On October 6, 2007, at 10:34 PM, a son was born to me and my partner Genevieve Calmes. River Demetrius Macdonald, 7 lb. 13.4 oz., 20 inches long, was born in Washington, DC's Sibley Memorial Hospital.
Over the past busy month, our lives have begun dramatic changes. During the late nights when mother and son have finally gone to bed, I have written out in great detail my memories of the entire experience. At first, I thought I'd be sharing them here; however, it became apparent very quickly that what I was writing was very personal, something to be seen at another time and another place. Absorbed in the details of that moment are so many interesting and intriguing things, but they aren't for here.
The experience has been amazing, a journey on which I never thought I would be. Having a child in today's world is no great feat; I still look sheepish and almost embarrassed at all the admiring eyes that glance toward me as I walk down the street holding my son. Genevieve notes, "Now, you now how weird I felt for nine months." What is it about babies that evokes such a strange adoration in many people and in a small minority a visceral negative reaction? I can't say exactly; I'm puzzled by it when we know that most people lead lives that are so dysfunctional in a planet that has been exploited into something that hardly resembles itself. Technology and industrialization have allowed the human population to increase to levels that make us all seem insignificant within our human community and all too significant in our impact on our local and global environments. Bringing a child into this world almost seems cruel.
And, yet, I can't begin to express how much joy I get from River, from the process of learning how to care for my son, from the challenge of living in this world. To have him near me, beside me, cooing, smiling in his sleep, even crying uncontrollably, is a feeling so primal that I wouldn't trade it for anything. There is nothing conflicted about my feelings for him; he is so dear to me already.
The conflicted feelings, though, of where my son and I figure into the picture of our world, of our universe at large, have been here since the beginning. I don't think there's any getting around it. It's important for me that we as a people come to terms with ourselves and what our actions, however natural they are to us, are in a world that is perhaps hopelessly out of whack. What is there exactly to be done about such a conflict?
I suppose in my case the first thing that I'm doing and think we should all be doing is acknowledging the conflict of our lives and our actions with our world. In a world where our very breath is a question of conflict with our environment, we must always acknowledge the absurdity of it. We live, we breathe, we eat, we cry, we poop, we make babies, and then we die, some of us to greater and lesser degrees. We are all still those babies who are born among the oozing, goopy animal fluids. We are animals; we are animals and live in conflict and are aware of the conflict. Truth, love, happiness, and virtue cannot contradict that reality. We must acknowledge it; we must find a way to embrace it; we must see to it that we are humbly recognizing both the primal moment and the context in which the moment resides. We must be incarnate in a world much greater and much murkier and much more disgusting than our sensitivities wish to acknowledge.
A baby doesn't really care when he or she pisses and poops; we've been thrust into a world where we not only care, we do everything we can to hide that that is the place where we came. And, while we cannot help but care, we should not hide that that is who we are. Coming to terms with the joy of birth, enriching it, is to see that we are faced with a lot of disgusting realities.
We can be more joyous about our children if we acknowledge the conflicts that our children give us; we can only hope that acknowledgment will help shed light on what else keeps the immediacy of our experience from being so divorced from the complex set of potentialities that our immediacy depends upon.
River, Genevieve, Jim, and Dewey the cat are enjoying life together preparing for even more change. We are about to fulfill my dream to move to Greater Yellowstone. I've told my work; we've told our apartment; it's going to happen. We still don't know where exactly, but we don't believe that there are too many obstacles that are likely to get in our way to stop this from happening. I've been preparing for this for some time, to move to the place where my heart leads me, another place of innumerable conflicts, whose magic wouldn't even be possible without the conflicts. Volcanoes, earthquakes, glaciers, plants, and animals all in conflict inside a political matrix dreamed up by humans creating more conflict. To move to Yellowstone is a conflict, evidence of privilege, evidence of having more than I had even a few years ago, of a selfish desire to have mine. To drive there, to burn fossil fuels, to bring more carbon dioxide spewing humans, to move to an area with large class gaps, where environmental sensitivity, classism, and racism are often at odds with each other. It is a land where even the animals have clear hierarchies of value for human beings based on what they seem to provide for us. I cannot escape the fact that I'm using it to fill a need in my life.
It is more conflicting for me to move to Yellowstone than it was to have a child; Yellowstone is more precious and immediate to me than the Earth at large. It must be more conflicting.
Yet, there is a place for me, not because there isn't compromise and not because there isn't injustice in it. There's a place for anyone who acknowledges the conflict and takes it seriously (with a smile), who looks to see what good there is in a disgusting reality, to see what we can do to make our behavior consistent with what now disgusts us, that the crying, sobbing, dirty babies, the disease-riddled bison, elk, and wolves, the boardwalk-covered, cell-phone towered, power-lined landscape might have a new song, a new dance, a new something.
We aren't looking to go back to the way we were when born - we aren't seeking a return to primitive culture - we are seeking a way to acknowledge what we are doing now - sitting on a tannish brownish couch in the dark with the sounds of my son in the night, a television droning on in the background, in a small studio apartment in this violent neighborhood - with the conflicts that our life presents us. What are we leaving out, who are we leaving behind, what else might be and might have been? It's in moments like this that I often think of all that's been forgotten in New Orleans, in the Congo, and in the marine life of the Great Lakes. This week, people seem to be noticing that honey bees are dying off in this country; that's wonderful, but what's been lost by bringing us all - honey bees included - here in the first place. Why do we run from the dialectic of conflict? Life is far more interesting. You know, along these lines, do people really think about what a heaven is where the last shall be first? I have a feeling that we have scant feeling what Zion is like. What a joy to marvel.
And, marvel I do, at my son, and at my dear Yellowstone. Neither deserves me more or my marveling or joy more, neither is more just because they have my love and affection; your children, your places, and your stories are marvelous as well. But, to marvel, to wonder, to consider, and to see how beyond us all this is, to grasp that much, to grasp how infinitely interesting that is, to drop our need to pretend otherwise, that is something to embrace - that moment that exists in a context where other moments might have been; that's passion. That's an incarnate reality; that's the strange and wonderful place that I am this evening (quickly becoming morning).