Thursday, April 26, 2007

Are we there yet? Thoughts on Sybil Ludington, the Dark Ages (as seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old) and Guernica

Having to be at work at 7:30 a.m. in the boondocks has its advantages. I'm not talking about the part where I have to get up at 0-dark-thirty to shower, dress, fix breakfast and chivvy along the Dear Daughter, who is definitely NOT a morning person.

Working at a military installation 20 miles north of our town means I have a drive that includes about seven miles of rural highway, past fields, orchards and leaning buildings. I also see a lot of wildlife, such as deer, hawks, turkeys, raccoons, rabbits, opossums, etc.

Before I make it to the outlands, I first have to drop the Dear Daughter at my mom's house, where she visits and waits until time to walk to the neighborhood school at 8 a.m. It's a pretty good situation--DD gets to attend a better elementary school and mom gets the company of DD for about an hour each morning. What I like best about this is that I get about 15 minutes of quality car time (yes, there is such a thing) with her everyday. It's a good time to talk about oh, all kinds of things that pop into her head. As she teeters on the brink of puberty, I realize it's just a matter of time before she'll barely speak to me at all, at least not in polysyllabic words, so I'd best make hay while the sun shines. And some days, the haying is rather interesting, to say the least.

Take yesterday morning for instance. I said something in passing about the Dark ages, I think in jesting relation to when my dad was a boy. She asked what I meant and I explained about the real Dark ages. I explained briefly that it was a time in European history when most people were focused on mere survival, and not too concerned with advancements in art, literature, philosophy and other hallmarks of what is commonly recognized as civilization. Well, she answered back something along the lines of "well, a lot of us aren't all that civilized today, are we?"

Looking back over the past week's news headlines, she's got a good case there, and she knows it. We talked about the world's sufferings - from Virginia Tech to Iraq to the Sudan, to the television commercials depicting American children talking about their lack of health insurance, to local political debacles and the upcoming (?) presidential campaign. She's a pretty smart girl, and listens to the radio with us and picks up on the news with a fairly analytical ear.

On the one hand, it's amazing and delightful to be able to discuss these kinds of things with my fifth-grader. It makes the car ride lively and interesting, and we both get to do a little mental stretching before school and work. On the other hand, it's more than a little depressing that more than 1100 years after Petrarch, we still haven't figured out how to feed, clothe and care for us all without slaughtering those who look different from us or disagree with us on some minute point. And it's even sadder that an 11 year old can point that out.

On this day in 1777, 16 year old Sybil Ludington rode 20-40 through the dark countryside mustering the Fredericksburg, NY militia in response to an attack by English forces on the town of Danbury, CT. Her actions allowed the fledgling rebellion to stop a force of 2,000 well-trained and supplied redcoats. You go, girl.

This day is also the anniversary of the bombing of Guernica, which inspired Pablo Picasso's ground-breaking mural of the same name. In 1937, the Spanish government allowed the German Luftwaffe to conduct "test-bombing" on an unarmed rural village. The town burned for three days. Bombing, fires and the resulting deprivation killed 1,600 defenseless inhabitants. Picasso's painting, which was created for the World's Fair, is one of the most researched and chronicled works of art in history. Though essentially colorless, the work screams the agony of a nation torn by civil war and then betrayed to murderous outsiders by a ruthless and uncaring government.

Interestingly, the German government officially apologized to the town of Guernica in the late 20th century. To date, the Spanish government has yet to utter a word.

I'd say Dear Daughter is about right--as far as we've come, we've still got a long way to go.

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