155. Neither


It’s neither hot nor cool today, slightly humid and gray, not inviting nor repulsive, just there. It’s past mid summer and kids are doing back-to-school shopping, which is a sure sign that summer is coming to an end. Similar to when migratory birds flock and fly south. Only the birds have something pleasant to look forward to. Neither summer nor fall, and the birds are staying put for the moment. The birds, the kids, and the weather are in search of a season to call their own.

This year our local school district officials are trying to impose a dress code on the several thousand students that attend school. As if they don’t have enough real problems and public black eyes already, the District leaders are out shopping for another black eye at Target, aisle 14 shoe polish and insoles. I imagine First Amendment arguments by kids. “Hey, it’s not a private academy, but even those kids can wear speech shirts on Happy Fridays.” What better way to teach kids about the First Amendment than by infringing on theirs? Think of the colorful and checkered Civics class discussions from boys and girls in solid color polo shirts and khakis pants. No words or images allowed. “Well, it’s a right that you are not fully allowed to exercise because we said so.” That’s neither victory nor defeat. It’s a standoff, a Vietnam, a demilitarized zone; it’s beige because you and your wife could not agree on tangerine or Arcadian moss for the living room walls…. But it is not solution.

Is color speech? And how about odor? If a kid wears the same solid color polo shirt 47 days in a row without laundering it, is he saying something? Why start a fight you cannot win? Ummmm, because, maybe, could it be, you’re stupid! The British redcoats had a dress code; it made them easier to shoot.

Lots of neithers these days. Sometimes neithers lead to boths. Like a tangelo: it’s neither a tangerine nor an orange; it is both and all the better for being both. My peer group recently finished reading Spiritual Evolution by George Vaillant. It’s an attempt to hold science and spirituality in the same basket. Some of his examples used science to confirm spirit. I believe we concluded that spirituality needs religion, and religion needs spirituality metaphorically like oxygen needs lungs and vice versa. The inspirational divine breath needs a structure or organism to process it. It’s a both and neither.  All hard things seem to boil down to paradoxes like this. If you want to be first in the kingdom of God, make yourself last. If you want to live, die to self. If you want to be free, surrender to another.

Most folks like simple answers, A or B. They have no tolerance for C or D or E or an infinite menu of answers. I think it’s about control. If you only offer two choices, burgers or hot dogs, cooking is easy if dull. Such joints don’t serve vegans or gluten free or cholesterol threatened people. It’s simple: take it or leave it. Another neither has popped up from a hole and I am fixing it in the crosshairs of my scope. Pow!!! Be gone nuisance neither. You are not either welcome nor tolerable.

Being neither is a tough thing for an immigrant kid. I’ve known a few. The parents speak their native language and hold fast to their native culture at home and church. It doesn’t matter if they’re Greek, Italian, Thai, Chinese, Korean, Guatemalan, Mexican, or Armenian. Their kids have one foot in the USA and one foot in their land of origin. The threshold at their house is a thousand miles wide. The Hispanic kid switches from “Goodbye” to her Anglo friends outside to “Hola” to her mother inside. And the two worlds move apart in some sort of sociological continental drift.

The Americanized immigrant is both and neither. He/she needs to be strong and stretchy. Living has to focus on the best of both worlds and away from the losses inherent in being the last one to the party.

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