May 24, 2011


There have been several novels written about teenage rebellion, “Catcher in the Rye” being among the most famous. But the impulse to strike out on one’s own, to establish one’s identity begins early, long before adolescence kicks in. I caught a glimpse of that impulse the other day on my way to the park. I’d stopped at a mail box to post a letter and had time to observe a father walking across the street with his daughter, a toddler, perched upon his shoulders, while his 4 year old son in the three cornered hat of a jester lagged behind. Occasionally, the father looked back to see if his oldest child was following and in response the boy would run forward, not to catch up with his parent but to run ahead. This game of lag and lead went on for half a block until the family came to a crosswalk that would bring them to my side of the street. Aware of the danger, the child in his comic hat rushed forward to stand beside his father; but once it was clear the cars would stop, he scooted ahead to regain his lead. Meanwhile, his sister looked down from a strong pair of shoulders, content to be carried.

I thought the scene playing out before me was a metaphor for life. Sometimes events cause us to lag behind or spurt ahead, but the dance is always one of self-expression and different for everyone. Once I tried to share this notion with a friend whom I know to be generous and kind but who is stern in his politics. He presumes that living in a society which provides equal opportunity for everyone, everyone should lead equally productive lives. When I point out that each of us is unique, that we have different family experiences, different genetic compositions, different physical capabilities, he accuses of me of being a bleeding heart. I think I’m being factual and but I feel no shame in the epithet. Is it a sin to put myself in someone else’s moccasins? Would the world be a better or worse place if we felt the pain of others as if it were our own?


Let philosophers debate the question. I’ve settled it in my mind. Being a woman, I shall not shirk from a woman’s metaphor. There is little equality in life. I know this as surely as I know that when I prepare a stew all the vegetables may go into the same pot, but some will take longer to cook than others.