Category Archives: Charlottesville

The Dell

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IMG_1344Lately, I’ve been spending my lunch hour at the Dell, which is a short stroll from my office.

It’s a poem fashioned out of water, flora, fauna…and ruins.

IMG_5154IMG_5177An old archway is all that’s left of what were once Italianate gardens…

IMG_1325IMG_1329Orderly geometry has given way to an overgrown, naturalistic landscape. The Dell has been transformed into a pond that is used for stormwater management. Its wild beauty makes it easy to forget its utilitarian purpose.

A meandering trail wraps around the pond and is strategically dotted with benches. I never like to sit though, because around every corner there’s always something new to see.

Sometimes a community of turtles sun themselves by the lily pads…IMG_1309

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Native plants are planted around the perimeter of the pond…

IMG_1297IMG_1304IMG_1305IMG_1321 From time to time I have to push aside long grasses that have fallen into the path. I feel them tickle my legs and hope I’m not brushing up against poison ivy. In this landscape, unexpected things sprout up by themselves…IMG_1334

But there are some reassuring constants. At one end of the pond, I look out for my friend, the king of the pond. I always find the giant koi lazily patrolling his favorite corner of his watery realm…

IMG_5149Dragonflies chase each other all over the pond. Every now and then they take a break…

IMG_1292IMG_5189IMG_1290IMG_5180FullSizeRender 49As for the industrious bees, they never have time to play.IMG_1289IMG_5165At least they are appreciating the flowers as they toil away…IMG_5155

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-bound stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

From Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things

Badass

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On Saturday we witnessed naked hatred and violence like we had never before experienced in our relatively sheltered lifetimes. It shook us to the core. That night I asked my husband to make sure the garage apartment was locked up. We awoke to a world where the advisability of going to church had to be weighed against safety concerns. As I pulled out of my driveway that morning, I looked warily at my daughter’s playhouse and wondered if it could possibly be sheltering a Nazi sleeping off a day of liquor-fueled rampaging in our once peaceful little town. On Tuesday, the words I heard spewing from the incontinent troll in the White House hit me like a punch to the gut. My heart was filled with blind rage. I could not muster any love or light that night.

As I tried to settle down to sleep, my phone kept pinging with messages being sent by people spreading the word about a candlelight march that would begin at 9 pm the next night. We would retrace the same route that the tiki-torch-bearing losers took on Friday to reclaim the Grounds of the University of Virginia. There was, is still enough fear of violence that there were no posts to social media. I know people who came with mace for fear of being attacked. People were spreading the word only to those they trusted.

In the morning my daughter heard me discussing my plan to go to the march with my 17-year-old son. The fear I saw in her eyes made my heart ache.

“Is that safe?” she asked.

“There will only be good people there,” I reassured her, “It’s being kept off social media and people are only finding out about it through trusted friends.”

“But you know they’ll find out about it,” she said. They meaning the people she had seen on the news…the people with faces contorted with rage and hatred…they who were brandishing clubs and guns at our friends and clergy.

“We’ll be very careful,” I said, “I promise.”

That night I came home after a welcome dinner for our university’s new international students to pick up my son and my husband who had decided to come. To my surprise, my 15-year-old, who is usually in bed by 9, said he also wanted to come with us. I felt torn for my 12-year-old daughter, who was now faced with the choice of being by herself at night, or coming with us. She chose to come.

As we walked to Nameless Field, she clutched my hand.

“We’re parked close enough so that we can run to the car if there’s trouble,” she said as if to reassure us all.

“Don’t worry. Just stay close to me. I’ll protect you,” I told her as I squeezed her hand, “You know I would lay down my life for you…And I’m kind of a badass.”

This statement would not stand. She looked over at me, not quite rolling her eyes.

“I would lay down my life for you. And besides, I’m bigger than you are. And way more of a badass.”

IMG_1050And she is.

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We are not destroyed.

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We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 

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Beta Bridge was freshly painted this morning.

A couple weeks ago a friend and I were discussing the White Nationalist rally that was coming to Charlottesville when it was still just a looming menace.

“Will you leave town?” my friend asked me.

“Why should I?” I replied. “Charlottesville is my town. I live there.”

The day we dreaded arrived and it was a darker day than I could have imagined.

The night before we watched in disbelief as hundreds of tiki-torch bearing hate mongers paraded around our town like so many teeming cockroaches. We felt defiled as we watched them march around the Rotunda, which Jefferson had envisioned to be a Temple of Enlightenment. We were sickened to watch them assault our students.

We spent the next morning like any other Saturday, but we held our breaths and anxiously, futilely hoped for a peaceful day. We drove our kids to soccer and their piano lessons. We waited for a piano to be delivered to our house. All the while we followed the events that were unfolding in our town. We anxiously watched for posts from our friends, neighbors, and clergy, who were bravely trying to keep the peace and spread a message of love to counter the message of hatred and divisiveness brought in by outsiders. We reeled in horror as we watched the footage of the terror attack on the Downtown Mall that resulted in the death of one and injuries to many.

In the afternoon my boys asked if they could drive down to the river to go fishing. I readily agreed, thinking it would be good for them to get outside and away from it all, but then immediately regretted it. They were so excited about their excursion that I didn’t have the heart to make them stay home. I did dampen their high spirits and detain them with stern warnings to be cautious: “Swear to me you’ll leave right away if you see sketchy people hanging around by the river. There are a lot of really bad people in Charlottesville today. They’re brawling in the streets.”

And then I heard myself saying: “It might be dangerous for you, because you don’t look white.”

As soon as the words left my mouth, I couldn’t believe they had. The primal fear I felt for the safety of my children filled me with shock mingled with sorrow, mingled with rage. Until yesterday, the progressive bubble that is Charlottesville had sheltered me from the fear people of color experience around the country on a daily basis.

“We’re not going to church tomorrow,” my husband announced later that day, “It’s a well-known liberal church right next to the university and it’s not safe to be there.” I’m going to be honest…for half a minute, I was glad to have an excuse to sleep in for a change. But then I came to my senses. Oh, HELL no. This is OUR town for God’s sake. I would not be intimidated from going to church of all places.

I thought the church would be empty, but it was a full house this morning. The pews were full of brokenhearted, but not broken people. Through tears we sang and prayed. We prayed for Heather Heyer, who lost her life yesterday. We prayed for the police helicopter pilots, who died in the line of duty. We prayed for all the injured, and for the doctors and nurses who were caring for them in our local hospitals. We prayed for all of the people in our community, whose hearts, like ours, were breaking.

You know who else we prayed for?

We prayed for the “children of God,” who came to our beautiful little town yesterday to sow hatred and wreak havoc.

Can you imagine that? That’s Charlottesville, the town I know and love.

God help us all.

Charlottesville

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IMG_1024When I moved to Charlottesville almost twenty years ago, I found love.

I’ve lived in many places in my life – from a small town in Pennsylvania, where I felt like an alien to New York City, where I felt invisible. For those five years in Manhattan, that invisibility was a blessed relief. I felt comfortable there, because I could try as hard as I wanted to look different, to be different, and it wouldn’t matter. There would always be people who were more outrageous, more outlandish than I could ever possibly be. No one looked at me anyway, because no one made eye contact under any circumstances. I loved that I could disappear into the crowd.

I would have happily stayed in New York, but Charlottesville is where my husband found his job, and so that’s where we were headed. All I knew of Charlottesville was that it was a small southern town, and that it was the home of the University of Virginia. I was cagey about the move. I knew there weren’t many Asian people there, and I feared that once again I would know that feeling of profound alienation I thought I had left behind for good when my family moved away from Pennsylvania.

My first couple of weeks in Charlottesville were disconcerting. I walked around my neighborhood puzzled by the fact that people I passed on the street and even people driving past in cars would wave to me and smile. I honestly felt I might be losing my mind. I would rack my brains trying to remember where I’d met these people, kicking myself for my terrible memory. It took me some time to realize that I had never met them at all. I was living in a town that was so friendly – complete strangers would wave to me as if they knew me and wished me well. I lost my shield of invisibility, but when people looked at me, they didn’t see how I was different, they just saw me. For the very first time in my life, it felt like I was home.

The kindness went beyond these niceties. Our neighbor Dr. B  seemed to epitomize to us the generosity of spirit we found in Charlottesville. He put up a bluebird house and planted tomatoes for us as a neighborly gesture before he even met us…He baked us cookies and brought us peaches and apples from the orchard and helped us rake our endless mountains of leaves. In our community, every time a baby is born, or someone is ill or grieving, a casserole brigade roars into action. Every day I feel grateful that my children have been nurtured and cherished by a wide circle of good people. As for me, I have become a better person for having lived here in Charlottesville, where love is shown as a matter of course, in big gestures and small kindnesses – with spontaneity and genuine warmth.

This love is reflected in our community’s politics too. Our town hosts nonprofit organizations like the Building Goodness Foundation, which builds homes for people here and abroad. We have our own branch of the International Rescue Committee and welcome and embrace the refugees who resettle here. Today I went to our world class hospital and received excellent, compassionate care from a young doctor whose name had a zillion unfamiliar, foreign-sounding syllables. I saw this message hanging in the room: IMG_1018

We are nothing, if not earnest do-gooders. Recently, our city council voted to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from its prominent downtown location, because it memorializes an immoral and outdated ideology. The fact that this action has made Charlottesville a rallying point for slavering, jabbering, unevolved hate mongers scuttling into our town to spew evil, makes me sick to the core. It is disheartening and exhausting, but we will not be overtaken by the darkness. We will continue to work for peace, justice, and reconciliation. Long after their tiki torches have burned out and they’ve crawled back to their own holes, we will remain in our own beloved community to shine our lights. The only people who will never find a home here or in the civilized world are those who stand on the side of prejudice and hatred. Charlottesville is about love.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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40 Ku Klux Klansmen traveled from North Carolina to our beloved community today.

Charlottesvillians came out to say that this town is about love, not hate.

People’s Picnic and Community Celebration at IX Park:

IMG_0490IMG_0492IMG_0501IMG_3783IMG_3785IMG_3802IMG_0497I saw this posted in a restroom:

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Mayor Signer kicked off the Unity Cville Concert at the Pavilion.

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Weekend Snapshots 48, or: Amor vincit omnia

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Friday

Twenty years ago, I woke up early in the morning and crawled into bed with my mother. I was going to be married later that day in an outdoor ceremony and I had been fretting all week over the iffy-looking weather forecast. We flipped back and forth from one TV channel to another to compare the different local weather reports, which were all  slightly different. My mother humored me by agreeing that the most believable forecast was the one with the most favorable prediction.

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Even if it did rain, my mother reassured me, it would mean good luck for our marriage. She soothed me by repeating: “Showers of blessings” like a mantra. It eventually did rain that day, though not until we moved indoors after the ceremony.

Our twentieth anniversary was on Wednesday, but my husband and I decided to celebrate the occasion on Friday. Leading up to the day, we were both privately scrambling to figure out a way to mark such a momentous milestone. In desperation I turned to my 11 year old daughter for advice:

“What do you think I should get Dad for our twentieth anniversary?”

She didn’t have an answer for me, but she laughed out loud and said, “Daddy asked me the very same thing!”

My husband finally took matters into his own hands and announced that he was going to pick me up from work and whisk me off to a secret destination. On Friday, the weather was not just iffy – it was downright dismal. The rain was coming down in sheets. My husband kept sighing and saying, “Too bad the weather’s going to be so awful for our rugged hike in the mountains…”

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The last time I got dragged up a mountain…

We drove through the rain for a little more than an hour, past the neighborhood where we bought our first house together, through little hamlets, and past fields of cows and horses. The whole way there, he kept tutting about how our picnic on the mountainside would be ruined, while I gave him serious side eye and badgered him to tell me where we were really going.

The secret was finally revealed when we pulled into Washington, Virginia and to the Inn at Little Washington. We were first ushered to a beautiful foyer with a crackling fire…

IMG_9769and then to “Anniversary Row.”

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Everybody sitting to the left and right of us was celebrating an anniversary. The waiter asked each couple how many years they had been married, and as we overheard the answers from the other tables, we were very proud to have been married the longest! IMG_9784

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Saturday

From the violin recital…

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…to the soccer field:

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We went to a party later that evening. Our hosts had devised an ingenious adult scavenger hunt with stops along the way for wine and sake tastings complete with paired hors d’oeuvres.  As we hiked through the woods and up to the top of the mountainside to find the grand prize, I remarked to my husband: “We’re having our anniversary hike, after all!”:

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The Grand Prize

Sunday

Our last day of choir:

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This boy’s Confirmation:

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She ain’t heavy, she’s my sister…

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Purple Passion afternoon tea break with my buddy…

I rejoined my family for dinner and then got dropped off at another friend’s to head to the Downtown Mall…

You may have seen the news about a group of torch-bearing, knuckle-dragging Neo-Nazis who marched in Lee Park in Charlottesville on Saturday. On Sunday night, a much larger group of people gathered at the park and vowed to love and protect each other.

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This is the Charlottesville I know and love.

Some days the rain will fall. Some days a band of retrograde half-wit Nazis will try to spew their hatred in your beautiful little town. In the end, love conquers all and showers us with blessings. That’s the forecast I want to believe.