Monday, June 26, 2006
There was a book published a while ago called Passages. By Gail Sheehy, it was published in 1976, coincidentally, the year I graduated from high school. It covers “the years between 18 and 50 [that] are the center of life, a time of growth and opportunity. But until now no guide has existed to help us understand the mysterious process by which we become adults“. Although it sounds like I should have picked it right up, at the time, passages -whatever they were – didn’t concern me. As far as I knew passages were those secret hallways in haunted mansions that the heroes found when it was time to save the pretty blonde girl who was chained in the basement being threatened by the weird mad scientist ready to turn her into a sex slave/zombie. Whatever…
Turns out, that there are a bunch of passages in one’s life. Sometimes you can take notice of them while they’re happening and other times it’s only in reflection that you realize that you’ve just been through one. And high school is one, but it’s one you don’t notice because you are consumed with what you’re going to wear that morning because it’s Tuesday and you have all the way until Friday to not wear the cute blue Indian blouse with the white embroidery because that’s what you want to wear with the white pants to the big party after the basketball game Friday night. Who can pay attention to developmental passages when there are outfits to put together? I suppose high school required other energies as well, like when it was time to choose the place that would prepare us for adulthood and careers and we had to visit the guidance counselors to pick colleges. I guess that’s what we did – I just frankly don’t remember. I was not prepared nor did I have any cause to worry that whatever I did – go out of state to school, stay in state at the University, or go work at the mall – mattered more than the task at hand, which was graduating and making sure that I went to at least one of the prom and/or graduation parties.
But passages came anyway, whether I was prepared or not. I went out of state to school. I stayed in touch with some of my high school friends for awhile. I spent my 20’s falling in love, getting married, having babies and moving several times, criss-crossing the South. My 30’s were occupied with holding a marriage together and then watching it painfully fall apart and trying to keep my kids reasonably sane, while not always quite managing myself. My 40’s began as a single parent to 2 pretty amazing kids who had survived a divorce. Then, since that had gone so well, I decided to go back to school for a Master’s degree. One of those times when a guidance counselor could have been really helpful, but I didn’t seek one out that time, either. And, to complete the hat trick, I got remarried to a wonderful man who added, among other things, a lovely stepdaughter to my family. Passages galore.
Now it is time for my high school’s 30th reunion. The call went out months ago and at the time, although I had told my one remaining friend with whom I’ve still kept in touch I would come, I wasn’t really that sure. The memories of that time in my life were sketchy, but there were some moments that I recalled with a grimace. I believe the Greek translation for Cindy is “awkward”. How in the world could I reconcile who I was then with the person I have become? Not only that, but attend several events at which loads of former classmates would also be attending? I could feel myself start to sweat….almost.
And then I realized…it’s not like I’d be going back to high school. I made that passage – thorny though it was. I am done. I did it – maybe not successfully by some accounts, but done nevertheless. I have weathered subsequent passages as well. Some with difficulty and some pretty well – again – depending on whose account you believe. (And there’s a certain ex-husband who you really shouldn’t listen to at all). I graduated. High school, college, marriage, parenthood, life. I didn’t come this far – and get this old – just to go back to where I began. This reunion is a substantial milestone which I am happy to celebrate. I feel lucky to be in a place where I can look forward to an event which marks having survived a certain number of years, with others who have done the same. And hopefully, whose memories are just as hazy as mine.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
For as long as I can remember, a copy of this poem was taped to the inside of a cabinet door in our kitchen:
Children Learn What They Live
If children live with criticism, They learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, They learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule, They learn to be shy.
If children live with shame, They learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, They learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, They learn to be patient.
If children live with praise, They learn to appreciate.
If children live with acceptance, They learn to love.
If children live with approval, They learn to like themselves.
If children live with honesty, They learn truthfulness.
If children live with security, They learn to have faith in themselves and others.
If children live with friendliness, They learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
(Copyright Â© 1972/1975 by Dorothy Law Nolte)
It was the spice/downstairs medicine chest/odds and ends cabinet all the way at the end of the kitchen across from the pantry next to the stove. I didn’t have many occasions to open this cabinet as my mom was the Chief Cook and Medicine Dispenser, but being a naturally nosy child, I could be counted upon to get into places into which I had not been invited. So this poem, over the years and through clandestine invasions, became unconsciously, indelibly imprinted on my brain.
When it was time to raise my kids, and with the absence of manual on how to do it right, bits and pieces of this poem would come to me on occasion. I really had no choice in the matter since it was the way I was raised. Just when you think you are going to everything differently with your kids, there you are telling them to stand still while you clip their fingernails outside on Sunday morning before church just like your dad did when you were little.
Now that my kids are grown and my opportunity to raise them is through, I hadn’t had much opportunity to think about that poem. Recently, however, I did think about it. It was when I heard about a woman who was saying nasty things about other women. This wasn’t just a local PTA scrap – it was a nationally known author saying nasty things about women whose husbands had been killed in the tragedies of 9/11. She had said something like, not only had they made tons of money on the tragedy, but were actually enjoying their husbands’ deaths because of the celebrity it brought them. I thought to myself, “well, that’s just mean”.
I didn’t know much about this woman, I had heard of her of course, but didn’t know anything about her philosophy, writings, opinion, etc. So I looked her up. I guess she is something of a provocateur and is credited with saying other, equally inflammatory, things about other people. I saw a picture of her online – on her very own website in fact – and saw that she is quite an attractive blonde who clearly goes to some trouble to maintain her looks. So – I bit. I, after all, as a godless liberal, am prone to cross-gender attraction, so I thought I’d find out what she had to say. Turns out, there wasn’t anything that I read that I found in the least bit provocative, interesting or intelligent. It was just mean.
Then I read a short interview in the Borders Monthly magazine that was promoting her book. She said, in response to the question “What were your family dinners like growing up?”, “They were macabre nightly rituals featuring me, my two brothers and our two loving differently gendered parents. We discussed politics and current events in civilized tones and said something called “grace” before eating meals, which sometimes contained meat and after which none of us threw up. Totally weird”. And, to me, her response sounded kind of sarcastic. But not weird, because that’s how family dinners were like in my family growing up. Sometimes, though, we invited missionaries who were visiting our church, or had friends over. I remember one time we had a kid from the orphanage to Sunday dinner. I don’t know who was more uncomfortable, him or us three kids, who weren’t sure whether he would like playing our games. But that’s my parents for you – demonstrating community and goodwill right there at the dinner table.
I can be in charge of my home and practice what I preach and try to raise my kids with approval, confidence and friendliness, but what about the world in which they live? What kind of climate exists in this world where someone can write such horribly nasty things about people dealing with a very personal tragedy? What do their children think – anyone’s children for that matter, when they see that sort of behavior not only accepted, but rewarded? If you ask me, I think that woman is the one who is exploiting the tragedy. Why pounce on the misfortune of others but to make inflammatory statements that will insure that people will buy her latest book?
I’m not sure where that old worn copy of our poem disappeared to, but it doesn’t matter. It stayed with me; it is instilled in my kids and in many others in my family and in my community. It doesn’t worry me that there are people who thrive on the misfortunes of others because there will always be people like that. But, hopefully, one of these days, it will be more important to be loving and tolerant in our world and those people who make a living thinking and writing about intolerance can just go pound sand.
‘Da Cinzia Code
Friday, June 09, 2006
It’s been a long week. Lots and lots of time spent at work, so I promised myself that, even though I still had lots and lots of things to do, I would give myself a little transition time. Coming off a stressful week and diving right into the next big project without a little down time would be just plain reckless. Not to mention totally insensitive to my family who needs me. To be honest, there really isn’t anything they need from me that they can’t do themselves; I don’t cook, everyone can drive themselves around and frankly I haven’t been that great in the housekeeping department, but it’s a comfortable little denial thing I’ve got going, so let’s just go with it.
Saturday’s gift to myself was a full day of reading. The weather was gray, cold and rainy so what other activity made any sense? Cleaning? Hell, no. I chose to re-read the Da Vinci Code. I read it back when all the original hoopla about the book came out and I admit I was swept along with the crowd of true believers. After I finished it, I looked up all the locations on the internet and picked up the book “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” at a used bookshop. I didn’t race through that book, though, and I think it is still somewhere in my house with a book mark about a quarter of the way into it. I followed with interest the debate about the veracity of the book and the concern that the religious and devout had due to its publication. Because millions of the religious and devout were going to pick up this book and quit church. Oh, sure.
And then it faded away. But then they made a movie from the book and all the controversy started up again. I figured that before I go see the movie, I would re-read the book to make sure they got it right. I always do this to keep the filmmakers honest. I think they appreciate it. I also wanted to remember the scathing attack on the church that I apparently had forgotten since the first time which was all over the news at the opening of the movie. So, Saturday was Da Vinci Code day. Actually, it was Dan Brown day because my mom was reading Digital Fortress – but that’s just a little anecdotal info for all you who wonder why I can sit and read all day – it’s inherited.
On Sunday, when I should have considered picking up a dustcloth or plugging in a vacuum cleaner, I went to church. This is not an activity I would typically pick as a “Cindy-down-time” activity, but this was a special church service. It’s a long story, but in a nutshell, a church in the next town was having a Homecoming Worship service and since my dad had relatives who went to this church fifty years ago and someone I work with goes to this church, it was a happy coincidence that we were invited to attend. Have you ever walked into a small town church whose attendance isn’t standing room only – even on a special Homecoming Sunday? You get noticed. The three of us, me, my mom and dad filed in trying to nonchalantly find a seat in a sanctuary we’ve only just entered and you know all eyes were on us. But we found a seat and tried to blend in. The pastor was already speaking to the congregation about the goings-on in the church community. there were plenty of people helping her, raising their hands and announcing that “Joe and Myra are celebrating 45 years together” or “Peter and Laura just celebrated their first year together!” It was so sweet. The pastor was a tall, blonde, pleasant looking woman with a little bit of an accent that I couldn’t place at first. But as all my relatives are all Swedes and a bunch of them went to this church and most of the names we saw had lots of s’s in them, I just hazarded a guess and figured it was Swedish. It was pretty much confirmed when one of the hymns we sang ended with a Swedish verse. (Tak sa mycka for freshman year Swedish class). The rest of the service progressed with lots of up and down, up and down, singing, responding (guess I don’t have to go to the gym now! ) and finally communion and the benediction. After the service there was a reception. Like the sanctuary, it wasn’t a standing room only event, but everyone there was happy to be there. As in many church basements, as the couples head down the stairs, the women splinter off to the kitchen while the men head into the hall. There were tables laden with triangular tuna and egg salad sandwiches on white and whole wheat bread and tons of home baked cookies and brownies. And the tall lady with the short white hair and the neatly ironed flower print dress pouring coffee. She must be a busy lady – I see her in almost every church I go to!
There were still those in that Fellowship Hall that day who remembered my dad and his brothers, mainly the girl whose dad had owned the Studebaker dealership – she couldn’t get over that he was there. And everyone who had slightly known or always remembered my dad’s cousins came up to greet us all and tell us warmly how nice it was that we could attend. We felt like visiting royalty.
I ended my little down time weekend with the thought that a silly little book that got turned into a movie isn’t going to do anything to the people who believe in their church. It was a good read – even twice – but really. I don’t know who is making all the fuss about this book/movie, but it isn’t anyone who has recently eaten a tuna fish sandwich cut into a triangle in Fellowship Hall watching little boys and girls in patent leather shoes and short haircuts run around playing hide and seek around the folding chairs.