag group of antagonists, their discontent with England and with each other bloodying the countryside. Imperfect individuals who came together to form a more perfect union that remains imperfect.
Almost 250 years later I have only two words for those laziest of thinkers who think somehow that being white or male or straight or rich is better. It’s not, and those are not my two words. The thing that matters, the only thing, is individual character. It is what they had in mind when they formed this union, praying that somehow coming together without a king would lift us up above our fears, our weaknesses, our jealousies, our hatreds. They set forth some high shared ideals and left room for us to set them even higher, knowing we would never quite live up to them but that we might head ever higher in the process, together. A union looks higher and extends a hand to help everyone get there; a mob looks lower and raises a fist to knock others down there.
Two words. We choose.