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Five Directions Press Authors Dish: First Political Act

Being too discreet to discuss the politics of the moment at our virtual watercooler, this month we Five Directions Press authors are dishing about our very first political acts.

Adriadne Apostolou: “Do you renounce Satan and all his angels, and all his works and all his services, and all his pride?”

It is 1961. I am sixteen, standing at the entrance of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, holding my squirmy second cousin in my arms. The priest faces us to bar our passage until I answer. He wears glimmering brocades and swings a sensor with smoke to carry my renunciation to the ear of God. The priest is also my father. I am to say, “I renounce him,” and turn my head to spit at Evil, ever hovering nearby. Then the priest will repeat the question twice more. My thrice-given answers will undo the apostle Peter’s three time denial of the knowledge of Jesus.

I am silent.

Wait! Should I renounce Satan? Am I that sophisticated to know evil? Don’t I need evil to learn what is good? Why do I deny this little being the right to decide how she will live? Yes, please wait!

In those moments, I feel small under the crown of a dome miles above my head; its space is a stone-cold, nondenominational grey, the color of indecision where Satan hovers. This is not the protective light-reflecting, light-giving golden atmosphere of an Orthodox church. In that light, you meld with God. You renounce evil without thinking.

Our ancient rituals are laden with symbolism. I was born into them. I witness them, regularly. I know what should be done. I am a stand-in for a voiceless six-month old about to be transformed into an Orthodox Christian without choice or reflection. I shall be transformed too, into an elder who knows best what is right for others. I must thrice renounce Satan and spit at him to proceed down the aisle. It is my father’s will. Her father’s will.

Her father is my cousin. We, the family clan, know he is a Greek paterfamilias who spooks Washington high society as the director of a major DC art museum. He has staged this for my father to perform an ancient Orthodox rite inside this showplace of American plurality. He chose me as his baby’s godmother. I don’t know why. He is too intimidating to ask. He is 6' 5" and booms his bass voice to bully his museum board into submission. He is our political outlier, the family leftist, fiercely pitting his proud mountain Greekness against the feckless Washington elite.

It is the beginning of the women’s movement, of civil rights protests, of self-determination. What do I truly believe? What do I truly stand for? What truly matters to me? I am only now realizing I have the option to think for myself.

So wait! Please!

My father, glowering at my delay, mouths the Greek words to prompt me. I repeat them when he asks, “Do you renounce Satan?” I renounce Satan thrice, but each time, I refuse to spit. I reserve that as my hold on independent thinking. And I reserve that same right for the little one in my arms.

Denise Allan Steele: “You’ll never guess who’s opening the new library right now, quick, right now, we need to run!”

My friend Jackie and I were in Strathclyde University’s strangely empty Student Union, hurriedly copying each other’s assignments before our psychology lecture, when our roommate Shona ran in. I didn’t look up from Maslow’s Pyramid as I asked, “Who? Boy George? Freddie Mercury? The guy from The Stranglers? So is that where everyone is?”

“Only the biggest wanker in Scotland—Teddy The Wank Taylor! There’s a big crowd already there waiting for him: police, news cameras, and everything, and some of the lecturers are trying to calm the students down!”

I spat out my Diet Coke. “Where? When? How did we not know?”

We grabbed our Adidas backpacks and ran up the hill to join the hostile baying mob of outraged students.

Sir Edward McMillan Taylor was an extremely controversial Conservative member of Margaret Thatcher’s government, the Member of Parliament for a wealthy conservative pocket of Scotland in a sea of socialism, heavy industry, and working-class pride. He was the second most detested and loathed person in the entire country after his boss, Margaret Thatcher. The hatred was (and forty years later still is) so strong that when Maggie Thatcher planned to visit Scotland to explain why she was shutting down our coal, steel, and shipbuilding industries (it was that simple to us; she was personally responsible), the Chief Constable of Glasgow told her that he could not guarantee her safety, and when she died in 2013 at 87 years old, spontaneous formation ceilidh dancing broke out in the streets, and local newspapers in Scotland, the North of England, and Ireland ran the headlines: Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead!

Teddy Taylor’s suggested policies in Westminster included removing free school milk for working-class children (accomplished) and bringing back hanging and the birch, a medieval device made from a birch branch and twigs and used to publicly whip the bare backs of teenage boys who broke the law round about the time that the Mayflower was sailing to the New World (both rejected).

This was the man that our university chancellor—in the middle of working-class Glasgow, at one point the shipbuilding capital of the world—had decided would be a good fit to cut the ribbon to open a new library for 30,000 already enraged and not-busy students.

Up the hill we ran, pushing through the raging throngs of students.

“Maggie, Maggie, Maggie!” “Out, out, out!”

And there he was, behind a wall of burly police officers, emerging smugly from his chauffeur-driven car, and waving—waving—to the baying mob, as if he were David Bowie at Glastonbury.

At 5' 1" tall, I had the advantage: ducking low, I slipped and slithered through the crowd and between the shoulders of two big policemen who looked like they’d rather be anywhere else. And there he was, right in front of me on the red carpet.

The crowd cheered as I faced this big, tall, startled man and gave him the V-sign with both hands, right in his face.

This is not the same as the Winston Churchill V for Victory sign, as the palms face the person giving the sign, and it’s definitely not the same as the American giving the finger. It’s much less of an insult and is actually quite humorous, if disdainful, but it was the best I could do.

After my moment of glory, I ducked down again and disappeared into the crowd. That was the day that I was the headline item on the Scottish Television Evening News!

Gabrielle Mathieu: My first political action was setting all the animals free. I didn’t think of it as a political action. I didn’t know what politics was, because I was six years old. My favorite game was playing with my miniature plastic animals: a polar bear, a white Arabian mare, an elephant, an ox, and other assorted animals. I would carry my toys out to the veranda in the afternoon, when the fierce sun lulled most inhabitants into a dazed quiet. I’d set up the mirror as a water feature and then erect my toy fence around my animal denizens.

Once imprisoned, they had to work together to achieve their freedom. The elephant and the mare were smart, the ox and polar bear had strength, and using the advantages of each, they would succeed in their break-out. Since I’m an only child, I’m not sure what other games children played, but I imagine this was not a common one.

Even when I grew older, I kept this attitude. I lost my cockatiel because I ineptly clipped her wings and let her climb around on a tree outside. Naturally, cats were my favored pets because they came and went as they pleased, sneering at my attempts to call them inside. It took me many decades to appreciate the steady loyalty a dog brings, and its willingness to accept bondage.

Images: © Joshua Sortino via Unsplash; Denise Allan Steele; Pixabay, no attribution required.

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