Ice Cream Summit: On Villainy

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The Head Scar

I recently shaved my head. I’ve been wanting to do it for some time, and the girls are enjoying either rubbing the stubble on my scalp, or smacking it when I’m not paying attention.

CB is sitting in my lap before bed, we’ve just read the last of her evening books. She climbs up and rubs my head.
CB: “Hamster fur!”
Dad: “Yep. Nice and cool for the summer.”
CB: “I can see the dent in your head.”
Dad: “The scar? You remember how I got that?”
CB: “ Yeah, the boy threw a rock at you.”
Dad: “Do you remember why?”
CB: “Because you were making fun of him.”
Dad: “That’s right. I mean, it’s never ok to throw rocks, that part wasn’t nice, but you know, I kinda had it coming. I wasn’t being very nice to him. He was a friend of mine, and I was teasing him too much. I sorta deserved it.”
CB: “Why didn’t you duck?”
Dad: “It was a long ways away and I didn’t think he could hit me. I forgot that he played baseball. Smacked me right in the forehead. I didn’t call him names after that. We both got in trouble.”
CB looks at the spot on my forehead and pats it.
CB: “I’ll always remember that story.”
Dad: “I hope so. It’s important to not call people names, it’s not nice, right?”
CB: “No. I’m going to duck.”

The Give and Take of Grief

Writer’s note: This was first aired on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition as part of their This I Believe series on October 12, 2008, and has since been published in This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women (2008).

I believe that grieving is good for you. As a culture, I feel we’ve forgotten how to grieve, and last year, I had the opportunity to remember.

My wife was seven months pregnant when her blood pressure spiked. Her liver started to shut down, so the doctors performed a Cesarean and our son was delivered to save both of their lives.

The first time I saw my son, he was in an incubator with nurses clearing his airways. He looked at me, like a dolphin surfacing to look at a fisherman, and then resubmerged when the team took him away to stabilize him. He was the smallest, most fragile baby I’d ever seen.

Over the next two weeks, my wife’s health stabilized; my son’s condition, however, deteriorated. The lungs of premature babies are as delicate and tenuous as a spider web, and they shred at the slightest pressure. I wanted to put him inside my chest and give him my lungs to breathe with. We went from holding him, to putting a hand on his head, to, at the end, with all the tubes and wires, only being able to lay one finger on the back of his hand. His lungs failed, and we had to let him go.

We never heard him cry. My wife and I, first-time parents, held him as he died, and we bathed him, washed his hair, and dressed him before he was cremated. In my mind, I could see an angel close her hand around my son like he was a gold coin and slip him into her pocket.

As each day passes, you close your eyes and let your grief slide through your fingers, one rough, cold link after another, until your loss settles deep inside you. It is a give-and-take between you and your grief, a tension that rolls your emotions back and forth. And at first you are certain that your life is going to capsize and you will drown. Eventually, the grief will ground you and give you stability in troubled times.

I am a better husband, a better father, and a better man for my loss—I’m kinder, more empathetic, and have different priorities. Our marriage was re-forged, the impurities burned out of the relationship by the furnace of our son’s death. To be with your child nearly every minute of his life is a gift few parents get, and my son died in the arms of people who loved him.

Ten months ago, my wife gave birth to our healthy daughter, and I am filled with a joy made greater by the loss of my son, because I know now what we have. The angel has extended her open hand to me. When my daughter turned to look at me for the first time, I picked her up and held her with everything I had.

Towards a Deeper Meaning

 

A few years back, I visited the Cabrillo College archaeological field school high in the coastal ranges. The students had been camping for weeks and were field-hardened, everyone knowing their tasks, moving as an organic whole to sift through the site that was thousands of years old. Representatives from the Ohlone stayed with them the whole time, camped and ate and educated the students as they worked together to explore the ancient human history in this now remote area.

What archaeologists look for are the pieces of our lives that stay, works of stone and shell, concrete and glass. What we want, however, is the ephemeral. We’re not just interested in what someone hunted, we want to know how they hunted, in groups or individuals, during the summer or spring, near villages or on long treks.

We want to know about ceremony and family structure, about the forms of entertainment that brought ancient people joy and the artwork that carried their reverence and hope. The artifacts are stopping points on the way to something deeper, and all of our efforts are bent towards that deeper meaning.

The irony is, of course, that most of our lives are ephemeral. Our greatest moments often leave nothing behind — our memories carry the only proof that an event occurred. We have precious few physical things that mark truly important events: the brass baby slippers, the wedding ring, the casket. Unless we write it down, our lives evaporate around us, with only a handful of other people as witnesses.

The other week, I was crossing a parking lot with my two-year old daughter. She stopped and noticed my shadow for the first time. She gasped with surprise and said “That’s daddy!” I pointed to her shadow and asked her “Who’s that?” She gasped with even more surprise and said, “That’s me!”

And as she reached out, she watched her shadow hand take my shadow hand.

 

 

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Note: A slightly different version of this appeared as part of KQED’s Perspectives series on August 10th, 2010. I have a number of essays posted there, most in relation to archaeology and every day life. I encourage readers to check out the Perspective broadcasts by myself and other authors. ~M

Ice Cream Summit: About Boys

Lily (l) and CB(r) are out for ice cream.

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CB: See that couple kissing over there? They’ve been doing it now for, like, five minutes. It’s disgusting.

Lily: PDA’s gross me out.

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CB: I recently read in HuffPost that when you kiss a boy, you’re essentially kissing a toilet, what with all the germs and all.

Lily: I read that too. We call them cooties at my school. Boys are filthy animals.

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CB: The whole thing is beyond me. I don’t understand why anyone would want to actually kiss another person.

Lily: Don’t you like Zach though?

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CB: Yeah, but that’s different, I can express my feelings around him. He makes me all woozly and light-headed when we’re together.

Lily: How do you show him you like him then?

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CB: The way girls have always done it.

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CB: I KICK HIM!

 

 

 

(with apologies to Charles Shultz)

A New Form of Hell

I recently opened my web browser to find the headline stating that obese women spend only one hour a year doing vigorous exercise. The study, by Nutrition Obesity Research Center, also concluded that obese men don’t get more than 4 hours a year. While these findings were alarming, what took me off guard was the photo the article used.
The picture was of two women, walking outside, shot from a low angle. They were headless, presumably protecting their identity. It doesn’t matter whether these women were obese or not–these two headless women have been called obese by this article and have been accused of only exercising one hour a year.

The AP photo was dated 2009. Assuming that these women were paid to pose for a stock photo and that it would be used to illustrate obesity in women, would they have still agreed to it, knowing that, five years later, their faceless forms would continue to be used in this manner?

I posted the photo online and asked friends what they thought. They responded with additional articles. From the Baltimore Sun: “Obesity Epidemic Could Be Stabilizing”. From the Toronto Star: “Canadians Fatter, Less Attractive than Ever.” From the Huffington Post: “Number of Diabetic Americans Could Triple by 2050.” All of these, and more, using this same photo, these same two women, to illustrate how unhealthy, how ugly, and how common obesity has become, appearing in news feeds worldwide, not just once, but over and over again.

We can now be publically humiliated on a global scale for anything—not the right clothes, not the right body, not the right attractiveness. We pay a lot of attention to the online shaming that teenagers do to each other, and it is indeed horrible, but we also must recognize that the media does the same thing, on a daily basis, to innocent people. I love how the internet can share information, but we should recognize that we have just invented a new form of Hell, one where our faults and flaws are on display now, forever, for the entertainment of others.