Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Clump

My friends and I philosophize that, every now and then, life pounces on you and hands you a time of testing, or “The Clump” we cringingly call it. The stars seem to align so that nothing breaks your way. There is little to do, but pray, cling to those you love, and ride it out. Our family had one of those Clumps last year. In the winter, my beloved father-in-law died of prostate cancer, and my husband was diagnosed with the same disease. His treatment was then frustratingly delayed by one medical dilemma after another. The World's Most Perfect daughter-in-law miscarried the baby she had been trying five years to conceive. The "Unsinkable Molly Brown" sister was sideswiped by the loss of sight in her eye. The much-loved old dog developed a cancer of his own. There were broken hearts and business deals, and a lifelong friendship that went sour. I stuck a quote from Chaucer on the refrigerator door: "I'll but lie down and bleed awhile, then rise and fight again." No doubt, we were in a Clump.

But tough as it was, deep down I knew I was never without some heavy-duty resources. I had my Faith, my family and my friends. That's no small deal. In a Clump, it's important to keep that focus.

I saw that quote on my refrigerator door today, and I thought of the Duke Lacrosse families. None of us can presume to know what they are enduring these days, of course. But I think we're called to try. We just need to remember our own Clumps, and draw on those feelings to help us understand. That's why I am appalled at some of the casual "comments" some have written lately. Clipped little criticisms or haranguing sermons addressed to the families litter message boards and editorial pages... as if we were discussing some fictional characters in the latest best selling novel. Whatever are these people thinking? They would probably chastise Sharon Rocha because Laci's dog was violating the leash law on the day she disappeared. Well, I have a few questions and comments for them. Have you ever feared and hurt for someone you loved? Then, call it up, feel it again, before you write a word about these mothers' sons. Ever awakened at 2AM, helpless and hopeless with despair? Then, call it up and feel it again, before you criticize or trivialize their pain. Call it up and walk a mile in their shoes, and lose the small-minded attitude. Because… you never know where the next bend around the road of life is going to take YOU. I truly believe whatever empathy and compassion you show to others in their toughest times, comes back to you, quadrupled, in your own difficult days. That positive energy, you once expended for others...finds its way back to its source. But I believe the reverse is true as well.
When a relative lost her son six months after her young husband died, I overheard a comment that she should not have let him ride a bike to class. That's the sickness of our society. We comfort our own fears and doubts with self-congratulatory smugness.

I'd also love to throttle the untested "experts" who weigh in with job reviews of others' parenting skills. I refer them, immodestly, to my "Stages Of Parenting" letter to Ruth Sheehan posted on this blog. Let's make it a requirement that they check back in with us five or ten years from now. Let's see if their Pompous Plan for Perfect Parenting...produces the Paragons of Virtue they now predict. In the meantime, don't sit on the beach with your sand pail, honey, and slam those of us riding the big waves in this rough surf. After you've ridden a few big waves yourself, then you can talk technique with us. And thank you, for taking this opportunity to stroke yourself, while adding to someone else's pain. In my humble opinion, when you are in your Happy Place...beware of piling on to someone else's Clump. As a child of the Age of Aquarius, I can promise you…"instant karma's gonna get you."

It's almost easier to write about the villains in this piece, than the everyday heartlessness and casual flippancy of other folks. We are all appalled at perverted justice, raw ambition, corruption, dishonesty and deceit at the heart of this case, but we understand these big themes. It's the small minds and cold hearts that boggle the mind. "You, alone, have brought me to Dementia's brink" wrote Edna. St.Vincent Millay, "Not that this blow be dealt to me...But by thick hands and clumsily."

Well, getting back to the philosophy of the Clumps, I never declare one officially over...I'm far too superstitious for that. Certainly, in my world, our underlying "big" problems are still clanking about, but there was a pivotal moment of brightness and renewal waiting for me as well - a surprise birthday party arranged by family and friends…asking guests to compose a poem, just for me, the sometime poet. I was required to sit and hear them all recited. We laughed a lot. The words I forget, but the feelings I will remember always. One friend scorned originality and read the lyric to a song from "Wicked" to me. "You'll be with me, like a handprint on my heart." That night, after the party ended I thought, "The Clump be damned. That I should have such friends."

The score from "Wicked" is playing as I write this. Duke Lacrosse Moms, there are a lot of us who would send that song phrase to you and your families now. Please know we believe in your sons, and we believe in you. There are many, many of us, more than you know. We will keep writing and commenting, cartooning and editing, parsing the law and police procedure...doing whatever we can do to bring this Hoax to its conclusion… Don't fear the Clump you're in today. You are not alone. You have great families and friends… and a group of strangers who feel your distress..."like a handprint on our heart." We are here until vindication. It's coming. God bless you.
Joan Foster


Anonymous said...

Joan I know you are inspired by God to write such touching words.
God Bless You!

Although I am a stranger from Maryland, I am united in prayer with everyone else who is asking God to help these boys and their families. They are in my prayers every single day. I am praying for their persecutors too; I asking God to make them come to their senses and tell the truth. If they won't do that, then I am confident that God will humble them in a manner that may not be to their liking. God will not be mocked. They may think that they can escape God's justice but it will come down upon them when they least expect it.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written piece.

Anonymous said...

There are probably thousands of us moms (and dads) out here praying for these three boys.

In a way, they've become our sons, too.

I pray, also, for those who are in error in this case, that they'll find a way to live better lives.

Anonymous said...

Just when I think you've written the most brilliant piece I've seen lately, you outdo yourself with another! Thank you for putting into words those things that many of us would like to say but don't have the venue...or the talent.

Anonymous said...


As always, you are wonderful! Thank you for another great post. You give us hope. You remind us human kindness, generosity, compassion, all these wonderful things that we sometimes tend to forget. You bring the best out of us. Thank you and god bless.