|Flavin’s Corner September
I spent the Summer of Love moving from the evocative environs of Perlächer Forest near the US Army’s McGraw Kaserne in Munich, Germany to the middle-of-nowhere and pan-military dependent dump of Schilling AFB in Salina, Kansas. There was a brief stop in my dad’s hometown, the newly riot-torn Flint, Michigan, and some of the finest examples of boarded up windows I’d ever seen. My brother Tom had been in Viet Nam since February of 1967 and my dad left for his second tour after the rest of the family settled. I was aware of little that was happening in the adult world (beyond the release of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper), and for me it was just the summer between third and fourth grades. Last year was the summer of shark attacks, or at least it was shaping up to be remembered as such until the tragic events of 9-11. This summer seems like it’ll be known for all the missing girls. Whether that’s how most will remember it years from now is anyone’s guess.
It’s believed that homo sapiens sapiens (fully modern humans) emerged between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago. Around 40,000 BCE, advanced tool-kits and rock art appeared in Europe and the ancestors of Australian aborigines used a maritime technology to colonize Downunder. Giving a twist to the Preacher’s “there is no new thing under the sun (ECC 1:9),” I’ve casually maintained that we’ve always suffered from cancer, AIDS, and other deadly diseases, violence against ourselves or others is practically endemic to our species, and that aberrant behavior is a very old and deep shadow. Today, with newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet, we’re just aware of events sooner. The media makes us look and listen to this and that by pulling our strings with shopping mall exit-polls, motivational analysts, and really cool graphics. Ever since folks started dipping their toes in the deep blue there’s been sharks waiting to nibble. And, sadly, as long as there have been girls, some have gone missing.
Stage magicians use misdirection to accomplish many of their tricks, much like Bush is using the so-called “War on Terrorism” as a blind to enable the further pilfering of America’s natural resources (as well as its economic assets and civil liberties). It’s been suggested that the Catholic church nefariously orchestrated the media’s attention to the missing girls after the previously exposed scandals involving priests and young boys, but this comes from a place in The Twilight Zone seldom visited by even the remotely rational. Silliness aside, most of us benefit from having our buttons pushed by the media. So, about missing girls...
Are we still angry that JonBenet Ramesy was a “painted baby” or that she was murdered? Both, I’d guess. Little girls become Little Women all the time, and the same should be said for little boys (though, it must be emphasized, the vast majority of boys grow up to be men and are not confused about undergarments or how to cross their legs). Buttons get pushed when we’re confronted with loss. What have we lost? What are we missing?
Sure, anthropologists tell us that various ancient peoples tossed their baby girls on dung heaps and some allegedly modern folks continue to hold out for sons and put their girls up for adoption or worse. If our children are indeed our future, than these recent missing girls surely represent tomorrows when the sun won’t shine. Is it gender or something else? Bush has called for a meeting known as the White House Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children on Sept. 24, 2002, and while child-labor, custody battles, and a better system to help identify cases of sexual abuse will undoubtedly be in focus, it’s the missing girls who will continue to haunt us. And, uncomfortably, I have to wonder if we miss girls who are right in front of us.
Perhaps it’s wrong to accuse Madonna of teaching girls to wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes in the ‘80s, or to credit Britney with encouraging girls to show their bellies over the last few years. My galpal has two young daughters who swear worse than some Teamsters I know, and I’m often left feeling helpless, confused and angry. The Summer of Love was a lifetime ago. Today we’ve got Goths with guns and anarchists on skateboards, and I worry that many are replacing kindness with cool. A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail which pushed some of these buttons.
To start off with, I want you to know that it is very difficult for me to write this e-mail. By the time you’re finished reading this letter you’ll probably think I’m crazy, but the truth is that I’m just confused.
I don’t know if you believe in any of Tolkien’s writings. I, personally, didn’t even know who Tolkien was until the “Lord of The Ring” movie came out. When I saw the movie, something clicked inside my head. Maybe I should start at the beginning.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been different. I could never get along with kids my age. Instead, I stayed home reading Shakespeare and Copperfield books. And I was only six. It wasn’t that I was smart, I was just curious about the world around me. But I hated going outside to play. Then one day one of my friends asked me why and I said because I hated what humans had done to the world. Well, she never talked to me again and I don’t blame her. I scared myself, too. Then, around the age of eight, I started hearing and seeing things that no one else around me saw. So I kept to myself and became a weird, lonely child that just didn’t like people. By the time I had reached 6th grade, I had developed my abilities but I had also learned how to ignore them. But since I blocked those out, a new ability came to me. I could feel people’s emotions. I would walk don’t the street and I would see an elderly man. I would immediately know that the man had fought in World War 2 and he had suffered great pain: not just because of the physical scars but also I could see mental pictures of what he had seen. Then, my family and I had gone to a convention in Pennsylvania where we were surrounded by farm animals. I loved horses (and still do) and so I spent most of my time with them. My sister came along one day and tried to get the attention of a steed. She would flop her hands up and down, she would scream, she did everything she could. I just simply went to the fence and I called his name. He came to me right away. I had always been known to grasp the love of animals right away but this was just strange. We would go camping and I would climb into a tree and just sit there for hours. I would sit and admire the beauty around me and then I would realize what parasites humans are. They kill and destroy anything that keeps them from having what they want. Greed blinds them and it causes so much death and chaos that people just decide to become numb to their surroundings. They leave power in the hands of criminals and they sit their going on with their pathetic lives not knowing that they can make a difference. Sorry. I just get frustrated sometimes.
I was always ahead of everyone else and everyone knew it except me. While the girls around me were too busy talking about Britney Spears and Nsync, I was too busy reading Psychology books. Then one day, when I was bored out of my mind, I went to the movies, which I rarely do. I ended up seeing “The Lord of The Rings”. Throughout the whole movie I was paralyzed with a feeling of fear mixed with realization. I felt as if I had found something that made sense. After the movie, I went home and I cried. I don’t know why I cried. I guess it was because I was scared. Then I found out that my brother had the set of LOTR books which I then stole from him. I read the books plus “The Hobbit” in three days. After that I became obsessed with finding out who I am. One day, I went up to my mom and asked her (joking) if i was adopted. She wouldn’t answer me directly. My “gifts” have evolved and I have opened myself completely to them. I’m writing this letter to you because I had a sense of trust when I went to your website. I don’t know if you’ll be able to help me but at least give me an opinion. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, are you ready for the scary part? I’m only 15-years-old.
Sure, the Universe is a strange place and unexpected things happen all the time, but it's home and that's that. I replied:
Well, I don’t usually respond to anonymous and unsigned e-mails (especially those claiming to have been written by 15-year old girls with mutant powers), but as you’ve apparently experienced a minor epiphany with Tolkien’s writings, I suppose replying would be the proper thing to do. And, as these things go, if you’re NOT a 15-year old girl with mutant powers and you’re really some middle-aged guy with a sick sense of humor, THAT would be scary. Onward.
Many people feel different or special all of their lives. This is perfectly natural as all of us are different and special, though not everyone is comfortable with what makes them unique and they often try and morph themselves into homogenized versions of what they think people should be like. You should relax and accept your differences. Perhaps look at the differences of others. We’re all special; we were all given the Gift.
From the Quenta Silmarillion, Chap. XII (see THE SILMARILLION, by J.R.R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977 and later editions): “Immortal were the Elves .... But Men were more frail, more easily slain by weapon or mischance, and less easily healed; subject to sickness and many ills, and they grow old and died. What may befall their spirits after death the Elves know not. Some say that they too go to the halls of Mandos; but their place of waiting there is not that of the Elves, and Mandos under Ilúvatar alone save Manwë knows whither they go after the time of recollection in those silent halls beside the Outer Sea.”
The Gift of Life, for us mere mortals, is framed in birth and death, and the canvas is open to whatever the individual feels like painting. I knew some who were happy to paint “Dogs playing Poker” and “Dogs playing Pool.” There have been impressionists, those who were into abstract, hyperrealists and surrealists, cartoonists, those who did landscapes or portraits, and even a bunch who enjoyed blueprints and architectural design. Decorate your canvas as you will. The Gift is that everyone decides for themself, everyone is a little (or a lot) different from everyone else, and Elves are jealous because they can’t paint well (though some North Pole elves seem adept at making toys).
Your early interest in reading and trying to understand the world around you is much more common than you may presently believe. I had marvelous adventures in the woods with large mushrooms, journeyed miles from my home at five and six years of age to research mythology at a library, and did other goofy things which I fondly recall. During a third grade field-trip, at the Munich zoo, an elephant snaked its trunk out and sucked up my brown-paper bagged lunch. I felt way special. I also felt way hungry after a while and way angry that no one shared any of their lunches with me. It’s good to get out and be with the animals every now and then. Just, keep an eye on your lunch.
As my dad was in the service, I traveled a lot as a kid. I also sat in trees for hours. Between the Black Forest (think Mirkwood or Hansel and Gretel) in Germany, the jungles of Panama, and what woods I could find in New Jersey, Kansas, and Texas, I probably climbed more trees than I should admit to. For a brief time, in my late twenties, I went around downtown Chicago at night with a small group of friends and we climbed atop abandoned buildings, under bridges, and various challenging structures. It lasted a few months. We were lucky and never got more seriously injured than a slight sprain or scrape. I suppose it’s good that we stopped when we did. I tried to climb a large maple last year and the bark ripped chunks from my arms and thighs. Maybe it’s an adult weight thing or maybe I just need to find a different tree. Anyway, back to your mutant powers.
If you’re a sensitive, you should use that power for good and NOT evil. Examples of some who incorporate sensitivity into their job would be doctors, teachers, counselors, police (when they solve crimes through clues), and bartenders. Examples of some who exploit their gift of sensitivity would be super-villains, politicians, lawyers, Microsoft programmers, and certain independent investigative reporters. As a Child of Ilúvatar, you should put your Gift to good use. And, stay out of the heads of people who are in too much pain, are greedy or mean, or are in any way a bummer. The headaches and heartbreaks are nasty. Help others with your Gift, don’t hurt them. Build, don’t break. Encourage, don’t disparage. Fly, don’t flounder and flop. When someone asks, “Are you a good mutant or an evil mutant?” answer “I’m on the good side, of course,” with a big smile. And, don’t imagine their head exploding like a dropped bottle of ketchup, because they asked a dumb question. Questions happen.
As far as “believing” in Tolkien’s stories and writings, as I understand it, I do. His aim with LOTR was to write a long, wonderful story which held the reader’s interest from beginning to end (see J.R.R. TOLKIEN: AUTHOR OF THE CENTURY, by Tom Shippey, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000). He achieved that and much else. While there are several precious attributes of LOTR, after a reading many have been instilled with a deep and life-long re-appreciation of Nature and with an admiration of trees as the most common expression, often reminiscent of childhood experiences. Sometimes trees aren’t around and an open field or someone’s front lawn with freshly mowed grass has to do. On rare occasions certain weeds struggling to survive in concrete canyons have been known to twist lips into a wide grin. Even if you found yourself on the slopes of Mt. Doom, there would probably be some small biot of life to admire. In LOTR many discover a profound delight in Nature. If this has happened to you, congratulations! As a LOTR reader with a profound delight in nature, you can now look forward to years of recycling, wearing fake leather, taking the concept of stir-fried vegetables to places it was never meant to go, voting Green or liberal socialist, and always wondering if you’d look better with pointy ears. There’re groups and societies you can join. See: http://www.csclub.uwaterllo.ca/u/relipper/tolkien/rootpage.html#Societies.
There’s much more to Middle-Earth than just THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy all the various books, poems, and unfinished stories, when you get to them. So, remember to use your mutant powers ONLY for good. Thanks for writing. And, of course, if you’re a middle-aged guy with a sick sense of humor, I’m reminded of Bombadil when he handled the One Ring. Ain’t no thing.
The next day I received another e-mail from the Yahoo account: “Thank you. And just to ensure you, I’m not a middle-aged pervert but I am what I told you I was. If you want to know my name, it’s xxxxxxxxx. I thank you again.” I wish that would've went differently. Should've, could've, but didn't. We do our best and we never stop.
Questions have always outnumbered answers. Why do the MTV Video Music Awards make the headlines and the World Summit in South Africa barely rates a mention? The apathetic might reply with “Who cares?” The pathetic could toss out that scantily clad women and girls are easier on the eyes than naked and starving Africans. And, the empathetic would probably offer the standard spiel of "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference." Just because the answers aren’t readily apparent or easy, it doesn’t mean we have to turn to cynicism, deny our problems, or cough up and spit out excuses like some whiney phlegmatic. We do our best and we never stop.
The media has certainly lived up to its best and worst tags of late. The Boston Globe has achieved arch-nemesis status with the Catholic church by its dedicated and unrelenting coverage of the abuse scandals. Israeli cable is thinking about dropping CNN for what they believe is unnecessary and bias reporting on Palestinian victims. The unthinkable was manifest a few weeks ago in reports of a 17-year-old young man who raped an 18-month-old baby girl (no hyperlink; too sad), sheer horror was realized when we heard of the woman who lost her baby to the jaws of a bear who had wandered into a vacation backyard, and proof positive that we’re not that far along the evolutionary path was demonstrated when we learned of the woman who allowed her young children to suffer first-degree sunburns because she was too busy checking out the various booths at her local county fair. I thank the media. Now, if it’s not too much trouble, please give us some good news for a change. We need it.
Missing girls will probably continue to devastate our senses. We should appreciate and fight for those we still have.
[Note: With the above I tried to confront current themes and leave the expected memorials for 9-11 to others. The victims and heroes of 9-11 will always be in my thoughts. We do our best and we never stop.]