Friday, December 29, 2006

What We Don't Know

The Polar Bear has written a great entry on the topic of our tendency to believe that we understand each other when, in fact, we don't "really know." We think that our own limited experience, leavened with a hefty dose of uninformed opinion, endows us with authority on the lives of others. Polar Bear's plethora of examples caused me to think of a few of my own:

Too young for love? I fell head over heels in love for the first time at the ripe old age of eleven, with the result that my innocent adoration of the smartest boy in the class was dismissed as puppy love. Really dismissed, as I discovered a couple of years ago when I stopped by to see him and my father stared at me blankly when I said, "You don't remember how crazy I was about him? You don't remember how, in that pre-feminist era, I dreamed of becoming Mrs. Adams?" (Morticia, to be exact.)

I went to visit the man in question because I ran into his younger sister and learned where he is. He has been massively disabled by disease and spends his days staring at the television in the nursing home bed to which he is confined. Nevertheless, the wit and intelligence I remember from sixth grade are still lodged in his head as is, I found to my surprise, his memory of me -- the little girl whom an 11-year-old boy could never have admitted to "liking."

That first kiss, engineered over Spin-the-Bottle (which, as we all know, "doesn't count") was long ago, but the feelings were strong enough that I haven't forgotten them.

*****

Too old for grief? My father has been widowed three times and divorced once. After his wife died two years ago, he told me that in some ways it was harder than it had been when he was 28 and lost a child as well, or when he was 38 and lost a wife for the second time in a decade. "At those times," he said, "I had young children to think of, and work to hang onto. Now. . .what?" He has filled his life with his interests and the companionship of friends, but he is not too old to feel the devastation of an empty home in which conversation and laughter once reigned.

*****

Too stubborn for reality? A few nights ago when visiting extended family, we were treated to my brother-in-law's and 14-year-old niece's views on the idiocy of rebuiding New Orleans. "How stupid can people be?" asked the young lady. "They can do whatever they want, but don't ask me to insure it with my tax dollars!" exclaimed her father.

My mild references to NOLA as a significant port city, critical to our economy, and to the fact that it is HOME for thousands of people, made no impression. But then my own 19-year-old daughter began to talk, and her uncle and cousin fell silent.

"When I was volunteering there last spring," she said, "we were working on one house and a guy came around and asked us to talk to a lady at another house. So we walked a couple of blocks and there she was, with all her stuff piled outside, insisting that she wanted to keep it all. 'Ma'am,' we said, as gently as we could, 'you can't keep it. It's all mildewed and ruined and it will make you sick. We really have to take it away.' And she sat there and watched, staring at us, as we put all her wordly possessions into bags to be carted away. She was LIVING ON HER PORCH."

(That would have been six or eight months or so after Katrina.)

*****

No, we don't know.

7 comments:

steve said...

Wow. What a thought-provoking post! I really like the meditation on how important it is to put aside our preconceptions, our own ideas of things or people work -- so that we can be open to true compassion. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Carol said...

Thanks, GG, for sharing these poignant reminders of how our perceptions of the feelings and thoughts of others are bogus much of the time. And thank you for reminding all of us how desperately the victims of Katrina want some type of normalcy back in their lives.

Yes, there has been fraud committed by many victims and allowed by the ineptitude of our government on the federal, state, and local levels. But these people are human beings and most are U.S. citizens. We can't turn our backs on them. In spite of your BIL and niece's feelings. Sadly, they aren't alone. Thanks to the Lovely Daughter for sharing her own firsthand experiences.

So many survivors are now suffering more than imaginable. Even those whose personal property, possessions, and lives were not physically threatened are living daily amidst the depressing scenes and many many are struggling with severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. For them, the new year is nothing more than a date on the calendar. There is little hope or optimism left in New Orleans.

Cynthia said...

Beautiful and thoughtful and thought provoking entry. Your daughter handled that situation with so much grace

Lisa :-] said...

My impression is that the lovely daughter is an apple that has not fallen far from the tree...

Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Your father may have found the death of his last wife so hard, as he was also remembering the other deaths he had faced in his life.

都市☆寂寞人 said...

Face life actively

Wenda said...

I'm so glad I took the time to drop in here today. It's been too long since I've treated myself to the pleasure of reading your words.