I guess he was right

Last night I attended Greek Week’s Recognition Night. The final portion of the evening was dedicated to seniors. First, they presented a slideshow with pictures of us as babies and as college almost-graduates. Second, they delivered letters from our parents. Although seeing the picture of myself was funny – I had never seen it before – I was particularly affected by the letter.

At first, I didn’t think much of it. I’m a little disappointed in myself in admitting that at first blush, I felt the letter was rather blase. I think I read over it and imagined that it was the same letter that every other senior would be receiving. Nevertheless, I called my mother and thanked her for the effort. She told me I was welcome, of course, but also told me that dad cried a little after he wrote it. We both chuckled at the cuteness of it: the tenderness most-times hidden beneath a tough, austere face.

When I called last night, I was out with friends, and so couldn’t talk for very long. I called her again this morning and after talking with her, spoke to my dad. He expressed that the letter was very hard to write. After my conversation with them, I picked up the letter again and read it. I think this is when the disappointment for how I originally viewed the letter sank in, but then was quickly washed away by what the letter actually said: “We couldn’t be more proud of you.”

Although I constantly think my parents are insane for being proud of me and I don’t understand where their perception of me comes from, I’m realizing that their pride means something very special to me – much more than I originally thought. I regularly get down on myself for not doing enough. I don’t study enough, I don’t work hard enough, I don’t mean enough to enough people, I don’t win enough awards, I don’t make enough money, I’m not being a good enough friend or lover, and so forth. This morning, I woke up mired in that familiar well of disappointment and regret. When I read the letter my father wrote and was confronted with how proud he and my mom really are of me, I started feeling that everything was okay. I started to realize that I usually subject myself to a pretty impossible rubric for what I should be as a human being. And although that will probably never change…and honestly, I don’t know that I ever would want it to change, I’m realizing now that the only rubric that should matter to me is the one my parents put forth. Honestly, who do I owe more for all that I have been able to experience and do? And who do I care more for? My love for them runs so deep that I can easily forget about it: it fades into the background of who I am, something as vital but discrete as blood or bone.

I may never think that I’ve done anything worth a damn, but I’ve got to say, so long as my parents think highly of me, I can feel proud of that. I hope that in the future, when I get down on myself, this is what I’ll return to.

My dad started off his letter by commenting on how wonderful spring is because of the sense of newness one gets from flowers and trees starting to bloom. As I was writing, I looked out my window and realized that the oaks outside were in full bloom for the first time this year. My father ended his letter by proclaiming how excited I must be at the newness that lays before me. I guess he was right.

Wisdom in the unlikeliest of places

Just saw Evan Almighty. Not in much of a mood to comment on it, but I did want to commemorate here one really dazzling quotation by Morgan Freeman’s character (God):

“Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?” – Evan Almighty

It really made me think, I’m somewhat ashamed to say. C’est la comedy.

Bombasting, bomblasting

My level of satisfaction with Daily Kos fluctuates with frequency. On many days I find the postings a little distasteful simply because of an unmitigated puerile rage that lines the very characters on screen. Occasionally though, they post a gem. This was one of those days.

Meteor Blades supplied a quick post as commentary on the Fourth of July. He started by declaiming the word hero, noting its egregious and “promiscuous” usage. I’ll admit that it is a word we are often quick to reach for, but promiscuous? I was about to wander on when I saw Frederick Douglass mentioned on the next line. Curious, I read on, and became even more skeptical. Meteor Blades lauds Frederick Douglass as his one archetype of heroism. I’m not sure that I buy that completely; I’ve never really cared for him or his work (his narrative was boring, I’m sorry). However, the piece Meteor Blades selected as evidence was convincing. Apparently Frederick Douglass had once delivered a speech on a Fourth of July (you can almost hear the deep ‘U’ that your imagination demands Douglass must have spoken with, despite being born in Maryland). The speech is good. Very good. I won’t reproduce it here, though those curious should certainly click on the link above to view the speech as Meteor Blades provided it. I will simply offer one observation, a quotation that caught my attention, and be on my merry way.

My observation: I don’t celebrate the Fourth of July. I never have, really. I don’t care for fire works. I never have, really. (You’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them all, y’know? Unless you find someone who can work Gandalf’s particular brand…) I stopped going as soon as I could manage to excuse myself from family affairs, and since that time have spent every Fourth of July contemplating why I detest the way we celebrate this holiday.

I think, just maybe, I’m a little angry that we’re celebrating. I am grateful for this nation, yes, yes, yes. But most days I see too much deviation from the vision we’re supposed to be sharing in, accomplishing, spreading, to feel comfortable sitting back and celebrating what our forbearers had achieved. Celebrating such a holiday seems to suggest that those bacchanalians carousing beneath scintillating, fulsome light displays are complicit in the assertion that all is well; that the Mission has been accomplished.

Maybe I’m a little too harsh here, but when I see that the wrong words in the Declaration of Independence are still adhered to literally in some situations — that every man is created equal — while in others they are casually ignored to permit the discrimination of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, I get angry. (Have you ever noticed how the Declaration begins, “When in the course of human events” and then flutters into “man” this and “man” that? That’s substantial enough for me to believe those myths that Jefferson drafted one version with just the word human and then was pressured into changing it. But hey, call me Mr. CSI).

I spend my Fourth of Julys remembering what we fought and died for. I spend them in mild solemnity, not just remembering the path we have taken and missteps we have made, but also reminding myself of the journey we have yet to complete and the long road ahead.

Perhaps I have underestimated Frederick Douglass. His words certainly have a timeless quality about them:

“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms- of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.” — Frederick Douglass, 1852.

just text

An hour and nineteen minutes into a day stretching ignorantly into an obliviously lengthy future, I’m waiting on a program to
run – just, run, damn you! – and let my head sink into its ‘relaxed’ pose: cocked slightly to the right, angled towards my left. In direct line of sight is a whiteboard I’ve mounted, but never used. A smattering of reference papers (“Return Reason
Codes…) and self-important notes begging for attention (“Call Amy! 000-000-0000”), but above and beyond them, an understated expanse of white which begins to call to me. Perhaps its just the ridiculously upbeat overtones of Belle and
Sebastian’s’For the Price of a Cup of Tea'(“If you want to know the truth / Her friend the stars dripping from the jewelled sky…She can finally be the person she wanted to be”), or maybe its a lack of sleep, coffee deprivation, or something similarly mundane, but I find my mind heeding the whiteboard’s furtive whispers, and all of a sudden, everything looms large.

My gray threaded cubicle office widens beyond the normal sight I’m possessed of and gives way to white, all white, as my body- and something deeper, depper – falls (simply falls!) into the small two-foot by two-foot whiteboard which I know just shouldn’t be able to contain me, but there I go! It is, in this moment, the window I had never too-seriously hoped for. Standing atop a cliffface, I’m overlooking the endless sea of land dotted with budding forests, rising and falling breaths of hills, and creeks running in the direction I’m facing – which the rising sun on my right tells me must be North – as though racing each other to see who can get farthest away from the cliff first. Wind whips around my face and seems to challenge my right to stand here, right here, and brings to bear a cloying scent reminiscent of Rome and its proud, old trees. Sia’s voice howls around me, “Just breathe,” and then holds. The world becomes silent and I close my eyes. Without fear or the hesitation which common reason screams would be wise, I close my eyes and spread my arms. I’m suddenly aware of the world slowing down around me in its silence, my heart beats, and the pulse sallies forth through my veins and I feel it like I would a
shockwave, flowing down through my body to, yes to my heel. As though it were a powder keg and that wave of sanguine energy the match, my foot explodes into a minute expression of inertia, released. My toes gain strength and inch upwards, my foot pushes against the ground it was, seemingly for eternity, married to. I’m cognizant of a sweet sense of freedom, of flying, of becoming.

“Just breathe.”