Thursday, May 20, 2004

Parenting, the Ultimate Education

I rarely felt secure or safe with my anything but square parents. But I learned a lot.

I learned that everybody loves you when you've got dope, and when you've got none, you know who your friends are.

I learned the smell of patchouli and hair gone too long unwashed.

I learned that spiritual groups will deceive you while smiling and spouting love and peace.

I learned that even when you find a cause worth fighting for, your efforts may be futile and you end up wondering if your energy had been better spent elsewhere.

I learned that people have to work to stay connected, else their separate psyches drive them apart.

I learned that men and women practice betrayal in many forms, and even those who claim to love you best may participate.

I learned that when you hit rock bottom, there's nowhere to fall.

I learned that no matter how dire your straits, recovery is always possible.

I learned to amuse myself with books, sticks, and imagination, and that television is a mass mindnumbing leach.

I learned to skate on a frozen pond and to swim in a warm rainfilled clay pit.

I learned the ways of breadmaking when my mother gave me a lump of dough to knead, then baked my little creation in the big oven alongside the commercial loaves.

I learned the strata of the earth's top layers when my father dug a four-foot pit for no other reason than to show me.

I learned the feel of corn pollen on the back of my neck, the song of frogs and birds and crickets, the smell of soybeans growing in their ribbed fields, and the flavor of peas fresh off the vine.

I learned that grownups, too, love to play, to laugh, to swim naked, stripping to dive into bottomless strip pits.

I learned that having nothing doesn't seem like nothing when you've nothing to compare it to.

I learned that infidelity and divorce are not the end of anyone's world, but that moving far away sometimes can be.

I learned that you can learn new things after the age of fourty, and these may be the most important ones of all.

I learned that my parents are creative, innovative people with strong wills and big dreams, and the courage to gamble everything to achieve them.

I learned that even if they didn't match my idea of ideal parents, the world could use more humans like them, and I've been really very lucky indeed.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Good Guys?

Someone recently, with the revelation of abuse of prisoners by American soldiers, said, "We don't get to be the good guys anymore."

Am I alone in considering that a naive sentiment?

Okay, here it is: War is atrocious. Atrocities happen. These young men are babies, BABIES, recruited at eighteen, before their feet have finished growing, when their brains are still washable, while they are capable of committing fearsome acts against other humans because their superiors say they must. This is atrocious.

These babies are living in a hostile environment, watching corpses of their countrymen being burned and dragged through the street and hung from a bridge. This is atrocious. The soldiers hold in their hands not tokens from their sweethearts, or children of their siblings or books filled with poetry and philosophy but weapons. Huge heavy powerful noisy weapons designed for killing other humans, with who-knows-what in their own hands.

Perhaps books of poetry.

When were we ever the good guys? Haven't we always been imperialist pigs imposing our weapons and wills upon a country we deem (or pretend to deem) backwards, raping that land to gain the resource that we wish to control? Do I risk branding myself as a Marxist for saying this? These soldiers are going to take the blame for these most recent atrocities, as individuals, via the process of court martial, and be tarred and feathered and drummed out of town. This is atrocious.

I'm not sure who is to blame. The victims, who are humans, with families, of the wrong nationality this week? The soldiers? (who are not to be excused for doing a bad job of things just because they've been under a lot of stress but still, they hardly fall into the same category as Nazis. Do they?). The US military for not assigning sufficient supervision to these young soldiers who were handed more responsibility than they had maturity to handle? The US government, for sending soldiers to war? The President, for making up reasons to go to war? The the small and powerhungry sheeplike avid masses, who approve of a war we can win, making war an attractive option to a President who hears the death knell of waning popularity?

John the Apostle told his followers, "Love each other. Until you can do this one thing, I can teach you no more."

War is not the answer. Blame is not the answer. Hate is not the answer. Power is not the answer. Retribution is not the answer.

Guess what is.

Few are willing to take that risk, though. War is much easier.

Friday, May 07, 2004

His Name Is Matt

Was it the set of his shoulders, the cut of his hair? Or perhaps his eyes leaped at me in an ancient painful bid for understanding and compassion. No matter. His resemblance to someone I knew a long time ago was a teasing finger tickling at my psyche.

We began with a group movement exercise. Was he awkward and ungraceful? Perhaps. Moreso than the others? Not particularly. Did he feel more acutely self-conscious than the rest? Probably. For when it was his turn to lead, he stopped, paralyzed by indecision, or embarrassment.

"Move, " I nudged. "Just do something."

"I can't think of something. This is my movement."

Ah, a Rebel. Teacher Mode roared in. Remove the disrupter, lest the whole class descend into misrule. I have only half an hour. This must be dealt with quickly.

"Maybe you'd prefer to sit down, then."

"All right." He was so polite.

He sat. The group continued to move, with a new leader.

"You really don't want to participate?"

"No, I'll just watch."

"That doesn't seem fair to the others, do you think?"

"Then I won't watch." And he averted his eyes.

I heard a cracking sound that I believe was my heart. The shard slipped, and I bled inside.

I sat near him- not near enough to imply endorsement of his actions but not so far as to denote distaste or censure. When we'd finished the exercise, I turned to him, met his eyes, sending messages of Safety, and asked, "Are you ready to rejoin the others?"

"I guess."

He was tentative, unabashed, and not the least bit belligerent. I was ashamed of myself for not handling him with more tact and delicacy.

At the end of our time, as the class shuffled off to dance class with J., I bid them each farewell, instructing them to be kind to J., who is a fabulous dancer but an inexperienced teacher.

This boy hung towards the end of the group.

"I'm glad you decided to play," I told him, by way of an apology.

"That first exercise was hard," he said, offering his own apology and justifying his original position at once.

We gather together, all three groups, in the theater to do mini-presentations of our crafts. Matt sits beside an animated girl from a different group. She chats with him, laughs at something he says. His body relaxes, and his face. His contribution to the community drawing and painting project of a series of houses is a set of half-moon shaped windows. "I drew them," he tells J., who correctly identifies the half-moons as his. "She painted them," and he indicates his companion.

He leans forward to tell me, "I liked your class best. I'm sorry I was..." (Oh, gods, don't say 'surly'.) "....shy at first."

What's stuck in my throat? "That's very nice of you to say," I manage. We share a smile that feels somehow familiar, and I hand this boy the pieces of my shattered heart.