Early in the AM
“Now she is silent. She stares off into the middle distance in an odd, abstracted manner that has developed in her over the past year or so. She’s lone inside that faraway look on her face, but this alone is different from the alone I’m very familiar with, the one that distorts her features into a mask of bitterness, the one in which she’s counting up her grievances and disappointments. This alone is soft not bitter, full of interest, not a trace of self-pity in it. Now when her eyes narrow it is to take in more clearly what she knows, concentrate on what she has lived. She shakes herself as though from a penetrating dream.
“People have a right to their lives.” (Page 61)
“And I’m willing, I’m willing. When I see the furious self-pity vanish from her face I allow my own to evaporate. If in the middle of provocative exchange she says, “Well, that’s the mother you got, it would have been better with another one, too damned bad this is the one you got,” and I nod, “You can say that again,” we both start laughing at the same time. Neither one of us, it seems, wishes to remain belligerent one sentence longer than the other. We are, I think, equally amazed that we have lived long enough to be responsive for whole minutes at a time simply to being in the world together rather than concentrating on what each of us is or is not getting from each other. ” (Page 199)
Vivian Gornick, Fierce Attachments, (NY: Touchstone Press, 1987)
There’s a terrific short poem in the NYT magazine this morning entitled Small Kindnesses. For advisory tomorrow, I’m going to have the kids re-write this poem and set it in our school. What are the ways that you see kindness in the day-to-day? What are the actions they see all the time? At lunch? In the hall? In a class? What kindnesses do we want? For the last line, what are the things that create the “true dwellings of the holy” that we hear kids say all the time?
I might create a template where several lines are kept — the line about the plague and the line about having so little of each other.
Here’s the whole poem:
By Danusha Laméris
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”
There’s an awesome paragraph I’ll use in my history classes this week as a way of addressing notions of progress. Are things always getting better? Where does this idea come from? What would happen if we replace postwar (first sentence) with American?
The rosy and long-lived postwar belief that the world is generally stable and generally improving has always been in many respects an illusion of the privileged. But it’s beginning to falter, even for us. To live in our present moment is to discover, over and over, that much of what we have imagined to be solid and permanent is in fact fragile. Notre Dame is an icon, but its roof was held up by regular wood, old and dry and quick to light. American democracy is susceptible to frauds and demagogues. The value of your house can suddenly disappear; the global economic system works only to the extent that we all continue to agree that it does; and the complex web of production and commerce that brings us nearly everything we depend on to live is occasionally revealed to be deeply, alarmingly brittle.
Brooke Jarvis, Why do hoax videos proliferate when disaster strikes? 09222019