Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Sunday meditation on Rosa Parks and Wonder Woman

What is the difference between a superhero and a hero, I wonder? Between Rosa Parks and Wonder Woman? I think bracelets. I must get bracelets and they will give me power when I cross my arms in front of my chest.

Rosa Parks didn't have any super powers. She just had will and intention and a certain feeling I'm sure, of throwing her self into the deep end without any idea (or really only a very scary idea) of where it would take her. She had simply had had enough. She gave up a fair bit in that moment of heroism. She wasn't immediately feted as a heroine. No. And even when she was she had still lost her job and needed to make a living somehow.

Wonder Woman is different. She became a heroine earlier than Rosa's 1955 act, as she appeared in her first comic in 1941 (both made their debuts in December, however). Wonder Woman aka Diana, Princess of Themyscira - was originally supposed to fight violence with love.

Well, love needed some help apparently - like the bracelets, the lasso of truth, the invisible airplane and her super powers of agility, strength, and so on. Both Wonder Woman and Rosa Parks share a strong desire for truth. Rosa simply stated it - she had no magic lasso that would cause people to tell the truth against their corrupt desires to hide it. Rosa didn't pretend to have 'the truth' just her truth. On checking her story for more details I realize that Rosa did have some magic with her. Read this found in Wikipedia:

So, following standard practice, bus driver Blake noted that the front of the bus was filled with white passengers and there were two or three men standing, and thus moved the "colored" section sign behind Parks and demanded that four black people give up their seats in the middle section so that the white passengers could sit. Years later, in recalling the events of the day, Parks said, "When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night."

During a 1956 radio interview with Sydney Rogers in West Oakland several months after her arrest, when asked why she had decided not to vacate her bus seat, Parks said, "I would have to know for once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen."
She also detailed her motivation in her autobiography, My Story:
“ People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in. ”
In some ways, it seems clear to me, that tiredness, general fed-upness when joined with determination could be construed as a wonderful tool for change. When I was crippled with a very bad back - almost thirty years ago - I had an operation. It took care of things for a year and then the pain came back. I sought relief through conventional medicine because that's what the world seemed to be telling me to do. When it ultimately failed me - my tiredness, my feeling of hitting bottom and having nothing to lose propelled me into taking a different tack. It led me into meditation,  anger work and relearning how to walk. It led me to acupuncture and eating mindfully and trying bizarre approaches. Many of these approaches have become important parts of my life in one way and another. Meditation led me to my Buddhist practice, anger work into my livelihood as a therapist and learning how to walk as a metaphor for radical change which has persisted. And all of that 'tiredness' was enriched with a proper anger and determination that things be different.
Now, I'm not thinking I was a heroine for overcoming back ache but what I'm taking away from this idle thinking of seemingly disparate things on a sunny Sunday morn is that we all need to find that quilt of determination, that sense of having had enough of a certain way of doing things - the strength to fight against the status quo for something unproven. Whether it is our writing and the things that those around us might say or seem to say either with kindness "that's a hard way to make a living" or snidely "nothing published after x years - don't give up your day job" (chortle chortle) or because we live our lives differently than those around us, continuing to care that injustice be fought and that we not cave in to the way things seem - we need the warmth of that quilt of determination.
What pieces of cloth is your quilt made of?

Addendum to above post: I believe in serendipity and auspicious coincidence and the zeigeist. After I wrote this I went upstairs to look at the local paper and have a bit of breakfast - I happened to read an article about a local artist - Richard Rudnicki - who has recently illustrated a kids' book on Viola Desmond.  Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner, GROUNDWOOD BOOKS 
Wikipedia says this: about Viola Desmond -  On November 8, 1946, Viola Desmond refused to sit in the balcony designated exclusively for blacks in the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia,  but, instead, she took her seat on the ground floor where only white people were allowed to sit. After being forcibly removed from the theatre and arrested, Desmond was eventually found guilty of not paying the one-cent difference in tax on the balcony ticket from the main floor theatre ticket. She was fined $20 ($251.30 in 2010) and court costs ($6). She paid the fine but decided to fight the charge in court.
I won't go into all of this (check the link above) but tell you that the court of the day decided it was tax evasion! She eventually moved to Toronto where she died at the age of 51.
This is the cover that Richard painted for the book.  He did all the illustrations and if you check the link to his site above you can see what a wonderful artist he is.

On 14 April 2010, the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, Mayann Francis, on the advice of her premier, invoked the Royal Prerogative and granted Desmond a posthumous pardon, the first such to be granted in Canada. The government of Nova Scotia also apologised.


Clarissa Draper said...

Wow, Jan, great post today. I didn't know all that stuff about Rosa but I'm glad she stood up for her rights. She's a hero in my books.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

This is the same coversation I have been having with my kids- they wanted to know what superpower I wanted, and I said I wanted the determination to right a wrong. They were disappointed I didn't choose flying or invisibility, but I think when they are older, they will get it.
Thank you, Jan

Jan Morrison said...

Clarissa - I'm glad to enlighten anyone on this fabulous woman. I had no intention of writing about her - I just started with a desire to write something funny about wanting to be a superhero but I wasn't allowed. That muse carries a whip sometimes. And I knew about Viola Desmond but I had forgotten. Weird. Maybe I'll try and write a book about women heroines???? For kids.....
Natasha - yep, I loved the quilt of determination. That's a super quality I want!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I always admired Wonder Woman's bracelets (bangles? What do we call those things?) and I've long admired Rosa Parks, too. Being tired, in whatever way, really can spur us on. And I think overcoming back pain in a constructive way (because I know that's some of the worst pain around) IS very inspiring...thanks for some inspiration on a damp, gray morning!

Hart Johnson said...

I loved this, Jan! I think I've always had this, but the people around me call it stubbornness--anything I'm told I can't do, I decide I must do, just to prove it. I should probably pick up a couple 'good fights' again--it has been a while.

Anonymous said...

ha, I will experiment my thought, your post bring me some good ideas, it's really awesome, thanks.

- Thomas