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Posts from May 2010

Memorial Day 2010

FATALITIES AS OF: May 28, 2010, 10 a.m. EDT
Total deaths of US military and DoD civilians  4,404*

FATALITIES AS OF: May 28, 2010, 10 a.m. EDT
Total deaths Worldwide (in and around Afghanistan)  1,076* (for a non-government-based accounting)

(These figures do not, in my understanding, include suicides as a result of service in these wars.)

All weekend I have been thinking about Memorial Day and what I want to write about it (which obviously means what I think about it). At first I thought I would write about how I have been talking about war for the last two months with my seniors, what with our talking about Achilles and the Trojan War, reading excerpts from All Quiet on the Western Front, reading The Things They Carried, watching a video about the Vietnam War, listening to anti-war songs, and then reading a few poems about war. The books had their powerful messages, and they were received, for the most part. And between my co-teacher and myself we have hammered at the point that it is their responsibility to not unquestioningly accept the call to war.

And then I thought that I would talk about what it feels like to discuss this with students, some of whom are joining the military or going to military academies in a few weeks, and others who are “blown away” at the idea that a generation ago they would have been drafted as opposed to skipping off to their party schools.

And I also thought that I would write about what Memorial Day means living here, in Northern Virginia, where the motorcycles that will ride in the Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom motorcycle march into Washington to remind the government and people that there are still MIAs and POWs, to commemorate their fallen friends, and to support the troops who are serving currently, start making themselves seen and heard on Friday. Seeing their gray hair and beards sticking out from under their helmets and their deeply-wrinkled faces gives a sense of the passage of time, and also of how time is not a healer of all things.

And then I read this article in the New York Times: “Child Brides Escape Marriage, but Not Lashes,” and I watched the video clip of a young girl being lashed with a leather strap with great force by a (physically) grown man while other men stood around and watched and then prayed, because she dared to run away from the man who is old enough to be her great-great grandfather but is her husband. And I read of a father and brother who killed their daughter/sister because she defied her marriage arrangement after she ran away because she had been continually beaten by her hubby and his family. And I cannot help but wonder what are we doing in Afghanistan? Not wonder, no, RAGE.

We have been there since October 2001. Osama Bin Laden is still about. The Taliban is still about. The horrific manipulation of women continues. Maybe this is callous, but if we haven’t managed to make a dent into the twisted way that society manages itself, then I say leave. If they want to keep things as they are, as their “traditions” dictate, then we should just get the hell out of there. Women and men have been decrying the status of women there since before the war and now, almost nine years into it, the same heartaches are heard. Isn’t there a point when one’s friends realize that only the suffering friend can help him/herself by seeking help?

It could be that I am wrong and this is a distortion, and in reality this is an aberration and instead of raging I should be happy that things have changed so much since the our forces arrived there. But I don’t think so.

No. I think that there really is a gulf between us that, perhaps, cannot be broached. How can you reconcile helping a society that keeps women in compounds for their entire lives—and does not seem to see any problem with that? And how do you reconcile helping men who keep harming girls who go to school? How do you reconcile helping people whose people blow up their people who are eating and praying and celebrating and mourning? I don’t get it. I don’t want to get it. There are things that are just wrong. And I don’t care if that father and son dynamic duo and the flogger-in-chief think that they are doing good deeds—they are not. I’d like to look into the eyes of those men and see if there is life within. I’d like to see if they really are people, because I don’t think that they are. Twisting one’s mind to think that evil is good and honorable serves a maker that I don’t recognize and that must be visible.

Yes, I know, I have a master’s degree in Conflict Studies, so I should be more understanding and accepting of these people’s “narrative.” But I am not. There is a point when one cannot contort one’s mind to accept or even give credence to such depravity. What else is it? Does someone’s holy book and God really call for maiming young girls?

And what kind of mother can these girls become? These aren’t soccer moms or even hovering helicopter moms-to-be. These are women who continue in too long of a line of women who are not nurtured for the value of their hearts and minds; women who are, at the core of their society, discounted. Isn’t that the basis of a healthy society: women who are healthy and raise their children to be healthy citizens?  

Do the wrongs of that society show what happens when women are discounted? It is, to all intents and purposes, an all-male society, with women ostensibly servants. No education. No rights. No liberties. No voice. Bleak and harsh.

Could it be that this society cannot be fixed until it accepts its women—mothers, wives, sisters, daughters—as worthy and valuable, and not just a thing to use to pay off one’s debt. Isn’t this really a statewide form of child prostitution and slavery?
It is a shame that whatever introspection occurred did not lead to righting this violation. Sure, they could look and see women in our society using their bodies to sell products. And they can read rape and assault statistics. But I wonder if in the dark of night these floggers and beaters long for love and warmth and comfort? How hard it must be to live an entire life imprisoned in a cold harshness. Would that drive you to make everyone else in your life suffer as you suffer; or would it make you feel a little better to know that someone suffers more than you?

Instead of an army of soldiers, perhaps they need an army of mothers. And if that’s not in the Pentagon’s plans, I say “Bring ‘Em Home.”

Women, Hugs and Friendships

The other night was the last night of Hebrew School. I now have my Tuesday and Wednesday evenings back. I said goodbye to the sixth graders and the “big kids” (the middle and high schoolers) the previous night, but there were no dramatic pronouncements. When I said goodbye to the third graders, it was much different. I will sorely miss them. Before they bolted out of the classroom (with the boy who had been one of the rowdiest as the line leader because he had gained my trust that he would not lead them to whoop and holler down the hall), I told them how much I enjoyed being their teacher and how wonderful it was to spend the year learning with such a great group of kids—and I meant every word I said. There is something truly special about third graders. I haven’t studied enough child development to know why, but their blossoming and openness and giddiness is just a wonder of nature.

And then I did dismissal, otherwise known as ushering kids into the right cars and not letting parents who already have their darlings in their cars run over someone else’s kids, because what do they care—their kids are safely ensconced within.

Then one of my closest synagogue work friends left. The night before she joked that she wouldn’t give me a goodbye hug that night, but at the last moment—she didn’t want to get sentimental. We finally hugged; it was an uncertain hug because she’s not sure if she’ll be back to teach next year. We talked about getting together over the summer and I thanked her for being such a good role model to my daughter who helped her teach some of her classes for part of the year. And we broke the space rules as we stood there and intensified the feeling of friendship that had been steadily growing over the year.

Then I went inside and said goodbye to my other good synagogue friend. When we realized that I won’t be back until the end of the summer, we hugged. This is the woman with whom an amazing amount of ground was leaped over to develop a solid friendship once we both realized that we had been married to crazy Israelis. Now she’s married to a mere mortal who is a lovely and kind and gentle man. I love catching up with her in those few lull-like moments when we can act on our friendship.

As I walked out of the synagogue on my way to my car, I realized that those two women despise each other. There had been a scene in the middle of the year; there had been harsh words slung especially in one directions (of course, this was from one of the players, so the slinging was probably mutual); and there had been an unsuccessful “let’s all just get along” session lead by the director. How is it that I am close to both of them? Close as in get along in the comfortable fleeting friendship way that develops because you effortlessly click with someone. There have been no coffees together, or lunches out, or even shopping soirees (how women shop together is beyond me, but I know that it happens because two women in the department at school are forever wearing the same Ann Taylor outfits and shoes), simply a few minutes once or twice a week to exchange a hello, an update that all is well and if all is not well, to give and receive heartfelt compassion.

How is it that two women who I get along with so effortlessly so dislike each other? It punctures my whole “friends of friends” theory that says we can generally befriend a friend’s friend because we are on the same wavelength. Kumbaya and all that.

Friends of friends. Maybe we need to earn each and every one of our friends and friendships—and none can or should be taken for granted. And, perhaps, I should value each of those friendships more than I do because they are not doled out as easily as I had thought. And just perhaps I should value my ability to make friends and keep them, and not assume that it is the other person who is so friendly. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I am a good friend and not an incidental conversationalist. 

Those hugs. They were from me and they were for me. They were a testament to something—something that I need to embrace and not merely walk through as so much air. 

Fleeting Friendships

I often think that I don’t have many friends, and that I have never had many friends. But I wonder if I have far more than I ever imagined. Perhaps the accounting system I use is flawed. Do we all have more friends than we think, and is it, perhaps, the working definition of what “friendship” is that limits our access to an expanded world of friends and friendships?

Are friendships only those relationships that occur over years of talking around tables or in living rooms? Are they only represented by longevity and a kind of intimacy that comes with details known and exchanged? What about those people who you smile at and exchange pleasantries with—once or every day for years? Do they count? Are those friendships? Could a definition of a friendship be an interaction with a person that brings you pleasure?

During the school year on most Tuesdays I teach at my synagogue’s Hebrew school. For the first half of the year my daughter started an hour before I did, so I would go to the nearby McDonald’s and eat and do whatever preparation work needed to be done before heading back to teach my classes. After a couple of weeks I noticed that a mother and her young son and daughter were there at the same time. At first we exchanged nods. Then we progressed to the most casual of conversation: hi, how are you’s. After this introductory phase we began talking. It turns out that she would take her kids to McDonald’s before they went to religious school at the church right next to my synagogue.

Is she a friend? Technically or by the traditional definition, she is not. But I feel that she is. I looked forward to our weekly exchanges. I enjoyed our five minutes of chatting between attending to my work and her kids. She remembered my name and I eventually remembered her name.

(The word acquaintance does not fit here, because, at least in my understanding, an acquaintance is someone you are familiar with, but there isn’t a true connection, one that brings a warmth from a meeting, however brief.)

Another element to thinking about these fleeting friendships is whether or not the exchange added a dimension to your life. Was there another layer of meaning created through the exchange? In that case, these fleeting friendships surely do something that “real” friendships cannot. It is an absolute acceptance of who you are just by the feeling that you project and receive. It’s a kind of love at first sight, but rather than love you have intrinsic recognition.

This expanded definition feels important. It gives me a new dimension from which I can look at my life and interact with the world. That certainly is a wonderful thing to discover on a Thursday night.

May 16, 2010

In five days we will be without my father for five months.

In two days my older daughter will be 19. (She just found out that she got into the college of her choice—and with a substantial scholarship!)

Bitter sweet.

On this day I have been moved to write again.

Was I silent because I needed to stay in place long enough to be comforted by the stillness?

Was I silent because I could find no path to take?

Was I silent because sometimes silence shows more movement than movement itself?

I’m not sure what I will write about, but that’s okay—that’s what I want. I have no agenda or mission. I feel liberated. I am liberated.

I will be as the peonies that I love in full bloom: bold, open and layered.