The little children shall

It had to happen. The children needed to lead. The time of decision was approaching. The time of no turning back. The final test.

Ragnarok wasn’t a precise term, but it was sufficient enough to make people take notice.  Armageddon, the Second coming – the Rapture. Whatever, as long as they took it seriously. As long as they remembered, passed it down from generation to generation, so the idea was set in them, like DNA. It wouldn’t do for them to forget.

But the children – they were the ones we had been waiting for. Not us. That message that came through the Hopi nation wasn’t for us. It was for our children.

But not all of them.

Conservation of matter works with intelligence and ability too. It turns out there is only so much to be handed out. So instead of it being averaged out like it had in the past, it was sharply skewed now.

They  first noticed all the children with autism, with Asperger’s, those on the spectrum. How could they not?

But the others. They are only now appearing. They were among us all along. The bright-eyed ones. The awake ones. The leaders, the visionaries, the inventors.

They were created out of the same stuff as the loners, the suicides, the school shooters. They had the same chance to pass over into the darkness, the danger. Both had the same level of aspiration and anxiety. Both had the same level of craving and desire that are standard issue with all humans.

But the heroes, the saviors, were the ones who had learned to delay their appetites – not to do without, but to shave up. they learned that the best indeed came to those who chose to wait.

They were not born with this ability. They did not have any more “will power” or “discipline” that the other children, the lost children.  They did not have greater IQs either. But somehow they chose the correct path, the slow but sure one, the one that leads to hope, and more importantly, they stayed on it.

The fast way, the quick way, the instant gratification way was the easy love, but the slow quiet death.

They weren’t especially unloved or ignored, these shadow children, these suicides, these school shooters. Some of the saviors were also from broken homes, homes with just a mother, or even just a grandmother. Some of them were equally bullied at school, equally lost and confused.

In many ways they were the same, made up of all the same ramshackle, tumbledown stuff of any normal childhood, the same despair and grief we all experience in isolation, all feeling uniquely alone, unfairly overlooked.

The bright ones, the awake ones, were different in that they chose to not idolize their lack and loss.  They didn’t identify with it. They didn’t name themselves “divorce” or “ignored” or “poor”. They worked with what they had, no matter what it was. They made a torch out of a spark, and used that flame to light the path.

The others fed on their pain, growing it in secret, nursing their injury (the same thing the others used as a stepping stone) and growing it day by day, into a pearl as large as an ocean, a chasm as vast as a canyon.

They grew their pain (the same pain) into a weapon, a feeling of frustration, of being-owed, of an account balance fallen short. They forgot (or never knew) that their pain wasn’t special, wasn’t personal.  Or rather, it was personal, because it was part of being a person.

But they took it as a special unspecialness, an intentional slight, a deliberate attack, instead of as a challenge, a choice.  They could have chosen to rise above, to fly clear of the debris and dirt of the world. They could have chosen to ignore the noise of all kinds that swirl around, but instead chose to allow it to infect them, chose to see it as an attack instead of an opportunity.

The ones who will lead us now, the little children, they will be our healing, if only we will listen to them.

We too have a choice.

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Music for Monkeys

music for monkeys

They gave up trying to teach a monkey to type the next Shakespeare play. But since music supposedly calms the savage, they taught him to play a tiny guitar instead. It made sense after all – he could play tunes to calm himself down, rather than a researcher having to do it. Once he had access to the guitar and finally understood that it was for making music and not for hitting people or other monkeys over the head, he calmed down dramatically. Just being able to express himself had the desired effect.

They’d tried to teach Abe how to sign but he wasn’t having it. It didn’t make sense to him – this gesture meant what? It was too abstract for him. Why make a sign with his hand, when he could grunt or scream at them? They eventually figured out what he wanted. Meanwhile, he enjoyed screaming. It was fun and made his keepers (his jailers) so anxious. It was funny to watch, to see how he could make them so upset and nervous.

But then they brought the guitar to him. The jailer played it at first and the tones were different, weren’t like their voices. The jailer even sang – and his voice was different, was kinder. If only they could always speak to him like that!

Abe thought  that maybe they could learn how to talk with music, so these dimwits could finally get him what he wanted faster. The amusement of their confusion was wearing off. He wanted to deal with them as little as possible. Even fighting was getting old.

Finally, after nearly a year of practice, he was ready for his first public performance. He was no longer in his cage – the audience would be shocked to think of how he been imprisoned. Most thought of it as a zoo, and either forgot or overlooked the fact that he didn’t choose to be there. He wasn’t asked when he was taken from his home. It wasn’t voluntary. He didn’t want to be an example of his kind.

Many thought of the zoo as an educational opportunity, a chance for people to learn about animals in a safe and clean environment. They also thought they were doing the animals a favor. The same “safe and clean environment” was so much better than a wilderness home, the people told themselves. They pointed out how the animals lived so much longer in captivity. They didn’t understand that quantity wasn’t the same as quality. Longer wasn’t necessarily better.

Abe was supposed to play a nursery song, one that was easy and would show off his talents. Nothing too complicated or he’d fumble and the audience would stare or laugh. It was important to get this right.

The audience wasn’t just any old audience. They were benefactors, donors, patrons of the arts. It was their generosity that made the “Music for Monkeys” program possible. If this failed, the whole program would end. It was all riding on Abe, but he had not been told this.

Yet he played better than expected, and more. He played flawlessly, with real feeling, for the first 20 minutes. Perhaps something took over then, some deep down part of him, because that feeling came up and out and over and suddenly he was playing a new song, a sad song. A song sadder than standing on the platform as the last train leaves for the evening. A song sadder than the end of summer break. A song so sad that the audience caught the feeling tied up inside it without words, and they understood the pain of imprisonment in the name of “education” or “rescue”. They heard within the notes his longing for a home he would never see again, a family he would never again embrace. It didn’t matter if they might no longer be alive because of disease or poachers. They had lived as monkeys, not as exhibits, as specimens, as one-off examples of their kind, meant to be on display to any and all, young and old, as the epitome of “monkey” to these rubes, these ticket holding members of this permanent circus that is a zoo (sometimes euphemistically termed a “wildlife park” for much the same reason cemeteries are now memorial gardens).

The audience felt through Abe’s new music the joy of waking up with the sunrise, embraced by the arms of a tree, with leaves as a blanket. It felt the joy of wandering every day to see new places and other animals, every night a new bed in a new tree. Every day was the first day for Abe’s kind – a new adventure and excuse to discover. No worries about a car or mortgage or clothes, so no worries about a job or reputation either.

The people thought they were safe because of all they owned but now they understood that it owned them. They had become chained themselves, slowly, but surely. They had put themselves into a zoo of their own making. They had forgotten their own wildness, their own true nature, in their striving to be civilized. Abe, with his monkey music, reminded them of who they really were, and who they could become again.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. When the music finally stopped, when the guitar strings stilled, they all sat in silence for what seemed like forever. Finally a child spoke, and asked Abe what his real name was, the one before his capture. What was the sound his family, blood and otherwise, called him? And he didn’t know. It was lost to him, trained out of him for so many years. So the child gave him a new name, a snippet of that song that awoke them all, as a reminder of who he truly was.

Spring path

spring path

The path was small here, but sure.

Spring had come quickly to this small wood.

I had passed the brook some few hours ago.

There lay those who had meant to waylay me.

Their stories would lie with them now.

Now no-one knew the paths I took.

Now I could change my face, my garb for the last time.

 

Long had I roamed the world away from men.

They brought me no peace those past times.

Never again would I let down my guard.

Never again would I show them my true face.

 

In peace I came to this land, and in peace I would leave.

Long had I hoped to find my true home, but it was not to be.

Not yet.

 

Not until I would see the moon rise over the desert lands again.

The inselbergs I had long ago abandoned lay before me now.

My path has come full circle.

In my heart I am home already.

 

________

This prose-poem was inspired by a picture I am using as a screen saver. I found it online doing a search for “spring”. The format and length of this piece were determined by the physicality of the journal that I wrote this in.  I chose to make the sentences not wrap around – they had to end when the page ended on the right.  The poem had to be completed on that one page, so I had to plan the finish early. I am also reading an Andre Norton book right now, and that influenced the tone.

The silence of sound

He was seven years old when he learned he was deaf. Born deaf, to Deaf parents, he never knew anything was different about him. His first language was Sign, and it was the only language he needed until it was time to go to school. The only problem was that the school was not within the town. When the town began, there was no need for a school of its own, and the citizens who lived there now all wanted as little taxation as possible. So they sent their children to the nearest town over to go to school.

Haverford was a small town, and a quarter it off it were deaf. Some families were entirely deaf, like how other families all had brown hair or green eyes. It was just the way it was. Some deaf couples had moved here, to join their lives with this unusual community.

You see, everyone here learned Sign from infancy on. It was a way for the babies to talk to their parents before they could use their voices. It was a way for everybody to communicate in crowded bars. It was a way to check if your friend wanted to have a hotdog or a hamburger from 30 yards away in a noisy football arena. It was a good language for everyone to know, whether they could hear or not. More languages meant more brain cells firing, more neurons developing.

It also made the town more welcoming for deaf people, except when it came to schooling. Strangely nobody really thought twice about it, how the school in the next town over separated the hearing kids from the deaf ones. While all classes were taught in English and Sign, the classes with the deaf were different, were lesser than.

It took an outsider to see how. Sometimes an outside perspective can make all the difference. Sometimes “normal” is just what you get used to. Just because you’ve always done it that way, doesn’t mean that is the way it should be.

The deaf children were taught the same subjects, but not in the same way. There wasn’t the depth. The teachers (all hearing) felt they were just biding time, babysitting, not teaching. They had no expectations of their young charges, no hopes for their future. So they didn’t challenge them, didn’t prepare them for life outside of their home town.

In order to graduate every student had to successfully interview for a job, but the advisors did all the work. They would set up the interview, provide an interpreter, and arrange for a taxi. They didn’t show the students how to do any of those things. They might as well have told the students that they were babies and would never grow up. They had never tapped the potential of their students.
It was the outsider who began to question this, to say this was wrong. She had been raised by a deaf mother and hearing father, and knew first-hand how strong the deaf can be if appropriately encouraged. Flowers don’t bloom in gardens that don’t get sun or rain, after all – and people were just the same. She encouraged the town to build its own school, where the students could learn together, regardless of hearing ability. This became what saved the citizens, and knit them into a tighter community, one that was an oasis.

How had this started, this deaf town? The town was founded a century earlier by Benedictine monks, who had all taken a vow of silence. They had all learned Sign to communicate, both with each other and the few lay people they had hired to help them. Everyone had to know the language whether they were there for religious or secular reasons. This ensured the monks didn’t have to break their vow when they had to interact with the workers.

The town had slowly grown up around the monastery. More and more people came – not a lot, mind you, but enough.

But that was before the Soft Revolution, the one that slowly took over the society as a whole, over the course of several decades. It was so subtle, so sly, that people didn’t even realize it was happening.

How did it start? Was it with the “Christians” aligning themselves more with the righteous than with the poor? Was it when they started making church more like a social club than about social justice? Was it when “churches” started protesting at funerals of gay people? Perhaps the push to say “Merry Christmas” instead of the more inclusive and welcoming “happy holidays” was the final blow?

Christians were seen not only as “behind the times” but also as rigid, intolerant, and worst of all, unkind. People left the church, or never joined, because they felt it was irrelevant, or even infantile. “Freethinkers” cried against the pointlessness of the faithful – that they were sheep mindlessly following their master, who sadly was often wanted for tax evasion or sexual immorality.

The church had done it to itself. Nobody had closed the institutions like had occured in the French Revolution. No law had made it happen. But the effect was the same – church was irrelevant, in part because it was irreverent. People hadn’t left church. The church had left the people.

But this little town, this vestige of a silent religious community, remained. Everyone here still used Sign, regardless of whether they could hear or not. It became a tiny oasis in a world of too much noise.

Strangely, surprisingly, it became the center of a new form of faith, one where people listened to God in their hearts instead of from a “leader”. They began to put their faith in an invisible master instead of a visible one. They turned away from following people or institutions or rites or creeds, and started following the One who speaks to us all. This silent community became the new seed of hope in a world all too often distracted and divided.

The oddball

He heard colors.

He saw voices.

People told him he’d gotten it wrong when he said it like this, but he knew better. It took so much effort to tell anybody the truth of what he experienced that it didn’t matter if he told the whole truth, so help him, God.

God was the only one who could help him now, anyway.

The people recoiled when he told them about the voices. What little they knew about mental health warily shuffled to the fore at the word. Everyone knew that test, said quickly, almost as an aside, an afterthought.

“Do you hear voices”, as if that made sense.

“Of course I hear voices”, he wanted to scream. “How do you think I can hear you now? How does anybody hear voices? Don’t we all?”

But they never said the rest. It was assumed, unspoken, perhaps out of fear of raising the spirits. What they meant was “Do you hear voices of people who aren’t here?”

Ghosts perhaps.

Or demons.

They didn’t care. All they knew was it was bad.

But they conveniently forgot about the prophets, the real ones. They heard voices too. Well, to be precise they heard a Voice, the Voice. The prophets were respected. Sometimes ostracized, but respected.

He didn’t want to admit it wasn’t one, though. There were hundreds. He listened to audiobooks to drown them out. Sometimes the voices joined in. Sometimes he couldn’t tell which characters were real, but he didn’t let on about this. It was best not to alarm people more than they already were.

He was an oddball. Everybody knew. There was no denying he stuck out, and yet he was invisible too. He was so unusual in his manner and looks that everybody walked around him, not engaging him, in case he was wild, or dangerous, or both.

They didn’t know why he felt so odd to them. It was the kind of oddness that you didn’t even notice, like bad feng shui, or the house that is always abandoned, or the business that always fails on that one particular corner.

He was like that, ill-fated, no blame to it, but there you go. It doesn’t matter whether there is blame or not to a car accident, either. The damage is the same.

They didn’t realize that their abandonment only worsened the symptoms, only made him sicker and stranger. It was a snake eating its own tail. It was a feedback loop producing only more and more noise.

Perhaps this was why psychiatrists used to be called “alienists” not very long ago. That sense of otherness, of being alone and lonely, of not fitting in, reinforced over the years by unthinking others, made him feel like he was an alien from another country, or planet. Never welcomed, never included, never brought in from the cold to warm by the fire, he drifted, cold, heartless and loveless.

Dog walker

Richard had been dead three days before his wife even noticed his dog was missing. It was an expected death, to be sure. He was 92, after all. They had made most of the arrangements years ago when they left that church, the one they had always gone to, once it started having modern music instead of the good old-fashioned hymns they had grown up with. If they changed something as big as that, no telling what they’d change next. They might say it was okay for men to start wearing dresses. You never knew.

But since they’d always planned on being buried in the churchyard they had to make other plans now. They considered burial in the backyard but thought twice when they remembered trying to put in the garden years ago. Too many rocks! Emma would have a hard time digging it, and they might not be able to count on the children to help. They were always busy – too busy it seemed to notice when their family needed help.

Jack was Richard’s dog through and through. Sure, he’d answer when Emma called him to dinner, but Richard was the one who pampered him, who slipped him treats underneath the table at dinner. Jack was a Jack Russell, feisty and friendly, and loyal as the day was long. Richard thought it was a clever thing to name him after his breed. It didn’t matter what he was named, it turned out. Jack would’ve followed Richard no matter what he had named him.

They had buried Richard in the grand old Catholic cemetery on the hill overlooking downtown Nashville. That location had been the outskirts of the city when it had been consecrated, but that was a century ago. Sure, he wasn’t Catholic, but it turned out some of his family was buried there and since they were Catholic, that was good enough for the keepers of the cemetery. Emma had found this information out when she was doing genealogy research as a favor to the kids. It was a simple matter of asking at the cemetery (and a donation of course) and space was reserved in the family plot for the two of them.

The house had finally cleared out from all of the visitors and Emma finally had time to breathe. She noticed little Jack wasn’t around. She called, but he didn’t come. He didn’t even bark. Oh well, he’ll have to fend for himself. She can’t be tending to everyone she thought. Who was going to look after her, she thought mournfully? She was so tired after all the hullabaloo of the funeral, and putting up the family that had come to pay respects. They were underfoot for a week! She meant to put Jack out of her mind. But then again he was her last connection to Richard. Where was that dog?

Jack had followed Richard. It was as simple as that. Not his body, of course. That wasn’t who Richard really was. That was just a shell after all. Jack had followed the real part of Richard, the only part that mattered. Jack, like all dogs, could see souls. Dogs knew the soul of the person, could see how it was, and more importantly in this case, where it was.

The moment Richard left his body, he walked silently through the walls of his bedroom right to the corner of the barn where Jack was. The family had gathered by that time, awaiting the inevitable. But they, those somewhat interlopers, had banished poor Jack to his summertime lair in the barn, where he liked to keep an eye on the chickens. He would have rather been by Richard’s side in that time of transition.  Jack was the one who had been by him every other day, unlike his children and grandchildren. Who were they to send him off? He was more family than they were. Family has little to do with blood and a lot to do with behavior.

Richard hadn’t been in a state to argue at the time, but now he could do something about it. He’d taken three days to die, to slide out of his body like one would slip out of work clothes. It wasn’t easy at such an age. He’d gotten used to wearing it, and taking his leave of it was harder than he had expected. Being in a body was a habit he’d had all his life and now he had to give it up, like smoking or drinking. It was for the same reason, of course to be free, to be unencumbered, but just the same it was hard to make the change.

But now he was free of the weight of his body, free to go wherever he wanted, however he wanted, and what he wanted most right now was to go on a wander with his best pal, Jack.  He found him in the barn, and it took some effort to get Jack to notice Richard.  He couldn’t whistle or call to his friend like he wanted – one of the disadvantages of an otherwise perfectly pleasant experience, to his mind.  He wondered what all the fuss was about being dead that he’d heard all his life.  Of course, the people who were complaining about it hadn’t ever experienced it.  It was like complaining about going to visit France before you’d even gotten on the plane.  You had no business having an opinion about a place until you’d gone there. But death, unlike France, was a one-way ticket, and all the residents of that unknown land weren’t the ones saying disparaging things about it.  No, that was the living doing that, and what did they know?

Richard had to learn to use new ways of interacting with his old friend now, but fortunately Jack had been waiting for him.  He was surprised to hear Richard call to him, speaking heart to heart, but not see him.  And then he understood that the change had happened, that it was time.  Jack wiggled and shivered over all his body, not just wagging his tail but his whole self. He was overjoyed to be with his master once again, glad to know that he was free of his failing body. They walked out of the barn together, and towards the setting sun.  They had many mountains to climb together.

The missile alert

The missile alert wasn’t a mistake. The island had been targeted. It was real. A missile had been launched. And then it was gone, instantly.

There had been a blip on the radar, an object coming fast. And then there wasn’t. The radar tech had to look again to be sure. He tapped the side of the machine. He hit refresh. And it still wasn’t there. Had it gone into stealth mode? Was there technology they didn’t know about? Was it still coming but they couldn’t see it, had no way of seeing it?

There wasn’t time to send up a pilot to check it out. The initial estimate said 15 minutes. If it was still there, then there was only 12 left.

Should he turn the computer off and back on to reboot? He’d lose a precious two minutes that way. He had already sent the alert out to everyone. Everyone on the island who had a cell phone had been notified. The sirens had gone off. There wasn’t a distinctive wail for “missile” so the usual one for any and every imminent natural disaster was used. Tsunami, volcano, hurricane – it didn’t matter. The same sound was used because it all meant the same thing.

Stop what you were doing right now.
Grab your go bag and seek cover.
Nothing else matters.

But now he wasn’t so sure. He called the nearest radar site and asked to speak to the tech. Email wouldn’t do. He needed to hear it in the other tech’s voice, see what was happening through his eyes.

But that radar too was clear, and that tech too was confused. They ran back the recording. Yes. There had been a bogey. And then there wasn’t.

They decided to say it was a mistake, a bumped switch, human error. Nothing to see here. The truth wasn’t something they could have handled anyway.

Every town had one. Every town, village, city, named and unnamed had one, and only one. One was enough. Not all were needed – only a dozen were required at any one time. In a pinch, only one was truly necessary, but that required a great deal of focus on their part.

When the sirens went off
(for none of them had cell phones, having long ago given up that tech)
– like the Amish who waited 50 years to see if ballpoint pens were safe,
-the rest of society being their coalmine canaries,
they stopped what they were doing, the same as everyone else.

It wouldn’t do to call attention to their sacred work, their holy mission. They could never speak of what they did, never claim credit, never get fame or money for their work. It would cheapen it, tarnish it, make it less like love and more like a one night stand.

They used the only tool they had at hand, but it was the only one they needed. They prayed. They didn’t pray for anything specific, because they would never presume to tell the creator what to do.
They simply prayed to.
They prayed to the One who knew all to do what was best.

They never became anxious or upset during such emergencies, because they knew those reactions were fruitless. They put their faith in God, and God alone.

And God sent the angels,
Elohim, the Lord of hosts,
the commander of the heavenly army of angels,
the One who fights our battles for us,
yes, that God,
the God who defeated enemy armies
with hornets,
with fear,
with walls of water.

That God sent his angels who surrounded the missile, who made it cease to be, who reminded the metal Who created it, and then rendered it
into a thousand billion atoms,
a google’s worth of yes and no,
of positive and negative
and quarks
and up and down
and sideways
and that was enough.

It simply ceased to be, because they reminded it of its true nature, not as a singular weapon of war, made by men, but as many elements of nature made by God, and God alone.

What God has created,
let no man re-create,
or break apart
or make in his own image,
impressing his own will,
his own hardened, angry, violent nature upon.

Nature is not a mirror, not a plastic thing for us to mold to our will, to shape to fit our plans, and ownership is a form of slavery. These people knew this, and knew it well.
And the missile simply wasn’t there anymore.