dynamiteWhen you sit next to a kid who tells you he wants to drop out of school, you worry a little about what to say, this is what makes some people praying people.  “I know you can make money doing things that are illegal, but doesn’t  pretty much everyone who’s doing that stuff eventually go to prison? ”

Long pauses.  Wait almost too long for the kid to talk.

“And then you can’t get a real job after that?”  Sit next to kid, facing the same direction.  “I mean, I hate it, I wish it wasn’t that way, but that’s the way it is, isn’t it?  But you have to make your own decision.  You’re almost an adult.  It’s up to you.”

I know this is the right way, that is, the honest, loving one.  Still, I shake off my hands afterward, as if they are wet.

After my friend was hurt, I prayed The Great Litany.  That is what it is there for.  It is very long, in church we only do it at the Easter Vigil when we are pulling out all the stops. The next day, it was a Monday, I went into a shop that looked wholly foreign to me, a white Protestant girl, a storefront looking so handmade as much does here, shelves full of prayer candles, odd pieces of fabric, African masks, the door would not shut properly, the clerk had just asked the previous person in there to shut it.  In the city, doors don’t close.

Most of your usual saint choices were on the shelf: Our Lady of Various Things, Jude, and then one had the devil on it, and one had money, which made me feel dirty.  Then there was Saint Francis.  He was fine.  My friend loves animals more than people.  So do I.  I bought the St. Francis candle.  It only has prayers in Spanish.  I do not speak Spanish.  St. Francis would have to operate without me.  The clerk wrapped my candle in white paper and I carried it home against my chest.  It felt like fat dynamite.  It was cold.

The kid keeps coming to school, so there’s that.

I kept lighting the candle every evening.  I stopped formal praying.  I have a hard time believing something bad actually happened, I keep hearing about it, waiting to believe it.  It’s too crazy to have feelings about, too crazy to believe.

And it is near Christmas, and I get frightened that I have no babies, that maybe I never will, I also hear about this and don’t quite believe it.  We read the Elizabeth parts of the Bible, with old Elizabeth miraculously having her baby.

And I think, the time we would get together at Christmas, with my friend, we won’t do that.  We won’t be sitting in our usual restaurant at our usual fourtop with the French cafe chairs, shooting the shit and making fun of each other for the things we have been making fun of each other for for a long time, since we were young adults, now we are just adults.  He won’t order a beer.

One of my students has gotten it in his head I revise things 25 times.  Probably because I said this.  I don’t know what I say.  “Ms Schurman had her writing published, but she had to revise it 25 times.”  Sure.  Twenty-five.  That’s it.

We beseech thee mercifully to incline thing ear to use who have now made our prayers and supplications unto thee; and grant that those things which we have asked faithfully according to thy will, may be obtained effectually, to the relief of our necessity, and to the setting forth of thy glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

It’s always the long-term that interests me.  How long you can be friends with someone.  How long you can teach.  Can you write a book, a whole book.  Can you stick it out.  When someone is hurt, when people grieve, it is an explosion with a long road away from it.

Image: Double-Flash Photograph of a No. 8 Du Pont Dynamite Cap, Harold Edgerton, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Speak Tenderly

glassesThis week: the social worker was trying to talk to this woman with her eye swollen out of her head, the woman was thrusting her cell phone at this very young social worker demanding she talk to her dad.   The hospital security guards talked about what to have for dinner.  A college girl from Columbia waited for her dad, and then her dad put his jacket over his face and lay down to wait.  The receptionist called people to tell them what time to be there for their surgeries.  A guy I wasn’t sure if he was homeless ate a banana and then he picked up all his stuff to leave and clearly he was homeless and keeping himself together very well.

I typed up a unit plan for the Aeneid and played Candy Crush until it wasn’t fun anymore and squinted because the light hurt my right eye.  I was so pissed this was taking so long, waiting is one of my primary anxiety triggers, that is why I try always to be late for everything.  All elsewhere around the city people were marching and chanting and yelling and lying down in streets because a cop who killed a guy had not been indicted.  I saw one of their signs resting against a newspaper stand the next morning when I was walking to work.

Also this week: one of my students sat toward the back.  Was trembling.  I know what to do.  At least not to make things worse.  Sit next to.  Pat on arm.  Tell everything will be okay.  Let friend take over.  Compliment friend later when he rejoins class.  Thank him.  Go back and offer to listen to problem.  Student tells me what I already know: cousin was stabbed, can’t get cousin on the phone.  I told student you can’t use your phone in the hospital, I was sure cousin was fine.

I still haven’t really felt this.  It takes time.

After spending last Friday night throwing up and hoping to throw up and wandering my dad’s house looking for some kind of medicine maybe I should take, I pulled myself out of my brother’s old bunk bed with the model planes flying above me and the giant stuffed pony on the top bunk watching me like some kind of creep to be driven to the Christmas tree farm where we talked with Jack Russell’s son (Jack Russell died last year) about the prospects for keeping the tree farm open, and how much water the baby trees need.  My mother took the tree home, I went back to the bed with the model planes above it.

At church tonight we didn’t pray together for Eric Garner’s family, or the police, or the city, it is unusual for us not to be on something like this, but we are between priests.  We did have Isaiah, though: “A voice says cry out! and I said, ‘What shall I cry?  All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.”  Or perhaps you would prefer: “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

I heard our neighbors knew Eric Garner, went to barbecues with him.

I told people who were going to the protests that I hoped it would be fulfilling.  I think it was like telling people I hoped a funeral would be good.  Some funerals are better than others.

In my advisory, we watched the CNN video about the Garner verdict and I told my students black kids look like my kids to me.  They talked some, too, and then they wanted to play Uno and loud music which I generally don’t like except for the new Beyonce song, that I might like.  “Oh, my God, Ms Schurman, you know this song?”  And we talked about the video, I liked it, she hated it.

I’ve been wearing my glasses for a week now, very unusual.  I had eye problems that made doctors forbid me to wear contacts, but it’s been years.  I used to put them in to go dancing, against medical advice, I couldn’t stand the idea of going out, dressed up, in glasses, I did not feel pretty in glasses, also the way we danced glasses would sweat or fly off my face.  This week the problem has been that it has rained.  Without an umbrella on Friday night it got hard to see, walking from the subway home.  I just took them off.  Nice, rain on your face, when it is not too cold and you know you are going home.  I could hardly see at all, blurs of red tail lights and smears of yellow streetlight and none of the sidewalk cracks.  I got there anyway.

Image: Spectacles, Met Museum Online collection, gift of Mr. Alfred M. F. Kiddle, 1940

Guard Dogs

cerberusThe two big news stories since I moved from Missouri have been: anti-Semitic lunatic shoots up the Jewish Community Center, and cops shoot teenager who is black and unarmed.  Is that where I am from?  Well, yes.  It is a place that struggles with fear in its own ways.

We will always have trouble with people in authority and how they scare themselves and other people.

Terrible things happen when people get scared.  I was scared of Kansas City’s east side, the black side of town, until I went there for work, until I knew and loved so many people who lived there.  I’m still scared when alone in unfamiliar neighborhoods that look uncared for, neighborhoods where kids aren’t out playing or there is no one to see what happens to you.

I am scared of being alone, although I like being alone.  I am scared of not having enough money.  I am scared of falling down steps.  I am scared of thinking I am being funny but people are offended or think I am weird.  I am scared of not having enough time to think.  I am afraid of looking back on my life and thinking I was a coward.

When I get scared, I watch a lot of television.  I make a plan that involves begin to list things that are wrong with other people in comparison to what is right with me.  Being a hard worker, or laid back, or smart, or ignorant, really, anything will work.  I used to work a lot with logic, having faith in the logic of the world, the logic of other people, or even in playing the odds, how likely is that to happen?  Also, I think about how to make myself so okay that I will never need anyone else and then no one can ever disappoint me again.

These strategies are actually rather effective and thus it is hard to stop.

When cops get scared, really bad things happen.  Either cops are scared, or they are stupid.  They know people hate them and want to kill them.  They have a lot of fear to manage.

When teenagers get scared, and they are scared almost all the time because you may not recall but their whole selves are construction zones where heavy shit can fall and they aren’t even the foremen, usually.  Teenagers who are black have particular and real reasons to be scared.  Especially the ones who live in neighborhoods that give them PTSD.  This is still gunshot season, until about the first frost.  Then things calm down until Christmas when people have to deal with their families, or realize they don’t have money for presents they want to give.  And then you know the people who are supposed to protect you are people who even if you want to, you have trouble trusting.

Really bad things can happen when teenagers get scared.  Not necessarily the things people think of, running away, withdrawing, but often counterphobic stuff like stealing a car or borrowing a gun or cussing out a teacher or throwing a book at her.  (Said book was nowhere near aerodynamic enough to be anything more than a gesture, don’t worry.)

I think scared people are helped by sitting in a quiet room with someone who is either not afraid, or pretending not to be.  I am very good at the latter, not to brag.  Posture is important, too, that is, sitting next to someone, side by side, is usually good.  Lots of quiet is good.

I have plenty of fear experience, both of the average type, like, I am too afraid to move to New York, which is something I still think regularly although it’s hard to have faith in now.  And the pathological type of the anxiety disorder, which is a different species.

For religious people, repetition helps.  Chanting and praying the hours and ritual helps.  Singing helps.  Letting yourself feel your feelings helps, but this is very hard.

For many fears between people, conversation about food and annoying parents or annoying children helps.  The weather is a place to begin.

I had no great interest in the movie “Big Fish,” but I remember a scene with a big black dog.  Someone had to confront this very scary dog, and when they did, the dog ran away.  This doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes bullies don’t back down.  Sometimes they beat the shit out of you.  Sometimes they kill you.   You may be better off, though, working on your happy medium of not running away, not becoming aggressive, something in between, whether it is jokes or silence or shifting your weight.