Categories
Diversity Writing

Mockingbird

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Years ago I watched a movie that would have such a profound effect on me, that I could later flag memories by their occurrence in time before or after this event. The movie was To Kill a MockingBird, starring Gregory Peck. Unfortunately, the local library didn’t stock the book, so reading the actual story had to wait until we moved to Seattle. However, the book, as with the movie, became a personal favorite.

The strongest memory I have from watching the movie when I was younger, was the rabid dog and Atticus’ killing of it. Somehow, the violence associated with the dog, it’s madness and the necessity of having to put it down, became connected in my mind with the other acts of violence. The dog, the lynching crowd, Bob Ewell, the conviction of Tom Robinson — all acts equally mad, though some events were varnished with the pine-tar scent of righteous justice.

I also felt an identity with this movie, odd as this might sound. I grew up in a small town, though mine was in Northeast Washington rather than the South. Like Scout, I was a also a tomboy — spending my summers in adventure, wearing dresses only under protest, and able to out wrestle many of the boys my own age. In addition, I had one older brother and like Scout, would spend much of my free time unsupervised, supposedly safe within the boundaries of the mind set of a small town in the 50’s. There were also other similarities between Scout’s tale and mine, but I’ll leave that for my online book Coming of Age in John Birch Country.

(I am such a tease.)

For now, I want to direct your attention to Loren’s wonderful multi-part review of the book, beginning with his astute introduction:

If Harper Lee had limited her portrayal of prejudice and discrimination merely to the trial of Tom Robinson, a victim of the most virulent form of racial prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird would probably be little more than a historical footnote. Wisely, though, Lee manages to tie racial prejudice to the many other forms of prejudice we all face every day of our life.

You’ll have to scroll down to get to the first part. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment with a movie, an old favorite of mine.

Categories
Government People

In Defense of Few Words

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Michael Barrish wrote:

I’ve long believed that we each have a story, often unknown to us, that we try all our lives to prove true. As I see it, this is the key to understanding a lot of otherwise inexplicable behavior.

If I’m correct, what would your story be?

Note: It can usually be summarized in five words or less.

Note: This can be a scary question.

There is nothing new or magical about seeking truth within ourselves, or our interest in discovering why we do the things we do; self-help gurus have made towers of money understanding this drive for self awareness and capitalizing on it.

What does capture the interest and engage the mind with Michael’s posed question is trying to find a phrase of five words or less that can adequately describe something so complex. How can we sum up our lives in five words or less?

Easy. The answer is, we don’t.

Our lives are too rich and too varied to be easily summed up with so few words. However, we can seek to better understand what makes each of us “tick”, our underlying story as Michael describes it, and brevity strips away the non-essential verbage and forces us into a more honest assessment.

There is power in brevity.

Asked to tell a truth about ourselves we immediately seek to describe the causes of the truth and the core of the truth and we wrap it in apologies and explanations and regressions into our childhood, with many asides into events that have had impact on this truth. But we’re not describing the truth, only its environment. Stripping away the environment will either reveal the truth or…nothing.

Ultimately, if we can’t describe something of such profound importance in five words or less, perhaps we don’t truly understand what it is we’re describing.

We ask the thief: why do you steal?

The thief answers: I steal because in this society there are the rich and there are the poor, and the rich stay rich by keeping the poor, poor. I steal because I have basic human needs that aren’t met by a society that perpetuates a gap between those who have, and those who have not. I steal because I learned from watching my mother and watching my father that you have to steal and cheat and lie to make it in the world. I steal as a way of demanding my fair share in a society that prides itself on being rich.

We change our question but not our intent, and ask the thief: Why do you steal, in five words or less?

Thief: I steal to survive.

We ask the President, why should we invade Iraq?

The President answers: Because Saddam Hussein is an evil man who is an enemy of this country. He has weapons of mass destruction he’ll use against us direcctly, or give to terrorists to use against us. He terrorizes his own people and leads based on fear. He provides a haven and training camps for terrorits. He is a repressive dictator who must be stopped before he’s allowed to do more damage. We must stop him now before he has a chance to act against us in the future.

We then ask the President, why should we invade Iraq, in five words or less?

And the President answers: Because I can.

Categories
Just Shelley

Jet through the trees

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

My roommate decided I needed exercise for my painful back yesterday and took me to the Sculpture Park near our house for a gentle walk. Aside from the fact that I was walking somewhat like Frankenstein’s Monster (arms rigidly at my side, stiff backed, movements accompanied by occasional non-verbal grunts) and that we were prey to every West Nike infested mosquito for miles, the walk was very pleasant.

The park has several trails, some paved, some rough dirt, each with sculptures appearing in clearings and glades, across streams, forming pyramids. Fascinating, and very peaceful.

As we walked back to the car, a siren started to sound, first in one part of the park, then another, and another, until we were surrounded by the sounds of synchronized sirens. As one siren would soften, another would take up the cry, each echoing around us among the trees. It was probably one of the most astonishing sounds I have ever heard.

And then, as I was standing listening to the sirens, just ahead through the trees at the top of the hill we were climbing, I saw a jet fly past.

“Rob! Did you see that jet!”

“No. Where was it?”

“Through those trees over there”, I said, pointing, walking as quickly as I could to the top of the hill, past the trees only to be met with more trees. No airport, no runway.

When I arrived home I went online and searched everywhere for information about the Sculpture Park, the sirens, the plane. I could find nothing other than a description of the park and the statues.

I know there is a prosaic answer to what I saw. The plane was most liky from a nearby airport, its closeness an illusion caused by incorrect perspective. As for the sirens, they’re most likely an exhibit at the park or a test of the local emergency tornado warning system. Every question has an answer, a reasonable answer.

However, the experience I had yesterday is made magical by not knowing, not having the facts, and leaving the questions unanswered.

(And if you have the answer for my mystery, keep it as your little secret. Let me have my moment of magic.)

Update: photo of the dangerous West Nike mosquito.