Monthly Archives: August 2012
For some people, a lack of words seems profound and noble. For me, a lack of words is simply awkward and frustrating. For the most part, silence has always been just beyond my reach, ability and even my belief system.
Even though I understand that silence is often a sign of respect, I also know that silence can do more damage and cut deeper than the harshest words.
I’m not alone.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” He also said, ”In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Even the dictionary validates my belief that silence isn’t always golden. While the simple definition is “the absence of sound or noise,” the more complicated definition is “the absence or omission of mention, comment, or expressed concern.”
I’ve straddled and struggled with both definitions my entire life. My battle has less to do with my tendency to talk and more to do with my overwhelming need to call attention to injustice, wrongdoing and inappropriate, self-serving behavior.
I’ve been witnessing a great deal of such behavior recently. Yet, for the most part, I’ve remained silent. Even when people have asked if I’m going to write a blog about certain situations, I’ve said, “No, that’s not my role or responsibility.” Besides, my words could easily be misinterpreted as angry and bitter rather than caring and concerned. So I have decided my silence might be more powerful than words.
And so, the silence continues. This change in tactics is also teaching me a new art form: the silent blog.
I think this one says a lot.
Silence is argument carried out by other means. Che Guevar
I could grieve how quickly the years have flown. I could pull out baby pictures and wallow in nostalgia. I could reminisce about how, just yesterday, my son was starting kindergarten.
Or I could celebrate that, because both of my children are attending school out of district, my epic battle with the big, yellow school bus may just finally be over — permanently.
The battle began when I was in first grade. Having spent kindergarten walking to school, I was ecstatic that we had moved to a house that required riding a school bus.
My enthusiasm didn’t last long.
The problems started on the first day of school when I thought I could handle the bus ride all by myself. And I did. Going to school was simple. The bus picked me up in front of my house and dropped me off at school. My biggest challenge was getting to my classroom.
Going home proved a bit more difficult. I got on bus number 25, rode it to my street and rode it to my house. I then rode it past my house because my timid calls to stop weren’t heard over the din of bus chatter. Even though the bus failed to stop at my house, it did seem to stop at almost every other house in the county. When her route finally ended, the bus driver turned around, gave me a pointed look and asked me where I lived.
I proudly declared my well-memorized address “1910 Bean Drive.”
The bus driver did not look happy. ”We went right past there. Why didn’t you get off?”
“Because you didn’t stop,” I replied.
Without a legitimate comeback, the bus driver had to make a decision. She’d take me home on her next run. Surrounded by kids two or three times my age and size, I finally made it home to an almost hysterical mother.
I wasn’t used to my mother being so worried. I was used to my mother being in control of every aspect of my life… including what I ate. And while I pined to have a lunch box with a bologna sandwich on white bread and ding dongs like all the other kids, my mom packed a very different lunch. Ever day I carried a brown bag (that she ask I bring home to be recycled) with a peanut butter (no added sugar) and honey sandwich on home-made wheat bread, carrot sticks, an apple and powdered milk in a square container with a lid (no thermos for me).
I hated that milk. I never drank that milk. But day after day, my mom packed it in a brown paper bag and day after day I carried the brown bag and the container still full of milk home from school.
Then, the inevitable happened, and I dropped the bag onto the floor of the school bus. The milk, which was already at room temperature, spilled everywhere. The bus driver was not at all pleased with me, so I should have known the situation would get even worse. And it did.
Only weeks later, my mother put her car in the shop near my school and needed a ride home. Being practical, she arrived at my school just as classes were ending and climbed onto bus number 25 with the first and second graders. At least she tried to climb on the bus, but the driver wouldn’t let her.
My mother insisted that there was plenty of room and the bus was going right to our house anyway. The driver told her no. After what seemed like the longest argument (and one of the most embarrassing moments of my life), the principal finally came over to settle the matter.
My mother had to find her own way home.
I’m pretty sure that was the day my name was officially added the national school bus “beware of this student” watch list. (That’s the list distributed nationwide to every single school bus driver.)
The list is the only explanation as to why, even after I moved across the country, the new school bus driver didn’t like me either.
In that case, the feeling was mutual. I had no respect for a woman who, instead of looking at the road, was constantly looking in the mirror to see what the kids were doing. After a few very close and dangerous calls on winding, West Virginia roads, my friend and I decided we’d had enough and organized a protest. We told everyone on the bus to duck down below the backs of the seats. The next time the driver looked in the mirror, her bus appeared empty.
We though this was hilarious. Our bus driver didn’t. In fact, she was so angry, she stopped the bus and marched up and down the aisle taking names and phone numbers Once she got mine, she seemed satisfied in learning that the girl on the national watch list was the culprit. What she didn’t expect was that my parents sided with me. They didn’t, however, think the incident warranted a life-time pass from riding the school bus, and I was still forced to ride for a couple more years.
But now, my days on the bus have come to an end, and, except for a few field trips, they have ended for my children as well.
Like so many other parts of childhood, all that is left are the memories and the lessons learned. Now it’s time to make more memories and learn something new. I’m just glad that neither is likely to involve a big, yellow school bus.
One of the worst things about having children is being forced to think about the ideas that are constantly bouncing around in their heads.
The other day my daughter said something I simply haven’t been able to shake.
‘Mom,” she said, “I’m worried about the future. What if teleportation actually becomes a reality?”
“Why is that a problem?” I asked.
“In order for teleportation to work, your body gets broken into tiny little pieces that have to be re-assembled perfectly again.” she explained. “If a lot of people are being teleported at the same time, what will prevent the pieces from getting all mixed up?” She sighed, “I don’t want pieces of me mixed up with pieces of someone else!”
Initially, I had visions of my mid-section being swapped with Jennifer Anniston’s. While I’d be delighted, I’m sure Jennifer would be horrified. My daughter interrupted those daydreams. “What if pieces are left behind?”
That was a good question from an almost 11-year old, and it’s come to haunt me over the past week: a week when I know too many people who have lost someone they care about deeply. A week when, for whatever reason, people who should be in the prime of their life are suddenly gone. A week when the power of medicine failed to make all the pieces of a person’s body work correctly. A week when so much has been lost, and yet so much has been left behind.
And some people leave many, many pieces of themselves behind. Those pieces aren’t intended to be re-assembled but to be shared.
I believe that every laugh, every kind thought and every good deed is a tiny piece of our soul that we give away forever with no expectation that it should remain part of us. These are the pieces that shine in our eyes when we smile and that warm our hearts when we hug. These are the pieces we send with our children each time they walk out the door and the pieces we lose when we share a secret.
These are pieces that do get mixed up with the tiny little pieces of others. And then, other people continue to pass them on all mixed up with their own tiny pieces. These are the pieces we collect when we need to paint a picture or compose a song or write a beautiful story. And they are the pieces we collect so we know how to love and embrace all that is beautiful in the world.
I understand why my daughter is worried about her tiny little pieces. I just hope I have collected enough tiny little pieces from others that I have plenty to share with her. And I hope she, in turn, is collecting tiny little pieces that can also pass on.
I can be pretty slow at times, especially when I ride my bike. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As the only person actually peddling on a road where others are simply pushing a gas pedal, I notice a lot.
For the past couple years, I’ve been regularly riding on a country road that gives me a great deal to think about:
A plowed cornfield with only one stalk left standing;
And a gate that, for all I can tell, is completely ineffective.
The gate crosses a gravel road that runs between two fields. Until this week, green stalks of corn filled one of the fields, while the other had no discernible crop. This week, both were plowed. So the road now runs, and eventually dead ends, between two muddy, empty fields.
Other than providing farm workers easy access to the fields, the road doesn’t serve much purpose. It certainly doesn’t lead anywhere interesting or provide enough privacy to be a lovers’ lane. Because of that, the importance of a locked gate with a fading private property sign eludes me. Since there is no fence on either side, the gate isn’t really preventing anyone from simply driving around it.
After passing the gate day after day, I finally took a picture and posted it on Facebook with a question about its purpose. I got a variety of responses ranging from people who took the question seriously to those who didn’t.
The general consensus was that there had probably been fences around the fields at some point. When they were torn down, the gate stayed to mark private property.
While this concept still puzzles me, it also reminds me of human behavior in general: we often tear down fences but leave gates standing.
We say we believe in equal rights and demonstrate this by tearing down barriers for others. Yet we still leave up gates to protect what we believe we earned or deserve and fear others may access or take away. Sometimes these gates are words. Sometimes they are the policies we support. And sometimes they are even religious beliefs.
But whatever the reason, the gates are there. And, just liked the locked gate I pass every day on my bike, they provide a false sense of security for some and serve as a challenge for others.
At times, I know I’ve protected my own gates. But the rebel in me also spends a lot of time thinking about how to get around gates. And I admit, there have been many times when riding my bike on the country road, I’ve been tempted to ride around the gate. The silliest thing is I would have no desire to ride on the gravel road if the gate weren’t there. I certainly don’t want to cause any problems or do any damage.
But then, I don’t think people who are seeking greater opportunities have any desire to trample on the achievements of others. They just know the possibilities would be endless if they weren’t constantly slowed down by so many locked gates.