My heart sank the instant I watched him walk up the aisle of the school bus. The way he kept glancing to see where I was, yet looked away before I could make eye contact. Worse, the way he was being extra slow, as if a slower pace would delay the unpleasant future he was expecting
It’s the six-year-old version of the walk of shame.
Ever since I’ve been pregnant with Gabe, I’ve wanted to move back ‘home’ to be nearer to our family. Tim and I had our family, and the wonderful part of living farther away from all our relatives was that we really became important to each other. But that also included some loneliness, because so often we’d miss events and people just because of the reality of distance.
We had been looking for opportunities to move back home, but between the distance and the realities of having a family, it just never came together. Tim wouldn’t move for a job that was a step back from what he was doing already, and I had come to realize that ‘home’ didn’t mean the small town I’d grown up in. Life is just better when it’s lived near take-out restaurants and bookstores!
After years of hoping to move home, it really did feel like an unattainable goal, right up next to winning the lottery jackpot or looking like a supermodel. And it’s very hard not to pin unrealistic hopes and dreams onto something like that. Who doesn’t think that looking like a supermodel means no more relationship worries? Who doesn’t think that winning the lottery is the key to your heart’s desire? Well, in my case, I couldn’t help but feel that moving home would mean no more feeling so overwhelmed by life. Over and over I would stop and remind myself that life doesn’t work like that. The problems in our lives are rarely simple, and the solutions are never as simple as they seem. But I’m not sure if it’s an overabundance of idealism and optimism, or whether it’s just part of the human condition, but it still seemed as if the summers were cooler, the husbands calmer, the kids obedient-er, the snow fluffier, and the babysitters cheaper back home. Parental utopia.
Well, we moved home. Tim’s job was downsized, and finding a new job was no longer a dream, but a very scary necessity. And moving back home wasn’t unattainable at all anymore. Now it was inevitable.
Is it any surprise at this point that the reality of moving home is as complicated as any other part of life? We have a nice home, and it’s so very close to all the people we missed so much. And we enjoy every minute of time we’re sharing with all the people who are now practically neighbors in our life. I’ve spent more time with one of my brothers than at any point since we were both kids living at home. I’ve discovered that some people are not just relatives, but treasured friends as well.
But it’s mixed. There have been unexpected stays in hospital waiting rooms, and lots of changed plans that are only now really getting back to a recognizable normal. Gabe has had more difficulty transitioning into his new school than anybody expected. It’s a great school, and has way more resources than his old school did, but he doesn’t feel as comfortable in his own skin there. I’ve had more meetings and conversations with the new school staff than I ever did with anyone at his old school. Gabe’s going to get a great education. There’s just a few potholes in the path.
But really, it’s the people drama that’s bothering me most. People are idiots, and I know, being one of them. Everyone has the potential to hurt others, to say stupid things, to have a bad mood. But I’d just pictured moving back home as this wonderful thing. I think the biggest shock to my perspective was discovering that not everyone felt that way. And I won’t argue in the slightest that my view of things has been selfish. I wanted a life closer to what I valued. But sometimes, the way things are on vacations and visits are not the day-to-day reality.
In all fairness, almost everything is awesome. We would never go back to the way it was when we lived on the other side of the state. We have so many of the things that we’ve been missing all along. But I have to acknowledge my new reality: we’ve lost some things too. Or, more fairly, we’ve realized we never actually had some things we’d counted on all along.
And hopefully, after writing out all my gloomy feelings about moving, I’ll be able to start focusing on brighter, happier thoughts instead.
It wasn’t until just now, when I finally logged in to start writing again, that I realized it has been a stunning 2 1/2 years since I last wrote a blog post. Where did the time go?
I’ve realized that I ‘need’ to write things out when I’m dealing with major changes or upsets in life. Perhaps my biggest frustration is that my writing comes from my emotional center, and so I struggle to put the same depth into plotted stories that I can put into a personal letter or blog post. More likely, I just need to reconcile what I want to do with what I’m good at doing.
But anyway, back to the hellos. I’ve needed to write here, because again, there are changes up the gazoo. And frankly, this blog is cheaper than therapy, even if the confidentiality part of it sucks!
Change is uncomfortable. In times of change, we want to return to the past, because it’s familiar. But the past is never a simpler, more pure time, because when that past was happening, it too, was full of change. We find comfort in the past because we’ve acclimated to the changes of the past. We understand the rules. And, sometimes, we’ve just forgotten the drama for the perfect picture.
We also remember life as simpler when we were children because we were too busy playing in the moment to concern ourselves with the threats and change around us as much as our parents did. When I was a child, change meant growing old enough to drive a car, or a new place to explore and play. Politics meant nothing to me, because there was sunshine outside, and cousins to play with. Religion meant nothing to me, because I hadn’t yet learned that we live our lives by absolutes; primarily that we are absolutely right, and everybody different is absolutely wrong.
Nostalgia: white picket fences and children playing baseball, with mothers lovingly creating feasts from their Joy of Cooking cookbooks while wearing pearls and heels. Husbands leave for work after a wonderful family breakfast together, returning home to enjoy those perfect suppers with their families, while the children share the lessons they learned at school or play. Ideally, the father imparts some random piece of wisdom, and the mother smiles serenely over her little kingdom. Mix in some penny candy and a cute floppy-eared dog, and it’s the quintessential example of “what should be.”
It’s also pretty much scripted from a 1957 Leave it to Beaver episode. It’s fiction. And, I’ll venture a guess that it’s never truly existed beyond the television. Because in 1957, the same year that Leave it to Beaver premiered, there were terrorist attacks, nuclear weapons testing, a national battle over desegregation, murders, accidents, and all sorts of things that sound as if they belong in our headlines today.
It’s hard to remember that in the Cleaver’s perfect little world, children were practicing hiding under desks for protection when they were attacked by nuclear bombs. Racism, segregation and the civil rights movement were huge and messy issues of the day. Terrorist still attacked because of religious differences, only at the time it was over whether Catholics or Protestants were right and/or wrong.
Politicians paint a picture of that nostalgia, and promise to take us “back” to that purer, simpler time. But while nostalgia can be pure and simple, reality is never so easy. Nostalgia is pure, but life is messy and complicated. Life is change. Clinging to the past doesn’t stop change, it just prevents you from enjoying each messy moment of life.
Beware of those who want to take us back. The past has it’s own problems. Let’s move forward, because while we’ll find new problems to work through, we’ll also find new joys, new technologies, new friends and most importantly, we’ll create all sorts of new memories. And someday, our grandchildren can talk about us, and our lives, with fond nostalgia…. and hopefully, decide themselves to leave our messes behind them.
Change is life. Life is change. Embrace it, enjoy it, and look forward to the promises of the future.
(This has turned into a series of blogs. I had intended to write one post with a bunch of different ideas in it, but the ideas are too long to smush together like that.)
I spend too much time on Facebook. It’s super easy to do, especially since I have chunks of my day where I’m sitting quietly, nursing Alea or holding her while she sleeps (like now). I’m not sure whether to be thankful that my laptop and ipod are so easily accessible, or whether I should regret the time that could be better spent reading. But that’s a thought for another day.
Recently I saw a group on Facebook petitioning to have the site’s color changed to from blue to camouflage, designed to show support for our troops. As far as petitions go, it’s a mild one, and I don’t see anything to get offended about by it. But I do have to wonder. Most of Facebook’s users are ‘foreign’ (not American). Facebook is a world-wide phenomenon. And troops tend to be very national. So, if we petition to change the color of Facebook to support troops, what troops will we be supporting? The Chinese military? The American military? The French military?
I think that it’s easy to forget that the world is larger than we usually realize. We can only understand the world through the filter of our own experiences and knowledge, so the little corner of the world that we as individuals are familiar with IS the whole world to us. But I think it might be better if Facebook stays blue.
That same thinking shows in many of the political and religious exhortations I see in my news feed. I’m slightly politically active, in that I try to educate myself about what’s going on in the world around me. Slightly because I try always to remember that there are as many ways to see the world as there are eyes. I have friends who are devout Christians, and who believe that He is the answer to most of their questions. I have friends who are athiest, and who believe that most people are asking the wrong questions. I have friends who find the answers to their questions in places other than either Christianity or atheism. And all of these friends have opinions.
I have my own opinions. I like the saying that opinions are like assholes; everyone has one, because it’s true. And everyone thinks they’re right. I think I’m right, otherwise I’d change my mind to.. whatever I thought was right. It’s human nature: we can only understand the world through the filter of our experiences, and our experiences form our opinions.
My problem isn’t with opinions that differ from mine. The world would be a scary place if everyone agreed, and especially if everyone agreed with me! But I do wish that more people realized that the world is a vast place, with many different ideas in it, and that there is always more than one way to look at something. Just because I believe something doesn’t mean that it’s what everyone should believe.
I think it’s totally cool to hear people talk about what’s important to them. I think it’s cool when people share their faith, or values, or even just thoughts and ideas. And I think that should be available to everyone.
I was going to follow with the thought that we’d all miss Christmas if we were forced to follow laws put in place by people who don’t believe in that holiday, but I have friends who believe that Christmas is under attack already. I have other friends who believe that Christmas is a pagan holiday and thus it’s evil and should be rejected. It’s like Halloween,.. I have friends who love it best of all, and others who believe it is a wicked thing. Which really, just illustrates my point.
Stay true to yourself, and give others the same consideration.
*My brain has been filled with a plethora of random thoughts lately… and they’re the kind of thoughts that stick around until I ‘do something’ about them. Usually writing tends to get thoughts out of my head (and onto paper… or web pages) which is how I end up with blog posts on political theories, formative experiences, or potty training – Gabe’s, not mine. My label is perfect for blogs like this; cleaning out my mental closet indeed.*
I’ve come to realize that there are few burdens we carry that are heavier than the weight of expectation from the people around us. And this is a complicated thing to think about. I am, as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a sister, as a daughter and granddaughter, and as a friend, always somehow conforming and performing to the expectations of others. It’s inherent in the act of socializing, of belonging to social groups, and of being a part of society.
As I take stock of my life, I realize that so many of my decisions were made, not because they were what I wanted to do, but because they were what I felt was expected of me. And, while there are many examples that I could share here, they’re not the kind I feel like posting on a blog. The one example that is both share-able and on my mind involves my closet – the literal one.
I’ve got this funky taste in clothing. I love plaid, especially red plaid. I love shoes, as long as they’ve got interesting lines. High heels give feet this amazingly beautiful curve, and I love how I feel while wearing them. I love hats, especially Cary Grant-style fedoras. I love the elegant sophistication that comes with wearing a hat like that, and the daring, color-outside-the-lines feel that wearing a hat in a decidedly hat-free culture involves. I love leggings with boots, and I love draped scarves. I tend to go towards extremes in my taste: I’m inspired by the beautiful, timeless elegance of Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, but I’m also fascinated with theater and drama, and using the body as a medium to explore, exploit and hide the various aspects that make us,.. us
But I’ve never once worn a fedora. I’ve spent years wearing flat shoes. My staple wardrobe has always been a uniform of sorts,.. modest t-shirts and jeans or skirts during my teenage years, then jeans and sweatshirts in college. I wear the clothes that other people think is appropriate for me, which is usually the same type of clothing they wear themselves. I’ve rarely worn the collection of clothes and high heels I’ve got tucked away in my closet. It’s almost been a form of addiction: I would fall in love with something, and buy it, but then be too ashamed to wear it. And eventually, I just stopped buying new clothes entirely.
I’ve spent most of my life wearing the kind of clothes others expected of me. And while there’s nothing wrong with a comfy pair of jeans and a baggy sweatshirt, there’s nothing wrong with a vintage 80’s inspired tunic paired with leggings either. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wearing a fedora, just like the one sitting on my closet shelf.
The concepts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as unalienable rights are given to us by our Creator according to the Declaration of Independence. I absolutely understand the logic behind that statement, especially considering the purpose of that Declaration. Our founding fathers were declaring their intent to rebel against England and King George. The statement that human beings have inherent rights given by a higher power, which supersedes the rights given by human authority, was logical. It was necessary to imbue the rebellion with “Godly” authority – the revolutionaries were acting with righteousness, because King George and England were attempting to thwart the intention of the Creator. The founding fathers were literally creating legitimacy for their actions by claiming they had rights given them by a higher authority than the human authority at the time.
But, the real question I struggled with has been, did I agree with the founding fathers? Were the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness actually unalienable, or rather, as I had already claimed, were they actually granted by society?
The right to life is the most basic of natural human rights, if such a thing can be said to exist. It is the primal function of a human’s nature. A human being is motivated by self-interest, and the majority of human activities are focused on the preservation and continuation of human life. How much of human culture is based on simple things like eating? How much of human culture focuses on the attraction of a sexual partner and mating? Even in our “evolved” society, the drive for self-preservation is the greatest motivator for human behavior.
The right to life can be argued to be unalienable, in that it is intrinsic to the essence of human existence. We exist because we are alive. We define our existence by our experiences, and we define experiences by events that happen in our lifetime – Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.”
And yet, the right to life can be taken away by society as a punishment for breaking the laws of society. Even now our society punishes law-breaking individuals by penalizing them with death – literally the death penalty. We were founded as an independent national entity on the premise that life is a right given by a Creator, and untouchable by human authority, and yet our own human authority penalizes life.
If our nation was actually founded as a Christian nation, as conservative Christians claim today, then the Bible itself would deny that as a basic human right. In the Old Testament God frequently punished people with death, and the Mosaic laws frequently have death as the penalty for a multitude of actions. One notable instance in the Old Testament involves Achan, who stole from a city which God had commanded to be destroyed in its entirety. God’s punishment for this sin was to tell the Israelites to stone Achan and his entire family to death, thus removing the sin. If the right to life is granted to us by the Creator, and that Creator is the Biblical God, then God himself denied that right. And He could have the authority to do that, being the higher authority, but it diminished that right as an inherent human right, especially since the legal code of the Bible demands death as a punishment.
So, life can be inalienable, in that it is inherent to human existence, but it is not inalienable in that it can also be taken away as a punishment for breaking the laws established by society.
Now, if we consider the right to liberty as a basic human right, then the burden of history truly comes together to debate this right. It can be philosophically argued that liberty is the desire of humanity, and that this inherent human right is ‘written on the hearts of men’. That desire could be argued as having fueled the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and most of the progression of civil rights in this country alone.
And yet, logic dictates that this right, defined as unalienable by our founding fathers and a main reason for the declaration of independence, is not inalienable at all. Our own national history proves that this is a right given by society, rather than a right that exists naturally in men. Our history is tarnished with the enslavement of an entire race of people, and it took a civil war for those humans to be liberated from slavery. The very founding fathers, who wrote about liberty as an inherent human right, included in their numbers slave-owners.
So, the contradiction remains. Men declared the right to liberty as an inherent human right, granted by a higher authority, while at the same time denying liberty to the human beings they had authority over.
I would like to point out that at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, society did not define slaves as human. Today, society does define African-Americans as human beings. The inherent ‘human-ness’ of African-Americans has not changed, but the way society sees them has. One definition grants them the right to liberty, and one removes that right. I believe this contradiction firmly defends my position that liberty is not truly inalienable, but is actually a right granted by society.
Can rights be truly inalienable when they are given and taken away based on the laws of society? I say no.
The right to the pursuit of happiness has been defined as the right to own property. This is by far the weakest of “human” rights, since even the concept of property is a human-created one. Basic logic denies this as an inalienable right. Humans have the desire to better themselves, but even the desire for ownership is a cultural construct, and does not apply to all humans everywhere. Possession is a selfish concept. It requires that something is given to, or taken by an individual, and the act of possessing it takes it away from another individual. Especially since the very act of possessing something requires scarcity, it cannot be defined as an inherent human right.
I argue that liberty and the right to the pursuit of happiness are not unalienable rights, as the founding fathers claimed, but are logically rights bestowed by society. I will concede that the right to life is unalienable, but still subject to the whims of society. Our Declaration of Independence defines these rights as unalienable, but logic and our own national history repudiate that claim.