Friday, August 21, 2009

Not my kid

When my mother was a little younger than me, she had friends, I realize now, about my age, or a little older. I never thought about it at the time, that these “adults” were so young. In fact, I had a student teacher my senior year of high school with whom I also worked. At work, she was “Dori.” At school, “Miss Starr.”

Now I seem to have collected a whole set of friends the ages of my children. And yet, in Chinese generational fashion, I associate my children’s 20something friends with their generation, and my own 20something friends with my generation, or at least, I identify them with the “adults” and not with the “kids.”

Context is so crucial to identity. Meeting a 23-year-old at work as a colleague or even subordinate, you still put them into the “adult” category. Meeting them as your son’s friend from college puts them into the “kid” category. With the “kids”, I indulge and maybe condescend (I hope not, but who knows how I come across?). With the “adults” I relate and talk about “adult” things. (How are they different? I don’t know.) I have to keep reminding myself that they are ALL adults, if still young and unformed. Some of my own young friends would get on like a house afire with my kids, but introducing them is awkward, like trying to get your daughter to date your best friend’s cousin’s son.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Remember me

It's been a month for reunions. The return of my daughter from overseas, high school reunion, virtual reconnection with lost friends, and lunch with my father after 13 years very nearly sans communication. This is the stuff of memoir, the navel-gazing contemplation of past love; literature is dense with it and my trite musings probably won't add much to the conversation. What I am feeling is so profound that I do not know if I can express it-- the thoughts are deep in my reptile brain-- touch me, hold me, know me, remember me, keep me. In fact, then, perhaps this is not an occasion for essay, but one for haiku. The brief to encompass the vast.

I met you again
In the place we knew before.
Do you remember?

Dedicated to the Class of '73

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


There are people that exist on the periphery of your life. They enter and are important, and fade without ever leaving. They overlap; they are strands of the braid that goes in and out, a part of the tapestry woven by the Graces. Every thread makes your life and each one snipped lessens it.

Maggie is one of these. A good friend once, and a close friend to close friends. She threaded her way through my life at so many instances. Dorm mate and nearly roommate. One-time love of my own one-time love. Roommate with a friend of a close friend, who became a close friend. To think of her as peripheral does a disservice perhaps, to the person she was and the friend she could have been, but she was peripheral the way the sky is peripheral. You understand its importance, and you can always see it, and it's there when you look.

Maggie died today. I feel grief and guilt; as though the sky is falling and I might have stopped it, had I only been paying attention.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


What is it one acquires through faith? Righteousness? Community? Redemption? Acceptance? One needs to understand what faith will offer before you can find it. For acceptance or community, there are the ecumenical, tolerant religions like the Quakers, Unitarians, Buddhists. If it's redemption (whatever that means to you) one must bite the bullet and learn to accept the tenets of one of the redemptive faiths, Islam, fundamentalist Christianity and the like.

If it is righteousness, and the ability to live a good life, then you don't need a religion, you just need a philosophical grounding for your own life. I think that "people of faith" believe that their faith helps them, or even compels them to be righteous, by which I mean honest, moral and ethical. I believe, in fact I know, that you can have those things without an external structure; in fact while the religious often seem to think that people of "no faith" are taking the easy way out, I in fact believe the opposite-- it is much harder to be a righteous person without an external structure-- your goodness needs to come from within.

I was raised by godless communists, who basically taught me to distrust organized religion, and in fact my encounters with organized religion as a child were pretty much universally negative inasmuch as my parents' atheism was well-known in our community and at my school. (Lots of ridicule and abuse suffered at the hands of authority figures who should have known better.)

So when I grew up and more or less became a seeker, the organized religions were out for me. I could not accept either the magical thinking, the hypocrisy, the intolerance, the arbitrary strictures or the authoritarian mindset. How I have approached this, then, as I'm someone with a strong spiritual bent, is to accept the idea of a higher power, but that this power emanates from me and that it is my responsibility to live up to it. Because I have no external structure to compel me, this creates an obligation-- I have no god to forgive me my transgressions, therefore I better be really really cautious about transgressing.

The idea, pervasive in our society, that atheists, the "godless" if you will, have no understanding of morality is so personally offensive to me that I literally cannot watch mainstream media at all. I am, despite my lack of *a* faith, a person *of* faith-- someone who believes in and strives for my own inner goodness, who seeks and in fact finds that goodness in others, and who lives what a religious person might call a godly life.