WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Babies, Barry Crimmins, and a Brand New Year

Jan 20, 2016

There's nothing like holding an infant to root me in one spot, consumed by wonder.  So tiny. So innocent. When I hold a baby, I still feel awe because so much has to happen for us to be labored into the world.

And the hope and possibilities contained within a babe in arms, well it makes me vaklempt just thinking about my own children, now so fiercely independent.

My friend Erin once said something that has been a profound help, especially when I am struggling with humanity’s penchant for cruelty: everyone was once a baby, a tiny infant—helpless and innocent and at the mercy of flawed adults.

And so, with Erin’s help, when I am full of finger-pointing judgment, I try to pause, breathe, and see the person, remembering they are someone’s child. As a mother, remembering this helps me wrestle with human complexity rather than the easiness of categorizing, stereotyping, or judging someone. I don’t always succeed, but remembering this has also brought me closer to loving myself.

Barbara Harroun
Credit Rich Egger

The New Year is often characterized as a cartooned, drooping-diapered, banner-wearing and top hatted toddler.  I prefer to think of it as an actual newborn. Laboring a baby into the world is beyond difficult work and it’s a bloody and powerful business.

Mothering is the hardest thing I have ever done, and parenting, for all of its expansive, heart-enlarging joy, also contains incredible hardship that is often difficult to articulate to others without feeling judged. Becoming a mother required me to renegotiate my identity, grapple with fears and massive, truly daunting responsibility, and know a love that astounds me daily, increased my love for and investment in the world, and also means heartbreak is just a given, sometimes daily. When I think of a new year as a swaddled infant in my arms, I can’t help feel beyond lucky, and view the months ahead as a gift, full of hope and requiring much of me, especially the discomfort of real growth.

After the holiday break, I watched a documentary that definitely stretched me. Entitled Call Me Lucky, directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite, it followed activist and comedienne, Barry Crimmins.  This film shook me up, and Crimmins is a compelling figure—a social justice activist, a beer slugging funny man fueled by rage, a friend and mentor to many, a survivor of traumatic child sexual assault who went on to raise his voice, and who works unceasingly, often at great price, to protect the innocent.  There’s a moment toward the end of the film, where Crimmins, after physically and emotionally confronting the past, speaks these words into the microphone to a crowd who has shown up to laugh:

We have to have enough guts to open up our ears, to open up our hearts, and to listen, look, watch, and believe and testify about what really happens to innocence in this world. We have to take care of innocence in this world, and we have to be brave enough to stand up and tell the truth about what happens to innocence in this world. So tell the truth. Tell everyone the truth. Tell anyone the truth. Because your lives depend on it, my life depends on it, and people who really can’t be heard, really depend on it. They really depend on it.

How do we protect the innocent? How do you protect the innocent? How do you nourish the innocence within yourself? How can each of us, able to do so, give voice to what has been silenced?  Crimmins isn’t easy listening or comfortable watching, but he isn’t trying to be. He drops f-bombs, tweets the Pope daily demanding excommunication from the Catholic church, and screams in our faces, collectively, asking the same twinned questions Mary Oliver asks in her poem, “The Summer Day” when she penned:

“Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

Watching Crimmins’ example before the entrance of 2016 made me more able to contain the exhilarating love, hilarity, and joy, as well as the pain, trauma, and severe difficulty living requires of us. We can’t all be Barry Crimmins. We aren’t all as brave, or loud, or funny. But we each have a voice. We each have the ability, in some small way, to protect the innocence within ourselves and within our small and larger worlds. To tell the truth with our “one wild and precious life.”

What would happen in 2016, if we encountered the New Year, each day it brings and each person we encounter (our selves included), each truth it teaches us and each truth we are strong enough to tell, as “wild and precious”? As though our lives, and others, depended upon it?

Barbara Harroun is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.  Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.