I am just now home from a weekend in Stockton attending a Society of Women Engineer's conference. It's a 90-105 min drive depending on traffic. Two things happened this weekend which came together to me on the drive back.
I am fortunate in my life to have many young women who are very dear to me. I know most of them through Girl Scouts - as members of the legendary Troop 757, or as aides at Peninsula Day Camp or because I was their Gold Award adviser. When one of them reaches out to me, I respond as fast as I can. One is currently a student at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). You may have heard that there was an incident that brought up questions of racial understanding. My friend called because she's been in a group which has always been able to talk about things and suddenly they are polarized. She is confused and disappointed. She is wonderful and wants to deal directly with this situation. We talked a while about why people react so strongly, about race and even about gender. She had some ideas and I made some suggestions. I'm forcing my very tired self to write this entry for her.
Today is Purim, the Jewish Holiday that celebrates the Jews escaping a death sentence in Persia. It's one of my favorites partly because it's subtitle is the "Festival of Esther." She was a queen who saved her people and I always relate to that. But I missed our congregation's Purim Spiel because I was at the conference. I recently learned that there is a major SWE meeting being scheduled for Sept 18. Upon hearing the date, I whipped out my calendar and found it was Yom Kippur.
At our business meeting this morning, I brought up this conflict. I found as I spoke I was getting more impassioned. I said that SWE is organization that has diversity in its mission and was quite upset by this conflict and that nobody checked or addressed it. I explained it is the holiest day of the Jewish year. The event coordinator pointed out that the weekend was chosen because of a large event that the committee felt would attract people. There were some comments along the lines of "there are only so many weekends" and Kwanzaa was tossed out as an example. I asked would they schedule on Easter and was told that a partner organization actually had. The discussion then evolved into one about the attraction of the external event, why people attend this particular SWE event and how changes in our organizational structure had removed the primary reason that began this event.
Eventually, it was agreed to do a survey. The coordinator was most appropriately upset because all of her hard work was potentially being wasted. I tried to apologize for causing her stress. BUT, I was still upset. Not for the first time in the past year, I questioned why I give so much of my time, energy and yes money, to supporting this organization. Don't get me wrong, I love SWE, I really love a lot of the women I know. There are many who, when they reach out, I respond rapidly. But these "small" things add up.
Driving home alone, I started analyzing my responses. I realize I do not feel anger that they scheduled on Yom Kippur, as I would have years ago. Instead, I feel alone and marginalized. When I first learned about the conflict, I contacted a diversity advocate friend of another ethnicity and asked "are there so few Jews in SWE that we don't matter?" I was not the only Jew in the room and the other of whom I'm aware was quite supportive. But nobody, nobody else acknowledged that this was anything except my problem. Nobody said, "I'm sorry this situation has arisen" or "we didn't know the importance" or even "you have a point." The conversation went rather rapidly into (a more comfortable?) discussion of the value of the external attraction and the event itself. Quite frankly, I left disappointed at the lack of sensitivity - in an organization that has in its mission statement "the value of diversity."
And then, I had an "aha". This is probably what is affecting the dialogue at UCSD. Those who are the "other" are upset about an incident that showed lack of sensitivity. They are having a hard time moving on to dialogue because nobody has said (or they haven't heard) "you have a point." I gave my young friend advice that was along those lines but not quite so direct. I need to call her back.
Now, if you're still reading, you might be wondering about the title of this post. When I drive more than an hour by myself, I have certain road trip CDs that I play. One of my favorite singers, who still performs, whom I still love, is a folksinger/song writer from New England in the sixties, Tom Rush. This weekend I was playing the double CD of Merrimack County and Ladies Love Outlaws. About the point I crossed the Altamont Pass (with the HP1000 controlled windmills!) and I was torn between coming straight home and pulling over to take pictures, Tom and I started singing Guy Clark's song, Desperados Waiting for a Train. It's an ode to a man who befriended a boy and how one grew old as the other grew up. "He's a drifter, a driller of oil wells, He's an old school man of the world" At seventy, the older man wonders, "Lord, why has every well I've drilled gone dry?" The full song reminds me of the death of my father two years ago at 90 and I tear up. But today, after this morning's meeting, at sixty-two myself, I wondered if my metaphorically drilled wells were going dry and yes, sleep deprived, disappointed and missing home, I cried.
It's a couple of hours later. I've hugged my husband and my cats and had lunch. Shortly, I'm heading out to a baby shower given by two more of those dear young women for a third of them. I realize still have some wells flowing.
© 2010 Esther A. Heller