Tag Archives: relationships

Beans and Strangers

It’s all about the can of beans.

People fear the Other and fail to see the humanity of strangers. This was the message in a short story I read in an English class years ago. The professor spoke about how the fear of others is unjustified and that we can live together. Humanitarian goals benefit everyone.

Then he stopped and stared out into space for a few seconds. As he continued, he said that these are all noble goals, but in the end, people care only for their own can of beans.

The last few survivors in the post-apocalyptic book, “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, kill for that last can of food found on any shelf.  Those beans mean life or death. The stashes of silver and gold are useless.

In a struggle between us and the Other, human nature gravitates toward selfish goals. Glimmers of humane treatment of others exist in McCarty’s book but only after being tempered and tested with severe, life-preserving distrust.

We protect our little band of friends and family and hope to make their lives happier and easier. How much energy can we expend on strangers? To expand on that idea, just how much can we move out of the here and now, and empathize with those that lived in the  past or will live in the future?

The past and future remain inscrutable. All I know about my great-grandmother, who lived to the age of 94, is that she hauled water from a well back to her home on the day that she died. She lived on another continent, another time. She is only an interesting anecdote to me.

Chances are that I will never see great-grandchildren. To feel love and empathy for hypothetical children or adults in the future is a strain. We would love to say altruism guides us and we care about the future as much as the children right in front of us, but human nature selfishly holds on to the now.

The here and now is all we have. Isn’t that what the trendy Eastern religions teach? To love the Other is a worthwhile goal, but opposes ancient instincts.  We must eat for today or else the future is irrelevant.

Let us hope for a time that humans can sever the dichotomy of good and evil that exists within us all.  At that time, maybe love will be all that we need.

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Looking Back Through the Window

DAILY PROMPT
Window
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As the emergency alert sirens blasted through the neighborhood on Saturdays at one in the afternoon, I looked through the window. When I was young, I waited for my father to come by and pick me up for his four hours of custody time on those Saturdays. Never 5 hours, 3 hours, and not even 4 hours and one minute. My mother made it clear that he had only four hours a week and only between the hours specified by the court system after the divorce.

So I waited by the small, rectangular window looking out the front door for his car. He would be there on the dot at 1 p.m. just as the testing of the emergency sirens started to sound. Or he would not. Then the phone would ring as my mother answered and he told her he was not coming that week. That happened quite a few times.

One time I was surprised to hear my mother and grandmother, who were usually hateful toward my father, express sympathy toward me when he failed to show up. I was left looking out the window for nothing and they felt kind of sorry for me missing out on the time with my father. Sympathy and nurturing were never their strong suit, so I still remember their kind words.

My father found a girlfriend and liked to spend time with her rather than me. I guess I understood. Later when I had a child of my own, he said that taking care of a child was a lot of work. I can’t imagine how he would know. He spent such a small part of his life with me. When I got to be an older teenager, he didn’t come around for over five years.

I try to forget the past, but too often memories flood through my head. Even today, the sirens still sound their alarm on Saturdays warning us of potential disasters.

Admit Impediments

Connie and I were the last two kids to live in our houses. We were the same age and only saw each other through the fence between our postage-stamp size backyards. She never came over to my yard to play and I never went over to her.

We passed a few small things back and forth between the fence, maybe some leaves or flowers or very small toys. We could never hold each other’s dolls. And of course human contact is not easy through chain link.

Was this fence the beginnings of the self-inflicted barriers I placed on my personal relationships throughout my life? Maybe it is why I crave isolation.

I suspect my mother and grandmother had their reasons for maintaining this barrier. They were distrustful and critical of other people. Better to keep a distance. Our two houses were destined for demolition so why bother to cultivate friendships? They would never go out of their way to find Connie’s new house and take me there for a visit. And they certainly wouldn’t want extra kids over at their house.

I still think about Connie at times and wonder what path she took in life. Does she remember the incarceration?