June 6, 2005 Monday
The week has just begun, and I wonder what you are doing with it now, seven thousand miles away. I have in my hand your email from last week, so I’ll use that to fill my own letter with. You already know some of the language? I am impressed, but hardly surprised, that you have begun to assimilate to the landscape. Are you feeling like a naturalized Zambian already?
For all your thoughts amid the African country though, I was most drawn to your self reflections. After mentioning a new realization of yours, I flashed back to our last day together, talking on the porch and munching our favorite nuts. Have the conditions and expectations you had formulated for your life begun to crack? It sort of sounds that way. Of course possessions and riches are not an inherent evil; after all, they are only objects. In my opinion it only becomes a problem when we devote an excess of time it its pursuits. Ben Stein was recently on a CNN financial segment, and when asked what a good investment might be he replied, “Go home from work early and throw the ball with your son.” Is Zambia having such an effect on you?
Further, why do you surmise Zambians are as kind as you have found them to be? It sounds very much like my book, Leaving America, and the tiny island of St. Kitts. In it, the author details the easy, friendly nature of the island. Granted, there are still crimes and even murders, but they are rare. It was shocking almost to the point of comedy to read of this scene: Prison work details, cutting the road-side brush with machetes, are overseen by a single guard–himself wielding a mere baton–and (this is surreal) all of this being played out next to a school, with the prisoners and children interacting and greeting one another. Can you imagine that here in the United States? It must come down to a respect. The prisoners are not simply caged and banished away to lose their humanity. Because these islanders were treated as people they acted like people. A quaint idea! I’ve noticed such a thing since moving from Illinois, where in many parts there is still a strong sense of community, if only because the towns are so small. When you meet someone in my hometown on the street, you are greeted with a warm hello–a real one, not stale and rushed. Recently I walked to a nearly grocery store, and on return to my house an old lady approached me from the other way. I said good morning and she only shuffled by.
You wrote of five personal qualities you have noticed in the Zambian people, but I was surprised you awarded yourself only one of those traits. I will write about this for a while.
You sell yourself much too short Marley, but it can be forgiven because you also admit a lack of internal perception. Let me try. To begin with your family bonds, take heart that I see your efforts to strengthen those ties, and they must as well. You speak very highly of your brother and it seemed you spent a great deal of time with him when at home. Again, I am proud of you for reaching out and making that effort. You will be rewarded. I hope to be too with my own. Both of my parents are not leading a healthy lifestyle, from simply being inactive. Privately I fear that they do not still have an extremely long life still ahead of them. When I’m at home and during phone chats I do bring up that I’d like them to eat better, start a walking program, lose some weight. They agree but do nothing about it, which makes me sad.
To be, well, truthful, truth can be a touchy subject, can’t it? Let’s see if I can wring any honesty out of truth. To start simply, I believe honesty is the best policy–almost a cliché, isn’t it? The real test is, does it work in real life? Sometimes the reality is that if you want a much harder life yet a clear conscious… no, strike that, the conscious can be just as burdened by truth.
Once, long ago in high school, I was in a Spanish course, as a sophomore. It was actually challenging, by virtue of its speed, but I liked it and my teacher Mrs. Wales (the same teacher I said I helped one summer teacher the children of migrant workers). During a multiple-choice quiz she left the room and one person in the class, Haley Hollis, went to Mrs. Wales’s desk.. I returned to my taxing quiz. I did not notice that the answered were quickly copied, and passed around (or perhaps I was aware and just I ignored it, my memory of exactky either way is hazy). Regardless, somehow Mrs. Wales found out and had us do it again (she lost the first ones, she said), after mixing up the questions, ready to find out who was read to put down the original, copied answers. Where do I fall in all this? It turned out I had all of the orignial answers of my sheet. All of them, question for question. So of course I looked guilty as hell, logically, but it also underscores my absolute fumbling with the language (I was a C student most of the time for Mrs. Wales). Mrs. Wales even tabulated for me the odds of coming up with the answers by chance–it was in the ballpark of 250:1. That was tough to hear, and why it sticks with me. Yet, I did the (here we go) HONEST thing and said I hadn’t cheated, which simply endeared me to the entire class and thus the larger high school. I was under a lot of pressure to recant ad finally admit guilt; for some a great satisfaction I had messed up. I asked Mom that night what I should do as we sat together and talked about it in the living room: should I admit to something I hadn’t done? In the end I stuck to it and said I hadn’t cheated. Of course one you believed me. And that was okay with me–I wouldn’t have either, without it actually happening to me–and I transferred to French the next year. To finish the story completely, I was given a week of after school detentions, when Mrs. Wales was the monitor. Mostly I felt horrible Mrs. Wales had most likely lost confidence in me as a good person, and the thing about that still bugs me today, when I remember the story. If anything it was a real lesson that certainty isn’t so certain. So, finally, what role was grand, beautiful truth playing; what good did it do for me? As evidenced, truth holds a myriad of grays.
Now us (had to get to it sometime). It makes me happy to say I have never lied to you. I’ve never even had to venture into the white variety, those little “positive” lies. I’m a veteran of the front lines long enough to know this is the only sane option. I gather that your own truthfulness issues lie in yourself, and I know you will work these out in your own time.
With all of this talk of flaws let us end on a high note: you are not perfect. But you are not meant to be, by both natural wiring and by my soft permission. You see, I had my doubts about your fallibility for a while, but I distinctly remember one time when you did something-or-other… Well, if anything, I call fall back on the time you left your keys outside of the laundry mat, you key loser you. Even more, we are going to fail each other, got it? Oh my gosh, with the sound of crinkling paper Will has lost his mind, Marley now frets!
Nothing of the kind, because here’s the thing: it’s okay. Yes, I should stipulate this, but it can wait a moment. For however long we are together, all we are two fallible people doing our best to be more as an ajoinedment than we can ever achieve on our own. Don’t feel like you have to be perfect for me (I now remember your vow of never burping: that’s two!) or ever be anything more than the Marley you are. As far as that goes the world should be happy that you are in it as you are right now. The biggest secret I yet know is that bumps and dings (those annoying little honest mistakes we all make) are ultimately unavoidable. The way I look at it, love is all well and good on a bright and sunny day, but that is precisely when love is most hidden. It is not until a storm brews that love can be tested and measured. And one day soon, having burned the pancakes once again, I will toss them in the trash and begin anew, simply happy to be making them for you.