Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Harbor Runs Through It (Baltimore, MD)

Top: Colleen, Crystal, Kristin, Melissa, Brian, Mike & me on Tuesday night
Middle: Jim, Lydia, me, Crystal & Salimah on Monday night
Bottom: Diana, Valerie, me, Bober, Eric & James on Sunday night

In Robert Redford's movie A River Runs Through It a young Brad Pitt plays the rebellious younger son of a small town Presbyterian minister. Stop right there. I know what you are thinking. Yes, I am the younger son of a small town Presbyterian minister, but that is where the parallels end. I wasn't that rebellious and let's be frank, if I ever looked like a young Brad Pitt I could have stayed in LA, grown out my facial hair and made millions in movies while walking around town in strange looking hats. Wait a second, I do walk around in a strange looking hat.

My hat and I spent the last two days and three nights in Baltimore. The landscape here is not dominated by a river, but by a harbor. Yet I couldn't help but be reminded about the themes of A River Runs Through It as I stayed with three twentysomethings in Baltimore.

The tension which drives the plot is the relationship between the preacher and his two sons. One is studious, the other rebellious but both are trying to become their own man and escape from the imposing shadow of their father. And really, what story is more archetypal than that?

How we mature into our adulthood and juggle the pressures of both societal and family expectations is an experience everyone can relate to. We must decide what lessons and beliefs from our upbringings we want to take with us in our adult journey through life and what we want to leave behind. I stole that last line from something I wrote when I was a twentysomething - 26 to be exact. In 1999 I sat on my roof in Los Angeles and wrote my parents an 11-page (single spaced mind you) letter about what I believed. It wasn't Tolstoy or Faulkner, but it was honest.

I ended the letter with a quote I had heard in a song by Sweet Honey In The Rock. I later learned the song was sourced from the poetry of Khalil Gibran's. Here it is, in part:

Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls
for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
for life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

The relationship between parents and their adult children can be dramatic or it can be approached in a spirit of acceptance. I'm lucky to have two parents who took the latter approach - the "road less traveled" in my experience. I'm not sure how much they strive to be like me, but they did a great job of not trying to force me to be like them. They gave me space to decide for myself what parts of their character and their lived examples I would like to pack in my suitcase. Let me tell you, it was quite a bit. But there was room in there for my own beliefs and my own experiences. The aggregate is a soul that hopefully "dwells in the house of tomorrow". Don't worry Mom, that house still has central air.

This weekend in Baltimore I was given a place to stay by three people younger than me, running my streak to four straight nights. In the midst of their busy lives Eric Owens, Crystal Harvey and Colleen Smith all made time to give me a place to stay, get to know me, and introduce me to some of the people that form their respective communities of friends and family. I enjoyed making friends with each of them, and I learned some rather random things along the way. Number one, I'm horrible at fuse ball (Thanks to James for imparting that lesson). Number two, Baltimore Public Libraries rock. Third, "Real" and "Chance" from VH1's Real Chance of Love are two of the most insipid characters in the already vapid landscape of reality TV personalities. And last, but certainly not least, I learned it is possible to put a whole bottle of caramel syrup in an apple pie and still have it taste good. Who knows, any of those lessons might come in handy down the road.

On a more serious note, a conversation I had with Eric also stood out. I brought up the mutual friend we share who went to high school with him. I won't use her name because she has a wonderfully humble, joyful spirit and I don't want to embarrass her. But suffice it to say that Eric told me about how in his high school years he was quite vocal in his anti-religious beliefs. She was someone who was visible and active in Christian leadership in their school. Yet this difference of belief never cast any kind of shadow on how she related to him. She was always super friendly, always found non-contentious things to talk about and never pushed her beliefs on him. She was content to simply be his friend, live out her own truth and let him do the same.

I hope I can take a page from that play book as I relate to friends and family and maybe - someday - with children of my own. Actions are so much more persuasive than words. When I reach a point in my life where I am open to change it isn't someone preaching to me that has tilled the soil to make it fertile. It is the example of someone who has been put in my life - their love, their ability to forgive, the sense of peace that surrounds them - acted out over time that makes me curious as to its source.

You know, there is a perfect example of this from Season Five of The Wire ... but I'll spare you the comparison. Instead I will say thank you to all the parents who love their children in a way that honors their own choices. And a special thank you to Eric, Crystal and Colleen. If you are ever in NYC, mi casa es su casa, just as you opened yours to me.


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