Friday, June 15, 2007

Why I Feel Guilty About My Mom's Labor Pains

In an early episode of The Cosby Show, a young Cliff Huxtable cautions the rebellious slacker that was teenage Theo, “I brought you into this world, I’ll take you out of it.” None of us are strangers to the guilt of having parents who decided to make our existence possible. We are, in all fairness, a piece of them, their idea, their decision (well, maybe not always, people get lazy ‘bout birth control sometimes). The question then begs to be asked, how far should this indebtedness extend? Should we preoccupy ourselves with doing them proud and making our lives worthwhile to prove that we weren’t some big ole mistake and waste of reproduction?

At this stage, when we are adequately prepared to fund and take responsibility for life decisions, there is a tremendous amount of ambivalence on the subject of doing good by the ‘rents. There is the question of whether their ideas for you and the foundation upon which your morals were implanted and guided were the ideal for your needs. Moses lays the guilt on thick in Numbers 16:9, cautioning the deviants of what they owe to their God:
Is it but a small thing unto you that God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the Congregation to minister unto them?
This is not to say we must take for granted or regret our - oftentimes unbelievably privileged - upbringing, but as someone whose teenage years were stifled by the din of suburbia, well, let’s just say it became necessary to differentiate myself earlier on than most.

Controversial as it might be, I could genuinely see where Korah was coming from. He’d been led out of slavery and destruction by Moses, yes, but that’s not always reason enough to blindly follow the leader through the desert to a theoretical - but not tangible - land of milk and honey. My parents delineated a path - through good grades, good behavior, good manners, and eventually a good college - that would supposedly lead to my success, happiness and satisfaction. This equation was not supposed to be questioned, but rather followed without suspicion or deviation.

Similarly, Moses depends on God for guidance and his followers are meant to follow him as a messenger without question or original thought. And when they had ideas of their own, they were quickly shot down and punished. Furthermore - like on that episode of the Cosby show where the Huxtables play a faux drinking game to teach Vanessa a lesson about partying too hard - they are meant to endure public and premeditated tests of their will and individual decision making.

There is a considerable amount of irresponsible rebellion in pimply teenage years in order to distinguish oneself from parents. Korah, at first, was sloppy and a bit of a loose cannon (well, if they HAD cannons in Numbers). But the first inclination to dissent from your parents will give them cause to teach you an easy lesson. Rebelling by sneaking out at night to a 24-hour diner (the only fixture open that late in the suburbs of crickets) for instance, is not a good way to express your individuality and need for free will - not that I would know. It’s like asking your parents to give you a lecture and a prompt punishment.
Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be swept away in all their sins. (Num. 16:26)
Correcting rebellion can sometimes quash the capacity for individual behavior and life lessons, learned on one’s own.

Beyond questioning the authority of the people to whom your life is owed- not that I’m campaigning for any such thing- is the importance of questioning political power. I would be remiss if I did not address this passage in terms of asking for answers and accountability from a particularly disastrous administration. Because we are privileged, and American, and fortunate enough to live in a Democratic society (read: being led out of the desert) is no reason not to demand responsibility, reasoning, and a conscience (for God’s sake). We shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds, and I often pause to respect the freedoms I am afforded, but, as my ACLU card reminds me, dissent is patriotic. As an activist, feminist, and other “-ists,” it is important for me to enjoy the right to demonstrate without fear that the ground will gobble me up, like it did Korah. I’ve faced down barricades and riot cops, and I certainly wouldn’t trade those for the harsh hand of pharaoh, but the inability to express oneself and question power is as stifling as parched as my throat in the desert.

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