Monday

Sep. 6, 2010

The Guardian

by Joseph Mills

I don't think my brother realized all
the responsibilities involved in being
her guardian, not just the paperwork
but the trips to the dentist and Wal-Mart,
the making sure she has underwear,
money to buy Pepsis, the crying calls
because she has no shampoo even though
he has bought her several bottles recently.
We talk about how he might bring this up
with the staff, how best to delicately ask
if they're using her shampoo on others
or maybe just allowing her too much.
"You only need a little, Mom," he said,
"Not a handful." "I don't have any!"
she shouted before hanging up. Later
he finds a bottle stashed in her closet
and two more hidden in the bathroom
along with crackers, spoons, and socks.
Afraid someone might steal her things,
she hides them, but then not only forgets
where, but that she ever had them at all.

I tease my brother, "You always wanted
another kid." He doesn't laugh. She hated
her father, and, in this second childhood,
she resents the one who takes care of her.
When I call, she complains about how
my brother treats her and how she hasn't
seen him in years. If I explain everything
he's doing, she admires the way I stick up
for him. Doing nothing means I do nothing
wrong. This is love's blindness and love's
injustice. It's why I expect to hear anger
or bitterness in my brother's voice, and why
each time we talk, no matter how closely
I listen, I'm astonished to hear only love.

"The Guardian" by Joseph Mills, from Love and Other Collisions. © Press 53, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Labor Day in the United States, which is always observed here the first Monday in September. Almost everywhere else in the world, Labor Day is the first of May.

It's the birthday of Robert Pirsig, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis (1928). He's the author of the cult classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (1974), a book that has sold more than 5 million copies, which is a lot for a book on philosophy.

It's an account of his road trip from Minnesota to California, and his quest to reconcile Eastern and Western philosophical traditions. The book begins:

"I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning. The wind, even at sixty miles an hour, is warm and humid. When it's this hot and muggy at eight-thirty, I'm wondering what it's going to be like in the afternoon.

"In the wind are pungent odors from the marshes by the road. We are in an area of the Central Plains filled with thousands of duck hunting sloughs, heading northwest from Minneapolis toward the Dakotas. [...] I'm happy to be riding back into this country. It is a kind of nowhere, famous for nothing at all and has an appeal because of just that. Tensions disappear along old roads like this."

It's the birthday of the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize: public health worker, community organizer, and social activist Jane Addams, (books by this author) born to a wealthy Quaker family in Cedarville, Illinois, 150 years ago today (1860).

She suffered from depression and went to Europe, thinking it would help. She visited a settlement house in London, a place that offered social services to the poor. She was deeply impressed by it, and after founding an experimental house like this in England, she returned to the states to establish one on the South Side of Chicago in the 19th Ward, a neighborhood full of poor immigrants from Russia, Greece, Italy, and Germany. It was in an abandoned mansion formerly owned by Charles Hull, and so she called it Hull House. It had a communal kitchen, a day care, a library, and a little bookbinding business.

Women boarded at Hull House, and it was also a neighborhood center, a performing arts center, and a space where book club meetings and classes were held. Two thousand people showed up each week from the area, and Hull House grew to add a dozen more buildings. Addams wrote about it in some of her books, including Twenty Years at Hull House (1910).

Addams was a leader in the women's suffrage movement, fought for immigrants' rights, and lobbied for labor reform. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

She's the author of several books, including The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909) and Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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