I see from the last piece I wrote here, that I had just returned from England. And now, here I am again, just returned from England, where I had just returned from nine days in New York. Most recently, five minutes ago, I returned to the shade of the oak trees from whence, after a somewhat heated discussion with my lovely husband I had gone to one of the Mediterranean beds in the garden to hack away at some overgrown rosebushes. And suddenly, I don’t understand the word “return.” I keep wanting to separate it into re-turn, but then the word becomes mud. Was it my turn and I had another go = return? Did I turn something around then turn it back? Does it even matter? What seems more important is to take its common usage and go one step further in. That is to say, return, as in coming back to something, or someone, or someplace, assuming all is as it was before you left.
These are the ridiculous semantic debates writers drive themselves crazy with in the mistaken idea that we are getting closer to meaning when in fact most of the time it is an exercise in avoiding the meaning of something that is discomforting us. So, let me return to the discussion Joel and I were having. The topic was, is, white privilege; a superficial description of race and income. Guilty as charged. Except that I don’t feel guilty. Not that I don’t believe there is much to examine by those of us who fit into this category. But can it be okay to have worked one’s way up from working class, from poverty, from welfare and food stamps; from cleaning other people’s houses, working three waitressing shifts a day in three different restaurants and finally, arriving at the age of 71 enjoy a moment of bliss? And is it not only all right to be honest about it, but perhaps even give hope to others that such an arrival could happen to them?
I will never know what it is like to be a person of color. But I know poverty and I know discrimination, not only by virtue of being a woman but because I suffered reverse discrimination twice in the 70’s. The first time, after raising thousands of dollar for a Foundation that funded Third World and grassroots organizations, the board of the foundation…all white heirs… decided I needed to go so that they could fill my job with a person of color, or any other ethnicity than my own. I was given a week’s notice. The second experience of reverse discrimination resulted in my losing custody of my child when she was four because New York State was one of the first states to award custody to fathers; the result of a backlash of the women’s movement demanding equality. Before then, as a mother, in order to lose custody you basically had to be a junkie or physically abusing your child. Now, suddenly, it was determined by the courts that men had equal rights to their children. So whoever had the most expensive lawyer, preferably one that played golf with the presiding judge, got to win custody. And guess which gender could afford the more expensive lawyer?
Anyway, we went to New York a few weeks ago for 9 days to see our family and I spent the entire time with my beautiful daughter, the one I once lost custody of. You could say we have finally been returned to each other, both of us changed for the better, both of us spiritually evolving, both of us filled with gratitude for sharing a profound love that once was lost to us.
And now, we two are part of a larger family. We are the Barrett, Wilder, Weller, Krizmanic, Meyerowitz clan and yep, we’re all white and we’re all privileged; privileged to care for each other, privileged to help each other, privileged to call ourselves family.
From New York we bopped over to London, partly to revisit my naturopath, partly to have a varicose vein inspected, partly to have Joel fitted with invisible hearing aids…so that he can return to the world of sound and so I don’t have to keep fucking repeating myself. And yes, we are most fortunate to be able to avail ourselves of all of this. Even as I write that sentence I start to feel defensive. But not for long. What I keep returning to is the knowledge that we are not all born equal and that I am not personally responsible for that. But what is my responsibility? I think each of us need to decide for ourselves how much to give to others, to the planet, to each other. Each of us must decide which organisations to donate time and money to. I think I’m fairly selfish in that regard. Sure I donate money here and there and try to be of help on a daily basis to those whom I encounter, but I’m trying to accept that actually I am not altruistic. Who knows, maybe that will change. But for now, I’ll admit it, after a lifetime of loss and hardship I’m reveling in the pleasure of living with the man I love, in a place of beauty and tranquility.
Still, as if to prove that I haven’t become a spoiled, lazy cow, I did at the end of our discussion, forego the comfort of reading in the shade and hack back those damn roses until my forearms were scratched to buggery. Having achieved self-flagellation, I returned here to the shade to write to all of you and tell you that I’ve missed you. I’m also writing because I want to share that while in London we found a little pied-a-terre on a tree-lined cul-de-sac near to close friends and Hampstead Heath. This is not something we had been planning…it was just one of those windows of opportunity I spoke of in my last post.
I left England, 52 Years ago, aged 19. I thought, intended actually, to return after two years. During those 52 years I never stopped identifying as English, even though America taught and gave me much. Of course, during the past half century England has changed in many ways, not all of them for the better. Yet there is still something coursing through it that still courses through my veins; it’s in the soil and the trees, and the evening birdsong; in a still to be found rare combination of niceness and eccentricity and in the quick, clever wit and the willingness to make fun of ourselves and the absurdity of life in general. This is what I am returning to. To be clear, Tuscany is still home base, but to be able to be in my homeland whenever I feel like it, is truly a privilege that I never in my wildest dreams imagined would ever be possible.
I’ve always been a bit of a mutt; most adoptees feel this way, and at this stage of my life I’m a bit American and a bit Tuscan and as it turns out, a whole lot English. I’m claiming all that I am, as should we all, without shame, without apology and with acknowledgement and compassion for all who are still suffering and trying to be of service as often as possible. Because the greatest return is giving back some of what so many have given me throughout my life; encouragement, shelter, support, advice, admonishment and love.
An evening breeze has arrived, carrying the tap, tap, tap of Silvia staking the canes in ground for the return of the tomatoes.
With love to you all, Maggie.
PS. I am about to begin a two-week writing retreat to continue working on my novel. I will try to post during that time but in case I don’t find the time, I leave you with this image which to me is a metaphor of the nature of existence: sweetly perfumed, delicate roses pitted against an impending storm.