Saturday, November 21, 2015


It’s not a good idea to write—at least, publicly— when you’re pissed off, gripped by fear, sinking into despair. And yet. Writing is a healing process, a chance to sort out the seeds of confusion, to name the heroes and villains of the day in your story, to face head on what’s facing you that you’d rather not stare in the eye. If this Confessions blog means anything, it’s the confession of my vulnerability, my uncertain certainties, my shared humanity, my tentative truths and ongoing doubts. And sometimes truth will shine through more when you’re not having a nice day.
Worst thing first. Yesterday at school, a wonderful Indian dancer told and danced the story of the Ramayana to enthralled kids. Just before she began, a young child told me his Dad was supposed to come and he was upset that he hadn’t turned up yet. I assured him that he’d probably come soon and left it that. Back home, I saw the headline of an American killed in a Mali terrorist attack at a hotel. In my best of days, I try to avoid headlines and these days more than ever. Not to hide from what’s happening, but to refuse the feeding of fear that the news loves so much. But I did read my school e-mail and found out that out of 319 million Americans, the American killed in Mali was that boy’s aunt.
The pledge of compassion means we feel everyone’s grief and sorrow as our own. But multiply those daily griefs times 7 billion and it’s clear it’s too heavy a burden to carry. So we hold it all an arm’s length away as “those people over there” and that’s natural and understandable. If the people look different than us or worship different or come from a place we’ve never been, we feel it less. There is a political side to the accent on terror in Paris over terror in Beirut in the news that’s not healthy, but there is also an understandable side that all the Facebook folks who put the French flag over their photos were more likely to have visited, known people in, seen movies or read books about, Paris than Beirut. And so the horror feels closer to their home. And if you know somebody or know somebody who knows somebody, the terror creeps yet closer to your doorstep and both the fear and sorrow come with them. As it did with my student's aunt.
One response to the unraveling of everything we hold dear is the clear knowledge that in our ever-shrinking global village, there is no problem “over there” that isn’t also right here. Maybe folks might still feel safe in a small town in New Zealand, but even if sheltered from the horror of our ever-amplified human failings, there is still climate change and earthquakes and tsunamis to consider. Not easy to “have a nice day” these days.
As someone who has held faith in the ultimate goodness of people and some underlying spiritual purpose to the gift of life, it’s a demanding time. This is no blind faith—it’s based on so much time with children who daily astound me with their joy and innocence and curiosity and reminder of our failed or deferred possibilities. And I get to release that joy through the unswerving gift of music and dance and imagination, our creative drives that are indeed one of the most powerful antidotes to our destructive ones. And I get to do the same with adults rediscovering their lost or hidden or neglected inner child and the results are stunning. I get to play Bach and Beethoven and Debussy for 25 elders in wheelchairs and see the peace on their faces as the music washes over them, holds their hand, massages their back, gives tender kisses to their worn faces and reminds them that all is not chaos and death and dissolution, but also great peace and contentment and beauty and sounds that tumble into each other so that each makes sense.
This is not a faith that requires my belief, it’s a faith that requires my experience and daily determination to renew it. Even in the face of, especially in the face of so much horror and hatred and unfathomable cultivated evil set loose in the world. And not just the soulless young men pulling triggers, but the same folks on Wall St. hurting people with money or in the Tea Party hurting people with their privilege or the weapons manufacturers and transporters and buyers and sellers. It’s all one interconnected mess and if the fantasy of Heaven and Hell proves true, I predict a big rise in real estate values in the land of eternal damnation.
In the midst of all this, teachers at school still talk about Julie who wouldn’t dance with Johnny and hurt his feelings and Bret who missed three important tests or Jessica who lingers too long in the bathroom or Freddie’s ongoing problems with impulse control. When I say that school is a good place to be, surrounded by children overflowing with life’s abundant joy (an entire class of 5-year olds rushed over to hug me when I came a bit late to their class and I almost just dropped to the ground and let them pile on top in the spontaneous joy of the moment), I’m of course aware of every human foible and disaster present in them as well. Kids can be three-years old and already have big issues to deal with from their “childhood.”
But the point is that these problems and issues are of human-size proportion. Worthy of attention and concern, important to deal with, necessary to understand how some apparent behaviors are intimately connected with the child’s gifts and calling, none of them wholly “solvable” as if it’s a machine that needs a new battery or a screw tightened, but all of them tended to and brought into a balance that both makes for a happier kid and a happier community. That I can understand and deal with. Adults training kids to hate and kill in the name of God and their numbers growing daily is beyond me, never mind the cataclysmic predictions of over-population, thinning ozone layers and diminishing resources. I suspect we all get frozen from the sheer magnitude of these problems. Or we lash back in a way that creates more. Or we run into the shopping mall to try to escape or insist that climate change is not real and hide away in easy, scientifically unfounded answers just to try to make us feel better. And these are all reptilean-brain reactions—flight, fight, freeze. So at a time when we need to ascend more fully to evolution’s gift of the feeling heart and the thinking brain, we slither around like snakes and lizards and then amplify it on prime-time TV.
Are you still with me, o Reader? I know it’s long and I know it’s not pleasant and my duty is to let a little light shine through this darkness and not drag you down further into despair just to keep me company. I have ten more blogs worth of helpful hints— go deeper into your own way of co-participating in creation, for example. Play your best music, cook great meals, write poems, paint pictures, have real conversations with friends, play with kids. To reveal all the things trying to keep hiding the issues, stand up against school boards making you jump through the next hoop unless they ask you to jump playfully with the kids you teach holding hands. Sit under a tree and feel it from roots to branches, all devices turned off. And write a handwritten letter to an old friend. It has been said a thousand times before, but we all need to keep hearing it—only light can illuminate darkness, only love can obliterate hate, only truth can reveal lies. Go deeper, soar higher, reach out wider.
Meanwhile, here I am at the SF Airport flying up to help put on my granddaughter Zadie’s 4th birthday party. In all my years of flying, never made this mistake, but today showed up with a ticket for yesterday’s flight and had to pay $400 for a one-way to Portland. I went through my First-World-Problem temper tantrum with myself and then sat down to write this in three hour wait I have. My goal is not to get mad at Zadie this weekend if she doesn’t behave as I hope her to, not to connect it to the outrageous expense of this two-day trip, just give her every ounce of my Pop-pop love, unconditionally, no strings attached.
Friends, let’s stay together, huddle close, keep the little flame of hope lit through our efforts. There’s a new story waiting to be born amidst the unraveling, a new cloth to be woven that’s hidden from us now and if naïve blind faith is not helpful, neither is realistic despair. This is not solvable by a cool invulnerable James Bond equipped with the latest technology. It’s asking for the vulnerable, hurting heart rising to its full power.
Thanks for listening. (And if ever a topic could use reader’s comment and a collective dialogue, this could be it. Don’t know if it’s a technical issue with this blog or just a habit with my readers to mostly not respond, but try it if you can shed some light on how you’re getting through all of this.)

1 comment:

  1. Doug,
    Thank you for vocalizing what so many of us feel, but aren't quite able to articulate those feelings into words. I think you've got it right when you said that music and art helps us to remember that there is still hope and joy left in the world amongst such troubled times. Hearing my third graders sing "Autumn Time" swaying to the feeling of the music with eyes closed, completely lost in the music or the joy of Kindergarteners singing about gathering harvest or moving "All Around the Kitchen" helps to remind me that there is still hope in our children. We need to encourage each other to remember the good and to continue to put the good back out there all we can.
    McLean, VA


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