'I Want You to Fly': A mother's advice to her two young sons.

AuthorPerry, Imani

From the time you were little, I have made up absurd stories. Some of them involve the personage Mephistopheles. He is a bumbling character whose name is pronounced as though he were a wacky cartoon sea lion wearing a bow tie.

You outwit his antics, and they are goofy. Things like trying to ski on the top of a skyscraper or eat all the plums in the world. In these stories, he isn't evil, like in the Faustian ones, although he is unwittingly snared into things that don't make sense by his own misperceptions.

It is funny, but it is also a warning. Things that are completely absurd, that make you laugh, can on a dime turn to harrowing. At one of my high schools the one rule, they used to say, was don't roller-skate in the hallways, which basically meant "Don't be a jackass." Don't be a jackass. Of course, we sometimes are.

But we have to try to minimize it all. Because as human as we are, something divine is required for us to make it over. Our wings get tattered. We sometimes thrash. Or bruise.

Purple marks that remind us of our aching hearts. We are treated in ugly ways; they penetrate and shape us, but the struggle is more than beautiful. The fight in the face of it makes a jolie laide life. Reckonings are our lifestyle. What to make of this juxtaposition, this double consciousness, this doing and being and feeling and, yes, becoming.

The two of you remind me of my values. For instance, there was the time, Freeman, that I suggested you change your outfit for the anti-violence protest downtown. I wanted you to put on something a bit sharper. You reminded me that looking cute wasn't the point. Sometimes when I impose my rules of decorum and presentation, Southern working-class rules, you remind me that I can put too much emphasis on appearance.

That might be true. But I believe that some of these ways of doing and being matter only because they are an example of self-regard, a claim of your own value, no matter what the national messages have been about our undeservedness and inadequacy.

You agree. I know you do. You each take pleasure in your self-fashioning. You like being fly. Brilliant hoodies and...

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