Sunday, November 22, 2015

Love's Alchemy

Pure gold right here
Nature’s first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf’s a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay.  ~Robert Frost
If you haven't seen the movie The Outsiders, or read the novel be S.E. Hinton, I need you to step away from your computer screen and go watch.  The book isn't long but would take longer for you to read than to watch a young Diane Lane, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, and C. Thomas Howell emote about being from the wrong side of the tracks.  It's necessary.  I'll wait.  For those of you who have already witnessed the  ALL THE HOLLYWOOD YOUTH! just skip ahead.  
Well, what did you think?  Did you cry? Did you watch in slack-jawed amazement of such a varied assemblage of actors?  Did you think "Hey! If this had music and a beat I could snap to, it would be West Side Story! Heck, if it had a happier ending it would be Grease!"?  Did you want to send me thanks for such a great tip?  You're welcome for all of it.
So young!
I bring up The Outsiders not because it used to be one of my favorite films when I was much younger and greatly influenced by the taste of my sister (I still am influenced by my sister because she is awesome and cool like that), but because it makes excellent use of a Robert Frost poem.  This is a classic tale of haves vs. have nots set in 1960s rural Oklahoma.  The Greasers are from the wrong side of town, have mostly broken families, and have been looked down upon - for reasons both real and perceived through bias - by the other group in town; the Socials or Socs.  Two brothers, Johnny and Ponyboy, get into a fight with a group of Socs and it culminates in Johnny stabbing and killing someone.  They go into hiding, fearing that they're family will be broken apart and they'll both spend much of the rest of their lives in jail because no one will believe it was self-defense due to their social status.  While they're in hiding, the boys have a lot of time to talk and reflect on things, not to mention read Gone with the Wind.  One morning they're up early and watch the sunrise and Ponyboy is inspired to recite Robert Frost. They talk about what that means.  That the end of innocence ends your time of being golden.  That growing up and being hardened and reshaped by the many things that can happen in a lifetime leaves a person a bit tarnished; the gold fades.  It's nature's hardest hue to hold.  
This week I was lucky enough to see gold again.  Sweet Girl participated in her school's related arts exhibition with her original dance that she and I decided to call "The Joy of Dance."  We went outside, I played two songs from the movie Inside Out, and she let her body move as it saw fit.  Then, because NOTHING IS EVER EASY HERE, I edited out the massive nose bleed, the deer jumping through the neighbor's yard and subsequent dog barking cacophony, and the symphony of leaf blowers.  We ended up with about five sections that iMovie helped me make into one.  Then I cut the audio from the original and inserted the music directly into the once-was-five-now-is-one video and crossed my fingers that it would still match up.  It did.  This moment was not golden.  It was actually quite traumatic thanks to the nosebleed and the fact that I had to force Sweet Girl to complete the dance.  She had started enthusiastically thanks to a wonderful support system she has at school.  But when the time came to actually dance and be recorded, she balked.  She wanted to play inside.  She was too shy.  She was nervous.  She was mad at me.  The whole time, I was displeased.  We sat down and had a heart-to-heart about promises and doing things for others.  Her support system at school this year is more than I could ask for: they are people who see Sweet Girl for her many charms.  And we had told them that she would participate, so I was willing to be the bad guy to make this happen.  So I did just that.  When all was danced and done, Sweet Girl had forgotten that she didn't want to do this and she loved watching herself dance on video.  It wasn't golden, but it had flecks of gold dispersed through the blue, red, and yellow colors mixing in this memory globe.
The golden moment came on Thursday night when Sweet Girl put on her special dress and watched the other entries on the big screen in the cafeteria at her school.  She felt beautiful and special, and before she even saw her video played for everyone she already created enough light from her aura to make her easily identifiable in a sea of elementary-aged heads (the constant movement helped with identification purposes as well).  Then it was time for her dance to be displayed.  From my vantage point I could only see the back of her head, but I could tell by how she tilted that head and how her hair lifted at the crown that her smile was 24 karat.  Then Little Man, squirmily seated on my lap, gasped and said "Oh, Sister! Wow!" with such admiration and adulation that my eyes clouded over with golden tears.  Somewhere an alchemist felt a pull toward our corner of the world: pure gold.
The sad part about growing up is not that we stop feeling golden moments, it's that we realize they are finite and not the perfection we perceived in our youth.  We become aware of our mortality and shortcomings, of the judgment of others: we see ourselves through the eyes of others and we often come up wanting.  We stop seeing just gold and rather focus on the reflection of our imperfections. To combat this, we try to stretch that gold out.  We try to make it last longer while simultaneously rendering it less shiny and reflective.  We hoard our gold and hide it from view.  We don't show our excitement over small pleasures the way we once did.  We don't share our heartfelt emotions for fear that we will be vulnerable and hurt by the reaction of others.  We mix our gold with other things to temper it.  The resulting alloy doesn't shine as brightly.  We can no longer see ourselves or others and we no longer feel happiness as deeply as we have before.  The gold in the mix starts to tarnish.  Our leaf subsides to leaf, our dawn to day.  
My kids still feel their feelings for themselves. They don't worry about what others think.  They don't care that someone else may think they're "weird" and they certainly haven't got the first concept of "cool."  I used to let this tarnish my gold.  I mixed the joy I felt when they were joyful with fear that they wouldn't fit in, and with anger that their minds don't work the same as others.  Gold swirled with purple and red, making a muddy mess of what were once lovely colors.  This is the worst kind of mixture and alloy; brittle, riddled with impurities, and lacking in any desirable properties.  This helps no one: not me, not my lovely husband, and certainly not my children.  But slowly I am separating the other emotions from my joy.  I'm letting myself live in that golden moment or hour, and letting that be all.  No mixing, no stretching, no hiding, just golden-hour living.  It's not easy and I'm not very good at it yet.  I certainly may never get back to 24 karat, but I'm trying.  Stay gold.