Saturday, April 21, 2007

how to fly, part ii

I was reading this article about Seung-Hui Cho and how all the people close to the Virginia Tech massacre are now second-guessing themselves, when I remembered one more thing about flying kites. It's quite obvious, and maybe that's why I didn't think to include it.

The article begins with a beautiful story of a professor, Lucinda Roy, who started a conversation with the very disturbed Cho about "the human need for friendship and the pain of being trapped inside oneself". She talked with him on three different occasions. But then she seems to me to have taken a different course. She alerted University officials about her fears of what was inside Cho, tried unsuccessfully to get him into counseling, and ultimately lost touch with him. The semester ended, and she went on leave.

Once the kite was off the ground and the big kids went to the hayride, I called Caleb (my 18 month old) over and offered to let him hold the string grip with me, which he did. Of course I didn't completely hand it over to him. And with that, here is:

8. Never let go of the string.

Friday, April 20, 2007

how to fly


I flew a kite this evening. I had forgotten how much fun it is. The boys actually got it off the ground after contending with it quite a bit. Then they handed it to me and ran off to the hayride. It's actually a lot of work for a kite to get off the ground, especially if the people don't know what they're doing. And if you're patched together with a coat hanger.

There's a certain cooperation involved in flying a kitenot just the one holding and the one launching, but I mean with the kite itself. And the string. And the wind.

For my part, I learned (or maybe remembered) a few things tonight about flying.

1. If the kite starts to nose off to the left or the right and even goes into a hard dive, what you want to do is pull it real hard. But it's the wrong response. What the kite really needs at a time like this is more slack. With more slack it will actually complete the circle and point back up. You just have to wait for it to. Then you can help it back up to where it began.

2. In general, keeping your cool really pays. Sometimes the kite will free fall fast only to suddenly bounce back. The important thing to do is to let it. When it turns back up, then you can encourage it again.

3. If the kite goes down in a tree, keep cool. Usually, the kite will go ahead and bury its head in the back side of the tree and get the string tangled in the branches. Be patient. Don't rush it. Pulling on it at this point will successfully break the string. Short bursts followed by slack allow the kite to catch some wind and perhaps break free to soar again. Without the wind the kite is going nowhere. With the wind and a patient friend the kite is likely to fly again, even after being stuck and tangled.

4. Yelling at the kite never helps.

5. The kite doesn't really care where you stand.

6. Sometimes, no amount of patience or cool will save the kite. Sometimes the nose dive or free fall will end in a crash. (I've noticed that I always cringe when a kite hits the ground. You?) Yelling doesn't help at this point either. Nor does taking a stand. The only thing that really helps is getting the kite back into the wind. You need to cooperate with at least one other person for this. One will have to raise the kite, the other will have to run with it.

7. You can't make a kite fly. You have to let it.

Maybe you have learned some things flying yourself. How glorious it is when you finally reach the end of the rope and the kite's draw is strong enough to pull you along.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

in the balance

When I heard about the shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday my first reaction was – 2 hours?

Apparently there is some outrage growing today as well. Somewhere within Virginia Tech, someone was in charge. Someone got the call about the murders on campus, felt the flutter in his or her stomach, hairs stood on end, then the weight of responsibility began to descend and bear down hard. A decision had to be made. A course had to be set. Lives were in the balance.


What was in the other side of the balance?

I have no idea who that person actually was or what actually went through their mind, but I can wonder. Maybe it was like this:

What if this could be contained as an isolated incident? Easily explained. It’s probably a lover’s quarrel gone bad. No threat to the masses. No one needs to know. It’s just a footnote on page 2B, and a statistic in some study. Don’t worry about your sons and daughters. Classes are still open. Business as usual.

Or maybe:

No one wants to overreact. Remember Chicken Little. You can handle this. Don’t lose your cool. You need to know the right thing to do. Everyone is counting on you. Don’t be a sissy like your dad always called you. What a pathetic waste you’ll be if you cancel classes and this turns out to be some small thing, or even a hoax. Everyone will despise you. You might even get fired. Just ease that finger off the button. Wait and see how this turns out. Be composed.

I was talking with a friend recently about an incident that happened where he worked. Someone accountable to him had behaved unethically, and he witnessed it. But instead of confronting the person right then and there, he let it go for more than a week. He finally decided that it was still wrong, and that it would be cowardice not to confront it, even if late. It didn’t go well. His motives were questioned, he was accused of trying to ruin the person, families got involved. Yuck.

My second son is a real gem. He is such a neat kid who will be a good man. But he catches so much flack around here. He has a habit of making messes and generally acting out (for attention?) so that he gets scolded a lot. He doesn’t find me to say goodnight like the other kids, is stiff as a board when he hugs people, and he always seems afraid of me, and he mumbles. I kept waiting for some teachable moment to come up that would allow me to really prize him and connect with him. It wasn’t happening. Then I decided to be intentional about praising him and valuing him. But even those days were mixed with scolding. I felt like I was losing him. I felt paralyzed, incapable of being his dad.

Maybe kind of like my friend with the ethical incident. Maybe kind of like the Virginia Tech official who decided to wait it out.

For one reason or another, a step in any direction seemed perilous. And all the safe steps had already been dead ends. What if I blow it? It seems like I have a lot to lose here.

One night…I don’t know what came over me…I think I just got fed up with feeling hamstrung…so I sat down and wrote my son an email. I told him about it being hard for me to express my feelings to him, and how awesome I thought he was. I gave him specifics. I told him how much he was prized, and how honored I was to be his dad. No buts. This was a huge risk for me, though. I hit send, and as soon as I did I felt so cheesy, so naked, so ridiculous. I actually felt like a coward. Why did I have to write a letter when I could just talk to him?

I copied my wife on the email. Her response was, “Wow. What a great thing to do.” I still wasn’t convinced. The next day I was out of state on business. I called back late the next night and asked Jill if Benjamin got the email. She said, “Yeah. He slept with it.” What? Yes, he read it over and over, got help printing it out, and then went to sleep with the letter held to his chest. I cried.

Since then Benjamin has been a new creature. He seems more true to himself. His jokes and mischief are authentic and therefore wonderful. He doesn’t seem to be afraid. He seems to be joyful most of the time. He relates well to his brothers and sister. He hugs me at bedtime. He speaks up. It is a noticeable change.

There is no doubt in my mind this is what he needed. And for the longest time I was blowing it. I was paralyzed. I withheld. I think the reason I did that for so long is because it felt like an admission of failure on my part. The real courage for me was admitting that I was struggling with something. And admitting that I was afraid and didn’t know exactly what to do.

It his me how I choose my steps a lot of the time so as to not blow my cover. There’s this balance between what people know about me and what they think about me that seems to be working pretty well. It’s gotten to a place of equilibrium anyway. And when things go sour or when a crisis comes up, I tend to get anxious and fearful, or calculative. In any case: paralyzed. To me the true courage is to admit that I don’t know what to do here, I want to be honest and connect with someone else, and I don’t really care if my cover is blown. Some things are more important. Pushing the honest button tilts the balance towards me being exposed, and also towards the truth. Pushing the button is the only way to advance the story. Whether it seems to be good for me right now or not, there is a bigger story being told, a weightier scale.

Friday, April 13, 2007

once upon a time

those words...

"Once, there was a time..."

"In the beginning..."

They clearly say to the child's heart, "wake up, something magical is in the air".

Wikipedia's featured article today was fairy tale, a subject in which I am most interested. What is so intriguing about faerie stories is that they appear everywhere, many times virtually identical even across chasms of culture and time. In other cases, tales have the same themes but cultural peculiarities. Isn't that interesting? It's as if these stories or elements are written somewhere deep inside of all of ussomewhere deeper than our culture, somewhere deeper than our experiences, somewhere as deep as humanity itself.

This was interesting to at least one famous linguist, too. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about this (and much more) in his amazing essay on fairy stories .

Wiki's fairy tale entry referred to once upon a time, which has this interesting list of phrases in different languages that are used to open the way to tales. And now I have to wonder what the peculiar phrase to each language has to say about the people, their culture, and their understanding of time.

I have particular interest in some of them. Hebrew and Greek, for example, are the inheritors of the Biblical tongues. And it's very interesting the difference in how they view time. In Spain I have a second family. German is always important because most of the fairy tales came to me by the brothers Grimm. And I'm always interested in what the French are up to. And I get melancholy just thinking about the way the Eastern Europeans and Western Asians open their tales with, "there was, there was not, there was...", as if to say, "this is a story that is too good to be true".

My culture has largely lost fairy stories, largely because we've lost Story itself. We've given them up for reality shows and soap operas and situational comedies and propositional truth. But there are some of us...

Anyway, here's Wikipedia's list:

  • Afrikaans: Eendag, lank gelede... 'Someday, a long time ago...'
  • Algerian Arabic: Hajitek ma jitek 'I've told you what's coming'
  • Classical Arabic: kân yâ mâ kân fî qadîmi zzamân wsalifî al`aSri wal'awân...(كان يامكان،في قديم الزمان، وسالف العصر والأوان) 'There was, oh what there was (or there wasn't) in the oldest of days and ages and times...'
  • Azeri: Biri var idi, biri yox idi... 'There was, (and) there was not...'
  • Bulgarian: Имало едно време... 'There was, once upon a time...'
  • Catalan: Hi havia/això era una vegada 'There was a time...'Temps era temps... 'Time was time...'
  • Croatian: Jednom davno... 'Once, a long time ago...' Common ending: ... i živjeli su sretno do kraja života '...and they lived happily till the end of (their) life
  • Czech: Bylo nebylo,... 'There was, there was not...'
  • Ekoti (Mozambique, Bantu): Rakú z'éepo waarí-vó oswááipu nwúlw'eéne saána 'Once upon a time, there was a truly great friendship...'.
  • Danish: Der var engang... or Engang for længe siden... 'There was, once...' or 'Once a long time ago...', respectively.
  • Dutch: Er was eens... 'Once there was...' Common ending ... en ze leefden nog lang en gelukkig '... and they lived a long and happy life'.
  • Finnish: Olipa kerran... 'Once there was...'
  • French: Il était une fois 'There was, once... ' Common ending: ... et ils se marièrent et eurent beaucoup d'enfants ' ... and they married, and had lots of children'
  • Galactic Basic: 'A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...'
  • German: Es war einmal... 'Once there was...' Common ending: und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind, dann leben sie noch heute 'and if they have not died, they are still alive today'
  • Georgian: "Iko da ara iko ra, iko..." 'There was, and there was not, there was...'
  • Goemai (Nigeria, West Chadic): Tamtis noe lat/ dok ba muaan yi wa 'My tale has finished, (it) has returned to go (and) come home.'
  • Greek: Μια φορά κι έναν καιρό... 'Once, in another time...' Common ending: Κι έζησαν αυτοί καλά κι εμείς καλύτερα 'And they lived well, and we [lived] better'
  • Hebrew: Hayo hayah pa'am... (היו היה פעם) 'Once there was a time...'
  • Hindi किसी ज़माने में ('In one era, ...') or बहुत पुरानी बात है ('It's an old story, ...')
  • Hungarian: Egyszer volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer egy... 'Once there was, where there wasn't, there was a...'
  • Indonesian: Pada suatu hari... 'One day...'
  • Iraqw(Tanzania, Kenya, Cushitic) tokaro-yâ 'once upon a time (standard opening phrase); aa fák 'it is finished' (common end to a story).
    • In oral literature, phrases like "I remember something that our father told me and that is this:" are common (Iraqw: Kar aníng te-'ée' to-ká a inhláw ar aakó doo-rén ni alki'-a i tí). Endings are often like "Such is the story that our father told us" (Iraqw: a-n ti'itá-r akóo doo-rén na alki'íit).
  • Irish: Fadó, fadó, fadó a bhí an (agus bhí rí in nGaillimh) 'A long, long, long time ago it was (and there was a king in Galway.)
  • Italian: C'era una volta... 'There was a time...' Common ending: ...e vissero felici e contenti '...and they lived happily and merrily'
  • Japanese: Mukashi mukashi (昔昔, 昔々, むかしむかし). 'A long time ago...'
  • Korean: Yet-nal Yet-jeok-e... (옛날옛적에...). 'Once upon a time...'
  • Latvian: Reiz sen senos laikos... 'Once long ago in times long gone'
  • Malayalam: Pandu Oridathu... 'Long ago...'
  • Mandarin (Chinese): 很久,很久以前 'Long, long time ago...' or "从前" 'once upon a time'
  • Maragoli Kenyan language related to other Luhya languages. Mmadikhu ga khaare (in olden days).
  • Norwegian: Det var en gang... 'There was, once...' Common endings: og så levde de lykkelig alle sine dager 'and then they lived happily all their days', og er de ikke døde, så lever de ennå 'and if they are not dead, then they're still living'
  • Pashto: "داسي کار وو چي" (Daasi kaar wo che) or "داسي چل وو چي" (Daasi chal wo che). 'There was this work that...'
  • Polish: Dawno, dawno temu... 'Long, long time ago...'
  • Portuguese: Era uma vez... 'There was, once...'
  • Romanian: A fost odata, ca niciodata... 'There once was...'
  • Russian: Жил был (zhil bwil) "There lived and was..." ['жила была (Zhila bwila)' if a female character is introduced in the beginning; 'жили были (zhili bwili)' if multiple characters]
  • Sanskrit Pūrākāle (पुराकाले) 'In the ancient time...', Kadājit (कदाचित्) 'Once upon a time'/'At any time'
  • Spanish: Érase/Había una vez... 'There was, once...' Traditional ending: Y vivieron felices y comieron perdices 'and they lived happily and ate partridges' (the sentence rhymes in Spanish)
  • Swahili East African Kenya,Tanzania,Uganda,Somalia,Congo language rapidly expanding towards Western and Southern Africa. "Hapo zamani za kale..." (a long time ago).
  • Swedish: Det var en gång... ("There was, once...") Common ending ... och så levde de lyckliga i alla sina dagar. ("... and then they lived happily in all their days")
  • Tagalog: Noong unang panahon... 'At the first time (a long time ago)...'
  • Thai: กาลครั้งหนึ่งนานมาแล้ว 'Once upon a time (long ago)...'
  • Turkish: Bir varmış, bir yokmuş. Evvel zaman içinde, kalbur saman içinde... 'Once there was, once there wasn't. In the old times, in a stack of hay...'
  • Vietnamese: Ngày xửa ngày xưa... 'A long, long time ago...'
  • Welsh: Amser maith yn ôl... 'A long time ago...'

Friday, April 06, 2007

should friday

The one line Christians latch onto in the song, Something Good, in the Sound of Music is “nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could”. Julie Andrews has become the unwitting poster child of the Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God (or maybe it’s Sister Maria).

But there is a far more poignant (and important) line in this song for those who would have Christ. Our Sister sang,

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should

And this is the way Christ comes to me.

This is the way God loves. Whether or not He should. God didn’t send his only begotten son because he should. It wasn’t the right thing to do. He did it whether or not he should. It wasn’t right for Christ to lay down his life for me. He did it whether or not he should.

This is the way love works. You really can’t define it in terms of what you should do. And if whatever you’re promoting can be defined in terms of what you should do, then it’s not love. Not how God defines it anyways. And God does define love. And the way he defines it is “whether or not you should”. He defined it in the way He gave Jesus.

God didn’t owe us anything. Sending Christ was not justifiable. He did it out of his love, not out of duty, not out of a sense of what is right or what is wrong.

No matter why God actually sent Jesus, and no matter why Jesus actually laid down his life, it wasn’t because He should.

Try to imagine standing at the foot of the cross, looking up at him, pierced, torn, bleeding, and suffocating to death, and saying to him, “You should love me like this.” I can’t. What I imagine saying is, “Here you are, standing there, loving me, whether or not you should”.

And this is why some people call today Good Friday, not Should Friday.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

the big campout with dad

So I was watching Davey and Goliath yesterday morning. The old claymation series. Somebody must have checked it out from the library on DVD (yes, you can do that. Shhhhh). Anyway, the story began with Davie upset because all of his friends’ dads made time for them, but his dad was always busy. He pouts a bit and behaves badly because of it, and then his dad comes in. Instead of chastising him, his father does something wise. He embraces him. He admits that he hasn’t had much time for Davey lately, tells him he’s sorry he’s been busy with work, and promises that if it’s ok with everyone else, he will take him camping this very night. Well, this is attitude tonic for our friend Davey, who becomes a new boy. He takes his sister for a ride in the wagon, and then I don’t know what happened next because I got busy doing other things. I did walk back through later, and I think they went camping at the end of the show. But I had in mind a different story, and the story I had in mind diverged from the “real” one and kept playing in my head. I’m funny like that.

In my story, Davey has the talk with his dad, gets promised a camping trip at the end of the day, and Davey comes alive. He takes his sister for a wagon ride. He helps his mom with the dishes. He waters the yard. He cleans up his room. He calls his friend up and apologizes for being selfish and rude to him earlier in the week. He helps an old lady across the street. He gets a cat down from a tree and returns him to the little girl next door. He becomes a good person. At the dinner table the whole family is all excited about the trip, just Dad and Davey (and Goliath of course) and nobody else. The phone rings and it’s his dad’s work. He can see his dad’s brow furrow and hear his voice frown. Sure enough, they need him to come in Saturday morning. And it’s the kind of thing where people say, “Family first. No exceptions,” and then you tell them what they need him to come in for, and you say, “Oh, yeah, you gotta go in.” The camping trip is off. Regardless of what is right or wrong about his dad’s decision to go to work, what about Davey?

Is the only reason for living a good and pleasing life the promise of camping out with dad at the end of the day? Or is the good and pleasing life really the best way to live?

This song is resonating with me. It's in my heart and has found my voice. I admit to being a Christina Perry fan. I've been known to...