Humid Thy Name Shall Be

An Essay By Ben // 7/3/2002

Dear Homeschooling Friends,

I drove home today from my jazz violin lesson keenly aware that it is summer. How beating the heat. So humid and hot that at 1am last night it was 80 degrees still, the man on the radio said. My fingers had slipped over the sleek black fingerboard of my violin in the humidity. My car air conditioner panted warm breath in my face while I listened to the heat and the radio, the sticking of my tires on the baking cement and National Public Radio.

On NPR they were interviewing a man who worked as a post-war peacemaker in Bosnia. His voice in the stale air brought me to a place where two peoples look at each other as brutal enemies, have looked at each other that way for hundreds of years, and are expected to somehow change in a matter of years. Difficult? Yes. But isn’t this their life battle? Ours too, perhaps. The interviewed man - an African American - said the problems in Bosnia remind him of when he put his children into an all-white public school in some Bible-belt state - can't remember which. He felt that we as a nation cannot look at ourselves as the icon of diversity, but that we have important experience that can help other nations follow us on our path. I really do appreciate our courtship of diversity when it is spoken of in this way, but I couldn’t help thinking while I listened that many problems have risen out of too much emphasis on diversity. The world is a swiftly turning planet. Maybe that’s why it’s so friction hot.

Humid Framingham thy name shall be for 123 days and nights, and no more, say I. Framingham welcomed me into its warm world when I gave up on my air conditioner and opened up my window. The small city is a fusion of cultures and displaced people. I changed the radio to an international station and listened to a hot music from South America fused with that great Cuban rhythm. The music was appropriate to Framingham. There are many Brazilian people living there. As I passed the CVS where my Jamaican friend, Raycho, used to work, I saw a Brazilian flag taped proudly to the window. You could still feel the national frenzy in the air after their team won the World Cup last Sunday. Brazilian flags sweating blue and green atop buildings and on every other window. I watched the Brazilians walking on the streets in light dresses; the men played music as loud as the heat. Heat like the jungle or like a polluted and dusty city surrounded by jungle.

Twice I went to a Mass said in Portuguese in the Catholic church in Framingham, and twice I wished that I could speak their language and live their lives for a little. They thought I was one of them because of my dark skin. I talked to a man as best I could, me speaking Spanish, he Portuguese. Non comprenda inglese. Some teenagers had taken special care to make me feel part of the community during the Mass. Looking into their world from the outside, it appears colorful, emotional, hot and intense. Community on those back streets is both strong and close and unclothed in its depravity. But it looks real, especially in the sweat.

I turned down the volume on the radio, almost ashamed, when I passed an Irish Pub a couple blocks later and returned to the culture of the Irish-German-English people of New England. Back in my family’s town. The tall pine trees around our township’s church parking lot seemed to dismiss the heat with a dark green austerity that struck me as almost proud. Those trees greeted the first pilgrims when they landed on the wild shores of this New World. They judged dispassionately then, as now. The church, St. John the Evangelist, stood out against the sun in its heavy, gray stone, as if it were wearing heavy wool just to be ready for the cold to come. New England is a strange, strange place for the passionate Brazilians or the earthy Jamaicans. The roots here seem too stony deep sometimes, as if they weren’t made for us.

Between St. John’s and home, I thought about apricotpie and the discussion group I want to begin. Why put it off? Because the thing requires thought if it will last and bring fruit. I am afraid to begin a discussion group. I have such ideals for it. Discussion groups I have come across in my Web travels have all seemed failures: the people bring up an endless list of topics and rant about each without much thought or exploration. I want the discussion group on apricotpie to challenge those participating. This is a vague hope. And, in the end, a hopeless hope without the respect and interest of those people in the discussion group.

Ben

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