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Sunday, May 23, 2004

The other day, I was on a cancer site which listed the progression of patient reactions to the news of their cancer diagnosis and prognosis. It was interesting to me inasmuch as it clearly set me down as "not normal".

The greatest change in my behavior is that I have "gone fickle". Example?

I've mentioned before about my conversations with my Evil Twin, the left-side of my brain, the one that says "Why can't we have flowers NOW?" when my usual right-brain has announced "we" can have some fresh flowers on the desk after clearing it of all the papers and spent-out pens.

So, yesterday I asked my Evil Twin what she wanted for breakfast, and she said she didn't want the healthy Ezekiel bread (there was none left), she wanted the trash french baguette of dead white flour, with rosemary ham and butter. Which meant that "we" had to get dressed earlier than usual to hop off to Girstede's and bring it all back home, and then "we" could hardly swallow any of it because quite frankly it didn't taste that good after all. What the Evil Twin probably had wanted was real baguette, and real "jambon de Paris", that incomparable fresh french ham that nobody has ever equalled. Evil Twin was very fickle about it, didn't even give "us" credit for trying.

On Saturday nights, I don't go anywhere. I hover over my computer and cruise the Net. I watch the BBC Newsnight programs on a diminutive screen, in particular the always entertaining weekly Review, which pleases me so much I sometimes replay it several times. Last night was no exception.

Germaine Greer on "Troy": "It's a piece of schlock!" The retort came so fast I couldn't catch who said it: "It's a very expensive piece of schlock!"

Then, again Germaine Greer: "Peace is a series of dishonorable bargains."

* * * * *

Michael Moore wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes. I think it's a measure of the world's frustration with the poor behavior of the Bushists across the world screen, it sure can't be about art, but could sure be a political commentary.

The most venerable High Priest of the sect I practice with once said about the truth, that sometimes on the darkest night, all we have to reveal it is a candle, but in the bright sunshine of High Noon it will be fully revealed for all to see.

When will High Noon come for all humanity?

* * * * *

Some time ago, my friend Irene said something like: "The trouble with you is that you always take the side of the underdog."

To be honest, if I were to list my faults, I don't think this would be the one that should rank highest.

My father, I imagine, was of the same bent. He told me once how his boss in Aden had reamed him out on his method of handling some personnel problem by saying: "There are two kinds of people in the world, Bill, those who choose to act as shields and those who prefer to function as swords. You, Bill, are always for the underdog, you choose to act as a shield. I prefer the role of the sword."

My father received this pronouncement as an indication of a disfavorable judgment against him, a decision that he had somehow failed.

When I was a kid in my convent school in England, the mother superior decided to start a sort of mentoring program, where the sixthformers would be held responsible to watch over a certain number of students in each of the lower classes, all the way down to the little itty-bitty juniors, some of whom were hardly seven years old (yes, kids used to be sent to boarding school very early in my time). This system was loosely modeled on the one in effect at Eton, we were told.

It was decided for the start-up of this new system that each sixthformer would select her "team", one choice at a time, down the forms, until all the kids were allocated, and that thereafter the teams would be inherited by the fifthformers when they reached the sixth form, so that continuity of membership would be assured.

It was clear to me, knowing my fellow sixthformers, that the star students would be grabbed first, everybody loves a winner and all that jazz. I made my choice right away and chose all the lame ducks. Nobody complained. I'm not sure anyone even noticed, they were so busy making the "right" choices.

Even as a child, it was my opinion there could be no losers. A difficult child, a slow child, a hurt child, was just a child that would require a little extra effort to bring into the winner's circle.

The realization had flashed into my mind all on its own one day, in connection with the most difficult disciplinary problem in the school, Suzanne B. Nothing seemed to work with this rambunctious girl, threats of being expelled, punishments, deprivations, nothing. One day that Suzanne and I were chatting about our war experiences in Europe, I found out that Suzanne (a little Polish aristocrat, only child on the run with her parents) had stood by in a courtyard and watched as German soldiers shot both her parents dead against the wall.

I don't believe for a minute many of the so-called grownups who wage war can know the feeling of a child experiencing this kind of loss. Let's face it, when we grow up, most of us distance ourselves from our very own childhood feelings, we forget even the commonplace. That's the only way I can explain any mother standing over a child who hates spinach and insisting that the child eat something he detests. There are other ways after all to get your greens, your vitamins.

There is another aspect to all of this, and that is that every child coming into this world has to retrace the whole evolution of life on earth before reaching maturity: from the simple life form of a single cell to the Nobel prize winner in physics. It's fractals, all over again, little microorganisms that mirror the macrocosm. The newborn who looks at you with such wisdom has brought into his new life the accumulation of knowledge and experience he took with him in his previous life when he died last. Because he is starting on a new path, he is granted a fresh slate to work with, with a goal to reach further than he did the previous time, and you, the parent, are part of his karmic load, both his impediment and his fortune: you are going to impose restraints, to refuse or offer opportunities, color his perception of both good and evil, etc. Little by little as he proceeds up his path, he will lose more and more of his past wisdom, until he reaches the wonderfully zany stupidity of teenagehood. This is necessary if he is to outdistance himself from his past, if he is to become his own pioneer, as it were. He will have his choices to make, to conform or rebel, to overcome or to drop out. His nature might be one that functions best with encouragement, and yours might be one that prefers to offer challenge and resistance, and who knows but that might not be the very life lesson the child needed to learn this time, to decide what he wants most of all for himself, without encouragement from anyone else? And yours, as a parent, might have been to learn the lesson of empathy and compassion, the one of stretching your selfish, self-centered complacency to understand someone whose natural inclination was so different from yours.

I once knew a man whose eldest boy was having trouble learning to read, to the great disappointment of the father. I asked him whether he ever read to the child before going to bed.

"Of course, every night, yes," he answered.

"Who picks the books? I asked.

"I do, or my wife," he answered.

I burst out laughing.

"There is nothing wrong with your kid," I pronounced, "You are just boring him stupid. Let him choose the books. Maybe he just only wants to read about cars, or airplanes, or boats, or animals, and he is not at all interested in whatever it is the two of you think appropriate for him."

I suggested he invite his wife and kids into the office for lunch one day, and then take them into a local bookstore and let the kids pick their own books. "Give them each a budget, like 'you can each of you have one, or two books'". It worked like magic and the kid was reading fluently in record time.

My father always said the purpose of education was not diplomas, but the turning on of insatiable curiosity, and the revelation of the mutiplicity and variety of subjects available to human study.

This just flowed as I wrote: my point actually was that if we want to change the world of the future, we should all of us be a little more concerned with the examples we are giving our children, and the circumstances we are creating and allowing for them.

A war environment, a war economy, is definitely worse for a child's development than any physical handicap.

I have spoken, Harrumph!


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