I published this one year ago, today.
A Flamingo Soaring on High Currents
Much to our dismay or unparalleled delight, of all things seen with our own eyes, and unseen, as the events that have the ability to bring forth the utmost joy and the deepest of sorrows, it is the unexpected, chance event. Of all the things in our lives; an act of cruelty, a crushing disappointment, or devastating betrayal that appears to come from nowhere, those things, not the carefully plotted plans, the mathematics of linear equations and absolute values within our lives, that change us at our core forever. And subversively, the pleasant surprise igniting a thousand little fires on an otherwise impossibly dark night, the underdog comeback and turning around of a 21-0 game in the second half for a win, and the random act of kindness; reminding the hurt, the wounded, and the struggling, that others have been in their shoes, those things are the game-changers, but only if we allow them to be.
As we begin the new year, and reflect on the year that has come to pass, to a significant degree, random, unexpected events have very much brought us to our knees, but it must be said that random acts come in all shapes, sizes; My children were recently recipients of a random act of kindness, delivered to our doorstep via the Postal Service last week for Christmas, which inspired me to write this, as a digressive and full-circle thank-you note, to whomever it is that took the time last week to bring smiles to my children’s faces by “igniting a thousand little fires” (I will discuss the specifics in a moment) and to all who find it within themselves to be kind and giving to others, without advertising it, and don’t ask for anything in return. I write this, from the outside looking in, to provide a contrast between random acts of kindness and….. the other sort, of which I was a recipient, also delivered through the Postal Service, earlier this past February (discussed later); Paths of unexplainable random acts of darkness crossing with triumph and the light.
The Woman who Sings
Photo courtesy of http://www.sonypictures.com
Nawal Marwan, Lebanese Prisoner #72, is the woman who sings in the film “Incendies”; She sings, though she has lost much, suffered tremendously, and has witnessed unimaginable events, over which she had no control. She sings, when she should have gone mad. Her voice is carried to the other prisoners (and drowns out their screams) through angry, spiteful and hopeful echoes. And after leaving the confounds of this terrible place, Kfar Ryat prison, she takes with her the twins she gave birth to while imprisoned, but buries the ugly secrets of these events, deep within her, as she believes she is choosing not to burden her new life with the tragic story of the one she left behind. Nawal Marwan did not bend to the will of her torturer, to break her, or to those she “shamed” in an act of independence. She does not bend to the will of those who sought to take over the region; The Middle-eastern Christian Nationalist Right uprising in Lebanon, and the surrounding regions, who mercilessly killed all who opposed them, and took the young son Nawal had to give up at birth, Nihad of May, from an orphanage they besieged and raised him to be a terrorist, who would, in another plot twist and unbeknownst to them both, many years later play a role in the horrific events she experienced while in prison. She was triumphant, not because of the secrets she kept, but because in reinventing herself, she did not “let them” win. No one could have predicted the impossibly tragic end to her story, but even in such star- crossed doom and despair, beauty was found through her, even then, in the two letters she wrote to the son, she believed she never met, and to her prison torturer- who ended up being the same person.
This is a movie. But ugly things happen every day, to someone, somewhere, next door, in your town, in your schools and homes. And there comes a time where we all must make “What now?” decisions.
No matter from where it is you may come, no one goes through his or her childhood expecting painful things to happen, but they do. They happen “out there”. They happen “in here”. There is no way to prepare for such things; The major and miniature tragedies. No one expects others to hurt them. No one expects that others will leave them, sometimes without warning. One of the things I’ve had to accept, and has been especially difficult to, as parent who wants to protect her children from all things that can and will hurt them, is that the universe and all the events that happen within it, the ever-changing and unpredictable power of the micro- cosmos, from billions of miles away, but earth bound-is more random, in its beauty and destructive power, than not. We can only use math to measure, quantitatively, to see patterns, to make predictions, should the subject continue its path. It cannot account for variations, it cannot predict randomness, in our lives here, in space out there.
In trying to understand that the behavior of individuals, in their own lives, rarely, if ever have anything to do with others outside their own personal bubbles, I watch my daughter Audra, struggle to understand why the family across the street, the two little girls she played with for each of her 5 years of existence, just moved away yesterday, without having said goodbye. The very same thing happened to me, when I was a small child; my friend Marsha told me she was moving away soon and before I had the chance to say goodbye, the next day, she was gone. I never saw her again. Through my own filter, as an adult, I understand people get busy and “don’t think” but through the eyes of a child, she looks across the street, sees an empty house, and doesn’t know if she will ever see her friends again.
One choice, our own, or someone else’s, can change the course of our life and others’ lives, for the better or worse. When we are little boys and girls dreaming of our futures, we don’t imagine going to prison, but many do. Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption is wrongly accused of first degree murder, but instead of withering away, and losing hope…he builds a library empire, and eventually finds freedom in the end. We do not imagine getting fired, but many do; For some it is a blessing in disguise, and they then have the opportunity to remake themselves. We do not dream of developing an addiction. We do not imagine getting cancer, or being diagnosed with a chronic or otherwise debilitating illness. We do not imagine being robbed. We do not imagine being forced to move to another country to escape violence perpetrated by our own government, as Syrians are being forced to do. No one, as a child, imagines being buried in a mountain of all-consuming debt. No one dreams of the day they have to undo a deed of consequence, by proxy. And for so many who have experienced, or are experiencing divorce, no one gets married expecting to divorce. Maybe it is all pre-determined, and he’s just carrying out the innate inevitabilities. Maybe we should just surrender.
And so it is through my own personal cognitive dissonance that I acknowledge that indeed, there are many things we do not have control over. Many of the most wonderful, horrible, powerful things that have happened to me, like you all, have been random events over which I had no control. But there are many things, hard work and determination, action (or inaction) domino-effect decisions, and gut feelings- followed (or ignored) that sometimes brought forth much fruit, some of it ripe, and other times, rotten. So the idea we must surrender ourselves, to the random and unfair demands of the Universe, is very much like giving into the voice of the Wicked Witch of West, as she demands of Dorothy Gale, to surrender herself; all for a pair of red sparkly kicks.
Photo courtesy of http://www.betterlivingthroughbeowulf.com
Dorothy does not surrender. She instead faces her intimidator-the Wicked Witch, melts her, takes her broomstick, exposes the Wizard as the Man Behind the Curtain, makes nice with him, he gives her “new-found” friends gifts, promises to give her a lift back to Kansas, from Oz…but did not deliver. Glenda, the Good Witch of the North, reminds her that she didn’t need the Wizard after all, that she had the power, all along. Did Dorothy defeat the Universe that day? No. But she did defeat the Wicked Witch of West, who may as well have been the Universe.
Again, it is a movie and that was a dream. But who is the voice of the universe in your life? Who and what are you trying to overcome?
If you could spin a web……..
We have much to learn from those whom we fear (more importantly, those who we’ve been told by others we should fear). Charlotte, the spider of E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” isn’t the quite the darling Dorothy Gale is, she is seen as more of a pariah, per nature, through no fault of her own, but her intentions and heart are no less pure. An unlikely hero, an altruist, she saves Wilbur, the pig, from becoming pork product, with her intellect. She spins in her web, words to describe him.
And so Mr. Zuckerman thought Wilbur to be worth saving: “some pig”, “radiant”, “terrific”, “humble” ; All because Charlotte believed in Wilbur enough to say these things about him, in a gesture of goodwill.
The Big Brown Box and a Soaring Flamingo
My friend Aditya said of me last week: That I was like “A flamingo soaring on high currents”. When responding to the following post:
“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.” William Arthur Ward ~”May we stop ignoring and start loving those who think themselves unlovable.” -Me.
We were discussing solutions and policy, specifically 2nd Amendment rights, reasonable limits, as it pertained to the Newtown, Conn. tragedy and another subsequent gunman’s realized plot to kill New York firefighers, and all the other looming acts and threats of violence before and since this tragedy, involving firearms/semi-automatic and automatic weapons being in the hands of those who have no business owning them. This discussion centered around the fact that we, as a society, in America, must find a better, more holistic and compassionate way to treat people who are suffering from mental illness, before it’s too late; The idea if you care for others, in gestures of love and boundaries, then they will be forced to care for you in return. (At least in theory). But prior to this conversation (thread, rather) last week, I found myself understanding that despair might seem to be the only choice for some when facing the unrelenting heartbreaking turn of events, those 20 children, 6 educators, and the gunman’s mother, meeting a senseless, violent end in Newtown, Conn.
Having death threats hurled at me over the course of the past 4 years, and feeling the palpable hostilities of students who, have demonstrated and may be capable of violence, I began to grow very weary. In my own world (My students are residents a Juvenile Placement/Treatment/Detention facility) I know, however, threats of violence and hatred toward them will not fix what’s broken within them and in their lives that brought them to my classroom in the first place .Before the said conversation, I found myself disgusted with the politicization of tragedy, the adrenaline fueled arguing that lacked both common sense and a soul, the heartless insults and doubling-down, irrational accusations of not enough guns and not enough God in our “Godless-government-run” schools to protect these innocent children from the evil and violent end they met. We must know that while so many failures contributed to these acts, that as much as it pains me to admit, these are unpredictable and unexplainable random acts of violence and hatred.
I know, as many of us do, from within, what needs to be done, and arguing with distractions, and listening to (and allowing ourselves) to be a part of the politics of it all, signing petitions; “for or against”, writing our congress-people does absolutely nothing. We cannot rid the world of hatred, we cannot rid the world of violence, but we can affect the lives of those we can reach. Fighting fire with fire cannot and will not work. As a CASA (A court-appointed special advocate for children) I am seeing the lesser shown, and shape-shifting mechanisms of the system, and understand that everybody lies, even when the welfare of children should be the greatest priority. Needless to say, reaching deep to find real hope, not the false bravado hope, becomes a challenge.
My hope for humanity began to fade a little further, only days after the Sandy Hook tradegy, that last week my brother-in-law’s best friend, and sister’s close family friend, who I will not name out of respect for the privacy of the grieving, was also murdered, in an act of gun violence (even though, he, himself had a gun to defend himself, in the end it didn’t matter). My brother-in-law went to the scene of the murder, immediately after it happened. “N” was on the phone, telling him that he was scared for his life. This was just days after the Sandy Hook tragedy. This husband and young father, was only trying to sell his Iphone, through Craiglist and was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
All these victims, you could say, were in the wrong place at the wrong time; which of course, is an obtuse oversimplification.
At any rate, I think he, (my friend Aditya) inferred that I was being optimistic, in the face of tragedy and the typical (American) bandwagon jumping and skepticism. I will accept that compliment, at least I will, temporarily, for that moment in time. Because despite my usual skepticism, I was optimistic, on that day. And here’s why: That day, two weeks ago, my children received this package in the mail; the Big Brown Box.
Here is what I wrote on this day, two weeks ago.
My 17 month old son Owen plays quietly on the floor, lying on his belly, looking sideways and studying the wheels of the beloved brand new train, constructed of wood and cognitive development (multi-shaped blocks and patterns) that he just received from the big brown box that arrived in the mail earlier this evening; Addressed to Laurelen, Audra, and Owen; Listing no return sender- It housed 3 wrapped Christmas gifts for all 3 of my children. An excited Audra, who is 5, opened her gift to find a beautiful doll, donning fiery red curls and an emerald green dress- Merida of “Brave”-her favorite princess (and reminiscent of an American Girl doll) and Laurelen, my 14 year old, wasn’t there to open her present….so having no self-control, in an effort to try to connect the dots as to whom we should be thanking, I opened it, and on the other hand, wondering if perhaps the same person who sent a piece of hate mail, earlier this year, who mentioned her (Laurelen) in his or her diatribe was “at it” again (I know, I know- the skeptical, nagging, investigative Sherlock HoImes had to gather clues ). I was wrong. Laurelen’s gift was an uber-hip bead kit. It was of no use, it offered no additional clues. I haven’t any idea who sent these thoughtful gifts to my kids, and more importantly, why they did so. I mean, I think my kids are amazing, and are deserving of such a random act of kindness, but despite having lean times every now and then, we aren’t a family in need. We have a humble home, and live modestly, but we have what we need. So, these gifts weren’t sent to fill a perceived deficit (at least I don’t think so). Whoever sent it, little a thousand little luminaries, when we my faith in mankind had begun to hit bottom. Whoever sent it, saved my faith. I am touched and bewildered
After calling family members and friends, I learn they haven’t anything to do with it. The return address lists an apartment, but after some research, I learn that it isn’t the return address of the actual sender.
I began to appreciate all the kindness shown, to me, in recent years, a friend of mine from elementary school very generously giving my son Owen, her sons’ very well cared for baby/toddler clothes, my co-worker’s daughter who I hadn’t even met at that time, also giving me wonderful baby clothes and equipment (I had given most of my girls’ things away) My sister-in-laws Carrie and Jennifer, seeing when I need help, or some cheering up, and doing just that. All my brothers and sisters, for being there for me, when it was hard, and allowing me to be there for them. My brother Ryan and my other sister-in-law, Teresa, for selflessly helping with our hardwood floor disaster, when I was 9 months pregnant. And for everything else through the years. My mom….for all the kindness she shows every day, even when it’s hard. (Here’s me admitting that I am not always pleasant to be around) and all my friends and family who know the words to say to pull me up, and sometimes, think enough of me to let me pull them up too. All the things my friends have randomly done, to bring joy, matter. Especially on this day, this past February when I received another unexpected delivery in the mail.
Here is the subsequent thread. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151271405925089&set=a.10151101366655089.781147.683320088&type=1&theater
As difficult as it is to have shared it, I am glad I did. I still don’t know of an adult, in my life, who is capable or had motive to send such a letter. And let me just say……the 3 Christmas gifts arriving in the mail from an anonymous person trumps the darkness and magnitude of this letter. The context, for all who aren’t familiar- is that this person mailed a letter to my home address, along with placing anti-freeze in my driveway (for the cat who goes outdoors) was pointing out I have a modeling portfolio on my facebook profile, which I haven’t updated for over 2 years, and also that I have a “nose” situation. (Of which I’ve been well-aware since I was a kid). He/she also discussed my 14 year old daughter Laurelen, under false pretenses…..her father and I have joint split custody. As a matter of fact, she was there when I opened it.
2 very different pieces of mail, sent from anonymous individuals. One brought hope. The other, tears and confusion…..(then eventually hope.)
It has been asked…..Do you think it’s the same person? (The anonymous gift giver and the anonymous letter writer)
If so, like Nawal Marwan, from the movie “Incendies” as I discussed earlier, perhaps I should write two separate letters to the same person.
I don’t know that it is the same person. But I would like to think that if it is, then hopefully he or she is in a much better place now, and would love the chance to make it right and/or return his or her kindness.
And I would like to thank them both. Individually.
And in our own lives may we choose random acts of kindness over….the other sort.
May we choose to keep…..Singing. Spinning. Soaring; not surrender, in the face of adversity.
Many happy returns…….
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