I have not been writing much lately, but that has been purposeful, and not out of mere neglect.
Have you ever had a moment in time when you have had many, many things to say — all of them beautifully-crafted, carefully-aimed hand-grenades? Maybe you have; maybe you haven’t. In any event, what I’ve had to say hasn’t been nice at all. And I’ve been focusing, this Lent, on getting the plank out of my own eye, so firing literary missiles was not an option. At least, not until Thursday, 21st April.
On Thursday night, I went to a benefit for a local charity. The party was at a Big Fancy Hotel, and the whole affair reminded me of a time when I was a marginally fancier person. (If there are three themes that frequent readers can take away from my writing they are these: 1) that I used to be fancy; 2) that I am a divorcee and I am not thrilled about it; and 3) that I run.)
Indulge me while I make a few gross generalizations based on my attendance at these events over the years: People who attend a lot of these things tend to speak a certain vocabulary (which, by the way, changes with the wind). Some of them are involved in this sort of party-going in such a fundamental way that they become party-goers. That was almost me: air-kisses, and champagne eyes, and too much money spent on causes about which I did not care, and saying “So Good To See You,” to people I had not before even met.
But it was a nice event for an extremely worthwhile organization. And the ballroom was filled with a canopy of cherry blossoms — and if there is one thing I love, it is cherry blossoms. My years of living in Washington were filled with such joy at cherry blossom time; a harbinger of the thaw and all of the wonderful things that came with spring and summer.
(I had a conversation with my parents not too long ago where I said that I think of Washington as my homebase, really, because my extended family is there; the church that our family is centered in is there; and so many of my friends from high school, college and law school are there. My professional career began there; Washington is where I “go home” to. California is “where my parents live.”)
The Big Fancy Hotel event honored a woman named Ursula Burns, who is the CEO of Xerox. Her speech as she accepted her honor was humble, inspirational, and resonated with me in a way that many of the acceptance speeches and keynote speeches of the events I have attended of late have not.
She said (and I hope I do not misquote), “Who you are is not where you are from.”
And I thought long and hard about that. In context, she was talking about a youth on the rough-and-tumble Lower East Side of Manhattan, and the hard-work that had gone into the rise to being the CEO of Xerox Corporation. And implied therein was the converse of the statement; i.e., looking in the mirror as the CEO, and remembering that the galas and the dinners and the honors along the way was not who she was either.
I got home that night, and I looked in the mirror. I know I talk a lot about my divorce, and my past, and the things that I have lost and that I miss. I thought about recovery; and I thought about heartache and rejection; and I thought about triumph and joy. It seemed easier, after hearing Ms. Burns’ words, to judge myself a little less.
I am the sum of the parts of where I am from, and have learned from them. But I am not defined by these things, merely a better person from the journey.