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Monday, February 22, 2010

BRIDGE OF UNDERSTANDING

whitehead school/community center




Another day above freezing. It did melt the ice. The snow now has the texture of a snow cone and foot punches through every step. It's still mighty slick as it's all ice crystals. Wet ice crystals. A little tiny bit of a drizzle today helped the melting process. Rain is called for tomorrow. Maybe it will help wash away the snow. There's no way it will all be gone after tomorrow. It will melt down a little bit, and the snow may disappear from the sunny sides of the mountains. But on the northern sides of mountains and the meadows, the ice/snow became slush, so the next day I think is forecast snow. Below freezing to turn the slush into ice again overnight and then a layer of snow on that. My memory of this winter will be Snowed In. It's not a complaint. I like it. I just don't like this snow, because I can't walk in it.




In this time of returning to my own concerns after a few years of focus on keeping Jr in his home, on his well-being every minute of the day, I'm letting my own flow determine direction. The time with Jr was a great time, because my mind seldom landed in my own stuff, kept focused outside myself on somebody else's comfort. All my life I've had the affliction of feeling empathy for somebody having a difficult time of any sort. I feel genuine remorse for what my (white) people did to the Indians. I wish it otherwise, but that's the most I can do. Then you have Indians now don't want our sympathy or empathy, and I say, OK, whatever. It's something I can't do anything about. If I tried, they'd have a name for me, another Indian wannabe, or something else. They have their issues, I have mine. They don't want me butting into their business, and I don't want them butting into mine.




I've had my heart pulled in many directions along the way, sympathy and empathy for people near and far having serious difficulties. Like 5 or more years ago when the melted glacier in Russia cut loose a mudslide that went through the village at 75mph, burying everything. It was a fairly quick death without warning for everyone in the village. I have to concern myself with the man who had gone to the next village that day, and imagine his sorrow. Some years ago I asked a Dutch Jew who had survived the Nazi period in hiding how he felt about losing 39 relatives, all near and extended family. He said you just go on. Somehow he came through, no need for guilt, something he could do nothing about. The Nazi period made an atheist of him. He didn't believe God spared him for a reason. He believed he had a life to live, go ahead and live it while you have it.




I believe it is that streak in me that made me want to take care of Jr in his helpless time. I wanted to have someone with him he could trust absolutely. There wasn't even anybody unreliable stepping up on his behalf. By this time in my life, I've learned that making-the-world-a-better-place is something I cannot do politically. Something I can't do anything about beyond my hands reach. I don't want to have followers and fund raisers and do something according to national guidelines to get on the evening news for making a difference. I can't do anything outside my own world, which is small. My world is my friends, relatives, neighbors, everyone I know, wherever they are, and that's about it. Alleghany County is the borderline of my world. If I'd like to do something to help humanity, one person is humanity, just like 9 billion is humanity.




I can't stop malaria in the equatorial regions of the earth. There's not much at all I can do. But, if a friend I respect a great deal falls on hard times and I can help out, it satisfies my need to do something worth while, and to help out a friend, both. Since the time with Jr I feel an inner fulfillment that I've done one thing in my life that I consider important. I don't need to go out and start seeking something else I can do that's important. I don't need to do it again. I didn't seek the time with Jr. It just happened. That's how I believe it best, to go with what happens instead of planning. When something is happening of its own in the flow of things, it has context and purpose built in, ready to go.




Planning for me has never worked out well. First, I don't know enough about anything to make plans. One of my friends does everything by plan. Every time we talk, he asks me what my plans are. I have to say I have none. Once, when we were talking about it, I said I like to let things happen. He said he likes to make things happen. I liken his transport to a bulldozer, mine to a canoe. He makes things happen, for sure. His obituary will be in the NYTimes. Mine will not. The one way is right for him and the other way is right for me. We both know that, so we can be friends unconcerned that we don't think alike. No two people I've ever known think alike. I've never needed people who think like me around me. I probably wouldn't even like somebody who thinks like me, like we tend not to like people who look like us or have the same name.




One of the aspects of Jr I appreciated most was that he was from a world very different from the world I was from, the world of my ancestors. We didn't think very much alike, except where understanding was concerned. Both of us were open to understanding others instead of expecting of them. We crossed the culture gap easily. Plus, I had the experience of knowing Tom and Millard Pruitt and a lot of other people of this culture. The culture itself is perhaps the greatest interest of my life. I used to think it was something I could write about, but I can't. Because, I don't have a clue.
I love the people of this culture and Jr was very much of the culture. We did think differently in that he never thought in abstractions, and I found I think way too much in abstractions, so I let his influence help me get past so much abstract thinking. It's like using latinate words in excess. I found Jr's way of thinking much more interesting than my own. His thinking was in the now, good at figuring things out. Jr's intelligence made me feel puny. I found his intelligence way beyond mine, his altruism was like in very few I've ever known, his self-sufficiency not even a question, his humility the real thing. Jr's knowledge was all first hand. Mine, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th. Like I say, a very different way of thinking. That's what I liked about Jr as a friend.




In my first years in these mountains I was fairly well lost in that I had not anticiped such a very different way of thinking in the people I came to live among. Perhaps at the root of the difference is that the people I knew here got their intelligence by experience. Where I came from, people got their intelligence studying for tests. My grammar is according to school. Theirs is according to experience. It's a living language here, where mine is a book language. Since I've been here, I've been getting more learning by experience, paying closer attention to experience. I value both ways of learning. I actually believe experience is the better teacher. But reading can add some dimensions inaccessible to experience. I recall seeing a woman a couple years after school who had been in my Shakespeare class. While we were talking, I said something about Shakespeare and she said, "I forgot everything about Shakespeare when I turned in the final exam." You can't do that with experience. Experience has a way of sticking with us.

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