“Separate but Equal”
We like to think that this phrase belongs in the past. We prefer to assume that it’s a product of a bygone era, a sign of times during which one group of people considered it their right and duty to segregate and alienate another. We don’t like to think of it in any other context.
But maybe, just maybe, we should. Because, you see, that phrase applies to us all.
We are all “separate”, after all. None of us are alike. None of us feel the same way about things or people. None of us share the same combination of strengths and weaknesses. None of us have exactly the same prejudices or expectations. None of us wish for precisely the same things.
And that’s – wonderful! A world inhabited by people who are all alike would be boring, devoid of the spice and the substance of life – and thus devoid of life itself. It would hardly be a world any one of us would choose to live in.
But then, we are all equal. We are all just as human, no matter what skin we wear or what language we speak. We all dream and despair. We all cry when we’re hurt and laugh when we’re happy. We all bleed red. We’d all had a childhood.
I can’t help thinking about these things, you see, the longer I work on my stories about the Talented. For the deeper I travel into that story, the more I wonder how these two concepts – uniqueness and equality – can be united. How can the Talented fit in within a “normal” world? How can people accept each other’s differences without vilifying or belittling those who are different? Can we do it at all? And if we can, how do we go about it without falling into the same bigoted, racist trap as the authors of the phrase I’d mentioned at the beginning of this post?
I guess I’ll have to find it out at I go.
The Message of Easter
I’m sure that Easter means many different things to different people. To the kids, it’s a spring version of Christmas – a time when one receives gifts (in the form of an egg hunt) and has to pose for pictures with an odd grown-up wearing a suit (Bunny, not Santa, this time). To some of the adults, it’s a good time to come together and spend a peaceful weekend with family. To true believers, it’s a day of God’s triumph. Whatever particular ideas we have about Easter, however, we all agree that it’s about triumph over death. It’s a “happy ending” to the Good Friday horror story.
But is it really that simple? I think not.
This is why. He didn’t need to prove that He has power over death, after Lazarus. It was obvious to anyone who was around to witness that miracle what He was capable of! Besides, if He really was intending to “prove” that power through Resurrection, wouldn’t it have made sense for Him to prove it to those who didn’t believe in it – like the Pharisees? Wouldn’t it be more logical for Him to show up at their houses and have them see Him in the flesh after all they’d done – so that they could “see and feel” that He was really who He said He was?
But the thing is, He didn’t visit those who needed to be persuaded of His power! Instead, He returned to spend His remaining time among men with those who already believed Him, loved Him, and worshipped Him. He came back to his friends and family – and left those who had no faith in His message to quarrel about whether “the rumors” of His resurrection were true.
See, I think that the message He was trying to send by it wasn’t that “death can’t keep Him”. I think that He was trying to give His followers the hope – no, the knowledge! – that one doesn’t have to be crushed to death by the life’s injustices. He was letting them know that one can refuse to die inside after the worst agony. Moreover, one can return to those who really matter without hating the things and the people who’d harmed him, or seeking revenge against them.
And, if you ask me, that’s a much more powerful and hope-filled message than any promise of “future life”, or triumph over bodily death.
There’s something very temporary about the hotel room. I used to think that it was because of the way it connects to the rest of the building. There’s the long hallway, a ton of other doors leading into it; the room’s entrance leads straight into the living space; there parking lot’s lights flood the room so much that one must draw the curtains closed if they wish to sleep.
But… that’s not what it’s all about. I’d rented an apartment once, in a building which looked very hotel-like – same long hallways, same “in your face” entryways to each apartment, same bright lights from the street lamps. In fact, the room I’d rented was a studio – and thus similar to the hotel room layout in pretty much every aspect. There it all was – a living space with only the bathroom and the cooking area separated; door opening directly into the room with no “hallway” or anything of that sort. But it didn’t feel “temporary” at all! In fact, it felt like home for the whole year that I’d spent living there!
And it’s not about those hotel rooms being furnished, either. I’d lived in a furnished apartment for over a month – twice, in fact. The latter one was even promoted as a sort of a hotel room by its owner, and it was set up in the best “hotel” traditions – clean, crisp, and endlessly generic despite the classy furniture. But it still felt like home. I didn’t feel like I was only there temporary – even though I was, and spent my time counting down to the moment when that landlord would be able to move me into “my own” apartment, at last. Then, way before that while I attended college, there was a time when I’d lived in a furnished temporary place after the house which my roommates and I were renting got burned by one of the landlord’s upset employees. That place was about as classy as a cheap hostel, really. But it still felt like home, even though the only “personal” things inside of it were my clothes and a handful of pictures!
That said, I’m thinking back to the only time I’d stayed in a hostel, now that we’d touched on the subject. I mean, you’d think that such places were even more soul-less than the hotel rooms, because of how low-grade they are! But – at least in my experience – they are not! I mean, I was visiting Boston at the time, coming in for one night only to see the last-ever performance of a touring Broadway play which I’d liked. I was a student then – and thus not moneyed enough to stay in a hotel – so I’d settled for a hostel room which I’d shared with three other ladies. And – somehow – that room felt more like home than any of the upper-scale clean-and-pretty hotel rooms which I’d lived in before OR since then! That said, I think I know why that was the case. It’s because the hotel rooms are there to be forgotten. They are just a place to spend the night; and other residential locations are memorable because we put something of ours into them. That’s why that hostel room felt so much like home! My hostel-mates and I were certainly strangers – but we’d all had invested some anticipation and excitement into our stay the night we’d met, and it had connected us on a level which we could not have imagined until then. It’d turned our shared hostel room into a living memory… at least it did that for me.
That said, I’m sure that there are people who could argue with my “hotel ideas” to no end. I have no doubt that there are folks who’d found their true love over a one-night hotel stay; or figured out how to survive a toxic relationship after a special night spent in one of such rooms. I’m sure that there are scores of people who’d formulated their most inspiring ideas, written their most powerful works, and came up with their best-est business strategies stuck in the middle of their hotel rooms. And I’m not here to challenge them! After all, my characters seem to find their inspiration and their desire to keep on fighting for their ideas just when they are stuck inside a hotel room themselves! So… who knows? Maybe I’ll be like them one day, and start making my own set of “hotel memories”. Maybe I’ll find as much meaning in the “hotel” stories then as I’d used to find in the “living home” stories which I’d had in my mind until now. Maybe. Who knows?
“Of all possible choices, always pick the kindest.”
This is a line from one of my favorite books – which I’d read in English for the first time today (The Time Wanderers by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, if you’re interested; a great book in any language but best in its native Russian). And as I read that line in English, I couldn’t help considering the following question.
What is kindness?
We all think that we know the answer to that question, don’t we? We are always ready to explain that kindness is… it is… well, it’s doing what’s good for everyone. And we are right, in the broadest sense possible. But then the question is, what’s “good for everyone”? Does such an elusive beast even exist?
Because what is kindness, honestly? Would one act more kindly if they’d shot someone suffering from unimaginable – and un-relievable – pain in the head, or if they’d sat next to them trying to comfort them? Would it be greater kindness to drive into a concrete wall to save a kid who’d suddenly jumped out in front of your car – or to run him over and spare the lives of your spouse and six-months-old kid nodding off in the backseat? Would one act more kindly if they’d allowed everyone to get into the lifeboats evacuating people from a sinking ship – or if they’d insisted that women and children must get off first and fought with anyone willing to challenge that decision?
The thing is, we don’t know what kindness is ahead of time. It isn’t because we are dumb, or because we’re lacking something. It’s just that, each situation has its own “kindest” decisions. Truthfulness is a good quality most of the time – but if telling the truth will result in an innocent person’s death, then it’s kinder to be a liar. Honesty is good, too – but if a person were to lie to save their family, I would have a hard time judging them for their lack of honesty. And good will to others is a great thing, of course – but I would consider it kindest to kill someone dangerous than to die or to mourn a person I love, if it becomes necessary.
Yes, these ideas have nothing to do with the Talented… for now. But they will one day – when I get to that point in my story. And I would love to hear what you have to say before then – if you’re ready and willing to discuss the question of kindness at this time, that is!
The Real Meaning of Christmas
Merry Christmas to you once again! And yes, it is Christmas today, in the Orthodox Christian tradition. I will leave it to the most curious of you to look up the difference between Catholic and Orthodox church’s calendars; and I want to talk about something that came to my mind over the two-week “holiday gap” in the meantime.
Think about the real meaning of Christmas! Think about WHY someone as powerful and amazing as GOD HIMSELF would desire to be born and turn into a weak and un-amazingly common and powerless HUMAN baby! Take a moment and think…
…He couldn’t become like us any other way, you know. We follow a very dialed-down version of what He did every time we try to make sense of someone’s actions or mistakes, after all. We think; we try to come up with the things we’d do and the responses we may come up with when we truly care as we try to figure out someone’s motives. We turn back to our memories of being little as we try to understand why our own baby is crying or our own child is pouting. But what if we were old men and women who no longer remember their childhood? And what if we’d had the power to take that superficial understanding further?
Think of it. If we are made in God’s image, it has to mean that “we” the humankind are quite like him… the way He was when He was a “baby God”, still developing and growing “into” His true self. But … doesn’t it have to mean that we are similar to Him now, just like the newborn babies are similar to their ninety-year-old Grandparents? We share the same “DNA” – but God’s wisdom, patience and love have outpaced our understanding of them so greatly that we can’t understand each other any better than a newborn child and an old person can.
Now, assume that some smart guy in the “God universe” has come up with a virtual reality program. It’s a very simple program, and it allows the adult user to “become” a baby for a short time. It gives that “God adult” a chance to understand how the “babies” experience and interact with their world and provides a deeper understanding of the kids’ – and their own – nature. This is what Jesus’ birth is similar to! It is a special “program” which God had created for Himself in order to take a deeper look at His childhood – and through it, at the violent, love-less, “survival-of-the-fittest” “childhood” of the species that may – one day – become His equal. It’s a very taxing and very dangerous program, though – and He wouldn’t have tried it out if He didn’t love us deeply and desire to understand us, though.
It really does make sense, you know. One must become the wind to understand the wind, and the waves to understand the waves; and the One who can command the winds and the waves must become a human being to understand what “being human” feels like. He is the greatest actor in the universe, working extra hard at inhabiting his “characters” so fully that he BECOMES them… if only for a split second of His own time. But He could not understand why our forefathers have preferred to sin – or have figured out how to turn our hearts back towards Himself – without playing the greatest role He’d ever been involved with and “becoming” His own creation to understand Himself.
How does this story connect with the Talented? Think for yourself – or reach out to me! I’ll be glad to discuss your impressions either way!
Today, I said good-bye to a bunch of really great colleagues. I loved working with them over the years, and the idea of leaving drove me crazy. Yet I made a choice to take up a new job and move on – or, rather, move back closer to my family.
Doing that was about as easy as leaving my family behind and heading into the unknown to accept my first job – the one that I’m leaving now – several years back. It felt wrong. It made me feel like I was mistaken about my priorities. It made me mad about having to choose between working with a great team and being close to my brother and my parents again.
But a choice had to be made, and I went with what mattered more to me.
Having to make that choice, however, made me consider the Angelo brothers’ situation on a much more personal level. If it was hard for me to choose between good friends and blood relatives, how must they feel having to choose between two families, two societies, two sets of personal histories? How do they handle making their choices? How do they rationalize “what matters most”?
I don’t know that yet. But the questions that today’s good-bye has brought to my mind will surely guide me towards the right answer as I write on… I hope.
Grateful for the Differences.
Black. White. Old. Young. Intelligent. Simple. Strong. Feeble. Conservative. Visionary.
Those are nothing but words. They have no special meaning for us when we talk about black jackets and white socks, or young leaves… or even strong words and visionary ideas. But apply them to a person – and suddenly they mean quite a lot. They describe “who people are” and help us understand what to expect of them. They tell us who to watch out for and who to be friends with.
Actually, that’s what we think. In reality, those words tell us little more than they did when we used them to describe jackets, leaves, and ideas. They don’t say one thing about who the person we’re thinking about really is. They just “conveniently” label them and “save” us time as we try to decide who to communicate with and whom to ignore.
Take me, for example. White, female, bilingual, educated, single, employed. How much did you just find out about me? Sure, you have an extremely general idea of what I look like, who I live with (or, rather, without, because being single doesn’t have to equal living alone). You’d probably also guessed that I am a contributing member of society. But did those descriptors tell you that I like science fiction? Or that I’d recently fulfilled my dream and learned to pilot an airplane? Or that I love to write? Probably not.
That’s true for all people, you know. You can’t tell whether a muscled-up Black youngster rescues abandoned kittens, or whether a pretty white girl is the cruelest practical joker in her entire class, or whether a smart-looking Asian kid hates Math with all his heart. Not by looking at them. In fact, you’d probably assume just the opposite until you’d had a chance to talk to these people and get a feel for who they really are.
So why are we so focused on attaching inaccurate tags to people we don’t know? Why do we let those tags do the thinking for us before we even meet the person? Why can’t we live among unique persons, not our stereotypes of them?
Well, it could be for the same reason that the Talented in my story hide their Talent! Talking to people and explaining things to them is hard work. One has to deal with mistrust, misunderstanding, and mistaken assumptions. And then, when all is said and done, one can still be rejected. It can be dangerous. Besides, it takes too much effort! So it becomes easier for a lot of people to deal with labels, with “them” and “us”, instead of each other.
But you know what? Those difficult, dangerous, and draining forms of personal communication are the reason that I am grateful for the differences above all else during this Thanksgiving. After all, they are the only way to really understand people.
I’d done a lot of writing this past week. Maybe it was because my Halloween post has inspired me to work harder. Maybe it was a long way coming. But as I was penning down the outline of one of the future scenes, a certain skeptical part of my mind wondered: “Isn’t it funny, to put all that effort into creating folks who never lived and describing events that never happened? Aren’t there more real things to consider?”
Well, dear inner skeptic, I must admit that you are right, to an extent. I do write about “people who never lived” and events that never happened as I’m working on my story. So do all writers of fiction. But that doesn’t make those people and events any less real.
Reality is born of our experiences, after all. Our stories of modern machines and technologies would be considered ludicrous fantasies if we’d somehow shared them with a person from the XIX century. A person blind from birth would have no idea what we mean if we described something as red or blue. A little boy and his Grandpa will likely misunderstand each other if they were to talk about their childhood experiences because the world has changed greatly since Grandpa was a boy himself. Conversely, an historical figure does not become less historical for the generation who did not get to live in the same age as they did.
But if reality is born of experience, then the fictional stories we read are as real as anything! We do experience them in the deepest, most profound way possible as we identify with the characters! I’m sure that everyone can think of at least one childhood story where the characters felt so real that we talked to them in our heads as if they were there “for real”. We’d experienced their sorrows and joys just as profoundly as we’d experience our real friends’. The only difference was that they weren’t physically around.
The concept of what’s real and what’s not is one of the major points of the Angelo story. On one hand, the brothers’ most profound experiences are “unreal” – because they take place inside their dreams. But on the other hand, those “unreal” experiences drive the boys to meet in the real world and possibly… change it.
The Talented Take on Halloween
What does Halloween mean to you?
Is it a day you enjoy? Would that be because it’s the “free candy” day? The “Big Dress-Up” day? A day when it’s OK to act silly and look weird? A day when it’s OK to laugh at oddly dressed folks – because looking funny was the point?
Is it a day you hate? Do you hate it because of the noisy kids, the general silliness of it, the stupid toilet-paper-all-over-the-front-yard tricks? Does it get on your nerves because you assume that it’s wrong and un-Christian to dress up as witches and werewolves, even when it’s clearly just a game?
Is it simply another day, just as boring – or just as exciting –as the day before and the day after?
I’m sure that each of us has a different answer to this “holiday” question. And it occurred to me that, until this Halloween, I’d never thought what this “witchy” day must mean to the Talented children and adults from my stories. So I did some thinking, and…
And I believe that, to the Talented, Halloween is a day of freedom. It certainly is the only day of the year when they don’t have to pretend to be normal – because normals aren’t going to care, anyways! It is the only day when they can let their guard down and not worry whether anybody notices their Powers – because if anyone does, those people would probably assume that it’s a Halloween trick. I’m sure that lots of Talented love Halloween no matter what age they are because of that.
And I can’t blame them. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of faith in others’ goodness to dare and state how different you are from them, day in and day out. No wonder that most Talented don’t feel ready to face the normal world the other 364 days of the year.
Will the Angelo boys be able to change that? I sure hope so!