Friday, January 27, 2017

Those Little Feathers

I may not have learned everything I need to know in kindergarten. I'm sure of it, in fact, since I didn't go to kindergarten. But I did learn most stuff I know from watching my kids go through school. The big questions, the ones that Shakespeare grappled with. The ones that Kant and Kierkegaard wrote about in such scholarly manner. They can be boiled down to the essence, reduced from lofty wonderings and multi-syllabled query, to the simple experiences of childhood. Here are some of my take-aways from those years, brought to my mind today by the little feathers of memory.

  • First impressions are not only often incomplete, they are often flat out wrong. Because we take our narrow-vision personal world view into our everyday dealings with others, we can't realistically expect to understand someone else in a short period of time. We can make broad-brush judgments about issues and others, but if we want to be fair, we have to take the time to examine them from many angles. They call it a knee jerk reaction because only one thing has occurred- the tapping of a sensitive spot, a place where nerves come together to respond by reflex. Right now, if I scroll down my facebook page, my mental knees will jerk repeatedly from exposure one-dimensional outrage. If you are near me and see my eye twitching, you can laugh and remind me to expand my mind and my patience and look harder to see the whole picture. Two boys who skirmish on the first day of Middle School may, in fact, come to be good friends and teammates once they look past the first impression.
  • We can never explain, in all our wisdom from years of living or from the untainted point of view of a young child, why life is so unfair. Our youngest would ask me repeatedly why some kids were disabled or seriously ill. Why? Why would God let that happen? The only available answer is the same one I am forced to acknowledge still. I don't know. I doesn't seem fair, because it isn't fair. Looking back, that answer given to our child didn't seem good enough to either of us, but she it accepted it as fact before I did. I'm still working on it, in the deep part of my brain that never seems to give up the quest. Judging from the works of the guys mentioned in the first paragraph, I'm not alone on that never ending journey.
  • Love changes everything. Our own children can do most anything. Mess up terribly. Make bad decisions. Cause us worry and fear. But we love them anyway. Maybe that is partly because we see our own mistakes in them, relive our own follies, and understand their hearts. But imagine, just for a minute, that we would give strangers the same grace we give our children. Imagine if we looked at a political opponent like we look at a family member. Imagine if you knew that someone who is desperately trying to be heard with a message you don't agree with, just imagine if they were your child. Or your mother. Or even if they were a life-long friend. Love changes the way we look at people. Maybe that is the reason that wisdom from every major religion teaches that love is the the bottom line. Because we have to have it to survive. Because we have to love others to be okay ourselves.
I'm convinced that if we could just get these three concepts under our belts, we could be that society that future generations will speak of with respect. What will our children's children say of this time in history? That we let our own opinions drown out the voices of everyone else? That we were intolerant, hasty, short-sighted? That we were quick to judge and slow to love? That seems to be the current trend. But it doesn't have to be the story of our time. If more people are interested in their fellow humans, if more people want to know who we are how and how we think and why we feel passionately about something, the picture will change. Listening is quickly disappearing as half of communication. Seems like everyone is yelling. But it's only a trend. And we know, from fashion, that trends can be changed. That is the hopeful part. The part I like to remember, along with the soft-focus vignettes from the time our kids were little. There are no perfect times, no perfect people, no perfect causes. But there is always, always the chance to take a better look at others, to accept that life isn't fair while we work to make it more so, to choose love in a real and meaningful way. Not in a bumper sticker way that actually means love for some but not all. But love to cover the country, the world, one person at a time. 

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