Monday, August 6, 2012

CRUEL SUNSET

Over the hills the sunset was cruel—only a dull glow through the low, dark clouds. The trees at the horizon were black, and grey to green as they grew closer to the place where she stood. It was not the perfect ending to this day. If it were perfect, the sunset would have been brilliant, like the light-filled thoughts that had crystallized for her not long ago. The sky would be cloudless blue. The sun would be flaming orange, a haughty disc, like descending nobility above the admiring crowd of tree tops struck golden with its rays. Still, she was content, though anyone would have said she had no right to be so. At her feet the lush spring grass was crammed with violets. “I have always loved you,” she said out loud.
Only yesterday she had resigned her position at what she thought of as, that ridiculous, inane place they called a company. It seems ages ago now. On particularly frustrating days, she sometimes quietly chanted a mock litany as she walked to her car at the end of day, “company of idiots, unholy ones, speakers of lies, self-deceivers, children of darkness, clueless morons,” though she liked to think it was  not in her nature to have such thoughts, and it was not like her to just walk away.
She no longer lived in that universe. It began falling in on itself with her at the center. It all started the night the rain came and continued for a whole week. That’s when she sensed the beginning of the end. Her seemingly safe, predictable and unchanging world was unraveling into wider and wider spirals, outward to infinite nothingness or whatever universes do when they expand then collapse. She was not sure it was the best analogy of what had happened, but she liked it. It seemed to fit, so she placed that image before her as a way to understand it all.
When she left her father one night not more than a month ago, he was breathing heavily. His eyes were closed, his hands restless, his fingers moved rhythmically in strange gestures. His movements and whispering sounds, with no apparent meaning were like some arcane, silent ritual he was remembering from another time and place. She sang to him, read to him, recited by heart her favorite poems, though she knew he probably couldn’t hear her, at least not in the usual way. When she spoke the line, “I will arise and go now,” he moaned and lifted his head slightly upwards.
After some hours of quiet struggle, he died the next day. She had not been able to bring herself to hold him or rest her head on his shoulder, as her older sister had done. She sat at the foot of his bed, rubbing his leg and reaching up to touch his hand occasionally. All the while, she had felt as though she were not fully there with mindfulness of what was taking place before her.  Rather, she experienced a dullness of mind and numbness of soul. Then, her father’s breathing got quieter; his face paled and went grey like a sad sky. At the moment of his death, his eyes opened wide and gazed up to the right, as if looking at whomever he had been communicating with the night before—his mother, his wife, his son—all gone before him.
She couldn't believe it, though she wanted to, that upon death, souls are reunited with loved ones. Anyway, she didn’t even know if she wanted to be with anyone she had known when she herself crossed over from this world to another, if there were another. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t cared about them, yet she had resentment, remorse and regrets, and love all mixed together.
Still, she liked to think that, in a dream-like state after death, souls recognize each other’s “higher self”—the one they may have longed to experience in life. She liked to think they might even “agree” to come back together to this green earth over many lifetimes in various constellations of relationship to live out the karma that they themselves have created—little universes coming into being and dissolving over and over, until all manner of things are well.
She was only 16 when it had been arranged for her baby to be adopted. She thought she had accepted that it had to be and why. Only she hadn’t acknowledged back then the thing that did not happen. It had not occurred to her until it was too late. There had been only blame, with no comfort offered, no concern expressed, no preparation made for what was to become of her.  She had no knowledge of where the child would be, or understanding of what it meant to live with bitter shame and sorrow in silence—then and ever after.
Time passed, and life went on.  The father of her child went off to college, and and they drifted apart. And so she was alone in the evenings to cry into her pillow. It was cruel and unusual punishment to have been a young girl with grief like small hands pressing on her heart in the dark, until it pressed in so far, she didnt feel anything, at least not until the week the rains came down.
The hours before her father’s death began to play over in her mind, how her sister had closed the dead man’s eyes and how she heard herself whisper, “You did the best you could, the best you knew how. Every day her mind was overflowing with chaotic thoughts, now unearthed and seemingly expanding into a vast universe, worlds apart from what they had been, and wide open: life, death, rebirth, fathers and families. Most of all what had never said—the cold silence had settled in her heart like a sinking stone. 
Through the sound of the pouring rain, it was as if she could “hear” some cosmic script written long ago—all that should have been spoken, all that could have been forgiven—or not. Out of death-piercing numbness, she allowed everything to rise to the surface out of the depths of loss. Each night before sleep, she broke the silence. She spoke the questions and the long-hidden thoughts, memories and shame, allowing herself to feel the longing for the child that was lost to her.
Slowly, she felt herself changing ever so slightly into another, truer form of herself.  Weeping for the young girl she was and glimpsing the woman she could become, she was watering the hard-shelled seed within until it opened one morning. She awakened to quiet and to the early light of a summer sunrise. She felt clean and bright with all her senses clear—with the irrevocable past separated from all that was the new, possible and awaiting.
She knew what she had to do to redeem her former self. She would tell Eric, her lover that she would not see him on Wednesday night, not this Wednesday—not ever again. She would tell him to get his belongings out of her apartment and take them back to that house she had often driven past on the other nights he didn’t come to her. In that house she saw warm light shining through the windows, imagining the life lived within--apart from hers. She would tell Eric, her boss that she knew that he knew she had kept his company from going under time and again. Was that the reason he gave me one night a week—as recompense instead of a raise, or a promise? She would tell him she would no longer be there to cover for his inadequacies and inabilities, financial and otherwise. 
She would be silent no longer.
That morning, she took her time, stopped for a coffee, and got to the office two hours late. No one saw or even cared that she was any different. She worked as usual, or what appeared to be usual. Instead, she spent the day thinking of what she had experienced as a deluge—in the week of the rains that broke the silence, heard the questions and imagined the answers, and realized there was still love for her family— and  forgiveness. At the end of the day, instead of saying all she had planned to say, she simply left a letter of resignation. 
On her way to her car that evening, these are the words she spoke: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…. a time to be silent and a time to speak”
This morning she slept in, made herself French toast and went out for the day.  She bought a new white quilt and two bright printed pillows for her bed. She took a long walk in the woods, picked purple and white wild flowers, and had dinner at her favorite restaurant. Walking home through the park, she stopped to watch the cruel sunset over the hills.
In her musings there, it came to her: the litany of names she used to whisper under her breath about others were really names she could have called herself—the self she used to be, before she told the violets she loved them.

Now she felt like a deity preparing to assign true names to all things in her new universe

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Common Sense


What is common sense?  Can it be learned, or is it something that just comes naturally to some people?  Common sense usually comes across as a simplified, straightforward approach, without the use of elaborate reasoning, statistics or facts.  Common sense is more of a "gut" response than something thought through.  Children often display a remarkable capacity for common sense.  Anyone who has been around children probably has a story to tell about how they come up with solutions, make wise observations, or react to situations with more common sense than most adults.  Could common sense be a capacity with which we are born, but over time are taught not to use, especially through formal education and the media?  

Formal education does not seem to foster common sense approaches or responses. Education often has all of the questions and answers figured out ahead of time.  Did you ever read or have to respond to those dumb questions at the end of chapters in text books? There is also a lack of common sense in standardized testing, which is often the main, or only, gauge of students' abilities.  In fact, possible common sense “answers” from creative students (ones who don't think in straight lines) may also be valid, but are considered “incorrect.”  Students have to be "trained" to take these tests and to use certain strategies which help them score better on the tests.  This means our children have to learn how to take the tests and give the answers already decided upon as the only correct ones, instead of being encouraged to use or being rewarded for using common sense.  Such practices diminish the capacity for common sense, and essentially teach what to think, not how to think.

One might also consider the media's role in deleting common sense forever from our menu of options. The daily and relentless news tips regarding medicine, food, diets and lifestyle create a complex, confusing and contradictory landscape of possible panaceas, or disasters waiting to befall us.  In addition, the so- called reality shows have people wading in sewage, eating maggots, and, maybe soon, selling their children if it means "winning," all of which makes us less likely to believe that people have the sense they were born with.  Then there are the video “games” giving us the opportunity to participate as grand theft auto felons and killers, (or worse). Radio and television talk show hosts rant and rave in narrow rhetoric, espousing extreme positions, when common sense suggests that these "gurus" can't be right all of the time, and that other opinions or perspectives are needed to see the whole picture, including our own!  Being exposed to all of this nonsense can make us despair that common sense will ever again be valued as a desirable and necessary human capacity.

How are we to either foster or develop common sense, so that we are not at the mercy of our education system’s inane procedures and policies, or the media influence du jour? Even though things may seem hopeless, common sense is probably not something that can be totally destroyed, despite the lack of it we experience all around us. Parents can use encouragement and praise when their children demonstrate common sense.  Parents can display it themselves and point out examples of common sense in history, literature, films and in real life, practical situations.   Parents can also discuss with their children examples of lack of common sense, when the opportunity arises.  Better yet, parents have the option of home schooling their children (even in part), limiting (or eliminating) TV and computers for young children, allowing them to tap into and use their own common sense, hear their own questions, formulate their own answers, draw upon their own imagination, play inventively and creatively (rather than giving them a ready-made context and set characters that education and media present). 

But this is a topic for another time.  Let’s at least try to revive common sense whenever we can, encourage it and hope it is not gone forever!