Coming Together

This morning I’m left in the fog of driving back from Williamsburg last weekend. Interstate 95 has become a major roadblock in my interest in driving through Virginia. I don’t think I would mind the drive if it wasn’t so congested. Getting to the back roads is simply a hassle. Lights and volume make the whole thing a mess.

It isn’t the drive alone that has me lost in the haze. This summer has been one of revelation as I research Virginia history for a book that I want to write. While the book will take place above the Mason-Dixon line, two of the characters will spend defining times of their lives in Virginia. The research has led me through slavery, which is something the South should never be allowed to escape. The history of slavery is the kind of legacy that cannot be forgotten or excused away in economics or state’s rights. I’ve also been reading about the tenuous relationship between African American and White families in central and western Virginia during the bi-polar time of desegregation, bi-polar because the era offered such hope and created such bigotry.

The malaise started to lift as I read the “Yankee rag,” The New York Times, and a story about Jon Stewart. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time as he has a connection to the ‘Burg, he’s funny, and really smart. What was interesting about this on-line version of the paper were the videos used to illustrate big moments for his show on Comedy Central. Each clip was accompanied by an advertisement for Colonial Williamsburg that promoted “freedom” and sported a family riding around the Historic Area on those two-wheeled, self-balancing scooters.

My old boss from Colonial Williamsburg must be laughing his bearded face off whenever he sees these commercials. I can hear him saying, “Effing, Disney!” with a great deal of habanero spice in his comment.

However, these commercials had an effect on me. I found the thought of freedom to be so appealing for my time to escape the Colonial Capitol on an emotional level had arrived. I grew up in the South full of the confusion that kids from anywhere are faced with. I feel like I knew just about everyone and was able to fit in wherever I found myself. This was good and bad then, but as an adult I look back at my southern existence and the chameleon way that I lived and I feel a bit of sadness. A great deal of my youth was proving to others that I was cool and tough. The reality was that by trying to answer to whatever group, whatever the culture, I often accepted the worst ways of that group. Rich made fun or poor and vice versa. Whites made fun of African Americans and vice versa. The common thread of all these different groups was their ability to offer critique other groups, often in most unflattering ways. To fit in, I betrayed myself and many of the friends I had. I was hypocritical all for the sake of being accepted.

As an adult, I relish calling out hypocrisy, but this summer has been perhaps the most important time in my life journey, as I have finally been able to look past my jackass ways that I always rationalized as humor. I should have left the humor to the comedians because without an outrageous shock statement, I’m not that funny.

It was the commercials paired with some insight passed on by a real comedian, Steve Harvey, that let me toss my junk out on this last trip down a congested I-95. The repeating mantra of freedom from the commercials and the sermon about “scrap being melted down” by Mr. Harvey spoke to me. They suggested that a person can move on, that the past informs the future, but the past does not define the present. When I think back to my time in the ‘Burg, I loved the racial diversity. My best year of high school was 11th grade when one by one the two other white kids quit the basketball team, for a brief time leaving me the “token” on the basketball team. That year was something, probably the most significant year of education I ever had. Two years later I would wreck it with an insensitive remark that embarrasses me to this day.

I’m letting that southern thing go. I lived there for awhile. My parents are down there. I’ve got a great friend who still lives in the area. The rest is foreign to me. It’s sad that all the 7-11s are in such crappy shape. The houses around town have lost the quaint charm I thought was there. Even the Pottery Factory has died. I now hold memories now as an author or reporter, not as a burden to be dragged around for the rest of my life. I cannot define myself with regret. The regret was put on me to move forward. I am.

I grew up in Virginia.

I don’t own the Virginia’s history.

I apologize for my hypocrisy.

With that, I’m on my two feet, securely balanced, and walking away.