Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Madam I'm Adam

Dear Children:

There are names for human diseases, temptations, losses, dysfunctions, rushes, fears, shocks and pauses. There are names for the things that surround us. There are names for the conceptions that inform our actions. Knowing these words can be very powerful. That may be why we invent them with such alacrity and fashion ever finer slivers of meaning.

The creation story we have from the ancient Hebrews underscores this idea. Among the powers granted Adam was that of naming the plants and animals. We’ve been naming things ever since. Learning is often the retention and rapid recall of names and their meanings. Scholarship is often the coining of terminology. History often turns on the naming of events.

At the risk of getting too worked up over this, the unique power we have as humans to create and recognize a name encases our sentience. For as powerful and unique a thing names disciplined by grammar can be it is shorthand for what goes on in our hearts. Names are not sentient.

That’s why names can be dangerous and hurtful as well as being dispositive and uplifting. That’s why, for all effort bent to the contrary, misunderstandings flourish. That’s why it’s still possible to talk past each other, dictators remain normative and swindlers still earn a living.

I’m just sayin’

Much Love,


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Simply Gifts

Dear Children:

Unless you’ve been away at camp or living underground lately, you’ve noticed that a famous entertainer has died. Michael Jackson was a hugely talented singer, producer and innovator. His gifts were so great that after forty five years in show business, he was still giving us novel songs, inventive dance and eye-popping music videos that will outlast us all. By all accounts he was shrewd in business as well. Those who mourn him do so out of a sense of gratitude for the joy he brought us. That is for sure. There is also a sense of lost promise, a squandered future and no way of understanding his death.

He died under circumstances of his own making.

The risk here is to engage in poppy psychology by looking for a thread that wove through his life that, had he seen it, could have been excised. Worse yet, we can point fingers at those who enabled him, those who ate the crumbs from his table, those who hadn’t the courage to say “no” to his wealth and power and those who excused his behavior as merely eccentric. Instead, let’s see if we can take a lesson from this tragedy.

He was born with gifts in much the same way as you were born with gifts. I am speaking here of the gifts that are not necessarily attributable to genetics. Sure, we get our tallness and our skin tone from our parents. We get our taste for foods from our experiences and love of books from our educations. Good skiers usually come from snow country. Our fear of snakes and of falling may be pure instinct and shared with the like of goldfish and platypuses. Michael Jackson’s gifts were way past all that. Your gifts are way past all that. They are what they appear to be, simply gifts.

Lest I sound simple-minded, the lesson is to treat gifts for what they are and nothing more. Some of us are able through dint of effort to polish those gifts. Some of us know we have gifts and choose not to employ them. Some of us never recognize our gifts. Whatever happens, though, we did not manufacture our own gifts. We cannot exchange the gifts we have for some others more valued. Our gifts are ours and belong to no other. Gifts are not skills we can learn. Gifts are not commodities up for trade. Our gifts are what we are when we’re not wearing our skins.

So, we don’t treat gifts except with gratitude and humility. You can be guaranteed that any other way will come to no good.

I’m just sayin’.

Much Love,