Two major figures in the Pacific Northwest’s UU community when it was frisky and influential (the ’70’s, for instance) died recently, one at ninety and the other at ninety three. They were sad but inevitable deaths that left many admirers and accomplishments, worthy history, all well-documented.
But it has come to my attention that a little kid has also died, a boy named Denny, who had congenital heart problems that made his chest hurt. In the silent video of him, he’s laughing at some joke but wearing a sweatshirt with an anatomically accurate depiction of his skeleton on it. He rumples his own hair, then grips his chest, never failing to grin. In the middle front of his mouth are the two big “Bucky Beaver” teeth — a sign of approaching adulthood that will never be reached. The Smash Street Boys “take heart” from the idea that his suffering is over, due to the flu that vaccines somehow couldn’t defeat this year. There had never been money for the surgery he needed.
These “Smash Street” boys are all ages, mostly coming from circumstances that were barely endurable. People call them “at risk,” but the truth is that they weren’t at risk — they had already been there, the hell kids are too often thrown into. The risk part was over, the near-death had been there, and now the emergence begins. It turns out that — like the Florida kids who survived an attack from assault rifles — the boys themselves now tackle the problem of how to live in a world that wants to snuff them, sell them, control them a hundred different ways. They have an adult “front man,” but mostly they tell him what to do because he’s only an adult.
I see on my Twitter feed this morning that a sudden insight has emerged from all the discussion about massacres: young people — Millennials or (as is now suggested) post-Millennials are different than any generation of people in the past. New generations are always unique, but this one is more radically different. This is a cyber-generation. These kids are “woke.” None are a better example than the Smash Street Boys.
The kicker is that if they don’t stay secret, they will be snuffed, jailed, controlled — to put it bluntly, “fucked.” Again. And yet they had open hearts for Denny and gave him what he wanted most: other boys.
Part of their work is taking care of each other, but also sharing the images they make of their world, whether it is zooming down a mountain road on a skateboard, folded up against a wall to think and recover, wrestling in a big pile like puppies, walking a lonely trail with a hooded head like a monk. What I’ve gotten out of the last ten years of watching and listening is a stretched mind as I try to use a fancy education to imagine some meaning for the universe that can justify this strange and painful mix of joy and sorrow. All the while I’ve been doing this expensive and time-consuming thing built of paper and precedent, the boys themselves have been living an emergent sense of what is worthy, how to roll.
Reality. There’s a box of kittens in my clothes closet. Half-a-dozen tomcats are sheltering uninvited in my garage. There are feet and feet of clean white snow burying everything outside my windows. There is wind trying to sweep every vehicle off the road, making the visibility even worse than what the smoke blanked out last summer. The consequences of temps that are thirty below zero and worse don’t differ much from the consequences of wild fire. I keep my little heater close. When there was a break, one of the things I needed to get was coffee filters because I make a lot of coffee.
There is a band of wind that circulates around the North Pole. In SE Asia the cyclone system is stronger than usual and it is distorting this circle of wind so much that at the pole the temps are forty degrees above what they ought to be, and pseudopods of cold cold air are reaching down the continent while the Atlantic Ocean, expanded by warming, smashes into the East Coast.
But all that is not any more scary and destructive than our politics. What is emerging is what they told us about 9-11 — that there is a separate organized corrupt layer of society that is feeding off us, unseen by the public, even though our screenwriters have been describing them vividly — so much so that the true reality now seems to us like just an reiteration of plot line from “Game of Thrones” or “House of Cards” or “The Wire.” We are hypnotized — we can’t break out of the obsession.
But the kids can. They’ve been gamers for a long time now, with nimble thumbs and heads that are wired for strategy that is not based on money. They don’t fetishize sex, partly because they know all about fisting and tea-bagging and any other weird kinky thing that can be invented. They care about love, specific and persisting intimacy, that can embrace anyone but must be protected carefully. Especially for adults who are so clumsy at it.
In Florida buzz-cut girls and eloquent boys step away from all the stereotypes to passionately address the nation. The response to them is accusations that they are paid actors and a stack-up of ads around all sensational discussions. We’re envenomed by money.
So about Denny. Boys will grieve and attend services and remember him with funny stories. That’s what people do — even kids. Someday they may be doctors or lawyers or have a chance to influence professionals or billionaires. And a little bit of Denny will travel along with them.
The study of DNA has been as amazing as any field of new knowledge has ever been since the devising of the telescope. One thing discovered is that we often have bits of someone else’s DNA in us. Years later mothers may have code from the infants they carried internally circulating through their systems. A resorbed twin from gestation may have persisted. Code from infections get added, which is how HIV invades. The epigenome from the environment plays DNA as though it were the keys of a mighty organ and can mute or multiply one sequence or another. The microbiogenome of our guts becomes shared by lovers and pets.
The photo of the real Denny is at the top of this post. I don’t know his real name or where he was and you don’t need to know that stuff. You just need to know that whatever poems or art he made, his own self was his finest work and we are moved by it.