Published Humanitas, Volume XXIII, Nos. 1 and 2, 2010
University of Pennsylvania
“When did your eyes open?” The very day I turned my attention to these final thoughts a book review of that title appeared in my campus mailbox. I long ago stopped chalking such timely tips up to chance. Like my brother who says, “There are no coincidences,” and my Anglican bishop who says, “All is grace,” I believe inspiration answers cues. The book under review was a biography of Andrei Sakharov and the question was baneful to Soviet dissidents because it forced them to recall the illusion, ambition, compromise, and blindness that had entrapped them before they dared challenge the propaganda and power structure of the Communist system. So, too, has this assignment for Humanitas obliged me to ask when and why I began to bristle under the rigid codes of belief and behavior imposed by American politics, academics, and culture.
When did your eyes open? From a young age I have always been attracted to those I call “truth tellers.” Satirical comic books such as MAD Magazine and Uncle Scrooge, and television shows such as Sgt. Bilko and Maverick, taught me in the 1950s about the yawning gaps between pretense and reality—and penchant for hustling—in American life. My eldest brother encouraged me to sniff out hypocrisy and double standards (his constant complaint was “there’s no justice”). The pathetic Chicago Cubs inspired me to pronounce a “law of maximum heartbreak.” My parents, a brilliant patent attorney and a frustrated actress, shared phenomenal verbal gifts and taught by example about the poses and masks everyone dons in public. My pious grandparents taught me honesty but also the perils of trust (“fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me”).
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