Monday, August 25, 2008

First Day

The students have arrived; from all over the world the students have arrived. The summer-sleepy, sunbaked campus is awash with youth and energy. Skateboarders race down the main oval. Members of the basketball team dribble down to the gym and back, carboload in the dining hall, compare muscles gained in summer workouts. There’s a brand new football field, a mix of sand and turf and old tires, and two, three times a day, the football team gathers there and practices the art of throwing other people painfully to the ground, their work marked by intensity and silence.

From this high point in the city, the sunsets are straight out of God’s crayola kit. Today’s was a burnished light purple that framed the Washington Monument and the important buildings to the west where people do important things. In this, Eastern section, of town people don’t generally do such important things, and that takes some of the pressure off. Northeast DC is renown for its drugs and crime, murder stats that would make bullets blush, and not for the prestige of its buildings and citizens -- politics is secondary here.

So what’s first?

Beneath the setting sun, a fraternity marches across a campus plaza in single file, holding sabers, dressed in blue hoods and robes. Four girls sit on a bench and discuss the boys in their classes. Old friends and new ones greet each other with genuine good-feeling. This is a culture that reads body language as well as any Oprah endorsed psychic, fake smiles don’t fly here. Be real, son. Let your heart out. Trust it.

Trust it.

Beautiful yes, but possibly doomed. Technology is advancing and giving children born deaf ever more opportunities to join the mainstream. And so they are. And they whirl through fascinating, challenging lives and don’t see the point of coming here. And so Gallaudet has to change; to re-establish its mission, so that it becomes a launching place for all these opportunities, for all these young, energetic lives.

It’s a task no one here asked for, but everyone’s trying. Next to the football field, surrounded by blinding white concrete, sits a new building with the most top of the line auditory technology this world has seen. Row after row of testing booths, research labs, classrooms – all devoted to maximizing hearing and educational performance.

Because in the end, the goal is: learn. There is no right way, every person is different, but learn. Learn, learn, learn. Ya-hey, education opens the doors, son. Put on these aids.

Though, sometimes, when you take your dog for a walk in the meadows behind the school, and you watch the sun set like a streak of elemental sorrow or a snapshot of incomparable grace, or when you walk thru the dining hall, and see face after face consumed with attention and connection and kindness, or when you stand in an elevator with a stranger, quietly, you’ve never met, but you know – know – there’s something that connects you that’s deep and special and rare, or when a friend takes your arm to walk you across a field, or the deaf-blind man takes your hands and you tell him about your dog’s adventures with the security force, or when you see a new signer struggling for words and an old signer saying with his gaze don’t worry, take your time, we will get there together, your intention is pure and that is what matters -- sometimes, these times, other times, you can’t help but think, why does the world have to change so darn fast.

I don't know why. But it does.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Who is the most qualified?

I had a dream

Of a different world.

In this different world, the sky was the color of sunset all day long and at sunset turned a shade of blue that lit up everyone from within. In that blue hour, everyone was struck with grievous sorrow for the offenses they had committed on each other during the long day, in their actions and their thoughts. They stopped where they were, on sidewalks and by the side of interstates, took out their cellphones and called up the ones they’d wronged.

“My darling!” They sobbed, the tears streaking their face like rain. “My love, can you forgive me for forgetting? My love, can you forgive me for putting selfish want over your needs? I forgot we were all connected. I forgot how short this life is, how precious. Forgive me. I will try and do better! And I will fall short again, but forgive me.”

In this world, men return home from work to their wives and children and drop to their knees to thank them for sharing their lives with them. “Don’t be sad, daddy, this is a picture of a pony,” the daughters say to their kneeling fathers.

“I’m not sad,” the fathers say, “I just forgot, here and there, and even just before I walked in this door, how lucky I was – how lucky I am. Oh beautiful fate! I am living the life of kings.”

In this world, they choose their leaders by their decency. The candidates gather on a stage decorated with wildflowers and sing the praises of their opponents. “This is a man,” the candidates say, “whom I would follow anywhere.” “This is a man who would give you the shirt off his back.” “This is a man -- I’m not ashamed to say -- he inspires me.” “This is a good man, my friends. I would do anything for him.”

They put their arms around each other’s shoulders and ask the audience for questions. The audience looks around and finally a man in the fourth row shyly stands.

He nervously clears his throat.

“Candidates,” he says, “I’m afraid. What of our enemies? What of the future? What of death?”

A murmur of surprise passes through the hall.

“I’ll take this one” says the candidate on the left.

"Please," says the other one.

“My good sir,” he says, “Thank you for your question. You see, fear is born of ignorance. We only fear what we do not know. Once we know something, it becomes a part of us. Once something is a part of us, we can fear it no more than we can fear our own elbow. Now, let us sit down together and share our knowledge so the world will become a less scary place. For you, for me, for the generations that will follow us, that will walk in our footsteps and learn from our example. Let us teach them how to live.”

“Ok,” says the nervous man.

“Yes, we will teach them how to live,” says the other candidate. “They will say, ‘These men, these women, this brave generation, they faced the challenges of their time with open hearts. They reached out to each other. They realized their common humanity is greater and more important than any distinctions. They realized fear veiled the love surrounding them. And so they put their fears aside and they made their lives their prayer.’”

“Beautiful,” says the first candidate.

“Thank you,” says the second. “But you were even more beautiful.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Where Will You Find the Day's Beauty?

On the buffet line in a Virginia hotel
A tall young man with kind eyes says
My brother was nine, normal, happy.
And then a tumor exploded in his brain.

I said: I'm sorry.
I was putting broccoli on my plate.

He said: No. Don't be.
He has given me gifts beyond diamonds.
He is blind and deaf and we don't know how much he's there.
But he's there.
He is. He's there.
He makes me laugh.

I said: thank you.
I was holding the salad tongs.

He said: No. Don't thank me.

An hour later, on the drive home, the setting sun hung above the interstate like a red hot tear. The evening commuters sped home in their little bubbles. Trees hung over the highway, bowing as we passed, promising soft endings.

I've tried many ways to say this.
But I think he said it better.
There's love, and there's love.
And there's nothing else.

Travel well.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Meeting of the Minds

Hope all's well with you.