Thursday, May 22, 2008
Let’s Go To The Library And Scare Ourselves
One afternoon I stood with a friend and watched fish
swimming in a fish tank. I wrote about it here.
And here. And here. It was a peaceful afternoon
even though I was thinking about sea monsters.
That was at a library and yesterday there
warring children hurled a decorative boulder through
the plate glass window by the library’s front door.
The shattering glass sounded like a shotgun blast.
“War is for everyone, for children too,” Frost wrote.
“Let’s go up the hill and scare ourselves,” Frost wrote too.
But when you see warring children—hooded jackets,
red faces, throwing curses, combination locks,
throwing themselves, anything they could lift and throw—
you realize that war isn’t a metaphor
for itself the way Frost used it. War is just war.
And when war-as-just-war trickles down to children
you realize the bonfire we’re standing around
isn’t a beach party. That’s not firewood burning.
A woman and her young five or six year old girl
had been hiding in the back of the library.
I was walking back from the front. The woman said:
“Did you hear those boys cursing? I have never heard
anyone use language like that. Not even men.”
I nodded. The woman’s eyes were still wide. She said:
“When all the noise started—the yelling and banging—
I thought it was a handicapped child convulsing.
Then when I saw what was happening I thought, God,
I’ve got to get my little girl to some place safe.
So we came back here and we crouched behind the books.”
I thought about what she said. A handicapped child.
A handicapped child convulsing. That’s not too bad
a description of what actually happened.
I’ve wondered about teenagers in today’s world.
All the kids have their social network. But even
the kids not-at-arms do not seem very social.
Kids skulking. Kids glaring. Kids not talking at all
and then talking very fast, saying everything.
Children today, even the children not-at-arms,
live to the rhythm of a European town
caught between one side’s retreat, another’s advance.
Frost never said that total war’s for everyone,
children too. But now that war’s the choice metaphor
for the planet, total war has trickled down too.
Many decades ago, Robert Frost concluded:
“The best way is to come up hill with me
And have our fire and laugh and be afraid.”
I don’t know. Frost had his way. Folks laughed at bonfires
and they were afraid but those same people went home
and created the world we all live in today.
Bonfires at a beach party make better pictures—
I mean mental pictures, like what folks used to see
before mental pictures were replaced by TV—
than equivocal sonnets about sea monsters.
And I know that socially networked teenagers—
even the ones not hurling decorative boulders—
aren’t very impressed by monster metaphors.
Warring children. Handicapped children convulsing.
One of those is a metaphor for the other.
And I do not think Frost’s beach party metaphor
did all it could to stop today’s world from coming.
I’m going to stick with the monster metaphors.
I’ve talked to teenagers. Well, some not-at-arms ones . . .
There are sea monsters there. Just beneath the surface.
But if people—children too, the warring and not—
faced their own monsters, focused on their own monsters,
like the scientists, soldiers, beautiful women
from the monster movies of the 1950s
if people went to war against their own monsters,
maybe they wouldn’t wage war against each other.
At the very least maybe they would have less time
to spend throwing decorative boulders through windows.