Effi Barry - Amazing Grace
By Diane Cameron
With the whole world watching..she turned tears to diamonds
Pain…unacknowledged… shame televised round the world
Upheld it with grace….amazing grace…
….As the whole world watched….
The year was 1990, Marion Barry was the Mayor of Washington, DC.
Images vividly replay in my mind remembering his arrest. In disbelief we watched the televised footage of him smoking crack at the Vista International Hotel. Journalist around the world converged on Washington to cover the story, it was humiliating and riveting. Add to the sensationalism, the discovery that a beautiful young model was in his room at the time of the arrest. Pennsylvania Avenue is not Sesame Street and Washington politics has certainly seen its fair share of indiscretions. For years there has been an abundance of water cooler buzz from Watergate, Firecrackergate all the way to the current investigations of a sting in a public men's room involving a Senator. This story, however is not about Mayor Barry. He paid a 6 months debt to society, returned to the wreckage to gather what was salvageable about his life and moved on. To some, his ascent has been admirable, with the exception of a few bumps, to others, perhaps the jury is still out. None of us are immune to failings, even those who've experience extreme moral declines can find redemption in the hearts and minds of the public, friends and family who choose to forgive.
One of the most unforgettable televised courtroom scenes show Mrs. Barry sitting behind her husband….quiet, noble and dignified to a fault. On the outside she appeared unaffected as the embarrassing details of her husband's affairs and drug use played out on the witness stand. She concentrated solely on her craft. The needle and yarn seemed to be the only providence she would attribute importance to. Hooking a rug became her saving grace, a life raft granting a diversion from the reality of the courtroom. One can imagine Effi desired to weave a giant cocoon to shelter her son from the frenzy of the media circus. Its hard enough living in a glass house, it is almost unbearable knowing the world is sitting in their living rooms night after night tuned in to the unraveling of your life. In a later interview she revealed ". . It was like watching a movie to hear people talk about this man I was married to, but this man they were talking about was a complete stranger. . . ."
I didn't hear much about Effi in the aftermath of Mayor Barry's guilty sentence and subsequent jail term. Three years later her name captured the headlines again with the announcement that she and the Mayor were divorcing. Surely this information did not come as a surprise as very few relationships can survive or recover from this kind of damage. There was however reconciliation in their relationship, not as man and wife, but as friends and survivors. She revealed to the Washington Post, "We all have flawed characteristics; that's what makes us human. . . . As it relates to Marion, I get beyond his flaws, and he has gotten beyond my flaws, and we just accept one another as people."...Remarkable!
Waking up Thursday morning, September 6, 2007, hearing the news of her passing saddened me as if I had lost a sister. She gave a face to Proverb 31's "Virtuous Woman". I want to honor her and thank God for her life. In the face of the most demoralizing of times she upheld an aura of calm and dignity few would be able to exhibit. What a epitaph if the spirit that fueled her regality could be an example to all those who have felt the sting of betrayal. Forgiveness is a powerful force…it's a two edged sword, freeing the giver and the receiver to move on past the infraction to wholeness. I learned she had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2006 and refusing to wallow in self pity, she went on to challenge the African-American community to become proactive marrow donors. In her words ""My idea was to bring awareness to a very serious health issue. I am not here for pity," she told The Washington Post in May. "Whenever you face adversity, you use it as an opportunity. I see this as an opportunity because, had it not been for the kindness of the people of the District, I would not still be alive today."
With the utmost of respect and reverence I say goodbye to you my sister…
Untold numbers are blessed, strengthened and comforted because of your life…your grace under fire was…….amazing.