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The older I get, the more I enjoy road trips, and the longer they take, which is my own doing–meandering back roads, seeking shade, instead of speed, and not only because I prefer the old car with the manual transition–which lost its air condition earlier this month (but I don’t mind the mountain air on my face)–but also because I prefer the solitude of back roads–the absence of movement, except for mine, the chance to slow or stop, when my attention alights—on an old barn, a field of wildflowers, a stand of trees; and this afternoon on my serpentine ride home from Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health–two young boys, about 9 years old, on the outskirts of a small town, dressed in matching soccer uniforms.
As I approached, the one with the ball under his arm, looked up from beneath a mass of dark curls and stuck out his thumb.
I smiled and slowed and waived, remembering the pleasure of wondering where my thumb might take me one day, and how soon someone might take me, seriously, and something else–the delight of coaxing a friend outside the box of rules.
After college, a classmate and I hitchhiked through Ireland despite the warnings of lorry drivers and the middle aged bachelor and the two business men who picked us up so that no harm would befall us.
Back in the states, I picked up hitchhikers myself for a bit–once an entire family, at the foot of the drawbridge, standing in a pouring rain. They crowded into my backseat, dripping, paper grocery bags in their arms.
There’s plenty of room for thought on a long drive under the shade of trees…
I got to thinking that I might like to open a store or suggest someone open a store, and it could be called–Paper and Ink–and it could be a place to slow down, to pour a cup of tea, to buy a sheet of stationery and sit at a long table, and write a letter, and send it to someone far away or around the corner.
Just now, a song from my childhood comes to mind…
Traveled by many, remembered by few
Lookin’ for something that I can believe in
Lookin’ for something that I’d like to do with my life
Something that might have been true yesterday
Tomorrow is open, right now it seems to be more than enough
To just be here today…
I miss the Reading Lady on Williston–that tiny road on the back side of town.
She was my favorite sign of spring.
Appearing there on the porch of her aging Victorian.
Layers shed beneath gingerbread lattice
While the season unfolded into summer.
First a cup of tea and a blanket.
Then a glass of lemonade and a sun hat.
And always a book (and reading glasses.)
Well into autumn.
Right there on the corner as I drove by.
Did she move away or worse–pass away?
I like to imagine her on the coast of Maine.
Overlooking the ocean or perhaps beside a quiet bay.
Waves lapping at the dock
Where she reads
While the world
A bit slower
more on the gift of a woman’s presence in Vermont:
The Flower Lady
My husband and I lounge under the covers as a jeweled sun sparkles through the trees on its way to our sky.
When the wind blows, the forest sways, dispatching flashes of gold onto our bodies, offering a perfect sermon for a Sunday morning.
Easter 2015, A.D.
The baskets are waiting. The eggs dyed. The reservations for brunch confirmed.
Last night we watched Chocolat with Lake Champlain 5 Star Chocolate Bars, and then listened to bits and pieces of the soundtrack from Godspell, centering on the score for the Crucifixion scene.
Most memorable, however, was the moment I pulled out 4 plates (of my Nana’s china) instead of 3, because our oldest was home.
He had surprised us, downtown, the night before, when we were doing what I love best–floating from place to place, bumping into something sweet–which is particularly potent on a spring evening at Gallery Walk in Brattleboro.
My youngest and I had just finished our monthly stroll through the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center–one of our favorite stops through the years–where we always take time to visit the kids room to make some art of our own.
It was inside the River Garden, however, where the family first came together, as a whole, attracted by the sounds of horns, played by the stunning Brattleboro High School Jazz Band.
During a particularly poignant interlude–when my husband’s hand clasped mine, and geese flew over the river, and spring stirred inside me–I felt something I’d never felt before:
Toward new life.
In that moment, I knew the seasons were indifferent.
That spring would come, whether I welcomed it, or celebrated it, or–worse yet–
whether I was here for it.
Perhaps it was my age, 51, ripening past peak, or the long white winter spilling into April, or that a loved one’s life was on the line; but suddenly—the young girls in bloom, the birds return, and the color green–represented something beyond–me.
Just like winter, I would pass, and the giddy world would go on resurrecting… without me.
When they ask me at the Post Office if my package contains anything dangerous, I never know quite how to answer. It contains books, and if a book isn’t dangerous, then why was it written?
If the Native American saying is true–that it takes a thousand voices to tell a single story–then maybe a mother’s voice from the backroads of Vermont can lend something to this story of free speech.
I entered the conversation with a tweet because I didn’t know what else to say:
12. Terrorist. Paris. Satire. Press. Cartoonists. Religion. Fanaticism. Freedom.
Not sure which point is the sharpest.
Later, I shared a Rushdie quote:
The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.
He should know. Remember?
I remember because I was 25 at the time–coming to terms with my own mortality–and feeling particularly unnerved at the thought of a man with a price on his head for writing a book.
Later, I became a writer myself–a memoirist in fact–which brought me face to face with the threat we authors pose. I shouldn’t have been surprised. As a child, I was sent to my prison often–my room–for my mouth. Spanked. Slapped. Silenced.
I grew up passionate about voice.
So passionate, that speaking truth became more important than saving face, or staying safe or even being understood.
Then I had kids.
Fast forward to this week and an argument with my youngest. He’s 14. At times infuriating.
Instead of anger, I resort to sarcasm or mockery. This enrages him. I mock more in defense.
Both my sons tell me that my mockery makes them livid.
I listen to them, and wonder why I do it.
I never used sarcasm and such as a teacher. I knew it was toxic, particularly for adolescents.
I probe a bit and discover that underneath the mockery is my fierce need for boundaries and non-violence.
“I don’t want to give it up,” I tell my husband.
He reminds me that mockery and power share some poignant history for me. We recall the time, when at 18, I stood up to my father’s tyranny by mocking his orders. At his 6 foot 4 to my 5 foot 2, mockery was my only weapon.
He knocked me to the floor.
I don’t see the world in good and evil; and so what I’m trying to understand is what possesses three men to bring automatic rifles into an editorial meeting to execute cartoonists.
But then I remember that even my mild-mannered husband has been provoked to violence by words. How as a boy, he once said to his mother: “Words hurt more than hitting.”
I’d like to figure out how to set boundaries with the men in my life without mockery, how to engage them in what really matters without provocation; but the bottom line is that I can do both–mock and provoke–without giving permission to violence.
“Free speech is non-negotiable,” tweeted the organization Index on Censorship.
“Allahu Akbar,” God is great shouted the masked intruders.
“Respect for religion has become code phrase meaning fear of religion,” writes Salman Rushdie.
“We are all just prisoners here, of our own device,” sing the Eagles.
I’m developing a deepening appreciation for satire. For its comic relief. For the way it softens the unbearable. Illuminates the densest of matter.
I think maybe humor is the path to the future.
But only the humor that I like.
“Humor that offends absolutely no one is not humor,” writes Andy Borowitz, about Paris.
I’d never heard of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo before today, and I doubt that I would appreciate the tone of their work.
But I am in the middle of reading Salman Rushdie’s, Haroun and the Sea of Stories to my second son; and when I delightfully discover that this longtime favorite has been selected by Vermont Reads as the state book of the year, I dispatch a digital copy to my sister and her family who are living in Cambodia as missionaries.
Now I cringe when I read what Rushdie has to say about yesterday’s tragedy, imagining how those words would feel to my sister and her husband. Not necessarily the disrespect part, but the “medieval form of unreason” part:
Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today.
I imagine he knows what he’s talking about, given that the Ayatollah of Iran put a fatwa on him, but I also know that the heart of those in love with the Divine can be pure; but maybe that’s different than religion.
BBC presenter Simon Schama tweets: “Satire was the father of true political freedom, born in the 18th century; the scourge of bigots and tyrants. Sing its praises,” and I think he’s right, but maybe now we need a mother of freedom too. Both fierce and gentle.
Mothers talk to your sons.
Men give your women voice.
Children, demand it.
“They thought that the bullets would silence us,” spoke Malal Yousafzai of Pakistan, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. “And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices.”
May our voices join to tell this story and make it new.
Way back in 1993, my new husband and I volunteered to help create the very first Earth Day Celebration in Cape May County. As a social studies teacher, I’d been incorporating environmental studies into my curriculum for a handful of years, and had recently shaped a collaborative unit with the new science teacher; and as such was poised (and eager!) to expand that consciousness at a larger level.
Just before the event, however, I went into labor, and birthed a miniature baby girl, at the end of the first trimester. I was still able to attend the fair, but was forced to do so from the sterile perch of a beach chair. An early lesson in surrender.
The following weekend was the annual Beach Sweep which I had coordinated on the island since its inception. The turnout was better than ever, and the celebration at Sam’s Pizza afterward a huge success, but photos of me that day reveal a pale and somber young woman.
Sensing the depth of my despair, my husband gave wings to a dream we had long shared. Thus three months later, we left behind the Beach Sweep leadership, the Earth Day committee, our precious students and friends, and our beloved family–including three sets of parents, nine siblings, a dozen aunts and uncles, and countless cousins.
Two sons and a timber-framed home in Vermont followed in the years to come.
Earth Day festivities abound in these Green Mountains, but we quickly learned that our neighbors here had a day to day relationship with the natural world. While recycling and water conservation put us ahead of the curve at the Jersey shore, we had much to learn about the nuances of living in harmony with the earth around us, and we are still learning.
Our sons grew up “on the land,” visiting neighboring farms, and living out their relationship with the earth within our community and beyond–bringing consciousness to state, national and international levels under the guidance of committed educators.
A quarter of a century ago, the Earth Day Fair in New Jersey was, for many, an introduction into simply considering the environment in day to day decisions. Now, it’s more of a punctuation of an evolving relationship with the life-giving force we all call home. What was once Reduce, Reuse and Recycle has matured to include Restore, Replenish and Respect.
This year, it slipped our minds to go to the Earth Day Festivities in town; but we were in our gardens, uncovering signs of spring and looking up to see the geese return to the pond.
The preciousness & fragility of life–human & planet–continue to pulse–inside me–forever shaped by this week in 1993, and by the lives that later grew inside and around me.
May we each find our own way to deepen our relationship with the earth around us, and may this remind us of our response-ability to the life-giving planet with which we have been entrusted.
Happy Earth Day!
Kelly Salasin, April 22, 2013
A stunning nightscape
in the absence
a bruised sky
(kelly salasin, october 2012)