Noodles O’Callahan is a bright, good-natured 8-year-old boy. He is a third grader at John Q. Poindexter Elementary School in Tupelo, Mississippi. He likes ice cream and pizza, loves his 2 pet dogs and dreams of one day becoming an astronaut. He is a healthy, happy young man who suffers from one terrible problem that deeply effects every aspect of his life. You see, Noodles is invisible.
Invisiblilty may seem to be a strange ailment for a young person to have, but it’s more common then you know. 1 in every 10,000 Americans are born invisible. These young people often are made to feel different and unwanted. In many cases, invisible children are ignored by everyone in their lives including their parents. People bump into them without bothering to apologize, they are never picked to play games with the other kids and in some cases they are not even picked up from school. People simply forget about them. Noodles is one of the forgotten. This is his story.
Noodles was in my kindergarten class three years ago. They train you for all different types of scenarios when you are at the Academy. You know how to deal with loud, aggressive children, you know how to deal with the ones who struggle to learn to read, you know how to work with the shy ones, but they never tell you how to teach an invisible child.
At first, I let Noodles keep to himself, ignored and avoided by other children. One student even stepped on his foot and did not apologize or even acknowledge he had done it. I let Noodles play quietly in the corner for a few hours, but after a while I couldn’t take it. I started calling on him during class discussions only to be met by an icy silence. The other students were perplexed as to why I was calling on a student that they claimed wasn’t even there. I was called into Principal Murphy’s office. When he asked me why I was talking to a student that didn’t exist, I nearly hit the roof. How dare he dismiss Noodles’ existence!!! What gaul the man had! I exploded at him. The nerve! To just pretend an invisible student didn’t exist was the worst crime an educator could commit in my eyes.
After that, I took an unscheduled vacation. I spent a lot of time around the house thinking about what had happened. Surprisingly, Noodles started showing up at my front door at 8 AM everyday rain or shine. He should have been in school, but I think he felt like he’d be better off spending time with and adult who actually paid attention to him. He would come in and have tea while we discussed what it was like to be invisible. That was nice. It made me feel like I was making a difference.
All of a sudden, things started to get very weird. Furniture started moving around my apartment. I knew he was breaking in to my house when I was asleep and trying to intentionally confuse me. He would start hiding things in places I’d never bother to look. My keys showed up in a flower pot, my wallet showed up in a pair of pants I hadn’t worn in months. One day, I woke up with a bloody knife in my hand. I have no idea how it got there. Noodles must have done it!
I spent hours in the interrogation room trying to tell my story to the police. They simply didn’t believe me. They claimed that I had stabbed Mr. Morganfield and put his head in my own refrigerator. In spite of the fact that Mr. Morganfield was a secret disciple of the Pod People and was planning to begin infecting the human race with a DNA altering virus, I would have never harmed him. Clearly, Noodles received the same information as me and simply acted on it. He had a good amount of pent up rage from years of being unnoticed and must have just snapped.
I now spend most of my days in a heavily medicated stupor eating different varieties of Jell-o. Noodles still comes to visit me. He snuck into my cell last night and began singing old Duke Ellington tunes. I told the guards to shut him up. They just looked at me like I was crazy.
These invisible children walk among us everyday. They are forgotten and unloved. Three years of eating Jell-o and staring at old episodes of Gunsmoke gives you a lot of time to think. When I am released in the year 2041, I plan on dedicating my life to helping them. Their story doesn’t have to end up like this. Help them. For Noodles. For me.
I was asked this question recently during a discussion about morality with a friend of mine. I do not believe that there is an objective meaning to life and this was his way of countering my argument. At first, I didn’t really take the question seriously and I laughed it off as a weird reductio ad absurdum argument meant to link my lack of belief to the worst possible outcomes. It is not the first time I have been asked this question in this context and I began to wonder why I felt the question was ridiculous. For the purposes of this article, I really don’t want to debate my feelings on objective meaning. It is a much larger topic that I feel deserves considerably more explanation than I am ready to give. However, I feel there is a basic misunderstanding in this question that is worth addressing on it’s own.
The questions strikes me as a silly one because I don’t see what one thing has to do with the other. I am not clear about how Proposition A (There is no meaning in life) leads one to Proposition B (I should go around killing people). The argument makes about as much sense as saying “If you don’t believe there is any ice cream, why don’t you just go around killing people?” Why does the lack of basic meaning imply that people would commit violent acts towards one another? Where is the causal link between violence and the lack of meaning? Proposition A is a stand alone idea. It doesn’t lead to anything. It simply is.
The implication at the center of this idea is that the only thing that keeps human beings from running around causing severe harm to one another is the belief that there is some reason for everything. The deeper idea in the point my friend made was that without meaning, humans are nothing more than bloodthirsty animals that will do whatever they want, whenever they want. This is an extremely Hobbsean conception of what people are. I have a hard time believing that humans without meaning would find nothing better to do with their time then kill other humans. This view of humans, when held up to the light, seems quite vacant of truth. There are many secular humanists, atheists and nihilists who live their lives not believing in objective meaning without causing significant harm to others around them. Violence is something used by people of many different belief systems. There have been Christian murderers, Muslim murderers, Atheist murderers and so on.
I think part of the problem with the question is the assumption of direct correlation between belief and action. A person’s beliefs may help to define their actions, but we are never sure how. A person may believe strongly in a universe with objective meaning and choose to manifest that belief in the form of violence against people who think differently (The Spanish Inquisition is a good example of this) or they may choose to take that belief and manifest it in the form of non-violent protest (Martin Luther King would be a good representative of this). I don’t think we know what drove these people to act as they did. There is often an assumption that humans are basically machines. If you input this belief into the machine a specific set of actions will be waiting on the other end of the conveyor belt. The truth is that we have no idea what believing in certain things leads to. We know that we believe them, that’s all.
A good lens to see this question through is David Hume’s Problem of Induction argument. Hume argued that we can never convincingly prove that A will lead to B. We may assume that every time we flip the light switch on the room will light up, but on some occasions (power outages, blown fuses, unexplained failure) the room will not become illuminated. We may think that if a person has a certain set of values and beliefs they will turn out a certain way, but there are nearly limitless examples throughout history of times when that hasn’t happened. There is no such thing as a sure thing. We never know in advance how a set of beliefs is going to effect a person’s actions. We cannot accurately predict the future thus we never know what believing in certain things is going to lead to.
There is a troubling dynamic in this answer for those who are raising children. If we can’t convincingly know what the beliefs we are teaching our children are going to lead to, how are we supposed to raise them? My wife and I are currently raising two young children, so this question is a very serious one for me. As a parent, one of the most difficult realities that you are faced with is the understanding that you may do a great job teaching your children to love and respect the people around them and they still may turn out to be humans who take actions that appear angry, violent and anti-social. Humans are filled with complexities are impossible to completely understand. We can read the all of the “right” books, make the “correct” sacrifices and do what we think are the right things and we are still given no assurances. All we as parents can do is love our children no matter who they become. I don’t want my children to learn right and wrong, I want them to learn that we live in a world that has extreme shades of grey. I want them to learn to cause as little harm to others as possible (be it real harm or perceived harm). We do what we can and we hope for the best whatever that may be.
A new class of criminal is lurking in the shadows of organized society looking to take advantage of those who have been lulled into a false sense of complacency. The most effective criminals are often ones who can appear innocent. Their innocence gives an unsuspecting victim a feeling of security, and then, when their guard is down and they are at their most vulnerable, these criminals will strike. Babies are often thought to be the most innocent among us, but upon closer consideration, this façade of innocence quickly fades.
The other day I was walking around the local Target and a family shopping with an adorable little child who had to have been about a year and a half old sitting in a shopping cart. I immediately became fascinated with this family and began following them around the store. While they were in the toy aisle and the parents were distracted, I watching this “harmless” child reach out of the cart and grab a small toy car. He played with the toy car for the rest of his time in the store continuing to play with it as the parents moved through the checkout aisle and out of the store. This baby had just committed the crime of shoplifting. What disturbed me about this was the joyful, guilt free expression on the child’s face and the ease with which he pulled off this little heist. Many of you are apathetic to this sort of crime. You may wonder why it even matters. You may think that this sort of theft is a victimless crime. According to research done by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office in Olympia Washington, shoplifting costs American businesses 16 billion dollars per year. Yet babies, who commit this type of felony with impunity, are rarely held accountable for their crimes.
Recently, I watched two babies fight over who was going to get to play with a Fisher Price Little People Happy Sounds Home. One of the babies pushed the other baby to the floor and snatched it up into its sinister little hands. If this had taken place on a street corner and it had been a mugger throwing an older woman to the ground and taking her bag, people would have been horrified and the mugger would have been jailed for several years. This baby, however, was merely put in timeout for 2 minutes. After this so-called punishment, the baby returned to the toy room to no doubt continue its violent, plundering ways.
By the standards of any civilized society, babies are immoral little creatures. Let’s measure the actions of most babies against the golden rule: do unto others as they would do to you. This is a maxim that has showed up in different forms in many major world religions. Babies are often willfully negligent of this idea. If you were to rip a toy out of a baby’s hand, it would scream and cry for mommy or daddy to make things right. Clearly, babies value possessions and feel as if their rights to property should be protected. But babies will clumsily grab an item that belongs to another child without a moment’s thought. When the size two Hello Kitty slipper is on the other foot, they feel no remorse or empathy.
If this argument sounds absurd to you, it shows how deeply you have been conned. They look back at us with those darling little eyes and make those cute little sounds and we are ready to forgive almost anything. But we must not be fooled. The impact of baby kleptomania is a massive drain on our economy. Baby on baby crime has reached near epidemic levels. The sociopathic, inconsiderate nature of babies is an issue that has strained our great nation to its breaking point. As a society, we must band together and take a stand against them…before it’s too late.
“You can watch them all day and never know why…”
-The Mighty Machines Theme Song
I’ve spent the last 43 hours and 12 minutes with a song from my son’s Thomas the Tank Engine video in my head. The song is called “Accidents Can Happen” and, needless to say, it’s not very good. They tell you about a lot of things before you have a child, but they never seem to mention the debilitating effects of children’s music on the functioning of your mind. There was a point in my life where I was able to have a normal flow of thought. That time is over. In less than four years, my mind has turned into a Ringling Brothers sideshow act.
There was a song on a Blues Clues DVD called “Bebop A”. My 2 year old daughter spent the entire car trip from New Jersey to Atlanta screaming “BEBOP A…HEY, HEY…BEBOP A…HEY HEY!!!” Once or twice is very cute. Heck, 50 or 60 times isn’t bad. But after a while, the stuff gets into your blood. You can’t go anywhere or do anything without thinking of it. It’s like graffiti on your cerebral cortex. You zone out for a minute and there it is. Over and over. When you lay down and close your eyes in a 30 dollar a night Motel 6 somewhere in Southern Virginia and you see Steve from Blues Clues staring at you with that smug, goofy look shouting “BEBOP A!!!!” you really get how far gone you are.
There are three stages of CMOBD (Children’s Music on the Brain Disorder). The first is a general acceptance of the song. You hear the Clifford the Big Red Dog theme and you don’t think much about it. You go about your life pretty much unhindered. Occasionally, you notice that you are humming it, but you are nothing more than slightly amused that you remember it. This is the denial stage. Maybe you’ve been hooked before, but you think…not this time.
The second stage is where you start to lose control. It’s when the song starts to consume you. It runs through your mind constantly. Sometimes it’s just the chorus, sometimes it’s a just a phrase, but it starts to take over your life. You are driving a car. Suddenly, you realize you are headed in the wrong direction on a highway. You realize you were singing the awful Aaron Neville theme to The Little People. Something about how Aaron says “little people and we’ll always be friends”. Perfect. You are lost in it.
You are an air traffic controller and someone asks you ”What runway should we land that DC-10 on?” You reply with a blank stare. You were thinking about the music at the beginning of Dinosaur Train. Hundreds of lives hang in the balance and you are thinking about dear old Mrs. Pteranodon. You have lost all orientation. You are a CMOBD zombie headed with a one-way ticket to destruction.
Then, there is the third stage. Complete withdrawal. Blinding rage. Utter confusion. You are angry at the world because they can’t hear what you hear. You don’t care whether they understand you or not. You know that there is no thought that is more important than the Teletubbies theme. You close your eyes and you begin to understand that the smiling baby inside of the sun is looking at you and only you. You crave Tubby toast. You start to feel angry that the Tubbies have spilled things again and forced the Noo-Noo into more backbreaking labor. You can no longer distinguish the world from your own personal CMOBD purgatory.
Many recover, but a relapse is never far away. A CMOBD sufferer need only here a few notes and the whole vicious cycle starts again. The confusion. The hysteria. The shame. There is no known cure for CMOBD but we as parents must be vigilant. I have spent three and a half long years suffering from repeated bouts of CMOBD, but I have not lost hope. I know that a brighter tomorrow is just around the corner. Won’t you be, won’t you be, won’t you be…my neighbor.