Thursday, November 10, 2011

Morality Play

Students at Penn State are rioting because their beloved football coach, Joe Paterno, was fired for not acting nearly a decade ago when he knew that his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was molesting children. Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators quickly withdrew his nomination for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

His defenders cite the fact that he, himself, was not a child molester, and should therefore be held blameless. I don't agree. I feel strongly that he was wrong not to inform the police of Sandusky's ugly secret because as Edmund Burke said, "All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." He enabled heinous crimes against helpless children, so he is guilty even though he did not personally commit those crimes. Morality must begin with each of us. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, and decency dictates that we look out for those who cannot protect themselves.

Our country is rapidly eroding every sense of responsibility for others and becoming an arid place in which people care only for themselves and their own families. This is not only profoundly unconscionable, it is impractical; we cannot continue for long in a climate of every man for himself (and the devil take the hindmost.)

No one would dispute that it's sad to see a man with great leadership abilities, a living legend esteemed by many, go down in flames. But blaming the University for destroying Paterno's legacy begs the issue. No one can destroy another's legacy. He did that himself by not acting impeccably for all those years in which numerous children were abused. Paterno sowed the seeds of his own destruction. Poison cannot be contained in one aspect of ones life and hidden away from the light forever. It festers and seeps out, gradually infesting everything one does, rotting from within.

This story has epic qualities like a Greek tragedy or an Arthur Miller play, but everyone's life is epic, whether played out on a ball field in front of millions, or lived quietly away from the spotlight. Every human life offers the same choices, no matter how they are presented: Do we do what is right and honorable or do we not? Like Joe Paterno, we are always free to choose, but we should remember that those choices, large and small, will confront us sooner or later. The consequences we experience are always up to us. Life may seem unfair, but it isn't. We get what we deserve. We are not punished for our sins, but by them.

"Do good with what thou hast, or it will do thee no good." William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Hanged by his own Petard

Mr. Chu was caught half-in and half-out of someone else's room after his latest theft. The poles on his wheelchair got stuck, and the staff left him there for at least an hour. There was much merriment in the nursing home, even among those whose life's work is helping others. It was like watching a beetle on its back without righting it. I murmured, "Crime does not pay" as I walked by, and he ignored me. A little schadenfreude, anyone?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Fast Times and the Chinese Wheelchair Kleptomaniac

Mr. Chu is the stuff of Wanted posters. A desperado. A one-man crime wave on wheels. He whips around the nursing home all day long, in and out of rooms, stealing things from other residents while paddling his wheelchair with one foot. Since Flip spends all his time walking back and forth in the hall, his room is easy pickings. To date, Mr. Chu has taken his eyeglasses, his prescription Ray Ban sunglasses (multiple times,) his CD boom box, which now has a broken antenna and barely works, at least five times a day, his portable CD player, 15 or 20 CDs, various items of clothing, some of them never worn and never found again, strangely, a book of photos of Los Angeles taken from the air, his toiletry kit (countless times,) his shoes, sneakers and Crocs, and various treats I have brought him which were stationed on his bedside table.

Some of the doorways now have thick metal bars across them, near the top, since Mr. Chu's wheelchair has two long poles attached to it. Unfortunately, this won't work in Flip's room as Flip is over 6'3" and wouldn't be able to get in and out without hitting his head. Yesterday, several staff members ambushed Mr. Chu and removed a veritable Santa's toy sack from behind him, all of which they had to return to a dozen or more people who were missing items. It was a good day for small gains, until the market tanked.

Today I saw him maneuver his chair into a room with barred doorway and then flounder, unable to wheel himself out again. It was oddly satisfying. I have never had the slightest desire to hunt or trap animals, but it suggested a predator caught in a bear trap. I even related to the hunter's elation for the first time, briefly. Later, one of the aides brought back the bottom of Flip's CD boom box on which I had written his name in black marker, clearly a trophy since it serves no purpose without the rest of the unit. I wonder if he was a cat burglar before he was in a wheelchair. Or maybe a politician. Habits never die. Perhaps the wheelchair is just a ruse and he can run like the wind.

It would be romantic to think of Mr. Chu as a tropical tradewind, but he never gives anyone anything. He only takes, and acts defiant when confronted with his purloined booty. I assume he can't help it, but it's getting old. I wish he would find another way to entertain himself. Still, it's endlessly fascinating to observe the many forms of wackiness that afflict people. I wonder what I'll be like in a few years.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Dragon and his Wrath

A 23-year old woman in Texas has released a video she made of her father beating her with a belt when she was 16. As if that were not bad enough, her father is a judge who decides child abuse cases. Hillary Adams, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was caught downloading pirated music on her computer but was often beaten by her father, which was why she secretly recorded the incident.

She has received a great deal of support since the video went viral. She claims that her motive in releasing it was not revenge, but a desperate attempt to get her father the help he needs. Her mother, who is also in the video aiding her husband's abuse of their daughter, divorced him after 22 years, blaming his violence on an addiction which she did not identify, calling it "a family secret."

The judge has received death threats but insists he did nothing wrong in disciplining his daughter. I beg to differ. I am adamantly opposed to hitting ones children for any reason and consider it a hideously traumatic form of bullying. Violence at the hands of those who are supposed to love and protect us has the emotional effect of locking a child inside a box with no way out. There is no excuse for treating children like enemies.

When I was 16, I was going steady with a boy my parents disliked. He was a kind and gentle boy as well as good looking and fun, and he treated me with great care. He was also the captain of our high school football team. The reason my parents didn't want me to date him was because he was a Catholic from a working class family. My father was a lawyer and my family was Jewish, although they didn't practice the religion at all. The family credo was that we were "just American" and I never identified as a Jew; yet when I began dating boys, suddenly I was supposed to date only Jewish boys. It seemed like bait-and-switch to me.

My parents met secretly with my boyfriend's parents and my mother informed me that his mother had said, "Susan is a very nice girl, but we want (our son) to marry a Catholic girl." I was ordered to break up with him but we cared deeply for each other, so we went underground. One of his teammates who was Jewish picked me up for dates, my boyfriend picked up his friend's girl, and we switched partners later. Everything was fine until the night my mother, listening in on an extension phone, realized that we were still seeing each other. She told my father, who gave me the worst beating of my life.

I ran out the door and down the street but he jumped into his sports car and sped after me, catching me a block away. He threw me into the car and drove home, where I jumped out and tried to run again. He grabbed me and beat me with his fists until I fell down in the garage while my mother, standing on the steps between the garage and the laundry room, said "Don't kill her. Don't kill her." This was a valid warning as my father had been a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth. Finally, I was allowed to crawl to my room, where nobody checked on me all night to see if I was still living.

In the morning, my mother stopped me at the door and informed me that I couldn't go to school "looking like that," as if it were my fault. She kept me home for nearly two weeks while my bruises healed and then gave me a note stating that I had been sick. She looked deeply into my eyes, conveying wordlessly that if I told anyone, I would be a bad person. I never did.

The incident was never mentioned again, and I'm positive that like Judge Adams, my father believed he had done nothing wrong. I believe as strongly that violence never changes minds or hearts and that only kindness and respect can do that. I still do not consider religion or race important in choosing ones life partner or friends and have always felt that we learn little from those whose backgrounds are identical to our own. The world's people constitute a vast smorgasbord of cultures and appearances, knowledge and world views, all of which are wasted when we cleave only to our own kind.

There are a few animals in nature which eat their young. I consider beating ones child, either literally or emotionally, exactly the same as eating ones young. The laws regarding corporal punishment of children are different in various states, but I really hope they throw the book at Judge Adams. There is no way he should be deciding child abuse cases, and what he did to his own daughter is unforgivable. I applaud her courage and hope that she, too, got the counseling she needed. It's tragic that she didn't have the parents she needed.