In his words before a reading at the Sun Valley Writers' Conference in August, Ian McEwan discussed a work in progress, which, as I recall, features a rather odd genius who works to alter the devastating effects of climate change. McEwan stated that doing something for the unborn runs counter to human behavior, but hastened to add that he thinks we just may succeed in our effort to make a better world for them.
Much of the writing I have done in this column has shared musings on my wrestling with altruism and optimism, or even a corny sentimental outlook about the possibilities for love in an increasingly complex society. I have accepted that I am a cockeyed optimist and have learned to live with its ramifications, such as inappropriate tears at certain passages of poetry or the sometimes amazing blessings I am given. My mother's memorable admonition that I should try to leave the world a better place for my having been in it haunts me and keeps the Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder active, urging me on a positive path, even with the tragedy and hurt I sometimes see or experience.
I have not, however, thought about my impact on unborn generations, concentrating mainly on how I can be a good mother and now grandmother, envisioning a world for my grandson that is more gentle and supportive. A local churchgoer repeats a prayer every Sunday to bless the children of the world, that they may feel loved and safe; seems like a simple thought, one that should be attainable. We all know it isn't, and it seems harder and harder to achieve even that simple goal. When we factor in the yet unborn, it seems impossible.
While I am passionate about the Tanzanian orphans I have taken into my heart, I know that many children near home suffer from poverty and neglect. Perhaps we can ensure improvement for future generations by helping the current ones, even in small ways.
During the early weeks of the new school semester, I heard an NPR segment about the ramifications of the economic crunch on Idaho children. Among the statistics was the assertion by the Salvation Army that back-to-school supplies to be given to the underprivileged were at an all-time low.
I mentioned it to a class I was teaching, and we reminisced about the school supplies we craved when we were little. Mine was a package of Mongol colored pencils, along with newly sharpened Dixon Ticonderogas. Because I was a social creature, the prospect of going back to school was always a treat, but the smell of the fresh notebook and unsullied pages and the outfit I chose for my first day certainly helped. It was part of the ritual.
In case you may think I was a little teacher's pet, I will share a story about my dynamic 10th-grade history teacher, who called me up after class one day and asked if I planned on being a mother superior in a nunnery. Aghast, I responded, "No, of course not! Why?" His answer was that he thought perhaps that was my goal, since everyone in the class seemed to feel they needed to check in with me and make a confession before he could begin to teach us history.
Certainly there were many reasons I loved school. I will admit that the incipient grammar sergeant in me was nurtured by my consistent victories in fourth-grade spelling bees, and the school library was a haven for me as I buzz-sawed my way through all the "Sue Barton, Student Nurse" series and yet first read there an account of the Holocaust. That same year, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about the sweet young teacher I had. She became engaged and married during the second semester, and I envisioned her as a Storybook doll adorning the top of a richly swirled wedding cake next to her handsome, tall young husband. For me, school was an exciting and colorful place.
While we can't expect all children to love being students, perhaps the simple gift of fresh school supplies is a tiny way to insure a more positive outlook to the advent of school. If children actually like school, maybe the unborn generations to follow will feel more comfortable and succeed in previously unexpected ways. Simplistic as this approach may be, it might be doable, a small ray of hope in a bewildering array of challenges presented to our generation.