April 9, 2010

Cynisence: between cynicism and innocence

It’s true.  “Kids say the darnedest things.”

I picked my son up from his first grade classroom today after school, we got in the car, and he asked me to remind him of the name of the president who is on the 50 cent piece (he’s learning about money at school).  I hadn’t seen one of those coins in a while and I was slow to remember whose face is on there.  To help me out, he started to tell me all the things he knew about him.  “You know, he’s the one who someone shot and then someone else shot the man who shot him, and we don’t really know if it was that man who shot the president or not, and some people think it might’ve been some bad guys in the government…”

What?!!  I couldn’t believe my ears.  What on earth was coming forth from my 7 year old’s lips?  I frankly feel that Lee Harvey Oswald was in fact probably set up as a scapegoat and fall guy, but what are they teaching kids in elementary school these days?  (His mother and I intentionally haven’t even told him that our nation is at war or anything about 9/11, terrorism, etc. as he tends to be a very sensitive child and a bit of a worrier, and we want him to experience as innocent and carefree a childhood as possible (though he likely knows a bit as I listen to NPR news a lot around him).  Sure, he’ll eventually learn about those things and when that happens, we’ll answer his questions, but why introduce that crappy stuff to him while he’s so young?  And yet, here he’s learning about conspiracy theories in the 1st grade?!)

I replied, “Oh, you’re thinking of John F. Kennedy.”   Him, “Yeah, that’s right!  Why did someone shoot him anyway?”   Me, “Well, no one really knows, sometimes people get sick in their brains and when that happens, they sometimes do crazy things.  That happened before I was born, but I know that was a really sad day for our country when that happened.”

Him, without any pause at all, “Hey!  Did I tell you that uncle Derek is going to live with me in the woods when I become a grown up?  We’re going to survive out there and he’s going to teach me how to make traps to catch rabbits to eat and how to fish, do you want to live with us too?”

Now, THAT’s more like it!  7 year olds are supposed to be filled with wonder and see their fathers and uncles as superheroes who can do anything.   I don’t know what my former brother in law had said to my boy, but he was defiantly left with the impression that they were actually going to live off the land together out in the woods and that I was very much invited to be a part of it all – mostly, I think, because I have a lot of new camping gear.  I know Derek pretty well and he’s way less outdoorsy than me and it made me smile to think of the two of them trying to survive a week, let alone for the rest of their adult lives out in some rugged and wild back-country .   Me, “Sure, count me in!  I’d love to live out in the woods with you two!  I can’t wait!  I can teach you how to make a snow cave to live in the winter, how to make snowshoes from pine boughs,  and how to ice fish with dental floss and a bone or paper clip! ”   (I actually could too!)

What was striking about this conversation was that Andrew wasn’t really all that phased about learning about a president being assassinated and, apparently, about some of the conspiracy theories related to that murder.  And even more striking was how nonchalantly and readily he segued into a mode of childish magical thinking complete with impossible fantasies which elevate his metro-sexual, CEO, hipster uncle to being someone like Grizzly Adams, the Crocodile Hunter or one of those outdoors survival experts on the Discovery Channel.

And you know, we all live in between those two places – between jaded cynicism and innocent wonder; between too much knowledge of the bitter ways of the world, and pure, naive, impossibly optimistic and overly romanticized notions of how things can be; between enslavement to the system and complete liberation and freedom.

Some cad once stated that “Idealism is what precedes experience, cynicism is what follows.”  And there’s an old-timey saying that says “Old age and treachery will always win out against youth and enthusiasm.”  I’m sort of growing fond of that last notion as I age and find myself playing foosball, trail running, road biking, and rock climbing with fellas who tend to be several years younger than I am.  ;  )   But, I’m here to contend that both of those sayings are completely wrong.

Yeah, I do think that it’s possible, and perhaps even probable, that George Jr, Cheney, Rove, et al fixed and stole both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, and I wouldn’t put it past them to have been nefariously involved with the “attack” on our country on 9/11 in order to exploit it to justify their neo-conservative, imperialistic wars, and I frankly think that the well oiled Clinton political machine will trounce the more purist and idealistic Obama, Dodd and Edwards agendas and bids to become the Democratic candidate for the 2008 elections.

But NO!  Je refuse to submit to curmudgeonly cynicism.  I resist kowtowing to the idea that only people who play by the world’s rules on the world’s terms can succeed in this life.  I choose to side with my son and believe that anything is possible and that ordinary people can be extraordinary.  I resolve to support the Don Quixotes and other “knight errants” of this world.  Indeed, I will strive to be one!

I’m not advocating that we all acquire a “Peter Pan syndrome” and refuse to grow up.  What I’m saying is that grown ups, who face grown up pressures and who have to make grown up decisions, can choose to focus on the dark side, or on the light side; we can choose to subscribe to the status quo, or we can vigorously strive for what may be “new, novel, or unusual” but we know in our guts is the right thing to do – even if it seems impossible.  Grown ups don’t have to be pawns in the rigid chess game of life – we can be the heroes who think and draw outside the lines who we’re seeking after.

So, step up good people!  Rise up fellow heroes!  Put on your spandex tights of justice, your boots of conviction; your gloves of integrity, and don your capes of optimistic, idealism!  We are the ones we’ve been waiting fore!

As The Tick (the campy TV cartoon character) so boldly put it in his battle cry – “SPOON!!!!”

His way of saying – “The good guys are coming to save the day!”

Roger Ramjet over and out.

p.s. Oh yeah, it goes without saying that sometimes we heroes have to band and work together in order to be there for each other and do what needs to be done.  Men and women of La Mancha, Unite!

..note: this piece was originally written in Nov. 2007. Since then, Obama has in fact been elected president, health care insurance reform has been passed, and the U.S. has started to cut it’s arsenal of nuclear weapons by over a 1/3.

about the author: Rev. Roger Wolsey

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