Wednesday, May 26, 2010

rattling your cage

My older son was up early (and a bit grumpy) today, headed for the high school where the seniors are planning a "prank" that has its roots in previous years' pranks. It's pretty tame, but he got out of bed for it, so that makes it worth the price of admission.

What is planned is to set up a toll booth in the school parking lot. Those wishing to park nearer to the school's front entrance can pay a "toll" (I think it's a dollar). All others will be relegated to parking spaces further from the entrance. The money will go to some school need.

A prank made for relatively well-off, relatively 'entitled' kids. Sometimes I worry that the comforts the kids enjoy will not serve them well in the future, but life has a way of teaching lessons we didn't learn before -- lessons for which there is never enough preparation, no matter how well-off or impoverished anyone might be.

Funny how parents long to shield their kids from the lumps and bumps that are likely to come along and yet no matter how energetic the effort to shield, still the bell jar of growing up -- for better or worse -- can never be enough: The bell jar of entitlement or lack of entitlement is made for one thing alone ... to be shattered.

In the army, I had a black buddy in basic training. He and I would horse around -- challenging each other to do more push-ups or chin-ups or ... well, competing and then laughing with or at each other. He came from some place in back-roads Virginia and I was a white kid from New York. Both of us were dressed in the same fatigues and had the same impossibly short haircut and the bell jars of the past made little or no difference. We were pals, suffering and griping about and making the best of our current circumstances.

And then one day, he wasn't around. He was gone for a couple of days and I couldn't find out what had happened to him. Was he sick? Had he been thrown out for some reason? Had he gotten into some trouble? I simply didn't know.

And then he was back. "Where the fuck were you?!" I asked with a friend's exasperation. And he explained that he had been to the dentist where, at age 19, he had had all of his teeth pulled out.

My New-York-white-kid bell jar shattered in that moment. My assumptions were all pretty entitled ... dental hygiene was how people grew up; tooth brushes, however annoying, were something you used; dentists were people you went to for a filling or a cleaning ... but my assumptions were just that, assumptions ... not facts or laws chiseled on some holy stone ... just assumptions. My friend grew up poor and this was one indicator of that poverty. But, but, but ... but he was my friend and I didn't want to think he would be put upon in this way, this bell-jar-shattering way.
Together with my sadness was a recognition of one small way in which I was just plain ignorant and in that ignorance, inattentive. Inattentiveness is not the hallmark of a friend.

It really rattled my cage.

That's life for you, I guess. Always rattling your cage.

It may be worth looking into.

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