Tag Archives: Meryl Streep

It Seldom Is What It Seems

Meryl Streep “had a farm in Africa.”

In the third-grade, I had a friend in Africa.

I don’t remember much about him. And, it’s probably good we didn’t grow up together. For in that short span of a year, we got into enough mischief as it is. I remember a passing Kenyan motorist loudly knocking on my family’s front door one darkening evening, and speaking angrily with my dad because the two of us had “accidentally” thrown a rock at, and struck, his car.

I also remember us sitting on my bed playing the “I call dibs on” game, only instead of calling dibs on cars or motorbikes, as one might do during long car rides to pass the time away, my American expat friend and I called dibs on lingerie-clad only women in a Spiegel or Sears similar catalog. Ironically, as I googled the spelling and meaning of “dibs,” I discovered one definition is “a game played by young gentlemen, in which you call dibs on any young lady that takes your fancy.”

Anyway, after having kids of my own, and trying repeatedly over many, many occasions to instill in them a more critical assessment of the real lives of their school friends’ alleged lives (in contrast, for example, to what is stressing my child, but which they think will make them happy – aka, my kids’ claim that ALL their classmates have this-or-that latest and most fashionable item, seen the newest R-rated Blockbuster movie, eat at a restaurant daily), it’s in parenting moments, especially, that I remember this friend of mine in Africa.

The reason being?

He used to brag all the time about owning multiple this-and-that, and more than once promised he would share some of his “multiples” with me. What I hoped for most was one of his “multiple pellet guns” (he claimed to have 4+), because my siblings were all into guns and hunting at that stage in my upbringing. Need I mention that I never saw, let alone benefited from a single “multiple” of his?

For some reason, this young friend of mine felt the need to put on airs; to pretend to be a much better, more attractive version of himself than what really was; to be better than and superior to me; to convince me through imaginative boasting that his life was A-OK, even better than my own.

That was a preamble to the “IT” of my blog’s title. Let me define “it” by reference to a somewhat humorous story told to me yesterday by a just returning-from-vacation-in-Tahoe, weekly-book-discussion-group-friend, who, himself, is a successful professional.

I’ve never been to Tahoe, but based on a former high school Facebook friend’s photos from two weeks back, plus Tahoe’s own promotional website, it must be an almost 8th wonder of the world, especially during peak seasonal periods of the year.

What evidently struck my friend more than Tahoe’s natural scenery was the prolific plastic surgery scenery!

What made me chuckle when he recounted his time, was his re-enactment of the much more senior male companions to their much more younger and artificially sculpted women. He mimicked decrepit, hobbling about old men, who evidently were doing their darndest to deny and delay the inevitable.

The “IT“, then, is the false (or at least half-truths) projected reality that so many of us become proficient in living and acting out in life. So much so, that over time it becomes our accustomed and unconscious “real life.”

Sadly, even embarrassingly so, individuals more grounded in “actual” and “real” life readily discern our transparent dissemblances.

Obviously, and to some extent, our fakery is a coping mechanism; a way, life habit, mannerism, or even life style, that we’ve adapted in order to deal with the pain or incongruencies of our only too real and everyday (and past) lives.

Perhaps, it’s somewhat analogous to comedians. I wouldn’t presume to characterize all comedians, but among celebrity ones, such as Peter Sellers, John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, Sam Kinison, et cetera, their biographies are frequently painful reads, where humor became a lifeline; a coping mechanism adopted unconsciously, perhaps, in order to see the light and breath of another day.

In five weeks, my book club will discuss Stephen Covey’s dated, yet timeless “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” I’m curious as to how “success” will be defined and communicated.

More importantly, perhaps – alluding to Victor Frankl’s classic, Man’s Search for Meaning – I wonder if individually and as a group, we’ll feel emotionally safe enough with one another to risk being vulnerable, candid and authentic by sharing with one another whether our lives to date reflect a contentedness with life and the meaning we’ve found in it, or a persona to deflect attention away from our vulnerabilities, struggles, addictions and inner emotional hurts and wounds.

What about you?

Are you more persona than person?

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Filed under Family, Life, Loss, Memories, Mental Health, Mentor, Pedagogy, Perspective, Relationships, Religion and Faith, Success

Till We (All) Have Faces

I wish it were possible to somehow insert an additional line into Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech –

“I have a dream that one day we will be a nation and communities of faces.”

A New York City speaker at a 2003 conference in Fort Worth, Texas, was asked if anything positive came from 9/11.  His response resonated with me.  He replied that if anything good came from 9/11, it was this:

For the first time ever, New York City’s 8 million residents became a “city with faces”—referencing the pictorial wall of remembrance, in which pictures of some of the 2,977 victims from more than 90 countries were posted by grieving friends and family members.

A collage of 9/11 victims' faces.

A collage of 9/11 victims’ faces.

I’ve thought a lot about faces and memories of faces since that evening.

As a child, church was seldom an option for me and my siblings. Living in Kenya this frequently meant we attended a remote, mud-bricked and mabati (tin) roofed church.

In early 70’s Kenya, particularly in rural areas, black-white encounters were still relatively uncommon.  As a young boy, who would rather be fishing or playing ball, it was bad enough I had to attend an hours’ long service.  Time was made worse by Kenyan children’s intense curiosity with my white person’s hair and skin.

Typically my parents would allow my siblings and me to leave mid-service and either play outside or sit in the car and read a book.  Sitting in the car was a reprieve from listening to long, Swahili-Luo translated sermons, but it came with a price – persistent children’s faces, often streaked with snot and pestering flies, pressed against the car’s window, and when left partially open for air, young black arms sneaking in for quick touches, squeezes, followed by giggles.

An Afghan child looking into a car

An Afghan child looking into a car

These many years later I sometimes wonder why that bothered me so?  After all, my best friends back home in the town of Kisumu were Oginga and Ogoro – Luo boys, themselves.

Were the frequently un-wiped noses and bloated malnourished stomachs simply too much of a discomfiture for an 10 or 11-year-old boy? Would my discomfort be mediated had I known their names and shared more in common with their lives? Would I have been as bothered if they were young white arms reaching in? Perhaps it was the proximity of these young faces.  They were within easy arm-reach, too close for comfort.  Too intimate.

I don’t know if it’s “natural” or not – it is disrespectful and shameful – but have you noticed how people of one race tend to view people of another race in a one-size, “all look-alike” category?  That is – among whites, anyway, it’s quite common to hear the following type comments about Asians, for instance: “I can’t easily tell them apart! They all look so alike.” or “I just call them by their ‘English names’ because their mother tongue names are too difficult to remember, let alone pronounce.”

During my post-graduate research I came across the story of a white Union army commander, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who was assigned the task of leading an all-black regiment.  He confessed that initially he was unable to distinguish the soldiers from each other, yet “as one grows more acquainted with the men, their individualities emerge; and I find first their faces, then their characters, to be as distinct as those of whites.”

black soldiers

Similarly, an American missionary woman, Carrie L. Goodenough, stated of the Zulus in a letter of 1883 from Natal, South Africa, “At first I thought their faces all looked alike, but I see difference now, both in features and expression; and after one is accustomed to the Zulu type of features, many of the faces are really pleasing.”

Culture and media have combined to promote a sense that beauty is outward.

What about the many, however, who are born without a model or actor’s face, or even worse, perhaps, born with an attractive face and it’s then yanked away by an act of violence or disease?  Many U.S. soldiers have experienced acute facial disfigurement due to IEDs.

One publicized example of disfigurement is Charla Nash, a 56-year-old single mother, who, several years ago, went to help a friend contain a pet chimpanzee and ended up having her face and hands ripped off.  She later underwent a complete facial transplant.

ap_charla_nash_jp_120628_wblog

I just googled “the wonders of the face” and got nothing, zero.  Just a listing of links to various “wonders,” including the seven wonders of the world, the seven wonders of Egypt, wonders of Africa, et cetera.

Doesn’t anyone but me think the face should be classified as an eighth wonder of the world – even those disfigured?

I realize the face is quite daunting and intimidating if you prefer to live a life void of intimacy, which men, in particular, might opt for (but only as an act of bravado). Men such as Tommy Lee Jones’s character “Arnold” in the movie Hope Springs; the story of a 31-year marriage in an acute state of disrepair.

Arnold and Kay (Meryl Streep) sleep in separate bedrooms. They tell their last-ditch, marriage saving therapist, Steve Carell, that they last had sex five years back.  Carell assigns them homework, one of which being to have sex.

It’s painful to watch, but eventually lying on a rug beside a crackling fire they almost succeed in culminating a rekindled passion.  Unfortunately the moment and mood is spoilt by Arnold’s inability and unwillingness to look directly into his wife’s eyes and face while making love – apparently a long-held, intimacy avoiding trait, which is almost the undoing of their marriage.

I simply felt like drawing attention to “faces” today.  I don’t know what your particular “take away” will be from this blog, if anything, but I hope you risk looking more deeply and intimately at and into the faces of friends, family, and even day-to-day acquaintances, whether it’s the check-out person at your local grocer, your librarian, teacher, colleague, even that person who frustrates you to the 100th degree.

Perhaps like Arnold, if you persist in trying and looking into the faces of those within your concentric circles of relationships, you’ll experience a newfound, even heightened sense of respect and appreciation for the others in your life – maybe even call them by name.

 

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Filed under Life, Memories, Perspective, Relationships