Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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In the April 2008 Correspondence, Diane Covington wrote that John O’Donohue, whom she’d interviewed for The Sun a year earlier [“The Unseen Life That Dreams Us,” April 2007], had died on January 3.
I’d read Covington’s interview and as a result had registered for an Oregon retreat with O’Donohue in October 2007. (At least half the people there had seen the interview in The Sun.) O’Donohue’s definition of “sinning” was living an unfulfilled life, and his hope for all of us on the retreat was that we would come away having banished our fear and released our imaginations. I am saddened by his death, but I am strengthened by the knowledge that his voice lives on.
I was inspired by Diane Lefer’s interview with Connie Rice, about Rice’s approach to gang violence [“Both Sides of the Street,” April 2008]. Her work with the Advancement Project could serve as a model for other communities seeking safe, just conditions for their residents. Imagine what the U.S. State Department might be able to accomplish if Rice’s cousin, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, took a lesson from Connie about how to mediate between warring sides.
This comment by Diane Lefer, in her interview with Connie Rice, jumped out at me: “People won’t change unless you first accept them as they are.”
As a music therapist in a psychiatric hospital, I have played recorded heavy metal music for the patients, because it’s their favorite. A psychiatrist once walked into one of our sessions and was shocked to see these young people responding so enthusiastically to the music. Later he asked the patients why they listened to heavy metal: to him it seemed angry and hostile and confused. One fourteen-year-old raised his hand and said, “We’re angry and hostile and confused.”
I also played Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony for them and encouraged them to be aware of any peaceful feelings it evoked. But if I had started there, without first accepting their anger, hostility, and confusion, we might never have found the joy.
I appreciated Diane Lefer’s interview with Connie Rice about Rice’s work to ameliorate the devastating effects of gang violence. “We need mothers on our side,” Rice rightly notes.
She leaves out, however, the other side of the equation. The word father does not appear in the interview. Study after study has shown that the most powerful contributor to the astonishing rise in gang membership is the large-scale departure of fathers from low-income families. Regrettably, some progressive policies have contributed to this trend by providing women with financial incentives to kick men out of the house. The need for fathers is at the root of the problem and deserves mention.
My heart ached as I read Bonnie J. Rough’s essay “Stories for an Unborn Son” [April 2008]. I, too, debated for many years whether to have children. Although, unlike Rough, I didn’t risk passing on a genetic disorder to my child, I worried my son or daughter might inherit my anxiety, bad skin, and tendency toward introversion.
I am now forty-three years old. I’ve had a hysterectomy, and my husband and I have decided not to adopt. There are some women who would happily proclaim themselves “child free.” I am not one of them. I feel lonely in my choice not to become a parent in a world where the overwhelming majority of women do become mothers, but I no longer feel alone.
It takes a brave heart to sift through one’s feelings as thoroughly as Bonnie J. Rough does in “Stories for an Unborn Son.” My husband and I faced a similar dilemma. Cystic fibrosis runs in his family; if I also carried the gene, then our child could have been born with it. We chose not to test ourselves or our unborn child: we didn’t have the money, and we also didn’t want to have to make such a heart-wrenching decision. Our son was born healthy and beautiful, which gave us more confidence during my second pregnancy.
Then my daughter was born with CLOVE syndrome, a disease so rare that only seven other patients worldwide are currently diagnosed with it. No amount of testing could have detected the defect. I worry about my daughter and cry over mistakes I think I’ve made raising her. I hope that she embraces what makes her unique. I don’t know what the future holds for her, because the research is so limited. My heart goes out to all parents who are trying only to love and protect.
“Stories for an Unborn Son” stirred up some memories for me. I taught special education for twenty-three years, and I believe every individual has a place in the world and should be cherished. I was upset, however, with the father of two of my students. He’d married a woman with a mild disability and then fathered two children with her, knowing that the children would have the same disability, which could be mild or severe. He happily talked about the challenges his daughters would face. I looked at the girls, whose mouths hung open and dull eyes stared off into space, and thought, How selfish! Though I enjoyed them as students, I couldn’t help but think that my tax dollars will be going to support them for the rest of their lives, as they will never be contributing members of society. He purposely brought these children into the world just so he could feel important. It still angers me.
Is there no one at The Sun with the guts to edit Sy Safransky [Sy’s Notebook, April 2008]? I’ve held my tongue long enough about his infantile infatuation with his wife, Norma. Just let the woman sleep, Sy. She needs to wake on her own, without some pitiful little boy whispering in her ear and trying to cop a feel. Your pawing and poking are an infringement on her physical, mental, and emotional autonomy. I recently kicked an otherwise good man out of my house after only six weeks for just this kind of clinging, stifling behavior. You’re using up all Norma’s oxygen. It’s no wonder she takes so many “business” trips. The woman needs some space.
It was with sadness that I read Alison Luterman’s essay “War of Words” [April 2008], describing her efforts to teach poetry to schoolchildren. Early on, she mentions that she stopped herself from using “military intelligence” as an example of an oxymoron. I graduated from a U.S. service academy where, during a single semester, I was required to pass advanced calculus, organic chemistry, quantum mechanics, electrical engineering, and celestial navigation — in addition to some humanities courses.
What really upset me, however, was Luterman’s unabashed confession that she used her position as a teacher to politically indoctrinate children: “I told the students that I was sad because George W. Bush had won — probably stolen — the election, and a lot of people were going to die as a result.”
It should be noted that a large number of educated people have a different view of the legality of President Bush’s victory. But the real issue here is how Luterman assumes she has a right to dictate what her students should think.
If Luterman had attended a U.S. service academy, she might have been surprised to learn that lively political debate is common outside the classroom. In class, however, officers and faculty refrain from engaging in political discussion. They understand that it is an abuse of power to force a captive audience to listen to one’s personal agenda.
Michael R. Shevock is right that “military intelligence,” isn’t an oxymoron, though that was only a thought, which I did not share with the students. As I say later in the essay, I was doing my best to educate myself about the culture of those who serve and their families. I also agree that, in general, teachers shouldn’t impose their political views on their students. The incident in which I did make a political statement occurred the Wednesday after the “election.” I had just heard the news and was in shock and could not hide my tears. From my point of view, the elections of 2000 and 2004 were fraudulent, a bloodless coup d’état — well, bloodless for those lucky enough not to be in Iraq. What would my responsibility as an educator be if I were teaching school during the regime of Hitler or Pinochet or “President-for-Life” Duvalier?