The Evolution of My Personal Beliefs & Life Events that Influenced My Thinking
I don’t remember being born or have any memories of being a baby. I have a few true and false memories starting at about three years old. Memories from elementary school years are patchy at best and my comprehension and self awareness came on slowly and methodically through my youth. My awareness of what I have no problem calling, my Self, Spirit, Soul or more simply defined as, my mental knowing that I was sentient or conscious, happened naturally and gradually, not suddenly. I am not a superhero or prophet.
Of all the billions of people that have inhabited this earth, I have always felt like I was way up in the top !% of the most fortunate. My year of birth, 1954, was just when the Earth still had the remnants of a world without technology and other sciences refined in our modern society. People still grew food and stored it, sewed their own clothes, walked for transportation. To put it in a nutshell, I went from manual typewriters with carbon paper, party line telephones, and a fancy new black and white TV through the computer age. I went from polluted, burning rivers, leaded gas and childhood friends who actually survived polio and were disabled to today's more complicated world. What I hear a lot of people pine for and fondly call the “good old days”, were not as perfect as we thought. I have one early memory of a sign in downtown Asheville that said Whites Only. I think it was a water fountain, but could have been a restroom. White supremacy was ingrained in my life and I didn’t have any perception that anything was wrong with that. I guess communication and transportation being slow and poor enabled people to ignore things like that and consider it normal. It makes me ill now to hear people reminisce about how they want to go back to that way of living and thinking. Church, holidays, family was my life and I did not see the grimy side of life. It has been hard for me to face all that reality now. I, like all people, want and wanted to be safe and sheltered. Denial and ignorance is a treacherous and insidious thing.
I’ve been lucky in the fact that I have always liked myself, probably because I was loved and well cared for. That is not true for everyone. I’ve never had depression or any mental illness and count myself fortunate there. I’ve always been physically healthy and am very aware of my good fortune and I take extraordinary good care of my health. If you don’t have your health, you can’t take care of others, had always been a motto of mine. All this goes with being part of that 1% of the luckiest that I mentioned.
Self image is developed and influenced by your particular genetic makeup and experiences. Nature and nurture. The genetic makeup is pretty set in stone. Control over experiences are a bit inflexible in the early years. It is pretty normal for us to not look at choice very openly as we get beyond the youth years. We get pretty set in our ways and influenced by our peers and surroundings and forget or ignore the fact that we have choice. We develop ways to compensate (good and bad) for the lack of certain qualities that are desirable and therefore also develop habits…. sometimes bad ones. We become happy/comfortable with our lives before we even get to the point of thinking we have choice.
I grew up in an extremely narrowly defined religion that claimed to be the only approach to God that would actually get you to a heaven that, I was promised, I would want to be in. My indoctrination was mainstream Southern Baptist, Grace Baptist Church, and was walking distance from our small home. My mother was fervent and 100% indoctrinated until the day she died. My dad seemed to think it was all rather controlling and suspicious, but he kept any actual opinions to himself. He avoided church as much as he possibly could. I though, attended from birth, Sunday mornings, Sunday afternoon choir practice, Sunday evening service, Wednesday night service, Girls Auxiliary once a week, holidays, performances, coronations, camps, you name it, I was there. I was methodically saturated and secluded away from other religious influences, immersed educationally and literally, not by evil people, just people that were recruited at birth or later and took for granted that it was the way things were supposed to be. I rose in the ranks of my church’s Girl’s Auxillary, (GA’s) by memorizing Bible verses and eventually chapters and other lists such as the alphabetized list of the hundred plus countries the Southern Baptists had missionaries in. I wanted to be a missionary, (probably really because they got to travel to other countries now that i think back on it). I learned to read well by being required to read the Bible out loud in peer groups. I learned to sing and follow rules in the 10 years of choir with strict performance rules and instruction. These skills turned out to be good educational experiences and shaped my life in many good ways, but it also was pretty extreme indoctrination to one religious way of thinking. I was small, very thin, very shy and timid as there were strong personalities around me always. But I was a tomboy and got along better with the boys running in the neighborhood on bikes and playing games with balls than trying to fit in with the neighborhood girls who preferred to be indoors with Barbie dolls.
Images of heaven and hell were in the teaching and were meant to be both glorious, wonderful, joyous but also scary, threatening, and highly painful. The carrot and the stick, very fear/reward based. Heaven and Hell were taught to be physically real places. Old Testament Bible stories were taught as absolutely real also, no matter how absurd and impossible they were. Ideas of other religions and denominations were taught to be wrong. You must be immersed under water to be properly “saved”. Sprinkling was not enough. Purgatory was ridiculous. Mary and Catholic Saints were deemed worship of false Gods. So was the study of Greek Gods and those type histories. The Trinity was the correct definition of the One true God. To suggest that Trinity was actually three Gods and polytheistic, was out of the question... not even thought of.
So with this background, I grew to be about 7-8 years old. I was sitting in the downstairs big meeting room at church in rows of chairs with probably 30 or more of my peers sitting around me and we were all happily listening to Old Testament Bible stories. Probably was Summer Bible School, 2 week Summer Intensive as if we needed more indoctrination? They were the typical stories. Adam and Eve and the snake and apple, Noah and the Ark, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Shadrack, Meshak and Abednego thrown into a fire and surviving and Jonah being swallowed by a “Whale”. I think it was the Jonah story that I had just heard when I had the epiphany….. It was pretty sudden and memorable t. I realized that those stories could not be true. I had my first “original” thought about religion in my young brain. The moment was so dramatic to me that I actually leaned forward in my chair and looked left to see if the other children had had my same thought. I actually expected them to! They didn’t, of course, I sat back in my seat and then leaned forward to look down to the right. again expecting some knowing eye contact down my row. I’ll never forget the feeling though, of the awareness that something was wrong. I didn’t know what it was then, but the confusion and the mistrust and the questions came originally from that moment in time. Why were all these people telling me all this impossible stuff? But I ate what was fed to me, studied, memorized, believed, trusted, obeyed. I was excited to join the church, profess my faith and life to Jesus Christ, be baptized and be officially Saved! At 12 I did just that. I was aware that I could go to hell unless I hurried up and made my commitment. There was an anticipation in the promise they made me, that being saved would make me a different person, …A happy, safe, comforted and blessed person beyond others on Earth. A being more special than from the rest of those poor lost unredeemed sinners in the world. Those unlucky, unfortunate, heathen people were all going to Hell, but I was saved! I tearfully and passionately went forward when the appropriate service and music came. I was sincere and my immersion sealed the deal for sure. I was in. Only thing was that there was no extra wave of anything that came over me. I was the same person I was before. No magic…..So many of those Magic Moments that people talk about seem to be times of crisis in their lives. A dramatic moment of personal realization and determination to change some awful circumstance they are in. My mother changed though. She became aggressive about most everything. She became a tyrant about my choices in every category. I was now the property of Jesus and had to give up all thought of choice beyond what my religion dictated. She broke some of my vinyl records, insisted on strict thinking on personal behavior, movies, clothing, dancing. A very defining moment was when she told me I had to take the poster over my bed down because I was no longer “Free” … I was Jesus’s property now. The poster was a beautiful black silhouette of a diver diving down toward water with a stunningly beautiful orange background. The only word at the bottom was “FREE”. I didn't take it down.
I had always been a questioning child. Every question you can imagine about being a Christian, I asked in church and at home. The list is long. I worried a lot about the rest of the world going to damnation and burning in hell before they accepted Jesus and were saved. . What about babies and children who were too young? What about mentally handicapped people? What about people who were living in foreign countries who had never, and never would, hear about Jesus simply because they were born in the wrong place? What Good God would do that? What about people who were born into other world religions and were raised to believe what their families believe? What about animals? What about Catholics? Jewish people? What about Methodists and Presbyterians? My church taught sprinkling was not enough, that Catholics were not in the right religion because their beliefs such as purgatory and worshiping Mary and Catholic saints were very inferior. Why did we call ourselves monotheistic but there seemed to be three Gods. My church was always trying to explain those three Gods. In church then, it seemed very normal to ritualistically and symbolically eat human flesh and drink human blood. That seems now like a really sick, perverse thing to do. If you repeat something, anything enough times as fact and treat it as normal, people will believe it, especially if you hear it from birth!
I also had questions such as why weren’t we allowed to study other religions? Mother would not let me study any other religions or certain histories such as Greek and Roman Gods. My family associated with other Christian families only, generally Baptist and mostly from our church only. Even the Baptist church just down the street was considered inferior and bashed. There had been a falling out with them a decade or two before. The only “parties” at my home I can remember besides holiday family celebrations were Bible Study ladies only meetings that were very stressful for Mother to get ready for. We never had company/friends for dinner or celebrations other than the family holiday meals, most associated with Thankgiving, Christmas and Easter holidays. I attended only Baptist Churches and we found one to attend even on vacations. I was discouraged from having friends of any other religion and encouraged to eventually marry a Christian of course. They tried to teach me to proselytize by visiting other neighborhood families to convert them … invite them to church for the purpose of converting them. I wasn’t any good at that at all. My heart was not into it. How could I convert people to something that I had so many unanswered questions about. The answers that I got from home and church were interesting. I would ask the same question to multiple people and they would think up an answer, but the answers were obviously made up on the spot. I’m sure they just wanted me to quit asking. I muddled through from age 12 to 16, but at 16 I was observing so much hypocrisy in my peers, that I said to all that would listen. I quit this religion, I don’t exactly know what is wrong here, I can't figure it out now, but I’m taking a mental break and I will figure this out later when I have time. I have a life to live and a world to explore here, and I don’t intend to lose the opportunity.
There is a story here to tell that clarified somewhat and was another moment that altered and confirmed my suspicions about what I was experiencing. Our “sister” church, West Asheville Baptist, down the street, (made the mistake of) inviting an old Jewish man to a Girl’s Auxiliary meeting and my church GA group went. This was the first Jewish person I had ever seen, much less met. It was an oddity for sure and I asked questions for sure. I asked “What do you guys (Jews) believe about this?”...... He answered “Well, we are free to decide what we believe about that, some of us believe this and some believe other things” . I asked another question and got the same answer. He was free to interpret his bible and his religion as he felt led to. Wow!!! I thought Really!!! I thought. Freedom to think for himself, i wanted some of that for sure. I quit my church soon after and took 10 years off and cleared my head, married Jewish, raised my children with little focus on any religion. After 10 years I faced my past and deliberately started attending my old church for about a year, and then another local Southern Baptist Church in South Asheville.
At the church of my youth, I was in a Sunday school class and actually taught the class a few times. I studied like crazy, listened and observed like crazy. A defining moment in those few years was when one of my peers from my youth who lived in Eastern NC and was involved with a Christian softball team came back "home" and attended the Sunday School class I was a member of. I think it was a county softball league that should include everybody. He was trying to keep a Morman softball team from playing in the league. I was appalled by that and that fellow, who is now an “important person” in the Baptist Association walked into the Sunday School class and started talking about the situation the morning that an article about it was in our local paper. I can’t describe my disgust with him at that moment realizing that he was endorsing and literally working toward this goal. He was leading one "Christian" religious group to persecute another “Christian” religious group. It made me want to walk out right then. I was stunned.
Soon after that I tried the other church in South Asheville for three years. I kept studying the Bible with a critical eye and watching and listening to people until I figured out the general idea of what was going on and what was some truths about Christian religion and all organized religions in general.
These are some of the things I figured out. You can manipulate people, especially children and people under stress with Groupthink and peer pressure. Religions say they know the answers, but nobody seems to agree on any aspect at all. The Bible is a book of books that was written and translated by people and there is debate about even the most minute' idea, story, doctrine and each Christian denomination teaches what is the “truth” differently. Some Christian beliefs are pretty benign, while others are dangerous and Earth changing in a bad way. Some really scary, twisted stuff can be believed and justified by all religions, including Christian. Pretty much everything can be justified by some passage in the Bible. The words Faith, Trust, and Belief are based on the premise that something is probably not true. The Old Testament is made of stories to guide the uneducated, illiterate simple folk of the time to some understanding of the complex universe and to obey leaders and ultimately to give those leaders property and money. It is a beautiful strategy of control that continues to work wonderfully to this day. I learned that if you control the mind of a person, you can control their money. And I learned that the more fanciful and dramatic a religion is…. if you can get people to believe it….. the more they are “hooked” and unable to think or escape, because they don’t want to admit that they, or their family, or their church or their country could be wrong and have been conned. I learned that you can’t talk to Christians about the subject of religion. No open thought allowed…. against the rules to listen. They only want to convince and convert (and reassure themselves and each other constantly that there are others that believe what they believe). It’s interesting to me that one of my favorite subjects to talk about is religion, but the one group I can’t have a rational conversation with is Christians. And it blows my mind that they don’t realize this!
Another experience with a local Baptist church was when my son was about 10 years old. We saw a poster about a car derby where you build a little car of a certain weight, size and could bring it and roll it down a ramp and compete with other children’s cars. The poster said nothing about religion. It sounded like fun, so he carved a car out of wood and made wheels. The competition was at Bent Creek Baptist Church. After the competition, they sat the children down and a man started telling a story about a little child that did not give himself to Jesus quick enough and was too late because he died and did not go to heaven. I wish I had that moment back now to react differently, but we did get out of there as quick as we could and never went through that dark door again.
We sometimes went to church here and there, mostly to make some family member or another happy, but the children and I were never happy or felt good about being in any Christian Church. The only congregation that I have felt like I was accepted and supported is the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville. They support everyone and try to do the right things to make the whole world a better place for all to live.
The last time I was in a Baptist Church was about 20 years ago for a funeral at W. Ash. Baptist. It was a very large, and religiously mixed, crowd. I was there for the funeral of one of my co-worker’s son-in-law who had passed away. Many teachers were there including a Jewish teacher that I was standing next to. Listening to the typical sermon preached at a Baptist church funeral (which they consider as their opportunity to indoctrinate), the minister quoted someone who said, “I’d rather be a dead dog, than a live Jew”. In no way could that be explained away by any words. I was shocked to say the least. At the end of the service, the minister said. “Everyone who wants to rededicate their life to Jesus Christ stand up”. Everyone, of course, stood, including the Jewish teacher.. Peer pressure?…. I did not. I sat in my seat with my school staff around me. I don’t think I’ve been back in a Southern Baptist Church since. I’ve been to many services of other religions as an interested, learning observer. Latter Day Saints, Muslim, Catholic in the US and Mexico, Jewish and African American protestant …..I find it hard to believe that these type incidences don’t happen regularly in Southern Baptist Churches. I don’t think that I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, over and over.
The recent Christian attitude toward politics and nationalism are frightening to me. That Christian wing is radical and seems to want Armageddon and the rapture to get here as soon as possible. They plan to just get raptured up and take no responsibility for damage human religions have done including the environment, plant and animal life, sins of human bondage, imperialism throughout the world that was used to justify the taking of lands, culture, assets of countless countries and peoples and kill people who were in the way of their goals.
The thought that my heritage as a white person from a Christian tradition, was responsible for so much pain, suffering, killing, asset taking, etc., weighs heavily on my heart. I feel much more sinful for this background than any “sin” I may have actually committed in my life. I can’t even imagine how I could ever atone for it. I can only try to live better than that for the Earth’s environmental health and for reparations and for encouraging others around me to do the same. I am pleased with my life in that regard. I did take most every opportunity that was given to me to work on these issues within the realm of marriage, children to raise, and job to make money in. Writing this is therapeutic and as religion should do, writing helps me center my thoughts and decide how to proceed in the last years of my life.
Events in my life that I do feel were kind of decided on by my Higher Power and I accepted as my life challenges
Marrying Jewish was a decision that helped me distance myself formally from my birth religion. I liked the monotheism and the bit more freedom to interpret religious thought. I enjoyed learning about the rituals and history of the Jewish people and the understanding of who could be fully Jewish by heredity, who could be partly Jewish by heredity (mother being Jewish and father not) and who might choose to convert. I’ve always loved reading about all religions….. Some religions are just lunatic crazy, fantasy filled, reclusive, secretive, and many times downright dangerous. But others, more rational and positive thinking. I always gravitated toward admiring the inclusive ones such as Baha’i, the practice of Buddhism and of course Unitarian Universalist.
What has been nice is to live a life that studied religion, appreciated the good and noted the bad. It just gives a soul a lack of angst, knowing that nobody has the answers and they are not being honest with themselves and others if they claim to. It is a clinical way of looking at things, but having a personal Higher Power that you get to feel yourself, instead of having to describe, is as miraculous and as magical a thing as any contrived, made up religion or structured definition of God.
That magic inside seems to not come from religion though. I think that that feeling gets mixed up and claimed by religions, when it is not theirs to claim. Any individual can find it on their own. And then it is pure and simple and can be heard easily. Practice at listening helps, quiet times, loving thoughts, observing and appreciating nature and seeking to be a part of the world in good ways. One thing that I think is flawed about Christianity is that it decrees that you are not to be a part of the world and that God is outside of you and has to be found and worshiped. It tells you that the world is a bad, evil place and you can’t live there. It is so sad to watch people seclude themselves from the beauties and learning in the world because it is called evil. I am not saying there is not evil in the world to avoid, I’m saying that if you listen to nature and that voice inside, you can choose to find the good and discourage the evil. If you need religion as a guide, only use it as a tool, not as a crutch or look to it for punishment or to magically save you. You don’t need religion to muddy up the water and complicate your image of the creative force in the universe. The purer your understanding of any concept of God, the easier it is to connect to it. No intermediaries needed. No rituals needed or required. Nothing in your way. Nothing to be fearful of. Just your own personal connection.
I do feel I am a lucky one. I seem to be the one person to escape the religion provided by Grace Baptist Church. I know of no other person who rebelled so thoroughly as I did. It is a mystery to me why it was so obvious and relatively easy for me, when countless peers are still trapped in some way by their childhood, family, community traditions. The pageants were beautiful, white dresses, angel wings and halos, candles, dramatic songs, and passionate voices. Calls to the altar for sinners to repent were tearful and dramatic. Bible study was thorough and constant. Peer pressure was constant with many different groups to be a part of, all focused on the same goal though. One goal only. To be saved and to convince others to be saved. The main, most important ritual, that of eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood now seems creepy like something that some jungle headhunting cannibal tribe would think up. It was romanticized into normal, routine, necessary, powerful and transforming. Being dunked under water is not that insidious, but still it was necessary for salvation. That is pretty extreme thinking when you look at it from the rational outside. At least Jewish circumcision had some medical cleanliness benefits to redeem it and Jewish food restrictions and other restrictions did protect the masses somewhat from getting poisoned by bad seafood and other maladies. There’s a bit more logic to those core teachings. Jewish teachings tended to try to guide the populous to good, healthy habits, but ultimately the typical fanaticism turned those rules into doctrine instead of guidance. It’s a shame…. The basic one God as creator concept could have evolved into a purer, simpler form and been a more universal positive example of a religion.
I wanted to go to college at Appalachian State University after high school. I had the grades and the scores to get in and was College Prep. I wanted to take Interior Design and ski in Boone, NC. My parents said “No, no, no.... That is not what you want to do”. I actually did that, decorated and skied, for my whole life. I love sewing, grabbing stuff on the side of the road and fixing it up, furniture refinishing, quilt making, concrete/brick/broken granite patio building, painting, etc. And skiing. I’m a lifelong, downhill skier to this day. Anyway, I then told my parents that I wanted to take a year off and travel around… gap year…. “No, no, no you don’t want to do that”, they said… and I finally asked, “Well, What DO I want to do?". Mother said. “You want to go to AB Tech and study Secretarial Science. So that is what I did for two years. I grew up some, played Pinochle, Hearts and Spades with the Vietnam Vets and eventually flunked Shorthand. I'm a bit ADHD. The head of the department called me into her office after the fourth of six quarters. She said I was finished and was not going to graduate and kicked me out. I went out crying and then decided to just go up and register anyway for all the classes except Shorthand. That same scenario happened again the next quarter … kicked out again.. and I ignored her again and registered for the last semester. I went back a couple of years later and graduated from the Office Technology Program…. Later, with 2 children, I went to night school for six years at Mars Hill College and graduated with a BS in Business and concentration in Management. I had about 15 different little jobs from high school on such as gas station attendant, campaign secretary, phone selling real estate and steel siding, answering service, freight company secretary, retail.....
One job that influenced me greatly and taught me more independent thinking was my job at 19 years old at Biltmore Forest Country Club. I needed to find a job after two years at AB Tech so I dressed up nicely, got in my car, and drove down the road. I pulled the car to the side of the road and thought… Where in this whole city would I like most to work? I said to myself, BFCC. I drove there and they hired me on the spot. I spent 15 months there working in all the offices, reception, accounts receivable and payroll (and Santa's Elf for 2 Christmas'). They allowed Black people to attend private parties in Jake’s Lounge only and Jewish people were not allowed in the building at all. They tried to coach me how to profile for black registrations on the phone. I do remember asking the longtime Accts. Receivable lady why BFCC was like that and she described it as “Old School”. I became friends with two Black employees that enriched my life greatly with their friendship and quiet dedication to their jobs. I met Billy Graham there. He was an honorary member and obviously had no problem playing golf there. I married my Jewish husband and took his name and two weeks later, my timecard was pulled for no reason that I knew of, and I was no longer employed there. A couple of years later, I wrote letters to all the Board and delivered them to the manager to give to the board members. I protested the race policy and the fact that they taught a 19 year old to profile for Black reservations with the goal of refusing service. I never had an occasion to use that employee training, thankfully.
Racism can so easily be tied to religion. It is the same type of thoughts and feelings, but different placement. A religion that teaches that all other religions are wrong except theirs, and a race that thinks that all other races are inferior except theirs is a very similar mindset. Mindset…. What an interesting word!
One thing that I have noticed about myself throughout my life that is not very average for humans is that I’ve always liked putting myself in places of discomfort. A good early example is once when I was about 12 years old I called a neighbor girl to come down to my front porch and I asked her to throw me off the porch! I wanted to test my skinny little self to see if I could stay on the porch. She, of course, threw me in the bushes. I got back up on the porch and asked her to try to throw me off again. She did. I thanked her and we went off to play. I did that at least one more time….I asked my best friend to kick me off a bed, and she did! Onto the floor I went falling off that bed, over and over. It was my way of testing my physical strength, of which I had little.
I have dozens of examples of places of discomfort that I put myself in all my life. It can be exhilarating, affirming and really good practice to do. To purposely place yourself in slight but real physical or emotional danger enhances your ability to manage any situation that comes around unexpectedly that you have to react to properly for your safety or the safety of others. Occasions, such as speaking in public, are great examples of this. To use any simple occasion to practice, helps when you get suddenly put in that situation in real life, which has happened to me. The most people I ever spoke in front of extemporaneously was at a large school-related conference. I was in a room with hundreds of school personnel. The speaker asked if anyone in the audience was out of debt to raise their hand. I was the only person, at least that she saw, I guess, that raised their hand. She gave the room a short exercise and came over and listened to my story. She then asked me if I would get up and talk about it. I wrote a few key words on my hand and gave a 5 or so minute talk about having a husband with a potentially life ending disease, having 2 young children and how important and reassuring it was to be out of debt with the house paid off. I could write another book about how to save money and get out of debt, but this is not that time.
I was horribly shy through high school, but after that, I was never shy again. Since high school I’ve never walked into a room full of people and felt uncomfortable. I love to find the most lonely looking person in the room and go talk to them…. and everybody else. My high school 10 year reunion was the greatest therapy session I ever had because I was able to walk up to and talk to all those people that I was so afraid of, and intimidated by in high school. I was hooked on class reunions, and planning them, from then on.
It took a few years for it to dawn on me that my class reunion was segregated. My school, Lee Edwards and Stevens Lee High Schools were officially desegregated the first year I attended, in 1969. Stevens Lee, the High School for Asheville’s Black students, was closed and the students sent to the Lee Edwards High School building and it was renamed Asheville High School. The powers in charge of that did not welcome the staff of Stevens Lee to teach and did not send any of the trophies or history of any kind to Asheville High. It was like that beloved school and its history died and was buried. The concept of coming together (integrating) was one-sided. There was a reaction that manifested itself as walkouts and a riot my first year and again my senior year of high school. At that time, nothing was explained or clear why the unrest happened, and it wasn’t until decades later that I understood that history fully, if that is ever really possible for a white person.
Our class reunions evolved as separate. As the 20 year reunion approached, this reality hit me hard. Most of the former reunion committee didn’t seem interested in combining the reunion, and they did not help plan it. I took over the database and started adding the Black classmates. A new white reunion committee worked with the Black reunion committee and successfully combined every occasion except the dance. The Saturday night dances were separate, but a picnic, Friday evening at the old S&W cafeteria and a Sunday worship service at an African American church downtown were together.
For the next reunion, no one wanted to be on the white reunion committee but me. With permission from the class president, I transferred the money from the white class reunion account into the account of the Black reunion committee and started attending their meetings. All major reunions after that were totally together. I’m not saying it was easy or without controversy, but they were successful and well attended and appreciated by the vast majority of class members. Trying to combine different traditions was the most difficult place of discomfort I have ever put myself in, but it was worth it when our class would come together.
The various “places of discomfort” that I talk about also include Spanish classes, publishing my websites, modern and ballet dancing on stage (in end of the year shows with various dance classes) and somewhat risky sports such as downhill skiing, horseback riding (about 6 years of trail riding and classes in ring riding and games), downhill recumbent triking, biking, indoor climbing, kayaking, ocean and lake swimming, and just anything that happens along like that.
I tell people that I have lived life a little backwards. In my youth, I lived my old age. I stayed home 11 years and raised two independent minded children of which I am incredibly proud, completed school at Mars Hill College and helped start Asheville Quilt Guild, and I make quilts for money and other sewing projects. I made about 95 hand-quilted quilts …. The first 5.5 were hand pieced and hand quilted. I cooked and kept house, stayed home, volunteered and socialized with only a handful of friends, and a lot of older quilters. Things older people tend to do. In my middle age, I have enjoyed youth. I became physically stronger and love many kinds of outdoor sports and activities. I will pretty much try and enjoy anything that comes along. The list is long, but the last couple of years have been extraordinarily good with taking up zip-lining, indoor climbing, Colorado, Montana and W. Virginia skiing, some giant slalom ski racing, water skiing after a 50 year hiatus, slid down Sliding Rock and climbed Turtleneck Falls and slid off the falls. This summer I've done recumbent triking with 50 down hill miles on curvy mountain roads, kayaking rapids and lakes, hiking and biking longer distances. Still in my youth at 66 years old, so far, due to some good luck, being careful, and calculating risk vs. reward well. I plan to do my “middle age” later… when I get older, if I stay lucky and careful!
After quilting so many years, I switched to building patios and other projects from brick/tile/broken granite and concrete and doing a lot of tile work. I’ve cleaned grout off of more than a thousand bricks in the last couple of years to build a patio and circle flower beds. I do an extreme amount of flower gardening. My yard was on a garden tour a few years ago. Lots of manual labor and regular yoga, and a fairly decent diet with much less meat, staying away from processed foods and chain restaurants has helped me stay younger and able. I put in a small vegetable garden this year and planted some fruit trees. My freezer is full for the winter and i plan to plant greens soon.
About 25 years ago I decided to learn Spanish. I just wanted to know another language and I went after that goal with a vengeance. I took about 7, 30-hour Spanish classes and then I asked my school system to send me to Immersion School. They said yes. I worked with many Hispanic families at my school, and facilitated communications of all kinds. As the person who answered the telephone, I had opportunities to practice my Spanish. I chose Merida, Yucatan, Mexico and went for two weeks to an immersion school. My best friends ironically came to Merida during the same period of time and in the 105 degree heat , we fell in love with Merida. They bought and renovated a house in Merida and I watched. I eventually bought a house at the beach between two fishing villages, Chelem, 20 miles north of Merida and 5 miles west of Progreso. I have owned and have been renovating it for the last 12 years. I love to travel there.
I spent my career working my way up a short ladder of success in public education as a volunteer, a substitute teacher K-12 and any and all specialists, classroom Instructional Assistant in three different grade levels, and finally 24 years as data manager/receptionist at Vance Elementary School retiring three years ago. I loved that office job because of the contact with so many people and children and the work and social diversity of an inner city elementary school office. Never a dull moment for sure. I loved being where the action was! I've subbed on regular school bus routes and driven activity buses for 25 years. I have spent the last three school years substitute teaching some but mostly driving and riding on various buses to various places for various schools. This last year, (before the Covid 19 pandemic ended my working when schools closed), I was on an EC handicapped/behavioral bus riding and sometimes driving all day routes. It has been different having to stay home away from Covid and not travel as I was. It has given me time though, to finish my websites, unindoctrinate.com and describeGod.com and work on this memoir, and get my garden, house and live in general in good shape.
I’ve gone back to school taking one specialty course and thinking about going into a different line of paid or volunteer work. It would be good work, for a good cause and I can use my Spanish.
Having time to reflect on my life and how it has been lived and what impacts I would like to leave on this fine Earth after I’m gone are motivating. I’ve been scanning old photos, hundreds of them, and they do show a full life, with ups and down, joys and frustrations. I gave myself a fresh start about 18 months ago by leaving a hopelessly dysfunctional marriage of 44 years. Not going to detail there, but I do know that leaving has brought me to a better place mentally and let me affirm myself as an individual. I really know who I am now and look forward to opportunities that are surely out there for me. Bloom where you are planted…. as they say. Writing is good mental therapy, but writing for me is part of how I intend to complete my plan for influencing the world to be a better place, hopefully making my personal life a good and positive influence on other people in a multitude of ways…. In as many ways as are possible for me! Some relatively small ways, like life’s work which influences only the people you come in contact with and some influences that might be bigger, like websites focused toward particular issues that could help the world to understand and communicate better and help people get along with each other. And finally, a most enjoyable influence for me has been bringing people together, dinner with friends, social engagements, volunteer work and having friends that you love that has led to accepting and giving support.
Looking to have a well rounded life experience and telling the world about it seems a good way to wrap a life up in a meaningful way. I can only ask that of myself. Dena Gettleman 8/1/2020