Binge eating. Withdrawal. Lack of interest in typical activities. There has always been tremendous cognitive dissonance between the ideals that were installed as a youth and what is seen more broadly, culturally. Growing up, those ideals were drilled into my head by my mother, grandparents, family, at our school and in our church – every aspect of my early experience seemed to support those notions as if accepted broadly: The ideas of family, community, openness and caring. The ideas that we should be responsible, accountable, work hard and contribute to society, to contribute for the broader good. That those less fortunate should be helped to thrive, that those unable should be aided.
That message was pounded into my head by my mother, reinforced by hers. That message rang throughout my early education and in our neighborhood – the cooperative. It was the message preached by Reverend Devor, Reverand Walton, Reverend Kidd and – not when I was there but still beloved Reverend Rush (and hilariously, author of Plastic Jesus). When he dropped down and begged on knee for President Bush not to invade Iraq – that resonated rightly.
Church was the new testament, and a million times I bounded down the back hall stairs and looked at the mural painted, of many different faces – some dark, some pale, some elsewhere on the spectrum. Men and women, and children, under blue sky and the sun beneath the visage of Jesus, arms spread and beside the word: Love. My church was in the city of Detroit, and the doors never closed. Out here, now, in the suburbs, church is just a part time affair, doors locking tightly except for the always, feel-good rotation of MCREST, a place where the congregation is castigated for saying awesome, and lectured for using colored lights at Christmas.
It was warm. At school I felt as if people cared. At church I felt as if people cared. At home my mom made damned sure I knew she cared. Everywhere in my youth I had a feeling of acceptance despite extraordinary awkwardness and shyness, and angular appearance. Despite striving to be a raging twit. There was a sense we were allowed to be who we would be, but also knowing stepping over certain lines would bring certain gentle but coercive correction. At home, at school, at church. We expected to be accepted, and were expected to accept everyone. Kindness was expected, and civility. It was taken unenthusiastically, but it was brutal being thrust into the broader world, where such expectations did not settle with reality.
There was always evidence that such peaceful, happy ideals were not exclusively shared: Memory recalls an angry man on the evening news, pounding on a fallen log with his rifle, followed shortly by images of corpses back from Vietnam. There were words thrown at my friends when we travelled beyond our little bubble. There were people being murdered in my city, in horrifying numbers that seemed to grow with every year. There were clearly problems, but they always seemed as if they were – anomalous: At least considered to be wrong. Something that needed to be corrected – unaccepted, broadly.
Cracks formed; they were shunned: A brief stint in New York brought words into my ears that were appalling. They didn’t really carry meaning until we returned, and I looked at the face of my best friend and realized – they meant him. I penned a letter to a friend from that experience, that tried explaining, as an inept and stupid eight-year old, that maybe such vitriol shouldn’t have a place. I never heard from that person again, and presumed he was in disagreement – and left confused. Years later, I found the letter – stamped and addressed – stuffed underneath my mattress. I was stunned when I read it, and briefly wondered if, then how my mother had prevented me from sending it. Even then I was disappointed in myself for such a chicken-shit moment, to be afraid to send a letter to defend a good friend against someone who I’d likely never see again. It was not the last chicken-shit moment that I’ve had, as I’ve often let my voice remain silent. Fair skin, blonde hair and green eyes cast me with suspicion for a number of contingents, and as allied for another. To this day I am stunned by what abject strangers feel that they can share: I do not share your fucking opinions – my mother has told me not to; an ideated Reverend Devor would turn red-faced and screel against such blasphemy if I did.
When I was sixteen I wrote a song entitled the Knight, which was metaphorical for the darkness that had wrapped my mind as I tried to understand exactly what the hell had happened. There’s a corny as all hell line that’s been going through my mind repeatedly, that I can’t seem to shake, “You who divide and hate, to you – I cannot relate. You offend me, and everyone who is not a fake. Why don’t you wake up and learn to make this world into a better place? What’s with you? What’s with you…”
I still can’t seem to get my head around this world. I wish the warmth extended further beyond our front door.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43 Lev. 19:18
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