When did you learn cooperation? When did you learn give-and-take? Who taught you? Your mother or father? How did it make you feel?
Did you have siblings? Besides sharing parents, did you share a room? A closet? A bathroom? Did you share your emotions?
Have you ever had a partnership with just one very special person? How long did it last? How did you manage that?
Partnering isn’t easy…but it isn’t hard, either. It takes concerted effort, for which humans are actually well-equipped because we have quite an advanced way of communicating. It gets more complicated with more partners involved, of course. I think the rewards are increased in the process. Wouldn’t it be great if we could enjoy the partnership of all living things? After all, we share one planet.
My thought is that since it’s a small world, we ought to stop competing over it and start respecting it and each other. Stop playing Tug of War; join hands, stick together, and play nicely. Children figure this out. Why can’t adults?
I don’t have a television, so I don’t see a lot of commercials. Still, I find NBA games on the internet and catch a few ads in the process. There’s one for a fried chicken franchise that particularly bothers me. Here’s the set-up: two teenaged kids have made a rare venture out of their rooms to join their parents for dinner. They are still plugged into their media devices and never speak or make eye contact with the camera or their parents. The African-American family sits in the living room with a bucket of chicken on the coffee table. Mom & Dad tell the camera that the chicken is the occasion for them to have this special “family” experience. Dad jokes that if the batteries run down, they might actually have a conversation.
Sigh. Is this an accurate snapshot of our current culture? Rewind about 100 years.
I’m reading a book called Nothing To Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother by Carrie Young. The author describes her life in North Dakota during the Great Depression. Her mother had acquired land as a homesteader, married and raised 6 kids on the farm. Her sisters struggled to become educated and get jobs as school teachers in local one-room schoolhouses. One particularly brutal winter, their parents found it more sensible to drop off the 18-year-old daughter, the teacher, with the two younger sisters at school and let them stay there during the week instead of transporting them back and forth through the snow drifts by horse-drawn wagon. The week turned into months. Fresh supplies were delivered every week, but these 3 young ladies spent that winter relying on their own resourcefulness for their daily life — with no electricity, simply a coal-burning furnace in the basement and a woodstove with one burner in the classroom. How is that possible? I’m sure that life was one that their parents had modeled for years.
Compare these two snapshots and imagine the changes that have swept through our country. What has “adult living” become? What do we model for our children these days? What skills are being delegated to machines or service companies or ‘experts’ that used to be more universal and personal? Besides modeling tasking skills, how do we model social and moral skills in this decade?
When more families were farming, children grew up alongside their parents and were incorporated into communal activities. They helped milk the cows, tend the garden, and make the food and clothing they all needed to live. In the 50s, when more families lived in cities and suburbs, Dad would drive off in the morning and work out of sight of his kids all day while Mom would turn on appliances to do the chores around home. The kids learned consumerism. Then the Moms left the house and went into the workforce leaving the kids in daycare. In 1992, someone came up with “Take Your Daughters To Work Day”. That was expanded to include boys a decade later. What was first perceived as a Feminist issue of role modeling was recognized as a parenting void: children had no clue how adults spent their work days.
Musing about these changes made me consider what my own children had learned from my husband and me. My daughter made a calligraphy sign when she was in High School: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him do it.” (Clarence B. Kelland) She was 23 when her father died. What we intended to model and what she actually learned are most likely two different things. One thing I do know. She did learn to cook her own chicken.
Internet news gives me a stomach ache. I just feel sick after browsing through photos and videos and stories about cruelty, stupidity, fear, and all kinds of petty, human activity. I really appreciate bloggers and others who post genuine evidence of our more noble capabilities. Although, sometimes this is attributed to “angels among us” or some non-human inspiration. Is kindness not a human trait? Justice? Wisdom? What do we gain by hesitating to credit people for exhibiting these admirable qualities and then splashing our media with all the “awkward” examples we can fit on a screen? Bleh…I just feel like I’ve been gorging on rancid movie popcorn. Humans plugged into more and more machinery, morphing into robo-sapiens, give me the same sour taste.
Please, somebody show me a living mensch! A human being, acting gracefully. Are there so few left? Browsing through my photo file, I realize that only a handful of pictures actually contain people. Is it because I find beauty in nature and form and so rarely in mankind?
Here’s one I did uncover. I took this shot last March. It shows a retired thespian giving a presentation to school kids on the process of making maple sugar one hundred years ago. He’s describing hand made tools, telling the story as if he were remembering his boyhood. He peppers his talk with jokes to make the kids laugh and pay attention. He is a teacher of old ways, engaging with new minds, passing on a respect for trees. He’s not doing it for remuneration or applause, he’s doing it because it’s important to him. And I think he’s a good example. Can you show me others? My stomach will thank you!
I observe humanity, myself included. What’s been in the news and on my mind? Landing a roving data-collector on Mars. The fatal shootings at a Sikh gurdwara here in Wisconsin. (My sister is a Sikh.) Drought and global warming. Conversations with Steve about who we want to be, how we want to live, what risks we are willing to take, what new modes of being we want to develop. Trying to see my inner self and assess it with honesty and compassion. Hoping and yearning for my children. Monitoring my energy.
We are living. We claim and generate energy, all the time. The flow of that energy is governed by our choices. (Ours and other living things’, although we humans are the ones who make cognitive choices. Plants, animals, planets and cosmic particles participate in that flow differently.) We are responsible for our choices. Are we looking carefully and critically at those choices? Are we blaming some other source for the results of our choices? Are we even aware of the results or do we look the other way?
7 billion people. We are making an impact on the Universe. Do we like the results we observe? Can we do better? Can I do better?
Valentine’s Day. A Hallmark holiday. Is it even connected to anything in history? The Roman Catholic Church removed St. Valentines’ Day from its calendar in 1969 because there was nothing known about the 3 St. Valentines that had been venerated except that one of them was martyred on February 14th. Chaucer had started the whole romantic connection by writing this verse in 1382 as part of a poem to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”
Okay. So what?
Eventually socialization takes over. We establish a day on the calendar to honor Love and allow traditions to flourish. It’s good for the economy. See also Mother’s Day and Sweetest Day. We grow increasingly attached to our traditions and habits and compartmentalize the celebration of Love to coincide with the day. That’s what I would call sentimental. It’s about the past and nostalgia.
But why not forget February 14, the calendar, and time itself, since they are merely social constructs, and instead try to honor every moment as we live it? The Bell of Mindfulness rings for this moment only. What are you feeling? What is happening around you? Are you fully aware of the miracle of living right now? If in your awareness, you choose to employ an “outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace” of being mindful, then that’s what I would call a sacrament.
And if the whole thing just strikes you as absurd and unrealistic, then you might be what I would call cynical. You might connect the day with massacres and treat your loved ones to:
Texas Chainsaw Cupcakes
Whatever your particular taste tends to on Valentine’s Day, I hope you enjoy the flavor!!