About two weeks ago, riding in the car with my wife, we were listening to about the only station, locally, anyone is likely to find in our car – NPR. After the story about the upcoming political conventions the series “This I Believe” aired another in its weekly essays. I have written for the project, which can also be found in print, and while I cannot say I listen faithfully or find every one of the essays a treasure, a few stand out. I can remember hearing them and (this is the important part as a writer) they had an effect on me. As a writer, I could not ask for more praise or better praise. The sheer beauty of writing aside, if a work is forgotten, if a reader is not affected, then the sound and glory are nothing.
My favorite is by Penn Jillette and is called “There is no God.” As much a fan of Thoreau as I am, I cannot help but wish he had written this. It seems to be what he was trying to say through much of his time at Walden Pond. The essay is transcendentalism without the deism. It is a wonder of words and I am appreciative.
What we heard that afternoon in the car was by Sufiya Abdur-Rahman and is titled “Black is Beautiful.” It echoed so much of what I had written on the topic of the dark and lonely side of the headlong rush to assimilation and the expectation that we should all want to fit into a homogeneity so stark that we should have trouble telling each other apart. I am not a fan of Hyphenated-American-ism but what is wrong with have identities? I guess I am more a tossed salad American than a melting pot American.
I was moved to write Ms. Abdur-Rahman. It was rather hard to find contact information but I managed to do so by looking her up on MySpace. I sent a note to her from her MySpace profile.
I am writing to thank you for your essay on NPR.
As a second generation American, it has been my belief we need not be like everyone else to be an American. Indeed, it has been pointed out, and I feel truthfully, the differences among peoples are one of the things that have made this the amazing country it is. I applaud you essay for pointing out we can be, and should remain, who we are at our core.
I am Jewish. I was raised in the North and now live in the South. I have taken my children to see the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery to look upon the names of the heroes there and have pointed to the names of the six Jews next to the rest of those who fought for freedom. I have shown them the my parents took pictures of, when we moved to Miami, that said “No Niggers, Jews or Dogs Allowed.” I have explained that giving up our heritage means giving in. And we held on despite my daughter’s high school beatings for being a dirty Jew, the head start teachers command our son should learn to be a Christian so he can “pass” when he needs to, my own difficulties attaining academic posts because I did not attend the right kind of church.
We moved here during WWII. It was my feeling, after having lost two-thirds of my family, that it would be a slap in their faces to assimilate. My parents though, my grandparents, said “assimilate.” They spoke Yiddish. My parents understood it. I can do neither. Now my daughter, 23, and I are relearning what we lost. We have a long way to go.
Your essay brought the importance of that back to us. I applaud what you are doing and bless you for your struggle.
Adam Byrn Tritt
Did I get a response? You bet. It was quite a heartfelt note back and I shall not share it here. If you want a note from Sufiya, write her yourself.