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Thursday, February 18, 2010

This I Believe #5

Assignment: Please post a 300-500 word essay articulating something you believe. Look at older posts to see examples. Due by noon on Friday, February 19.

10 comments:

  1. I believe inner turmoil to be a natural state—that we will always be caught in a struggle between what we know to be right and wrong. What is most gratifying, what will yield the greatest return, or what causes the smallest ripple in the proverbial pond are all things that determine our actions even if they are not always the best or right thing to do. It is interesting some of the ways we rationalize this struggle, as if we are ashamed to wrestle with our own innermost desires; as if we fear the outcome those desires will produce. We cite higher powers, claim to be acting in the best interests of others, and we sometimes commit the ultimate act of oxymoronism; that is, we try to lie to ourselves. The horrifying part of this is some people eventually buy into their own lies.
    But what good actually comes from this process of justification? Though right and wrong—basic morality—varies among individuals, we all have a pretty firm grasp of what we know to be right and wrong. Even when we can not explain why we feel a certain way, or what compels us to behave our particular brand of morality, it is something we know. So why the soliloquy? Why the epic inner battle?
    I believe it is uncomfortable to be human, because humans are animals and animals often behave in ways that people feel they should not. To be a person is to distance oneself from the human-animal; so human behaviors leads to personal anxiety leads to ineffective attempts to rationalize something that may ultimately boil down to little more than a barcode on a gene.
    Biological determinism vs. God’s will vs. individual choice. Take your pick. Your guess is as good as mine. God, because we do not like to feel helpless. Ourselves, because we do not want to surrender control. Instinct, because we feel the need to fight with something within ourselves. It is not for us to know why we struggle.

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  2. Paul Brown
    This I Believe 5
    CETA
    I believe in 4 am. This time holds a special significance for me, as it was the time that I woke up for eight years straight, from the time I was ten until two weeks before I left for college. Of course I didn’t wake up at this time just because I could. I woke up because I had a job to do. I was a paperboy; I had news to deliver. It took me a long time to be able to appreciate the hours before dawn. I remember walking the two streets I did by myself before rejoining my dad and brother, and feeling the darkness of especially long alleys and driveways taking a toll on my senses, causing me to jump at even the slightest shadow. I remember myself as an 11 year old praying aloud litanies of Hail Mary’s to try and silence the beasts that surely lay just beyond the bush. When that didn’t work and my mind refused to be comforted I would sing aloud. And by aloud, I mean really, really, loud.
    After a couple of years, as my life got busier, my hair got longer, and my time to myself became as scarce as rabbits on one of those 4am mornings, I started to appreciate the darkness that lived so distinctly in the streets that I now knew now as my own. I started to love those mornings to myself. I found beauty in the darkness and it told its secrets only to me, because I was one of the few to have braved it long enough to gain its trust. In this place, I learned to relax. I actually got to a point where I could walk the street and deliver my papers with my eyes closed, or if I really needed the rest, I could put my body on autopilot, allowing my mind to slip into what was as close to sleep as it could get without a bed nearby.
    Sometimes 4 am still calls out to me, a residual effect of being a part of it for so long, I think. About once a week, my mind will tell me that it’s time to start folding the papers, especially if I want to get done by 6. On these days, I will wake up and realize I am no longer at home. But then I will look out the window to see the night the darkest it will get. I imagine the buzz of street lamps. I hear the paper hitting the porch. I am walking with my eyes closed in a place I have conquered to make my own. I believe in 4am.

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  3. Because my grandfather taught me to read when I was five—
    back in 1970s Communist Bulgaria when children’s stories, too, were loaded with history.
    Because even then I knew how all stories ended—
    the beautiful Bulgarian maiden jumped off a cliff rather than marry the richest man in town, a Turk, who loved her more than the world—
    and yet I read on with the same abandon with which I would later read about a Chinese girl feeding her newborn daughter to her parents’ pigs.
    Because as a first-year student at the brand-new and self-consciously American
    American University in Bulgaria, I discovered Shakespeare in a class on English composition,
    Because The Tempest appeared to ask all the big questions
    which were beginning to trouble my eighteen-year-old dreams.
    Because while taking a course on the Literature of the American Southwest three years later at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, I saw that my adopted land was inextricably bound to words,
    and I longed to know it and the words that made it what it is.
    Because at the end of a year of reading and writing on the edge of a great lake,
    I realized I wasn’t done with literature,
    and committed to six more years of reading and writing under a golden dome.
    Because I survived graduate school,
    Because I left Notre Dame full of compassion for the Irish who didn’t use to be white,
    for the immigrants surviving the American dream, and for those who did not.
    Because I now teach at a college with a name too strange to believe,
    Because I can’t tell what is more difficult to believe, what delights more—
    stories or real life.
    Because I want my students, too, to delight in Some Dog howling at a Kentucky moon,
    Because I want them to love stories, even (and maybe especially) those that end with ten-year-old boys setting their fathers on fire.
    Because these boys’ dreams are beautiful even when they are cold and despairing:
    I believe in books.

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  4. Knee-Pads
    Katelynn Austin

    I believe in knee-pads. Yes, the inescapable image of my first day or so on roller skates comes to mind, and with those memories comes the pain, and later pride, of healed battle scars that still bear the tanned and gnarled glory of being the bravest of all my cousins. I have come to the conclusion that I still need knee-pads. This growing-up business is harder to get a hang of than skating on the bumpy sidewalk at my grandparents’ house, and life doesn’t come ready with a Spiderman band-aid and Neosporin when things get ugly either. Rather, it seems to just try to knock me down, to my knees, to my end.
    I do not know quite how it happened but as I grew my friends Zach, Randy, Sam, and Ginny were replaced by Loneliness, Pain, Fear, and Self-hate. I didn’t skate anymore, and when I tried, I quickly collapsed from exhaustion. No knee-pads absorbed the falls, and instead of Nana running out with a Spiderman band-aid, my new friends were there with the laughter of the Green Goblin.
    As I lay, body contorted, another failed attempt to skate, I remained. There was no getting up this time. It took all I had to gaze skywards, my first efforts of a prayer, my first cry of desperation. And all I heard was stay right there; don’t move. I suppose I was just where I needed to be: on my knees.
    Expecting to hear a cackle approaching me, to finish me off, I instead heard a silence. It scared me even more than the cackle. I did not recognize it. My new friend whispered in my ear, “You are going to need these, beautiful.” He handed me some knee pads.
    He was right. The amount of time I would spend on my knees and eyes skyward, now not in pain or agony, surely required those knee-pads.
    As the snow begins to melt and spring fever is setting in, I can nearly smell the abundant and voluptuous Nana’s roses last spring. After a long talk, she headed into the kitchen. She began making lemonade and humming a song rivaling the bee’s sweet clover honey. As she gazed out the window over her prayer garden, she started mumbling something like an old crazy.
    “Nothin’ baby. It’s just that I been workin’ like a dog out there on these old knees. It’s like one day you stand up after diggin’, re-pottin’, sweatin’, getting’ all sorts of dirty, and an entire garden is looking back at you fully grown and bloomed. And ya know what?”
    “What?”
    “Now’s all that hard work seems to be a mere afterthought.” Yep, that was too much for me. I told her I was going to go outside and tend to the flowers in the far bed.
    “Grab the knee-pads, baby, they’s on the hook in the shed.”

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  5. I woke, at the second request of my alarm, from a dream of Jeremy Welcome, a man now—for sure—but living on in my dreams as the kid we knew unable to find pants or belts with the fortitude to cover his ass-crack, the kid who would offer his half-eaten orange sincerely after pulling it from under his bed where it sat half-covered in twice-worn socks and stuck in the crack that grew between the wide-plank flooring every winter when the dry heat of wood stoves tightened the grain of even the oldest boards. Summer now, the boards expand, the crack shrinks and what little juice remains in the peeled and shriveled orange that once filled the toe of a Christmas stocking is pressed through a small broken spot of skin.

    “If you step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back.”

    Your choruses rang behind me as we walked to the car from swimming lessons, my eyes weeping from chlorine and bright sun. The car waited for us both by Tin Bin Alley and your self-fashioned song began with the ignition of mom’s Datsun.

    “Set me in a trap, CRACK, and I’ll never come home again”

    Another day you whined your way to the front seat as we delivered PennySavers. I bagged them from the back and passed them to you. Still too small to reach the sharp hooks we installed on each mailbox—to hold our deliveries packaged in clear plastic and pierced then left swinging in the wind as mom sped on to the next house—you stood on the seat to lean out the window. Your new role had earned you the front seat but it also made each stop last an eternity. You opened your seatbelt. You cranked down the window. You stood clumsily on the seat. You accepted the bagged newspaper from me. You leaned out the window and then realized that mom was not close enough for your short arms. She had to reposition the car. In the time you took to hook one package and prepare yourself to go to the next mailbox, we would have typically hooked four. Standing and reaching to hook one newspaper, you saw a butterfly. You wanted us to see it, too. Wanting, desperately, for you to bring your head back into the car and sit down, mom pulled you. Cracked on the rolled-down window, your lip bled. I got my front seat back.

    In the years you and I worked together painting, wallpapering, and renovating the homes of others, I saw you become a most skilled person of the third kind. Do you remember the three types of people?

    1. Those who sweep and re-sweep until every ounce of dust is in the dustpan
    2. Those who load the dustpan once then push the remaining dust back into the air with a quick stroke of the broom
    3. Those who find cracks and fill them with the finer bits of dirt not captured by the dustpan on the first pass

    Though we are now separated by years, great distance, and the silence of adult siblings, I know you still sweep creatively into cracks. I know your lip still bears the scar of a crack earned by your interest in butterflies. I believe in cracks.

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  6. I believe in solidarity. Voices breaking free of apathy and spreading wings above what has already been but does not have to be. Transforming into geese, into fly away home and moving towards the end of an arrow. Taking the lead, beating breast, and falling back when it is time, place, moment to follow. Strength in numbers to expound justice; sacrificing personal goals for the overall intent. Finding meaning in people as well as movement.

    The Known World tells me, we are all worthy of one another. In the past two years I have found filled schedules and imperfections. But I have also found circles upon circles upon circles overlapping in support of one another, moving together until we all form a thick band of unison. It is not just service, it is not just a day of aid and a month of praise, it is integration into life and into each other. We call it coalitions, commonwealths, communes, campaigns. Finding yourself in action, finding yourself in those who both challenge and cradle.

    Splintering is counterproductive. It gives birth not to new life but to bitterness. Although I tried for harmony, our campus organization has been labeled legislative. We were given only one side of a coin. Instead of division I wish we could unite as a kaleidoscope of ideals and ideas. A sphere instead of the edges of a cylinder. All marching with banners touching the fringes of sky, all collecting contaminants from limestone and washing the mercury from the underbellies of fish, all telling our elected officials that the future will not be determined for us, but by us.

    It happens when individuals begin to organize, when small steps create big momentum. I have become a different person because of it. Sometimes, I fear I am acquiring a one-track mind, holding people accountable for a lifestyle that is comfortable. I worry about turning people away when they misunderstand my goals – holistic not divisive. Passion can surge before you in a wave that washes salty stones of the soul into a movement that encompasses an ocean.

    That is the importance of solidarity. Realizing your hopes are not isolated floats but can be realized within the scope of one another’s capabilities. We can only achieve our aims through harmony, and discord is detrimental, but necessary to challenge the means of achieving an end. However, this end can only be achieved through the hopeful voices of the youth, the elderly, the students, the all. We are all, we are one. I believe in solidarity.

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  7. I scream and scream and scream. And finally five miles after the screaming started we turn the car around. We are headed back to retrieve the teddy bear that I at age 5 have accidentally thrown out the car window while speeding down the highway late at night after deciding that my bear needed some fresh air. This is the same bear that I have dubbed “Teddy” and who made its way through three of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers before finally ending up in the hands of a grandmother who had our address in Japan and was able to send him to me as a present for being born. This same bear will be forgotten at a Perkins while driving across country to Fresno, California and will have to be shipped to an aunt for safe keeping until we have established a real home. Those few months sans Teddy will be bleak and good sleep will be rare.

    This is the same bear that will need eye replacements before he turns eleven, having become a punching back for my childhood anger. I will wake holding a Teddy that has a red ribbon around his neck along with new eyes. How my parents accomplished this without waking me will always remain a mystery. Teddy will also go through many surgeries, most at the hands of my capable Grandma Tulenko, my mother's maternal grandmother. This is the same bear that will start balding at the age of ten and who will end up with a mysterious orange stain on his left leg that I will always attribute to a drop in the snow at the advent of our cross-country move in 1995.

    This bear will haunt my dreams from the age of 16-17 coming back for revenge after all the beatings I gave him in earlier years. He will travel back and forth across the country and even to Europe. Having already been to Asia at this point, he will become perhaps the best traveled bear except for that one bear that people take pictures of and then pass on to someone else who takes more pictures and on and on it goes. He will accompany my carry on luggage on every trip I take from the time that I initially receive him (at my birth) up to the present.

    In my college years, he will be dubbed “Ted” and mocked for the shabbiness of his appearance. I will do my best to protect him from this mockery, but someone will always find him stashed beneath my pillows or under my covers to continue the mockery.

    I will never understand why this is so funny.

    It is odd that I have clung to this bear for so long and so hard. My sister was able to survive the disappearance of her stuffed dog at age seven when my mom removed him during the night. This trick did not work on me. It only caused me to enter a state of extreme screaming for days. Had it not been for my unrelenting fear, anger, and sadness, Teddy might not be with us today.

    After all the years and all the pain of growing up that was poured into this poor, hopeless bedfellow it is only right to say that I believe in Teddy. I do not know what I believe about Teddy but I know that it is big. Teddy was and still is important. Teddy is the silent harbor of all my childhood dreams, hopes, and secrets. If he could talk, he would paint a picture of me better than anyone or thing could. It might not be all pleasant, but it would be honest. I believe that if there was a fire and I could save only one object it would be this bear, screw my art, screw my books, screw my computer and my technology. But please God, save the bear.

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  8. A rope swing into the pond, my mom’s butterfly garden, the tree houses my dad built, a various collection of animals, growing up in Nonesuch. I believe I had a fairytale childhood. As a kid, my parents set no restrictions on what my sisters and I were allowed to do. Whether it was spending the summer days at our tree houses, eating ice cream for dinner, or having a mud fights on rainy days and proceeding to run through the house afterwards. My parents never appeared to be angry or upset with us. My mom likes to say her and my Dad enjoyed giving us the freedom to make the choices we wanted and that she would never regret the things we did as children. Even the time when we thought my parents would appreciate it if we painted flowers on the side of the house or when we thought we were doing our three dogs a favor buy shaving them and painting their toenails or the time we stole all my Dad’s neckties to make a rope swing in mine and Hallye’s room. She thinks that by letting us make our own choices, we would learn right from wrong, how to use our imagination, and how to think outside the box. The memories I have from my childhood are all wonderful, memorable ones that I turn to now on the days when it seems like my life is spiraling or I can’t catch a break. When asked to describe my life as child the best way I can describe it is that it was a fairytale. That in the spring time, Nonesuch resembles Narnia and that at the end of our dead end road you will find the house that I grew up in which resembles the Weasley’s house from Harry Potter. I believe that the way in which I was raised has made me a stronger person today. Someone who loves to craft, who loves all animals, who accepts everyone regardless of their flaws, who thinks family is the most important aspect in her life. Someone who believes that she had a fairytale childhood.

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  9. This I Believe; Fantastic Transgressions

    Sleepy eyes stare outward at nothing in particular. The sun sits low behind the distant horizon, almost disappearing but still shedding light on the evening skyline. I relish the ability to choose not to move. The proof of my freedom is not found in motion, but in the ability to stand still. Everything in our world demands us to move. Twitchy, constant, imperceptible or large, we are always in a state of motion. So, I sit still, observing the slave we call the Sun as it treks along the path its known for a billion years.

    In this place of sleepy contemplation however, it never truly sets. Neither do the stars fully shine in the heavens, nor the does the Moon rise beyond its perch low in the sky. This place is my home. Dark, rough sand beneath my feet, almost jagged enough to hurt, stretches out to meet the Sun in that place I cannot see. No clouds loom overhead, only a thin mist to blanket me as I stand alone in this wonderland of dark blue shadows and red skies.

    Fantasy is my final refuge from reality. I must escape it, or else the weight of it will surely push me into my grave. I choose to ignore reality as often as I can. I can’t say I know someone who doesn’t, so in this respect I’m not special. But if I’m not aware of the reality that truly is, then at least I acknowledge my blindness to it, see the lack of perception of it.

    In certain sects of Buddhism, there is a sadness associated with enlightenment; a kind of sorrow for the understanding of the state of existence as endless suffering and coming from a knowledge of our own incomplete lives, remorse for those who will not be enlightened. My twilight wonderland is a land of stillness and remorse. It’s not something we cherish in this culture to be sad, to own conflicts and to have problems. That’s not to say they aren’t there. But we fantasize their non-existence.

    I believe conflict is progress. I believe that in our sadness and anger we can find truth.

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  10. dear layson,
    I like your childhood. It sounds like the restaurant we played at in turkey with the parrots and guitars and peacocks and playground and ladder on the tree. It reminds me of you and christopher playing.
    Love, austyn

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