Sunday, May 23, 2010

shadows of forgotten ancestors

graduation time again! so many have passed before these eyes. and often this student looks like one from ten years ago. only aging seems to give us an individual patina. the generations come and go. the noses and ears and eyes remain the same.

i've always wondered how to have an identity in a mass society. certain markers seem to be passing. sexuality, for example. in high school you didn't dare wear green on thurs. that meant you were a homo. anything vague between the sexes, like long hair on men, short on women, they were forbidden. the male had to be masculine (football), the female feminine (cheerleader). otherwise, you fell between the cracks.

these days everybody holds hands with their lover, no matter the xy chromosome combination. what a relief. and everybody has tattoos, nose-rings, individual or tribal? i don't know. there's a sameness and it's harder to be outrageous. is the quest for identity foundering?

and race used to be a big part of it. thank god, finally everybody's getting mixed up. to be hispanic, caucasian, black, red, eventually (hopefully) no one will be able to mark these on a school or penitentiary form. 'my palms are white, my hair is beige, my eyes sulfur', nothing without specific detail. and little to indicate one's past.

oh, yes, and family, it's never been my strong point. true, families remain a good way to raise children, yet some of them are simply awful and brutal. looking around at graduation, the hmong families, the chinese, the latino, huge celebrations around the graduate child covered with flowers. then there are the hundreds of single mothers, single fathers, and the cluster of friends who make up the chosen family.

evidently, we can't do without small groups. but what of the nation? the usa born of much violence and bloodshed (40% of the colonials moved to canada after the victory of the rabble-rousers). the whiskey rebellion, remember that, and prohibition? is one in six americans an alcoholic, as been said? well, my friend Will wrote, 'never trust a teetotaller. they're brittle.' studying this country's past, i couldn't help but see the patterns into which 99.9999% of us fall. as james joyce said, 'history is a nightmare from which i am trying to escape.'

i'm always thrilled and a bit saddened by graduation ceremonies (i missed all mine). surrounded by every generation, race, political persuasion, i'm more than ever aware time passes and the quest for identity difficult. here are pictures from just yesterday, already vanished shadows.