Tailwinds: Attachment, Winds, In Loving Memory

What do Arthur Ashe, Tiger Woods, Serena and Venus Williams, Jackie Robinson, Robert McFerrin Sr., Raven Wilkinson, and Misty Copeland have in common? No this is not a joke or a trick question. All are objects of great admiration of mine, not only because of their brilliance, but because all of them are or were African Americans who had the courage and perseverance to be trailblazers and be the first of their race to break into decidedly white men’s fields and in the cases of all but Robinson, unquestionably elite, rich white men’s fields Ashe rose to the top in men’s tennis; Woods in golf; the Williams sisters in women’s tennis, Robinson in baseball; McFerrin Sr. (father of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” Bobby); the New York Metropolitan Opera Wilkinson and Copeland new to me, Ballet.

This has long been on my mind, but what made me think of writing about it now, was reading the autobiography of Misty Copeland, the first African American woman to be a principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater. I had never heard of her until catching an interview on public radio where she was interviewed for her then-upcoming autobiography, The Wind at My Back, (Grand Central Publishing 2022) In my customary way, I pre-ordered it many months before it appeared, and pleasantly surprised when it came. Still, it somehow migrated to the bottom of the ever-growing pile, until now. In it, she described her childhood with what I would call the quintessential “neglect mom.”  Misty was the 4th of six children; and her mother had a “knack for choosing the most inappropriate of men.” She and her siblings never knew when they would be uprooted, piled into the car, and dumped out to live in yet another different place, in some unknown location. She/they were constantly on edge.

Copeland early in her life, developed a love of dance. From the beginning as a young child, she could never stop dancing. At about age five, she had the opportunity to attend a ballet, and it was love at first sight. When she got a little older, she found a way to take ballet classes.

From the start, she learned that any sort of serious foray into the unquestionably white world of ballet was met with not only exclusion but a clear message “this is not for you.” I remember my own feelings as a child, certainly not comparable, but I always thought of ballet as something “not for us.” I remember the girl who “stole” my first-ever best friend in fourth grade had straight blond hair in a perfect flip. She had a princess phone and a canopy bed, all the trappings of an American girl with privilege, and she went to ballet. I could not imagine finding a place there, even if my parents had made it available. I remember being proud to know that pro baseball player Sandy Koufax, (born Sanford Braun) was Jewish. I was proud both that a Jewish guy might be an athletic star, but also for knowing the name of an athlete! Sports and pink lacy arts seemed unquestionably out of my reach, as beautiful as I felt they were. I remember how I loved Tschicovsky’s Nutcracker, even though it was a Christmas story and not “ours.”

Well, Copeland had the determined passion and the talent to pursue a career in ballet and reached the level of “soloist” in the American Ballet Theater, which is certainly not nothing! But she felt she had hit a glass ceiling as a Black woman dancer. There was nowhere to go, she felt stopped. The gateway to the next prima level of “principal” felt elusively out of her reach. At age 27 she sank into that well-known-to-us neglect feeling of “nothing matters.” Her passion to keep at it, even to keep dancing, waned fearfully quickly into the familiar to us ennui. That was when serendipitously and just in time, she met Raven Wilkinson.

Wilkinson was old enough to be Copeland’s mother, the first African American woman to be a principal in the internationally acclaimed Ballet Russe. She had broken in at a historically earlier, even harsher time. Copeland had always admired and idealized her from afar. Apparently, Wilkinson had been following and applauding her dance career from a distance, without her knowing it. So, they had a mutual admiration before they met. As my husband and I often say to each other “What a great arrangement!”

Meeting Wilkinson was the turning point for Copeland. And these words that Wilkinson said to her, stayed with her and became her touchstone throughout her dancing life and her life in general. Wilkinson said to her “I will be the wind at your back!” And she became Copeland’s loving mentor through the rest of her life and certainly became her north star and loving usher to the top of her art. Raven Wilkinson was the vehicle of healing the attachment void much as for many of us, the therapist must be, at least for a time. And those of us who are therapists strive to be that.

Tailwinds

As bicyclists, my husband always loved tailwinds. He of course equally passionately and bitterly hated headwinds. I always said I was pretty neutral about wind, joking “I can’t see it.” I think I have learned a lot about wind, and my life has been truly transformed by the various and powerful helpers who have come behind me and carried me, as I discovered that there is something better and even more effective than the old “doing it all myself”, the default of neglect trauma. Yes, I still joke about how “I am a little OCD but I get a lot done!” but the fact is I get more done by having a team who not only knows more than I do about certain things, but they know what to do, often before I not only realize I need them done, let alone ask them. What a concept, having a tailwind, and my husband, lover of tailwinds is in fact another one. How am I so fortunate? Well, it did start with dogged and unceasing years with a good therapist. But now, with tremendous gratitude, I have the wind at my back.

Fathers

In the US and some other countries, today is Father’s Day (the day I am writing this blog.) Of course, I think of my own father, and with great love. Thanks to the great blessing of forgiveness, I can really feel it. Hearing Frank Anderson’s short interview on Good Morning America, and reading his book, reminded me that I must sometimes write my forgiveness story because it is the story of one of the most important experiences of my life. My father, although not the wind at my back that Wilkinson was to Copeland, directly and indirectly, was the source or role model of my most cherished and important strengths. Although he was also the source of my worst and most scarring trauma, without that trauma, I most likely would have never landed in this treasured work that has become my career and my passion. So, I can immensely appreciate both. He died thankfully before the Pandemic, and also before this tragic Gaza crisis. I am also grateful for that. Thanks, Dad.

And I also want to honor and grieve the passing of another father, Lennart Jonsson, father of my beloved angel Araminta. He died last week. He was a brilliant and compassionate businessman and a profound influence on his daughter creating the business which is lovingly the wind at my back, and to many others dear to us all as well. He was a wonderful role model and teacher and left us way too soon. Deepest sympathy to all his loved ones, and certainly deep gratitude from me, although I never knew him. May he rest well, and all of his loved ones be comforted. And to all who have fathers, living or not, and who are or have become fathers, a belated Happy Father’s Day…

Today’s song:


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