15 August 2009

Stories: The Assumption and Woodstock

Today is the Feast of the Assumption. Having gone to Catholic school, I should know what's celebrated on this date.

As it turns out, the Assumption refers to the Virgin Mary's physical ascencion into Heaven at the end of her life. Some churches teach, and people believe, that Mary never passed through death; she entered Heaven body and soul. But others believe that she died and, three days later, she was resurrected and assumed into Heaven. This is seen as an homage or precursor to the death and ascenscion of Jesus or as a preview of the Final Judgment, when all of the dead will be resurrected and, along with the living, judged.

I must say that the Final Judgment seems immensely unfair to whoever may be living at the time it happens. After all, the sins and misdeeds of the long-dead will be forgotten by that time, or the memories of them will not be fresh. Then again, I recall what Shakespeare's Antony said upon the death of Caesar: "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones." So maybe it all evens out...

The odd thing is that there is no actual record of Mary's death, and people at the time did not know what happened to her. She was one of those people you see one day, and the next she's gone. Her assumption was essentially an apocryphal tale, a legend: Nowhere in the Scriptures does it specifically talk about Mary's fate. However, Pope Pius XII (who helped Nazis escape to South America) defined the Assumption as dogma for the Roman Catholic Church, and cited several scriptural verses as evidence of her corporeal and spiritual ascent. Sceptics have used those very same verses to discredit the notion of the Assumption.

Today's feast is actually a national holiday in several countries--including France, where laicite has been the official policy for more than a century. (I recall trying to cash a traveler's check once on la fete; no bank or exchange was open anywhere!) When I was in Catholic school, we were expected to attend mass on that date. I don't recall how or whether such a policy was enforced, as school was out for the summer.

Being the sort of kid I was, I wondered what people would look like when they were resurrected. Did those who lost limbs regain them? Or what about people who went blind or deaf: Would they be able to see and hear?

Now, if I believed in the story of the assumption, you know what I, as a post-surgery transgender woman, would ask!

Today, as it happens, is also the 40th anniversary of the first day of Woodstock. Now, I rather doubt that anyone consciously chose to start the world's most mythologized musical festival on the Feast of the Assumption.

So, other than for their coincidence, why should I talk about the Assumption and Woodstock in the same entry--one in a blog about my life as a transgender woman, no less?

Well...let's see...Half a million people went to the Woodstock festival. The youngest people who were there (save for the babies conceived during that heady time) are well into middle age, or even older. Some are already dead; in not too many years, others will die off in almost as rapid succession as World War II veterans are dying now. One day--most likely not in my lifetime--there won't be anyone left who was there, and there will be few people who could remember that time.

That means that Woodstock will become an event that will survive because of the stories told--in whatever ways--about it. Of course, we have film and video footage of David Crosby confessing to the crowd that he was scared shitless, as he and Stills, Nash and Young were performing together publicly only for the second time. We have the sounds and images of performers as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Melanie Safka, Joe Cocker and Elvis and pictures of long-haired young people, their tattered clothes soaked from rain that soaked but did not cancel the second day of performances, chanting, hugging, and smoking.

For people who weren't yet born in the middle of August, 1969, those images and the music of those performances are Woodstock. And those young people--and anyone else who wasn't there (including yours truly, who was, let's say, just a bit younger than most of the people who was there)--reconstruct, in their minds, something they call "Woodstock." Even though the name of that music festival has become a kind of shorthand for "peace, love, dope and music." or "sex, drugs and rock'n'roll," no two people have exactly the same story about it in their minds.

Now, as for the Assumption--if it indeed happened--there hasn't been anyone who was alive at that time, much less saw the event, for about two thousand years. And, of course, there aren't any written, much less audio or cinematic, records of the event. Even if someone had been there and written an account, or if video were available (Young people have a hard time imagining a world without cell phones, which was, of course, the world of Woodstock!), records would have been made from the point of view of whoever was recording it. You remember what Cicero said: Victor Imperatus, or the winners write the histories. When you consider that, even in the most powerful nations, the majority of people up to about 150 years ago couldn't read or write their names, any and all record-keeping, much less the stories told about events, were skewed toward a rather small segment of the population.

Anyway, even if there were record the Assumption, who would have written or painted them? And, as for Woodstock, most of the attendees as well as the performers came from some degree or another of privilege. The poor kids were working to pay for school or support themselves or their families--or were slogging through the jungles of Vietnam.

And so all we have of either event are stories--told by people who come from narrow segments of society.

And if you are reading this, you are reading the story of someone who, though not born to privilege and not living in luxuries, has had at least other good fortune that enabled her transition to the life she had envisioned for herself. I mean, I'm not exactly a salt miner or a field hand. I have some education, such as it is, which has allowed me to acquire, if not a lot of material prosperity, at least some choices in my life that my parents and lots of other people haven't had.

I mean, let's face it: In order to undergo GRS, you have to have a certain level of literacy and education in order to find, much less use, the relevant information. And you need the time and means to acquire it. Finally, you have to come up with a way to pay for the surgery and other expenses related to your change, and to be able to take time off from making a living so that you can recover from your surgery. As it happens, as a college instructor, I have that time off.

So...the Assumption and Woodstock are stories rather than events for most people. And so am I, dear reader (oh, how quaint!): If you are reading this, you know me by the stories I'm telling you about myself and the world around me. Now, I have never been anything but honest. But my point-of-view is not all-encompassing, as is the point of view of anyone else. And, of course, one day, I'll be gone, and so will anyone who knew me now or at any other time in my life.

So I know stories about the Assumption and Woodstock. And if you've been reading my blog, you know a few about me. If you know me, you know others. In the end, whatever believe in and whom we love (which are really all that matters in life, as far as I can tell), all we have are those stories

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