The Sour Milk of Human Kindness?

I freely admit that I am a curmudgeon. I am impatient with people who purport to be intelligent and then open their mouths and prove otherwise with but a few misspoken words and phrases. I detest sweeping intolerance of entire groups of people simply because of their beliefs or their sexual orientiation, and I cannot abide bigotry, racism, sexism, or someone telling me that I am going to hell because I am not of the same religious belief. All of that said, believe it or not, I can also be the best friend you have ever had and your most loyal supporter. I cry at sad movies and am completely overcome by beauty in nature.

When our boys were relatively young, we took a detour through Washington, D.C. in the evening to show them homeless people living over the subway grates to stay warm in the winter. They had never seen such a thing before, and I wanted them to know that such things existed in this, the wealthiest country in the world. I sat through Schindler’s List with my children so that they would know what horrors we have witnessed in this world, and even though we have said “never again,” I explained to them that it has happened yet again and again in places like Rwanda and Bosnia and in other corners of the world. And I told them that sometimes the world watches, and sometimes the world helps, but I had no answers as to why some people seem to matter more than others.

I have explained to my children about bullies and heartlessness and name-calling and the long-lasting effects that such things can have, and I have prayed that they would never become these people and that they would never become the victims of these people. I have warned them against becoming immune to violence by not being able to distinguish between what they see in movies and video games and on television and then what is real life as I am just as fearful as the next parent about what affect video violence is having on this generation that does not seem to feel fear.

In spite of all of this, I cannot answer my son when he asks me why there is no human decency in this world. I have no answer to such a deep question. But more telling, I have no answer as to why he would be asking me such a question at such a young age. What could possibly prompt a 16-year-old to wonder such a thing? Has my cynicism jaded him already? The ironic thing is that I do believe that their is goodness in the world. In spite of W and his war, in spite of men like Dick Cheney who have no soul, in spite of CIA-trained terrorists who have turned their training back on us, in spite of car bombs that kill and maim without a target, in spite of thousands of flag-draped coffins that have come home, in spite of anthrax and sarin gas . . . in spite of all of these abominations, I do still believe that their is goodness and kindness, and good and kind people in this world.

There are people who will offer you that four cents that you need for your bill when you are in line at the grocery store. There are people who will hold the door open for the man with the walker coming in to the bookstore. There were the people, at least 10, who stopped and asked Corey and me if we needed them to call a tow truck, when we were stopped by the side of the road when the truck broke down. I’m sure you all have some kind of similar story to tell: a neighbor who is always there to help, a total stranger who helped to push your car out of an intersection, someone who picked up your tab for coffee at Starbucks for no particular reason.

And I’m sure, you also have your own tales, personal or otherwise, about a person who was careless with someone’s feelings or indecent for no particular reason other than to be an asshole. Or maybe that person was you. I’ll share two: When I was sixteen, I was walking home from my best friend Sarah’s house, and some guy in a black Camaro came barreling down the street and flew head on into a flock of ducks. At that time, wild ducks roamed freely in my parent’s neighborhood. I watched in horror as ducks flew into the air, feathers went everywhere, and carcasses landed at my feet. The driver didn’t stop. I reacted normally for me. I started running after him, screaming at the top of my lungs. My father ran out of the house, as did several of my neighbors, including one of my friends. The driver finally stopped the car at the corner of the street, and I started pounding on his window, screaming at him. I never even thought about who he was or what he might do to me. I just demanded that he go back and clean up the dead ducks, after I told him never to drive through our neighborhood that fast again. Astonishingly, the driver apologized to me, turned his car around, and went and cleaned up the pile of dead ducks. My friend put his arm around me and walked me to my porch where my father was waiting. My whole body was shaking as anger coursed through me. I couldn’t believe that anyone could be so callous. My friend couldn’t believe I could be so angry as to not even think about what I was doing in running after a stranger’s car. My dad just took me in the house and gave me a cup of tea.

The second incident is far less dramatic, but something of which I myself am ashamed. I was in high school, and there was someone in my class who had a very pronounced overbite. One day, I turned to a friend of mine, and I said, “she is soo ugly.” My friend paused and replied, “I can’t believe that you would judge someone based on how she looks.” I’ll never forget that. She really put me in my place, and boy, did I deserve it. That girl that I was commenting on was extremely nice and had never done anything to me. Who was I to judge her, and she might have heard me. I was being just plain mean.

So getting back to the main question: Why is there no human decency in this world? Is there? I’d like to believe that there still is. I’d like to be able to show my son that yes, there is still decency in this world, in large ways and in small ways. But mostly, I would like to be able to enfold him in my arms, hold him in my lap, and shut out all of the bad things that would make him think that there is none, but I know that I cannot do that any more. He is coming into his own, and unfortunately, he has hit a rough spot that is causing him to be anxious and to feel some of the pains of this world. And this is the part of parenting that genuinely sucks because mommy kisses are no longer magic. Would that I could kiss his eyelids and make the bad images go away with his sleep as I did when he was but a baby.

Brett
Brett

Nothing prepares you for the times when you are absolutely powerless against to come between the world and your child, no many how many times you might encounter such a situation, and I hope that you never do, but if you have a child, you will. To say that I would give anything for him not to be feeling this way does not begin to embrace the helplessness I feel. To know that I have passed on to him this predisposition for melancholy (what a polite way to put it) does nothing to assuage the guilt. So I sit by and watch him closely, offer to listen, this boy/man, so much like my father, the one who holds everything deep within, the one who I must read through his eyes.

Yes, there is goodness in this world, just as there is pain. But human decency begins with the decent. That is what I want for you to understand.

Poor, poor, pitiful me . . .

So I was reading the celebrity gossip on MSN this morning, and I decided to delve in the he said/she said of the John Mayer/Jennifer Aniston breakup. Today’s story was John Mayer’s version of the breakup, that being that he did the parting but she is a wonderful, talented woman, etc…. My son Brett wonders why I read this schlock, and I try to explain the whole train wreck aspect of celebrity news: you just cannot turn away from the impending crash of someone else’s lives going to hell, and at the same time, you are amazed that people actually care about this crap (including yourself). I will admit that I have glanced at stories about Britney, Lindsey, and Paris–the trifecta of the intellectual vacuum of fame. I will also admit that I have spent a few brain cells wondering why people care about these vapid females who have absolutely nothing to contribute to society.

On the other hand, I will freely admit to being an admirer of Angelina and Brad, not because they have a brood of children, but because they are savvy enough to use the media to their advantage. If People magazine is stupid enough to pay $15 million for pictures of the happy family’s new babies, then the Jolie-Pitt pair is going to be smart enough to say, “Why yes, we will happily take the money that you are shelling out and turn around and use it for one of our foundations to help save lives, better the living standards of people who would otherwise do without.” In other words, you would hound us and try to get these pictures for free, why not use you to our advantage and pass that on to people who really need the money because we sure as hell don’t need any more.

And then there are those famous people who do things that really stupefy me. They are not in the “truly stupid” category, nor are they in the “working for humanity” category. They are in the “I’m an artiste” category, and so I’m allowed to treat people badly and say things without engaging my brain. I’d classify John Mayer in this category. Mayer, when speaking to the press about his break up with Aniston, insists that “you have to give everything up because you can’t have it all and it sucks.” Poor John. Can’t have it all. So, I suppose he’ll be writing on his blog soon about how his heart is aching and love has eluded him once again because a beautiful woman has done him wrong. Maybe if he ever learns not to pour his heart out and tell the world about his love life, he might find a woman who is willing to go the distance with him, that is, if she can tolerate his incredible ego.

Speaking of which, why does the world tolerate the incredible egos of these supposedly famous people in the first place. Paris Hilton? What has she done to be famous, to be idolized? Come on now, think very hard . . . she was born with a famous last name? Where will she be in the grand scheme of things in twenty years? Same place, no doubt. Britney Spears? We watched her have a mental breakdown in public. Everyone tuned in to her public shearing. Couldn’t turn away. Now her public redemption: Her picture on the cover of a rag with her two boys in mini tuxedos, everyone in white. Pure as the driven snow. No more crotch shots. Twenty years? Will we care? Probably. But the real question is why?

How many people who buy People and US will vote in the upcoming presidential election? If we could have half of those people, it would be a record turnout. In the first free vote in South Africa, people stood in lines that went on for miles in the sun and heat to be able to say that they had voted. Old men and women walked, WALKED for miles to get to voting centers. When asked why, they replied that they wanted to be able to say that they had voted at least once in their lives in a free election. Americans have had the right to vote in free elections for hundreds of years, yet would the American public do that? Maybe if Madonna or Paris offered to be there signing t-shirts.

Otherwise, forget it.

Why Do We Say I Do?

Corey and I were having a debate the other night that I found quite interesting, even more interesting upon reflection. It was about marriage as an institution. His stance was that marriage was nothing more than the government’s way of forcing people to comply with societal expectations so as to receive benefits, i.e., tax, insurance, mortgage, etc. He said that he simply did not believe in the “institution of marriage,” which caught me completely offguard as we have been together quite a while, and married for almost eight years. Now he affirmed quite vigorously when I began to get upset that he was not saying that he did not believe in being married. He was saying that he believed that the actual institution of marriage was something that society forced on people and that he would be with me whether or not we were married.

Of course, my response was to get upset and say that he did not want to be married to me and we never should have gotten married in the first place if he didn’t believe in marriage, ya da ya da ya da . . . and it took several hours and much talking before I would even listen to what he was saying and not to what I was hearing (which, I am not admitting, I tend to do).

But, not saying this in defense of his position or anything, I did do a couple of research papers on marriage traditions for both an anthropology and a sociology class that I had as an undergraduate, and I remember a few things from the research. Such as the fact that in many cultures, marriage was nothing more than a contract for land. Arranged marriages had nothing to do with love, and women truly had no say in who they married for thousands of years. If it was not a barter for land, then it was a political negotiation, depending upon how much power the interested parties had. Marriages were often for bloodlines, hence interfamilial marriages. Shotgun marriages or marriages to save face are actually still around, although they are not nearly as prevalent as they used to be. And the idea of actually marrying for an emotional tie is a relatively new development in the overall scheme of things (last hundred years or so).

But let’s look at the governator’s quote for a moment: “I believe that gay marriage should be between a man and a woman.” Now we all know what he was trying to say, or at least I think we do. But silliness aside, I know of several gay couples who have been together longer than some of my straight friends who have married and divorced twice. Yet these couples are not recognized in most states as being LEGALLY married. They cannot make decisions regarding each other’s care if one of the partners is hospitalized unless they have a legal document, and even that may not be honored. They cannot put one another on insurance as spouse, etc. So what is the legal institution of marriage? Yet another way in which the government can intrude upon our lives? Yes. Do we as married couples benefit from this intrusion? Yes. That married filing jointly box on the 1040 does save us some money, doesn’t it? But at the same time, yet again, the legal institution of marriage in the United States is an institution that is exclusive. It does not recognize everyone.

Corey and I live together under one roof. We have children (his step children). We buy groceries together, have bills together (boy, do we), insurance (auto, homeowners, life, health), make joint decisions regarding the house, the kids, the dogs, the vehicles, vacations . . . hell, we even make joint decisions on what body wash we’re going to buy. How does that make us any different from my gay friends? Corey and I love each other. We have made the decision to be a couple, and that means that we will trust each other, be truthful with one another, respect each other, not harm one another, not degrade one another, be true to one another. How does that make us any different from my gay friends? Now this is the point at which some people will jump in with their sweeping generalizations and say, well gay people just aren’t like that. Like what? Monogamous? Loving? Respectful? Caring? Please. Your intolerance is showing.

First Dance
First Dance

Listen, I’m not living in some bubble. Corey and I argue. We disagree. We have our moments just like anyone else. I don’t see us as living in some kind of fairy tale marriage in which life is perfect and nothing bad ever happens. Don’t you read my blogs? That’s what marriage is about. That’s what living with another person is about. But I believe in being married. Not for the sake of what the government gives me. Not for the big wedding. Not for the sake of our parents. I believe in being married because of something much more personal. I believe in promises, heart promises. That’s what marriage is for me: it’s a heart promise from one person to another. Just living with someone and saying that you promise is too easy. There’s something about standing up with your family (it doesn’t need to be with anyone else; we could have done it with just us and my kids) and promising out loud that makes it real. So I suppose that’s the one thing about me that is traditional. I wanted that, and despite his feelings about the institution of marriage, Corey wanted a bigger wedding than I did, so make of that what you will.

And I believe that that option should be available to anyone who wants it, who is willing to make that sacrifice, make that promise. Anyone who is willing to dive into marriage–as long as they aren’t 16 and stupid–should have that option available to them. Just don’t talk to Corey first because he’ll tell you that it’s just another government intrusion into your lives, but he  will also be the first to take that deduction on his taxes . . .

I wonder sometimes if he doesn’t just bait me to see how far he can push me . . . hmmm