Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reflections on a True Misadventure - 34 Days

The Rolling Stones - Moonlight Mile

"Oh I'm sleepin' under strange, strange skies
Just another mad, mad day on the road
My dreams is fading down the railway line
I'm just about a moonlight mile down the road"...

I took Thursday off to clean the house. Every hour or so, I would go upstairs and look at the mess that, underneath, was my bedroom, and would get so upset I would go and sit on the stairs and then lay down on the couch till I fell asleep. Next hour: repeat. 

On Thursday evening I went to Pilates class, and came home around 8:30, re-energized. I put on some loud, dance-y music, and went to town. I cleaned my room. I put everything away. I threw away all the junk. I made piles to donate to the Philly AIDS Thrift. I put a light blanket on the bed to chase away the chill. I made a firm decision.

This experience will not beat me. As long as I am still standing, I am okay. I am reminded, again, of the poem "Invictus", by William Ernest Henley. The last time I referenced this poem, someone told me that Timothy McVeigh quoted it before his execution. I find this strange because I think that being a terrorist is the opposite of stoicism, which I think is the major guiding principle of the poem. I think that Henley had a bit of a rough time but chose to channel that into a powerful lyrical work. His poem is cited in Homer Hickam's memoir "Rocket Boys", when the burgeoning space race inspired the United States to re-evaluate its public education system to compete with the USSR. For me, I love to read its dark words during dark days:

"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."

On Friday morning, I woke up in my clean bedroom to a house that had not been burgled again. I took a long shower, got dressed, drank coffee, ate breakfast, and went to work. I walked into class, set up for the day, and waited for the students to come in.

All day, I spoke to the students about just a few things. 1) How could we live in a space station? 2) Saturn and 3) How to resist peer pressure and why not to break into people's houses. I was surprised to find that all the students empathized with me and felt sorry that this had happened. I sadly realized that most of them shared in my experience. (I had learned a few days earlier that someone had thrown a rock through one of the new school building's windows.) I sadly realized that I am making the right decision. I sadly realized that what Officer Montoya and other cops told me was right: Philadelphia is a violent and dangerous city.

Colouring my thoughts and conversations all day were the thoughts and fears that, when I came home, I would find the house in the same state as I had the day before. It was all I could think about, and I kept apologizing to the students that I was being a terrible teacher all that day. It was incredibly important to me to communicate with them, share with them, and impart upon them to not do anything like this to anyone, especially to strangers.  Funnily enough, they were quiet and compassionate and listened. Several times, other teachers walked in to my room to find us all sitting and talking quietly, sharing stories.

When I came home, of course, the house was fine. Nothing was amiss. The safety pole waited steadfast at the back door. The new front door locks were strong and tight. Nothing had moved from its box, or its drawer, or its shelf: so unlike two days before. But something was, of course, different. The feeling that someone, out of anger or desperation, threw everything that I owned, in the living room, office, and especially, bedroom, onto the floor, will never go away. That feeling, that knowledge, pervades everything here. Nothing was wrong yesterday, but my home here will never be the same.

What is The Nothing - from "The Neverending Story"

That being said, I am lucky. My lease is up shortly and I will be able to move. I have so many great opportunities, and I have to take advantage of them.

Philadelphia has given me the opportunity for an existential crisis. This crisis, this phase of realization, acceptance and transformation, is a gift. Let me only be lucky enough to perceive its lessons and choose to learn from them.

A few years ago, my friend Martha J and I were talking about homes. She, at the time, was living at the Castilian Dormitory and working for the University of Texas National Institute of Forensics, and I was talking to her about how hard I thought it would be to live in many different places throughout the course of a year, as she was at the time. I told her that I felt like I needed my home as a physical space that was mine, that I could decorate and make my own. And she told me that she didn't agree: that home was wherever she was. Back then, I didn't understand what she meant. But now, after all of this, and perhaps especially after the break-in, I really do. Home is within us, a part of us. It doesn't matter where you are, just who you are with.

That being said, I still love having a great home that I can decorate. I don't think that will change: home is very important to me. But, I think that I have re-evaluated and have a different understanding of the home within and the physical space we live within. 

Even though, very shortly, I have to say goodbye to my new Philly friends, or at least "until we see each other again", I know that as long as I learn from this and all lessons that I have learned in this crazy town, that I will stay in touch with those friends and remain close with them and with all the other wonderful people in my life.

And I will remember a quote from "Mad Men", the show I have been re-watching over the last few weeks: "People tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be."

Yma Sumac - Taki Rari

From now on, though....I will listen to great music like that of  Yma Sumac, pack up the few things that I am taking with me, and go!

1. Compassion from my students
2. Listening to the sounds of wonder when they viewed the new video of Saturn and Jupiter from the Cassini mission
3. Coming home to a calm household
4. Going to a Phillies game with a good friend!
5. Weekends and time....

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