African Proverb: “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates as: “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”
For my credentialing program I am taking an online course through the UUA called UU Identity. UU identity is formed as a process of development across the lifespan which unfolds through a combination of personal heritage, culture, and lived experiences. It also includes our principles, sources and our rich UU history.
My husband Albert used to love the quote from George Santayana… “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” He also loved everything history related, especially the wars. Ironically, he passed away of Alzheimer’s disease about six years ago. I am not a fan of the doom and gloom warning quote. I like to think of the past in a more positive light.
After only two sessions in my class I am already seeing how all the components that make up our identity are related, but in particular, history’s connection to who we are today. Soul Matters puts it this way: “Remembering those who have gone before and the guidance they have for us today helps you reclaim and remember many of your own stories and treasures long forgotten.” When we tell stories of “past heroes” we don’t just honor them, we increase our ability to act like them.”
Here are some important figures from our UU History that I would like to lift up:
James Luther Adams- (Nov. 12, 1901- July 26, 1994) was a Unitarian parish minister and a Meadville Lombard Theological Divinity School professor for more than 40 years. He is recognized as one of the preeminent Christian social ethicists and theologians of the 20th century. He emphasized personal and institutional behavior as the locus of meaning in religious belief. He was also a labor activist and civil rights advocate.
Francis David – (1520 – Nov. 15, 1579) was a Unitarian preacher from Transylvania, the founder of the Unitarian Church of Transylvania, and the leading figure of the Nontrinitarian movements during the Protestant Reformation. This year (2018) marks the 450th celebration of the Edict of Torda in Transylvania in which David convinced the king to allow the people to have freedom of religion, the beginning of our liberal religion! This month marks the anniversary of the death of David in prison.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper- (September 24, 1825- February 22, 1911) An African American woman who challenged Unitarians and other Christians to practice a form of religion that reflected “a stronger sense of justice and a more Christlike humanity in behalf of those . . . homeless, ignorant, and poor.” She believed the struggles for black Americans and women of all races were connected. “Justice is not fulfilled so long as woman is unequal before the law. We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul.” – Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
In my research of these three figures (and many more), I discovered that they became who they were through their life experiences. Many of the figures in UU history were exposed to racism, injustice and devastating losses. They were beaten, robbed of their freedoms and sometimes killed. They witnessed the mistreatment and misfortune of others. This is what made them our UU Heroes. It is what made them stand up and make a difference.
One of the exercises in the class was to create a timeline (which was called a river journey) of my life. It was called this to illustrate the flow and many turns in the formation of our identities. When I was finished with mine, I was actually embarrassed and somewhat ashamed to present it. This is because I am not proud of my abusive childhood or racist upbringing. I am not proud of my failed relationships. But I learned that all of the other students in my class had some similar experiences and some different experiences. Those are what formed our identities AND we are all UUs. We were all brought to this faith! I have always thought that if I could change some of the bad things in my life, that I wouldn’t because they are what made me who I am today. I mentioned I did not like Albert’s favorite quote. I like this one much better: “If memory had a voice, it wouldn’t sing remember me. It would call out, don’t forget who you are.” –soul matters
I love who I am. I love what I do. I love that my journey has led me to a place where I can make a difference in our world. I love how it has allowed me to foster a UU identity in children, youth and adults in the never ending quest to create lifelong UUs.
“Riding the 17” is a short autobiographical story by Kathleen Hogue
Riding The 17
It is nearly midnight on a Tuesday and Anita Knapp is still serving customers at Red Lobster. At forty years old she works two jobs and takes full time classes at the local University. Every joint in her body aches and she can’t wait to get home and crawl into bed. As she politely says good night to the nice young couple from out of town and gives them their check, Anita’s cell phone vibrates in her apron. Who could be calling me at this hour, she wonders as she walks into the kitchen to take the call.
“Hello, this is the Tucson Police Department. Is this Anita?”
“Yes it is,” replies Anita, “I take it you have Albert in your custody?”
“Yes we do,” the female officer acknowledges, “is it possible for you to come and pick him up?”
Everyday it’s the same thing, thought Albert as he got up at 4:30 that morning careful not to wake his wife Anita. I start by finding my dentures, cleaning them and putting them in. Then I shower dress, and shave. But this morning it had been different because he couldn’t find the new shaver that Anita got him for his birthday. After spending some time looking for it he decided it wouldn’t hurt to skip shaving for one day. For Albert routine is everything and this one change would throw off his entire day. While combing his thin grey hair Albert walked into fifteen year old Katie’s room.
“I need to tell you something important about my job Katie,” he said.
As he told her about work, Katie looked at him with bewilderment.
“I’m sorry Dad” she said “but you’re just not making any sense and I’ve got to get ready for school.”
A few minutes later, back in his own room, he remembers becoming frustrated but he doesn’t remember why. For some reason Katie had stormed out of the room shouting “You’re not my father anymore!” “Oh well,” thought Albert as he finished combing his hair and let the dogs out before hurrying off to the bus stop to catch the number 17.
This is it, Anita thinks as she clocks out ten minutes after hanging up with the police. I don’t think I can do this anymore. The officers had agreed to bring Albert home but that was the least of her worries. Poor Katie had been through so much already and she was such a good kid. Though Anita and Albert had divorced over eight years ago, their daughter Katie had begged her to let him move back in with them when he began having problems two years ago. Throughout most of their marriage she had truly loved him, despite the thirty five year age span; it was his constant paranoia and jealousy that led to the divorce. So far letting him live with her again was one of the hardest things Anita had ever done. Things had become much worse over the past few months, and this morning had been no exception. Katie told Anita on the phone about what her father had done that morning.
“Mom, can you believe he accused me of being pregnant?” she asked, “he just wasn’t making any sense.”
Despite her clear skin, blue-green eyes, beautiful flowing auburn hair, and a figure that should be a crime for any fifteen year old to possess, Katie was already having a self image problem after breaking up with her boyfriend. “The worst part,” continued Katie “is that he came in my room at 4:00 in the morning in just his underwear. He really freaked me out! I finally got him to get out of my room by screaming at him, but then he stormed out of the house and left the front door open. I was late for school because the dogs got out.”
As Anita drove the three miles home through the nearly deserted streets, she wondered what excuse he was going to come up with this time. Last week the bus had taken the wrong route. On Tuesday some guy had asked him to help move some furniture. No matter what it was, she knew that the best thing to do was to keep him calm and happy, even if what he said was absolute nonsense, like it was when she had come home from her class earlier that afternoon. After his argument with Katie, Albert made it to the bus stop just in time. As the bus drove by Jim Click Ford Dealership he couldn’t help but stare at the little red convertible on display. He had to sell his almost new red sports car to help support Katie and his wife. I never had to wait for a bus when I had my own car, thought Albert. “Only $22, 000,” he exclaimed. The other riders on the bus laughed.
A young woman, about seven months pregnant replied, “I could do so much more with $22,000, it would be a waste to spend it on a car like that.”
“You’re probably right,” Albert responded while staring at the woman’s enlarged belly. “How pregnant are you?” he asked the woman, the convertible completely forgotten. The woman stared at him in disbelief. “Does your mother know?” He pried further. Just then the bus pulled up to his stop.
Albert walked briskly up to the front doors of the fitness center and found the doors locked. The employees here are so incompetent thought Albert as he walked around to the side of the building and slammed his fists against the door. Continuing to walk around the building he was finally able to get in at the same time that a cleaning lady was coming out.
“It’s about time!” he muttered while brushing past her.
“Hey!” called a uniformed man from the front desk.
“Good morning,” Albert called back as he bounded the stairs leading to the track.
Later, as he is heading off once more for the bus stop, he wonders how long he can keep up working two jobs. He is so sick of his wife making everything hard on him. That argument that they had this morning was the worst ever! On the bus again, he remembers the good times. There was a time when we were happy together, he thinks to himself, we talked, danced, and made love. Now every time I bring it up she acts like I’m asking her to do something disgusting. On top of that, she orders me around all the time! Maybe all this hard work is for nothing. After so many years, should I ask for a divorce? If she was there when he got home, he would talk to her about it.
While she waits at a traffic light, Anita continues to think about how well she handled Albert earlier that afternoon. Albert had been visibly agitated when he greeted her at the door.
“Where have you been? I have been waiting here for you all day,” he complained.
Anita walked into her room shaking out her long blonde hair and hiding her keys in the usual place. Next she took two deep calming breaths then hastily returned to the family room. He was quite persistent in following her lately, and he just refused to stay out of her room. “I talked to the manager at Eegees today,” she said nonchalantly as she nearly collided with him in the doorway. Anita had spoken to the manager and some of the employees about Albert, who all thought he was a nice old man. She had left them her cell phone number just in case there were any problems.
“You talked to my boss, why would you do a thing like that?” Albert asked nervously.
Anita rubbed her tired feet and thought about how much she would rather be taking a nap. “I was just making sure you were OK. Katie told me that you seemed upset this morning.”
“What did my boss say?”
Anita could see that he was concerned. “They all really like having you there.” she said.
“Really, can I go back tomorrow?” he asked excitedly, “cause I told him maybe I should take some time off till’ things got better.”
I’m really getting good at this, and I’m not really lying, thought Anita. “No. He said everything is fine; they really want you to come back.”
“Thanks for doing that,” Albert said with tears in his eyes.
Thinking they were done talking, Anita headed off to the bathroom to get ready for her serving job. In the bathroom she started putting in her contacts. But with Albert, nothing was that easy. He wanted to tell her about the problems he had at the fitness center that morning. Anita really didn’t have time for this. For the next half hour she smiled, agreed, expressed concern, and did whatever it took to get the conversation over with.
Anita is smiling as the light turns green and she turns the corner onto their street.
Following his conversation with Anita, Albert was feeling much better. As soon as she left for work he told Katie goodbye and headed off to the bus once again.
“Dad, where are you going now?” she asked before he could get out the door.
“Those assholes down at the store want me to come back to work.”
“OK Dad, be careful.”
After work, while waiting for the incredibly slow bus to arrive, Albert thought of what life would be like without Anita. Somehow she didn’t seem so mean to him anymore. A nicely dressed clean cut man approached him. Uh oh, here comes another faggot. Why won’t those people just leave me alone? he thought. The following hour or so is a blur. All he can remember later as he describes what happed to him is the man trying to get his pants off.
Anita’s smile faded as she pulled into the driveway and saw the female officer talking to Katie in the doorway. Katie had been crying.
“Everything is fine Mrs. Knapp,” the officer assured her. “A nice young man found Albert sleeping at the bus stop across from Eegees. He talked to him for a few minutes and then took his cell phone from his belt clip so he could call us.”
“Thank you so much officers,” Anita said gratefully.
“We don’t mind bringing him home, but there are two other incidences that we think he may have been involved in.” The other officer took out his notebook and explained that just that morning they had gotten two calls about an elderly gentleman causing trouble. The report said that at about 6:00 AM a man looking remarkably like Albert had tried to drive off with the number 17 bus. Luckily the driver was just returning from a trip to the bathroom at a gas station nearby and was able to catch up to the bus as it was pulling away. “The elderly gentleman was quite strong and put up a fight before running off down the street,” said the officer smiling. At about 7:00 AM it was reported that a man fitting the same description tried to break in to the local fitness center. He had nearly knocked down a cleaning lady.
Anita tried to apologize. “It’s not easy for Katie and me; we do the best we can. I can’t keep him locked up in his room and I don’t have the money to put him in a care facility.”
The officers saw this situation all too often, and all it did for them was add to their paperwork. “Just keep him inside after dark,” they said as they left giving her some numbers for support groups. After closing the door Anita sent Katie to her room and began screaming at Albert who was sitting in a chair in the dining room. “What were you thinking going out so late? You could have been killed.”
Albert began to sob, “It’s not my fault,” he pleaded, “if the police had not come to help me there is no telling what that faggot would have done.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The queer that tried to get into my pants that’s what!”
Anita was astonished. “That man helped you tonight. He was just getting your phone so he could call the police to come and take you home, you should be grateful.”
“That’s not true. I know what he was trying to do. He followed me from work.”
At this point Anita was furious. “YOU DON’T HAVE A JOB!”
Albert began to cry. “I work really hard and you tell me I don’t? Maybe we should get a divorce Katie.”
“My name is Anita. I am your ex- wife and Katie is our daughter,” she said hoping that something would click. “We can’t get divorced because we are not married.”
“I would know if we were divorced. Why would I forget something like that?”
“Because you have Alzheimer’s,” she replied softly.
Albert got up from his chair and began dancing around the room. “Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s.” On and on he sang in his loudest voice.
Anita wondered as she had many times before, how she had let things escalate to this. Having heard enough, she said in a loud voice so he could hear her over his own ranting, “Tell me about work today.”
Immediately he calmed down and speaking in a normal voice he said, “Hey, you know that some people say you can even get paid for working there?”
“You get paid,” she asked feigning interest.
“Some think I do and some think I don’t. How does that happen?”
Think fast, Anita thought to herself. “Well Albert, you know that card that you give them and they give it back…”
“Oh that’s how it works,” he said smiling, “most of the time they pay me the same amount.”
“Really, how long are you usually there?” she asked, trying her damndest to keep a straight face.
“Sometimes I just eat my sandwich and leave; other times I sit and talk for a while.”
Anita ran to her room. Sometimes keeping a straight face is impossible.