Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
January 2015 - Volume 15, No. 1
Overseeing (upon entering 2015)
When I look back on my childhood, I understand much better that dual desire to both get out from under my parents authority and at the same time wanting them to be strong enough to resist any foolish escape. Or, as I frequently state it today - I understand the secret prayer of all children to have parents strong enough to wisely resist them.
Then with a great sadness I contemplate 1) those children with parents who can’t or don’t care enough to oversee them, 2) those with parents who abuse rather than care, and 3) those with no caring parents or grown-ups who stand in as strong overseeing figures.
As I understand the primary developmental model for humans, children are born (or given) to parents (or families, or communities) to raise them, to provide care and overseeing until such time that the “parent function” is sufficiently formed within the child that he or she is entrusted to the larger world to forge a life for themselves.
And from my viewpoint, this seems to be a common model in the natural world as well.
Once I left home, I went to college - curiously called an “alma mater” (Latin for “bounteous mother”). I relished my independence, but in retrospect appreciate the educational and other structures that grew me through this next phase toward a community citizenship.
Personally I have always had an independent streak within me - which after all these years still holds me with the pride of being self-employed, and a fairly independent thinker. Yet still I am overseen by at least the Licensing structures of the State of Michigan for my particular profession. It is perhaps genetic fortune that I was more independent than rebellious. And I know this gave my parents more peace than many teens did theirs.
I was fortunate to have parents who both encouraged my independence, yet held true to their parenting tasks and structures. I rarely had reason to rebel against them, because they rarely had to hold me in strict rules. The only recallable exception was when my father refused to let me grease my hair in the prevailing style of the ‘rebel types’ of my 1950’s youth culture.
In college and graduate school, my independence allowed me to make good use of relationships I formed with some faculty, having a freedom to seek them out, yet the common sense not to abuse that luxury. Growing up as a preacher’s kid in small towns gave me a sense of a general benevolence of superiors (I think since my parents were of the same temperament).
Then came the “sixties.” I was a few years older, but very open to their sense of parental betrayal - of the generation that ‘killed Jack Kennedy’ and gave us Vietnam. The generation of “peace, love, and rock-and-roll” was rebellion for a high cause, as the parents had sold out their children’s birthright. They were on their own, and it was glorious and it was disastrous. There’s never been anything like it since. Yet, even now, three generations later, I’m dealing with the residue - children who’ve had no effective parenting, and many parents who don’t know how to effectively watch or raise their children. It’s still “there was nobody to raise them.”
Now we come to the end of a year in which children and youth all over the world are being abused and murdered in great numbers. Social programs in our own country that were intended to provide a safety net are in danger of being dismantled, because the prevailing powers don’t believe they’re as necessary. Children and the poor around the world are being returned to ‘chattel’ status. Governments and bureaucracies seem to have squandered any right or resources to do anything about it.
In my time we had lynching, police brutality, Selma (we can learn again about it from the movie). We had rural and urban poverty.And for awhile we had (and then lost) Jack & Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X.
We also had those ‘kids’ who gave every ounce of spirit they could muster to build a different and more humane world. And there was the music - which fed that spirit through every orifice and pore of our bodies.
Often when I hear that music today, I feel like we don’t deserve to listen to it. So much of the spirit it was born to feed has died. All we have now are movies and recordings and museums. It’s like the wedding photographs of divorced parents. With the children left empty.
I saw all of that. I trusted it. And even though it died, I still trust.
There’s a reason I’ve written here as I have. Beginning with my own legacy, and perhaps from within it a gift for this time. You see, I saw all of that. I trusted it (and dammit, those kids trusted me). And even though it died, I still trust it. I do that even now, for the parents and grandparents of my current clients.
It’s a New Year. Those who now are all the way between 15 and 50 seem to be waking up at the same time.
We all know the questions. Who’s going to police the police? Who’s going to govern the government? Who’s going to feed and shelter the homeless and starving? Who’s going to stand against the brutality of hopeless people against hopeless people throughout the world?
What happens when the structures that are meant to oversee and curb raw human greed, especially greed with guns and $billions, weaken to the point of collapse?
In my memory we’ve been here before.
But then we had the ‘flowers’ - the Kennedys, King, Gandhi and others. And they were killed.
When Pope Francis emerged among us less than two years ago (March, 2013), the fear was palpable that there were forces in the world that would quickly destroy him. We have the young Malala, we have Tutu, we have the Dalai Lama. Each fragile and human candles in the darkness; each who can rise above with hope and courage and love. And from my vantage, there’s Obama, whom so many love to hate.
This Christmas I’ve been reminded again of the Jesus story, born in poverty, hunted down by a murderous Herod, his persecuted family fleeing to Egypt where, according to one account, they were rescued by an infidel.
Those of us who can still see, who are blessed with longer memory - we have work to do. The form of it, perhaps yet to discern.
2015 will be a year for many of us very carefully and earnestly to,
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