The Lofty Chronicles: 12 — Finding Her Pleasure

Finding Her Pleasure

Lauren Wearing Her Mask Shirt
Lauren Wearing Her Mask Shirt

Autumn 1992

Getting the Hang of It (Friday, 30 October 1992) “I think I’m getting the hang of these comics,” Lauren bubbles, walking by with a comic book version of Star Wars that she’s been reading to herself.

“Glad to hear it.”

Later in the morning, Joyce finds her in the community shelter with a book in her lap. Several more are on the couch beside her.

“I think I’m getting the hang of reading,” she says, apparently enjoying the turn of this particular phrase, and obviously pleased with her progress in exploring the mysteries of literacy.

After lunch, with yet another book in her hand, she asks, “Can I go up on Snowberry’s roof and read?”

I’ve been installing Tom’s solar panels the past few days and Lauren’s been up on the roof giving me a hand. She’s found a small valley where the roof lines of old and new Snowberry meet and had spent some time lying there yesterday, looking up at the sky while I was caulking the panel mount.

“Sure. Just be careful.”

Ron later goes up to Snowberry to get some of Tom’s firewood under cover. He says that Lauren climbed the ladder, book in hand, and spent a long time curled up on the roof, happily reading.

Reading Over Breakfast (Monday, 2 November 1992) “Does anyone want to hear ‘The Ginger Bread Boy’ this morning?” Lauren asks, looking up from her book.

It’s breakfast time, but she can’t be bothered with food. She’s too busy.

Ron, Tom, Joyce, and I smile and nod, and Lauren proceeds to read aloud not only “The Ginger Bread Boy,” but also “Little Red Riding Hood” and another story. She would have kept on going, too, had she not finally lost her audience to their various morning chores.

Finding Her Pleasure (Tuesday, 3 November 1992) Joyce is walking out the driveway this afternoon and comes upon Lauren, perched in the upper branches of a dogwood tree, reading.

“Ahhh,” says Lauren, with a slow sigh of contentment. “I think I’ve found my pleasure.”

“Ahhh,” I repeat, when Joyce shares the encounter with me. “I think we’ve found our pleasure, too.”

For this is just what we’ve been waiting and hoping for–to have Lauren come to the world of books in her own time and in her own way, and so be gently lured into the love of reading.

We read aloud to her often. We try to recognize and respond to her impulses to learn to read, which seem to come in waves. Beyond that, we refrain, as much as possible, from allowing cultural norms and expectations to dictate the how and the when of it.

“Lauren’s not really doing home schooling any more,” Joyce remarks. “At least not in the sense of us trying to teach her all these various subjects. She’s teaching herself. We help out now and then, when she asks for help. Mostly, though, we’re following John Gatto’s suggestion to just get out of the way and let it happen.

“That’s what’s so radical about it. She decides what she’s interested in at any particular moment and how to pursue that interest. These critical decisions aren’t made for her by parents or teachers or other well-meaning adults. It really is a vitally different approach to education. It’s still a little scary. But it sure feels right!”

The Election (Thursday, 5 November 1992) The election is finally over. Ron voted for Perot. I believe it’s the first time he’s ever voted. A surprisingly large number of our friends and neighbors did likewise. Interesting phenomenon. I find Perot to be a refreshing candidate, but his analysis and remedies don’t strike me as being very radical. He’s looking deeper than the other two, perhaps, but he still doesn’t come close to addressing the roots of our problems and opportunities.

Joyce chose Clinton. Lauren accompanied Ron and Joyce to the polling station, where she was allowed to go into the booth and help Joyce cast her ballot. That way Lauren got to make sure she didn’t switch to Perot at the last minute.

Lauren’s been a staunch Clinton supporter. Even cuts his picture out of the paper now and then. I don’t know where she got her preference. Maybe from her friends next door, who have Clinton-Gore posters around their house. Or maybe she arrived at it independently. I asked her about it, but she wasn’t able to articulate her reasons for wanting Clinton to be president.

Only One Night (Sunday, 8 November 1992) Lauren has been trying out her wings lately. Until very recently she’s been sleeping in a small bed next to ours. She has a bed in her own small bedroom, but uses it mostly as a play area. Occasionally, when Claire or Myra spend the night, Lauren will sleep there with them. But she’s never, until now, been ready to sleep there on her own, let alone spend a night at a friend’s house.

A week or two ago, however, at her own initiative, she started wanting to sleep on the living room floor in her sleeping bag. Then she said she wanted to sleep in her own room. Joyce wisely replaced the foam-pad bed with an extra mattress from one of the guest cabins. She also bought a set of dark pink sheets.

Lauren was thrilled with the new set-up and promptly started to spend the nights there. I knew she had really made the transition when she came down with a fever last week and, despite feeling rather sluggish, still chose to sleep in her own room, rather than next to her parents.

Then yesterday I took her to Joan’s for her riding lesson. It was too cold, though. So we went to Claire’s instead. I told Lauren that Joyce or I would pick her up after supper. To my surprise, she said that maybe she’d like to spend the night there.

“Just in case,” she said, “could you or Mom bring my sleeping bag, my two pillows, my teeth equipment and a nightgown?”

I nodded and gave her a hug. When Joyce brought her stuff over in the evening, Lauren decided that she did indeed want to spend the night. Joyce told her we’d stop by for her the next day.

This afternoon we pick her up on our way to town to have supper with friends. As the three of us drive down the driveway, Lauren says, “I made an achievement.”

“You sure did.”

“Know what made me do it?”

“What?”

“I figured it was only one night.”

I’m reminded of the A.A. approach of living life one day at a time. Or learning to like an unfamiliar food by trying a little bite of it. Her strategy and willingness feel strong and healthy.

Joyce and I have also “made an achievement.” We have chosen to trust a gut feeling that, by keeping Lauren physically close to us during her early years (through the use of a Snugli baby carrier and a family bed), we would provide her with a fundamental emotional grounding and sense of security.

There have been times, over the past year or two, when we’ve wondered whether it wasn’t time to nudge her into her own room. And of course there’s been the inevitable cultural questioning and pressure from the “outside.”

But we’ve basically been able to keep in touch with the rightness of our approach. And now, as with reading, Lauren has signaled her own readiness and willingness. Once again, it comes down to trust–trusting ourselves, trusting Lauren. Not an easy or a blind trust. But oh so essential.

What I Didn’t Learn in School (Monday, 9 November 1992) It is sobering to see how little my formal education (my years in high school and college) have prepared me for the lifestyle and values that I have chosen. None of my current core values were emphasized during those sixteen years of schooling. Most of them weren’t even addressed.

And this isn’t because the schools I attended were poor or disreputable. They were both excellent institutions and did a credible job of inculcating within their students the basic orientation and beliefs of the prevailing culture. Only in retrospect do I see how dangerously narrow that orientation was.

More specifically, here is some of what I didn’t learn in school:

I didn’t learn how critically important good health is. Beyond one rather pathetic attempt in junior high school, there were no classes on how the human body transforms sunlight, water, air, and earth into personal energy, and the specific ways in which this daily, alchemical transformation can be optimized.

Nothing on the inter-relationship between energy level, mood, and perception. Or between exercise, stress, and wellness. Or between the health of the body and the health of the Earth. No instructions on how to decipher and creatively respond to the manifestations of dis-ease. And no awareness of, let alone motivation toward, the higher octaves of health.

Nor did I learn much about work. I learned how to work with my head, but not (with the exception of one junior high shop course) how to work with my hands. Nothing at all about building a house, planting a garden, adopting a more appropriate diet, heating with wood, or using alternative energy. I wasn’t taught how to maintain and repair an automobile, how to manage personal finances, or how to make wise investment decisions.

Even more significant, there were no courses in the recognition and transmutation of our rather toxic cultural attitudes toward labor, so that good, hard, manual labor can be experienced as something intrinsically pleasurable, rather than onerous; voluntary, rather than compulsive; playful, rather than serious.

Equally amazing, as I review my high school and college years, there was virtually no guidance offered in how to build friendships and nurture a family. None of the ingredients that go into a sustainable relationship–discovering and sharing gifts and goals; sensual and emotional openness; effective communication skills; solving problems and resolving conflicts–none of these were presented even as electives, let alone as a vital component of a core curriculum.

Preparation and training for parenthood was likewise ignored. Apparently this most difficult of arts was, like marriage and friendship, something that students were expected to pick up from their birth families or from the culture at large by osmosis.

Finally, my college had a chapel, and it offered courses in philosophy and religion. Yet none of the professors, at least to my knowledge, had much more than an academic expertise in these fields. The search for the soul, the urgent need for meaning in one’s personal and communal life, the perilous exploration of what Jung refers to as the collective unconscious, and the practical use of such inner disciplines as dream work, meditation, and prayer as means of undertaking such a journey–all of this was entirely absent from the catalogues and course descriptions where I went to school.

This is not to say that there weren’t many admirable and enriching aspects of my high school and college education. There were. Nor do I mean to suggest that our schools should be solely responsible for providing motivation and instruction in the above-mentioned areas. Other cultural institutions, such as the family and the church, obviously share this responsibility.

Yet if the mission of our schools is to help students prepare as fully as possible for life after school, and if such preparation does not include learning how to achieve and maintain optimal health, how to find deep pleasure in one’s work (be it mental or physical), how to establish strong and loving friendships and marriages, and how to discover meaning, purpose, and wholeness, or holy-ness, in one’s daily life, then our educational system runs the very real risk of becoming irrelevant to many of the young people who are coming of age in these perilously opportune times.

Lauren Offering Pufferbelly a Pear
Offering Pufferbelly a Pear

Puff and Stays-Around (Tuesday, 10 November 1992) Joyce and Lauren have been feeding soft pears, the ones that haven’t stayed firm during storage, to a couple of new friends. Puff, short for Pufferbelly, is a small raccoon who’s lame in one of his front paws. Stays-Around is a young deer, perhaps the fawn who was born in our yard, the one that Joyce and I and the mother deer chased an eager dog away from this past spring.

For both animals, their love of pears has overcome their innate caution. They come to within five or six feet of the feeder. Lauren likes to spike a pear on the end of a ski pole and have Puff eat it off the pole. The other day both the deer and the raccoon arrived simultaneously and ate together. They were a bit wary of one another, Puff at one point growling at the much larger Stays-Around and warning him off. There were plenty of soft pears to go around, however.

Soon we’ll be off to California. When we return, the pears will all be gone, and our wild friends will have to fend for themselves. It’s been nice having them around, though.

The Train Trip Across the Ocean (Saturday, 14 November 1992) Lauren awakens with a strong dream this morning. At my request, she tapes it. Then I transcribe it:

We’re going to this train station. It’s on a little island made of sand. I don’t know how we got there. When we get to the station, on the metal of the train is carved “6:00 TRAIN.” And when we get on the train, it suddenly starts to go on the water. We keep going and going. See, it’s on a low steel bridge, and it seems like the train is running on water. It passes over a tiny island–I don’t know, maybe three feet or something.

It keeps going, and then starts to hit the ground. It tumbles over in front of a bigger island. Then me and a few other kids are tumbling in the waves and we see something. It’s whitish-gray. And when we see it clear, it’s a unicorn.

The unicorn is a big, stallion unicorn. It looks really strong, like the metal of the bridge. It’s like all the metal of the bridge has turned into that big stallion!

Then it turns into a human. A man. And then back into a stallion. It’s like all the metal and iron and steel in the bridge just turned into that unicorn. I don’t know whether the unicorn could have turned into the bridge, too. I have no idea. The end.

When she relates the dream over breakfast this morning, someone asks if it was only kids that were in the water.

“Yes. Maybe only kids could have seen the unicorn.”

Dear Adam (Tuesday, 17 November 1992) Alice comes by this morning as we’re getting ready to leave for California. She mentions that Adam is going home for Thanksgiving. He hasn’t yet told his parents about why he moved to D.C. Understandable reluctance, but full disclosure seems needed.

Lauren apparently thinks so, too. She writes Adam a note and leaves it in the community shelter for him. He’ll be visiting Light Morning this week-end.

“Dear Adam,” the note reads. “Tell your Mom and Dad what you did! They’ll still love you. Love, Lauren.”

A ‘Chance’ Encounter (Thursday, 19 November 1992) Every now and then the universe startles us awake, as though we inadvertently come in contact with a live wire or a hidden nerve. The sudden shock jolts us out of our familiarity and into the moment. In this spacious, magical moment, needs are sometimes met even before they’re recognized, and the wildly improbable becomes commonplace.

We arrive in the Chicago train station this afternoon with a several hour layover before the California Zephyr departs for San Francisco to take us to my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. We’ve been mildly apprehensive about the trip, not knowing what kind of feedback we’ll get about the events of this past summer. A few of the people back home, both neighbors and “professionals,” have been critical of our attempts to offer support to Adam throughout this ordeal.

Their reaction is completely understandable. Sexually abusing children is a disturbingly deviant behavior, striking us in some of our most vulnerable places–the primordial protectiveness we feel for our kids; our own culturally charged and murky sexuality; and the profoundly ambivalent feelings we have about empowerment and victimization.

So our concern about possible further repercussions during the upcoming family reunion is like a low-grade, almost subliminal anxiety as we wend our way through the crowded Union Station, looking for a place to sit. We finally see three empty seats and settle in for the long wait.

Lauren is immediately corralled by a pair of twin girls, age 11. Soon the three of them have a board game spread out on the floor of the station. Joyce and I gradually fall into a conversation with the woman who is sitting next to us. She’s a nun, probably in her early 60’s, and is dressed in her full habit, which is unusual these days. She tells us that she’s on her way to visit her brother’s family for the Thanksgiving holiday.

We learn that she lives in Milwaukee and works as a chaplain or counselor or comforter in a local prison. She describes the hostile reaction she often gets when people learn about her work.

“Why do you spend your time with the prisoners,” they ask accusingly, “instead of with the victims? They’re the ones that need your kindness and support; not the criminals.”

We nod our understanding of her dilemma.

She goes on to say that this hostility escalated dramatically when she began to spend some of her visiting time with one particular man who is in prison for multiple homicides.

“No wonder she got people upset!” I think, for the man’s crimes are among the most lurid in recent memory. He was convicted not only of the serial murder of numerous young men, but also of cannibalism and of having had sex with the corpses of some of his victims.

“I’m the only person he trusts,” she says softly, almost to herself. “Because I can see the goodness in him, behind all the horrible things he did. Other people can’t see that goodness. All they can see is what he did. But what he did doesn’t make the goodness not be there. And if he can find forgiveness in his heart for what he did, that goodness will grow stronger.”

She falls silent, as though resting in the tension, the irony, the mystery.

In response to her openness, we tell her the story of this past summer, of how hard it’s been for many people to see Adam as something other than a menacing phantom.

She looks at us searchingly for a moment, then lowers her eyes.

“Do you know,” she says slowly, “that of all the people in the Milwaukee jail, the only ones I can’t visit are the ones who are there for sexually abusing children. All the others I can visit. But not them. I just can’t bring myself to do it.”

Joyce and I look at her wonderingly, and then at one another. Here is someone who has befriended and can see the goodness in a notorious killer. Yet she is unable to be in the presence of a child molester. How very strange, we think, that Fate, or whatever one wishes to call it, has seated us next to a woman who so paradoxically embodies both the compassion we have been striving for this past summer, as well as the cultural abhorrence we have faced and felt.

Later, when I go to confirm our departure time, the nun confides further in Joyce, and the paradox at least partially resolves. Trusting the intimacy of the moment, she says that as a young girl she had been sexually molested by an uncle and that she had never really gotten over it.

“I’ve never been able to tell that to anyone before,” she murmurs.

The two women look at each other, a sudden rush of empathy flowing between them.

Soon the boarding call comes for the California Zephyr. We gather our baggage and say our good-byes to our new friend, each of us feeling that we have celebrated Thanksgiving early this year, in a crowded Chicago train station.