Sunday, July 19, 2009
I wasn't a Yankee, being of Russian decent, despite my patriotism being as passionate as that of the "Founding Fathers," and perhaps even more so than the D.A.R., as my family is eternally grateful for being welcomed as they ran from the Bolsheviks who would have taken all that they'd worked for, even their lives. Neither male (too compassionate) nor female (too assertive) by social definition of gender, I have never fit, and never trusted those who want to. They try so hard, and lose themselves in the process. An intellectual reading Christa Wolf in the German while sitting by the side of a country club pool. A Red Sox fan in New York. A townie at Harvard. In Waltham, someone from the wrong side of the tracks -- a South Sider out to prove the rest of town that no one is defined by origin. A child living in my father's garden in a neighborhood that paved over its lawns. A cyclist and pedestrian in a world of cars. A runner, but slow. A believer in the innate goodness of Germans and all they can teach us ("Wo man Buecher brennt ..."). A middle class Caucasian advocate of African American students living in poverty. I don't attempt to assimilate anymore, unlike my father, who refused to speak Russian, but much like my aunts, I am proud of my heritage -- my difference. It's not pride in the sinful sense, but the same kind of pride that inspires Gay Pride parades. Those who don't fit distrust those who seem to, as I do the smiling faces of the South. But on my recent trip to Charlottesville, VA and Durham, NC, I found myself softening in the gentleness of even the A-est of types. At Duke, the peace was audible, tangible, soothing. No one was trying to prove anything -- the South already did, and they were defeated, just like the Wehrmacht. They were humbled, they fell to their knees; like those of us who have fallen in life, like Adam and Eve, they had to accept defeat before they could achieve heavenly peace. Duke tried to change Princeton, and failed. So he founded his own school, then invited Northerners to attend. Brilliant. This Ivy of the South has a very large number of students from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states. Also, it is neither a campus nor a wildnerness, but both. Difference there is celebrated without competition, as the great literary theorists argue is inherent in our language. And they all stand behind the Blue Devils. The Yankees were right: Working together, we can change the world. They were also wrong: It is not only by joint effort but also through trust and understanding that this peace can be born. The South There is a sweet welcome in Southern air, though Yankees resist it. The softness of the breeze in Sarah's gardens smiles like good manners. Crape myrtle seduces; the breeze, scented, intoxicates. This weather doesn't change like New England's.