Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Letting Go of the Little Ones

I'm not much for nostalgia, but, today, I happened to look at a printed-out photo montage that my wife, Karen, made. It is a collection of pictures from the beach, of my two boys. They were much smaller and much more innocent than their present ten and twelve-year-old counterparts. The cheeks were fuller, the bare feet were chubbier and the eyes were ever so slightly wider.

In one picture, the two of them are standing in bright bathing trunks and oversized T-shirts, looking down and waiting for the cold water to hit their toes. They are fascinated by the bubbles and the illusions in the tide. They are looking at the ocean as a curiosity; as a rare and new thing.

In another picture, my older son -- though much younger, then -- is crouching and intently looking for treasures in the sand; in still another, the two of them are smiling with unbridled joy, sitting side-by-side on an amusement park race car ride. These are smiles that are empty of self-consciousness; empty of the need to appear any certain way other than simply happy. Their smiles are boys' smiles, unashamed and unaffected. Pure happiness -- the kind of pure happiness a grown up can never remember except through his children.

These smiles stay with them, from picture to picture, their hair blowing as they whip around on swing rides, their little legs pumping as they run an ecstatic race to get away from the rushing water.

They stand side-by-side, brothers; each other's security and support in getting onto the slightly scarier rides; each other's -- God, let it be so -- lifelong friends.

Am I nostalgic about this? Maybe. But not with the kind of bitter nostalgia of regret. I miss their complete innocence and I miss the "boyness" in them that is currently giving way to "young manness." I am sometimes weighed down by sadness for the world they have to face and for the pains they will have to endure as they grow older.

But they are not for me, these boys. They don't exist to fulfill my happiness. I exist to help ensure theirs and I would never dream of limiting their joys of discovery and living even by trying to keep them cute, little and chubby in my own mind.

For all that I lament about this world, there are countless other things that bring me great joy. I need to believe they will find the same joys; or, at least, new and unique joys of their own.

Sure, I miss their little selves. But no regretful nostalgia. There was never a missed opportunity for hugs and laughs. There was never a doubt that their father and mother loved them. There was never a moment when we didn't, each of us, turn toward our family when things got difficult.

The memories of their younger years are for me; their lives are for them. The trick is to let them grow as they grow and to love them in every new revision they become. I can do that. And I can look at pictures any time I want. And if I cry, it will be with joyfull memory and not with a feeling of loss, because those boys give me some new gift every day.

Monday, October 20, 2014


People waste a lot of time philosophising about religion. They debate minutiae and they kill each other over dogma. Some from the outside generalize the religious as uneducated morons and some on the inside label those outside as heathen rabble. It has been going on for centuries. But I can sum up what is good about Catholicism by something that happened at my Catholic school's open house on Sunday.

There was a good crowd of people milling about in the halls; prospective students and families were walking on tours with teachers who were showing them the premises and explaining about the programs; some of our most energetic students were chipping in, some of them adeptly leading tours of their own.

Many of the families were in their Sunday best; others were sharp in stylish sportswear or crisp jeans and sweaters, whistle-clean hundred-dollar sneakers on their feet.

Through the happy clamour, I saw an oldish woman standing at the sign-in table. Her coat was dirty and her gloves were worn through to the stuffing. Her sneakers were dust grey and her hair was a dusty, sparse red. She was bent over, filling in a registration card. Anne, our advancement director, asked her, "Do you have a prospective student with you?"

"No," the lady answered. "I'm just here for the open house."

This, of course, meant that she was just here for the free soft pretzels and water and for a few minutes out of the winds of a suddenly-cold October day.

Anne called over two of our history teachers, Bill and Joe, and asked them to give the lady a tour of the school. These two gentlemen spent the better part of twenty minutes walking this woman around the campus and showing her the classrooms and labs and giving her the same attention and time as any of our legitimately interested visitors got.

She couldn't have been in the hands of two finer gentlemen.

The woman followed them, both gloves clutched in her now thoroughly-warmed hands, as she expressed wonder and interest in everything she saw. At one point, she asked a teacher "how many hallways" we have; which, for some reason, I find inexpressibly moving.

After the tour, she stayed until the show was over and the lights were being shut out, making a point of saying goodbye to the advancement director. As she walked into the slightly warmer afternoon sunshine, she was explaining that she had talked to the school's priest who had made arrangements for her to pick up some food back at the rectory.

As the teachers were leaving, I mentioned  to Bill and Joe how nice it had been of them to have spent so much time with the woman. Bill replied, "Hey, we're a Catholic school."

And there it is.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ye Olde Ego

It's amazing how ye olde ego can sneak up on you.

I have, of late, had a bit of a drummer's resurgence. I have been a drummer since the age of fifteen. I have been in a working band since the age of twenty-ish. I have always enjoyed going out to play drums. But, somewhere between the ages of, say, thirty-ish and forty-ish, I started to put my songwriting and composition first and I started seeing drums as a small part of the big puzzle.

The new drums, on a gig. 
Then, I, for whatever reason -- I think it had a lot to do with having been inspired by the drumming of Gavin Harrison, recently -- I got psyched up for the skins again. I upgraded my beloved but tired old drumkit and bought new cymbals and, then, I started...dare I say it? I started practicing again, because, now, that tired old kit is in my little studio, permanently set up. (I have gone years without an actual acoustic kit set up in my house, warming up on practice pads and electronic kits, but it just ain't the same...)

But here's the weird thing: I have been practicing poorly. I just realized it the other day. You know what I have been doing? I've been playing stuff that is easy for me. Any novice musician knows that is no way to grow. I know it full well. Still...

...the other say, I tried something: playing patterns over a steady 3/4 (waltz) rhythm. (Inspired by Max Roach's "The Drum Also Waltzes", but with a slightly more complicated foot pattern.) Anyway, whatever level your musical knowledge is, let it suffice to say that doing this is more difficult than it sounds and, most importantly for this piece, much more difficult than I thought it would be.

I tried it a few times and just quit. Just stopped and moved onto something simpler. Today, driving in the car, it occurred to me why that was. I wasn't conscious of it, but I was saving face.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Morals, Law and the Yuck Factor

Is it yucky or is it not yucky for consenting adult siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

Is it immoral or moral for consenting adult siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

Should if be a crime or not for consenting adults siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

The venerable Peter Singer wrestled with this question recently because Germany is in the process of trying to figure out the last question.

I have question one pinned down: Yes. It is yucky. And I do think it should be yucky to all sane people. If you disagree with me, that is fine. It's what I think and feel.

Question two is tougher. It brings in lots of questions, including sanity and insanity and how these mental states relate to moral choices... I could give that a whole article, but that is not what I am up to here.

Question three, is difficult, too. Unless, of course, I answer from my gut. If I answer from my gut, I will be compelled to try to stop such yucky behavior. Should a harmless spider die because I think it is disgusting? Is homosexuality as much of a crime-able offense as incest just because I am heterosexual and am strongly averse to the idea of being with a man the same as I am averse to the idea of sex with a sibling?

Friday, October 10, 2014

When a Rabbit is a Cat: A Requiem for Pure Reason

On many occasions, I have been staggered by the foresight of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. From Franklin's predictions in the court of King George III; to the Declaration's almost magical connection to the eyes, minds and hearts of the future; to the structuring of the Constitution, it is as if there is nothing that, in some way, shape or form, they didn't foresee.

One thing I realize, most vividly at this point, is that setting up a republic was the way to go. I'm no political science expert, but my understanding is that there is a distinct difference between a full-on democracy and a representative one. We often refer to ourselves as "a democracy" but we are really a variant on a direct democracy. In our republic, we vote for people to represent us and, while we can voice our opinions whenever we want, we have indicated our trust in them to make the final decisions.

This used to annoy me. If 80% of the people polled believed a decision should go one way, I thought it was absurd for representatives to decide in the other direction. But I don't, anymore.

Maybe is was the vestiges of elitism still ringing in the heads of those very literally revolutionary men, but something told them that it was a bad idea to go to a full-on democracy. (It could also be that it was, in terms of practicality, impossible to gather public opinion in such a large country with nothing even remotely like phones or the Internet -- if so, a happy accident of fate.) However it happened, it all worked out to the people voting for others who would represent them in national and state issues.

Jimmy Kimmel likes to go out and ask people on the street questions about history and politics. The results are usually horrifying. The other day, I watched about ten people struggle to come up with the answer to: "Who is Joe Biden?" This was in New York City. He was visiting there that day.

In terms of purely democratically based ethics, these people should be allowed to vote, but do we really want them to have a say in final decisions?