If you are particularly lucky, like me, you grew up with a special person who cleared a path for you. They expanded life’s possibilities just by being themselves and you got to watch. Maybe they directly impacted your life. Maybe they just made other people get out of your way. Maybe they gave you some extra latitude so you could think for yourself. But in any case, life without them would not be same.
I think of these people as ice cutters. They are just like the boats that go out alone and cut through frozen water. They make way for the boats that don’t have cutters in the front and are not able to travel freely. They may dispel fear. They may instill courage. They may bestow respect in advance of earning it. They say – I know you can, I know you will, I trust you.
When I was a very little girl, my family would say the rosary every night. On the landing at the top of the stairs, there was a life size statue of Mary, surrounded with five prie dieus. In front of her was a perpetual candle flickering light on her crystal eyes. When the dinner was finished and dishes done, we would kneel together and recite five decades of the rosary. But when the standard five were done, we would tack on an extra set of Hail Mary’s for a mysterious man who lived in that weird place; California.
It was stated right up front, we were in a battle for his soul. He was an ex-Catholic. He stopped going to Mass. He lived near the Pacific Ocean and visited Mexico. He was a communist. He was not one of us. We beseeched the creator to grant this man mercy and not condemn him to hell. At five years old, I was sure this man was interesting and I wanted to meet him.
He and his family sent us the very best Christmas and birthday presents. A curious box would arrive from California with string around it. The presents inside were wrapped in handmade paper and the gift cards were little folded scraps of the wrapping paper taped on the package. They were always strange and foreign and just fantastic. Once I got a scrapbook with onion paper between each page. I had never seen anything like it. Where did they find such things?
When I was eight, we went to visit this godless man. He was my mother’s brother. He had a wife and three children. He drove a VW microbus and wore collarless shirts. He was handsome. When he shook hands, it was weird because he was missing a finger from the war. He talked to me in full sentences and asked real questions and waited for my answers. He took me on two outings I remember vividly.
One afternoon he took me to a bookstore. He looked at his watch and said that in one hour he would buy for me whatever books I picked out. He did not follow me around. He did not tell me that any sections were off limits. He did not rush me. After an hour I placed my pile next to the register. The clerk rang up the entire stack, my handsome uncle paid for them and off we went. It was my first time in a bookstore, the first time I got to choose things for myself and the first books of my own that were not about saints.
Another day, when I was bored out of my eight year old mind, he made arrangements for me to go to Disneyland by myself for the entire day. At 10 AM, he handed me a fist full of lettered tickets, dropped me off at the gate and told me to be at the exact same spot at 5 PM, when he would be there to pick me up. He did not fret or worry or carry on. It was 1957. Times were different. I was safe and thrilled and thought that I was the coolest girl in all the Magic Kingdom. I rode the spinning cups seven times in a row, after handing the man seven “C” tickets all at once.
My uncle was my ice cutter. My uncle is my ice cutter. I think of him almost every day. He lives in Canada and is not a Catholic and is handsome. He cleared a path for me in a stifling world where my mother and father offered only one option, one way of living, one point of view.
Life would be boring, petty and redundant without ice cutters. Sometimes I do not agree with ice cutters. Sometimes I need a strong ice cutter. Many times I search for an ice cutter. They push and throw fear out the window. They wander and step beyond the garden path. They climb the ladder and shout back, “Hey, it looks like fun over here.”
ICE CUTTER PART TWO April 15, 2004
The responses that came in from my ice cutter blog were as you might imagine. Everyone has a person that deeply touched them. And, as I have always known and delight in, I am my nephew’s ice cutter. His parents knew too and they also knew there was nothing they could do about it.
First I want to share that my uncle thought I was saying “ice crusher,” proving once again, that he is always on his own wave length. Second, let me recommend that you send a little note to your ice cutter: the English teacher, the scout leader, the child-free grandma-type, the widowed neighbor, clever store clerk. They would love a note from you.
Readers who wrote, shuffled through memories. They remembered someone who listened and, by doing so, implied that there was something to hear. They thought of someone who took them to an inspiring place or/and bought them something that broke the boundaries of expectation.
Now I want to expand the idea of ice cutter. Over the years, I have watched my mind swiftly and stealthily freeze. I get an idea. I decide I like the idea. I adopt the idea. And like Storm, of the X-Men, I instantly freeze it. It is hard, firm, sure, cold. It is unchanging, sharp, impenetrable. When a person puts forth a conflicting view, they got more than a frosty stare or frigid response. They met an iceberg of opposition. They got freezer burn.
Some of my ideas were good ones; liberation, education, self-inquiry. Some ideas were bad; exclusivity, separatism, hierarchy. Obviously the best thing that could happen was a Spring breeze, but often it was extremism that took a jack hammer to my frozen resolve. Someone stepped way out there and I flirted with changing my mind. Someone took a big chance and asked me to see or hear or feel things never before considered.
It can be an intimate thing like Maria’s first kiss. I stood up from the couch, sat down on the rocking chair and watched my entire universe melt. It can be a public thing like Kent State or the 1968 National Democratic Convention and feeling my childhood politics lose it’s resolve. It can be a negative thing like the Mistress of Novices saying that she would not accept a fat girl and seeing my vocation shatter.
Over the last decade I have turned my attention to social ice cutters. There is a bumper sticker on my car for Dennis Kucinich. Yes, I KNOW he won’t be President, but he offers something off the path, he widens the path, he is brave. I don’t listen to Howard Stern, but if radio has no room for Howard, that path is narrowing and has no room for me. TV is almost ALL an iceberg. National politics is two icebergs. Could the iceberg of marriage and family possibly be thawing?
Protect Ice Cutters.
Promote Ice Cutting.
Be an Ice Cutter.