Friday, September 7, 2012

Naked Ladies


Got your attention? I knew I would—especially if you’re male. Driving around San Francisco with a bunch of guys, I love to shout out “Hey, look. Naked ladies!” watch all heads instantly turn, and then point out the pink flowers on the hillsides.

Yes, “naked ladies’ is the popular name for Amaryllis, a bulb of the lily family whose leaves die down and then produces a flower at the top of a straight thin stalk. The flowers are often pink, but can also be white or purple. And they happen to be all over San Francisco these days. Of course, it’s a bit of a misnomer. That straight thin stalk is not even remotely close to the appealing curves of the female body that are so hardwired into most every male brain that we will do anything to see a real naked lady. Anything.

I used to feel ashamed of my gender, apologetic for the Italian side of our nature checking out every female body walking down the street and feeling free to comment on it. Well, the comment we can learn to keep to ourself, but the impulse is so ancient and deep-seated that we are helpless before its power.

And why? Nature, that savvy source of our own nature that far outshines social conditioning, wanted to make sure of one thing only. “Hey, I went to all the trouble to fashion you as a species, so I want to make sure you stick around. The path from the party to the bedroom to the maternity ward begins with a glance and though you people will try your best to sustain the nuclear family and even reach exalted states of love and loyalty, the man will never stop looking.”

That urge for procreation of our own kind, so often the cause of shame in certain religious thinking, is actually a spiritual impulse and from it comes that luminous being we call the child. Children are those creatures that keep us from wasting our entire life bowling and make sure teachers have jobs and when their smile lights up a room, we are convinced they are a gift from the angels (even though that same angelic child my cry for six hours nonstop next to us on the plane). Still, though, note how the depiction of Jesus that spawned an entire European civilization was as a baby on Mary’s lap.

Of course, children grow up into teenagers who take up large amounts of space in the house with hulking bodies, lower the dinner conversation to grunts and remind us of what happens when hormones entirely run the show. And worse yet, teenagers can grow into adults who watch Fox News and shake their heads thinking that what they show is true. And then go out and vote for greedy, small-minded, mean-spirited politicians because they’re afraid of losing their gun. The spirituality of our species sometimes is a questionable thing.

But in addition to these hardwired lusts for female curves, and perhaps some comparable interest in muscles and a six-pack, comes a neo-cortex capable of elevating the conversation. Witness the glorious work of painters and poets and musicians singing praise of it all, not to mention our capacity to find pleasure in some pink flowers atop a thin, far from sexy, stalk. That neo-cortic layer is what we would be wise to pay attention to, to cultivate those spiritual beings we call children with some bona-fide education and help them learn not only to recognize a lily, but also learn it’s scientific name, its parts, its habitat. And also paint it, write a poem about it, admire it. And just maybe children how can distinguish a Naked Lady from a naked lady will grow to adults who can also tell the difference between truth and Fox news.

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