CVIndependent

Sat12152018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Back when the news was being dominated by the federal “zero-tolerance policy” which was resulting in family separations at the border, I attended a presentation by the writers’ group at Coachella Valley Repertory—always a great way to experience local talent.

The final writer performing her original work was Barbara Fast, the new pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert in Rancho Mirage, doing a piece she called I Am Miriam. She told the story of Moses’ journey down the Nile in a reed basket, into the arms of the Egyptian princess who adopted him into the royal kingdom, from the perspective of Miriam, Moses’ sister.

In Fast’s version, Miriam followed her brother’s journey and then suggested to the princess that she could get a Hebrew woman to breast-feed the baby—enabling their real mother to suckle her own infant. When Fast said her line about how no child should ever be separated from its mother, the audience gasped—a collective intake of breath at the ironic current relevance of that age-old story. I still get goosebumps when I recall the moment.

Barbara Fast, 67, has been in the desert for only a year and a half. She was born and raised in New York City, the only child of working parents.

“I was what used to be called a ‘latch-key kid,’” says Fast. “My mom and dad were big influences on me. I would get to go to work with my dad sometimes, at the Veterans Administration, and I learned to have respect for those who serve in any capacity in our government.”

In high school, Fast specialized in math and science. She then attended Sarah Lawrence College, majoring in philosophy, and went on to earn a law degree from Georgetown University.

“My senior high school year was 1968, when so much was going on, particularly the King and Kennedy killings,” she says. “I had already become involved in local political campaigns, and then once I was in college, there were the Kent State killings, bus riders in the South, and marches. Fairness and justice were always really important to me.”

As a lawyer, Fast went into trial practice. “It was what I seemed to be good at, and I loved the thinking,” she says. “I became a prosecutor in New York state—not a defense lawyer, because I was all about justice and discretion on behalf of the people. In the late 1970s, New York was coming out of bankruptcy; graffiti was everywhere. I felt I was participating in upholding standards. Every day, there were ethical issues.”

The work required an enormous commitment. Fast and her husband decided to move to Connecticut to start a family, and she began to teach law.

How did Fast go from law to religion?

“My husband is Jewish, and I’m sort of Catholic (from a mixed marriage),” she says. “We decided to raise our children in the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Westport. I was doing lots of volunteer work on environmental issues and was asked to give personal witness at the church for Earth Day. I spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing to do five minutes, but I realized then that although I had always been standing in the back, I wanted to be in front of the church. I wanted to engage the hearts of the people.

“We live in this world, and it’s about how to live with integrity and joy. We don’t know for sure what happens afterward, so we can only imagine and wonder. What I do now is about how we live our lives. If we can ask the right questions, we can get to the right answers.

“Somebody once said to me, ‘If it knocks more than once, it could be God knocking.’ I’ve never forgotten that. I applied to go part-time to Yale and felt at home in divinity school, studying the Old Testament and ethics.“

Fast met her husband, Jonathan, in college, but it wasn’t until they met again at an alumni event that they got together. They have now been married 35 years.

“I have three wonderful children: Molly, my stepdaughter, and two sons, Ben and Dan. Jon was a novelist, but we both made career shifts at about the same time. He started teaching social policy, and I went into divinity school.”

What brought them to the Coachella Valley?

“About two years ago, we decided to retire, after kicking it around for about a year. I had served churches in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and then back to Connecticut, and I was tired. After the Sandy Hook shootings happened nearby, I was in a state of trauma. It was all just so sad.

“Jon was retiring, and our son Ben was in Los Angeles, so we looked around there. Then we came over the mountain originally thinking it was ridiculous—it was August, and the temperature was about 114! But we fell in love with this area. It’s affordable, and there are so many creative people here. We wanted a place that was near a UU church, and when we attended, we found a great group of people, friendly and smart. We knew the church was in transition; they weren’t ready at that time for a full-time pastor, but I did preach there a few times.”

Shortly after arriving in Rancho Mirage, Fast sought out the CV Rep Writers’ Group, run by Andy Harmon.

“It’s wonderful,” she says. “I had crafted stories as part of sermons, not just about individuals, but about human beings in general and the human condition, trying to make connections with how we are living now. I had presented stories, after gathering evidence and analyzing it, as a lawyer. Then I did it in sermons. Now I wanted to expand my capabilities. Biblical text is very compact, so when I was writing about Miriam, I asked myself, ‘Why did she go into the water? How did she get there, down the Nile? What must it be like to sacrifice your child?’”

Fast says a “calling” is when your greatest love meets the world’s greatest need: “It takes different shapes at different times of your life.”

Lucky for us, Fast’s current time of life is here in the desert. She shares stories with her “audience” every Sunday, making a difference in the community, and bringing goose bumps to her listeners.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Coachella Valley Repertory, the quality theater company currently performing in Rancho Mirage, has a writers’ program, and each year, those writers read or enact their own works during a presentation. Andy Harmon heads the writers’ program, and this year, one of the participants was Anita Harmon—who recited her very personal poetry.

The work, and her presentation of it, was mesmerizing.

Anita, 73, was born and raised in London, and educated at Le Lycée Français.

“I didn’t go on to college because, after all, it was the 60s!” she laughs. “I met Andy when he was on a ‘grand tour’ of Europe on his first summer break while studying at Brandeis University. He was 18, and I was 19. I was waitressing to fund my traveling. I went to France, Italy, Spain, North Africa—all over. Andy and I stayed in touch for four years after that. He came over every summer, and we’d travel together.”

Anita’s mother had an important influence on her daughter, an only child.

“My mom was probably the most unprejudiced woman I’ve ever known,” she says. “She would talk to anybody and everybody. I remember once, in the 1950s, she brought home a very large, black African man. He was studying in London and didn’t really know people, and she just said to him, ‘Come home with me.’ He turned out to be Robert Mugabe.”

Mugabe was a Zimbabwean politician and revolutionary who served as prime minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987, and then as president from 1987 to 2017.

 “I grew up that way, and to this day, as long as somebody will talk to me, I’ll talk back,” Anita says.

Her father instilled in her a love of reading. “He was a bit of a difficult man, but he ran a bookstore for a while, and I could always have any book I wanted to read,” she says. “I was drawn to natural science—insects and animals, things that live under water, and human anatomy. I’d just look at all the pictures. I also read a lot of children’s books. My favorites were Through the Looking-Glass—I liked that one better than Alice in Wonderland, because she met all different kinds of characters—and The Wind in the Willows, because of the friendships. Friendship is the most important thing to me. My best friend, until she died, was someone I met when I was only 7.”

At 23, Anita moved to Boston to be with Andy, and lived there from 1968-1977.

“Andy was majoring in theater arts at Brandeis,” she says, “and I couldn’t work since I didn’t have a green card, so I got swept up in the theater work he was doing. My first job was sewing costumes. Then they asked me to go onstage as an extra. For me, it was like going to the best party ever. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t afraid at all. I felt like the Roadrunner just running straight off the cliff!”

Anita credits her lack of stage fright to the sense of responsibility she felt toward the other actors onstage:. “I never wanted to let anybody down. If you mess up, it’s more complicated for everyone else. That’s why I didn’t really like doing scripted parts.”

Anita and Andy got involved in improvisation, and she considers it her first love onstage: “You go onstage without the faintest idea of what might happen. You just have to take care of each other. It’s like being the catcher in a trapeze act.”

Anita and Andy have two children, one in England and the other in San Diego, and now a granddaughter, Cordelia.

“After 10 years raising my kids, I went back to school and got a degree in psychology,” says Anita. “I practiced for about 10 years. Then Andy and I put together a business doing management training, and brought our improv skills to companies to help with communication.”

Anita has been a resident of Rancho Mirage since 2006. “We lived 35 years in London, and in 2006 decided to come back to California. We’ve basically been retired for 12 years now.”

But retired doesn’t really describe Anita’s life today. While Andy is running the writer’s program for CV Rep, Anita got involved with the poetry workshop sponsored by the Rancho Mirage Library for several years, and has been writing with the hope of publishing her very personal memoir in poetic form.

“When I retired, I finally got serious about writing. I was inconsistent about it until then,” she says. “As much as I’ve wanted to do my memoir, now I’m interested in writing personal essays. I got involved with Andy’s group at CV Rep this past year, because I wanted to be pushed a bit. I’ve also been doing a writing class with friends for the past six years. Every Friday morning, we get together and just write.”

Where does Anita find inspiration? “One thing that always works to inspire me is travel. I went to England for a month last summer and just pulled out my laptop and started writing. A change of scene always stimulates me. And when I’m stuck in one place, I go to a museum or art gallery. Looking at other people’s work gives me a new way of looking at something. When I read other writers, my own voice goes off underneath. I also have a big file where I just keep adding things that I’ve read or overheard that I might want to write about.

“One of my preoccupations is time, not just because time runs out, but because of how ancient the Earth is. … We all tend to forget that.”

Time the soldier toiling up a hill knows his death or life

is all the same to the grass at the summit. Life and Death

The two sides of time, stood still for one moment,

Like the antlers of a deer holding up the moon.

Anita Harmon is a special person who brings the beauty of the world as she sees it to those of us lucky enough to hear her words.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors