Updated: Nov 21, 2019
Mrs. Perry was an Old South aristocratic blue-hair my husband knew through college friends. His story goes that she was the wife of a famous doctor, who sat silently in a wheelchair after having a stroke watching the seasons change through the picture window at the back of the house. Within his view was their backyard pond. Although the doctor could not see them, it was filled with goldfish, which today we call carp, the fish of choice found in backyard ponds scattered throughout upper-class subdivisions across America. Back then, having a pond was an anomaly and having fish in it was extravagant. Both were things only the truly wealthy and those of a particular "class" could afford.
Coming from a working class background, my husband was impressed by this constructed pond and spent time looking at it. He was curious about how it was built, wondered who stocked the fish and maintained it, and how it came to be. One day, Mrs. Perry noticed that he was interested and proudly told him she had created the pond herself. Doubly impressed, he told her how amazing that was, how incredible. Fully loaded with the thrill of recognition, she explained in detail how
she had done it.
One afternoon, the idea had come to her. She wanted a pond in the backyard. She had called James (her black handyman who had worked for her family for over 20 years) outside the next day. She told him to bring the garden hose, which he did. There and then she had arranged the shape of the pond by kicking the garden hose around with the toe of her leather pumps. She demonstrated for my husband exactly how she had placed it by gingerly moving her toe this way and then that way until it was perfectly shaped. Satisfied with her work, she instructed James to build it. Almost as an afterthought she told him she wanted gold fish in it. And so it came to be. She had done it all.
In her mind and more importantly in her worldview, she had created the pond. James dug the hole, put in a liner, installed a pump, filled it with water, added the fish, and now made sure it stayed operating smoothly and consistently, including daily feeding the carp. He did all this without complaint or comment, but with quiet resignation that this was their shared reality. One would think Mrs. Perry would see and say that James had played a least some small part in creating the pond, but that was outside of her reality. This is not so different for other people of her class. History is filled with stories of the egregiously wealth-- the 2000's, the 1980's, 1920's, the 1900's, and all the way back to the founding of America and even Biblical times. It is also evident today.
When I read the newspapers, I see Mrs. Perry and her pond on every page. One story was about a billionaire who stood in front of labor union workers and proclaimed himself a builder just like them. He'd never actually built anything nor had he even designed a structure, but he had the idea for one, he talked to people who do things with their hands, and he loves to put his name on everything he constructs. Like them, he builds things. He is a builder. He proudly told the audience that they shared a builder's worldview.
By his expression I could see that he fully expected raucous applause because unequivocal acceptance is his birthright on this unique planet during this particular period in time. The audience was silent for a moment and then along with one hand clapping, two hands clasped together and an audible sigh released into a soft groan. The sound rolled it's way up to him in the form of a rather significant boo. This was not a surprise to him, but a tsunami-sized shock. He regained his composure after the force of it ebbed and cast his voice over the crowd as a warning, repeating "I-I-I", followed by construction terminology, which they ignored. For those who had ever actually built Mrs. Perry a pond, the days of quiet resignation were now a shattered reality.
We are entering the throws of a time that comes after the era of the egregiously wealthy-- the late 1980's, the 1930's, the 1910's, the Revolutionary War, and even the New Testament. It is evident today in the marches and the phone calls, the demonstrations and petitions. We are yet again creating a worldview that is more inclusive, democratic, and just. It is no longer a time of yelling "I," but an era of collectively sighing a tsunami-sized "we." James dug the hole, put in a liner, installed a pump, filled it with water, added the fish, and made sure it stayed operating smoothly and consistently, including daily feeding the carp. It came to be because he had done it all. And so it is that a better world will come to be. "We" will do it. "We" will do it all. That is the new reality.