Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wolves at the Door

Just in case anyone is actually reading this blog that is also actually reading His Family, I will avoid any specific spoiling details in this post. But, be warned. . . sadness cometh. And it came as I was sitting in the hallway outside the Principal's office at school. No, I wasn't caught skipping, it just happens to be the only couch on campus. Don't get me started about the anti-learning sterile environment of high school.  I digress. . .

We've had so much sadness in the last week. One week ago, a young man was plotting a lethal, depraved attack. Parents were making shopping lists for their children. Children were learning, reading, laughing, and playing. And then they were not.

I still can't think about it all without a sick sense of nausea rising up. I don't know any of the children taken, but I've thought too often of their sweet faces in the face of death. I've thought too often of the child next to them, who watched them die, and now live with the nightmares. I must stop thinking about them. Dwelling on it does not honor them. So what does?

I believe that loving my own children more patiently, more earnestly, more deliberately honors those children who are gone and who stay on. I can focus on the tragedy or I can embrace the hope.  I've heard the following story twice in the last couple of weeks and it has taken on a new significance:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.
"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

We face a different set of wolves now. They are of joy or pain. We can feed the wolf that would tell us to fear, hide from the world, and trust noone. That wolf would have us watch the news, learn about the shooter, and bemoan the tragic demise of our society and the terrible days in which we live.  

Or we can feed the other wolf. That is the wolf that focuses on the heroism of the day. That is the wolf that is grateful without guilt. That is the wolf that would tell us to see the good, embrace the light, and see that there is still so much beauty in this flawed world of ours. That is the wolf that will lift us up and help us do the same for others.

That is the wolf I aim to feed. I will believe, trust, hug, and press forward. I will look at my students and know that if a wolf comes to our door I will do my best to protect them. I will hug my children ever day, pray with them, and tell them that God is real, life is good, and there is always, always hope.  And in time, the other wolf will shrivel and die.  As the people of Connecticut face their wolves, and the characters in His Family do the same, I pray that they will choose the wolf of hope. I pray that there will be light where now there is such darkness. And I pray no more wolves come to their doors.

But they will. Wolves of memories, smells, fears, and nightmares will scratch at their doors. They will howl and huff and puff. But, the other wolf can be there, summoning light, focusing on love, and believing in the future. 

And it can howl too.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

And Who Are Thy Children?

"You will live on in our children's lives."

This was the parting counsel of Roger's wife in His Family before she passed away. The phrase is repeated often and gives a frame for the novel as Roger realizes how little he knew his children, though all he thought he wanted was for them to be happy. Still, Edith is a mother, Deborah, a consumed teacher, and Laura now a newlywed bouncing through Paris.
To know Deborah better he travels with her to her school, in an effort to buoy her up after losing a former student. He is shocked by the energy and pulse of the school, teeming with "foreigners." But, I think what surprises him most is the tenacity and wisdom of Deborah. She is a rock amidst the chaos of the neighborhood, cajoling children to come to school, starting a mother's club, encouraging young women to be "nice." And Roger follows her around, dazed by the rattling school and its countless endeavors at improving the life of the young. 

"He reached home limp and battered from the storm of new impressions coming on top of his sleepless night. He had thought of a school as a simple place, filled with little children, mischievous at times perhaps and some with dirty faces, but still with minds and spirits clean, unsoiled as yet by contact with the grim spirit of the town. He had thought of childhood as something intimate and pure, inside his home, his family. Instead of that, in Deborah's school he had been disturbed and thrilled by the presence all around him of something wild, barbaric, dark, compounded of the city streets, of surging crowds, of rushing feet, or turmoil, filth, disease and death, of poverty and vice and crime.  But Roger could still hear that band. And behind its blaring crash and din he had felt the vital throbbing of a tremendous joynessness, of gaiety, fresh hopes and reams, of leaping young emotions like deep buried bubbling springs bursting up resistlessly to renew the fevered life of the town! Deborah's big family! Everybody's children!"

In the midst of all this he saw what he had not seen before, Deborah as a mother. Edith had her five babies, Laura was campaigning against ever having one, and here was Deborah, mother and aunt and nurse to hundreds of children. Is that not motherhood? 
My high school classroom is not wild nor barbaric. Neither is it what I imagined it to be either. Sometimes I come home limp and battered as well. The indolence of our youth shakes me up, and the fatigue of teaching those who express no desire to be taught drains me. And I have spent far too much time lamenting that I am in a classroom with other people's children rather than being at home with my own. This is not the script I wrote. Still, perhaps Deborah is on to something. Perhaps all the children on the world are a shared commodity. We place our own first, they are our main stewardship. But, do we ignore the rest? We are in the midst of the "Is our family complete???" conversation, and though we would love to have more children, I often wonder if our immediate family is complete, but there are countless more children God would have me care for. I might only be a Spanish teacher, but there is more that I teach. I smile at them when they come to the door. I express to them love for my husband and children. I demonstrate clean language and respect. I ask them about their lives. I share my opinions on tattoos when they ask. Perhaps I am teaching more than just Spanish. Perhaps these are also my children.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Facts and Fiction

       In His Family, I am at the point where Laura, the youngest daughter, just got hitched. Poor papa bear's house is overtaken by parcels and maids and flowers and an assortment of wedding preparations that I don't think I ever had. The engagement was short, they were bound for Paris in June. Dear Roger gets pushed aside until the bill collector makes his way to his New York home with the butcher's bill for Laura's dream wedding.
       Roger Gale has three daughters, bearing  a striking resemblance to my own family as a matter of fact. I am the youngest of three girls, and though we all three don't have a doppelganger in Holmes' tale, I certainly can relate to the free spirit of Laura. Coming after my sisters in high school had its price. Big Sisters were perfectly behaved and swam peacefully in the crowd--though standing out in their own righteous ways and leaving impressive marks in the school. And then there was Morgen. . . who talked loudly, walked barefoot in the halls, and did a Forrest Gump impression during her graduation speech. I left my own mark, but in many ways I've spent a whole lot of life trying to climb out of the shadow of my two big sisters. They cast incredible shadows.
       I have some Laura in me. I've followed more fancies than my sisters. I had different types of jobs, went to a different college, and have colored my hair many more times in many more colors.

Why do younger siblings do this?

        In the novel, Laura has declared that she will have no children. Roger, her father, is horrified, and listens for his wife Judith to roll over in her grave. Their oldest girl Edith is motherhood: framed on a wall. She begins the novel with four children, just gave birth to a fifth, and who knows what might happen in the next hundred pages or so. She glows in the grind of raising children, sculpting their lives perfectly and running her home impressively. She strikes the ideal of the age and balks at Laura's rebellion. Does she take it personally? I find that often people's disapproval of another's choices is founded in an insecurity of their own. We project judgment and it does little good. Certainly if someone is making a choice that puts their life in danger, morally, spiritually, or physically then we should speak up with love and concern. But when it is a choice made with purposeful thought and good, solid, intentions, then perhaps we should let them be--even (and perhaps especially) if it is different than the way we would do things.

Why do older siblings not do this?

        I've never had a younger sibling, so I wouldn't know. But, I do have younger sibling in-laws and I know I've been guilty of basking in the knowledge that I have more kids and so must know more than they do. Sometimes we all ache with the desire to know something, to be an expert at something, to help someone do things better than we did them. These are often grounded in love. But I think they must also be tempered with patience.
        For Edith and Laura, I think that picking the fight about kids did noone any good. The night before Laura's wedding was the wrong time for Daddy to give a multiply and replenish the earth lecture. She was a mess about just becoming a wife, much less a mother. In those moments, which I imagine we've all had, when lecturing seems so natural and our wisdom seems so clear, perhaps it is best to smile, hug, and trust. I don't yet know what will come of Laura's marriage or Parisian honeymoon. I'm not sure yet how many of my own decisions will pan out. But I am learning to trust myself, even as a baby sister. So, from one youngest sister to another. . . .Good luck, Laura.