It’s carnival time

04 Mar
March 4, 2014

A carnival season memory from the other night:

I am walking with my daughter, just shy of four years, from what we know as the Sugar Store toward the Krewe D’Etat parade.  She has mango sorbet on the tip of her nose as she negotiates a fat cone of the stuff.  Three blocks away, the drum tattoo of a high school band gives way to a passing float and the throw-me-something cheers of a crowd.

She squints down the block, sees the lighted float cruise through.

“We missed that one.”

“There’ll be another.  It’s a long parade.”

“Okay.”

Long pause.

“Can everything stay just like it is now?”

“What do you mean?”

She examines her sorbet cone, then looks directly at me.

“Everybody dies.  You’re going to die.  One day I’m going to die.”

My breath leaves me.  Try explaining the ultimate tragedy of life to a four year old.  Try doing it without falling back on the tropes and cliches of theology.  Try telling the truth at this moment. I don’t even know how to begin.

Instead, a calico bounds off the porch of a shotgun double.

“Oh look,” she says.  “A kitty cat.”

And she rushes toward it, laughing.

*   *   *

Happy Mardi Gras, everyone.

 

41 replies
  1. KathyB says:

    We watched the very first episode of Treme again last night. Even better than I remembered. And so connected to the end. Thank you so much for this work.

    Reply
  2. Noel says:

    One way to approach this big, big question.

    The Immortality Song

    Everything’s still here that was here in the beginning
    Except for bits and pieces we fired into space
    All our molecules and the lightnin’ in our bottles
    Ain’t no death at all
    ’Cause we never leave this place

    My friend saw a tree that had fallen in the forest
    Said, “Looka there! Nature’s takin’ it back”
    I said it never left, it’s just goin’ through a cycle
    And that, my friend, is the natural fact

    And everything’s still here that was here in the beginning
    Except for bits and pieces we fired into space
    All our molecules and the lightnin’ in our bottles
    Ain’t no death at all
    ’Cause wet never leave this place

    My mom told me goodbye that day at County Gen’ral
    Said I’ll see you someday on the other side
    I thought to myself, we’ll always be together
    ’Cause when you wake again
    We’ll still be on this ride

    And everything’s still here that was here in the beginning
    Except for bits and pieces we fired into space
    All our molecules and the lightnin’ in our bottles
    Ain’t no death at all
    ’Cause wet never leave this place

    The old ones had it right when they said ashes to ashes
    They knew deep in their marrow that it’s dust to dust
    No reason to get frightened or try to break the circle
    We’ll be here in the future, we’re the Earth in trust

    And everything’s still here that was here at the beginning
    Except for bits and pieces we fired into space
    All our molecules and the lightnin’ in our bottles
    Ain’t no death at all
    ’Cause we never leave this place

    © 2011, Noel Holston

    Reply
  3. Marco says:

    Hello everyone:

    Despite having recently seen the first two seasons of Treme, I somehow unforgivably did not know about David Simon. Well, that has been corrected just a couple of hours ago ,after watching Mr Simon`s beautiful heartfelt comments about Treme in the Special features section of Season 3, which I am now watching.I was blown away, and in tears in fact , by Mr Simon`s comments. Wow, I told myself, this guy is coming from a deep place, in a world in which most ar e content with superficiality.

    I would also like to express my gratitude to David Simon, and all those working on Treme for this outstanding series.When I started watching season 3 a couple of days ago, it was like entering a parallel universe, which was ME. My people. My vibe. And that is like a balm to my soul. Thank you all so much.

    Marco Ermacora
    Canada

    Reply
    • George says:

      Dear Mr. Simon – I just wanted to thank you for the gift that is Treme. Born and raised in NYC, I simply had no idea. No idea. Maybe it was laziness. Or ignorance.

      Maybe both.

      I’ve always though of Mardi Gras and New Orleans as college kids getting drunk and silly beads. I simply wasn’t aware of the traditions, the history, the Indians, the unbelievably beautiful music; the unbelievably beautiful music.

      What a great peek behind the veil.

      I’m late to party, but I’m glad I got to experience it.

      Thank you.

      George
      Woodhaven, NY

      Reply
  4. Richard Chase says:

    David do you try to make it to Mardi Gras in NOLA every year? (Assuming your home base is Baltimore.)

    Reply
  5. Nameless Smokehound says:

    While not on the subject of childhood innocence, more so on New Orleans, just discovered the HBO Go app. And more importantly, discovered Treme. Yeah I’ve heard about it, and I’m definitely late to the party, but beautiful show. I’m addicted. A belated fantastic job!

    Reply
  6. Reid says:

    In my experience, we are particularly vulnerable in our love for our children.

    Thank the god I also don’t believe in that there is such a thing as recovery.

    Reply
  7. Peter Kaufman says:

    David Simon, you make me want to move to New Orleans.

    Reply
  8. Lakshman says:

    Conversation between my six year old (Krish) and I a couple months ago in the car
    Krish: Nana (word for Dad in our native tongue), do people die every day?
    Me: Yes, Krish they do
    Krish: Are people born every day?
    Me: Yes, they are
    Krish: So it all evens out huh? I guess its all ok then…

    And then he got busy with his puzzle…

    Reply
  9. yossi says:

    It always feels a bit stupid to agree with Ray Kurzweil, but it is indeed possible that most kids of today will never die.

    Reply
    • Terence Dodge says:

      Yossi

      Please look up “carrying capacity” in biology. Then reflect on global population. Please reflect of wishful thinking. Have a nice forever.

      Reply
  10. Jeb says:

    You are one of my favorite artists of our time. Your ability to tackle huge issues, in small moments and interactions is something I really appreciate. Thanks.

    Reply
  11. Tom M. says:

    We just celebrated the 1st birthday of our daughter last week and now that she’s starting to approach the conversational age, my anxiety about “how to tell her the truth” has risen from room temperature to a steady simmer. This piece just raised one of those fat, gloopy, pre-boil bubbles in my stew (gumbo?) of anxiety and with it some forehead sweat that has turned my Ash Wednesday mark from dust to mud. What if I destroy the fragile walls of her childhood when she asks me question like this one? Should I just keep my trap shut and assure her that it will all be okay? What if there isn’t a calico around when I need to tell her the truth of it all? So it’s a long parade and if I miss one of my chances it’s okay because I’ll have another shot? But what if I don’t?

    Thanks for a brilliant start to Lent, pal.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      I agree, the question about death is, in a sense, the one in which we realize why man invented his gods.

      For me, Judaism is about peoplehood, community and ancestor worship. But we are not Chosen. No one is, I fear. Or we all are, but for little other than communal obligation and collective morality. And there is no honest answer to what if anything comes after this life. Just as there is no honest hope in a careful, discriminating diety who has a plan that is worthy of our unbridled and assured faith. If God is active in this world, he is, in a word, a mess. And if he is an unmoved mover, as Aristotle argued, then he is in no need of petitional prayer. Jim Morrison had that much correct.

      We are on our own. All of us. And it is scary and epic to think this. And even more epic to suggest as much to a child.

      No wonder every theology is in a rush to explain the afterlife. It’s the question foremost in the human mind.

      Reply
      • Tom M. says:

        “peoplehood, community, and ancestor worship”: If I’m reading you correctly here, I’d say that I feel about the same about Catholicism in my life. There are ancillary benefits and reasons to do it. I’m near completely certain that we are alone without a deity. Keeping Catholicism in my life is now really only about two things:

        1.) That brand of spirituality is a centering force for my wife so I’m there (at least in body if not spirit) on Sunday for her.

        2.) Though I disagree wholeheartedly with any number of the dogmas, mystical elements, etc … I can’t help but think that 12 years of catholic grade school, Sunday school, sacraments and so on had what I think is a fairly good effect on my moral compass AND perhaps could on our daughter. The church of my childhood was one of social justice through a social gospel; one that Pope Francis seems intent on turning back towards. The societal responsibilities of the beatitudes and the golden rule have certainly made me a more conscious citizen who is attuned to needs of the weakest of this world. But I constantly struggle with, the question of “Do I need all the magical filler to impart those lessons to Sophia?”

        If you’ve been watching True Detective (You haven’t! For shame, David) Rustin caps off a great piece of dialogue with his partner with this : ” If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of shit. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible. You gotta get together and tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day? What’s that say about your reality? ” Do I really want to be that piece of shit who tells his daughter (or lets her be told) what amounts to really popular folklore just because I’m afraid to go toe to toe on the capital-T truth with JC, Buddah, et al?

        I just don’t know. Not yet at least. If she progresses at your daughter’s rate, perhaps I’ve got around 3 years to figure out what I’m going to tell her just in case there isn’t a calico. What certainly is comforting is that a guy with your philosophical chops has the balls to say, “I don’t know what I’ll say and it scares the shit out of me.” So I guess it’s okay if I haven’t got it just yet … or ever will.

        Reply
        • Katie says:

          Tom,

          I’m a Catholic full of doubt too, and unhappy with the dogma. My kids have attended Catholic schools for 8 years. I have no idea where they will land spiritually and I really don’t care. But it is indeed centering and our weekly mass is a reminder to me that there is something bigger than ourselves – even if that something is some basic drive toward benevolence and good that binds us to each other. To take a step back, to reflect on what I believe is a natural tendency to care for each other and to be grateful for whatever it is and however you define it is vastly important in my life and the life of my family.

          In fact, I think its an anecdote to this every man for himself American dream notion that is tearing our world apart.

          It’s taken me nearly half a century, two children, and a close call with my own mortality to make peace with the faith of my ancestors and God (or whatever) knows it is full of lumps and warts, but taking the time to stop and reflect and say thank you, to realize that you’re not in control or entirely responsible for your life’s gifts, however you define it, is an essential practice for me.

          Katie

          Reply
      • Brendan says:

        Do you regard people who subscribe to the teachings of the Bible (ie, strict Catholics) as foolish, delusional, or mentally Ill?

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          I disagree with people who are fundamentalist in their religious beliefs, regardless of theology. But I do not believe that my opinions are any more provable or disprovable than theirs. Religion is a matter of faith, largely.

          Reply
          • Half Coyote says:

            ding ding ding. we have a winner! “Religion is a matter of faith, largely.” Perfect.
            BTW – is it true that you have been tapped to produce/write the MLK mini-series?
            Thanks.

            Reply
      • Amy Goodwin says:

        Still mulling this post over. At services tonight I found this meditation. (I failed to look who wrote it…just please know it wasn’t me.) It appears as number five in meditations before Kaddish.

        It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch.
        A fearful thing to love, hope, dream: to be-to be, and oh! to lose.
        A thing for fools this, and a holy thing, a holy thing to love.
        For your life has lived in me, your laugh once lifted me, your word was gift to me.
        To remember this brings a painful joy. ‘Tis a human thing, love, a holy thing,
        to love what death has touched.

        I love reading everyone’s stories about talking to their children about religion, death and the afterlife. Regardless if you are in Lent…regardless if it is Shabbat…regardless if you live a life of towering faith or a life in search of faith, we all seek the holy. It seems to me what you’ve described is a moment of holiness.

        Reply
    • kt says:

      If anything, I think children, even very young children (perhaps especially very young children) are better equipped than us to accept the laws of nature without question. Personally — and this is just my opinion — I think it’s fine to say to a kid, “yes, everything ends, and nobody knows what happens after that”.

      It’s the honest truth, and kids understand honesty. It’s adults that have the most anxieties about the unknown. Maybe that’s because to kids, almost everything is still unknown. In any case, giving a kid the message that it’s a taboo subject to discuss may only make it scarier.

      Again, all just my opinion — everyone obviously has to come to their own conclusions on this one.

      Reply
      • Katie says:

        Yes! When our kids ask us profound questions, our own lifetime(s) of baggage flings open. We want to complicate it, but the kids are usually looking for a simple, concrete answer. Example – once my very young daughter asked me how babies come out. I told her, the same way they get in. That’s all she wanted to know.

        We can learn a lot, a whole lot, about keeping it simple from them.

        Mr. Simon, I do believe you have a sage on your hands. Between this and the princess story you shared… Fasten your seat belt and make sure you seat is in the upright and locked position.

        Reply
    • David Keith Johnson says:

      Tom, as an experienced father who never felt the need to fool my child (who was accepted into grad school yesterday, thanks very much) I have a thought for you.

      Never underestimate the resilience of your child. When she asks a question like the one presented by little Miss Simon, don’t assume she assumes you will know an answer. It can be the opening salvo of her own ruminations on the subject. If you listen, you will be astounded at what you can learn.

      If pressed to share your beliefs, you have the opportunity to model the sort of courage you hope your child will adopt in the face of mortality. Courage, remember, never feels anything like pleasant. It is always accompanied by a terrible pit in your stomach. Then you KNOW you are exercising courage.

      I believe it was entirely germane to the conversation between Mr. Simon and his four year old to turn to the delightful grace and playfulness of the cat. It was as profound and meaningful a culmination to such a discussion as any given passage of Spinoza – and I admire Spinoza very much.

      If you are as lucky as me, there will nothing in your life you enjoy more, will challenge you more, and will give you more of a sense of purpose than the very sort of interaction you write about, and that Mr. Simon has shared with us. My best to you, and accept my envy. I would love to be doing it all again. What a ride.

      Reply
  12. Zachary Jack Marcus says:

    Fabulous piece … Just wonderful!

    Zach

    Reply
  13. kt says:

    A belated MG message…

    In the midst of death, we are in life. And so, we dance.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qji-XGZ8sK0

    Until next year, everyone, may your steps be high and a song always in your heart.

    Reply
  14. Drew says:

    The pure joy of being young and fascinated by everything. Only way to get it again as an adult is the occasional shrooms trip.

    Reply
  15. Brendan says:

    Don’t forget to get your ashes tomorrow David.

    Reply
  16. susie says:

    Well she pretty much summed it up.

    I have the hardest time being left behind when the people I love die. It’s so sad as to be unbearable if I dwell in that grief.

    But then there’s a kitty cat…. or hilarious laughter with the friends still here… or a transportive Gary Clark Jr. show…. or the most wonderful meal…. or a parade and an ice cream cone.

    I just get tripped up when I want so much to share or discuss those things with the people who are gone and I have to figure out a way to celebrate the fact that we shared those moments rather than mourn because we can’t anymore.

    It will be 4 years at the end of this month since we lost our friend David and I will always miss him. I am so happy to have known him. Lucky.

    Off to find a kitty cat.

    Reply
  17. FirstLtLDiablo says:

    Look, I know you and I don’t get along; and I know you aren’t a big fan of science or evolutionary psychology but…

    Tell your daughter to read, The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil. Or, offer this rechauffe: we may not have to die at all. Radical life extension is mere decades away. Cheer up!

    Reply
    • LaserDLiquidator says:

      One does not appreciate others interfering with the raising of one’s child, from friends and even family.

      Needless to say from an openly professed adversarial.

      Reply
      • FirstLtLDiablo says:

        A book recommendation is beyond the pale, eh? This is interference? Lol…

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Regardless, my daughter is just starting to absorb Dr. Suess and Where The Wild Things Are. So the matter is rather moot.

          Reply
          • FirstLtLDiabli says:

            I admit it’s tough to tell I’m being jocular (about suggesting a 4-year old read a book I barely comprehend). Print media has that limitation. But one could talk about radical life extension to the point of immortality by merely referencing the scientific work in question (and no need for fatuous and unhelpful religious “explanations”).

            Or we can all just agree I’m out of line for even suggesting anything at all… ;)

            Reply
  18. Kevin Stevens says:

    At roughly the same age, my son asked me, “Dad, can we have chocolate birthdays together forever?” Years later, I still get misty thinking about it. If there’s anything better than a chocolate birthday, I haven’t come across it yet.

    Reply
  19. Cuban X Senators says:

    “It’s a long parade.” But for goodness sakes get out there, David.

    Sweet to run across you Krewe du Vieux morn.

    We’ve shared a hometown, a college town & Charm City, but I only bump into you there.

    Enjoy, from Just Another Tuesday land.

    S

    Reply
  20. Amy Goodwin says:

    Awww. Three-year-olds are profoundly wise. I’m listening to the Treme Season 2 Soundtrack right now. It is so great to hear from you today! Happy Mardi Gras to you and your family.

    Reply
  21. Patrick says:

    I wonder if all 4 year old girls see the world with this clarity and it eventually calluses over. Beautiful.

    Reply

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