July 13, 2003
Writing of Nations and Children
Eli Newberger and the squirrel have reached détente. Newberger's
role is to weave increasingly elaborate wire barricades around his
backyard bird feeders. The squirrel's job is to climb a nearby tree
and leap, unerringly finding an unguarded path to food. Smart squirrel:
Newberger's a pushover. A pediatrician, teacher, musician, and author
of The Men They Will Become, he shrugs, "The squirrel's got
to eat, too."
Newberger's entire life work centers on how the smaller, weaker
creatures of the world--primarily human ones--can thrive in a world
built around adult concerns and conveniences.
"Children are the ones most affected by the choices we make,"
he says, "like the choices about whom we're going to enrich
at the same time that we deprive the government of resources for
health care and child care, schools, and social services."
As Newberger points out, every civic choice--whether it is to spend
money on war instead of health care or cut tax revenues that support
education--has consequences for society's most vulnerable members.
"The most vivd and important single insight for me," says
Newberger, " of what children need in order to grow up with
a strong sense of themselves is one adult in their lives who is
crazy about them, who will always be there for them and always advocate
But Newberger sees social realities that make it difficult, if not
"Women, who provide much of the nurturing and caring and consistent
influence for children, are obliged to navigate between their children's
needs and demands and the often dismissive attitude toward that
in the workplace. More children are living in poverty, and that's
gotten sharply worse in the past few years. The requirements of
work are so rigorous, especially in impoverished families, that
it puts more pressures on family life. To develop strong character,
kids kids need to know who they can count on. Parents don't necessarily
have what they need to be able to give children what they need.
"We're losing sight of something that's really really frightening
and that's going to have longer term costs. Increasing numbers of
children drop out of school and give up hopes for having meaningful
productive lives, They are growing up with a kind of emotional barrenness."
An extreme example of an adult world inhospitable to children is
in the southern Sudan, with its years of ongoing conflict. The so-called
"lost boys" were forced to flee for their lives, wandering
over miles and years together trying to stay alive and out of harm's
way. William Aleer Mabil is among those who survived. He left his
home at about age five and now lives with his foster family in Bedford.
He has found a voice for his experiences in poetry.
"I am writing through my life experience of how I see myself
to be," says William. "When I see myself as I am now and
the things I have lived through I think I'd better do something
before I die to show my dreams and what kind of person I am. By
writing poetry I can let people know who are the people who are
now living here with them. It is one kind of self-expression of
the secret life of what you have in your heart and what you have
in your mind and what kind of humanity you have."
William is not sure how old he is--somewhere between 18 and 21.
The immigration authorities assigned him and all the other Sudanese
boys the birthday of January 1.
"Like a twisted life, bitter and sweet--that's how my life
was," he says. "Thousands of us lived together through
disease and starvation, taking care of each other. We were brain-draining,
taking what is good in somebody's mind and then with that you make
your own way of living.
"You have to accept pain and disappointment as part of your
life. I'm coming out from the bad things. My aim is to do the right
thing. I want to let people know I was born on this planet to do
something special, to show people what kind of life are we. We are
human: that is all.
"People do things according to their own hearts and their own
ambition. I want to do right instead of what I have seen. You have
to offer yourself and struggle to do your own life."
City Type features the city's writers exploring their world. If
you have suggestions, contact Ellen Steinbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by William Aleer Mabil
Active, innocent steaming-egg.
Glittering, shining. The door viewed dimly, barely opened.
Slip easily, break your neck doubtfully.
No torch for your footstep. In the could-be darkness
Neither dreams nor curiosity nor clapping hands
Who shall stand on that circle pot?
Well, it is affordable, this ambitious award.
But it requires suffering. Tragedies are its lesson,
Steaming-bubble egg, cooked, fried and served.
The cast-away shell produces minerals.
A caution sign shows the way for a beaten heart.
Love. Integrity. But fail to dig farther and are you there, or not?
Pressing nuts on your hard shield, why do it?
Oily and slippery on your forehead. Obscuring vision.
But amazing. Hold your tongue. Have patience. Discover truth.
Chasing a running animal gives merit twice.
In the pursuit and in the achievement.
Dangerous, yes. Not simple. But the source of your future,
Fundamental cell, born in heat-pot.
Hii! Pave your way
Forwards, backwards, sideways.
Make your own logic.
Brittle-in-heart never reaches his destination.
But the boiling pot cooks nicely.
Find your world among minds. Make it different.
Hee! The nature-computer is haunted!
Discovering life, finding it. Winding it up.
Long lines mark your forehead: smart, keen, intelligent.
Each leads the same way while dropping bits, liquid-salty,
Make you stare toward your future.
Furious, skirting, approaching, reaching.