Friday, July 13, 2012

We Are Penn State

I've been thinking about my childhood lately.  Things like the storefront one of our neighbors had connected to his house.  Freddie's is where my family went to get Town Talk bread, milk, Dolly Madison treats, penny gum and on special occasions chocolate ice cubes for a nickel.  I was partial to the candy necklaces I could fashionably wear and lick at the same time.  Freddie's had an awesome comic book rack and the cigarettes were kept behind the counter along with aspirin and other things only adults could buy like x-rated mags.  Freddie hung a sheet between the store part of the house and his actual living room  from which emanated the incredible smells of homemade sauce and the sounds of Bonanza.   Sometimes if the curtain blew open just right I could see Mrs. Freddie with a table tray in front of the TV eating her spaghetti. This mixing of worlds fascinated me.
A ways away was the neighborhood fire station which had a big red metal Coke machine.  I loooooved that Coke machine.  The firehouse doors were usually open and kids could take the change they'd collected delivering papers or scavenged from Dad's couch cushions to get an icy cold Coca-Cola sweat dripping down the green sides of the glass, bottle refundable for a nickel,.  Sometimes the firemen who sat smoking on the metal park bench in front would let us climb up onto the truck, hang from the back, put on their helmets, try on their boots and if we were lucky sit in the cab and honk the horn.

We attended the local Catholic School walking with our book bags which were not knapsacks but actual suitcase looking things and metal lunchboxes that scratched our legs as we walked.  My family attended mass on Sunday and my classmates and I went to morning mass on First Fridays and regularly scheduled weekdays.  In my homeroom everyone knew everyone else. We were a group, a collective, special.  It was the same students first grade through eighth.  We knew who would be in the turtle row, the rabbit row, who would get boxed around the ears by the nuns, who would volunteer for extra work.  We felt sorry for the public school students who didn't have the one true faith and collected pennies for the pagan babies in our pint sized milk cartons.  It was familiar and safe.

During the summer we spent our time at the local pool playing with the teenage boys who would pick us up and throw us like sacks of potatoes to splash into the deeper water.  Or  they'd pass us around like dolls from one to one another putting us on their shoulders, jousting with each other to see which  of us would fall first from our perch..  My favorite game was jumping as hard as we could on the diving board for height, distance, momentum and doing cannonballs trying to hit the lifeguard on duty with the splash.  I grew up with a pair of  enormous identical twins, older and desired by the girls who tried to bounce the bolts from the board's sockets and who always inevitably won.

At home we watched Leave it to Beaver, the Little Rascals, Mayberry RFD and Matchgame 76.  We ate dinner as a family, did our homework and were in bed by 9.  Life was simple, I was innocent. 

All  of the above is true.  And not. 

My childhood has a dark and twisty side, a shadow if you will.  There is an underbelly of shit that got stuffed up in the attic, down in the basement, anywhere it could be shoved while my family struggled mightily to maintain an illusion of all is well rather than face reality which scared all of us.  The reality of my childhood is one of love, presence, God and community.  It is also one of abuse, alcoholism, mental illness and cruelty.

I have spent the better part of my adult life struggling to heal from the things stuffed up in the attic and  basement.   On bad days I'm not sure I'll ever be whole.  On good ones I feel joy and gratitude.  I continue to make progress and one bit of wisdom I've gleaned is  my nostalgic recall of the innocence and simplicity of my childhood is fantasy.  Life's complicated.  Good and evil exist side by side.  When I was a kid though the evil was never acknowledged, the elephant in the room.  And because it was not acknowledged or called out of hiding it perpetrated itself. with impunity.   As Edmund Burke once said "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Which brings me to Penn State.  Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley et al. stood by passing the buck from one to another while Jerry Sandusky continued to steal from boys who trusted him  as a father figure any hope of a physically, emotionally and spiritually whole and healthy adulthood.  It is also true Penn State espouses academic excellence, personal/social responsibility and the dignity of others as ideals to be upheld and has produced thousands of  graduates, including former football players who have gone on to become solid citizens and to lead moral, upstanding and successful lives.  These things coexist.  Good and evil.  Light and shadow.

Along with thinking about my childhood I've also been wondering if I were the janitor who witnessed Sandusky performing oral sex on a child in the locker room  would I have blown the whistle?   What if I knew it meant the loss of my job?  What if I thought no one would believe me, a janitor at the bottom of the institutional food chain, my word against that of a revered coach?  What if I told myself, surely someone else knew about this and would do something?  What if I feared Sandusky would sue me for libeling him after no one believed me?  Would I have called police?  Would I have intervened?  Would I have had the courage to act?

No one likes looking at evil.  By it's nature it makes good folks want to turn away, run, hide, do nothing and hope someone else will step up to the plate.

I'm afraid that if I were the janitor I would have just kept on walking.  We all have good in us.  We all have a shadow.  I need to look in the mirror and see what is there, unflinching not turning away and accepting what I see.  I need to acknowledge the shadow in me and then pray that by the grace of God I will do the next right thing.  Because what the mirror shows me when I dare to look is.....

We are Penn State.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Squirrel Cage

 A friend of mine refers to her head as a squirrel cage...

Fat Hamster

I prefer the term hamster wheel myself, because my thoughts go up and down, around and back while I spin furiously in one spot wondering why I can't get anywhere.   AA tells me the way to make this insanity stop is to take an action.  You know the saying, move a muscle, change a thought?

Seriously though. There has got to be a better way.  (Ice cream maybe?)

I'm thinking about the hamster wheel because right now my head is in an existential, dark and twisty place (which is why I'm writing this post.)  Well, you say, that's not moving the body.  Hey look Mrs. Smarty Pants, my fingers are tip, tippity-tap, typing away, so HAH!  Movement. TAKE THAT! (And at least it's not ice cream)

Anyway here's the thing.   There's a person (herein to be known as X) in my life who looks and acts pretty normal, appears to be a competent person and has done nothing to me but in spite of that I feel like there's something not quite right, something amiss.  I feel malice, ill will and contempt emanating from X in waves when I'm around but no one else seems to notice it.  Everyone acts as though they genuinely like X.  And this makes me feel crazy because I'm afraid  X has everyone buffaloed and is going to hurt someone I care some the future.  Ahem.

Now I'm a highly sensitive person and just a teeny tiny bit tightly wound.  You're shocked I know.  I know.   Fact is though, as hard as it is to believe, I am extremely sensitive - to light, to sound, to smell,  to vibrations, to shellfish.  You name it.   And I'm hypervigilant.  I react internally to the moods, feelings and energy of others.  So presently I'm reacting all over the fucking place.  Literally the hair on my arms is standing on end and I have the heebie jeebies just thinking about X.  It's almost like I expect the human skin on X's head to flap back revealing a reptilian one that's licking it's nonlips and going "yum, yum."

 Consequently, there's not much contact between X and me to be sure.  But sometimes we do end up in the same room and inevitably on these occasions as I'm sitting, listening to a speaker and not paying much mind to anything except what's being said I'll  look up and BOOM there's X leaning forward, arms crossed defensively, staring straight at me with a hostile/contemptuous expression  that seems vaguely ominous.  It makes me uncomfortable because it feels like a challenge or maybe even a threat.  Being the submissive that I am though, instead of confronting this, I immediately look away.   Most of the time if I dare look back    X eyes are still drilling holes in my head. 

What sucks though is that as much as I want to spin in one place in my little hampster wheel for forever, as I go over and over the things I think are wrong with X , I am sober enough to know that, wait for it, wait for it....

It's not about X. 

"It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed,
no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with

X is just a mirror.  As Pogo once said, "I have seen the enemy and he is us."  So it's me who needs to change not X.  Time to stop blaming the mirror.  Time to move a muscle - change a thought.

See how that came around?  Well I'll be damned.  It works.  It really does.