There was no room for it to come out to George Bush, to the men behind the pictures of war, to the people who were not willing to look at the pictures, and anyway, the thing was bigger than war, the war could end tomorrow and he would walk into the schoolyard with the same effort to remember children and to remember that their laughter was as real as anything else, as any sorrow he could ever know or read about. That was the thing about the frown he kept inside him: If it came out, it was going to find reasons to stay out. And the same way, when it stayed inside, it found reasons to stay there.
Among the best reasons were the children he saw each afternoon who were looking at him to understand about smiling and frowning themselves. He could be reading upstairs on the computer, something that his father or his sister had sent – his father who had already seen so much of it before and his sister who had made it a life's cause – and as hard as it was to read, and as true as it felt that what he had to carry to the world after reading it was a frown, still he had to find a way to put it inside him, not to smile instead of it, but just to have room for smiling, because given the circumstances – children and leaves and himself among them – the chances of smiling were pretty good.
See that place with the overhanging trees and the clean-smelling air and the children running toward it, he thought. It's the same world as Iraq. It's the same world as the place far away from Iraq where they are making decisions about it, where they might be making decisions about your country next. It's the same world. That's all you need to know. It's the same world and anything that happens here is connected to the rest of it in ways that you don't even have to understand, just believe in. Remember the children around you, as sick and as sad as you might feel. They're the only ones you can do anything about just now.
It's a funny thing to have a place to come to each day that's as far away from the feeling of reading that stuff as this place is, but stay humble about it because the truth is it's very near too. All of a sudden it can hit you in a way that's so near that all you'll need to see is a face, and you'll see the same thing that you saw of man when you were reading upstairs. You'll see the same furiousness of feeling, the same demanding, rather than seeing the thing behind it. If you carry a war with you, you'll see it even here. Don't think of the place as an escape, because escaping is a kind of carrying.
It is a schoolyard. It is one of the places where it is helpful to have someone who is watching over the kids, and at this particular place, the person happens to be you. Do your best at it. Do your best at it because that is what the sickness and sadness is asking of you. It's the same sickness and sadness that would be asking you to do your best whether you had just read the article or not. It is a schoolyard in America, and if you are looking for balance between country and country, between people and people, between life and death, remember there's something solid in children and in their smiles, and it is more solid than just their not knowing how the world can be. Let it help you to have the balance, but let it help as a fact, not as a feeling. Let them be what they are to themselves, not what they are to you.
He was glad that it was the same world as Iraq. Upstairs as he was reading, he had known that there was something else besides force and resistance, and if he did not have a schoolyard to go to, he would have to find the evidence of it somewhere, because he was a writer, and it was in that third place where a writer made his home. He could venture all over the world, but that was his home.
He could think of when he was a boy and his father would take him along when he went to see Mr. Tamraz, his father's mentor in the cause. Mr. Tamraz had the greatest and most fearsome frown he had ever seen, but all his father did around him was smile.
He had a lot of respect for a frown like that, but it was one thing for an old revolutionary and another thing for a young and unpublished writer. He could not afford it for himself, because he was in charge of hope for himself, and for the world he wrote about. He knew there was a lot of hope in a frown like that of Mr. Tamraz. He knew there was a lot of love when two men with frowns like that got together, because that was where their frowns came from in the first place. But he was a writer, so he was all alone on this one, and being alone, what he needed was not somebody like him, but everybody, and for that, the most love-filled frown in the world did not go as far as a smile.
Remember especially that they are children, he thought, and they may not know yet about the love frown. However much you might be looking at them and thinking of the children in the war and however much your heart might be breaking to know that they are the same children, they may not recognize it on your face.
Whatever else happens, these are the children who are alive, and it's a wonderful aliveness, as true as that of the dirt and the trees and the sun. Show respect for it. Show respect for it, and you'll be showing respect for the aliveness in all of them, in the ones who are no longer alive. Nobody needs to know where it is coming from, and anyway, there is only one place where it could be coming from.
Here in a schoolyard, what that meant was that when the children asked him to be the one to chase after them and tag them, he had to do it, and he had to do it with all the aliveness in him, independent of anything he had been reading. All it had to be was outwardly independent. Inwardly it did not have to be independent at all, and it could be very dependent. It was going to be dependent whether he wanted it to be or not, even whether he read about it or not, because either way it was happening. Coming back downstairs after Fallujah, after Abu Ghraib, after the possibility of Iran, he thought: Let me run.
Let me run after them with sincerity, with the thought of running the way they want me to, which'll turn out to be the way I want to. For one thing, a man can run after children and it'll be nothing but laughter. And he owed them a lot, at least as much as they owed him, because there was no place where he could see as readily that a smile was not ignorance. What the frown was was the feeling that okay, I'm not going to invade anybody or occupy anybody or anything like that, but I am going to be ready. I am going to be ready because the way things are going, it looks like I have to be prepared for anything. But there was a way to be so ready that what he wore on his face did not carry anything in the way of expectation, and thus allowed for the possibility of the most pleasant afternoon of his life.
And in the middle of it, he looked over at one of them, who was standing at the top of the slide, laughing excitedly at the thought that he might reach up and tag her, and he gritted his teeth and let loose the most serious frown he had, and while it was all in character, and while it only made her laugh more excitedly, there was something real about it as well, to himself. Just to let the muscles of his face arrange themselves in that way, in that arrangement which events of the world had been pointing towards, and yet to be able to do it without consequence, without it being directed at anyone as a frown. He could feel how serious it was in his face, but he knew that she would know that it was playful, a girl whose skin was dark like his own, and who probably had some familiarity with the love frown on account of that.
Along with everything else, the place gave him a chance for the love frown that was his kind of love frown, the kind that could not be mistaken for anything other than what it was: a frown as a joke, not the thing he really wanted to say, not the thing that anybody really wanted to say. And he remembered when he was a child himself, when there was so much he did not like that people would ask him why he was frowning when he didn't even know he was frowning.
If that had been what he'd had to do in order to find what he did really want to say, then it had been worth it. Because what he wanted to say was too big and too all-the-time for a frown to define his face for very long. He needed everybody to say it, and as much as he had a place for the frown that felt like home, it was on its own when it came out, it was not his any more, and he just wanted to make sure the things he gave everybody were the things he intended to give them.
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