Tuesday, May 11, 2010


When I was a very small child I can still remember visiting my great-great-grandmother in her nursing home. These sporadic events are, years later, only hazy illusions of memories augmented by the stories my family still tells today. I remember the hall ways of the nursing room and her hospital bed but not a single sliver of her face. Only the small plastic soap dish full of change she kept in her bed side drawer stands out in vivid clarity. She used to call me over, at the time she had very little memory left for names, so I was typically addressed as Bert. Comical illusions to the children’s programming of my childhood could be made here (Which are no longer safe for children?  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16314549), but I will leave such things aside for the time being. Out of that small dish she would always give me a hand full of coins along with a quick lecture on behaving my mother.
I still have a strange feeling she was very much disliked by my family. My Grandfather left me only one story about her; it simply involved a large collection pewter solders, tanks, and ships which she got rid of without his knowledge. This along with her chain smoking and poor attitude in no way deterred my family from caring for her for a number of years. Nothing really would have changed their simple notion that family is family. In our changing society staying with one’s family beyond your early twenties is looked down upon. Independence has taken on a new meaning, demanding that we all flee our families and scratch out a completely new existence for our self. My family has not changed with the times. This fact has caused me to be the object of scorn among my own society, with a simple exception to be made for my new friend and conversation partner Faisal.
Faisal is from Saudi Arabia, and as an Arab finds the idea of breaking from ones family so early in life particularly odd. Not only for young women living suddenly on their own, but even more so for young men. Leaving ones family behind to struggle on your own is certainly illogical. But it seems for Americans to be the primary object of raising their children. In this way a child becomes less like a permanent expansion of one’s family and more like an eighteen year long financial burden. In this way my greatest fear has become seeing my own children in this way.
But for the moment let’s return to that change dish. The easiest metaphor to draw for a soap dish full of change would be that of change as source of cleaning away the grim problems of the past. I would have no such illusion drawn here. Change brings chaos. Change always makes a mess. Change is to be judged in the moment and beyond and should never be the single goal of any family or society. Sometimes it is simply better to keep to what works; always taking our change in small handfuls.

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