Sunday Morning ~ Avoiding the Pit
Kulumpha dzenje ndikulionera patali. ~ To leap over the pit one must must see it from afar.
~ Chewa proverb
December 13, 2020
In the fall of 1973, I’d just turned seventeen and was starting my senior year in high school. We had a good football team, I was a cheerleader, and our squad had big plans. For homecoming we organized a rally, which included a parade through town. Our captain, Patti, got a permit from the police department and we enlisted the marching band and pep club. We polished our saddle shoes and megaphones, practiced our moves, and got the spirit of the town revved up. When I think back, it was a pretty big accomplishment for a bunch of teenagers. I don’t remember adults helping out with that.
It was October of that year when the vice president of the United States resigned, but that barely appeared on my radar. I guess I assumed someone else would come in to do that job, whatever it was. What did a vice president do anyway? I had no idea. I’m not even sure I could have told anyone what his name was. I was thinking about college campuses and future boyfriends. I imagined myself carrying an armload of books, walking through shaded paths with gothic buildings in the fuzzy distance. Sweaters in the fall, caps and scarfs in the winter, tank tops without bras in the spring. I pictured myself lying on a blanket in the sun studying for final exams. Life was so perfect in my dreams.
I was on a college-bound course and knew I wanted to go into nursing. I packed my senior schedule with advanced chemistry, calculus, and physics. I think English was required, so that was in there too, but I never took a civics class. The first three high school years I took the required history classes but remember only how comically the teacher pronounced Mesopotamia, with a little pause after the “Mesopo” as if he had to recall the rest of the word. After what seemed like a long time he would finish with “tamia”. It generated endless amusement, but to this day I couldn’t tell you what I learned in that class. I have no idea how I passed any of the tests. Probably memorized a few treaties and the dates they were signed, guessed at the rest and managed a C. I was always amazed traveling with my kids when they were in high school and they’d bring up some historical fact about where we were: “Ah, so this is where the Treaty of Nantes was signed!” I would look at them in amazement and say, “You learned that in school?”
It wasn’t until I was in Peace Corps that my interest in government and world affairs started to flourish. I consider myself fairly well informed now but the more I read, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I listened to a pod cast this week about Spiro Agnew called Bag Man. I highly recommend it and I’m eager to read the book by the same name. It delves deep into the series of events that led to the vice president of the United States resigning, which had never happened before, (news to me), and how young obscure prosecutors and law students brought that cataclysmic event to pass. It was absolutely fascinating, and I had no idea at the time it was happening. I may have heard it mentioned in the background as Walter Cronkite serenaded us after supper, but I never considered it something I should care about. I guess I figured the grown ups could handle whatever was going on with our society. I couldn’t even vote yet! And was only peripherally aware I’d be able to do so the following year. Gun to my head I couldn’t have told you how the voting rights act came to pass.
I remember hearing my brother saying that Nixon had Agnew for a vice president as insurance against impeachment. That comment went straight over my head and I would never have asked for an explanation as that wold have been admitting he was smarter than me. He clearly had been paying attention to current events. I wonder if he was worried about things or if he, like me, thought the grown ups would work this out. I wanted nothing to mar my senior year glory. We had tournaments to win and boyfriends to chase. I literally shudder when I think of it.
Though I never saw it as an important addition to my resume, civics was taught at our school and I hear the teacher was great. In fact, our yearbook was dedicated to him. I wonder how deeply they dug into this as it was unfolding. Did he identify the underlings who started uncovering all the corruption, the steps they took, little by little, under the radar, to lay the trap? Did it ignite any flame in any student to aspire to participate in our justice system? Or at the very least, have faith in it?
I am the first to admit how fortunate I am to be in my situation during this pandemic. I have a beautiful place to live, plenty of food, outdoor isolated activity, and technology keeping me connected to those I love. It’s frustrating watching projects I care about sit dormant and wondering what I could have done better, but it has certainly been an opportunity to educate myself. Digging into history that transpired during my oblivious youth is somehow unnerving. I wish I could ask my mother what her experience of it was. She watched the news. Was she worried? There are lots of parallels between what happened in 1973 and what’s happening now: vilifying the media, lying to supporters, blatant extortion, and outrageous abuse of power. It’s an encore performance. But it didn’t bring us down and learning how conscientious truth sayers guided the course toward justice, I’m hopeful. We should be better able to see the pit ahead of us and take a collective giant leap.
Love to all,