Tuesday, March 09, 2004

I don't know why I woke up this morning all sentimental and mushy about the matter of parenthood.

It does not matter in my mind whether one is orphaned early or late. The moment when a human being loses a same-sex parent is the moment he or she loses the example, whether accepted or rejected, consciously or unconsciously, of what a man or a woman is, should or should not be, could or might be. It is a moment of choice without prejudice, by which I mean, for instance, that if a woman's mother dies at age 45, when that orphaned female child reaches that same age of 45, there is Haha moment of "What next?" It is natural for a child to be all shook up at the mere idea of overtaking their same-sex parent.

There is, of course, a similar anxiety for a male child who approaches the age of 45, when he knows and actually remembers all too well the day his own father dropped dead at his job of a sudden massive heart attack.

Caught in the web of time and space, we naturally appreciate facts on a linear basis: past, then present, then future. Birth, maturity, old age, death. That would appear to be the natural lifespan of human beings.

The reality, however allows for very many variations, and many parents, through the vicissitudes of circumstances, both natural and man-made disasters, etc., have to witness and outlive the untimely, unexpected death of their children. I think of the ancient mother in a small backwoods village in China, in her nineties, with a few worn-down teeth left in her head, bleary-eyed and disconsolate, laying the body of her Aids-wasted son to rest. He was one of those who donated his blood in exchange for small change to send his children to school.

I shall always remember the sight of Muhammar Qadaffi on TV, after we had bombed his compound, with two great streams of tears running down his cheeks in sorrow for the death of his little 4-year old daughter. And she was not even his own, she was adopted.

As Nichiren Daishonin put it so well: "Even a monster loves his children".

During the so-called active Iraq war last year, the pictures that struck me most were those of Iraqi women walking down what looked like endless roads to nowhere, ageless and shapeless, ships in full sails of mourning in their black hijabs flapping in the wind, with the US and British tanks filling the skyline, puffs of gunfire and sand flurries muddying the focus, usually with a small figure scurrying to keep up at their side, a small child in floppy sandals and bare stick legs, sometimes two skinny little sisters in identical candy-colored cotton dresses -- going to do what had to be done, was it seeking food, or water (not to wash or do the laundry, just to drink and cook the rice), or gas for the car, or fuel for the cooking stove or the tempest lamp, or medicine for the sick baby, or to give relief and comfort to a family member or friend who had just been bombed out by the war games.

There is one such image which is etched in my heart. It is shot through volutes of barbed wire. An Iraqi man is sitting on the sand in a white dress, both legs stretched straight ahead of him, sandals on his bare feet, a black sack over his head. Close to him, clutched close to his bosom, he holds his tiny son with one arm, and covers the kid's face with his left hand. The little kid must be scared shitless and the father is doing his best to prevent his son from seeing what is happening, the most significant of which is the fact that he as a father is unable to protect his child. The little kid's feet are bare, two small sandals are set down forlornly, most tidily, besides the father's feet, out of the reach of the child.

The controversy still rages about whether we should or should not have gone to Iraq, whether it was legal or illegal, right or wrong. The fact is, this is not just a harmless debating society issue, where there is nothing but fun in taking sides, even changing sides, to argue for and then against, each in turn.

This is something that had life and death consequences for a lot of people, that actually happened, that actually still affects a lot of people today, and will continue to do so, way on into the future, that actually includes us and our own children.

Remember also that dreadful, frightening and threatening little Iraq, after ten years of UN sanctions, was a country whose population was -- what was it, 60% below the age of 15?

Shame on us!

Where am I going with all this? What am I advocating?

Simply this. We all of us have a debt of gratitude to our parents: whether we are left-wing or right-wing, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transsexual or transgender, not a one of us could have come into this world without a biological father and mother, no matter whether we later dropped out of the breeding game and failed to pass on the flame of life, either from choice or because of incapacity or circumstances, as we like to say, beyond our control.

Even if our mother were to have put us in a dumpster at birth, still she had harbored us in her womb during our gestation, and she had experienced our birth, viable and screaming, with all ten toes, and ten fingers at the ready to grasp and to hold.

At some level, the level of our own choosing, we all try to make sense out of life. The society that brings us forth, raises us up, embraces us, tries to help us by sharing or imposing its values and best wisdom on us, of course has a major role in forming our awakening. We are patterned not only by our own personal development but also by the many influences we meet. Our race, our culture, our country, our climate, the religion of our parents, their socio-economic background, our education (and theirs), our friends (and theirs), our personal propensities (and theirs), on an on. We are all interdependent and subject to influence, or driven by curiosity, or rebellion, or doubt, or hunger, or anger, or greed, or stupidity.

So it is important to question any label. If one, two, three hundred people repeat a lie as a truth, that does not make it a truth, it still remains a lie.

"Stupid Nobbog! If you hear something from one person, and then, a second person confirms it, it must be the truth!" (As in, "I heard it on Fox News and CNN!")

OK. The moon is made of cheese. If you pull a funny face, and the wind changes, you will stay like that forever! The earth is flat. The Sun circumnavigates the Earth. God made the whole universe a mere four thousand years ago. God made man in his own likeness.

Er... The last coal mine was closed down in France recently. Did you ever wonder when the last oil well will run dry? Oh, you're not worrying about that? You're a Republican no doubt, everyone knows they have plenty of oil. Never mind that it happens to lie under someone else's sand. In any event, you'll be playing your harp "up there" by then. Or roasting "down there", poking gentle, friendly fun at your likeminded friends with your very own personal toasting fork. What a hoot!

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, are we talking about the US presidency in terms of service in the National Guard or not, jobs here or there or not, single payer health care for all or not and certainly not and how, our standard of living, etc.

Why are we not passionate about alternative lifestyles, healthy lifesyles, sources of energy, ecology, biodiversity, sustainability of life, equality of opportunity, for all, for heavens' sakes?

We still make babies (whether we be married or unmarried), we still have children, we try and give them the best, sometimes even endeavor to give them what we missed most, in our own childhoods, to the best of our ability, which as we all know can be variable.

Yet we are so selfish and self-centered, and greedy, and stupid, and blind, that we are going to leave them and their children with nothing but debts and dust. And swamps -- with clouds of huge disease-bearing, jumbo mosquitoes. And jumbo weather, whether we agree it will be an ice age or global warming. (You should read some of JC Ballard's sci fi, he wrote it all.)

Please, if you don't believe me, take the time to do some research on the state of little Roumania, after their attempt at modern industrialization. Little Roumania, which is planning to enter the EU later this year (the impoverished, backward little New Europe wanting to join the decadent, prosperous Old Europe, Hehehe!), and which is still selling their children.

Yes, for some poor people, children are still a resource.

When I first came to New York in 1970, I used to go to a bookstore called Bookmasters on 57th Street. They had bins where they sold strange books, for $0.67, $0.57, plus tax, and in the evening during the week they played opera. I didn't have money to buy books at that time, I used to stand there, dipping and reading and listening to the music, and if I found something interesting, I would come back the next day.

One day, I came across a very strange book translated from the Polish. I don't remember the title or the author. It was the story of a father and a mother who were convinced their only son would have been happier if he had been born a tree, and maybe they were right, as far as it went, because they bought a large pot and potted him, at least they set his feet in the dirt, and bound his arms to the sides of his body to streamline his trunk, and they set him up in a bright corner of their apartment. They watered and fertilized him regularly, of course, and they weeded the dirt with a special little rake, they took great care of him, they cared.

It was a dark tale of misplaced values, well written, and for once I did not cheat and read the last page to find out what happened in the end. I am infamous for doing this, sometimes it's the only way I can read on, if I already know the end. Anyway, in this case it was a big mistake, because the book was bought by someone else before I finished it and, unfortunately, it had been the only copy. I don't have many regrets in life, but this is definitely one of them.

I think it behooves us to reexamine all our established beliefs with a good dose of courage. Are we just conforming to a "truth" established by a vast majority of liars? Or are we merely the fashionistas of fabricated myths? Remember that old saying, "Cui Bono", who benefits from this or that, what is someone getting out of it at your expense, and most importantly, who?

In the first weeks/months of 2000, I was hospitalized four times on an emergency basis. During that period, I received a letter from a stranger living in California. Through the Internet, she and her sister had conducted a search for women with the same name as their mother, who had abandoned her and her three siblings when she was, by her reckoning, four years old. Was I, by any chance, her mother? I did have the same name...

I was not. I'm not anybody's mother in this lifetime. The young woman's letter disappeared among my papers during this period of recurring emergencies, I never answered. I hope her mother was one of the people she contacted and that they were able to heal the past.

I leave this hanging in the air. What in our past do we all need to heal, in order to improve the present? To renew hope for the future? Whereas we can't change the actual facts of the past, we can always change our point of view and it does make a difference when we do.

We can all apologize, and we can all make amends, and we must all make a fresh start. Therein lies sanity.

* * * *

Oh, by the way. When you have a dirty sweater and you wash it, at first all you can see is the clean washing water getting dirtier and dirtier. Keep rinsing until the water becomes clear, at that point the sweater will be good as new and clean. Q.E.D.
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