Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My children's backyard

I can see the now brown hops flowers hanging off the bine just outside the window. Just past that are the remnants horseradish leaves that stood like peacock feathers just  a couple of months ago in a garden bordered by a pond dug by my daughter. Just beyond that, at the edge of the yard, stands a pine pirate ship, the deck now covered with a velvet green carpet of moss.

The long shadows of the Christmas sun cast a dreamlike spell over the backyard where children laughed, pulled radishes from the ground, bled, launched rockets, ran through a tiny plot of cornstalks. They lived here once.

View from my window, this morning.

No one else can see this at this moment, not without sitting in this spot, not without knowing this spot's history.

For all the hype of shared lives and common culture, we all live in separate universes. How we choose to live and share in this universe matters, but it is ours so long as we choose to live in it, until, of course, we die.

Words and myths allow us to share common themes, a vital piece of who we are, but words and myths are pointless if we do not know (and trust) our own universes.

I can tell you where basil grows best, where the bodies of past pets rest, where the random crocus will erupt through the ground in 6 weeks, where the brown snakes hibernate, where Orion will rise tonight.

This fella guards the pond dug by my daughter.

There is some comfort in science, in that the stories of the natural world it tells in my universe will be predictably true in yours. There is some comfort in great fiction, where the characters created in the minds of others mirror the hopes and fears I feel in mine.

Delaware Bay, Jersey side

We all share the great mystery, this edge of knowing life, the abyss of facing death, and our shared thoughts keep us comfortable so long as we do not wander too far from the crowd, too far from the shared abstract ideas that make the mystery bearable.

I teach. It pays reasonably well, I enjoy it, and it turns out I'm reasonably good at it, together sufficient reasons to keep doing it.

But that's not why I teach--I teach because I want every child to know the universe that belongs to her, the one that surrounds her at this moment, wherever she happens to be. I want him to touch the mud, smell the earthy air after a spring storm, know that what he sees, at that moment, matters as much as the abstract ideas pontificated by the adults who hope to mold him.

What I do in the classroom only matters as far as what the child does outside of it for her self. Not for me, not for her family, not for her town or country or even the WTO.

Not "for herself" in the selfish sense--our consumer culture will push her hard to do just that. I mean for her self, the only person who knows what she knows, and only she can know how best to live her life.

I have faith that all of us want the same things when we pay attention to who we are.


Kate said...

In a few years this house will be much too big for two people. We are only the fourth or fifth family to live on this spot since this house was built 140 years or so ago - but I am sure that others have had my vantage point. We are almost at the high point of the ridge that used to be surrounded by swampland.

But I will have a hard time not living here. I too have buried pets, grown vegetables, listened to the girls laugh as they flew off the swings, dined in the shade, sung with the neighbors.

And the girls have paid attention. At the hint of downsizing after they graduate from college one asked where my grandchildren will dig and play hide and seek.

A compelling argument, indeed. Happy Solstice to you, Michael. The days grow longer.

doyle said...

Dear Kate,

Hard to believe, no?

I think your girls asked a reasonable question. I suspect they will get a reasonable answer.

Happy Solstice back at you! I'm glad some folks still live in the cycles that define us.