Thinking today of something Bob Dylan said in a telephone conversation circa 1971 to A.J. Weberman that great gentleman junkie Dylanologist who routinely picked through Dylan's garbage when he lived in the West Village. Dylan was complaining to Weberman about his scavenging activities, since Dylan's kids, toddlers, would watch out the living room window. Weberman said "The kid didn't look scared," and Dylan said, "no, my kids aren't aware of this or that."
Having a three-year-old means living with someone who's not aware of this or that, but is aware of everything. My kid knows the phases of the moon, she can scout out tiny mushrooms across a field, and she remembers the exact conversations of Tin Tin and Captain Haddock inside the frames of 80 pages cartoon books. Today she matter-of-factly recounted seeing a guy with no legs, and she often cheerfully tells strangers about our cat Harry who died last summer. But she isn't aware of the waves of bloodshed in the Middle East, or death by lethal injection in Texas, or hate crimes against queer and transgender people [and Sikhs, and fill in the blank].
It occurs to me these days that my energies are so consistently funneled into the daily orders (as Robert Duncan would call them) of raising a child, that another part of me is missing. It used to be that I could read the New York Times and check in with Democracy Now and see what Noam Chomsky was saying and I even had the time and desire to exchange letters with those guys down there in Texas on Death Row.
Those guys have since been executed, and it's not the time, of course, to bring my kid into a conversation about all such things. It may be that there never will be a time or a reason for her to know about Anthony Nealy who possibly robbed a gas station and killed two clerks. I never asked him during the course of our letter exchanges. Mostly we talked about appeals, about what he read in the newspaper, about what he could and couldn't get with the few bucks he had in his snack bar account.
Sure, I'd like my kid to know that marching on the pentagon in 1987 to protest American policies in Latin America was a highlight of my youth. But who knows if that will be meaningful to her either. Perhaps what I hope for is more of what Alfred North Whitehead called "a feeling state." I'd like her to know that she's loved and that she can love other people. I'd like her to have some cosmic empathy for all the creatures in the universe, without any indoctrinating influence (or forced viewings of Eyes On The Prize) on my part. Perhaps I've set the bar too high.
This morning one of our neighbors across the street here on 39th Place stabbed his wife. Bea and I went out for our trek to the park at about 9 and had to wade through a little crowd gathering on the sidewalk. "What happened", I asked? "A guy killed his wife; he's on his way to Boston, but they'll get him." My first thought wasn't to "get him," but there it was. We made our way up to the train platform at 40th Street and strolled down to our regular spot at the end of the platform (less crowded at rush hour with a stroller). And there he was, about my age, barefoot, sad, weary, wearing a white tee shirt with the red streak of a bloody hand-print across the shoulder. He was sitting on the white metal box at the end of the platform, looking at me while I looked at him. Everyone else was busy as usual with their personal devices. I thought to say something to him, as a gesture of reaching out, or figuring out if he was who I thought he was, but there I was with the kid in the stroller who was not aware of this or that, my little bundle of joy who I protect from trips and falls and sugar-rushes. So I stood there, and looked at him, and called Thomas to ask him to mention to the cops crowding our block that here was the guy they were possibly looking for. And then the train arrived, and I pushed the stroller through the doors and took one last long look at him, who was still looking at me, not in any particular way, except for in some deeply empty human despair that simply called for compassion. Ten minutes later he jumped off the platform onto Queens Boulevard and died there. It was probably about the time we were pulling into Queensboro Plaza and I was trying to decide if the kid and I needed to get off the train because she was shrieking, an ear-shattering shriek, loud and sustained, that came out of nowhere except for the morning crankiness that sometimes takes over.
Now we're at the end of the day; the New York Post reporters are gathered on the street eating potato chips waiting to take photos of the family coming into or going out of the building, because someone has to show up to clean the place up and make sense of what happened. One murder, one suicide, one kid who's not aware of this or that, and me, still not understanding the chasm between me and my neighbor as I watched him making his way out of the realm of human relation.