Saturday, July 15, 2006

Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty


This is a very powerful word around the world. Moreso --and with more nuance-- than most Americans realize or understand.

Forgive me if I've written about this before, but it bears repeating.

Years ago, at West Hollywood's Russian Cultural Festival, there were the usual performances by folk dancers and singers and musicians; books and souvenirs from a homeland faraway.

Among the first wave of refugees from the Soviet Union years ago, as with Miami Beach, there were an untold number of Holocaust survivors who silently bore witness to the worst in humanity. Many of them have since passed away.

The announce at the festival spoke only in Russian, but it wasn't difficult to imagine what he was saying.

Somewhere in his impassioned soliloquy he paused, and reverently pronounced, "America."

Several times more he would do this with the mix of a southern minister and when Tony first repeats the word, "Maria," in West Side Story.

Most immigrant from the former Soviet Union arrive today through JFK or LAX. In this announcer's voice, however, one could see the immigrants of the early 20th century rushing to the deck of their ship to catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, a father hoisting his son upon his shoulders for a better view.


I understood the resonance behind the Russian announcer's enunciation of America.

My brothers and sisters have all been born since we arrived in America. They and my friends and classmates all have hometowns to remember... little things like birth certificates, things I have no personal comprehension of, just a general understanding about. How many of you know what it's like not to have a birth certificate? I have a form from the State Department that says that I am not a figment of my imagination. I have Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal as my Ellis Island.

A hometown. A birth certificate. A place where you know you belong.

I have created a sense of place (remember Jodie Foster and "Pensacola" from First Contact?), a construct of dreams and wishes and wants, of believing in Tinkerbell at Disneyland in the fourth grade, of the stories my mother told us about growing up on a street with filled with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins all living next door to one another. My father's childhood of a farm with a dozen brothers and sisters.

I live today amid a community of many immigrants, refugees, wanderers and lost or displaced people who have each created their own concept of, as Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof, "...of who you are, and what God expects you to be."

On many levels, this is far better than growing up in some town where everyone has always known everyone else, where the sense of place and certainty of its permanence in your life are a given.

The ethereal concept of having a place in the world and knowing what or where it is, is something so many people take for granted.

Daily, I get to re-create the real --and the concept of-- the place I belong.

This week on the news, we have seen that foundation ripped out from under an untold number of people. They are frightened and lost and lashing out.

The sets change, the cast evolves. Yet I have been given a sense of place to be still when all around me moves at a blur.

Aren't most of the conflicts of the world when people feel threatened with the loss of that most essential sense of their construct of the world and where they belong in it?

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