As a teenager, I went to secondary school at Scranton Central High School. There was a rival high school in the area called Scranton Technical High School. Why did I end up at Central? Was it the luck of the draw or was it arbitrary? Did my parents choose the school specifically for me and my needs? Was it divinely inspired that I would attend this high school or was it random? When our football team played against Tech’s football team, a fierce competition was engendered. The cheers were, “Fight fight fight.” Some football players prayed to God to beat the other team. Is God listening to prayers for one team to beat another?

As I was growing up in a Jewish family in a Jewish community, I was sent to Hebrew school for part of the week. I studied Hebrew, where they tried to indoctrinate me into the old structures from the Old Testament. But I was very rebellious and non-compliant with the teachings which brought up tendencies toward anarchy in me. In his utter frustration, my Hebrew school principal once accused me of being a con artist. Perhaps the split of being raised Jewish in a virtually atheistic home caused  this conflict, or perhaps it was my willful, rebellious nature. When I became a teenager, my family told me that I was only allowed to date Jewish boys. Was it then that the seed was planted to never marry a Jewish man? It wasn’t just being told NO that possibly contributed to this eventual decision. I know that from deep within my soul there was some inequity that did not sit well in my Being. My astrological chart suggests an individual who can be a revolutionary on steroids. Was this the ingredient that caused the seeming intractable lack of compliance?

When I was fifteen years old I went on an eight week tour to Israel. During my travels I met many Israelis and many Arabs, but I was clearly on the Israeli team. After all, I had the hair, the uniform and the cultural foundation to prove it. When I traveled to Eilat at the southernmost tip of Israel, I had a life-changing experience. It was a momentary event that would’ve been unnoticeable even to me, except that I have referred back to that moment many times as a time where my consciousness shifted. I was sitting by the edge of the Red Sea at the Gulf of Aqaba looking through binoculars toward the Saudi Arabian peninsula. It was amazing to me that another country that was so different culturally and politically could be so close. When I explored this country through my binoculars, I had a vision of a fifteen year old Saudi girl looking right back at me with her own binoculars. In an instant I realized that this just happened to be the team I was on this time around, that I was not special nor was my team special, and more importantly that I was no different from a Saudi Arabian fifteen year old girl. This revelation blurred the boundaries of self and other, and even the concept of self and enemy.

When I was a freshman in high school I met a boy who I adored from the moment I met him. The fact that Michael was Jewish must have been an oversight. I boldly asked him to the Feb Sophisticate, a formal dance where girls were the initiators. After two years we were relatively exclusive; Michael was the love of my life. After high school, somehow I was able to tear myself away from Michael and go to the University of Miami for college. I can remember incidents involving Michael which were beyond my understanding. One such example  was when I was meandering around the college dorm and I suddenly felt panicked and ran full speed to the elevators and to my room. The moment I ran into the room the phone was ringing and it was Michael. This didn’t surprise me, because our connection was so strong. When he and I discussed the future there was a disparity in our visions; we both saw us together, but he was visualizing a busy urban experience while I was visualizing a quiet rural life which included many animals. In retrospect, I see that this was a fissure that could not be overcome and our destinies would be taking us in completely opposite directions. His would take him to New York City to be a vice president of a major pharmaceutical company and mine would take me to the deep South to become a psychotherapist in and near New Orleans working with cultural diversity.

Other experiences in my early adult life that helped to accelerate my undeniable yearning for inclusivity with diversity was during my college years. After leaving my relatively homogeneous cultural experience in Scranton and going to Miami, I dated boys from as many different cultures as I could meet; Korea, African-American, Japanese just to name a few. In retrospect I can see that to initiate the unavoidable separation from Michael, I had met a handsome, intelligent young man who happened to be African-American and would shift my worldview 180°. The feelings I had for Burgess were more than I could reconcile and once I realized that it was significant, I informed Michael in order to be honorable with my Beloved. This was not received well and I paid the cost of being excommunicated as a significant girlfriend in his life, but in retrospect I consider this turn in events an acceleration of my quest for a more multicultural expression in my life. By entering into an interracial relationship I learned a lot about prejudice and judgment from the inside out. Although painful, this would give me much more insight and depth into the complexity of intolerance.

Another significant contributor to the quality of reconciliation with conflict/diversity was developed in a large part after my divorces. Screenwriter Nora Efron had said, “marriages come and go, but divorce is forever.” Probably my greatest teachings were acquired after my divorces. When the well-being of my child depended on completing ill feelings toward their biological parent, that added a whole new urgency to the forgiveness process. Whether I had a predisposition for this sort of tolerance/forgiveness or whether this was part of my evolution, it was clearly a large part of my personality style. This quality would serve me well in my future vocation as a psychotherapist as well as in my avocations, especially my participation in the interracial gospel choir after September 11th. This quality prepared me well to take a stand against racism and sectarianism when my choir went on tour in Ireland espousing tolerance and reconciliation.

The concept of enemy was a difficult concept for me to hold onto for very long. As angry as I could be at former friends, husbands, teachers or rivals, I was unable to hold onto that concept of adversary without moving into forgiveness. As much as I loved Jerusalem and my team, I equally had room for the Palestinian people. I didn’t know how anyone could read Queen Noor’s autobiography and not feel empathy for the displaced peoples no matter what team, tribe or culture they were born into. I learned a great deal from that fifteen year old Saudi Arabian girl that day in Eilat and I suspect that she learned a great deal from me.

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