Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

My Different Person

At the end of the last presidential debate, the moderator asked the candidates to talk about someone vastly different from them who made an impact on their life. Of course, most candidates seized the competitive moment to extol their own virtues, but the question opened interesting doors.

During my youth, I lived in a fairly homogeneous society. Everyone was white, middle-class, and generally Protestant or Catholic plus a few Jewish school friends. When the family traveled, we motored from one American city to another. We didn’t mingle with the locals except to order food and hotels. Like many American youth, I had little to no clue how anyone distant from me might differ. I couldn’t guess what life might be like in the depressed Southern towns and smoggy cities we traversed. Some of my siblings eventually married into contrasting sub-cultures, naively not realizing their expectations wouldn’t fit.

However, the person who was least like me who shook up my perspectives the most was a brilliant Native American named Judy. So dyslexic she couldn’t actually read, Judy began life running uphill. She picked words out of her favorite romance novels and imagined the rest. Then she commenced writing her own novels, memorizing routes around the city because she couldn’t read street signs. One research librarian threw her out for asking too many questions, being illiterate, and being frighteningly nonwhite. While her writing lacked the basics, Judy’s ideas were good enough that a published friend plagiarized scenes. Judy demanded the industry hold the offender accountable, so they did.

Judy was large, coarse, and had the biggest, most generous heart I’ve ever encountered. She refused to believe any doors were closed to her and worked as an airline mechanic in spite of her inability to read parts lists. She re-coded the designations backward. What she didn’t know, she invented in a benign version of fake news.

Judy taught me about life on the reservation as well as Lakota Sioux spirituality, although she was torn between forces that insisted she belonged in evangelical churches and her own predilection toward traditional Sioux beliefs. She rattled my intellectual cage hard. With characteristic humor, she flaunted her differences by wearing what might have been the first female crew cut. Judy taught me defiance, determination, and unconditional love. She taught me about horses. A fierce, if unconventional mother, she bragged to me about breaking her son’s nose so he couldn’t snort cocaine. She died piece by piece from more than one fatal condition, defying the odds for years with her indomitable will. When she finally succumbed, many mourned with genuine sorrow. Her love had touched them…and me, as well.

When each immigrant is sent away from this country and each member of a subculture isolated, I’m saddened. Without the ability to travel as I wish, I lean on the diversity of our population to pull back the curtains on my social ignorance. “Others” reveal wholly disparate ways of coping with life. They provide unusual perspectives, fresh rhythms of speech, and traditions that sometimes lie buried deep in the past of my ancestors. The turtle people who want to redesign the world to match the view inside their shells have no clue what they’re missing. Perhaps they don’t have the capacity to broaden their view? I have the will, but I’m all too aware of the limitations of my capacity.

2 comments on “My Different Person

  1. Frances Sullivan
    October 19, 2019

    Your capacity – “our” capacity – is limited only when we say it is. We cannot keep stepping out of our day in everyway. We’re walking in our own shoes, hoping the will cushion and pretect us as needed. That’s reasonable. What we can do is be willing to take the shoes off when they pinch our feet, try a new pair on that might be better. That’s what you did when you heard Judy’s voice. You accepted her, were moved by her, loved her. That’s setting a beautiful example of capacity in my mind. Wonderful piece, by the way. xxx

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