There Is No Why

© 2012 Whitney Reed

© 2012 Whitney Reed

Saturday morning, I made a quiet breakfast of scrambled eggs and grits with my own six-year-old. Just the two of us. She sang in her room just beyond the kitchen as I cried into the bowl of broken egg guts and cursed the bits of shell that fell in. I believe everybody was hit more than once, the words of the Chief Medical Examiner have been ringing in my ears. And because I can’t encounter any piece of news without taking it on myself, injecting it into my own heart, I could only imagine her little overalls, her hands, her sweet brave forehead, her perched on a bathroom sink by a teacher who barricaded her class into the bathroom while gunshots fired in the next room, across the hall, who knows where.

I’ve been so overcome, I took her to the aquarium today. Because, really, there’s nothing more peaceful than an aquarium. It’s otherworldly. Creatures floating in water all around, and people, swarms of people, sharing moments of laughter and wonder behind a sheet of glass. It was raining when we left. Who would know? On the way home, Ruthie asked me, “What’s it like to be a grown-up?” And I thought, THIS. This is what it’s like to be a grown up. It has something to do with knowledge, and loss, and love, and what to do with all of that, but I didn’t tell her this of course. I told her it meant you could eat ice cream for breakfast if you wanted to.

I remember when Ruthie was first born, our first outing. She was maybe 3 weeks old. I don’t know, maybe a month. I can’t even remember where we went, but there were other babies there with their own mothers, some of them crying. And I remember I could feel their cries in my gut. I physically reacted to them–looking to my own Ruthie’s peaceful face with panicked confusion. But you don’t LOOK like you’re crying. And this is what I feel like we are all doing about Newtown–we are owning their pain, their loss, because it feels like it is OUR loss. And it is unimaginable. That is one of the most painful, most beautiful things about us humans: It’s primal, our connection to one another.

We can talk about gun control, we can talk about how we should provide more resources to the mentally ill, how we should call our representatives, and how we should pray more. And, you know, I’m not saying those things aren’t important. But the truth is that bad things happen for no good reason. All of these articles about the shooter and his mother… and WHY. We’re all asking why. Why are we asking why? Because if we can understand it, then maybe we can control it. And, sure, there are things we could do, measures we could take, but the truth is that bad things do happen for no good reason. And this is what makes us hug our babies tighter and kiss their hairlines, breathing deep, thankful and sad at the same time.

I was a teacher for seven years and I can’t imagine what I would say to my students tomorrow morning if I had to face them. I’ve been a mother for just as long and, thankfully, I haven’t had to talk about it to my own little girl. It’s been a silent, very grown up kind of suffering these past few days. But if I had to explain it to anyone, I’d fall back on the wisdom of Mr. Rogers, which is really a good policy in any given situation, because I like his focus. He says:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

So what are we supposed to do with all of this? Holding someone’s hand is always a great place to start. Or tell the people you love that you love them. Sing the hero’s song. Cry a little. Send love. Good, human, hearty love. Pay attention to all the awesome shit that’s happening right in front of you. Maybe turn your phone off and admire the tower your six-year-old made out of 52 Jenga blocks straight up. Shore those fragments against the ruin, T.S. Eliot style. Or maybe just wash her favorite pair of overalls every night this week so she can wear them every day. I know in this house, we’ll be eating ice cream for breakfast tomorrow morning. With fruit, of course. It’ll be a few more days before I can bear another broken egg.

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Three Days

© 2011 David Parker

The truth? I flew to Idaho and back in three days to do a little housekeeping 2,500 miles from home.

There were pugs who jumped on top of tables to lick the cream out of my coffee and a boat that pushed through a thin layer of ice on the surface of the lake. In the middle of the lake was an island. On top of the island was a house with lots of windows full of people who don’t care if anyone sees them throwing rocks. In fact, they encourage you to throw your own rocks, or at least stop carrying them around, but no one casts the first stone. There was music that glittered with the water reflecting mountains dusted with snow. A child entrusted with a knife sat criss-cross-applesauce on the counter to help cut vegetables for dinner. Self reliance. Some kind of pasta with rabbit. A toast to me. To us! A world of plastic sea creatures, a sprawling spiral, on the child’s bedroom floor. Confidence that it is beautiful because she made it. Smiles. Hugs that don’t pull away. Affirmation.

An Invitation: You give away your anger, your only power, and trade it for a new one, a truer one, on the promise of a net that will appear only if you jump. But you know the net is there because of how you began.

Can you remember? When you were just barely a speck, a few cells glued together by your own spirit, glowing and warm inside of your mother’s belly? She doesn’t even know you’re there. But you know. And you are perfect. And your life holds nothing but promise. The universe adores you. You are a beautiful, beloved secret. Your world is a soft place filled with the faint sounds of your mothers laughter and the ins-and-outs of her breath when she’s sleeping. You remember. That’s not a question. You began there. We all have that in common. And your spirit, your cellular glue, has a voice that isn’t afraid because it hasn’t learned fear yet. This is mine. Hello.

‘Flicted with the Hubris

© 2010 David Parker

We started reading The Odyssey today in my AP class, and it’s got me thinking about quests and tests and challenges and nostos and hubris. Especially hubris, which is really a necessary flaw if you’re going to be an epic hero. I mean, being successful at anything requires a certain amount of ego, so if you’re going to be a fucking hero, I would imagine that you’d need maybe just a bit more hubris than the average guy. But in the end, the hubris is what brings the big boys to their knees. Well, hubris and fate.

The Odyssey was the first nail in my literary coffin. I read it my sophomore year of college in a Great Books class. It was the first time I realized that literature was about the human experience. It may have been the first time it was ever brought to my attention that there were certain universal aspects of being human. Except for the fact that Penelope never leaves the home, I love the narrative structure of The Odyssey: We begin with ourselves, our home; we go out into the world for a reason, on a quest; nothing goes the way we’d imagined it might; it takes a hell of a lot longer than we’d planned; we encounter challenges, battles, obstacles, monsters that test who-we-think-we-are; we eventually make it home (under strange sail and in exchange for a story); and nothing is as we remember it—not even ourselves. We thought we knew everything (hubris), we thought we were somebody (hubris), we bragged about how much of a somebody we thought we were (hubris), only to have our spirit sticks broken by the gods (fail). Just one big circle that begins and ends with me. And we arrive alone, without even our trusty hubris.

I think that’s why so many people experience success in their forties: it takes a long time and a lot of failing to get over the hubris. My twenties have been marked by arrogance and entitlement, and that too seems to be a universal piece of the human condition. Everyone is kind of an asshole in their twenties. We’re like Odysseus, messing over our accomplishments with our bragging. And my generation of braggarts is surely the worst yet as we proudly proclaim our cleverness from the tallest peaks of the Interwebs. Our status updates and tweets have a willingly captive audience and people like us. Social networking’s got us ‘flicted with the hubris. *heavy sigh* #kidsthesedays

Magic Mittens

© 2010 David Parker

Someone very close, very dear, and very lovely came up to me the other day and confessed to feeling totally defeated and I imagined myself reaching into this person’s heart with a glowing-ember mitten that could fix it. Whenever people I love feel uncomfortable or sad or lonely or left out or hurt or misunderstood or awkward (especially awkward) or if they’re just struggling in general, I have this overwhelming desire to slip inside their bodies and feel it instead. Because something about my temperament already feels it anyways.

Tonight, Ruthie and I took a walk before bedtime and on the way back to the house, we stopped to talk to one of my former students and her friend. Ruthie ran around behind me and began licking the back of my arm like a kitten. I guess we’ve entered that strange developmental stage where children both want attention and shy away from it, which causes them to resort to strange behaviors. I tried not to make a big thing about it, but, I mean, if it happens again, I need to have something ready for explaining why we can’t do this. She’s terribly precocious and it’s painful for me to watch her grow into becoming self-conscious because I know how uncomfortable that felt when I was a little kid and even now. I realize that discomfort is necessary for developing as a person, but even still, I think I’m going to ask for one of those mitten-thingys for my birthday. Or for Christmas–Santa Clause may have a bit more pull than my friends and family when it comes to producing magic things to heal hearts.

A Holy Hush

© 2010 David Parker

Everything leaves on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a slow death that begins just before I wake up and I spend the day savoring its wane. Wanting it even while I have it.

Because Sunday apologizes for the other six days of the week, and I accept. Because no one fights on Sunday. Because Sunday has no agenda and even the coffee cannot be rushed. Because I can keep my promises on a Sunday. Because Sunday wears like the pajamas I slept in all weekend. Because Sunday carries me around in its mouth like a puppy whose mother is bringing it back home. Because Sunday is when I change the sheets, fold fresh towels, wash the dishes in warm water.

Morning spends itself into the afternoon. I write patiently. He watches golf: polite applause, quiet voices. Ruthie takes a heavy nap, wakes up sweaty.

Tonight, I’ll make something from a roux–stir it slow to music that makes me feel overwhelmingly present in my own body. I’ll give Ruthie a bath, wrap her in a towel, press my lips against her shiny forehead, inhale her hairline. I’ll fold myself into bed, steel myself against dreading Monday, set the alarm. Close my eyes. Wait for sleep. Dream of pictures and words and time.

I know, I know, I know…

© 2010 David Parker

As I was running off copies this morning before the 7:50 bell rang for advisory (homeroom), staring out through the metal bars covering the windows in the teacher workroom, the sound of the pitifully stocked vending machines humming four feet away, it hit me: I missed a day! Damn it. Today is Ruthie’s first day of school, so last night was spent furiously packing up her school supplies, her lunch, her ballet clothes for after school, her cheerleading uniform for camp this afternoon, two changes of clothes for her new class. On top of all of this, my mind has been preoccupied with personal matters such as my fierce desire to control everything and my tendency to repeatedly frustrate the people I love with my quick temper and lengthy list of grievances. And then there’s the laundry that never ends and the dishes that have been stacked in the sink since Tuesday. I did manage to make the beds this morning–no small feat at 5:30 am.

Coming Home

© 2010 David Parker

The past two days, I’ve been thinking a lot about home or nostos: where we come from, the place where our identity, our self begins. And tonight I was locked out of my house.

My mom’s in town and I decide it’d be nice to take Ruthie for a walk before bedtime. As soon as I hear the door’s heavy click behind me, I know I’ve left the keys four feet away on the table where I keep my keys. Damn it!

We try my landlord’s house down the street. No luck. We’re sweating. We try the window in the back. No luck. I pick up some garden shears and try to pry the window open. No luck. Finally, after 30 minutes of jimmy-ing the window on the front porch with the garden shears, we get in. My jeans and t-shirt are soaked all the way through. I’ve got blisters on the tips of my fingers from all of the jiggling and prying and pushing. Sound dirty? It was.

The most frustrating thing about being locked out of your house is you’re right there! RIGHT THERE! I could touch the fog from the air conditioner inside. I could see the damn keys through the front door. A pane of glass (how thick could that be?!) separated me from air-conditioning, a glass of water, our bedtime rituals. For some reason, the fact of such narrow proximity to the thing you want (especially when it’s something you are so familiar with and have such access to as your home) makes it maddeningly worse. And it’ll make you do crazy things like jiggle your window with garden shears until you work the latch through (it’s hard to explain).

The moment the window pops open, sweet relief pours through the dusty blinds and into my face: bought air. I climb through and let Ruthie and my mom in the front door. Simplest thing in the world: opening up my door for people to walk through. But it feels like a privilege, like a glorious, unique opportunity to walk into my own home. It feels so good because to open that door took so much work, so much sweat, with the possibility of not making it inside breathing hot on the back of my neck.

This past week has been pretty wretched for me personally speaking. It was one of those growing weeks. You know, where you become more of who you are? And it hurt like hell. Ask my bestie-best-best (A.) or ask David or ask anyone I worked with last week. I was ruh-dic-U-lussssss: anxious, weepy, depressed, sleepless, eatless, productive-less. I was on the threshold of myself. Jimmying the window, sweating, panting, gasping, cussing in front of my kid. Who-I-am taunted me through the window: all of my flaws glaring, glinting in the light. And then, all of a sudden, I’m inside. Just like that. And all of my flaws are still here, but I don’t mind. Because the thing that separated me from myself was insecurity and the work makes me forget what I hate and focus on what I love (or else, why would I be working so hard? And for what?). And after all that work, it’s so nice to be home. I hope I don’t lock myself out again.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. [T.S. Eliot]