Monday, August 28, 2006

Thursday evening as we were driving home I was playing Magnetic Field's "Busby Berkeley Dreams" and Gabrielle asked me who Busby Berkeley was. It was one of those moments I love, describing big stages, and the context of Busby Berkeley dreams while the "Ahhhh" look came across her face.

The next day Atticus graduated from his classroom in daycare, the room he's been in since he was four months old. He's in the big kids room now. The big kid's room. I wanted to cry.

The moments were similar. I wish I had some big romantic saying about growth and life and it all but the "it all"-ness of it all makes me reconsider. A little while ago I asked if anyone remembered when they were first aware that they belonged to a community? Positive or negative...

I belong to a lot of communities now. Fathers. Cancer survivors. Lapsed Hindus (smirk). When I was still a teacher. We did a community exercise with the students led by our coordinator and my friend Al Ross. We asked all the students when they first remembered being part of a community. When you are with a group of students who are no longer at their public high schools and are stigmatized in various ways, it is a very important question. I suppose it is a very important question in any setting. We passed a stick around and asked if any could break it in two. About the second student it was passed to broke it with ease. Then we asked them top reach underneath their seats and pull out the sticks that were hidden there. We all passed them down when they were all together we bundled them with rope and again we passed around this now big stick of sticks and asked someone to break it. You can follow the rest of the path of the lesson.

When I was about 7 or so I was in the boy scouts and we had one of those gatherings together that made us all boy scouts of america. And I remember the big troop leader surrounded by kids all calling him by his first name so I went over and did the same. He stopped talking, looked straight at me and said you call me Mister __________. And I said, "yes sir" and went and sat down. I guess you could say that was the first time I was ever conscious of "community." As I have gotten older I have weaved in and out of many communities, ones that have embraced me with no questions asked. Ones that have really made me work for it. Ones that I had no choice in joining.

I saw part of Bill Moyers' special Faith and Reason on PBS recently. The segment I saw was with Richard Rodriguez, of whom I know little about, but I was struck by the following excerpt:


RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: What I discovered in that experience of being on that gurney is that I was able to face death. And I did not resist death. And I was liberated as I've never been liberated by any other experience in my life. I was free. There was regret to be leaving people I love. The thought of that was deeply painful to me. But, there was some other realization that I was free. I had been with dying people over the last 20 years.

BILL MOYERS: Mostly from AIDS.

RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: Mostly from AIDS. My closest friend died of ovarian cancer a few years ago. And I have recently helped my parents die. But, it is one thing to help someone else die. It is another thing when they put that little identifying bracelet on your wrist. And then you belong to a different nation. You belong to the nation of the wounded.

BILL MOYERS: The nation of the?

RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: The wounded. I had never experienced a broken body before. My body was-- I have a peasant's body which is reliable, not graceful but strong and I could take it for granted. And, suddenly, I was wounded. And suddenly, the doctor says to you after the operation, "It looks good," or something, "It looks promising. Come back in six months, and then again in six months, and then again in six months." And so far, it looks good.

But, I tell friends of mine, that I will always belong on the other side of the river now. I will always belong with the nation of the wounded because what I saw when I was there, is how easy it is to change one's place in this world, to change one's passport and to belong with them. When I see people who are injured or in wheelchairs now, or people who are obviously sick, I feel one of them now. Even though my body is apparently healed, I feel also psychologically wounded.


A little heavy, I know. I also belong to the community of the melancholic. So there.

I like it though, the communities, these spaces we inhabit. I am aware of them more clearly now. More than before. I hope it doesn't mean I am in the big kid's room now.


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