The mainstream norm and the little tree

There’s a big tree in High Park, someone in the know says it’s two hundred years old. When you touch its magnificent fissures you’re confronted with a different distance between history and you. Alive, breathing though leaves, nurtured below ground and overhead old branches bed sleeping raccoons. The passersby are born in this century or last century yet here stands something still living from 1820. The books I’m now reading for school were created then. Accounts of lives lived that I imagine ancient, but this tree foils me. Humbling most of all is that standing next to this trunk means the life of Frederick Douglass was not then so long ago. There’s an eerie build halfway through the book of his account of being enslaved, about the point, the moment, the event that forever rearranged his destiny. He disallowed a beating knowing this response exactly would earn his death sentence. Until that moment, he shares vivid recollections of unspeakable abuse and the lengthy history of its social normalization. It was very unexpected to read he revolted, he too was surprised by himself. It’s fantastic writing, you cannot read it without seeing the universality of people with or without power. I’m glad returning to school requires me reading these texts. It should be mandatory for schools when one is twelve or thirteen. I bet the repercussions would be impressive, especially realizing such stories are not older than a tree still living by the wading pool. There’s something about the language of two hundred years ago vs. the language of today that strikes me much like music of two hundred years ago vs. music today. I like what it does to my mind, trying to make sense out of sentences by Nathaniel Hawthorne or arrangements by Rossini. Someone that loved Jung’s articulation of a collective unconscious once told me we, humankind, are just like one mind. You don’t see one person with one idea but several popping up with the same idea and then more and more frequency takes hold, sort of like the environmental movement, or the abolitionist movement, or the communist movement or the disco movement. At first it seems a lone radical, soon it’s a thing and before you know it, could even be the mainstream norm.

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