Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Understanding

We build Peace in our lives a moment at a time - and this is a poem story of how it can start early in childhood as it did for me.

The Understanding

My thoughts flew back to primary school
When I heard the news today about a woman in Iran
Who was condemned as a scapegoat for evil men.
Women in her culture are considered subhuman and
Deserving of whatever is heaped upon them.
They just have to bear the injustice and cruelty.

I remember another female who was blamed
Through no fault of her own. It was accepted.
The kids at school thought it fine to harm her.
The kids at school treated her as subhuman.
What was so horrible about her that everyone
Thought it acceptable to treat her shamefully?

She was French-Canadian.

My father was stationed in Maine during that time.
Eleanor’s father moved her often as he followed one
Engineering project to the next engineering project.
Her mother had died the year before and Eleanor,
Well, Eleanor felt lost and alone. She forgot how to smile.
Then one day Eleanor came to our school to join us.

I could tell Eleanor needed a friend so I walked up to visit.
Eleanor was surprised at the offer of kindness and friendship.
I asked why and she replied, “Because I’m French-Canadian.”
To which I answered, “So? What has that got to do with anything?”
“Do you want to play with us on the swing set or not?” She followed
And we enjoyed laughing while we pushed our swings higher.

Soon the kids began to gravitate away from our area.
It was as if we were contagious. Then a boy called to me.
He whispered in my ear, “She’s French-Canadian, you know.”
He scampered off to join the growing group away from us.
“I tried to warn you,” Eleanor said sadly. “It’s always like this.”
“Do you want me to go?” Her eyes pleaded not to send her away.

“Keep swinging,” I said. “They aren’t going to spoil our fun.”
Eleanor slowed her swing, wondering what was going to happen next.
Soon, a group of big boys bunched up together to approach us.
Eleanor wanted to run away from them. I stopped my swing and stood up.
The boys told me not to friend “the French-Canadian.” I shook my head “No.”
The boys moved closer, trying to intimidate me. I asked what was the problem.
“Because she’s a French-Canadian,” they accused like it was a dirty word.
“Let me see if I understand you correctly. You hate her because she is French and from Canada. Correct?” They nodded a “Yes.”
“Now has she ever said anything cruel to you?”
“Well, no,” said the lead boy.
“Has she ever insulted or harmed your parents or any of your friends?”
The lead boy scratched his head while his sidekicks nervously shifted their stance, “Come to think of it, no, she hasn’t harmed any of us.”

“So, what’s the problem?” I asked.
“Well, she is French-Canadian,” stated the lead boy.
“So, what you are saying is that she is of French heritage and was born in Canada. Yet she speaks English just like us. She acts like us. What’s the problem?
“Do you and your parents live at Camp Stupid or something?”
I was losing patience with them.

The big boy started to grow angry at me for calling him “stupid,” raising his fist.
Fighting ready, I was the strongest football kicker, well placed on mean boys.
Both Eleanor and the group standing behind the lead boy were growing scared.
I might have been the size of a gnat compared to the lead bully but he did not hit me.
The crowd knew I wasn’t scared of him and would stand my ground no matter what.
The crowd drew away from the boy when they realized he could not break me.

Suddenly, the boy slowly lowered his fist and a strange look came over his face.
I recognized that look and was thankful for it. It was the look of awareness.
He looked at me then at her, shook his head, mumbling about French-Canadians.
The boy turned to leave and then looked back at us, gesturing us to follow.
“Well, come on, do you two want to play with us or what?”
He saw me give him a suspicious look, not trusting his next move.
“Camp Stupid is a bad place. None of it makes any sense of why not to like her.”

Eleanor glowed with acceptance – at last. Such was my first foray into civil rights.
It was one of many firsts of negotiating with bullies, some dangerous, some not.
I stood my ground before that day and stood my ground for decades since then.
But I never forgot how good Eleanor felt that day when she learned that being
French-Canadian no longer carried a stigma for her. That day all the power was
Taken out of those two words, and now, well, they were just words.

Denny Lyon
Copyright 6 Sept 2010
All Rights Reserved

* * * Check out the Complete Poem List for more selections.

Dennys Photo Gallery: Swinging Good Fun! - Check out some wonderful photos from around the world validating how much we all have in common as children: we love to swing! (These photos are just a few of the gallery.)

Photo Credits

Blonde girl and boy swinging high photo by wsilver @ flickr

Single boy on long swing black and white photo by Divine in the Daily @ flickr

Empty swing at Navajo nation in Arizona photo by shulamit0903 @ flickr

Brunette girl posing on still swing photo by Brittany ((Halo)) @ flickr

Great fun swinging high "Weeee!" photo by annnna_ @ flickr

Balance of power of boy and girl facing off photo by Ken Wilcox @ flickr

Fighting boys photo by Aislinn Ritchie @ flickr

Mean boy with a gun photo by comenKlein, J. Scott 2 @ flickr

Child's shadow as he swings photo by miamism @ flickr

Girl in red dress swinging photo by anthrovik @ flickr

Empty swing by the tree of battle photo by Robb North (a Canadian photographer) @ flickr

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