Monday, August 24, 2015

Being a Grown Up

I went with my son and his friend to a local town fair yesterday. I hope to always enjoy this experience because it teaches me so much about myself. At the fair, I don’t have to grow up –in fact, everyone’s young and beautiful (well…) and I can spend money liberally, eating what I want, and go on death defying rides, all of which are things that prove that I am immortal! You know the place: carnies hawking their wares and experiences, pigs racing, trailers being pulled, fried this and that, bad-for-you Italian Sausages (but oh, so good!), pigs and camels and gargantuan pumpkins and cows and the smell of horse poop in the evening. As I moseyed about mostly alone, I decided to spend time greeting the creatures and happily reached over to pet a smaller cow. This went well for a moment until I realized the animal had lassoed my shirt in its large mouth and was quickly drawing me in, far closer than I wanted to be! My favorite moment was at the magic show when a pigeon appeared out of a balloon much to the amazement of the four year-old volunteer from the audience who was on stage holding the balloon. Before she returned to her seat, the magician asked her what she wanted more than anything else “to take home” with her and she said, “My friends.” Made me laugh and made me cry, though I’m not sure in which order.

Childishness is one thing but foolishness belongs almost entirely in the realm of so-called adulthood. And by the time we’re considered to be a grownup we will definitely have crossed paths with many a fool. The best response when this happens is to keep walking and ignore them and if that’s not possible, then a cautious and respectful engagement is the called-for protocol. (But more on this topic in another blog post.) What I’m trying to say is that it’s time for every adult to grow up, and growing up isn’t easy, in part because people disappoint us and we often disappoint ourselves by our own bad choices and thinking.

In an ideal world, it’s a wonderful thing to be a child. Toddler bowel movements are celebrated by attentive adults, and any attempt at singing or dancing is met with praise from admiring big people. And all but the most cynical among us enjoy watching children at play. I loved watching my kids play, even when I was irritated by their lack of responsibility! Adults are always telling kids to “grow up!” but it’s the job of the child to play hard. Playing is for them a serious business! (I wish I could watch my little ones play again. I’d just sit on the porch and applaud. And join in more often than I did.) Of course, we should all continue to play long into adulthood. In fact, the idea of the good life and “doing what you love with the people you love” – which is sadly unattainable by most- is a celebration of this. But every one of us needs time off to feel that childlike freedom, to recreate, to stop in occasionally at a local Vanity Fair, to ‘vacate’ our normal patterns, to get away from life-as-we-know-it. That’s a good impulse, this yearning for a holiday, this need for a Sabbath break, which I think is woven into all of us and something we desperately need to heed, for resistance can lead to dis-ease, dismemberment (we all need to be included as members, to belong is an essential and good; question is: to what do we belong?) and certainly a dislocation for where and who we long to be. So, yes to play and yes to rest!

All I really want from this life is to be as complete and whole a person as I can be and I also want to take a few friends along on the journey with me. But that second part is probably misguided, the little kid version of reality. What I’m learning is that being an adult means making room for those who are different or flawed, because the measure of maturity, the cost of adulthood, is about learning to care again, for others and for myself -maybe especially for myself- and if that makes me an awesome friend, then I’m willing to give this growing up business another chance.

Our Abraham, pausing from a moment of serious play in the summer of his third year.



Monday, August 10, 2015

Consider the Chair

"The chair of Esther - be amazed!"

“Grandfather, my mother says that the time has come and that I must give away some of the things that I once treasured. But why? I understand that some of the things I earlier enjoyed have come to mean less to me but does that mean that I must give them to others who will not appreciate them as I have or even worse, deposit them alongside mere rubbish?”
“Everything must be thrown out, one day. The dump is our inheritance.”

“But what of holy things? Must they also end up as common garbage?”

“Little one, there is nothing common, only degrees of the sacred. All that is created, all that is imagined -such as these precious thoughts we have that flit and flutter within -anything that is dreamed and imagined and realized must one day perish, must finally be consumed by time and chance, by life and death.”
“But you’ve spoken before about the memory of love, Grandfather, and how that cannot truly be lost."

“That is true. The exuberance of youth, the passion of oneness, the slipping of childhood innocence on the brink of its awakening into a deeper innocence, the sweetness of young love’s embrace are thought to be eternal in the heavens and yet even a candle flame neglected will burn out; all things become as they once were, things seen and unseen must decline, erode and finally, be no more.”
“My dear father’s father, you speak in parables and mysteries! What about goodness and all things pure –what of these noble truths? Must they, too, come to nothing?”

“Let me tell you a story.”
There once was a woman who was all alone. She had no family but in her old age she adopted an abandoned child who was unwanted, sick and certain to die young. She spared no expense and made room for him and fed him and loved him. He got a little better and, though frail, lived into his teenage years. He read a lot and taught himself a considerable amount and so it happened that this child became the teacher to his grandmother, who was really more like a mother to him (he called her ‘Mammy-dear’). When he was feeling okay she would help him get comfortable in his favorite chair and from there this young prince would hold forth his court, filling his days with laughter among a growing audience of friends and admirers who had heard of his wisdom, funny stories and joyful spirit. Some of them had even come from far and wide to enjoy his great adventures and they were never disappointed as he mesmerized them with riddles, amazing facts and tall tales about galaxies and gadgets, wizards and other wonders.
And though the chair was known jokingly as his throne, others sometimes sat in it, typically when he was too tired to move from his bed. But he was as generous with his chair as he was with his time, possessed as he was with a rare majesty, a lifted beauty and expansive spirit. The chair had long supported his broken frame, this bent and bruised vessel of grace- and it was often declared by the visitors that “This chair and its occupant would end up alive forevermore!" "Surely” his many friends assured her, “his bright light would never burn out.”
One day though, her beloved grandson did die –the doctors could do no more- and then he was gone. And, although the chair had become less than comfortable by then, for a while she took to sleeping in it and for many years she could not bring herself to dispose of it for the chair had come to represent her child, a symbol of better days.
Eventually though, she decided it was time for the chair to find a new home. Some suggested she put it on the curb or even in the trash but she could not bring herself to do that. She asked around. “Certainly an old friend would want to have it, repair it?” she concluded. But there were no takers so she did finally put it on the curb and waited to see if someone would stop and collect it, filled as it was with all those memories and meaning. Cars did stop, and there was much poking and prodding. Some even sat in it but as it was no longer an attractive piece, there were no takers.
After seven full days, the weekly garbage pick-up day arrived and the hulking, grey truck arrived on the street. She said goodbye to the chair, sitting in it one more time in an attempt to sweep up in her arms all that had been at rest there, once upon a time. Then, she got up, returned to the house and looked away from the window for she had decided beforehand not to see it callously crushed by the huge truck press that was capable of reducing any discarded item to near dust. But she could not turn away for long. Instead, one last look through the darkened screen! Two garbage collectors were there now and one of them in front of the chair –“what?” she whispered, “he’s removing his glove and is now kissing his still-dirtied hand and he’s reaching down to touch the chair, his hand resting in blessing for that chair!” “My grandson’s chair!” and she wanted thank him for such tenderness, but her voice fell silent amidst the tears… then the shrill voice of the other collector who began teasing his coworker for “such non-sense; it’s just a stupid, junky old chair” he growled as together they grabbed the armrests to take up the chair for its final flight.  
Before that moment she had thought of the chair as the place from which her son gave life –but now she saw that, to him, it was a holy space he had mainly reserved for others. To this grandmother, it was her son who gave so magnificently, buried though he often was deep in the warmth of the many blankets she had provided, due to the growing coldness within. She understood now that the true source of her joy and love was given by him in his invitation to sit, with his open and unconditional welcome. “The chair was really for me” she marveled to herself that day, “healthy though I was, I was the one in need of healing and he saved that space for me, his throne for me.”
"Grandfather, that garbage guy was kind to do that and the grandma seemed to be very wise, too."

“My dear, I think you’re right! All things –and people- will eventually wear out and yet, somehow, in some way, we must appreciate, admire, trust, and sometimes, yes, be swept off our feet by some things and by some people, of course. It is in our nature to want and to need that kind of connection. Rare is the person who can see it; rarer still the one who values such insight. Transcendence is part of what it means to be human -built into the furniture, as it were. Never forget the deed of the ungloved garbage collector who knew enough to see the sacred thing before him, something he knew in his heart to be true, and, I think, eternal.”

“Oh, grandfather, you are much too serious! Next time I will ask only about easy things, about frivolous matters!”

"And then she was gone..."