Thursday, June 12, 2014

Snails and Snake Oil: Solving the Problems of the World

There were a few hours earlier this week where I was really, really angry. Muttering, hissing, arm-waving angry. I wrote inflammatory things all over the inside of my head. Biting, bitter, well-placed words that would sting. Not like bees, but like jellyfish - that all over under your skin can't get it off you kind of sting. I took it out on the snails that keep eating my broccoli plants. Slimy vermin. I wasn't really angry at the snails, though. They are a mild annoyance. A challenge. But they suffered the brunt of my wrath. Whatever. They deserved it. They ate my plants.

I think I'm getting old. I emailed this to my sister this morning. "I think I'm getting old." The context had nothing to do with snails. It was a glorious hand-painted chiffon wrap with an owl in flight all across the back of it. She loves owls, but feared it was a little much for small-town Oregon. "There's a part of me that gets larger every day that says 'Screw it. Just wear that sucker out.'" I told her. "I'll be like the 90-year-old ladies that you see in purple velour and rhinestones and giant sunglasses," I said. This is how we talk to each other. She knows what I'm talking about. "Do it," she said. "I will, but not with this." I'm not overly fond of owls.

Did you know that the whole "wise old owl" thing is mostly based on looks? Those owly eyebrows and stuff? That actually, as far as bird intelligence goes, they are not that bright? Crows are much smarter. And pigeons. No one says "wise old pigeon" because pigeons are inherently silly looking. And "old crow" is not much used in a complimentary way. Imagine that. We make assumptions based on appearances that are categorically untrue. Who knew? I suppose some of those assumptions about owls come from that old Tootsie Pop commercial, too. Pshaw. The media doesn't influence opinion. Certainly not advertising. Don't be silly. Ah-one... ah-two-hoo... ah-three! The world may never know.

Here's something I know: You should never decide to do a whole mess of squats and lunges "to relax" the day before you coordinate, set up, serve, and clean up after a wedding. Bonus knowledge: You should definitely not wear three-inch heels while you do all that. Here's something else I know: If you are knuckleheaded enough to do that, you should most certainly have an army of gracious, generous friends to back you up.

A good friend called me last week. I haven't actually spoken to him in about 15 years. But we're Facebook friends, so we don't actually have to speak to each other. He's trying to sell me some magic oil that will cure my scoliosis so I can run a marathon. He also wanted to tell me that he owes me a ride on his Harley because of a pact we made when we were both young and restless. I had forgotten about the pact, but I'm glad he remembered. It made it all right that he's a huckster and snake oil salesman. I love all kinds of people.

I stood in my yard and stared at the weeds and laid all the people that I love end to end like dominoes, matching the little dots where they intersect. I ran out of room. They filled up all the space in my head and pushed it all out of bounds. I love rogues and Republicans, capitalists, communists, conspiracy theorists, and conservationists. I love misogynists and mystics. I love brats and boors and babies. I love complainers and champions. I even love someone who hates vampires. These are not abstracts. I could name at least one person that I love enough to help them move to fit each of these categories. And loads more. And it's not that tight-lipped, condescending, tolerant kind of love. It's the whole heart, jubilant, let me hug your neck kind of love. And they love me, with my bad decisions and my towering private rages and my scoliosis and snail genocide.

If I didn't love a snake oil salesman because I think he's full of crap, I would not have enjoyed the sweet reassurance of talking and laughing with an old friend as if we'd only spoken last week, rather than last millennium. If I couldn't get past the vampire hating thing, I would have had to set up 150 chairs all by myself. If I eschewed people who made me angry - really, really angry - I would be all alone. And then I would have to find a way to get rid of myself, too. I don't claim the wisdom of the pigeon. I don't really need to. Because screw it, I'm getting old and there was that whole squats and lunges incident last week to prove otherwise. I believe in a higher wisdom because I know what a knucklehead I am. That wisdom, much maligned, often mocked outright, says: "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend."

For few hours earlier this week I was really, really angry. I was angry at this world that judges by appearances, that believes the hype, that mocks and maligns without a shred of understanding, that babbles and chatters and says nothing, that aggrandizes itself, excuses itself, entitles itself, and that makes me feel old. I killed some snails and I answered the phone and I laughed and I stared at my weeds and I laid all these people who hold my heart end to end and there was no end in sight. No end. The whole irritating mess of them all locked together with their intersecting parts. I couldn't find a one of them that I could spare. Not even one. And they are all part of this world, too.

I'm getting old, but I'd like to stay sharp. And, as anyone who has ever taken a field trip to a colonial village and watched the blacksmith can tell you: if you're gonna sharpen iron, sparks are gonna fly. I'm sorry you got caught in the crossfire, snails. You are beautiful, but you have got to stop eating my broccoli.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kelso's Choice

My son's first grade class was lining up to go to swimming a few weeks ago. It looked like what ants do when you drop a piece of watermelon at a picnic. Mrs. F was trying to get them settled and into some semblance of order when a bit of a scuffle broke out.

"Carmello, what's the problem?"
"Alex called me a girl."
Mrs. F is a good teacher, but time was short and she just needed to get them moving.
"Well, think about Kelso's Wheel of Choices and decide how you think you should respond. I would suggest ignore or walk away."

Carmello was disappointed that vengeance was not exacted for the insult to his character, but swimming won out and he stood sulking in line.

I sidled up to him and whispered in his ear: "Kelso would probably decide that being called a girl is not an insult." He looked at me as though I'd spoken to him in some foreign tongue and quickly turned back to standing in line.

I can't go to Carmello's house and explain to his parents that they should teach their son that being called a girl is not an insult. I can't go to Alex's house and explain to his parents that not only should he not spend his time in line trying to insult other people, but that calling someone a girl as a pejorative is just wrong on so many levels. That would be incredibly obnoxious.

So instead, I whisper in a little boy's ear and plant a seed of something foreign that I hope takes hold and will mean something to him one day.

So instead, I whisper, rant, beg, plead, holler, laugh and rage with and at my own children - a boy and a girl - about what it means to treat people with respect. Equality means seeing everyone around us as people. Real people with feelings and fantasies and pasts and futures; as souls encased in bodies of all different colors, genders, shapes and sizes. The kids don't need the labels that go along with this kind of thinking. The only label they give it is "normal". I detest the word normal in most cases, but if it is normal to treat the man begging for change on the corner with the same respect you show your teacher or your preacher or your parent or the president of the United States, then so be it. If it is normal to find beauty everywhere you look, who am I to argue?

A few months ago, we went to a little party that a friend threw for a bunch of girls to get together and watch Frozen. I did a lot of eye rolling and huffing and general cursing of Disney and then took my daughter anyway, because she's a pretty smart kid. After the party, there was the chaos of picking kids up and saying good night and eating just one more piece of blue licorice when one of the moms started screaming and sobbing. Her car was stolen with her sleeping baby in it, right out from under our noses. The adults (who, I might add, were an amazing group of strong and diverse women I am blessed to call my friends) sprang into action, calling the police, walking and driving the neighborhood, comforting the mother who was standing there in a quiet suburb, living out her worst nightmare. I found out later that inside the house, my daughter gathered all the girls in a circle on the floor and held them tight and prayed through pleading tears that the baby be returned. I would be proud enough of her for that, but she continued her fervent prayer. She prayed for the person who stole the car. She prayed that he or she would soften their heart, that they would be healed from whatever had hurt them so badly that they felt the need to steal, that they would do what was right and turn around and come back, that they would find peace in doing the right thing.

I tell you this story because in a world where people still feel the need to shoot people, and belittle others on the internet and steal cars, and where little boys are still learning to insult each other by calling them girls, there is hope. Of course I think my daughter is special. I'm supposed to. But she's not that special. There are a lot of other kids like her out there, learning how to live with compassion for everyone - everyone - even car thieves and kidnappers. There are kids learning to seek out the ones on the playground that no one else is playing with and ask them to join in. There are kids learning to stand up for what is right and true in the face of mocking opposition. There are kids who apologize when they've hurt someone. There are kids who are learning to accept responsibility for their own thoughts, their own words, their own actions. There are kids who value people over possessions and know the difference between the two. There are kids who love without prejudice and who don't feel the need to hurt others to get attention. And there are parents who are working hard to raise them that way.

There are ugly, ugly problems in this world. They are huge and systemic and hard to see around sometimes. I
am not a politician or a mover on the world stage. I am a stay-at-home mom with some strong beliefs and a set of moral standards and a whole heap of faith. I am a mom who is working to raise these children I've been given to make these ugly problems just a little bit smaller, a little bit further in the past. I have very little actual influence in this world. I can rant until I'm blue in the face. I can hashtag and post the crap out of things and the fact remains that only a handful will even hear me and of those, perhaps one or two will be moved or even agree. But I have the same choices of conflict resolution every day that the first graders have: talk it out, share and take turns, ignore it, walk away, tell them to stop, apologize, make a deal, wait and cool off, go to another game. I would add that in my own life, all of these choices are accompanied by falling to my knees in tearful pleading prayers for healing and peace. And I have these kids, you see. They listen and they learn and they make it their own and they are already better people than I will ever be.

And so I have hope.

My son came home from school the other day and told me: "Alex called me a girl and I told him thank you because girls are strong." Maybe one day Alex will get the message.

And the car thief? After thirty harrowing minutes, the four-time convicted felon parked and locked the car, returned the keys to the front porch, and turned himself in to the police. He wrote an impassioned apology letter to my friend whose car and baby he stole.

Please nobody tell my daughter that she can't change the world.