Saturday, March 31, 2012

Why I Think There's Something More

I believe God exists. I also believe as long as we're human we can't ever fully know God. God, by nature, is beyond us, bigger and wider and fuller than we are or can even imagine. But there are times when we get glimpses, we brush up against God, even find ourselves immersed.  Here's an incomplete list of why I believe in God:

The ocean's rhythmic infinity -
The universes hidden in a mind and the words that open those universes to other minds -
Uncalled for compassion and unnecessary kindness -
The powerful, energized mist of a waterfall -
A wild child brought to calm by holding a guinea pig or watching the small stillness of a hidden hummingbird -
A dream that connects you with a loss you didn't even know had happened -
The burst of emotion stirred by physical sensations -
The way the lump of spongy gray we call the brain creates life and thought and emotion and creativity, music and literature and art and scientific discovery, through electrical and chemical events that happen in the space between the concrete and the tangible -
The energy and electricity in a room full of people connecting with each other -
The invisible world of atoms and molecules and waves of light and sound upon which we have built this remarkable, visible civilization that is modern life -

This list hasn't reached its end.  What would you add?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Are Monsters Real?

When we're kids, monsters seem so very real.  They hide under the bed, in the closet, around dark corners and behind furniture.  They terrify us, and they fascinate us.  We want protection from them, and we want to be them.  Dinosaurs and alligators and aliens, vampires and ghosts and werewolves populate our minds and our books and our toy boxes and our collections of Halloween costumes.  We love their power, their capacity to wreak havoc and unbridled destruction.  They are big, strong, wild, untamed, powerful, in control.

Adults love to tell kids "there's no such thing" as monsters and ghosts and vampires.  But adults are wrong.  What are dinosaurs and sharks and alligators if not monsters?  Of course, the really terrifying monsters are the ones we adults don't want to name or think about in relation to our kids, though we seem to love writing about them.  They are the monsters masquerading as humans who do terrible things to other humans.  They are all too real.  And far too many kids have met those monsters face to face.

Judging by the characters that populate our movies, our books and our TV shows, these more insidious monsters fascinate our adult selves as much as dinosaurs did our kid selves. This fascination seems a lot more disturbing if you ask me.  The monsters that fascinate us as kids aren't necessarily malevolent.  They're just big and destructive.  It's in their nature.  They're predators doing what predators do.  Even the vampires and werewolves and ghosts have only a sort of abstract evil to us as children.  They're interesting mostly because they're gross or mysterious.

Our adult fascination with real, malevolent human characters, with the dark and depraved side of human nature, lands quite decidedly in the moral gray zone.  It's disturbing.  We often couch it in the safety of police procedurals, stories where the bad guy gets caught.  Yet, these stories seem to dwell on and wallow in the malevolent acts with a voyeurism that raises concern.  Are we, as adults, still longing for the license offered by imagining ourselves as the monster?  What moral and ethical price of the soul are we willing to pay to indulge our imaginations in this way?

There is another category of monster, one which is perhaps better referred to as "demon."  It is the unseen, internal one, the hardwiring of our brains that seems outside our control and torments us in a thousand different ways.  Depression is one such demon.  Addiction is another.  Psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder.  We have these new names for them, but back in humanity's childhood we called them "demons.'  If you've ever had one of these things inside you, the characterization feels apt.  It seems beyond your control.  You can't see it or touch it but it has so much power over you, and yet it feels like an alien force, an alien force that has somehow gotten its tentacles into your brain.

When I watch some of my students who struggle with issues such as autism or ADHD or anger issues or emotional disturbance, I see them wrestling these internal monsters. They feel overwhelmed, like they're fighting a battle they can't possibly win.  They need a the power of a T-Rex to fight that stuff.  Hell, adults need the power of a T-Rex to fight that stuff, and even then it's not enough.  Kids need T-Rex on steroids, and he needs to be fighting in their court.

So, are monsters real?  You know it.  Don't let anybody ever tell you any different.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Control: Fish Swimming In A River

For my first post on this blog, I decided to share with you some words I tell my 3rd and 4th grade students, many of whom have already had way too much rough stuff thrown at them in life:

We are like fish swimming in a river.  We can't control what the river does.  Maybe it will be stormy.  Maybe it will be sunny.  We can't control what the rest of the fish do.  We can control how we swim through the river.

Life is full of stuff you can't control - big stuff and little stuff.  Sometimes you have to move or people get sick or accidents happen.  Sometimes other people do awful stuff.  It's scary to know there's so much you can't control.  But you can control how you react to that stuff.  You can control whether you ask for help.  You can control whether you treat others with kindness.  You can control whether you keep trying or you give up.

Swim with strength and courage.  Find other fish you can trust and swim together.  Swim to the calm places when you need a rest.  Explore.