Do you see what I see?

When I was in college one of my pre-law professors did an experiment, which we the students did not know was an experiment at the time…in which a student came into the class during a lecture and was rude, loud, and verbally abusive to another student and threw a pencil at the professor when she demanded he leave her classroom at once.  When she gathered her thoughts, and our heart rates seemed to fall back to normal, she asked us to write down what we saw and what we heard…I assume you know where I am going with this?  Nearly every single one of us wrote down some details that were different.  Some completely different than the person sitting directly beside us!  Sure, we all noted the color of his hoodie and the color of his skin, but the words he said, the tone in which he said them, his manner, the incident itself was different for almost all of us in the room.  HOW is it that a group of twenty young adults could be in the same place at the same time during the same event, and all see, hear, and experience something different?  To say that, decades later, we as a nation are in a version of that classroom experiment right now, is perhaps not stretching the truth too far.  I am baffled and confused, almost daily, indeed weekly, as to how it is that I can watch a speech, hear an interview, read an excerpt or a transcript, and come away with a COMPLETELY different assessment of the person speaking and the subject matter and the content synopsis, and come to a conclusion that is the opposite of yours.

The English language is filled with words that have multiple meanings and subtle uses that certainly can make some of use one adjective or another to describe a person, place, or thing, but to hear a person speak in real time, and to then read the speech, and come away with a totally different conclusion about both the speaker and the subject, than the person sitting next to me, is causing me great unease.  Am I not understanding the words coming from the speaker’s mouth?  Am I not comprehending the sentences?  Am I not well read, or educated or erudite enough to find a person to be a vulgar buffoon, with little mastery of language, and indeed an inelegance for public speaking that I find to be horrendously unpleasant to my ears, but yet you think this speaker and the speech is terrific?  HOW can that be?  It seems that this college experiment I was part of in my twenties is a real-world-scenario in the year I’m turning 50!!!  Every day I watch some news on television, every day I read some of the newspapers on the internet, every day I listen to NPR, and yet every night I go to bed with different thoughts than most of the people to whom I am related and many of the people who I care about.  The same hours in the day, the same things happening in those hours of the day, and not one common thought about what transpired.  Totally different conclusions about the exact same things.

I understand that we all color our world with the thoughts we already have.  We might never agree on anything in my own family, my town, and this country.  We might always be divided, nearly down the middle, about everything.  There are many men and women far more brave than I, who are voicing their opinions, loudly these last months, about the climate and the country, about insurance and injustice, about civil rights and Russian wrongs, and are writing and saying words that I often think but do not express.  I have many loved ones and many friends who think nothing like I do about these subjects.  I have many loved ones and many friends who have totally different views, opinions, beliefs, and visions of a future than I do.  So I have had much on my mind these last many months, really the last year, and I have just tried to let things play out, let things unfold, and see where it goes.  I have heard smart loving people say to me, “people are not giving him a chance” and I have had to simply agree to disagree.  I choose to not add to the divisiveness in my family and my community and so I remain quiet most of the time about most things.  But, I see what I see, and I hear what I hear, and I read what I read, and I am horrified most days that anyone can think anything but what I do, but they do.  I may not be brave enough to speak out against the madness, and I may not be brave enough to take action, but I have come to the conclusion that when I hear words that cut through to the very core of what I think is right, decent, and just, it’s okay to loathe those words and the mouth from which they came, even if everyone around me thinks I am wrong.

On The Turning Away

If I told you how many times I listened to my record of ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’ in my childhood, you would think I was joking, but I’m not.  Even as a little girl, I found that song so sorrowful, how Jackie Paper grows out of his love of Puff and turns away from childish things as he grows from a boy into a man.  I loved the song and still do, despite how sad it made me.  I’m thinking about Puff this morning, as I think about my granddaughter, who in the early morning hours of today turned 12, and how just like that, it feels like it’s over…other people and other joys occupy her world, like Jackie Paper, she is growing out of what was, into what will be…

Maybe “over” is too harsh, but things have changed and shifted, as I knew and expected they would, but I’m left with a strange ache that I did not anticipate.  It came so suddenly, at least it feels sudden, or maybe I was not noticing the shift.  She hardly calls me anymore, and her texts are less frequent with every passing day, and she seldom wanders over here just to talk like she once did, and the last few months of her school year, when I got her off the bus, she sometimes had no more than a sentence or two to say to me.  As she grows, her time is spent more and more with less and less of me.  I understand, and I realize it’s the way of things, it’s simply natural progression, and I’m happy she is growing out of the adolescent and child stages, and coming into the young lady and woman she will be one day, but still…

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar

The child who I used to speak to or see every day, now goes for days, even more than a week with nothing more intimate or personal than a wave if we pass in the driveway.  I was going to buy a new cordless phone for the house a few weeks ago, until I realized that the old answering machine messages asking, “Hi Nana are you there?”  still stored an eight year-long history of her voice, as it grew from the four-year-old next door, into the girl with her own iPhone, who texted instead, would be lost.  AND I admit that once in a while if I am feeling low in some way, I press Play> on that answering machine, just to hear her little voice.   I fully accept the loss of what once was, I guess I just didn’t expect it to feel like it has come so quickly…suddenly it is her birthday and this is the last year before the numbers end in the word ‘teen.’

You won’t believe me until it happens to you, but the love you feel for the child of your child is profoundly different from what you ever felt as a parent.  It is better and richer and more fulfilling than any love you have ever known before.  That is a universal truth.  Okay, maybe I am exaggerating, but it might just be my truth.  And it could very well be that it feels different for me because of how close I am to the girls in my life; having bonded with them like I did for those first weeks and months of their lives, and in real proximity as we have been next door neighbors for eight years now.  It is one of the most deeply felt bonds I’ve had the good fortune to know. I am grateful for this girl in my life, even though the girl has begun to slip and drift away, as a young woman slowly emerges.

She is still one of my favorite humans, no matter how many times she mutters under her breath or rolls her eyes at the adults in her life.  I hope that she will always know she can turn to me, and my arms and mind will be open towards her, no matter how far she might turn away from me and leave childhood behind.  I will be forever thankful to her, for unlocking my spirit and breaking open my heart to accept a love like that on the day she took her first breath.  She might be moving on to other people and other joys but I won’t stay sorrowful, I won’t go back inside my woeful cave like Puff the magic dragon, I will celebrate her growing, and wish for her as she matures, to find and connect with people who are joyful and creative and interesting and talented, just like she is, and I will hope her friendships are fulfilling and fun, and I hope she finds people to share her time with who make her feel positive, and who keep her honest, and I will be happy, and lucky, that I had all those years of being one of her favorite humans too.