Monday, April 20, 2015

Friday Afternoon Flashback

When I was in 4th grade we saw a movie basically every Friday afternoon. Our teacher was a hardass but she teamed up with a few other teachers and, if I remember correctly, each and every Friday at least 2 classrooms full of us squeezed into one classroom and waited for the lights to be turned down low and the excitement to begin.

Even talking about it now brings me close to panic.

We weren't getting the latest Disney fare or a documentary about kittens. We saw movies about pollution, water shortage, disease, environmental decay, fire, and I'm pretty sure brimstone - though no religion. I have vivid images burned in my brain of puffing smokestacks and ankles puffed up by elephantiasis.

To say that I have been anxious since birth is not an exaggeration. Afraid of the dark, afraid of snakes, afraid of making a fool of myself, afraid of nuclear annihilation. I had plenty to worry about on every afternoon of the week and for an entire school year, in the name of education, my teachers poured burning pitch on my little flame of fear and watched it leap 10 feet high and white hot.

In their defense I don't think they actually saw what it was doing to me. It counted as educational material. It was vaguely activist in nature. The crazy gross stuff probably amused and delighted a lot of my classmates (who I can only assume now watch a lot of reality TV) and I sat frozen and silent in the corner and concentrated on not crying or screaming or passing out. From the moment we were told to line up I strategized where to sit and what I could hide behind and began telling myself entertaining stories that could divert my mind's eye while my actual eyes stayed glued to the screen just the way Mrs. Fitch liked them.

I went on to fear listening to the news and, even now, am pretty much unable to turn off my reaction to any sensationalist delivery of even scientific information. I'm smart enough to know I'm being manipulated but anxious enough not to be able to fight the feeling, if you'll pardon the expression.

Last night I went to see Jane Goodall speak. She's the chimpanzee lady, you know? The gorilla lady died so if you're going to hear someone speak you go listen to the chimpanzee lady. The last three sentences should make it pretty clear how much I knew about Dr. Goodall going in. I bought the ticket because I knew a friend really liked Goodall's work and suddenly several friends did and we decided to go as a group.

At dinner as we discussed our anticipation (for the sake of dignity I didn't contribute much). One friend piped up, "I think this talk is going to be a lot about climate change. That's what she's seems to be focusing on."

WHAM! I was right back in Mrs. Fitch's 4th grade classroom being told to line up for the movie. Suddenly I was planning what stories I might distract myself with in my head while still paying enough attention to contribute to the conversation later but not paying so much attention that I'd have a panic attack and ruin everyone's night. When we arrived there was an informative slideshow playing and I watched the panels carefully to glean as much as I could.

When the lights went down I started to cry.

I did not have a panic attack and I was able to listen to the whole thing with all my attention. I could not, however, stop crying. Dr. Goodall is highly optimistic but she's open to the fact that her optimism might be misplaced. She has a plan to do her best to bring her optimism to fruition. She travels 300 days per year carrying out that plan and she's been doing that since the year I graduated from college.

I graduated from college a long time ago.

Climate change is still a thing.

Her program asks activists (mostly kids) to do one thing for people, one thing for animals, and one thing for the environment. She does not ask that you do everything. She does ask that you do something.

I'm still kind of crying over it. But I think I can do something while I cry.

4 comments:

  1. I got the chance to see Jane Goodall once in Oklahoma and I totally fan girled out and squealed like she was a Beetle. I love her so much. Yes...climate change and bees cause some sleepless nights in my house. The movies from my elementary school days were the ugly crying kind like "Old Yeller" and "Where the Red Fern Grows".

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  2. I've never seen either of those movies! Don't think I will if I can help it.

    Wish you could have been with us to hear her. She's as lovely as one could imagine. But you don't have to, you've seen her!

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  3. love this and thanks for sharing it. it does bring to mind a deliberately horrifying film we were shown in 11th grade (Night in Fog) about the holocaust, and I can see it in my minds eye to this day and shudder. and that was high school, not grade school. the more you take in, the harder it gets. i can tune out the sadness most of the time, or i'd be immobile, but every once in awhile the 'feels' come back all at once in a huge wave, and it's like i get a glimpse of what michael calls "the weight of the world" all at once and it's unbelievably sad. often hits us both at the same time. it's like a reset button for what to care about. i really like the trio of "one things", it's a manageable bite.

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