Pole Dancing

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Three aha moments. Responses to my Facebook post about ending radiation. A Bollywood epic about 21 Sikhs who held off a Pathan tribe force of 10,000. Kesari. 2015 Alexandria Class of 1965 50th reunion.

In 2015, a month and a half or so after my prostatectomy, I drove to Alexandria, Indiana for the 50th reunion of the class of 1965, my class. In Independence, Missouri I got out of the rental car, went back to get my luggage out of the trunk and promptly peed my pants, soaking a pair of jeans. Embarrassed and chagrined I got in the room holding my luggage in front of me, took those pants off and stuffed them in a wastebasket.

The first event of the reunion, at the Alexandria Historical Society, found me with that experience at front of mind. As a leader in academics and the class, you might not expect me to be nervous, feel vulnerable. I did though. It was partly the Independence (irony) moment, yes; but, it was also the knowledge that I’d traveled a much different road after high school than the vast majority of my classmates.

Many of them went to Vietnam. Dennis Sizelove died there. Richard Lawson, a close friend, died later of wounds from his war time. Mike Thomas and several others at the reunion were Vietnam vets. Only a few of us went onto college, maybe 10% out of our class of 180. I didn’t know anybody in our class with a graduate professional degree and a post-graduate school doctorate.

This was 2015, the year before an electoral Titanic took us all down with it. Somebody asked me to speak during our dinner at Norwood Bowl. It was the only venue in town large enough for our meal.

I’m on the right of the seated row. 2015, Norwood Bowl

We’re here together again. After 50 years. But not just 50 years. Most of us were together for at least 12 years before that. Let’s call it 62 years. Yet we’re here. Why? Because we still care about each other, about our town, about the memories we made.

I know we’re divided in many ways: those that stayed around, those that left. Like me. those that supported the war in Vietnam and those that didn’t. Like me. Those that found George Bush a good President, those that prefer Obama. Like me. Those that like the Colts and those that like the Vikings. Like me. I’m sure there are, too, differences over sexuality, abortion, maybe even race.

But this is what’s important. In this room we share something more important than those divisions. We share a community. We are a community. And communities don’t require everyone to believe the same. In fact, they’d be pretty boring if we did. I care about each of you not because of what you believe, but because of who you are. Even if I don’t know you well, I still care because we share a life built together over time.

I was shaking when I started. I’d chosen to lay bare the vulnerability I felt. Hard. But as I spoke, maybe 3 minutes, the vulnerability went away to be replaced by gratitude that I still knew these people. Was still alive with them.

On facebook I’ve made two posts about cancer. First, letting folks know I had it again and that I would undergo radiation treatment and a second one saying I’d finished. On the list of folks who responded and commented were many who post America love or leave it type messages, pro-Trump, anti-snowflake. They were also folks who can’t wait for the revolution. With some of them I share a love of art. With others college during the late 60’s. With others Congregation Beth Evergreen.

Each one part of a venn diagram of various communities to which I belong or belonged. And, in those communities empathy and concern, love, transcend political and religious differences. Why? Because communities do not expect everyone to share the same beliefs.

Kesari. Amazon Prime Video has many Bollywood movies. I like them. I even like the inevitable contrived dance routines and singing.

Kesari is a retelling of the battle for Saragarhi, a real 1897 encounter between 21 Sikhs who held Ft. Saragarhi and an invading force of Muslim Pathans that numbered around 10,000. It has an Alamo feel; the Sikhs fight only to slow the invaders and all of them die.

The lead character, Havlidar (or, Sgt.) Ishar Singh, rallies the Sikh’s both against the Pathan tribesmen and the occupying British, “…who see us as slaves. We can choose to die as free men.” The story remains in Indian memory because it underscored the bravery of the Sikh soldiers and, by extension, all Sikhs.

Here’s the link for this post. At the very end of the movie all but Ishar Singh and one other are dead. The Pathans have demolished a wall of the fort and will soon invade. Ishar Singh, who has had visions of his wife throughout the movie, has one as he stands alone, sword ready for the coming assault.

“Should I run? Or, should I stay?” he asks her. She smiles, “Make our community proud.”

My folks, each and everyone

Here’s the paradox of community. There are inclusive communities, usually we had no choice in belonging to them, like our families, and communities defined by exclusion, like the Sikh’s, say, or LGBTQ, or Trump supporters, or progressive Democrats. These exclusive communities can inspire us, make us feel safe among our own “kind,” but they also reinforce political divisions and make our larger communities less safe.

Pole dancing. I have no magic formula. No way to be in an exclusive community without its pitfalls. Perhaps though if we took a lesson from exotic dancers and were willing to strip ourselves bare, to see ourselves as individuals and, most important, show ourselves as individuals, to each other. Perhaps. Just perhaps.

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