I was not able to post yesterday for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is the turmoil caused by this nation trying to come to terms with those sins of the past that come back to haunt us and hunt us in the present.
I am an old white man. I suffer from “white privilege” in ways I can’t explain to some of my white friends back in Iowa, a State that was almost entirely white when I was growing up there. (And I pray that I grew UP, not just old.)
I learned yesterday that it matters how you put in order the things that you can say on matters of race. You can’t just say, “Black lives matter” to some white people. They will angrily insist that “All lives matter.” They will then proceed to tell you that you are being a racist when you suggest that black people are somehow more important than white people. I learned that you should say instead, “All lives matter, which means black lives certainly matter too. And the debate now is about a few recent black lives that were treated like they didn’t matter, and so, their lives ended in being murdered.” You can’t give white people a reasonable-sounding way to get out of admitting that, or they will. (See, I can be a bit racist too. I sometimes have a hard time believing all white people have positive human feelings in them somewhere.)
It has often, in my teaching career, been a disadvantage to be a white male. Black kids don’t believe you can see them as a good person. If you have to call them down for misbehavior, the worst ones will automatically assume it is about their race and not their behavior. A good teacher needs to listen more than they talk. You have to get them to open up about what happens in their lives that makes them behave the way that they do. You have to make them understand that you actually care about them and want to help. You have to earn their trust to get their best learning behavior. And being white makes that all so much harder. Not just with Afro Americans. Hispanic kids too. Vietnamese kids too. And I promise you, if you take the time to really get to know a kid… from any race or culture… you will discover that underneath it all, there are no bad kids. You stand a very good chance of learning to love them… no matter their racial or cultural differences from you.
And as an old white man, I suffer the disadvantage of never being able to truly understand what it feels like to have to worry that, at any moment, the police might kill you with a gun, or press the life out of you with a knee on your neck… just because of the color of your skin. That is in no way a fair thing that black men, black women, and black kids have to worry about that.
I am saddened and frustrated too that I can’t do any more to correct this terrible injustice than I am doing. I can’t attend protests because of my poor health and the pandemic that will probably kill me anyway. I am too old and crippled and broke to do any more than write this essay and post things on social media that make some of my old white friends angry and ready to argue.
I feel bad. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, and too many more diminish me, make me hurt in my heart. And all I can do about it is tell you that there needs to be more love in this world, and less hate. And I hope maybe you have a little more of it to add to the world. After all, that’s all that really matters.
When conservative cultural warriors, Twitter Trolls, or dyspeptic gasbags like Rush Limbaugh call you a “Special Snowflake”, I have discovered, to my chagrin, that they don’t mean it as a compliment. In their self-centered, egotistical world you have to be as emotionally tough and able to “take it” as they believe (somewhat erroneously to my way of thinking) they themselves are. They have no time for political correctness, safe spaces, or, apparently, manners polite enough not to get you killed on the mean streets where they never go. Being a retired school teacher who was once in charge of fragile young psyches trying to negotiate a cruel Darwinian world, I think I disagree with them.
Have you ever tried to draw a snowflake? Believe me, it is difficult. Snowflakes are hexagonal star-shapes with enough lace and filigrees in them to make it a nightmare to draw it with painfully arthritic hands. The one above took me an hour with ruler and compass and colored pencils, and it still doesn’t look as good as a first grader can create with scissors and folded paper. Much better to use a computer program to spit them out with mathematical precision and fractal beauty. That’s how all the tiny ones in the background were created. But even a computer can’t recreate the fragile, complicated beauty of real snowflakes.
You see how the fragile crystalline structures will break in spots, melt in spots, attach to others, and get warped or misshapen? That is the reason no two snowflakes are alike, even though they all come from the same basic mathematically precise patterns generated by ice crystals. Life changes each one in a different way.
And that, of course, is the reason this essay is really about people rather than mere physical artifacts of cold weather. Our fragilities and frailties are earned, and they make us who we are. I have a squinky eye like Popeye from playing baseball and getting hit by a pitch. I have a big toe that won’t bend from playing football. They both represent mistakes that I learned from the hard way.
As a teacher, I learned that bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders are very real things. I lost a job once to one of those. And I spent a long night talking someone out of suicide one horrible December. Forgive me, I had to take fifteen minutes just there to cry again. I guess I am just a “special snowflake”. But the point is, those things are real. People really are destroyed by them sometimes. And they deserve any effort I can make to protect them or help them make it through the night.
But people are like snowflakes. They are all complex. They are all beautiful in some way. They are all different. No two are exactly the same.
And I really think boorish bastards have no right to insist that we need to take safe spaces and sanctuaries away from them. Every snowflake has worth. Winter snow leaves moisture for seedlings to get their start every spring. If you are a farmer, you should know this and appreciate snowflakes. And snowflakes can be fascinating. Even goofy ones like me.
Filed under 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, artwork, battling depression, commentary, compassion, humor, metaphor, Paffooney, self portrait, Snow Babies, strange and wonderful ideas about life
Tagged as compassion, humor, snowflakes