Friday, May 22, 2009

The Sizzle of the Wick

The Sizzle of the Wick.

My mom has been in the new place for about six weeks and seems well adjusted to it. Richard and I decide to take her out for the first time. She rides shotgun on errands just about every day with Ning, the owner of the house but, during her last months at the hotel, she became so disoriented when I returned her from an outing, that I ‘d been reluctant to take her out myself. We go to a nearby coffee shop and she eats heartily and seems docile and content. She points out that my mascara is smeared. I present her with a hot pink paisley handbag to replace her ancient Sport Sac with the broken zipper, at Ning’s request, as the constant befuddled sliding of the zipper up and down is starting to get on her nerves. Mom is delighted with the bag and holds it primly on her lap.

My mother has been divorced from my dad for 45 years, twice as long as she was married to him. From the time he moved out until the dementia reached a severe level, she would pump me for information about my dad and his current wife. I was a traitor if I didn’t cough up something and no matter how benign it was, she would craft it with negative spin. In 1975, I was living in Mexico and I read on the front page of the Mexico City paper that my father had been arrested on film piracy, charges, which after a decade long, wildly expensive legal ordeal, were dropped. Despite the ultimate legal outcome my father did illegally sell prints of films to South Africa, in violation of the cultural boycott imposed to pressure the end of apartheid. I had dinner once with him and one of the South African film dealers, a Jewish man who used the word nigger and I left the table. My dad said I was silly and was furious that I’d embarrassed him. Several years ago my mother gave me an envelope containing what she said was important stuff for my dad. I found it contained a big sheath of news clippings about his arrest and trial. She asked me repeatedly for weeks afterward whether I’d given it to him, and having thrown it away immediately, instead of futilely confronting her about the meanness of this, I lied and said that I had..

We return to Ning’s and the transition of Richard and I going and my mother staying gets all bollixed up and she becomes hysterical when she figures out that we are leaving without her. I show her the closet jammed with her clothes but she does not buy it. She is desperate to leave with us. She remembers my name most days when I see her but doesn’t remember Richard’s, her friend of 35 years. She is pounding at the door and howling not to be left and she begins to appeal to Richard but she screams, “Al,” my father’s name. “Al, Al, Help me Al! Take me home!” The dementia has boiled her down to her pure essence. How humiliating it is to think of myself stripped bare of all subtlety. She loves her clothes and to preen in front of the mirror. She made a life out of nurturing rancor for my father but even though there were many other men after him, from the little that’s left, it is a revelation to me that he was the hope and salvation that she let slip away. She lost him years ago and now, is blessed finally not remember this.

The Pew Research Report
One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections notes, that in the U.S., the nation with the highest percentage of its population imprisoned, higher than China or Russia even, one person in thirty-one is either incarcerated or on probation or parole. The extensive research in the report notes the effectiveness of community parole and probation programs over incarnation in reducing recidivism. Unfortunately, the community based alternatives to incarceration are woefully underfunded compared to penal institutions. The powerful prison guards union exacerbates this. My penpal notes that guards often make 200k yearly with overtime and routinely demonstrate their commitment to keeping prisons full, by actively encouraging inmates to mess up and suffer lengthened sentences. The study notes that the national average cost to incarcerate a prisoner is about $80 per day but community supervision, even when sufficiently staffed and equipped with the most sophisticated tools, like GPS ankle devices that can even detect if alcohol or drugs are imbibed, cost about $10 per client per day. Supporting and teaching a criminal to live as a citizen in a community reduces recidivism and in cities with well managed probation/parole agencies this is borne out again and again. I am pleased that this report is being taken seriously but I realize that this consideration is not motivated by compassion for those who we’ve failed, but out of desperation to save a buck.

Economic Armageddon is giving traction to another moral issue and there is serious study and discussion about the legalization and taxation of marijuana. Proposition 8 passed because of a lousy namby pamby advertising campaign. Perhaps if they’d just used “Gay Weddings will generate a billion dollars a year in revenue,” there would have been a stunning defeat. Being hard assed these days might just have too great a price tag.

Perhaps the cost of doing business with malice is too great for the U.S. but the world news reeks with mean spiritedness this week. A fifteen year old Somali kid is being tried as an adult for piracy and likely to be sentenced to life in prison for his participation in the kidnapping of the captain of the Maersk Alabama. Apparently his youth and the dire poverty and lawlessness of his homeland beg no mitigation. Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy, responded to desperate displaced Africans seeking refuge in Italy with, “The left's idea is of a multi-ethnic Italy, that’s not our idea.” Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the Burmese opposition has been under house arrest for thirteen of the last nineteen years and this was to expire next month. A man, using homemade flippers, swam two miles across a lake to her home and was, based on his exhausted condition, permitted him to stay two days, in violation of her house arrest. Most news sources have alluded to this being a set up, particularly given the timing so close to the expiration of her house detention. She is now in prison and on trial.

Being condemned to drive for hours to far flung charter schools due to the staggering lack of acceptable neighborhood schools, I listened to an NPR series on prayer and neuroplasticity. Brain studies on people who regularly pray or meditate reveal, when a dye is injected to the brain during prayer or meditation, that the frontal lobes virtually light up, a sign of increased and superior brain function. Studies also indicate that those who participate in prayer or meditation for as few as five minutes daily are more likely to respond to stressful situations with compassion rather than in anger or self destructive behavior and even have improved physical immunity to disease.

I wrote several years ago that a human being can concentrate and focus on a single thought for about eight seconds before drifting on to another subject. Himself points out that twelve seconds might be a bit more accurate but I suspect my own norm is on the low side. Whereas I am intellectually lazy and will reject a book merely because the type is too small or the pages too thin, Himself has discipline and is challenged and thrilled and determined to make conquest of material that’s impenetrable to 8 second gals like me. Apparently he even has sufficient mental discipline to meditate when not interrupted by my arrival home with groceries for him to unload. When we were temple regulars I remember hours of boredom but there were also moments when I would feel high and lifted by the feeling of praying in a room full of praying. I breathe in when we light the Shabbat candles and I feel the light and my little family, and it is probably only about 8 seconds before we go back to fighting about what to watch on t.v., but in the flash of light and sizzle of wick there is God for me.

Himself this week introduced me to a fresh inspiration, Antonio Gramsci, the Italian politician and theoretician whose work on the theory of cultural hegemony was influential to educational theorists like Paulo Freire. Gramsci made a distinction between the old school intelligentsia, aloof from the unwashed masses but determined to cram ruling class culture down their throats and what he called “working thinkers” who use their intellectual advantages to help give voice to and validate the proletariat experience.

The week has not been stellar but I am grateful that I don’t live in prison or Burma or Somalia and given the asshole prime minister, even Italy. I feel beaten down and ashamed by the paucity of mercy in the world. I have always known that prayer makes me feel better and more inclined to feel compassion but maybe now that I know it will make me physically better, perhaps I’ll be able to feel less self conscious and muster better concentration. My parents broke apart. My mother pushed my dad away and over forty years later, screams for him to save her. I am sustained by eight second brushes with the divine and holding close Himself and my boys and stalwart friends. I feel the weight of all the screams that go unheard. Gramsci, my hero of the week, brought to me by Himself, the hero of my life, requested the epitaph, “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence but an optimist because of will.” I pray for those whose screams are never heard, and for myself, sufficient strength of will to know light.

Shabbat Shalom.


FionnchĂș said...

I only tried meditating once so far, until first the Corgi and then your car inevitably interrupted. So, stop embarrassing me! I only wrote about it first in Irish, to save myself added shame.

I'm sorry about your mom's decline, and words fail me in adding to your chronicle of her slipping away. I had no idea Al was front-page news overseas; I suppose that adds a frisson to the endless loop of "Lockup" and "Lockdown" that comprises your on-couch, in-house fare du jour?

It's Havdalah when the wick gets quenched in the water, with all that ensuing Queen of Shabbat symbolism! One wonders how many weary women of the households, then or now, find inspiration at a long week's end that only extends into a tiresome weekend, in such imaginative rituals, but I hope in your own secret way, you find solace there. xxx me

harry said...

Gramsci? Friere...? Wow... Habermas next up to bat?

What an image of Adele calling out to the long, long gone Al.