Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chalk Drawings

After a short weekend at the beach which included a business meeting for my son-in-law, my daughter laments: "I wish the trip wasn't over." We are just minutes from the airport, and indeed the trip is over.

An optimistic voice pipes in from the back seat. London, my son-in-law, says, "When one trip is over, I just start a new one."

I interpret his words to mean: life is a series of adventures that begin when one ends, whether it is a trip, a new place, a new day, or even a new hour. Each moment holds the potential for learning, adventure, and opportunity.

I remember feeling the same way as my daughter at the end of a dream trip with two favorite cousins and my mother. All three women were Interior Designers and I was fortunate enough to accompany them on a furniture buying trip to the American furniture design city in the United States. It was intoxicating. Buildings and buildings full of the latest design trends, and full of beautifully crafted furniture.

And of course there was an amazing amount of down-time-fun. My cousins and I hadn't been together since I was a child, when my oldest cousins would take us to the cabin, where we would play Authors, hike, eat popcorn, and sleep around the fireplace.


As we were about to part, each of us heading to different gates at the airport, I said to my cousin, "I wish this trip wasn't over. I feel like I'm in the Mary Poppins movie, and I've been in Bert's magical chalk drawing having the adventure of a lifetime. It's started raining, the chalk drawing has dissolved and the adventure is over."

"Ah," my cousin's eyes twinkled as if she were Mary Poppins herself, "But you can always start a new chalk drawing."

And so I am reminded this morning, when the alarm rings before six a.m., when I dutifully trudge to the shower, dutifully prepare my thoughts for this morning's classes, that it isn't just another day at school for a tired teacher, but another day to create and enjoy another chalk drawing.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ducking the Boat


New Navy recruits, and potential Navy Seals are put through some tough training.

When they first begin, it is rigorous, backbreaking and everyone has to work together. It's a weeding out process and not everyone stays planted. There are several exercises that separate the tough from the weak, the guys with integrity from those without.

One of the most difficult and hated exercises is "Running with the boat." Seven men are required to carry a big, heavy, rubber dinghy on their heads while running a considerable distance through the thick sand. Each man is required to stand straight and let the dinghy rest on his head. The head pain is excruciating, and each man is tempted to duck his head and carry his part with one arm. When this is done, the weight shifts to the other six men, who now must carry the burden on their heads; it creates severe disrespect towards for the guilty navy guy who is ducking the boat.

I love when I'm told a story and it creates an immediate metaphor. As I listen to Braden, our potential Navy Seal, I can see the men running, I can see the complex shift of emotions as one of their own tries ducking the boat.

I see my own life. I pinpoint the times when someone nonchalantly was ducking the boat, and though I don't want to remember, I'm more than sure there were times when I was ducking the boat.

I look forward to using the phrase with my students this week when we start reading Alfred Lansing's book Shackleton. It is a tale of woe, of fortitude, of bad luck, blessings, and foremost, endurance and team work. For most of the journey, every man carried the boat on his head, but when one of the men didn't, it was excruciating as a voyeuristic participant to stand by and absorb.

A hundred years later, I remember the name of Ordes-Lee, not for the 95% of the time he was a team player, but for the critical moments when he was ducking the boat.

Once again, I'm reminded of the kind of person I want to be, the kind of person I want my students to be: players who resist the urge to ducking the boat.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Here's To the Fruit of the Gods

Drum roll please....I am waiting to write, waiting to taste the first kernel of deliciousness, so I can record my immediate sensation of this year's first pomegranate aril...here goes.

Not as sweet as I remember, but it will get better! And it does. The second pomegranate is even sweeter and by the third one, I am only stopped from eating more because of the intense labor and the pink juice that has stained my dress and the white sheets. Yes, I was eating a pomegranate in bed!

Pomegranates are part of our family legend. Mom grew up eating pomegranates in a pomegranate loving family. They were probably one of the few plants, besides cacti that flourished in the Las Vegas heat. Thrifty women they were and her mother, her aunts, made pomegranate jelly, and it was a favorite of my sister's and mine. So much that when we attended a family reunion, and the annual auction started, my sister and I had our eyes on the pomegranate jelly. We each paid $20 a jar for that beloved taste from our childhood. Ahhh....the memory of an English muffin smothered with butter and pomegranate jelly.

Thanksgiving always included Mom's beloved fruit salad with pomegranate arils. I always took for granted the hours she spent cutting, cracking, peeling the little rubies from their bitter casing. Now having reached my ten thousandth pomegranate aril extraction this weekend, I appreciate her work even more.

Last year, Kristi made lunch for her friends. We walked into a Moroccan feast! This is where I learned to really up the class status of pomegranates. Kristi had mixed a bowl full of arils with fresh orange juice and orange zest. I could live off this dish from September until the last pomegranates harvest in December. Kristi also referred to this dish as ambrosia or the fruit of the Gods.

Because of the love of pomegranates passed on to my little family, we have our own family legend. When Holly was just a sweet and tender sixth grader, she was called down to the office, for a date with the principal. I can only imagine how nervous she was. When she entered the principal's office, the lunch room janitor was standing by the principal's side.

"Yes, she's the one."

I am certain, my daughter was trembling at this point.

One familiar with pomegranate extraction knows the little arils bounce and it is impossible to peel and keep them in a bowl. They bounce against the peeler, bounce off the cupboard, and certainly wouldn't stay on a lunch room table. My daughter's pomegranate seeds had bounced too often on the lunch room floor and the janitor wanted it stopped.

I understand, but in the school crimes against humanity, it is slight, and we all enjoy this reminiscence over the pomegranate bandit who was sent to the principal's office.

Year after year, when pomegranate season rolled around, Mom told us her pomegranate story. The bushes were abundant as usual, so her father asked his children to pick some for a neighbor down the street. She'd never had pomegranates and Mom's dad wanted to share. The children picked a sack full and carried it to her home.

Time passed and the neighbor didn't say much. Not a thank-you, not a response at all. When someone in the family (I need to ask Mom who it was exactly), asked the woman if she enjoyed the fruit, she hesitated and responded, "Well, it wasn't bad but there were too many seeds."

!!!????!!!



Mindless and unnecessary facts about pomegranate arils: they are really sarcotesta. Uh huh, just look it up.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Devotion

While visiting a different church in a different state, Tony and I sat in the pews waiting to take the sacrament. It is the job of the young men to pass the sacrament: blessed pieces of bread and small cups of water passed in metal trays. The trays are not heavy.

We sat close to the sacrament table and as the young men lined up to receive their trays, I watched. One stood out among the others, because he was not carrying a tray--yet he was participating as much as the others. He stood next to a young man who seemed to be carrying the tray for him, and it was as if he were passing.

I had never seen this before and wondered why.

The young man was just like any other except his legs were smaller. As he moved, he would sometimes grasp a hand hold.

Tony once had a graduate student with cerebral palsy and though George's affliction was far greater than what this young man's appeared to be, it seemed he was afflicted with the same disease.

George taught us about endurance, sacrifice and perseverance. As he struggled to walk, he would unexpectedly fall over. His body had limitations but his mind did not. He earned his PHD and went on to teach at one of the great universities in the United States. He married and became the father of a handful of children. His handicap didn't keep him from becoming.

I see in this young man what I always saw and admired in George. Because of this Sunday and the service of passing the sacrament, I see even more. I see a young man who is willing to fulfill his duty to God, even when his body limits his ability. I see a young man who is willing to participate on a limited level, but who still wants to participate. He may feel self conscious and he may be aware that people are watching him. But I am watching him not only out of curiosity, and when I understand, I watch him in admiration.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Giving or Not

While in yoga class, one of the participants, Ben, shares a story. He attends a family gathering and learns that one of his cousins is a stellar young man. Ben compliments the father, his uncle, on the role he played in helping to develop his son's character.

His uncle's response surprises Ben: "I did exactly what your father did when he raised you."

"What did my father do?" Ben asks, unaware of his own father's strategy.

"He said to, Never give your kids anything."

As a mother who likes to give, I'm taken aback by this father's "tough love."

But I know too that Ben seems to be a successful, creative, good man.

Now what do I do with this information? Stop giving to my children? We've already committed to helping one daughter through physician's assistant school, and just last week I gave my Nordstrom notes to a daughter who had to order some clothes, and the week before, I split my food co-op fruit with another daughter and purchased three books for one avid reading grandchild and four books for a reluctant reading grandchild and...and...and...

No surprise as to why I was taken aback by one man's successful child-rearing strategy; now I am burdened with what to do: Consider implementing the strategy for my family? Disregard the strategy?

Whenever at a conundrum crossroads, I look to someone wiser than me, especially when it comes to parenting. I look to the pattern, the principals, the love of an all knowing God. I try to align my parenting strategies with those of a loving Heavenly Father.

In the most simplest reductions, he is our father who has professed an incomprehensible love for his children.

Therefore, the greatest gift to my children should be an abundance of love.

 He has asked us to "Come unto me." Asked us to follow his example, to even be like him.

Therefore the second greatest gift to my children should be my own example. My children should be able to look to my actions to guide them in their own lives.

But I am still conflicted by Ben's comments. When I look around me, it's so clear that everything is a gift from God. My prayers are filled with gratitude for the abundance of the earth, for my health, for my family. I acknowledge that all my blessings are God given. What if God never gave us anything? I shudder at the idea.

Yet, because of God's pure love, he has expectations.

Thirdly, I need to have expectations of my children and sometimes my giving should be predicated on  their actions.

Our Father in Heaven makes it so clear, he wants us to ask him for blessings.

Fourth, I should wait for my children to ask. Part of the gratitude may come from the humility it takes to ask.

Does Heavenly Father always give when we ask for? From personal experience, I know he doesn't. Sometimes my pleadings are answered years later. Sometimes, tangible blessings come in a different form or time. Yet, when the blessings do come, if they come, I appreciate them more and understand his timing was far better than my own. When blessings do not come, I re-evaluate my longings and needs.

The fifth key seems to be discernment. Through the power of love comes the power to discern. Judicious giving comes from discernment.

It would be wrong for me to state, "I never give anything to my kids." Equally wrong would be to say, "I give my children everything." Though I will not follow Ben's father's strategy, I did listen and conclude that I need to be generous and other times not. Because judicious giving is not only about the children, it's really about my own growth--growing stronger in love, devotion, and discernment when to give or not. As we reach closer to the pinnacle of Godly love for our children, we will be gifted with the knowledge and inspiration needed to create our own parenting strategy.




Friday, September 25, 2015

An Epiphany

For 30 plus years I have been married to the most lovable, kind, intelligent, logical, compassionate man--at least for 3/4 of the year. At summer's end, I count my blessings and wonder how I got so lucky.

As the leaves barely start to turn, as the cold sneakily creeps into the mornings, a dark, sinister obsession sneaks into my husband's soul: the spirit of football fanaticism.

For many years, I have rolled with the season and wait for an intelligent, undistracted, conversation until after the  Rose, the Fiesta, the CFP, and the Orange Bowls are wrapped up for the year.

But this year,....I saw things a little different. As I was leaving for the weekend, I noticed how my husband tried to subdue his happiness. Really it was elation because one cannot easily suppress elation. I could see it in his eyes: endless hours of pure and blissful game watching, a trip to Harmon's for a quart of Haagen Dazs Vanilla, chastisement-free moments while yelling at the ref and wanting to throw chairs; peace in his worn out glider, and most of all, peace from the wife who clucks in disappointment as she judges her husband's enjoyment, who views her husband's obsession as ridiculous.

Maybe I haven't been as tolerable as I've wanted to believe.

All the years of trying his patience, trying to compete against the massive college football machine,  my chagrin at his passion--it all passed through my mind, and this is the result I want? For my husband to be excited at my departure?

Shame on me.

The beauty of an epiphany.

But I don't think I'll tell him just yet...maybe when football season ends.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Stop It. Just Stop It.



My family and I are returning home after an out of state wedding. We are traveling in four different cars to comfortably accommodate everyone for the six hour drive. After church, we say goodbye to Tony's aunt and cousin and his cousin leaves me with these parting words.

"Drive safe everyone."

I tear up and she notices.

"What?" she questions.

"I take that so serious as I always fear someone is going to have an accident or we won't make it home safe."

Her  face is sympathetic and invites me to continue. I do, and I release a lost story I didn't know was at the core of my fears.

"My dad always worried excessively when we traveled and it was because when he was just a young boy, his aunt Mary and her family were traveling on the interstate and were killed in a car accident. Out of their three children, one daughter survived. My father had to accompany his father to pick up the bodies and bring them home."

My husband's cousin's face is still sympathetic, but she surprises me.

"Stop it. Just stop it."

Her words are the most sympathetic she could ever speak.

I have to change.

Long practiced, fast held habits are hard to break. But consciousness is the first step to recovery and I am slightly devastated when one of my new son-in-laws tells me I've passed my fears on to his new wife, my daughter.

It's a troublesome, thinking trait to bestow on someone I love so very much.

She's cursed with the worry that every time her husband is late, it's because he's been in an accident. She's cursed with the worry that a future child will die young. I feel terrible, but I'm not sure I can undo the damage.

This fear extends to myself, and I can also trace this fear to my father. Each time he traveled he would say to his children, "When my plane hits the side of the mountain..." and then my mother would take me to the safety deposit box, so I would know what to take out if the plane hit the side of the mountain.

But it never did.

Stop it. Just stop it.

I recently leased a car for three years and after doing so, it occurred to me I might die before the lease is up.

I asked if the lease would be void.

The lease was paid in full, so someone would just have to keep the car until the lease expired. I started thinking about which family member would benefit most from the use of a free car.

Stop it. Just stop it.

When I expressed my concern about the car lease to Tony, I started laughing at my own ridiculousness.

Step number two to letting go of irrational and debilitating fear: recognizing the ridiculousness and having a good self laugh.

I couldn't have imagined that step number three would include my new son-in-law. He, my daughter, and I go rollerblading in the canyon. They are young and carefree, but I appropriately protect myself. They are ready to take off, but I'm putting on my knee pads, my elbow pads and my wrist guards. The pressure must have gotten to me, because we are a hundred yards away from the car when I realize I've left off my wrist guards. I panic and tell my companions. I'm thinking I'll have to turn around and put them on.

My son-in-law just ahead of me, yells out, "It's a choice Pat. It's a choice."

His admonishment stings, but it's a good sting. I repeat to myself, It's a choice Pat, it's a choice. And so it is.




Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Neil Simon Play

I am helping a young man who at age 20 taught himself to read. He is now 23 and working hard at passing the GED. I admire this late bloomer, this husband and father, this man who decided to change his life and is now allowing me to help-this young man who is also putting up with my excitement over the English language. After working for an hour on complex sentences, adjectives and adverbs, paragraph structure, he's ready to leave that night's session--but me? I've only begun and there is so much more to learn and why wouldn't he want to sit all night and relish in the mechanics, the writing, the exploration of words?!!

Before we started, he didn't know me at all. How hard would that be to come to a stranger's house, needing her help, sitting at her table for an hour once a week?

Yes, that's how focused he is. That's how important learning is to him. That's why I admire him.

On his second visit, I wanted him to feel welcome, wanted him to know I looked forward to our meeting, wanted him to know I was just as eager as he was. I watched the time carefully and when he rang the doorbell, I wanted to throw the door open with a smile and a grandiose greeting.

So I did. But standing at the door was The Blind Man, or the company rep for the blind and shutter company fitting my study window with shutters.

"Oh, you're not the person I expected."

Nonetheless, it's always good to see the shutter man. But he wasn't just the shutter man. He was a perfectly casted character in a Neil Simon comedy. He was unusually short, partially and surprisingly bald for such a young man, and his larger than usual glasses were oversized as if he was an actor in a 70's play. His eyes were bright and engaged as if he was on stage.

We rushed up the stairs to measure the window, but first I had to hurry ahead and implore my husband, who had just gotten home and was in the midst of changing into his biking clothes and wasn't dressed, to please move out of the doorway. He promptly shut the door.  Phew. I then had to lead the blind man through the study, a comedy itself, as it is littered with giant maps of Antarctica, and surrounded by books, books, books. The blind man wanted to know what color of hinges I wanted.

"Let me check the shutters in the bedroom." I passed hubby reading in his chair before his ride, and assumed he still wasn't dressed. I didn't know the color of the hinges, and I wanted the blind man to see for himself but there was the hubby problem. I am explaining to the blind man that my husband isn't dressed when Tony claims he is. Of course he is! How did I miss that. The blind man enters the bedroom and identifies the hinges: "brushed nickel."

The doorbell rings, "Perfect timing. My student is here."

We rush down the stairs, when I realize the blind man should see the window with a broken shade. "Hold on, I'll just let my student in first and then I'll show you the shade."

I throw open the door with my inclusive exuberance. It's not my pupil! It's another perfectly casted character. Tall, lean, dressed in business attire, thick blond, movie star hair. It's a salesman and he welcomes my inclusive exuberance.

"Hi!" His smile reveals perfect teeth. "How would you like to be a demo home for new windows? We are new to your neighborhood and are looking for homes that are willing to demonstrate the beauty of our product for 50% off the total price."

I defer to Tony, upstairs and fully dressed.

"Tony, do you want new windows?"

The salesman is as optimistic as he'll ever be.

Until we hear Tony's grumbles.

"Sorry, he doesn't want new windows."

The salesman's rejection is classic comedy: exaggerated expression, downcast head, slumped shoulders-- though very real to him and not so funny.

Back to the blind man. I show him the window. He nods his head and he's done. We walk him to the door, he exits stage right.

Two minutes later. The doorbell rings.

It's my pupil.

Little does he know.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

For the first time in many years, there is a perfect combination of nature: calm, clear water, and the perfectly angled sun illuminates the water, so that while sitting on my kayak, I can see ten feet to the sandy bottom. It is magnificent! I think I see a sea otter, but as I circle, it is only kelp shaped like an otter. I laugh at the illusion that had me so excited.

Iridescent fish, traveling in schools, pass beneath. They jump as I see a larger fish flop after them in the tale of sea survival. Beyond my little place beyond the surf, I can see a family playing in the waves. The surf break sound is intermittent, consistent and calming. Peace surrounds. Until I see the dead body, or rather, I imagine a dead body.

I can't help my macabre self. I am a product of my child-self who taught herself to speed read from the Las Vegas Review Journal. Almost weekly, in a bottom corner of the newspaper was a small article with the byline:  Unidentified Body Found in the Desert. Unpaid gambling debts, mob wars, vengeance, swindlers--circumstances were some of the reasons the guilty ended up in a desert shallow grave, and over time,  wind, rain, and erosion, exposed the bodies. I even had a school friend whose father was left for dead in the desert and another friend whose brother was found dead in a car trunk.

This haunting habit happens almost every time I am alone in the wilderness--running a mountain trail, a desert trail, riding my bike.

As an adult, I have to be even more careful than when I was a child. I carefully choose what I read or watch; otherwise, I won't sleep when Tony's out of town, I won't be alone in the backyard at night. The Walking Dead had me running for my life after dropping something off at a neighbor's home.

It makes me appreciate my daughters who closely monitor what their children read and watch.

Because...

imagination can be a wild companion.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Mementos

My mom used to leave the little hand and finger prints on her mirrors after I visited with my children.

Mom loves mirrors and loves them to be clean, so I knew she really treasured the little people who brought a certain havoc to her household.

I too love the after-visit mementos that linger even after everyone has cleaned up after the wee little bairns. However, those little boy mementos still surprise me.

I was raised with two sisters and our children are all daughters. I was used to dolls and clothes and all those little girl things that litter the house, including the mini Barbie shoes and such that I used to love vacuuming up--goodbye forever nuisance litter!

Now, the residual throws me. It is trucks and cars. This generations blessing is four grandsons and one lone granddaughter (who hates anything remotely doll-like).

Once after an extended visit of one grandson and a family get together with three other grandsons, I walked out on the deck, and parked in the sun was a whole used car parking lot. For a split second, I didn't know how to process the unexpected boy-ness.

This morning when I came down to the kitchen, I slowed when I saw the leftover of last night's family dinner:
And like my mom, I won't have the heart to pick it up for a few days--at least.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself

The bee inspector is coming to test our hives for mites. Mites are a recent plague to the honey bee, among all the other recent plagues. Mites are pinhead sized vampires who move into each new honeybee egg cell. As the bee matures, the mite implants itself into the neck of the bee and lives off the insect. The mites rapidly reproduce and eventually over run and weaken an entire hive. If mites are not controlled, the hive will die.

Nikki's hives are first. Her bees are robust and are known to be cranky. The rain has just lifted, so the inspector, Lisa, Nikki and I are ready to open the hives. Lisa is assigned to use the smoker. It's a tool to manage bees by masking the angry attack pheromone; they think the hive is in danger and they concentrate on storing up honey. But today the smoker fails us. Lisa is stung and heads home to change into pants. I become the smoker.

I think I'm doing a pretty good job of smoking the bees while Nikki moves boxes and trays of bees; the bees think differently. I become their target.

"Don't forget to smoke yourself." The inspector understands I'm under attack and I need to mask the smell of anger on myself. I turn the smoker on myself, which brings only seconds of relief. I've been stung a few times and I'm trying to beat off the little suckers. I step away hoping to bring some relief. It's temporary. I change my position and continue to support Nikki. Ten seconds and again I'm under attack. I take a bitter sting to my hand through the glove. I look down at my body and my legs are covered with bees trying to take me down. I run.

I keep running and some persistent little bees won't give up. I yell to Nikki,

"I can't stay."

I abandon my friend, yet, I don't see how I could have done differently. Under such an attack, I did the right thing. It is what I would do again. I was the one under attack. If Nikki had been under attack, I wouldn't have abandoned her. Or so I idealistically like to believe. In fact, I hope and pray, that if I were ever under dire circumstances again, I would stay the course come what may. But until I am in that situation, I can never know, right? I think it's a universal question and fear we all face: Would I save myself or would I save others?

Since the bee attack, I've pondered this question over and over again.

My pondering has given me a deeper insight into Jesus' response when asked what the greatest commandments were. The first great commandment was to love God with all they heart, soul, strength and mind and Love thy neighbor as thyself, was the second.

What does this mean? We may even ask, Do I love myself? It's an interesting self reflection--I don't think we fully comprehend the question until maybe, when we (I) forget all others and flee a bee attack.

At that moment, loving myself, saving myself from pain was instinctual. It is an inherent trait to protect ourselves, to think first of ourselves. History, the world's, and our own, is replete with examples. Proof of self love, self preservation. It's a gift. It keeps us going, helps us fight and win battles. We love ourselves.

When we understand self love, it is then that the commandment is magnified in importance. We get a glimpse of what it means to love others with the intensity it requires to obey this commandment. And then we realize that to truly live it, we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves of that self love. It is what Jesus Christ did for us--the perfect example.

This is why people who give up their lives to save others are called heroes--because they have exemplified the great commandment: Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

When Things Don't Turn Out As Expected, Or Thank You For Breaking My Heart

Thank you for breaking my heart.

As a child, I had a tendency to fall in love. Idealistic, foolish, naive, I claim them all. And every single boy, teen, young man I fell in love with, I thought I would marry him.

I guess that could be considered a good thing--that I chose my childhood crushes with the potential of becoming the one, though I'm sure I didn't consider my future husband's earning potential or fatherly qualities--nonetheless, the first time I kissed Randy in fourth grade, I knew, I was sure he was the one. As was Ronnie in fifth and John in sixth, Galen in seventh, Gary in eighth, Sam in ninth, Joe in tenth, Seth in eleventh, and twelfth.

By twelfth grade, in the "Seth" relationship, the truth had creeped in like moisture through a cracked window, but I wasn't willing to fix the crack. Because I just knew he was the one...even though his ideals were different, he loved beer, didn't have religious beliefs.  But I was super glued to my old, childish mantra of belief. So much time, such an investment---surely he was the one, and I clung tight.

But he wasn't the one. And it all ended one afternoon when he caught me by telephone in my apartment. I was aiming for a college degree and he was living out of his truck going to wall paper hanging school by a California beach.

We had finally grown up and were able to acknowledge the relationship was all wrong. And he had the bravery to tell me so and say the final goodbye. But it still broke my heart.

But hearts must be broken open in order to let in love from a different place. And so he did--he broke my heart so I could love another, and of course, I knew the next one would be the one. ****

Thank-you, again, and again, for breaking my heart.


***He was the one.




Friday, September 18, 2015

Be A Part of the Revolving World

My teaching partner, Deb, didn't expect me at school until after 9:00 a.m. for the second class of essay readings. It would have been nice to hear both classes, but I was off the hook, because it is after all, my two week break and my flight got in late; I wasn't asleep until midnight and had no intention of waking early.

In spite of my intentions, at 7:14 a.m., I popped up out of a deep sleep, and like a robot, I showered, dressed for school, skipped breakfast (which I never do), anxious to be there shortly after 7:30 a.m. --without ever thinking why?

When I squeaked open the door, the 7th grade fundraiser presentation for students in Zambia, was already in progress. It was a surprise, because that was supposed to happen in second period; I didn't want to interrupt.

Deb came rushing out.

"I'm glad you're here. My oldest patient just died and I need to go. Is that okay?"

"Good-bye," I said without hesitation.

Deb is a grief counselor or a grief chaplain. She helps individuals and families make the difficult transition in the last year, months and even days before death. It's an element of hospice and her compassion and love help during a difficult time.

Deb was gone for almost two hours and when she returned she was grateful she'd been able to go. She explained to me and the students that the morgue was rushing to remove the body when the family wasn't ready and while they were still waiting for other family members. Deb was there as the family advocate. She'd had to stand up and say, "No, we need to wait." The importance of her presence was immeasurable.

The students are touched, I am touched, and both Deb and I marvel at the unthinking, automatic actions that got me to school at 7:40 a.m. when I wasn't expected.

I am telling my husband this story, this blessing, and when I am finished, he tells me that our oldest daughter called him in tears, just after I'd left, in need of him to babysit. She was supposed to take an important test and her babysitter had called at 7:00 a.m. on her way to the hospital informing her she couldn't babysit.

I am heartbroken I wasn't there for my daughter. What happened? Why was I there for Deb and her hospice family and not for my daughter? I was so touched by the serendipity of our school moment, and now, I realize I may have missed an even greater need.

But I didn't. Grandpa-nanny was willing to change his schedule last minute, get out of bed and drive to care for his little grandsons. But while still on the phone, our daughter's mother-in-law beeped in to let my daughter know too she could help.

The goodness in this world revolves around one person picking up where the other left off; it revolves around one person filling  a need when no one else can, when no one else shows up or won't listen or won't pitch in to help. This morning I was uniquely situated to help in a very specific situation, and God saw fit to make sure that two others were situated to help in the other emergency.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

With the Heart

The Ladies Literary Society meets on a beautiful September evening. Nicole gathers us in her secret garden room, past the blackberry patch, the hanging gardens, and cozies us in between the purple walled shed and the clematis vine.

As light succumbs to night, our conversation follows the retreating light and becomes more serious, more deep and dark. We are here to discuss, the Republic of Imagination, Azar Nafisi's writings on the importance of imagination, books and freedom--the power of fiction, the importance of fiction to America and the world.

Nafisi is the author of Reading Lolita in Iran, a memoir of reading forbidden Western classics with other women in secret---a daring act during the Iranian Islamic revolution.

One woman wants to explore the regime-mentality in her own religion. The purpose of this literary society is to challenge the way we think, to dare to ask questions and explore with imagination answers that will enlighten our lives and elevate openness. I like this challenge; I love this challenge. However, I find myself withdrawing from this tiny part of the night's discussion. I step back and I am content to be a listener.

While driving home, I discover why I needed to withdraw. We are a logical group of women, trying to hypothesize, justify, and extrapolate various thoughts and ideas. When religion entered the conversation, we entered a territory that is not always logical and incapable of being dissected and annotated like a piece of literature.

Religion is of the heart.

It is confirmed in the heart.

We feel religion.

Though it can be and is for many people, religion is not always logical. Our love and devotion to the sacred does not always come from inductive nor deductive reasoning. Our willingness to make Godly sacrifices cannot always be explained in clear terms and with the empirical evidence needed in a Master's defense or in a lab report.

It is with the heart that we see clearly. It is with the heart that we love and feel.

I love both endeavors: heart seeking and mind seeking and many times they belong together; but there is a difference, and it's important to discern the time and place when feeling with the heart or reasoning with the mind, may or may not make the best conversation.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” 
― Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ryThe Little Prince

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Art of Dining Alone

"To truly enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold." Herman Melville


I used to be nervous about dining out alone. I would sit down conscious of not having anyone to eat with. If possible, I opted for a busier, self serve cafe, or even better, take-out --where I could return to my room, my place, a park in the somewhat privacy of my aloneness.

One such trip to New York, was particularly memorable. There were plenty of solo eaters, but I seemed to notice the big Italian family eating together or the group of friends celebrating a birthday or an upcoming marriage. I longed to be one of the those New York diners surrounded by friends at mealtime.

The day came when we went to New York with our family, our friends and their children. Finally, I was a member of the big round table celebrating life. So many of us were there, that we required two big round tables: one for the adults and one for the children. I was in dining friendship; I was in dining/friendship heaven. It was a moment of caring and sharing in which I delight. And so I believe, when those moments are fulfilled, it is easier to enjoy the opposite, or for me, dining alone.

I seemed to need the big dining experience; I needed the reassurance or the confidence that friendship and companionship bring, in order to eat alone without feeling self conscious. It seems silly, yes, but it is the honest truth.

Since I have since learned to enjoy a solo dining experience, my favorite is al fresco. It is truly a pleasure to sit outside and enjoy the surroundings: the people, their dogs on leashes, the babies who pass in carriages. The hurried, the strollers, the curiosities of human behavior. There is time for personal reflection, note taking and the appreciation of one's own company. Without having to stay in the rhythm of another's time and habits, I eat at my own pace; I eat slowly.  I intentionally savor the food as a unique experience unto itself. I am the only part of this meal, interrupted only by the voice of the waiter. By meal's end, there is an added bonus: I've eaten  half my meal and box up the other half to be enjoyed later.

Finally, I can enjoy eating alone with my best friend me. It took time, experience,  and cultivation, just like the development of any art does.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Rules For Seat Mate Civility



When I visit Versailles in France or Paul Revere's home in Boston, I notice how small the chairs and beds used to be. As a child, peering at early nineteenth and twentieth century clothing in a museum, I never understood why the adult dresses, pants, gloves and shoes were so tiny. It didn't make sense, yet I didn't know how to make sense of it all.

With the blessings of prosperity, an abundant food supply and year round food availability, latter day people are no longer growth-stunted by famine and poor nutrition.

People are getting bigger, and it looks like the trend will continue. Supposedly, two thirds of Americans are now overweight--roomy airline seats are needed now more than ever--yet they seem to have shrunk over the past years.

In times of financial crisis, I understand an airline's crucial bottom line question is "How do we make more money?" At one time, the answer was to put more seats in the same amount of space which =smaller seats. But what if we keep getting bigger?

I seem to have found an answer to beating airplane discomfort: book early! Purchase an aisle seat, go for the emergency row or buy premium seating. Premium seating isn't always available or an option for one's circumstances, and as I found recently, booking early isn't always possible.

With only two weeks before my departure, I purchased a ticket. Nary an aisle or a window seat available. I took a deep breath, hoped for the best and clicked on 18E. The dreaded middle seat. After all, it was only a 90 minute flight. Little did I know that 90+ minutes would require a visit to the chiropractor.

I wait until the last call to board the plane. As I walk down the overflowing aisle, I'm hoping for two little old women or two children, bookending my middle seat, but so much for hoping. Sure enough, two of the biggest men who ever flew on Delta are at my flanks. Now remember, I do not blame these men.  They are part of our healthy and prosperous nation.

As I squeeze past man #1, I see the worst possible sign: they've both lifted the arm rests to maximize expansion. I pull out my mental list of Rules for No Space Travel.

Rule #1: Immediately establish territory. Lower the arm rest. Otherwise, that itty bitty seat space originally designed for the first commercial flight in 1914, will be cut in half.

Rule #2 : No mercy to cabin mates! None whatsoever. It's like the story of the camel who during a sandstorm asks to put just his head in the tent. Eventually the man is sleeping outside and the camel in the tent. So, when the arm rest threatens to cut off half the big guy's thigh, I stay firm and watch as he sits up, tucks in and adjusts to dodge the guillotine arm rest.

Rule #2: Remind yourself that the encroaching travel mate didn't pay for half of your seat.

Rule #3: Stay calm and find the recline button. If your seat mates use the recline, hope it's at the same time or you will be crooked for at least a day or two.

Rule #4: Remain kind (after establishing territory). The laws of gravity, motion, thermodynamics, size and space are against you. When your fellow traveler's body slips into your space while he is sleeping, he will be unaware of his encroachment. Let him sleep. Revel in your generosity.

Rule # 5: Laugh at your predicament and resolve to never book late.

Rule #6: Don't expect sympathy. When the attendant handed me water, I could hardly wedge my arm out to grasp the plastic cup. I made my struggle clear, but all she did was smile and say, "Thank you for flying Delta."

 Slight relief in recline

Fighting for the lower half of the arm rest

Monday, September 14, 2015

Culture In the SLC Airport

I love the Salt Lake City International Airport. It is unique among all the airports in the world because it is the crossroad of thousands of Mormon missionaries headed to Mozambique, Los Angeles, Peru, Australia, Mongolia, Ohio and Hawaii.

I love it in the same way I love flying into Israel or St Martin, because as an outsider to each of these cultures, I get a glimpse of the people who live differently than I do.

Because of Mormon proselyting practices, many people shy away from the Mormon culture. Ahhh, but once in a while, I find someone who embraces it as much as I do without being a member. My non-Mormon Korean friend used to rush to catch up to missionaries in Seoul--to give them Doritos. She knew the American missionaries loved Doritos. My son-in-law's family always invite the missionaries in if they knock on their door: they make it clear they already know everything about the church and have no intentions of changing, but they treat them well with libation and food.

And then there's my best friend from high school, Melissa, who, compliments of her best friend, moi, knows plenty about Mormon culture but will always be Jewish--boy did she laugh when she saw the Broadway play "The Book of Mormon."

Tangent: As much as I enjoy Broadway, I've held off seeing the parody. Not because I can't laugh at my culture, not because I'm not curious, but solely because of one song that curses at God.  Not sure I can handle that after paying for a $200 ticket.

Back to the airport. One of my favorite missionary-airport memories is sitting next to a missionary who was returning home (SLC) after two years in a remote third world country. He was quiet, not used to English, and a little uneasy at returning to "civilization." I had the privilege of following him down the jetway to his waiting family.

Mom was number one in line. I watched her face when she saw her boy. I followed her eyes as they followed her boy. I saw her tears as he neared. I felt my own tears as they embraced and held tight.

Ahhhh.

So, what I'm trying to say is, if you fly through Salt Lake City Airport, enjoy the local culture. No worries, there's not enough time to convert you if you're not open to it. But, stop. Talk to the missionaries. Ask them where they're going. Most of them are scared, unprepared, socially awkward but part of an army determined to make the world a better place. Indulge yourself in the optimism. Indulge yourself in the generosity of spirit, and see if you're not touched by the innocence that still exists in a work of doubt, cynicism and fear.

 The Last Phone Call

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Who Are They?

The biblical story of the five foolish and the five wise virgins has always intrigued me. Perhaps  because five of the ten, lose out in a big way for what appears, only one foolish mistake of not supplying their lamps with oil.

We know they were good women as the first line of Matthew 25 reads: Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins which  took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

All ten women were equipped with the right attitude and the right tools. They were part of the kingdom of God, they had lamps and they cared enough, to meet the bridegroom. Metaphorically, lamps could represent many of the tools they had: scriptures, covenants, etc.

But what distinguishes the foolish from the wise, is that the foolish took no oil with them(verse 3).

It appears that the bridegroom, whom we see as Jesus Christ, came later or sooner than expected; he came at midnight. Now the foolish virgins who forgot or didn't bother to fill their lamps, wanted, oh so badly, to meet the bridegroom. Their intentions all along were to meet him. Yet...

When the foolish begged of the wise to share their oil, the wise didn't have enough to share.

Part of the Christian mantra is to share, yet our devoted, wise women were unable to impart their "oil," to others.

I want a theologian to come along and tell me exactly whom are the wise and the foolish. In my request, I would also want to know: Who am I? One of the wise or one of the foolish?

In the week after I had heard a dramatic presentation of this scripture story, I pondered a fair amount on these women. I wanted to deepen my understanding.

It came in an unexpected moment.

While rushing to church, which starts at 11:00 a.m., I hopped in my car with wet hair and drove down the hill. I reached the stop sign at 11:03, which meant I was going to be late for church. As I waited for the cars to pass, two driven by fellow church members also hurrying to church, I was hit by the coincidence of us all (perhaps there were five of us) who were in the same predicament. That clear distinct voice, poignantly whispered: You are one of the foolish virgins.

I knew it was true.

What if the Savior came to church on time and left after five minutes? What if he came early? What if my worship was reflected on my punctuality because my punctuality reflected my devotion?

When one is late, there is a certain disregard for the appointment, the person waiting, the start time of a meeting. The late person considers her time more important than the start time or the person waiting. In the parable of the ten virgins, the waiting person was the Savior, and I was a foolish virgin.

So this morning when I had the chance to be at church twenty minutes early, I took it, and again an unexpected moment: I was overwhelmed with gratitude for chastisement, recognition, a change of heart, a change in direction.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Strange Encounter



A few years ago, I drove to a friend's house to drop off something that must have been very important. The must-have-been important object sat on the floor in front of the passenger seat. My friend lives on a corner, and it was easiest to pull up parallel to the street which was perpendicular to her garage.

I was busy retrieving the must-have-been-important object when a noticeable thud demanded my attention. I looked up and was shocked to see my friend had backed her van into the side of the car.

We both got out of our cars. What could we say to one another? She apologized for backing into me, I apologized for parking behind her.

Several years later, we are sitting in my car, discussing the night's events.

"Do you remember when we had our collision?"

She starts to laugh. How can I not join her. It wasssss sooooo ridiculous. Yet, it was a watershed moment for me.

"I think I still owe you money for fixing your car."

"Oh no you don't. Besides it was cheap. And, the lesson was far greater than any amount of money you could have owed me."

Yes, I was actually thankful my friend had backed into my car. She taught me about blindness and vulnerability and thinking and gratitude. Four impact-ful lessons in a brief moment.

Gratitude: While backing up, at least she backed up slowly.

Blindness: I was in a car, engine running with my head between the passenger seat and the floor.

Vulnerability: Anytime a person is in a vehicle, the person is vulnerable. Especially if parked behind a person's garage. The awareness of my vulnerability increased ten-fold. Never idle with your head down.

Thinking: Be aware. Drive strategically. Understand driving is not passive.
My dad taught me to always move forward when you can; backing up reduces visibility in half.






Friday, September 11, 2015

Cheaters Never Prosper

My college aged daughter and I are having lunch in a crowded restaurant.

"See that guy over there with his glasses wrapped around his back?"

I turn and spy the guy.

"I saw him cheating in the testing center."

"What?"

"Yeah."

"How did you know?"

"When I walked past him, his head was down and I saw his phone hidden between his legs. I watched him and he looked at his paper, then I saw his finger scroll down his phone."

She tells me of a different cheating scandal that outlawed food in the testing center. One test taker laid out skittles on his desk in a row of five. A pre-determined color matched a corresponding sequence: purple matched answer #1, green #2 etc. His friend or fellow cheater copied the skittles. Test taker #1 swept the first batch into his mouth and started with the next five questions.

Oh my. Which brings me to the sad fact of the cheating I recognize in my own classroom. When I suspect a student of cheating, it sort of takes the wind out of my teaching excitement. I'm disappointed and I'm almost, almost positive of a student's guilt. Yet there's enough doubt, that I hope I am wrong. I question the student not in an accusing way, but maybe with a question such as, "How did you get this done so fast?" (After missing two days of class and then handing in two days of work right after lunch). I watch the students eyes shift, I watch him get uncomfortable. I want to believe in him, but I want him to know if he is guilty, I'm aware. It's a tricky balance. An uncomfortable balance and more than likely, my relationship is ruined with this child. Not because of my condemnation, but because of his own.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Mundane

I am sitting in a chair facing my computer. I always sit at my computer; it is really the most mundane and predictable event of my life. When I look for Tony, I always look in his office and he looks for me in mine.

Mundane. The word matches its sound. Mun--dane. Its color is a muted brown, it is unattractive like mud, a baby's diaper, like water running down a dirty gutter. I find it amusing that mundane rhymes with insane: mundane=insane.

I don't want to be mundane.

On the back wall of my classroom, my teaching partner and I installed a photo timeline of The American Century. My eyes scan the wall looking for a photo that encompasses the meaning of mundane. Nothing fits my search until I come upon a 1911 photo of four young "breaker" boys who worked for a Pennsylvania coal company. Their job was to pick the slate out of coal from 7:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m and over two million children under the age of 15 did this work.
That would have been excruciatingly mundane/insane for a child.

And so I see that mundane is unavoidable. It is as much a part of our lives as a slice is part of a pie, as a star is part of the sky. Mundane in degrees is acceptable, mundane as a way of life is not.

I succumb.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Live To Discover

On Labor Day, I had the audacity to rollerblade the canyon with two twenty year olds. Yes, I did. It turned out to be more of an adventure than I expected and not because of the rollerblading.

Three fourths of the way up the trail, a rock slide had made the pathway dangerous and almost impassable. Boulders the size of lawn chairs hit the asphalt trail leaving craters and divots. A cameraman from the local Fox 13 news was there to film the "event," and told us it had happened just an hour earlier.

What if we'd left an hour earlier? Had we escaped a certain death? (My son in law accuses me of having a worst-case scenario attitude).

It is remarkable that no one was injured since the trail was busy with holiday traffic.
We stepped across the rocks and debris hoping another big one wasn't coming down, all the while watching the continual stream of small rocks.




If that wasn't exciting enough! The next surprise was a moose. A huge moose, as most moose are, lounged just a short wade across the river. Local police were on alert in case the moose meandered up to the freeway above the river. Moose are dangerous, humongous, weighty beasts who are known to charge if aggravated or if its baby moose is threatened. We stood and watched the animal. It was beautiful in its own moosy way, and beautiful to observe.



Previous to the holiday weekend, I'd been teaching a writing strategy: Writing to discover. It hit me, on this auspicious day that we also need to live to discover. The holiday was a day of discovery and all because I was willing to rollerblade with the twenty year olds. So, like a good teacher, I encouraged my students to not only write to discover, but to live to discover!

Oh irony! After jubilantly encouraging my students, the challenge to live to discover made a phone call. On the other end was the opportunity to help a young man in the midst of turning his life around--from gang activity and other dubious occupations to working towards a GED. What an opportunity and what a challenge. A challenge that scares me. How ironic it came on the same day of my student challenge. And so, I took a deep breath and said, "Yes."

How different it is when we have to take our own brave advice for others, yet I stand by my admonition and even look forward to teaching this young man. I'm a little scared, but scared is part of the discovery and the growth.

I learned this truth on a sunny beach day as Tony helped me carry my kayak to the surf.

"I'm scared," I said, as I watched the waves thunder in.

"I'm surprised you'd say that after all these years of kayaking, " he responded.

"When the day comes that I cease to be scared, that will be the day when it's no longer fun."

So, Live To Discover and...be afraid.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Platonic or Not?



I am in my classroom of seniors, trying to help them funnel ideas to write essays. After challenging them to come up with 100 ideas in 10 minutes, they have a few topics. We just need to funnel those topics into viable, interesting, universal appealing essays. Easy.

There are several "oh, yeahs," and smiles after a student comes up with a great title like "Cheetos and Oatmeal." Students think they might stump me as they toss out their topics.

Aaron in the corner, calls out "Friends." 

"Which friend?" I ask.

"Aubrey." The class reacts with the insight that only teenagers possess. Aaron is instantly embarrassed, which brings the question, "So Aubrey was a friend, but did you really like her more than a friend?" 

"No!" But then he mellows and he admits that yes, he must have liked her. Which takes us on an unexpected path. "Can a guy have a girl friend who is only a friend, or subconsciously does he want it to be more? Can female/male relationships be totally platonic from both the male and female involved?" Aaron thinks. He's wondering.

I challenge him to explore the topic for his essay. 

I walk away from class with the conversation in my subconscious because later that day, I am sorting through an old box of photos from my youth, and I come across a photo of me and my dear friend Ben. Ben and I were friends. Solid friends. He did come from New York for a ski trip in the Rockies and to visit me. Would a guy have come all that way if he didn't hope for more? When I look at the photo, I am sure Ben wanted more than just friendship, but I never realized it at the time.

I take the photo to school and show Aaron as an anecdote to my hypothesis. He sees the photo, laughs, and he gets it immediately. I sure hope he writes that essay.





Me and Ben




Monday, September 7, 2015

America Under the Microscope

When America was in its earliest stages of becoming, it was a great source of entertainment, study and speculation to the watching eyes of the world. Many were watching for its success--a few perhaps for its failure.

The French statesman, historian, politician, Alex de Tocqueville, came to America in 1831 to study and compare our short existence to other democracies throughout time.

"I confess that in America I saw more than America, I sought the image of democracy itself; with its inclinations, its characters, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or hope for its progress."

His extensive observations, hypotheses, and conclusions can be found in Democracy in America (available online). It's a hefty work consisting of two volumes, copious sections, and a long list of appendixes. Yet, it's a fascinating read, of which I have only barely touched.

He couldn't have imagined the superpower America would become: "Almost all the nations that have exercised a powerful influence upon the destinies of the world, by conceiving, following out and executing vast designs, from the Romans to the English, have been governed by aristocratic institutions."

Almost two hundred years later, we've proven an aristocracy is not requisite to generate world wide influence.

One of our own had his doubts too. Walt Whitman believed that America might be "the most tremendous failure of all time."

And more dire predictions from Henry Adams, "At the rate of increase of speed and momentum, the present society must break its damn neck in a definite, but remote, time, not exceeding fifty years or more."

Rudyard Kipling in his 1889 visit to America saw it as an "epic archipelago of warring tribes bound to break up as disgruntled factions compete for a share of diminishing natural resources."

At the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner told historians that the American characteristics of energy, dominant individualism and democracy must be in jeopardy because they had their roots in a frontier that had all but vanished.

Good 'ol Teddy Roosevelt found himself defending America in the presence of HG Wells in 1905. Wells asked, "Does this magnificent appearance of beginnings which is America convey a clear and certain promise of permanence and fulfillment whatever? Is America a giant childhood or a giant futility?" To which big stick Teddy responded "The effort--the effort's worth it."

Do we all realize we are part of a nation still in its youngest years?

By comparison, the Roman Empire lasted almost 500 years.

The English empire approximately 300 years which continued on as the British empire for another 300 years.

As I hop around the world, I see that different empires/nations averaged around 400 years and more often than not, much less than 400 years.

It is one of Tocqueville's ideas that most fascinates me: "America is the only country in which it has been possible to witness the natural and tranquil growth of society, and where the influence exercised on the future condition of states by their origin is clearly distinguishable." In other words, at his point in time, we were the only nation that could be observed from its very beginning. Never before had a nation been so watched and so clearly documented. An easy study.

At a recent gathering, I heard a social worker say that America was no better off than the rest of the world. I disagreed. The worst of living conditions in America are still better than pockets of depravity around the world. Does everyone in America have access to drinking water? Is every American entitled to education? 

Within days of the social worker's comment,  I asked my students, is America considered a cruel or a benevolent nation? AgainI was taken aback to hear a student say vehemently that we are a nation of cruelty. I didn't argue, because certainly there is proof to back his belief. But I want him to be wrong, as I don't believe a nation of cruelty can survive, and if my beliefs have any merit, we have only a few hundred years left. I will be long gone. Why should I care? Why should anyone care? 

Because America began with a golden ideal. The pursuit of happiness as an entitlement to all. Freedom to worship for all. The right to prosperity, to own a home and own land for all. I hope immensely that America and her privileges will last forever.

Yet, I can't help but think of another observer of America, who spoke at a national prayer breakfast in 1994. Mother Teresa spoke in the presence of the Clinton administration and told the world that a nation who kills their unborn, is a nation that can't survive.

God bless America.


*Turner, Kipling, Wells, Whitman, Adams quotes all found in The American Century by Harold Evans.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

What Does It Mean To Be A Christian Nation?

If you dare look at the immigration photos of Middle Eastern people trying to enter Western Europe, if you have an ounce of compassion, you will cry. You will cry mostly because as Americans, you and me, we cannot imagine so desperate a situation. It is surreal and desperate, and then we must wonder, what conditions make a people so desperate.

Among the photos are children. Mothers, grandfathers, good women and good men.

The most recent photos of tragedy, are groups of people once detained in a refugee camp in Hungary. Within the past few days, Hungary announced they would not allow immigration of these people because Hungary is a Christian nation and they want to remain so.

When I first heard these words, my question was, "Then what does it mean to be a Christian?" Is it a dichotomy to claim Christianity as your shield and then not behave as a Christian?"

Maybe not.

The entire day, I thought about and lamented Hungary's decision.

Yet, to be a Christian is to acknowledge the presence of evil, and to be a Christian is not to tolerate evil.

The majority of Jesus' earthly ministry was spent in compassionate service, in preaching to save mankind, in performing miracles for the benefit of man, yet there is that one story of his anger in the temple. In Matthew 21, verse 12, we read, " And Jesus went out into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves."

Clearly, Jesus would not allow men to defile the sacredness of his father's temple.

Every religion, every sect has its heretics, the few people who ruin the good name of a peaceful, God fearing, God loving people. It happens to Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Presbyterians and Baptists, and currently it is especially happening to Muslims.

As I look at the photos of migrants trying to enter Hungary, I see the weary, the weak, and the least among us, but I also see strong young men and think of the warnings from tyrants of heretic off shoots of Islam who have proclaimed "We will use the refugee crisis to infiltrate the west."

And I wonder, is Hungary acting as a Christian nation or not.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Revenge of the Bard

Last week, I would get up before 6:00 a.m. in order to study Shakespeare's Henry V. There's something about standing before smart high school seniors and being prepared: it is requisite. Or die.

I had previously read and studied Henry V, and even seen the play in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but for me, Shakespeare is another language, and each time I read one of his plays, it requires true devotion and study. Because there is usually a one year lapse in between reading, I usually have to start over in the same way a person has to brush up on his French or Spanish if he hasn't spoken in awhile.

Each time I crack down on Shakespeare, I understand why he was voted one of the top ten most influential people of the last century. He is probably the one individual who crafted more words in use today, than any other individual. Seventeen hundred words! To some words, he only added prefixes or suffixes, or changed a noun into a verb, but still his words are an amazing legacy, many of which you may use all the time without having realized the origin. Green-eyed, torture, cold-blooded, excitement, gossip, bandit, blanket, bump, ode, zany, skim milk, obscene, hobnob, lonely, moonbeam, laughable.

Oh and the way he puts those words together: majestic, monumental, swagger (which, by the way, are his words too).

The value, in part, may be that his writing requires us to slow down and think, but when done, the ah ha, the epiphany is rewarding. It is akin to finding secret treasure. Treasure in words and language.

Just last week, I found a double entendre quite unexpectedly. King Henry's men are in France and on the eve of the battle of Agincourt, one of his comrades enters his presence and they engage in small talk before Henry borrows Erpingham's cloak to use as a disguise.

King Henry: Good morrow, old Sir Thomas Erpingham.
A good soft pillow for that good white head
Were better than a churlish turf of France.

Erpingham: Not so, my liege, this lodging likes me better,
Since I may say "Now I lie like a king."

The double meaning is found in the word "lie." At first glance, Erpingham is proud that he can sleep like a king, but the hidden insult also lies within the "lie." And that is that kings tell lies. I am absolutely certain that Shakespeare intentionally wrote these words knowing full well of his monarch insult.

And then there are his moral lessons...to be or not to be...Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none...one touch of nature makes the whole world kin...cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once...no legacy is so rich as honesty...all the worlds a stage and all the men and all the men and women merely players...

And Portia's mercy speech from The Merchant of Venice--divine.

But here's the irony: I used to brag that I was the only English graduate who received her diploma without studying Shakespeare. Yes, I used to loathe the bard. I was close minded and unwilling to put forth the effort. Mea culpa. However, fate caught up, and when I sought my Secondary English education degree, Shakespeare had his revenge: If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh. If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? And my own quote: If thou discard me as an English major, I shall have the last chuckle: Shakespeare was a required class for a Secondary English Education graduate.

For this I am thankful. Thankful I have come to respect and enjoy the words of a great thinker and eloquent writer. Oh that I could have thought different, but indeed I did--just don't tell my students.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Longing For A Night At the Corner Pizza Parlor

The Pope's optometrist usually delivers his eyeglasses to the Vatican, but one day the Pope decides to venture to the optical shop by himself--not really by himself, but when the REAL Pope picks up his his eyeglasses, it's quite a surprise, and it becomes a big deal.**

"Is that the...? No it couldn't be!"

"I saw the Pope at an optical shop in Rome trying on his glasses!"

Imagine the tweets, the requests for a Pope-selfie, the hugs, the requests for a blessing. It became such a big deal, that when the Pope ran a simple errand, something we take for granted, it made the news. A lucky reporter who may have happened to be waiting outside the optometrist's asked the Pope what he missed most about his lack of freedom to go where he pleased.

The Pope answered, "I miss going out for a pizza."

Though my life is hardly comparable to a pope's life, or to his schedule, and it will never include a bodyguard entourage, when my life changes, I too miss the little things.

I miss each tiny, itty bitty, degree of sight I lose.

When I start school, I miss the night-time freedom of throwing myself on the couch for a TV show.
I miss the languid summer mornings when my alarm clock gathers dust and breakfast rolls at ten.

I miss the tiny smiles of the barrel-chested four month old while he lays in the grass.

I miss the way Dad used to roll his eyes, or his smile when he was giving in.

I miss the extra cars when I pull into the driveway.

I miss seeing my old neighbor resting in her pink cushioned chairs on her porch.

I miss pushing a child in a stroller.

I miss dipping Mom's warm gingerbread in milk.

That life moves on is a given. We want it to-- otherwise, the equivalent would be like sitting in a jail cell.

I would never exchange where I am today, and I'm sure the Pope wouldn't either, but if he has a wistful moment for a pizza, so can I.

**As heard on NPR

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Refuge

Each afternoon I would come home, catch up on email correspondence, switch the laundry or empty the dishwasher, prep for dinner, exercise and then prepare for class. I've needed to stay on top of Shakespeare's Henry V, including all the English and French history that surrounds the story. And then students started sending me their writing, which I love to read, which I needed to give feedback.

The past few days, I have been sustained by my Thursday after-school plans: sitting poolside and finishing "The Republic of Imagination," in time for the Ladies' Literary Society meeting tonight.

Deep breath.

I made it. I am here.

Refuge. Everyone needs refuge.

I have seen it in my students, the ones who don't feel like they completely belong at lunch, who seek refuge in my class.

I can be refuge for others. And for me that is a kind of refuge.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ed, the man who sells shutters, stops by the house in an apologetic fit.

Last June, we ordered shutters for a room blasted by the summer, afternoon sun. The shutters were supposed to take only six weeks to be manufactured and installed.

Three months later, I remember the shutters were never installed.

"Why didn't you call sooner?" Ed asks.

"Well, things got a little busy around here," I answer. I don't mention the three weddings and the steady flow of guests, and that life is passing so fast I never got around to it.

Ed feels obligated to explain what might have happened: a secretary who fell behind, and he still feels responsible for the delay because "that kind of thing just shouldn't happen."

I'm really not concerned, nor disappointed, nor an angry customer, nor do I ever consider asking for a discount for the delay. Frankly it doesn't matter. The shutters will come, and if I were angry, how could I ever take it out on Ed? I think my nonchalance throws Ed.

He's going out of his way and will return tomorrow to fix the blind that got left behind too.

I follow Ed to his car, where he hands me his card. There is a little bit of small talk, as small talk goes between casual acquaintances, and he just celebrated his 55th wedding anniversary.

"Congratulations! Did you do something special?"

"Not really. We went out to dinner."

"Well that's special."

"It's hard for my wife to get out with her back injury. Plus she's beat two different cancers and..."

I am already overwhelmed by the back injury, and her two cancers, that the last affliction is lost in my compassion for Ed and his wife.

"See Ed, that's what matters. Not shutters."

 And we both understand why the delay was only that.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Privacy

I'm waiting for my grocery total in the express-10 items or less lane, when a motorized wheelchair moves in behind me. Without looking, I assume the person is handicapped and intentionally don't look. Yet, when the man drops several items, I can't ignore him, so I bend down, pick up plastic forks from the floor and the shampoo bottle on his foot rest. He is missing a foot.

 I instinctively want to make him feel better. Yes, I know that is irrational, and I can't make his life better, unless I count this three second act of service.
 
 It's human nature to care, to soothe, to want to connect. However, to act any further would have been unnecessary and self serving. We often try to make this connection by asking questions of a stranger.

My nephew in law, when he lost his best high school friend, impulsively and with great sorrow, made his way to the tattoo parlor to indelibly honor his friend. Ten years later, and after inquiries in the thousands, he's careful to dress so the tattoo stays hidden. It's tiring to always answer the questions about his leg tattoo. Years ago, I was one of the questioners. My concern, my questioning made me think, that he would think, I was interested in him. If I had known that he would have preferred not to be asked, I wouldn't have. I had made the erroneous assumption that a visible tattoo was a conversation starter and, and not that a visible tattoo could be private.

When I encounter someone with a nose ring or a lip ring, I have the same desire to question. Why? Did it hurt? If I did ask, I might be the 100th person to inquire that week, and again, what right would I have to ask?

A new employee at our school has some hefty biceps and a slightly visible tattoo on one of those muscles. When I first saw it, my old friendly self (or so I thought), wanted to inquire; but I remembered all of the above and wanted most of all to begin our relationship and to get to know him for HIM--not for the tattoo on his arm.