Monday, April 30, 2012

Surviving my own Stupidity, or Why Eleven Year Olds Shouldn't go Cow Tipping

Inspired by my friend Cindy (who was, in turn, inspired by "Anne of Green Gables"), I decided to write about a time when my own stupidity nearly got me killed.

As I looked back on my early years, I found enough instances to make me scared for what escapades my own children will get up to. Not all of the instances lend themselves to story telling, but a few are worth describing. So, after a bit of pondering, I've decided to write about a night full of adventure, danger, and, yes, stupidity.

I was ten or eleven at the time. The exact age escapes me, but since most of my best adventures occurred around that age, it's safe to assume it was one of those two. It started with with some plotting between two best friends, me and Jessica.

This picture's a year or two after the adventure.
I would have been just a little younger.

I don't know whose idea it originally was, but both of us concluded that it was somehow essential to our growing-up experience that we go cow tipping.

My house was the obvious choice when it came to staging the endeavor. The property just behind my house was over 70 acres with a herd of about 20 cows. Nobody lived there, and we had permission to play on the property. We usually avoided the cows and stuck to the barns, though--after all, barns didn't stamp their feet and snort at you if you got too close to their babies.

One momma cow in particular always made me nervous. She was huge and red, and she had one horn. And she didn't like kids.  This and other concerns, however, were incidental to our current adventure. After all, the cows would be asleep.

We went to bed at a reasonable hour--or at least, we went to my room, where we sat around wearing dark sweatshirts and debating whether or not to bring a flashlight. Finally we decided against it; after all, there were no city lights around, and the moon and stars were always bright enough to see by. Besides, we wouldn't want to run the risk of waking the cows up early by shining a light in their faces.

We waited until the fireflies were gone. We waited until it was completely dark. Even darker than we'd expected, actually, because clouds were completely covering the sky.

Carefully, we snuck out the window. (Actually, we weren't that careful, because I had floor-to-ceiling windows in my room, so all we had to do was slide it up a couple feet and step out onto the porch. Still, it seemed cooler to sneak out the window than to go into the next room over and use the door.)

The most likely place to find the herd was near the barns. We'd rarely ever seen the cows go into a barn, but they were fed near the barns, so it made sense that they'd sleep there.

Gravel crunched loudly under our feet, but it was too dark to avoid all the rocks and sink holes on the over-land route, so we stuck to the road. Soon the barns loomed, brown-black mountains against the blue-black of everything else. We could barely see their outlines. Still no sign of the cows.

"Where are they?" I whispered, "Do you see them?"
"No. Probably just a little further. Isn't the hay behind the barn?" Jessica whispered back.

In the end, it was so dark we didn't see them at all. But just as we passed the barn, we heard them. They were close. They seemed to be all around us, in fact. And they were definitely not asleep.

My mind was suddenly filled with the image of Big Red, and the size of hole her one horn could leave in me.

Being the confident, fearless eleven-year-olds that we were, we made a break for the covered hay bales. These were giant round bales, stacked two-high and mostly covered with plastic. The stack was 3 times our height, and we scrambled up and perched on the highest point we could find, shivering and listening to the cows chew their cuds. You don't know how ominous a sound that is until those cows have you surrounded in the dark.

I don't know how long we waited. We pretended to each other that we were just hanging out waiting for them to fall asleep so we could tip a few and go home; in truth, we were clinging to the hay for dear life waiting for our chance to run.

Eventually the herd moved off, and we dared to come down. We crunched our way back up the gravel road a bit more quickly than we'd come, slid my window up, and went to bed, promising to "try again another time."

We never did.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Surprises of Spring

Behind our house there's a steep downhill slope which quickly becomes a mass of evergreen trees. It looks so thick that I've never actually gone down there (which is strange for me, because once-upon-a-time I would have felt an irresistible need to explore such a place). 

A few days before Easter I walked out of the garage and looked over the hill, and I saw something white amidst the green.

Curious, I clambered down a few feet. This is what I saw:

This gorgeous lily was fighting its way up through the weeds and scratchy evergreens around it.

After exclaiming over it with Ryan, we came up with this theory: Someone bought a potted lilly. It died (or appeared to). They tossed it off the top of the hill to get rid of it.

But despite the circumstances and surroundings, it bloomed again.

Because it was a few days before Easter, my thoughts went first to resurrection. Then they turned to how we shouldn't judge others, because we don't know when someone might be spiritually sleeping instead of spiritually dead. Then I thought of Joseph in Egypt, who excelled and bloomed wherever he was placed.

By that point I didn't know what to write a blog post about, I just knew I wanted to share my beautiful lilly, which is in a place where nobody else is likely to ever see it (unless I drag them off behind my house to show them, which I admit I've already done with one friend).

So here it is, friends. Take your own lesson from it, or take your pick from those mentioned above. And don't forget to look around to see what surprises spring might throw your way.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Confessions of Ignorance

Today I followed a link to an article entitled, "50 things you should not say to autism parents." As I read the list, the thought that kept going through my mind was, how could someone think something like that, let alone say it? I don't know a lot about autism, but I do know enough to not say something like, "He just needs to apply himself more."

But, of course, it's easy to scoff at these types of comments when they're about something I think should be common sense. It's easy to forget that what may seem obviously rude or insensitive to me may be innocently-intended, merely a comment made in ignorance.

And now that I've given you a paragraph of abstract generalizations, here's my concrete example.

During Fall semester of 2010, I met an amazing girl named Cindy. We were in a class together, and though we'd only interacted a couple of times, we found out we had the same favorite author (those of you who aren't readers may not understand the instant bond that can create), and we became Facebook friends.

One day Cindy missed class, and I saw that she had posted something about not feeling well. I posted that I hoped she got better soon, and when I saw her in class a couple days later, we had a conversation something like this (it was a year and a half ago, so obviously it's not verbatim):

Me: "I'm glad you're here. I saw on Facebook that you weren't feeling well, and I saw you coughing today, but I'm glad you were well enough to come."

Cindy: "Oh, yeah, I had a rough day the other day. I have Cystic Fibrosis, so I always have a cough even when I'm not sick, but I do get sick a lot."

Me: "Oh man. Kind of like pregnancy, I guess, where you just never really feel well and it just kind of wears you down."

Yup. There it is folks. This is where you should be thinking things like, How could she even try to compare a life-long and ultimately fatal genetic illness with a temporary condition that brings so much joy at its conclusion? Or, That's so insensitive of her to say something like that when pregnancy is something so many women with Cystic Fibrosis can only dream about.

Well, I know that NOW.

This is something that I've felt bad about for the last year and a half, but I'm sure that, just like parents of children with autism, my friend Cindy gets insensitive comments like that all the time.

Getting to know Cindy provided an incentive for me to educate myself about Cystic Fibrosis. (If, like me in 2010, you have no idea what it is other than that it's "something medical," I recommend you read Cindy's own explanation of it here.) While I still don't know or understand all the many ways it affects the lives of those who have it and their immediate families, I at least have a basic understanding of what it is, and I'm slightly less likely to make ignorantly hurtful comments in the future.

I learned something valuable about myself from that conversation above, though. I learned that I'm in the biggest danger of making these types of comments when I'm faced with something I don't know anything about and I grasp at straws for a way I can relate it to my own experience. It's something most of us do automatically, because our own experience is the frame on which we stretch our view of the world.

But what if, instead of trying to relate it back to myself, I had focused on Cindy? What if I'd said, "What is Cystic Fibrosis?" and then really listened?

Nearly a year after my conversation with Cindy, I was staying with my mother when a friend came to celebrate her daughter's birthday with us. Her daughter had died years before, at the age of 10. She'd had Cystic Fibrosis.

Again I automatically tried to find a way to relate, mentioning that I had a friend from college who had Cystic Fibrosis. This time, however, I caught myself at that point and started to listen. And thanks to what I had learned from Cindy, I was able to better understand and be a sympathetic ear as this friend talked about her daughter's struggles.

I'm not always good at stepping outside myself. I'm not always eager to admit my ignorance. But I'm trying to learn from it, and I request the patience and forgiveness of each of you around me as you struggle every day with things I don't understand.