This morning, my grandfather visited me in the form of a heron. I'm pretty convinced it was him: I've never seen a heron around here before.
I never had much of a relationship with my grandfather. Conversations with him were more like monologues where he described his war memories, like icy shower floors in South Korea or lost chocolate bars and loose change fallen from the pockets of pilot trainees after he'd surprise them by flipping an airplane mid-air. He once surprised me by poking my thumb with a fishing hook. "This is why you don't touch this," he forewarned.
I'll never forget one night after everyone fell asleep, in a strange display of emotion, my grandfather told my brother and me that we were worthless. Our greatest sin was that we didn't do enough for our mother, his daughter, his greatest source of pride. After that outburst, I nervously clenched every muscle in my body and cleaned up after everyone as soon as we finished a meal. Any meal. I never wanted to be called worthless again.
There was undoubtedly some greater depth to this man that I was too young to comprehend or appreciate. Nevertheless, through the unfiltered lens of a child, I could sense the palpable sorrow. For his generation, "swallowing trauma" was simply a part of being a man.
My grandfather and grandmother lived on a slowly sinking lake in Florida. There he caught small fish and fed them to a great blue heron that he named Oskar.
My grandfather, Ormand, was a pattern maker, a woodworker.
One day, too old to drive, from the back seat of my parent's car, Ormand said with a timbre of longing and regret that if he could have gone to college, he would have been an engineer.
When we'd visit our grandparents, I would discover small piles of drawings made with a draftsman's hand
— ballpoint pen drawings of dozens and dozens of blue herons, all named Oskar.
As I write these words, I cannot tell you in all honesty if I'll ever have the courage to go back to normal. I've never been normal, and I'm not sure if normal is a place where I ever belonged.
I'm not normal. But I'm not worthless.
...or at least this is what my grandfather told me early this morning, in the blink of a heron's eye.
- On beauty. The elegance of a beautiful woman who rejects having to be seen.
- In the city, like climbing quicksand, a lot of people want to be seen.
- On gratitude. The capitalistic ethos of checks and balances, the abstraction - consequence of industrialisation - has profoundly disrupted our human capacity to both practice and experience gratitude.
I’ve never thanked the people who made my clothes.
- On France. Or America. Or both. I’ve lived in France for 15 years - I can pretend to belong here, but I never will. There are certain aspects of my American core that I cannot seem to extract and repurpose. For instance, when French strangers see me eating - let’s say on a bench in a park - they might look at me and say bon appétit in passing.
And yet - and I’ve confirmed with other Americans in France - there’s something so twisted and cynical about the American identity that I could never accept these bon appétit’s at face value, as a celebration of food for the love of food. Rather, I always interpreted these bon appétit’s directed at me on a park bench as code for, “You should be sitting at a table, you idiot.”
“Sadder than destitution, sadder than the beggar is the man who eats alone in public. Nothing more contradicts the laws of man or beast, for animals always do each other the honor of sharing or disputing each other’s food. He who eats alone is dead (but not he who drinks alone. Why is this?)” (Baudrillard, 15).
I jog up and down the canal. Sometimes I stop and smell the flowers (literally and figuratively). On more than one occasion, when I’m walking in my running attire, someone (usually a man) will say something like, “You stopped?” or bon courage in passing. Similar to the the bon appétit’s, I interpret these bon courage’s as a duplicitous way of telling me I could use some more exercise.
My French friend assured me that it’s just genuine sportsmanship in the name of sport.
Baudrillard, Jean. America. Verso, 2010.