I love this piece by Toni Morrison, in this month’s New Yorker Magazine. I love it because it is so true!
Part of my pride in working for Her was earning money I could squander: on movies, candy, paddleballs, jacks, ice-cream cones. But a larger part of my pride was based on the fact that I gave half my wages to my mother, which meant that some of my earnings were used for real things—an insurance-policy payment or what was owed to the milkman or the iceman. The pleasure of being necessary to my parents was profound. I was not like the children in folktales: burdensome mouths to feed, nuisances to be corrected, problems so severe that they were abandoned to the forest. I had a status that doing routine chores in my house did not provide—and it earned me a slow smile, an approving nod from an adult. Confirmations that I was adultlike, not childlike. In those days, the forties, children were not just loved or liked; they were needed. They could earn money; they could care for children younger than themselves; they could work the farm, take care of the herd, run errands, and much more. I suspect that children aren’t needed in that way now. They are loved, doted on, protected, and helped. Fine, and yet . . .
And yet…there is something to be said by feeling not just loved, but necessary. Not just that one is a part of the family, but that one has something to contribute. Not just that one has a place, but that one has a purpose, as well.
And yet…when we are given something difficult to do, and we accomplish it, we cannot be diminished; we only grow higher and taller and stronger.
I was thinking about Morrison’s piece last night while watching the Kathy Griffin brouhaha run its course on social media. In case you haven’t heard — if that is possible — Griffin, a brassy comedienne who likes to say she crosses lines, moves them and then crosses them some more (she’s never made me laugh, but maybe that’s just me…) — put together a photo shoot featuring herself holding what was supposed to be a bloody head of a decapitated Donald Trump. It was tasteless, vile, unfunny, and offensive to people all across the political spectrum, and after first defending her work as “art” Griffin finally figured out how truly appalling her action was, and she released a video-taped apology.**
Watching the whole sad farce play out — and it’s very sad, because Griffin has gone to the Middle East to entertain the troops, which is a noble thing — I thought about Morrisson’s piece and how lazy Griffin’s little provocation was: “I’ll just do this outrageous thing and get attention and praise for it” seemed to be the thinking behind it. But being outrageous is so easy — all one has to do is continue to entertain the sensibilities of one’s 14 year-old self, because at 14 we all think there is wisdom in shocking our parents, or embracing a contrary pose for contrariness’ own sake. Eventually, we grow up, though, and we learn that shock-schlock is cheap and rarely a path to real dialogue or growth, and that a kneejerk-contra position only makes one predictable and perhaps considered incapable of reasoned, well-articulated opposition.
My thought about Kathy Griffin last night was that the best thing for her is something that is always good advice, for all of us, and it might be good advice for the whole society, and it tied in to Morrison’s story.