I know it’a been forever since I posted here. I’ve been way too busy not finishing the book, AND completely recreating my other shop, from a blog into an actual online magazine. For which I wrote the “news item” below:
Grazie, Shirley de Lucia.
That’s what I kept thinking last night as I watched TV reports about the Hero of Binghamton — the woman in the small city of Binghamton, New York. She worked as a volunteer, in a center that helped legal immigrants study English and study for their citizenship exams, until one sociopath walked in and shot her in the abdomen on his way to killing more. As Ben Sherwood summarizes in the Huffington Post:
Shirley DeLucia was the 61-year-old receptionist on Friday morning when Jiverly Wong walked through the door. “Hello, how can I help you,” DeLucia asked. The killer pulled his weapon and opened fire, hitting DeLucia in the abdomen. She dropped to the ground while Wong shot the other receptionist. DeLucia played dead while the attacker shot his way through the building. At 10:31 a.m., DeLucia somehow managed to call 911. Police responded within two minutes and found 13 people dead, including the other receptionist. The Binghamton police chief believes DeLucia’s quick thinking and action made a big difference. “She’s a heroine and I believe she saved some lives,” says Chief Joseph Zikusky.
Full disclosure: I spent seven years living in Binghamton, arriving as an undergraduate and staying through most of my first marriage. I spent much of that Friday afternoon glued to TV reports of the standoff. Still-familiar streets, now flooded with SWAT teams: how could this be? I didn’t yet know that those teams had been called in by a daughter of immigrant, perhaps those same Italians that landed in Binghamton straight from Ellis Island in the 1910s, holding flyers handed out at Ellis Island that advertised jobs at Endicott Johnson’s shoe factories. (They said “Which way EJ?”, or so the story goes.) But I wasn’t surprised when I learned that so many lives had been saved by a 61-year-old woman. As de Lucia described Jiverly Wong and his weapons to the 911 operator, she enacted Ernest Hemingway’s maxim about “grace under pressure.” We all wonder if we could do that: I don’t know if she’s proof that we all could, or that it takes a post-menopausal daughter of immigrants to take care of such business.
Learning about de Lucia, I thought of the way my grandmother, Christine Solanto, told me stories of struggling with English when growing up in Connecticut; about the way my immigrant students at La Guardia Community College described their own journeys, as I tried to browbeat them into writing correctly. The Ellis Island experience may have been as distant to de Lucia as to me, but that distance is not very much in one’s heart.It was that immigrant,”which way EJ?” spirit she was honoring as she said hello to people from Russia, from Vietnam, from Haiti who sat in those classrooms and struggled with this weird old-new language called English.
The news also reported last night that de Lucia rolls her eyes when told in the hospital that she’s a hero. But I want her to tell her own story, now. Captain Sullenberger got invited to the White House when he landed that plane safely; President Obama can do no less for a woman, exactly the age of his Secretary of State/former primary opponent, who taught us all this week what courage is really made of.
I wrote thia having cried all Friday afternoon,watching the small town of my college years struck by tragedy. I still don’t know if I was also crying for my youth, or for my tough immigrant grandmother now lost to dementia. But I know I’ll try to live out the rest of my life with a tenth as much grace.