Wednesday, October 6, 2010

more of Henry than you might want to read

I squirm away until . . .

I have always squirmed away from being under another’s control,
the contrarian in me feels the flow, and goes against it:

as a kid I’d wander from the yard
as I’d follow my own whims,
surprising my mother since my brothers hadn’t wandered,
there’s video of me at two:
my mother, my brother hold my hand--
I go along for a few steps, sit down,
and then, free of the guiding hand,
I toddle off in a new direction
I seemed to choose in reaction to the other’s way,

later in school I remember that my intellect and love of learning
led to a different kind of distance from others,
as I didn’t want to be just like my peers,
I don’t know any other 7th grader
who got a Newsweek subscription for himself,

as years went on, I found more ways not to go with the swarm,
to pull from the crowd and its way:
I could give a speech well and that made me stand out, stand in front,
lead the crowd in my own way,
I won contest after contest,
as long as the judges valued Atticus Finch more than a revival preacher,

I pulled the crowd to me and
rose to the top as president of my high school sophomore class,
surprising them and winning the day with self-deprecating humor,
I had a victory lap my junior year,
and the people chose another way than mine my senior year,

in high school people often noticed I didn’t fit in
and so assumed I must be a leader and worth following,
in clubs, a teen board, a science academy, and in dating,
still, leadership can also be a trap,
inside I felt enclosed by shell after shell
which took its time letting me break free,

I escaped from the arms of the familiar
and left the state for the best college I could get into,
where I found more who were going ways I wanted to go,
who also loved the challenge
of thinking and caring deep and hard,
though I found it hard to believe how many
settled for the familiar and the easy,
and, once again, I did feel contrary to them,
that first year in college
I joined the Symposium Committee
where we worked to celebrate thinking deep and hard,
and that same freshman year I joined a fraternity,
where we played and exuberantly enjoyed life,
the same night I joined my fraternity
I sought out a friend no fraternity chose
so I chose to be with him when others didn’t,
each time I found myself going one direction
I went another way, too,

the currents in my heart led me
to oppose the Vietnam War,
to support unionizing nonacademic employees,
and, in consequence, to have to do pushups
when a fraternity brother disapproved while I was still a pledge,
he sought, in vain, to control my direction,

in college I had to work to pay a share of the bills,
so in the summer I experimented with different direction after direction:
working in the mountains on construction,
for minimum wage and maximum effort,
helping Lyndon Johnson and the Office of Economic Opportunity
to organize communities in my home city,
pushing myself physically and psychically
on the proving ground of Outward Bound,
and there I found the educator within, like my parents,
but I found him in my own way, at my own time,
I wandered, and then came home,

I like best-all-around, the Renaissance Man,
so I’ve never wanted to be defined by only one way of being:
science pulled at me in high school
so I gave it a focus,
history pulled at me in college
so I gave it a major,
English pulled at me in graduate school
so I grounded myself in literature,
they all pulled, and still pull at me, at the same time,
I answer each calling,
while I also take each of the others’ call,
how can I do other than multi-task these suitors?
the universe can never be held
yet it can be appreciated better and better
if I know it more and more widely and fully,

Most important to me,
in college I fall in love,
I am not in control any longer,
and, despite my fears, she gives herself to me
as fully as I give myself to her,
to be who I am with her is who I want to be,

I still follow my own ways
that pull me wherever my head and heart want to go,
but in my deepest self I am home when I’m with my love.

by Henry Walker
October 1, ’10

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