Monday, February 3, 2014

Thank you, John Muir!

Not the naturalist, although he was lovely too.  I was lucky as hell to attend and graduate from John Muir High School in Pasadena. John Muir is known fairly well for a number of reasons. Jackie Robinson went there when it was still a junior college. Sirhan Sirhan also attended there, as did Rodney King. There were also professional athletes and Olympians, writers and musicians (David Lee Roth, ha!) We turned out some good folk! But they aren't the reason I'm so thankful to have gone there. 

The experience I had, that we all had, was a very unique one. It can best be described as "everyone was cool." I am not one of those people who say "I don't see color", I think that sentiment is completely asinine. What I can say, is that my experiences growing up made color a non-issue. Major kudos for this go to my folks and my older siblings, but I believe that attending John Muir had an even bigger impact on me than my family did. I look at pictures of all of us in high school and they make me so HAPPY. At the time, it never really registered that there were Black, White, Hispanic, Armenian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese people at all those parties, escaping for all those ditch days, and sitting in the quad at lunch. It was just US. I am proud and honored to still call many of these people who appear in these pictures dear friends.

*I want to add photos, but if I wait I'll never post this, so check back later!

Was it one big 4 year long taping of "We Are The World"? Of course not, there were still rough things. It got to the point where we would see crowds of kids running like their hair was on fire in the direction of the "fight! fight!" and we just kind of watched them run by, no big deal. While waiting in line for a talent show, a loud obnoxious girl referred to me as "Snowbody."  I'm pretty damn white, in retrospect that was a masterfully executed insult and I applaud her, wherever she is. Another day in the morning, I was walking onto campus and a Lincoln Continental got onto the field somehow. The driver was clearly out of his mind high on something, and he was reckless, doing donuts on the grass. I got out of the way. He didn't hit anyone, and we all just kind of went about our day.That's pretty damn terrifying now that I think about it, but I think the main takeaway from things like this was that I wasn't scared. I don't remember ever feeling scared there. 

Ironically, coming out of high school I honestly thought that the rest of the world was like JMHS. I took it for granted that people were cool everywhere, at least in California.  I was sadly mistaken, and went through a major, albeit temporary culture shock when I went to college in Palos Verdes my freshman year. It was like Beverly Hills 90210. People snorted coke to study and drove new BMW's at 18. It was horrible. I lasted a year before I ran screaming back to PCC and then SFSU. This culture shock went both ways. One of my closest friends went to UCSB and met a new group of friends, who were all cool to me. However, once when I was talking to my friend on the phone, I heard her refer to me as "that white girl" to her roommate. Wha????  I was upset! That white girl, who is that? I'm JANE. This phase passed, and all was well. I think we all went through some growing pains once we left our bubble of "everyone's cool" and had to test the outside world out. God knows it was hard for me too! 

In my professional life, the aspect of not being scared has served me quite well. In my first 7 years as a public school psychologist, I worked in some really rough areas in South Stockton. I was right smack dab in the middle of the roughest. I'm not gonna lie and say I was never scared, but I wasn't easily scared. I was concerned when a man walked across the elementary campus with a gun, but he was just taking a shortcut. I did become alarmed when a parent who lived in the neighborhood told me, "When the sun starts to go down, you have to leave. All the junkies who have been partying all night are starting to wake up and do it all over again. You should just go."  That sure as hell got my attention, but I was more grateful to this sweet mother (who didn't want anything happening to the pregnant white girl) than scared something would actually happen. I've also worked with a number of families who have absolutely tried to intimidate me and it rarely works. I've had parents stare me down, scream and cuss at me, and be just generally nasty. It annoys me, but it doesn't SCARE ME. One year while working at a rough high school, I got a call that there was a parent cussing and screaming, insisting to talk with me. Well, okay then. She was indeed, very very upset, but I asked her to come back to my office and she calmed down instantly. Then she said something I will never forget. She told me, "Mrs. Edel, I'm a single mom and a black woman. I sincerely apologize for making a scene and using foul language. My entire life, that's the only way anyone would ever pay attention and listen to me."  WOW. That was so incredibly valuable to me, and I was honored she shared it. In other situations, not being scared of human beings just because they look different has helped me out again and again. I worked with a really tough principal who ran staff off on a regular basis. I kept waiting for her to lower the hammer on me but she never did, she never messed with me. I'll never know why, but I believe it's because I wasn't scared of her. When my kids were in preschool, I told this darling little girl that she reminded me of my sister in law, who is black. The preschool teacher, also black, said, "Is that why your kids aren't scared of me?" It took me by surprise, and I said, "Why would they be scared of you?" She then asked where I grew up.

I grew up in Pasadena and Altadena. I grew up around incredible people. I grew up in a young world where it truly didn't matter. I knew people who went to school in La Canada, or Arcadia, or San Marino and they were always regarded as being so privileged. But we were the privileged ones.

I'm not super active in alumni activities. I went to my 10 and 20 year reunions, but missed the 25th. One thing I know for sure is, folks that attended that school have a very special bond that's hard to describe. I've met alumni that were years and years ahead or behind me, but they still get it. We were all part of something incredibly special, and I truly wonder who we all would have become had we not experienced it together. I am forever grateful. THANK YOU MUSTANGS!