30 Oct 2016

Big snake, little girl, and the mob.

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I grew up during the 1950s in a blue-collar suburb of Schenectady, New York, a mini-village of mostly Italian and Polish Catholic families. As my father was Jewish and a white-collar worker at the General Electric plant, and my mother was a city person whose lack of social skills scared people, we did not fit in. The local kids tortured me, both physically and sexually; I was perpetually mystified by my outcast status. I didn’t understand what a “Christ-killer” was, but did know that I hadn’t done anything to deserve the rocks thrown at me. My school nickname was “Nigger Schultz”; I didn’t know what the word meant, and there were only white people in my school.

One day when I was about 5, a mother who lived nearby came rushing over to my girlfriend’s house, where she and I were playing, calling for my friend’s father. “Bill, come quick. There’s an awful big snake in the yard.”  Bill grabbed some long-handled garden tools and ran. I followed, being curious and liking snakes. When we got to their yard, I saw a huge ring of adults gathered around a 6-foot long, thick black snake that was coiling, striking and re-coiling, fighting for its life. The adults all took turns pounding it with their implements. The crowd’s hubbub sounded very far away as I watched, silent myself while the snake writhed in a slow, horrible death. Even at 5, I knew by the shape of its head, that the snake was harmless. I was awed and fascinated and terrified by the power displayed by the mob of grown-ups. A profound sadness stayed with me for a long time; even now, more than half a century later, the image of that ring of enraged people beating that defenseless snake haunts me.

I never stopped fighting against what I felt was injustice even though my lack of power and lack of allies has made me an outlier for much of my life. My protective energy has always embraced creatures or people who are vulnerable and unable to protect themselves. For years I acted out this fight in passive-aggressive ways, forgetting what I had been told, loosing things, and answering questions, “I don’t know” when I did. As I have matured, I have learned more effective ways to be a defender without polarizing other people around me. I am female, educated first as a nurse, working to protect other females and their young. There is always something to do.

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