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  • Writer's pictureJoia

Today's rhaps is on ... Cassandra

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

Ajax taking Cassandra, by the Kodros Painter, c. 440–430 BC, Louvre

When I was eighteen I played Cassandra in Euripides' Trojan Women at Gordon College in Beverly, Massachusetts. I remember:


With dreams of grandeur yet to come

So shall your end be

In darkness

No light there.

I also remember much yelling and dancing to the god Hymen, not on my radar yet as personal physiology. (That would come the following year.)

I hadn't known where to go after a very bad final year in high school. The scholarship I'd been offered to Eastman Conservatory in Rochester New York was not on anyone's radar, some place out there in that great secular sea of humanity. At the last minute I decided on Gordon College since my Dad was there translating from Hebrew for the new NIV Bible and my tuition was paid for a year. Gordon, along with Westmont College in Santa Barbara and Wheaton College near Chicago, was a sister college to Bethel in Minnesota, where my Dad taught Old Testament. All four years of tuition were paid if you stayed at your faculty parent's college, which my brothers did...but I knew I had to leave.

I tried to go all the way back to Portugal, but only got as far as Boston. I had spent a few years there already on missionary furloughs, while Dad finished his dissertation at Brandeis on Ugaritic place names and Mom worked as librarian at Christian High. My teachers had called me Jewel because that's what was on my passport. Adjusting, well...the TCK and culture shock books call it a challenge.

Now it was six years later and time to self-launch. I'd get going, at least head east in the correct global direction, get my bearings, and then decide where to go next.

There's this pink wool tulip skirt my mother made long ago, with material left over for a tiny skirt for me and and an even tinier one for my Betsy Wetsy doll. The grown-up version of the skirt was now mine. So that summer day I put it on and met Mom after church for dinner at the Bavarian restaurant near Stillwater, Minnesota. "Why don't I go to Gordon College?"

My mother was delighted. The last time I'd played dress-up that year was for the Bethel psychologist my parents had sent me to upon discovery that I'd been smoking weed, not just cigarettes. I'd worn the same bell bottom jeans and Indian smock with granny glasses most of my senior year, emulating my schoolcrush Julie, but for the marijuana session I donned makeup and miniskirt, curled my hair and pulled boots over dark tights. No hippie stereotypes here!

"So why do you think you need to smoke marijuana?"

"Uh, I don't know, why do you think I need to smoke marijuana?"

Interestingly, the Christian psychologist gave me the MMPI, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. I remember filling in the spaces between the yes and no circles. One question stumped me completely: I think I am as happy as other people seem to be?

Nearly forty years later I was given the exact same test again by the Golden Valley neuropsychologist helping to diagnose my MS at the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology. This question was still there. Now though, after decades of teaching philosophy, I knew all the names of the logical fallacies and carefully listed them for about 25% of the questions: leading/loaded question, false dichotomy, begging the question, equivocation. Really? This stuff is still determining psychosis for you guys? No wonder my sanity's been in question all these years.

When I got to Massachusetts back in the fall of 1972, I got busy. This was one manic first semester of college. I got all As, from linguistics to literature. I took the train into the city to study violin with a student of Roman Totenberg's at Boston University. I had a boyfriend from South America. I listened to Roberta Flack's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face in the library. All my friends were seniors. Many were newly converted Jesus Freaks whose wealthy parents were just happy to send them somewhere to a college...I think they liked me because I could quote all the Bible verses they were trying to learn, plus they could get me drunk and high at their parties on their off moments. Oh, and I got a lead in the playTrojan Women.

The Curse of Cassandra is that you tell the future...but no one believes you...

When I got back to Minnesota for Christmas vacation, boyfriend had given me mono. These days we call it Epstein-Barr virus, which figures notoriously now in Harvard's 2022 study stating that people with MS have EBV, but not vice versa. (I suspected the virus causal hypothesis was the one!) Boyfriend was also African Guianan, so after my Dad got me to the old hospital on University in St. Paul when my throat nearly closed shut, he wrote an article for Christianity Today on "Miscegenation in the Old Testament." I didn't marry George in any case, so there wasn't any miscegenation. (Not yet, anyway.)

After I was freed from my holiday vacation with hospital antibiotics, I announced that I was done with Gordon College. There was nothing left for me there.

No! That would be quitting! Can't be a quitter!

I did go back and lasted one whole week, a story having to do with my walking out of a Christian philosophy class, a beautiful boy's attempted suicide, and a lot of Joni Mitchell. I then rented a room up in Gloucester, worked at a Friendly's Ice Cream, and got my Lalo Symphonie Espagnole ready to audition again, this time at Boston Conservatory for the following fall.


With dreams of grandeur yet to come...

We predict, we yell, we dance, we try to foresee, we irritate, we offer soliloquy and passion, we squint into the future and shudder over the past.

We hang on to what is dear and let go of the unbearable. Or keep gripping what is unbearable and lose what is dear.

We forget, we forgive, we forego.

We love. We deny. We live.

Somehow, we do live.

Farewell, ye garlands of that god most dear to me!

Farewell, ye mystic symbols! I here resign your feasts, my joy in days gone by.

Go, I tear ye from my body, that, while yet mine honour is intact,

I may give them to the rushing winds to waft to thee, my prince of prophecy...

20 JANUARY 2023

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