Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Matter of Definition

The young father stood in line in front of me with his two children--a boy, maybe 5, and a girl, maybe 7--at the WalMart pharmacy tonight. In front of them, a woman haggled with the clerk for a good ten minutes about her prescription.

Through it all, the children stood quietly, the boy at his father's right hand, the girl at her father's left. His hands rested lightly on their heads. Occasionally the father caressed his son's head, running his hand over the close-cropped straw colored hair, or he patted his daughter's mousy-brown hair pulled back in a series of bands and barrettes. Once in a while his hands dropped to one child's or the other's jacketed shoulder.

Their sweatpants and warm jackets had seen newer days; the father's lighter jacket bore a number of NASCAR decals. A tattoo swirling up his neck from his t-shirt became lost in the neat, but not trimmed, beard covering his cheeks and jaw. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and a ball cap topped his head. Tenderly, but almost unconsciously, his clean, long-fingered hands--left ring finger banded in gold--assured his children their father was right there with them.

They didn't fidget.

They didn't fight.

They didn't poke each other or pester their father.

They stood quietly in line at WalMart and waited. And waited.

Once the little girl turned her head to see who was behind them and saw me watching them. I smiled, she gave me a solemn look with her gray eyes, then turned her head back around.

At one point, the father slid his hands down their arms and pulled them closer in a quick hug; then he released them, and his hands returned to their positions atop his children's heads.

It wasn't until a mother with two little girls took their place in line behind me and started talking about the Christmas parade they had just attended that the father and his children turned around.

"D'you go to the parade too?" he asked, and they chatted briefly about the lights and the chilly weather.

The children had turned around as well. Their thin faces looked a tad pinched. But then in this day of the obese child, perhaps I've just become accustomed to plump and so normal seems pinched. Light streaks of dirt rimmed the boy's mouth; the girl needed a tissue.

The father had no front teeth, his other teeth looked in questionable shape.

As the three spoke to the family behind us, their accents and grammar bespoke their rural Southern roots.

Today's Anniston Star carried a report on yet another study -- ever wonder who pays for these? Guess who's taxes do -- the headline of which said the majority of children in Alabama live in poverty. Of course, on reading the article, that wasn't quite the case. The study showed that, for the first time (since these kinds of statistics were kept, of course), the majority of Alabama school children are eligible for free or reduced lunches from the federally funded school lunch program. That means that @ 24% of Alabama's children live below the federally-defined poverty level and the rest live at up to 185% of that level.

So are they poor or not?


Depends on who you ask.

On how you define poverty.

On what program you're trying to fund or what agenda you're trying to push. Or whose votes you're currying.

The woman ahead of them finally got what she needed, and the father and his children stepped forward to the counter. The clerk found part of his order, but said another part was still being processed. He stepped back, his daughter with him, so I could move up and be served.

The boy remained where he was, not realizing his father and sister had moved. The father reached out and touched his son's shoulder. Immediately, the boy turned, his father motioned slightly, and the child stepped back by his father.

I thought of the parents I've watched who have raised their voices, motioned frantically, hissed through clenched teeth, glared, rolled their eyes, threatened, grabbed, yanked, and cursed while their children played 'you can't catch me' or rolled on the floor or whined or screamed or otherwise made life miserable for their parents, everyone else in the store . . . and for themselves.

Was the family ahead of me poor? I've no doubt they weren't rolling in dough. Insurance covered at least part of the father's prescription, but maybe it didn't cover his dental work.

The clerk handed me my order and I turned to leave. The woman behind me stepped up. The father stood to one side with his children, one hand on his son's head, the other hand on his daughter's shoulder.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Now Thank We All Our God....

...with heart and hands and voices!

I am thankful . . .

. . . for my family, scattered though we are

. . . for my husband, from whom I am separated only by miles this year

. . . for being invited to an Orphans' Dinner today

. . . for this incredible Knight Fellowship program and all the teachers who helped bring me here

. . . for long-distance friendships that have spanned decades

. . . for short-distance friendships, some of which have also spanned decades

. . . for new friendships just begun

. . . for God who truly does open the windows of heaven to us to pour out His blessings upon us ... may we always in all things give thanks, whether we perceive the blessing or not.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

And deliver us from despair...

The young man killed himself.

Seventeen years old and convinced that there was no hope, no future he put a bullet in his brain.

I don't know, God does, what his circumstances were. I don't know, God does, what he was thinking that morning.

But I have stood at that brink. More than once.

Suicide makes sense ... if.

If it's all up to me.

If this is all there is.

If there is no such thing as Real.

Then suicide makes sense.

But, contrary to the M.A.S.H. theme song, suicide is not painless. Even those of us new to this community who didn't know the boy or his family, hurt for those who did.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Deliver us from evil...

Small-town life.




This afternoon, searchers found the body of a 17-year-old boy, a senior at a high school in Anniston, who had been missing just over a week. Somehow, God knows if we don't, he ended up in Georgia instead of at school last Monday morning. Somehow, God knows if we don't, he died, probably that same day.

Less than a month ago, two women were kidnapped in the middle of the day from the parking lot of the swankest inn that sits right on the main street in town. One was raped, both were robbed.

Small-town is relative.

Coming from Pinellas County's dense almost a million people, Calhoun County's hundred thousand seems sparse.

The past couple of weeks I've been talking to residents of a town of 1,200 people who think of Anniston's 24,000 as "cluttered," full of "rukus," and "not safe."

And yet when I read through back articles from The Star, I find there has been robbery, kidnapping, and murder in that tiny town.

How small is small enough to be safe?

Perhaps it's worth remembering that the first murder occurred in a town of four.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Couldn't Resist...

...another Goffman quote, this from the end of the introduction:

"There are lots of good grounds for doubting the kind of analysis to be presented. I would do so myself if it weren't my own."

And here's a new word for me:

"It is too bookish, too general, too removed from fieldwork to have a good chance of being anything more than another mentalistic adumbration."

I'm going to go look this word up. Nobody took me up on my offer of a Snickers bar to a punny answer to the question "What's a mobile journalist?" (although I had a couple of verbal half-tries ... but they had to be posted in the form of comments to my blog).

So ... I'll try again. Smartees to the first person who posts the correct definition of "adumbration" on my blog.

The Taming of the Dragon

In a previous post, I likened our class in Communication Theory to a dragon in need of slaying. That may have been because I was faced with a paper due this coming week and the focus of the paper kept disappearing on me ... the dragon breathed fire and smoke which obscured his scaly body.

Thanks to fellow Fellow, Sandra Martinez, who calmly rode to my rescue and helped me see that I had too many swords that I kept tripping over, that particular dragon is well on its way to being slain.

In the meantime, I've been reading the intro by one of the theorists ... and have found a writer with a sense of humor! Erving Goffman wrote a book (Frame Analysis) back in 1974 about how we each see things differently.

Yeah, I know. There's nothing new under the sun and how did he get away with writing a whole book about that? In any case, he begins:

"There is a venerable tradition in philosophy that argues that what the reader assumes to be real is but a shadow, and that by attending to what the writer says about [whatever subject -- he lists several], the veil can be lifted. That sort of line, of course, gives as much a role to the writer and his writings as is possible to imagine and for that reason is pathetic. (What can better push a book that the claim it will change what the reader thinks is going on?)"

And a bit further down:

"All the world is not a stage -- certainly the theater isn't entirely. (Whether you organize a theater or an aircraft factory, you need to find places for cars to park and coats to be checked, and these had better be real places, which, incidentally, had better carry real insurance against theft.)"

So excuse me while I go curl up with a different dragon and have a bit of a giggle.