Thursday, October 20, 2011
by J J Cohen I'm composing this not far from the ocean on a crisp day with blue sky. I've had a great morning, because I enjoyed something I receive little of: time by myself, without the tyranny of some writing project to ruin it. I'm visiting the College of Charleston, staying not far from the city in a beautiful area called Folly Beach. I taught Myra Seaman's undergraduate class on medieval objects last night, then went out with her and a colleague for pizza and wine, then out again later for wine and gossip. Myra has been a great host. I was back at Folly around midnight and fell asleep almost right away ... and woke to a day on which my first obligation is is at 5 PM (a dinner, followed by a public lecture). I intentionally didn't bring my laptop with me so that I would not be tempted to work on my book or an essay I have due next week (I'm typing this out on my iPad, which I have convinced myself is unsuitable for scholarship, even though it is not). So I spent the morning walking a windy, empty beach. I was alone except for a few dogs and their owners. A part of me wished I'd brought my running gear, since the morning was perfect for velocity, but I was also happy to surrender to a slow tracing of where the waves lap the sand. The beach was littered with shells and stones, so I stopped every now and then to pocket some tidal object. Later in the day I returned to my room and hand wrote the outline of an essay I may never compose on Bisclavret. I don't have an off button. Yet I was relaxed, I could smell the ocean, the wind through the open window was invigorating. I was still writing when I found out that my son had been hazed at school. This is spirit week at his new high school (he is in 9th grade), and on this day each class wears a different colored shirt. Freshmen wear white. At some point a tradition arose of upperclassmen marking those white shirts with pens, silly string and spray paint -- and the day became Freshmen Beat Down Day. Alex heard the stories and didn't want to go. We forced him to, and at 11:30 he was on his way home after having been attacked by some juniors and doused in ketchup. He was one of many boys this happened to -- and we are not talking about a light spraying. Those who did the bullying drenched their victims in the stuff, as well as with mustard and relish. The idea was to make them stink so badly they would be humiliated. I was wrong to send Alex today against his will and I feel terrible about how his school failed him. How I failed him. He and the rest of my family are on their way to South Carolina tonight and I am glad he is getting away from DC for the weekend. I've written here before about how the edge of the ocean always provokes in me thoughts of mortality. I was thinking about currents, changes and catastrophes as I walked this morning. The news from Alex made me feel like I am a thousand miles away. And then as I was processing all of this (and I know, yes, he will get over it, and I will get over it, and it could be worse and all that, but still: no one has the right to commit an act of violence against another person like that) -- I was thinking about all this when I learned via twitter that a former student of mine, one I didn't know all that well but who was my FB friend, died yesterday when a tree branch fell on him. Folly Beach.
Posted by Jeffrey Cohen at 2:07 PM
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I am sorry for you loss. Growing up is a difficult time for parents - knowing when to let go and when to interfere is difficult. I would just say that all parties have to accept they are not always going to get it right. That is an important part of the growing experience for children - to realise how fraily human their parents are and how different from themselves - and still to accept them (and ditto parents for their children). The most difficult form of tolerance to learn and practice perhaps.
What a horrible experience for Alex - and for the entire family, Jeffrey. You have, of course, spoken with the school? Such bullying is horrible, as well as the thousand little indignities that lead to an attack like this against Alex. I agree with Sarah that learning to forgive yourself as a parent is one of the most important, and difficult, things to do. My older son is a senior now in college and the younger a senior in high school, and I'm learning to let go in the hardest ways. It's terrible and difficult and anxiety provoking and all the rest. And unstoppable.
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