America's "Invisible" Women
My last column on these pages was about Mr. Wrong. This one is about Mrs. Right-Anne Wright of Lakeland, Florida, to be specific.
It all began with President Clinton's announcement about America's need for "a new government," articulated as part of his second inaugural address. I thought at the time (and still do) that people ought to take such a serious statement seriously. There was only one such call in American history previous to this one-by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Those who did not take him seriously at the time lived to regret it.
Anne Wright took Mr. Clinton seriously and, having read my column on the subject in the National Weekly Edition, wrote a letter expressing her deep concern about the president's "new kind of government." The letter attested to her overwhelming preference for the kind we have had for more than two hundred years and to her growing fear that we might be losing it. But, she asked at the end, "what is a little old lady in tennis shoes to do?"
The resulting sporadic exchange of letters eventually led to phone conversations and, a few months ago, we finally met. The occasion was a town meeting at the University of Tampa. She made the trip driving from Lakeland in a tropical rain storm, which was remarkable, given her age. Of course, I would not dream of revealing her age, but she began her nursing career in World War II.
The town meetings we hold set forth America's founding principles, then invite a local panel to take these in their crossfire. Finally, the entire audience joins the discussion. Currently there is no shortage of those who take issue with the ways this nation was founded, and our format provides a ready-made opportunity for them to come right to the point. Some do it seriously, others poke fun at the Founders and at the Constitution, yet others shed their civility and adopt the style of street hecklers.
But the outcome is uniform. Faced with the incontrovertible truths about America's founding, all arguments against it dissolve. Nothing of comparable worth had ever existed before, and nothing of comparable success has come into being since. Those who argue against it might start out believing that they know more, but turn out to comprehend considerably less than the men who wrote the Declaration, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers. And the audience, apparently, loves to see the Founders carry the day.
Apparently, Anne Wright, too, liked our town meeting, because she took it upon herself to arrange one in Lakeland. Flattering, but, frankly, even after reading her thoughtful letters, I had some doubts about the "little old lady in tennis shoes" putting together a host committee, a venue, a panel, and everything else that goes with such an event.
I should have remembered Miriam Wilson who, in 1957, upon learning that I, a complete stranger, wanted to come to America, sent me a letter to Vienna, Austria, announcing herself as my "American mother," at work to create a scholarship fund. Soon thereafter, Congress declared a moratorium on Hungarian immigration. Two years later, Miriam was suddenly asked by the authorities whether she still wanted "that Hungarian student" to come. She said an unhesitating "yes," even though the scholarship fund had long evaporated. She brought me over literally on a prayer, but she did not let on until I was well settled in my new life.
I should have remembered Ruth Rivers, wife of the director of civilian personnel at the headquarters of the United States Air Force in Europe in the early 1960's. As well as running the full and complex lives of her husband and two sons-one an athlete, the other a budding artist-she looked after a sizable contingent of young Americans stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany. Most were single, or separated from their spouses, or just lonely. Ruth held together the entire community. She never seemed tired. She never was "too busy" to do whatever needed doing.
I should have remembered. Instead, after a month of silence from Lakeland, I called Anne Wright last week, more or less expecting to hear that the task had proved too difficult in the short run.
In her accustomed manner, understating the understatement, Anne recited the venue and the arrangements for the event. Then she calmly listed the "crossfire" panel she had put together-a high school teacher of advanced history and economics; the former mayor and commissioner of Lakeland; the local representative of the NAACP; and the public defender of the 10th Judicial Circuit. No professional, highly-paid advance team could have come up with a more perfect local panel to take on the principles on which this nation was founded.
These days, unhappiness with all three branches of government cuts across party lines. It is true, many of the "visible" people cause one to question whether America's best days could really be ahead.
No country is perfect. But in America, since the days of the founding, the "wright" people have always outnumbered the wrong people.
They still do.