Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Children Are Waiting

Today I'm thinking about Alanna.
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When Alanna was a little girl, we would go to the Art Institute of Chicago together and draw. Sometimes we took part in organized drawing classes, where groups of kids and their parents would troop up to the galleries to study some work of art or the other. Sometimes we would just wander around and find something interesting and start to sketch.

One of our favorite games was to sit in one of the galleries and each sketch something in the room. Then the other person had to figure out which painting or sculpture was being copied.

Sometimes one of us would sketch something, and then the other would color it in. I still like to go back and page through those drawings. ("Here's one that she drew, and then I colored it in with watercolors!")

Sometimes we would just wander from gallery to gallery, and say, "Remember this one?" Sometimes one of the galleries would be reorganized, and one of Alanna's favorites would be missing, and she would put her hands on her hips and frown, as if to say, "What the -- ?"

Below is an example of one of Alanna's sketches from one of our trips to the Art Institute; she must have been about 7 at the time she drew it.

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The sketch above is of a sculpture by Giovanni Maria Benzoni. Here is what Benzoni's sculpture looks like:

Unless you do sketching yourself, you may not realize that this is a very challenging composition to sketch. In fact, it's probably one that most adults should not take on. You probably have to be a child to be fearless enough to tackle it. Ideally, about 7 years old.

The title of the sculpture is "Flight from Pompeii." Once you know the title, it's easier to make out what's happening -- the two figures are trying to cover their heads as they escape, and the woman is holding a child. The flying sparks and hot ash from the volcano have to be imagined.

I've always loved looking closely at Alanna's rendering of this family:

The father is looking at the mother; he seems to be saying, "Don't worry, I'm here." The mother is looking at the father; she seems to be saying, "It's going to be alright, isn't it?" The baby is hanging out of the mother's arms, the way squirmy babies do.

I'm not sure I saw all this in the original sculpture. But Alanna did. Alanna is always watching very carefully.
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Oh, and one more thing about Alanna's sketch. She filled in the background that Benzoni left to the imagination:

I don't think Alanna and I ever talked about what it must be like to be trying to escape a shower of sparks and hot ash. But she seemed to know that the sparks and hot ash are too important a part of the picture to be left out.
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Alanna's middle name is Skye. I'm not sure exactly why we picked out that name for her, except that it sounded beautiful -- and we knew she would be beautiful -- and it sounded boundless -- and we knew she would be unlimited.
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The paintings and sculptures at the Art Institute weren't the only things that Alanna was watching. From time to time I would say something or do something, and Alanna would say, "Dad, before you said ...." It was kind of reassuring to know that someone was watching.

One time, though, I had a shock. I was talking about some anti-war activity that I was involved in -- hoping, I think, to "set a good example" for Alanna -- and she said, "Dad, before you said there have to be wars because countries have to be able to work out their problems that way."

( ! ! )

I told her I had thought some more about it and decided I had been wrong.

The look on her face said, "About time ...."
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It guess it's kind of reassuring to know that someone is waiting for you to get it right. But you can't expect people to wait forever. Today, Alanna is 16 and I reckon she's got more important things on her mind than waiting around for me to see clearly. She looks my way from time to time, but I can't expect her to be watching me at every moment! I guess I'll have to start taking responsibility for myself. And I think I'm ready.
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I think a lot of children are waiting. The sparks and hot ash are very visible to them, and it is very clear to them that everything hinges on whether the grownups really know what they're saying when they say, "Don't worry .... " and "It's going to be alright .... " Maybe it's time for us to start taking responsibility for ourselves. Maybe we have to start working to put an end to war like we really mean it.

The children are waiting.

Happy Birthday, Alanna.

Listen to this amazing performance of "Look to the Children"  featuring Esther Satterfield and Chuck Mangione on Youtube.

Related posts

With the New York Times publishing "analysis" like this, is it any wonder that Americans can say things like . . . "It won't be a war. We're just going to drop a few well placed bombs on them" . . . "the object of fighting a war is to 'cause devastation'" . . . "my finger is on the button. Run back to your mud hut or I am going to press it!" . . . "when war is devastating, then people will do everything possible not to get into it!" . . . as some of my high school classmates wrote on Facebook today?

(See The Bankruptcy of U.S. Nuclear Doctrine )

I wonder if, years from now, we will be thinking back to today and feeling surprise at how little we thought about some of the developments in our world, and in our country, and how we talked about them even less. Someday will I have to explain to my kids, or to my kids' kids, why it was that "people just weren't talking about it" . . . ?

(See Why Weren't People Talking About It? )

Any day that starts with morning glories on "Point Alanna" is a good day!

(See Morning Glories on Point Alanna )

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