The Year of the Child

And you have come,

Michael Ahman, to share

your life with us.

We have given you

an archangel’s name–

and a great poet’s;

we honor too

Abyssinian Ahman,

hero of peace.

May these names

be talismans;

may they protect

you, as we cannot, in a world that is

no place for a child–

that had no shelter

for the children in Guyana

slain by hands

they trusted; no succor

for the Biafran

child with swollen belly

and empty begging-bowl;

no refuge for the child

of the Warsaw ghetto.

What we yearned

but were powerless to do

for them, oh we

will dare, Michael, for you,

knowing our need

of unearned increments

of grace.

I look into your brilliant eyes, whose gaze

renews, transforms

each common thing, and hope

that inner vision

will intensify

their seeing.  I am

content meanwhile to have

you glance at me

sometimes, as though, if you

could talk, you’d let

us in on a subtle joke.

May Huck and Jim

attend you.  May you walk

with beauty before you,

beauty behind you, all around you, and

The Most Great Beauty keep

you His concern.

By Robert Hayden (For his Grandson)

Don’t Look Away

Don’t look away while doing this.  I heard Martha Stewart say this while explaining how to slice potatoes uniformly on a mandoline.

If you’re unfamiliar with the instrument, it’s best that you listen and watch carefully as someone else slices with it.  As I watched the cooking school, I thought back to the one time I used the instrument to slice potatoes.  I cut a nice chunk of skin because, inexperienced, I was moving too quickly, cutting too deeply, and cutting too closely the potato’s end.  It became a painful metaphor for many things.

Places to Find Strength

To add more of an answer to your question, when you take off your red and blue power rings, you’ll still be strong.  Your strength doesn’t come from plastic pieces melded together in unseen factories.  Your strength has traveled a much longer distance to reach you.

Your strength comes from more people than you’ll meet because you were loved before you were conceived, loved by church people of all colors, loved by relatives around the world, loved by people who passed into eternity before they talked to you, loved by gift-givers who we thanked but whose generosity has rolled into the long sustained gift that is your life.

Your strength comes from your aunts and uncles who will give and have given their energies for you and for your cousins and who have been good parents, even to you, and who have been counselors and aides and supports and anchors for you already.  Use up the time they spend with you and relish their spoiling, open, broad care.

Your strength comes from your mother who has thrived and triumphed through and after hardships, injustice, great and difficult choices to become the splendid champion she is.  Ask her about them and close your lips to listen.

Your strength comes from your grandparents; one you don’t remember, except through our pictures and our stories; one you bring up from time to time, when you ask about sickness and death and heaven; and two you know and love and hug and see.  All of them have more to teach you than you can learn.  Find every way to be their student.

Your strength comes from great-grandparents who made music, who produced crops, who wandered over more acres than you’ll ever count, who gave hard, who had many children and watched them live and bear their own children and, some of them, die.  They wanted a beautiful future for you even though they couldn’t touch you and every act of submission and toil and business and production had seeds of grace for you in it.

Your strength comes from great-great-grandparents who sang spirituals in fields they didn’t own and worked day-long lives that collected into decades of labor that bore no capital or income or appreciation because their world was decorated in corruption of the deepest kind.  But there was so much more to them than their taken wages and taken days.  They, too, saw far into the dark ahead of their futures and they saw you and they worked and suffered and enjoyed and ate and slept and tried so that you would have all those abilities within you too.

 

An Old Friend

I visited an old friend this past week. I’ve known her since 1984. We spent lots of time together when I lived in Urbana, Illinois. We visited together at least once each week until she moved away in 2002. She moved to a small town near Schenectady, New York and changed her name. I knew her as the Elite Diner. Now she’s the Chuck Wagon.

I had to go about 900 miles to see her. According to the map, she was just a few miles off the road on my trip to Maine, so it seemed a good detour. Turns out it was a great detour.

I scoured the roadside as I drove down the Western Turnpike (Hwy. 20) hoping to see her at every turn. Then, suddenly, there she was. Just as I’d remembered her. Silver with red trim, the rounded corners, windows across the front. The Elite Diner.

She lived on the corner of Elm and Vine in Urbana the 18 years I had known her. She and her cramped parking lot took up the corner, so she looked bigger than she does now.

I parked and climbed a few unfamiliar steps, then entered surroundings that were familiar and comforting. She has not changed much on the inside. Same green and pink tiles on the floor with the same cracks in the tiles. The same silver, pink, and green on walls and ceiling, same booths, though reupholstered.

I sat on the same stool at the counter I had occupies hundreds of times, sometimes by myself, sometimes with one of my children on a stool next to me. The green Formica on the counter was the same. The seam in the Formica had been rubbed smooth and white from thousands of plates of food and mugs of coffee sliding over it.

I had spent hundreds of hours of writing, thinking, planning, or just gathering my early-morning thoughts. I’d had meetings with colleagues and bosses there. I’d commiserated with Bob the welder, who also had an infant son at the time. We’d compare hours of sleep or lack thereof from the night before.

But mostly, this became the place I shared with my kids. This was where we connected over coffee and hot chocolate, sometimes a sweet roll, sometimes a Number 9 (an unhealthy but totally satisfying plate of biscuits covered with hash browns and gravy). My children, now 32 and 25, never hesitated if I woke them before dawn, two full hours before their school started, as long as the question was, “Want to go to the Diner?”

I can’t tell you much about what we did while sitting there. We talked, or not.  Sometimes the talk was about school or homework. We listened to the music overhead and I sometimes I talked about (or made up stuff about) the oldies playing and what was going on with me when the song was new. And we watched and evaluated the cook as he labored over the fried eggs, pancakes, bacon, and other breakfast items being prepared. “Don’t pat the pancakes.” That’s one of my cardinal rules of breakfast cooking, if you care about tasteful, fluffy pancakes, that is. It’s also a pretty good metaphor for lots of things in life. That was something we always watched for.

I was sitting on this very stool the morning my daughter and I had a falling out that ended our trips to the Diner for a few years. It was a sad but necessary morning for each of us. As a friend of mine said to me, “Parenting is about teaching your children to deal with disappointment.” That was one of those morning when we each learned lessons we didn’t want, but needed.

To finish, John Powell’s post, click here.