Wednesday, October 4, 2017

the paradox of perspective

Sometimes when students ask how old I am
(after I give them a silent pointy raised eyebrow to remind them that not everyone loves this question since guesses about age usually skew to elderly and no one wants to be associated with that too soon)
I give them historical math problems by way of answer:

I was born the year before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
I was born a few months after Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.
I was born the year before Woodstock.

Some search their brains for these facts, eyes squinted hard for maximum thinking power.
Many grab their smartphones and plug in keywords, triumphantly shout 1968!
then consult their calculators for the final number.
Others blink slowly and look away, uninterested in history & math,
my age not worth this effort;
obviously I was born a long time ago, maybe even before their parents, who are old and boring.

Whenever I go through this exercise I'm reminded
of how many events the whole world knows
happen at the same time
as tiny personal miracles and tragedies.

Other people were born exactly on the day of the moonwalk -
how did those mothers feel, their excruciating labors overshadowed by the constant coverage
of a guy kicking around space dust?

Other people died exactly on the days great men were murdered -
surely those families felt doubly gutted, lost in two worlds of grief, wondering whose mattered more.

Many Woodstock attendees left early, cold & muddy, hungry & tired,
were back at their desk jobs or slumped in classrooms,
while Jimi Hendrix stunned onstage with his Star Spangled Banner.


I remember being home sick from school on March 30, 1981, watching TV on the couch when breaking news announced President Ronald Reagan had been shot.
I remember feeling hollow, the hair on my arms shivering;
I'd wondered how my mom felt when her president was shot.
But then, I remember increasing aggravation
that the coverage was going to interrupt General Hospital,
the bright spot of sick days;
7th grade Me dismissed the possible death of a world leader
in favor of watching my favorite soap opera.
For a few days in September 1998, the troubles of the entire planet disappeared.
My son had been born
quick labor
fetal distress
try to sign the release with your wrong hand because we put the pen in your right and IV in your left
emergency Cesarean
only 4 pounds
low sodium & blood sugar
umbilical hernia
moved to another hospital
miles away.
Certainly there were discoveries and assassinations and victories and catastrophes
important to hundredsthousandsmillions of other people
I only cared about
one thing one thing one thing
minute after minute after minute
until I could bring my boy home.


It is a strange experience
troubling yet comforting
distasteful while delicious
to understand
this world is so vast, so full, so gigantic
and so enclosed, so limited, so minute.