When I was a boy my mother brought me a gift. It was not a “normal” gift like a ball or bat or glove, you see, I was not a normal boy. It was a copy of the Rubaiyat.
“Think, in this battered Caravanserai
Whose portals are alternate night and day,
How Sultan after Sultan with his pomp
Abode his destined hour, and went his way.”
In this epicurean fantasy, Omar considers our place on the earth, and in time, and eloquently lays down an accurate and considered philosophy of life.
“Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and–sans End! “
And I, as a youth, considered my time laid out before me as a fuse burning brightly in the night – I can see the flash of now, but through the glare the future escapes me and all I have is the charred remains of the past to assume what one day may be.
“Yet Ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows! “
..and the spring did vanish, like the rose, and I learned, and I studied, and I lived, until life gave me a respite and I found the time to look around and to assess my place.
Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain–This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
I found that my reward was not in the flash of the present, nor the charred remains of the past. It lay out there in the future beyond the vail, perhaps. I could have been disappointed by this. I was not. You see, we all must play the game, plan or hold, the fuse burns on…
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.”
The uncertainty of life, the uncertainty of death, the uncertainty of the hereafter – it matters not.
“Alike for those who for To-day prepare,
And those that after some To-morrow stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
“Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There.”
We have life. With it comes the promise of death. This is the only absolute. We may pray, or worry, we may pontificate, we may complain, but the fuse burns on. What remains after we are no longer, perhaps it is that, which matters the most. Each life changes the world, some greatly, some little, but each breath is a part of the wind. We all must find our place to make our mark, for this is as close as we shall ever get to immortality.
I have a friend. He is very intelligent, interesting, educated and politically astute. He lives in my home town, the son of upper class, belonging to the “right” country club and with all of the proper connections.
I grew up in the country, outside of the little city, in the farmland. Our little home sat in a matrix of fields of corn and wheat. There was a deep woods across the dirt road. I did not know about classes, “better” neighborhoods, “right” schools. In my neighborhood, all was the same. There were no wealthy people on Duck Creek Road. There were no poor, either. We all were probably poor, but you are not poor if everyone is poor, you just are.
He grew up on Highland Avenue, the perfectly groomed lawns filled with workers, trimming hedges and keeping borders, the “help” readying the back yard for the coming cocktail party. I imagine that it must have been a competition of sorts, the new car, the bigger party with the “better” friends.
We knew nothing of Highland Avenue on Duck Creek Road, of yachts, or planes, of business meetings. I remember our neighbors, who kept a big beautiful garden, bringing vegetables and canned produce to our home. There was feast, and there was famine. A wealthy boy in town died, and I was given his clothes. It was very creepy wearing the clothing of a dead boy. I looked strange and out of place with my sweater trimmed in faux leather.
I imagine my friend, sent to grandmas the night of the big party so the guests needn’t deal with him bumping into legs from beneath the white cloth of the set table in his little blue sailor outfit. I wonder what such a childhood must have been like. I wonder if he loved his neighbors and his parents and his siblings – I know that he did, but I wonder if it was the same. I wonder if I missed something with the life that I was borne into.
The school bus came one day and removed us from our utopia, dropping us into the class system of education. We separated, each making our way into this strange land of education and society. We fought our own battles, figuratively and literally. Only in extreme circumstances would my neighborhood “brothers” be called upon, even then, they would stand by unless the odds were clearly stacked.
I was an odd skinny boy. I read the Iliad and the Odyssey I read the Rubiyat. Such action was not tolerated in the bus. After a time, the train, which ran near our home and near the school became my means of conveyance. I would jump on the freight train at the curve and ride it to Beloit, jumping off and walking the rest of the way.
I imagine his mother’s new Cadillac pulling up to the circle in front of some private school, his Mom kissing him on the cheek, then wiping the bright red lipstick off and sending him on his way with his new Batman lunch box and his new little suit. Do boys fight in private schools? Do they play mumbley peg until one must wrap his bleeding appendage in a bandana and retire to the classroom again?
I grew up and went to work, as my father had done. He set off to college. I remember a fear of failure. It permeated my being. Did he fear failure as I did?
I imagine his sweater vested friends, drinking and singing dirty songs, courting sorority sisters and telling details of every encounter in secret campus clubs and fraternities. I lived in motels, waking in early morning to be first on the construction site, and driving all night.
I grew to shake the hands of Presidents and celebrities. I have argued with senators and congressmen and Governors and I have laughed and drank with them. I have been their friends and their enemies. I grew an interest and an understanding in and of politics. I taught myself the things that others learned in schools. I became the man who I had wished to become. I was, at last, respected, strong, worldly, traveled, and educated.
A lifetime passed, creating scars and callouses on both of our souls. I retreated from the world back to this wonderful, magical place, and we found our friendship by him reaching out to me in kindness.
Since then I have tried to build this friendship, to get beyond the superficial, to enjoin him in discussions in which we disagree, to explore our beliefs and understandings, to build a friendship of mutual respect and understanding perhaps, to become real friends.
It shall never be. We are equals in many ways, each holding knowledge and abilities and connections that would complement the other so well but, alas, Duck Creek Road is simply too far from Highland Avenue.
I have lived all over the eastern U.S. I have seen cloistered societies. I have seen southern holdouts. I have seen classes, myself accepted as an outsider into long-held society. Still, here, in the place where I began, in the city where a man who has seen most of the world and the best and the worst of man finally settled, there is no statute of limitations for having been borne to Duck Creek Road.
Still, with my siblings and neighbors, the older boys on the bus, the hard road that I walked, I would not change the place where I lived as a young man, nor would I ever exchange that tiny dirt road for the finely groomed environment of Highland.
Friendship is a progressive evolution is is not absolute nor is it eternal – except for those wrought of a childhood on Duck Creek Road. Those are complete and they are forever.
Marquis de LaFayette was born 1757. He was a friend of Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, and Washington. He was commissioned an officer in the musketeers at the age of thirteen. He was made a captain at eighteen. He later was made a major general at nineteen. His marriage was arranged when he was thirteen.
In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet is thirteen years old, in love, making love, and dying. Soldiers around the world are taking up arms and dying at such young ages. It was thus in our own Revolutionary War.
I remember riding down the road, sitting on my dad’s lap and steering. It was long before I was ten years old and long before I could reach the pedals. All of the boys in my neighborhood drove long before we were sixteen. Farm boys drove trucks loaded with hay and tractors when too small to properly reach pedals. They drove because they were not yet big enough to throw the hay onto the wagons.
At eighteen, we were grown men. We were treated as grown men. I got a job as a carpenter. I was serious and competent. At nineteen I was hired to manage the construction of shopping centers in the northeast. We were allowed to drink 3.2% beer at the age of eighteen. We all drove cars that were bought with earned money. We all were serious, competent, and capable men long before our eighteenth birthday.
Now, in America boys are not men at sixteen, or eighteen, or twenty. They ride in car seats until they are twelve, a year before LaFayette was made an officer. There are so many excuses; “let them be children” “let them have fun”, yet they enter life and the work force so poorly prepared. They have so much catching up to do. Many never catch up.
We treat them as incompetent, and, therefore, they are. We treat adults as children, and, therefore, they are. We make excuses for their youth when they are long since grown men and women.
When does a man become a man? When does a woman become a woman? It is not societies decision, nor the decision of parents. It is for each of us to decide when we are ready to shoulder responsibility. Certainly, we are capable long before we reach the age of eighteen. In a society, so flawed as to allow a man to take up arms and fight in wars, still denying him the freedom to have a beer if he should live through it, we have distorted even manhood and womanhood. Our government, any government will only fail at such dictates. It has always been so. It always shall be.
We owe our children the freedom to grow at their own pace, to take responsibility and risk of their own volition, unencumbered by the failing memories of the old, or the incompetent understanding of government. Our children have been denied freedom by our government’s intervention in our lives, and, indeed by ourselves. Our misguided effort to protect is foolhardy and is contrary to a people who value freedom and personal responsibility.
Frank Martin, S.C. head Basketball coach says it well; “You know what makes me sick to my stomach, when I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids haven’t changed. Kids don’t know anything about anything. We’ve changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We expect less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We’re the ones who have changed”.
Parents, not any government, County, State, or National, should decide what is right for children. Parents must again take the responsibility of raising their children. Nothing, handed down as a mandate of a government has ever succeeded at nurturing or at teaching a single child. Our government has overstepped its bounds and it needs to get its filthy fingers out of our homes and families. Safety is a fantasy. It is used to control you, to control your children, to control your family. It is a tool of totalitarianism. Those who fear can be manipulated. It is better to live a short life free, and to die early, than to live a life as a prisoner of another, or as a prisoner of misguided rules and laws, which seek to control your every action.
Children deserve a father and a mother, love, and trust. They deserve to be treated as responsible men and women. Children deserve freedom, as do we. They deserve the freedom to be who they wish, to make mistakes, to spread their wings. They deserve to be allowed to have free thought and to grow, and to flourish or to fail with the family close by, not as police, but as support.