Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Car-Free in Tennessee: Rights vs Privileges

Having a 16 year old and another child who's starting to push the boundaries into adolescence, we do a lot of talking about the difference between rights and privileges. I define rights as those things that make us secure as human beings and members of a family and community and, in the case of my children, will allow them to grow into happy, positively functioning adults. Rights are the basics: Healthy food, clothing and shelter, health care. Rights are also those things that nurture us: Love, acceptance, respect, some amount of privacy, positive discipline, etc. Rights may fluctuate according to the needs of the individual and the family dynamic. What is a right for a child at two may be vastly different than what that child, as a teen, needs.

Privileges are the icing,the extras; they're not a given. I think of privileges as rewards; they're what we earn for hard work or extra attention. For my children, privileges are things like "screen time" (computer, movies, video games), being driven to social activities, sometimes books, etc. When my kids do not do the things that are expected of them (usually in regard to schoolwork, but sometimes chores or being disrespectful of others) the usual disciplinary action is that they lose one or more of their privileges.

Yesterday, I was thinking about wanting to go somewhere and trying to figure out the schedule between Hammy's job and mine, picking up Declan from his after school activity and getting us home after aikido. The event I wanted to attend is important; it's a fund-raiser for a friend who has cancer. As I thought about it, I saw the dilemma in terms of rights versus privileges. Hammy wants us to buy another car as soon as possible. The children constantly complain about having to walk and ride the bus, about not getting to do everything they want when they want because we don't have a second car. But, is it really hurting us to have only one car? Is it hurting the children to be walking? Does it hurt me to miss the fund-raiser tonight?

I am American: "It's not just your car...it's your freedom" American. I was practically born in a car. Many Americans, particularly those in the South, would argue that owning a car is one of the rights of being American. I don't think so but I'm only now coming to understand what owning a car does mean. Owning a car means that I can do what I want, when I want to (me, me, me). Not owning a car means that I have to organize my time and schedule my activities around a bus schedule, which means that I miss some activities. Is participating in those activities a right? Some are, like feeling socially connected at homeschool play-day and being a part of our spiritual community at Friends Meeting. If I make those activities a priority, I can schedule our time so we can get to them, then the other, non priority activities can either be done or not done as time and bus schedules allow.

If owning a car is a privilege, what did I do to earn the privilege? Being born American is not enough justification. In my mind, with privilege comes responsibility. If I own a car, what are my responsibilities? The first thing that comes to mind is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by cars and the depletion of fossil fuels. Shouldn't the first responsibility be to off-set the harm done by driving a car? Have I ever done anything to repair the damage I've done by driving? Nope, because I had thought of the car as a right rather than a privilege. The pollution was just an unfortunate side-effect of my right to drive.

Maybe I'm turning Amish in my thinking. At this moment (in the lovely, temperate autumn), I feel that the quality of my life is greatly improved by not owning a car. I am being forced to simplify and prioritize, which is always good. In a way, thinking about my relationship with society, culture and car-owning rights is like exploring my relationship with super-ego. Pretty much every aspect of our culture says that not only should I own a car, but that I must own a car. I'd thought I was fairly counter-culture (homebirth, homeschool, vegetarian, Quaker, feminist, progressive, etc) but this whole issue of car ownership is showing me that I have completely internalized some of society's expectations and assumptions.

I will not be attending the fund-raiser tonight. I'll be missing a bunch of great performers and will not see a lot of friends in a cool setting. I won't be on-hand to show support for my friend and her family. Instead, I will send a check to the bank account set up for her and I will take a casserole to her family in a week or so. I'll email her to let her know I'm thinking about her and I'll hold her and her family in the Light of God's love. Thinking of all the things I can do for her is, in many ways, better for me than just showing up tonight. If I showed up tonight and wrote out a check, I might feel "off the hook." Because I can't attend, I am thinking about what my friend needs and I'm actively committing to do for her and her family. I have been and will continue to hold her in the Light. Missing out is making me more aware. And maybe that's the shift I need in many areas of my life. A metaphorical "missing out" which makes me more aware.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Disconcerting Encounter on a Rainy Day

We'd been lucky, I guess, that we had to go car-free during a drought. Yesterday it rained. And rained. And rained. (My favorite kind of day.) The temp wasn't too bad; around 68 degrees. Zed missed aikido both days last week so I was determined that he would get there this week-rain or shine. We left with enough time to take the long way 'round to the bus stop but I made the mistake of letting Zed talk me into taking the shortcut. Big mistake. Of course, since it had been raining for over 24 hours, the creek was swollen. We got to the stepping stones and found they were all submerged, so we had to build a new path by moving big rocks and placing them carefully. We'd been at it a couple of minutes when I said we should just go back and around the other way, but I checked my clock and we didn't really have time. So we made an emergency walkway and splashed across, climbing up the bank through the roots of a tree.

We made it to the bus stop and waited about 10 minutes in the pouring rain. Hammy had bought us new umbrellas but didn't realize they were as small as they are. Carmac had on a raincoat but his hair got pretty wet. My head stayed dry but the rest of me got wet (kept the books in my bag dry, though!). The bus finally arrived and we were glad to find the heat was on.

This is where my narrative gets all introspective and spiritually self-questioning. A man got on the bus. A very large, middle aged black man. He sat in the seat right in front of me and turned to talk to me. I've seen him around town, often panhandling. He looks homeless. He started asking me questions about where he could find a dry cleaners to repair the zipper of his coat. He would ask the same question 4 or 5 times, looking closely at me the whole time, as if testing me. I realized quickly that he is probably mentally "slow" and possibly mentally ill. He would ask my name and then praise Jesus, often repeating lines like "children of the sun, children of the sun" (or maybe "children of the Son"-I'm not sure) over and over. The thing that made me very uncomfortable was that he wanted to touch me, very much like a child. He would put his hand on my shoulder and rub it over and over or grab my arm and squeeze in time to the repetitions of phrases. I told him that he was making me uncomfortable and moved a little away but he didn't seem to hear me and kept trying to touch me. He asked what color my eyes are and asked me to take my glasses off so he could see my eyes. We looked deeply into each other's eyes for a moment but I was very uncomfortable and looked away. I just didn't know what he was asking of me. I kept thinking of Christ and "whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me" and wondering what was needed from me and I didn't have a clue. I was also a little afraid that the man, William, would follow us off the bus and then what I would do.

I'm still pondering this encounter, trying to learn from it. What was William teaching me? What was he asking of me? I don't think his sitting next to me on an uncrowded bus and speaking with me so intimately and intensely was a coincidence. I've been thinking about what I learned from this profound post by Jim Rose and trying to put yesterday's meeting in context (thank you very much, Jim).

And now, we must leave again, to catch a bus...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fall Retreat

We returned late yesterday afternoon from the annual Nashville Friends Meeting Fall Retreat. Carmac, Zed and Z's friend Scott went with me. My friend Sylvia brought her son and his friend (who Z has known since he was 3 and who go to school with Scott) so we had a small gang of 12 year old boys and then Carmac, who's always happy tailing the big boys. We were the first people to arrive on Saturday, due to Hammy having to drop us off because he needed the car over the weekend. The schedule was low-key. On Saturday we did a "swap-meet" in which we all brought something we were ready to "let go of", shared it's significance with the group and then set it out for someone else to take. I cheated and made a CD of my favorite music specifically for the swap. When we finished that, Thais had brought her stamping stuff and I brought a ton of T-shirts and my stencilling stuff so we made cool looking shirts (Carmac got a new Godzilla shirt that looks way cool and I made a flying saucer shirt for Zed and an atom shirt for Scott).
We took a nice hike on Saturday and then Bill and a friend of his, Susan, played for us while many of us danced. Carmac was my partner for most of the dances and did wonderfully! Mary B taught me to waltz, which was great! We did the Virginia Reel and danced a polka and I spun Carmac around and up and over.

Carmac had been talking about smarshmellows for a week, so we gathered around the campfire for s'mores. I'd brought my "over the fire" old-fashioned popcorn popper (which I found at Goodwill years ago and have never used). It worked pretty well until the butter caught fire. Car had his sweets and then he and I retired to bed. He'd said he wanted the top bunk but pretty quickly he decided he wanted to be with me in the bottom one. We snuggled together but then he fell asleep and wet the bed a little. The lodge, where we were sleeping, seems to amplify noise, so anyone walking anywhere in the building disturbed my sleep. I got very little sleep Saturday night.

Sunday we had Meeting for Worship during which, for the very first time, I fell asleep. Sitting in the chair in the warm sun I tried to settle in and settled myself right into dreamland. I didn't even know I was nodding off until after I'd awakened and realised I'd been dreaming!

I must go work now, but let me close by saying again, just how grateful I am to have the community of NFM in my life. I and my children are so nurtured, loved and sustained by the community. Blessings.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

In Truth

I used to lie. Not all the time, but whenever I felt like it. Sometimes to get myself out of uncomfortable situations, sometimes to make a story better. I don't really remember when I began to make an effort to not manipulate people with my words. My husband says I am one of the most honest people he's ever known, so I guess I've been speaking truth at least as long as I've known him. Coming to Friends Meeting and learning of "let your yea mean yea and your nay, nay" felt right to me. Lately, I've become aware of exaggeration and sarcasm (my verbal forte) as being dishonest, and of saying things like "I swear" (as in "I swear, I am the biggest klutz" or whatever). Whenever I've found myself exaggerating or sometimes when I've been sarcastic, I've felt that vague discomfort one gets when one is being gently prodded by Spirit (or conscience...or both in one).

This has been on my mind lately because there is someone in my life who seems to be a compulsive liar. Our paths cross frequently. Normally, I would call someone I see as often as this person a friend, but that word implies trust and I am not able to trust this person. I've known her for some time-a couple of years, or so. She's very friendly and outgoing and is kind to people. She's friends with a lot of people I'm friends with or would like to know better. Last year, we had some regularly scheduled events together so I spent a lot of time with her. At first, I noticed that there would be inconsistencies in what she would say, but I figured she was distracted and not paying attention to what she said but the better I got to know her, the more I saw that the inconsistencies happened often and regularly. I see her once or twice a week, now, and almost every week, without exception, she'll say something that completely contradicts or negates something she has said in the recent past. Never anything big. It's not like she's "scamming" people; it's always something rather minor, the kind of thing that I'd feel silly "calling" her on. But these regular inconsistencies stand in my way of trusting her and even liking her.

I'm going to give an example. This isn't something she has said but it's very similar to something she did say: "My husband is allergic to the sun. When he is in the sun, he gets a rash and suffers for weeks." And then, two weeks later said, "We went on a trip to the beach this week so my husband could lay out and get a tan."

This doesn't really matter to anyone. She's not trying to hurt anyone with her lack of veracity. But I can't get past all these misstatements to want to be friends with her. She usually seems to want to be in the center of attention and I think the lies are a part of that. She is one of those people who always does this or never experiences that. Whatever anyone has to say, she has done the same only much more so. And that's irritating, but I understand that she needs the attention and that's ok with me. What bothers me is that, because our paths cross very frequently (I couldn't avoid her if I tried), I have to maintain a relationship with her. I prefer my relationships to be based on trust (duh). I don't feel manipulated by her exactly, but I don't like being aware that I can't just accept at face value what she is saying. Not that anything important hinges on her stories; I'm not going to make any decisions or act in any particular way based on something she is saying to the group of people we're with, but when people are talking, I'd rather not have to be aware that what they are saying should be taken with several grains of salt.

Am I making too big a deal out of this? Probably. I'm not sure why it bothers me so much. No one else in our circle of friends has ever mentioned it (and I'm certainly not going to bring it up). They all seem to take everything she says as straight up. As I said, she's kind and helpful to other people. She doesn't gossip or talk meanly about others. She just seems to need to be in the center of whatever is going on and one of the ways she does that is by representing herself as more extreme than anyone else. I understand this. Maybe in identifying this, I'll be able to let it go.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Car-free October

It's been a while-ten days, to be exact. My schedule has prohibited my doing much writing. My caseload has doubled and my cases are all phone work on both coasts and in the middle. About half my cases have business phone numbers, so I call those people during business hours, and the other half are home numbers which I call in the evening or weekends. Zed has recently started back up to taking aikido on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we go to the park on Wednesdays and we're volunteering at the library every Friday morning this month. We ride the bus downtown and have to leave an hour (or more) earlier than we would if we were driving (and get home the same amount later). So for instance, on Tuesday and Thursday, aikido starts at 5:00 but we leave the house at 3:00, get downtown and walk to the library where we rest, drink water, eat a snack, read to Carmac and then we leave the library at 4:20, walk the mile to the dojo and Hammy picks us up at 6:15. Wednesday's even longer because we have 2 buses to ride and twice as much walking to do to get to the park. We leave at 10:30 and get to the park at 1:45 or so (Hammy picks us up at 5:30 or so). Since we're downtown, we eat lunch at a restaurant as a treat (there's great stir-fry place that's cheap and healthy which we all enjoy).

I'm not writing this as a complaint. I actually have really been enjoying the walking and taking the bus. I feel much more connected to my world on several levels.

Of course, in addition to working around 4 hours each day and riding the bus to our scheduled activities, there's the homeschooling work for both boys. I check their assignments with the boys in between phone calls for work. Zed is pretty self-motivated and mostly what Carmac wants is to be read to.

Finding time to be with Hammy has been a challenge. We have to actively make time to do things together. This past weekend Zed went camping with a friend (so we had room for another person in our car) and picked up a friend of Declan's and went to Oktoberfest. We listened to the German band and danced a polka and the "Chicken" dance. It was nice.
I feel more strongly that being car-free is part of my testimony, right now. Yes, it's a challenge and sometimes very frustrating and inconvenient, but it's also eye-opening and positive. Hammy has been talking about "when we get another car" and I'm not sure I want to do that. I'm crazy...I know. We're a family with 3 children who live in the suburbs in the South! People own cars. That's the only way to get anywhere. It's cruel to the kids to not have a second car. But right now it feels really right to not have a second car. It feels right to not be going into debt. It feels right to not be polluting the air nor using more fossil fuels. It feels right to be walking and waiting patiently at the bus stop. It feels right to have to schedule when we can get a haircut or go to Target rather than hopping in a car to run here or there.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Day By Day

This is the song I woke up with. I haven't thought of it in years but it fits my heart today.

Day by day
Oh, dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by day