Wednesday, August 1, 2018

You Remember A Summer Evening

You remember a summer evening, you were coming home from a funeral.  You’re friends with the widow and it’s always hard to see someone in that sort of pain.  Yet when you pull into the garage and get out of the car, those blues all melt away.  A little girl shrieks, “Daddy!” and runs into your arms.  Your wife, always waiting for just such opportunities, snaps a picture that will hang on the wall even after twenty years.

You remember a baby that was no trouble, but always curious.  After ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’ her first words were “What’s that?”  

“What’s that?”
“What’s that?”
"What’s that?”

She asked a hundred questions a day.  We did the best we could to respond honestly.  Sometimes, being honest meant saying we didn’t know.  But we could usually find the answer in a book.

You recall the little girl learning to read and the world that opened up to her.  Yet one book would only provoke more questions, which required more books, that maddening, delicious circle.

You marvel that it was more than fifteen years ago when she would sit on the other side of the kitchen island while you prepared dinner, discussing politics and the issues of the day.  She wasn’t yet ten years old.  It doesn’t occur to you until years later that her interest in the issues was not focused on the policy, but on the people effected by the policy.  

She mothers her little brother.  She mothers certain ones of her friends.  She screws up the courage to talk to a school counselor when someone she knows has been self-harming, or making steps to run away from home.  She feels everything deeply.  She stands up for what she believes in and speaks her mind, even when her voice quavers.  Soon, even that isn’t an issue.

You watch her go away to college and pursue her passions.  When she speaks to you about issues, her words are fast and fevered and you realize that the student has become the teacher.  Even as you defend your position, you secretly wonder if you’re somehow wrong.

She collects degrees and steps out into the world and realizes she has been sent up to home plate with a walking stick when she needs a baseball bat.  You suppose it’s possible to hit a home run with a walking stick but…what was it Giles Corey wanted in “The Crucible”?  Oh, that’s right…more weight…

She decides that a law degree is the weapon of choice and passes the LSAT on the first try.  She collects an acceptance letter and a nice scholarship for a law school that will take her from her home state for a considerable amount of time.  Still, you know the revolution will not be fought from an arm chair.  While you found your solace and a small amount of success in writing about the world as you wished it was, she decides to follow Gandhi’s advice and BE the change she wants to see in the world.  You joke that the little girl that was no trouble is now a woman that will be nothing but trouble to political opponents.  You wouldn’t have it any other way.

She leaves.

You remember a summer evening, you were coming home from a funeral.  

You also remember that you each said ‘I love you’ when she drove away, which means she can come back any time she wants to.  

These arms stay open all night.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Report From the Front Lines of the Revolution

As the #metoo movement continues to roil the American landscape, males are seeing the world as we have known it changing before our eyes.  Men who believed themselves to be evolved have stepped on their own tongues with statements that inadvertently endorsed the patriarchal society that we live in.  Women were quick to condemn such statements, pointing out the fortress of male privilege that has sheltered us from the day we were born, lottery winners for simply being born white and male in America.

As a result, a lot of men are staying on the sidelines, afraid to say or do the wrong thing.  “I’m just working on ‘me’ right now,” they seem to be saying.  “I’m not really looking for a movement right now.”  I’m not just referring to some fictional other…I’m afraid to write about it.  I’ve never been afraid to write about anything.  I initiated conversations with different women of different ages, classes and family situations, trying to educate myself.  “I’m going to write about it,” I insisted to my friend Marlena. 

“You’re gonna get killed,” she declared flatly.

I insisted she was wrong.  Yet these are the first words I’ve published about #metoo after all these months and I see myself at this time as more of a reporter.

Marlena often feels like SHE is standing on the sidelines of the struggle.  She finds it frustrating having others who share the same goals telling her how and where she should protest.  How loud and how high and how long, and aren’t we (as women) doing to EACH OTHER one of the very things we are accusing the men of doing?

So she sees herself as being in the reserves.  She is not on the front lines but will respond to the bugle’s call.  She told me recently about being called up for duty.

It happened at one of the grand old theatres, during the intermission of a play.  The restrooms were jammed with people, though the men’s lines moved much quicker in and out of the swinging doors.  Calculating a shorter line on another floor, Marlena took a chance on a lower floor, and then the basement level, finding only an even longer line, filled with other women who had, like her, gambled and lost.  The other floors were now out of the question.  It would be the basement or nothing.

Waiting behind the other impatient, disgruntled theatregoers, one of the women in back said, “Look at that.”  All heads swiveled to the men’s room across the basement, where there wasn’t a soul in sight.  The Instigator said, “I’ll bet there’s not even anybody in there.”  Then she followed with “I’m going to go see if there’s anybody in there.”  She strode across the basement lobby and peered inside the restroom door.  She turned around and shouted to the other women, “There’s two guys at the urinals.  I’m goin’ in!”  She wasn’t alone for long.  Three other women…and Marlena…got out of line for the ladies room and went to infiltrate the male domain.

“We all go rushin’ in there,” Marlena told me, “and one-by-one they ran into those stalls and locked the door.  SLAM-CLICK, SLAM-CLICK, SLAM-CLICK, SLAM-CLICK…and suddenly it occurs to me that we are going to be one stall short, and that someone is me.”

No one chooses to be a part of that moment.  That moment chooses you.  It is your fate calling and asking, how will you respond?  I suppose you’re wondering about Marlena…

“Well, have you ever seen a bird caught in the house?” she asked.  “I was trying to fly this way or that way, and there were these two guys at the urinals and they were SCARED and then I couldn’t figure out where the door was…”

By this time, more women had abandoned the line outside the ladies room to join the resistance.  Seeing that there were no more stalls, they all retreated from the men’s room to wait until the remaining men had departed.  The men did appear in short order.  They were a little freaked out, which seems understandable.  But the women didn’t back down, either. They stood up straight and they held their chins high as the men returned to their seats and the women took over the restroom in its entirety.  No one summoned an usher or called a cop.  The battle was over without a single shot being fired.  Still, Marlena was invigorated by the action.  “I was at the revolution,” she said, “but I still had to wait.”

Which might be as good a report as I can make at this time.  Gains are made every day by women who are no longer going to accept the status quo under any circumstances.  They are doing it themselves.  Sometimes, they are going to have to wait.  But they are not going to wait long or suffer in silence at all.

Let’s face it, boys, they’re smarter than us in any practical way I can think of, they’re tougher than we give them credit for, they are the only ones that can create life and, for goodness sake, they even LIVE longer.  They are not going to back down because they don’t want to and they don’t have to.

So in addition to ‘working on ourselves’, we should really be engaging with the women in our lives and becoming more familiar with what they are seeing and hearing from us.  We need to celebrate their successes. We have to call our buddies on their bullshit because it’s not funny and it’s not okay.  Not because we love women or because they’re pretty but because it is the right thing to do. 

Male or female, someday, someone may ask, “What did YOU do during the #metoo movement?” What will you say?  Your answer may be very important.  As many of us are already aware, there’s nothing worse than hearing that “SLAM-CLICK!” …and finding you’re on the wrong side of the door.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Day I Climbed A Tree

Remembrances of my youth are rich with evidence
Of foolish chances taken without thought to consequence
Falls I took when I was ten were merely cause for laughter
With no thought of how I’d feel some forty long years after

But I take it philosophically
There’s no one to blame but me
Still upright, if not quite erect
Merely middle-aged! (Last time I checked)

I must admit, to myself, my body paid the cost
Of the paradises won, and of the paradises lost
The times I most lament my loss of guts and agility
Are when I watch a child commence to climbing up a tree

Such delicious memories!
The branches swaying with the breeze
A summer day here…(or anywhere!)
Why’d you climb that tree? (‘Cause it was there!)

And from that tree I’d take a trip
Climbing the main sail of my ship
Or scaling a mountain on my own
Or just navigating through parts unknown

Do you remember World War Three?
I fought those battles high up in a tree
Yes, I outwitted Russian trickery
In the embrace of a gnarled hickory

I hung upside down and played ‘trapeze’
On low-hanging branches of sky-reaching trees
(“It seems too safe!” my younger self was convinced...
‘til one day I fell off, then it all made sense)

But a day comes along eventually
(It might not for you but it sure did for me)
When all that I wanted for the rest of my life
Was the girl whose initials I’d carved with my knife

The trunk still carries that old weathered mark
Scratched into the pulp that lay beneath the bark
Though I still love the girl, I sometimes miss the boy
Who climbed to the top of a black walnut for joy!

If you never climbed a tree, you don’t have to take my word
All it takes is some gumption and the courage to go skyward
(But if you’re my age, please listen to my pitch:
The climbing can be glorious but the falling is a bitch!)

Though I complain when raking each Autumn
I love all my trees, from the top to the bottom
But I wish I could play, like I did way back then
And be ‘Tarzan of the Apes’ on his vine once again

I’m balding and I’m wrinkled, but I wear my age with pride
I didn’t get to ‘do it all’ (but God knows that I tried!)
But if someday, my ancient memories slip away from me
I hope that God will leave me one...from a day I climbed a tree.