“We Look At the World Once, In Childhood”

I’m not much of a Louise Gluck lover, I find her poetry a bit distant, cold; but I sure like that one line she wrote, We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory. To think of our entire life, and that, all that happened after our childhood is the memory, and not the other way around, is a real brain-twister. We have childhood memories; but we live in the now.

No, we don’t. Well, we are in the now, but that Now is constantly being interpreted by our childhood, how we were raised, what signals were given to us about the human condition early on. Some like to think this isn’t true, and are adamant about it, which means some bad shit must have gone on back then.

Our minds are shaped in those first years, which means we will always see the world through that shaping (I am not discounting genetics; I am merely focusing on the environmental influences). We might fight against the formation, and might even succeed in ripping out of some of the more dysfunctional talons of our younger years; but even in that struggle, we’re trying to re-interpret ourselves up and against that raising.

If you lived a rather homeostatic childhood, calm, and relatively consistent, well, you probably don’t have much reason to visit those years. Or, at least you think you don’t. But, you do. How can we know ourselves if we don’t take an occasional bath in the origins of our lives?

I’m going to San Francisco this week to take a bath. I was born there, and raised a few years in the Mission District. I’m looking for the terruño, the homeland. The terruño of my mind, the ground upon which I was first shaped. Why? Because I’m getting older and, the older I get, the more I realize the need for deliberate consideration of one’s own life. We may think that, as we age, we get further and further away from those first years of our existence. No. We get closer to them, hopefully; we examine them, turn the first years of life in our hands, study them, see what made, and make, us tick.

I have explored, too much, one section of my childhood, the part where all hell broke loose. But it didn’t break loose in my Latino culture; if anything, the people who gathered around my toddler self made the world of the Mission a safe place, a good place, where children feel what they must feel: protection. Love. The kind that is nearly selfless.

There were gobs of Latino love—specifically, Salvadoran love—in my childhood. All those women who swarmed around me, who held me in their laps and called me Rey de mi vida! and Ay, mi corazón, mi cielo. Sure, it was overmuch, the type of love that can make a boy into a macho if not checked. But, it was love. A communal love.

I believe in love, the older I get. Because real love, one that is forged and shaped to take on the tumult of existence, has been one fundamental reason I have not only survived, but thrived. The love I speak of began in San Francisco. So I’m heading back there, to see what I saw in childhood, where I looked at the world, once, and constructed the memory of my life.


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