Monday, November 30, 2015

Dream Warnings

Many years ago, I had a dream about a family that lived down the street.

The family had three little children: two brothers, around age four and six, and a baby sister.

One night, I dreamt so vividly that one of the little boys found a gun and shot the other brother. It was horrible and haunting. I wanted to just forget it as a stupid dream, as most dreams are, but it bothered me too much to let it go.

Should I tell the parents? No. That would be ridiculous! It was only a dream. Yet, the mental war raged on. Finally, I made the phone call.

"Hi, I'm really sorry and you should probably ignore me, but I can't let go of this dream so I'm calling to tell you just to get it off my chest. I don't know what else to do."

"Okay," came a hesitant voice on the end of the line.

I told the father my dream.

"Oh, okay."

We hung up. I felt silly, but relieved.

A week later, the father called back. "That dream you had?"

"Yes?"

"Our little boys came to us last week and asked where the guns were. We moved them from the top of the closet to a safer place. Thanks."

Coincidence? Perhaps, but because of that experience, when my sister tells me she had a dream in which people kept asking "Where's Annika?" as if she were being searched for, I listened. I told nine year old Annika who has a tendency to wander, about my previous dream and my sister's dream. In consequence, we set up stronger rules for her and her brother while on vacation in a foreign country.

I wouldn't recommend sharing one's dreams. Obviously, and I don't know if many people dream of danger and feel the need to follow through. It's only happened to me once in my whole life. But taking  simple actions from simple dreams is simple. By choosing to act, by making a phone call, by taking precautions, by disregarding any pride--thank goodness I'll never know if the dreams came true.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Yet, There Is No Such Thing As Paradise





Paloma takes one for the team!

My sister and I meet up in the lobby and compare legs. I thought I was hit pretty hard until I see her's.  She looks like she's got leg-chicken pox, or measles or a bad case of leg acne. I can now show-off that I have very few bites.

We laugh and tell a friend, that our last tropical trip, we went everyday to the store to buy some kind of protection, remedy, or ointment for the no-seeum attacks. We even bought electric insect zappers. We even vowed to never go back to locales infested with no-seeums.

No see-ums: mini midges, a fraction of the size of mosquitoes, members of the Ceratopogonidae family with over 4000 known species--found in sub tropic and tropical areas of the world--mostly the Caribbean, but can be found anywhere in the world-I've encountered them in Fiji, Bahamas and now Mexico.The females need human blood to up the protein For their offspring eggs. It's awful knowing the bites I endure also perpetuate the species.

The only thing that is supposed to repel the pests is DEET, a known poison, dangerous if used consistently. But even used consistently, my family and I find it doesn't really help. One must resign oneself to no-see-um bites.

Yet, here we are again, in the tropics, in beautiful Puerto Vallarta with no-seeums. And after the wedding, my children, son-in-laws and grandchildren head north to a small beach town in Chacala, a remote place with raccoons that will enter the villa and open the fridge if we don't shut the doors at night; with hundreds of delightful hermit crabs; geckos running up the walls and hiding behind the art work; centipedes, moths, and the dreaded, life-altering, ubiquitous, no-seeums.

Yet, our rented home is an enclave by the sea, chosen from photos that promised the most amazing set-up, so amazing, I've been wondering if it can really exist.

 It does.

 The accommodations are incredible: a main house for eating and gathering and little casitas so everyone has their quiet and privacy. The cooks are skilled and prepare our meals with fresh fruits, vegetables and fresh catch from the sea. A fifty pound bag of oranges awaits in the pantry to be squeezed into delicious juice. The ocean is warm, the waves just right and the sand is soft. Snorkeling is superb. We have sand volleyball, a pool, a hot tub, and the pickleball court is a five minute walk away.

Yet, here I am in paradise scratching away and I'm not alone. Yesterday I was up at 4:30 a.m., awakened by intense itching.

We are in paradise, but there is no true, complete, absolute, paradise. Only glimpses of paradise, amidst the bites, the scratching, the poisonous Deet. It's a life paradox. Glimpses of the sublime, glimpses of pain--a rose surrounded by thorns.

If there is an ultimate paradise, a heaven, a place we are supposed to work towards, and sacrifice for, this earth could never be all we want it to be. It can only give us hope and a vision of what it might be like. We witness those moments of pure beauty, pure charity and love, but always, in an incomplete paradise, around the corner, we will find the opposite.

This is my view this morning--gorgeous. The sound is gentle surf and soft birds chirping in the jungle distance; my stomach rumbles for breakfast that someone else will cook and clean up after.

Ah...paradise.

And then I bend over to scratch, not one, but several, bright red, irritated bumps on my arms, legs, and back (if I can reach).



If Only...


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rules Over Reason

My sister calls the day before we leave for her daughter's wedding.

"What? That doesn't make sense. How did it happen?"

She doesn't know how IT happened. "All I know is she was hysterical."

She is the mother of a five month old infant and while checking in for her flight to the wedding, there was a glitch because of the child. It couldn't be resolved and the mom and child missed the flight. Her family went on without her and she was left alone with her baby to fight the airline.

Little could I have imagined that her snafu could be our snafu the very next day.

A few days before our flight, my daughter calls to check on her flights. Even though I made these reservations eight months ago, the airline has no record of her almost two-year-old.  He flies free because he is under two, but there still needs to be a record. She resolves the situation, but since he is turning two, two days before the return flight, the airline might charge for a full fare. Fair enough. I call to double check and Tasha assures me all is well. No need to worry.

When I reach the check-in counter after parking two different cars in long term parking, I find my family, all 11, still there, still not completely checked in. There is a problem with the almost-two-year old. We must pay an international infant tax. No problem.

But...but... they still can't clear us because the little guy doesn't have a return flight on the way home, since they decided he's not free on the return. The airline representative is on the phone trying to get clearance. I arrived at the counter at 9:30 and she is still on the phone at 10:20. Our flight boards in ten minutes and we still must pass security.

We are emphatic, "We're going to miss our flight."

I have an idea and ask, "What if we pay for the return ticket now? You get him on the return flight, and let us board so we make the wedding."

The rep and the supervisor agree to take our credit card.

We rush to catch the flight...but when we arrive, the gate attendant isn't satisfied. She tells us that all of us are fine to board, except the two year old.

Ummm,...."Who's going to watch him?"

Everyone boards but the parents of the two-year-old, and Tony and me. The gate will close in six minutes.

"What if we just buy him another one way ticket now, so we can get on the plane?"

Again, money talks, even though he's supposed to fly free. With no time to spare, a ticket agent runs his boarding pass to the gate.

 I've never been so relieved. The whole family is on board when the plane takes off.


After a few days of wedding celebrations, we receive an email to let us know, the problem has been solved. The entire family's flights will return on Sunday afternoon, except for Sebastian, the-two-year-old, whose return ticket is on Monday. All by himself.

Stay tuned.

Postscript: All is well. We are home, and though I still don't know the complete reason behind the boarding conundrum, the two-year-old almost stowaway made it home from Mexico...in his own seat...playing with air vents, the lights, pushing the call buttons, wanting out of his seatbelt, pushing the seat in front of him (thank goodness it was his aunt)! 

Maybe that's why they didn't want to let him on...


Friday, November 27, 2015

The Psychology of Travel

This was written previously to  A Non-traditional Thanksgiving.


My email, text and twitter messages, by some genius stroke of technology, have started poking their heads into my computer screen.

"It's time to check-in!" the latest message slides in and slides out, as if it's a flag I'm supposed to capture.

Usually, I would be excited by the Time to check-in, but today, it puts me on edge, and I cannot pinpoint the reason.

Tony claims it's because I haven't packed yet. I continue walking upstairs; he continues talking but, I can't make out any of his words because they sound the same as the adults in Charlie Brown movies. Wa, wa, wa.

I know I should pack, but I just can't do it, and it's 7:10 p.m and we leave for the airport at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Excuse me, I have to go pack.............................

And.........two hours later, I've finished. I'm at peace; I can write again.

In the midst of my complaining, procrastination, it hit me that I just needed to get up and do it.

A few days earlier at the onset of cold cold weather, it took me three hours to get out of the house for a mountainside walk. When I finally made it, I was invigorated and enjoyed myself. I'd wasted three hours of putting off that which made me happiest.  For days I'd put off packing and the weight kept building until it felt like an overweight suitcase.

Just do it!--may be the best advice we've ever received. So: just do it.




Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Non Traditional Thanksgiving

I arise earlier than the rest of the tribe. The babies go to bed early but my children, their spouses, and Tony, tend to stay up later. Later than me. I am tempted sometimes, but I remember that I have the morning all to myself when I go to be early and rise early.

Today, I am under the umbrella, on a padded lounge chair, a soft rain hitting my exposed shoulders. My favorite sound, the surf breaking on the shore, is near. It's Thanksgiving day and I couldn't be more grateful. Foremost for family. For Tony. His little ways of being, his quirks, his jovial-ness, the way he laughs so well at himself, have meant more to me in the last few days than our entire marriage.

Time and patience=growth=love.

I'm over-the-top thankful that today's Thanksgiving menu is tortilla soup, mango, papaya and pineapple for lunch;  4:00 appetizers are coconut shrimp and pina coladas. Mahi mahi for dinner.

Turkey is fine, but turkey grows old.

As does the cold November weather and the smell of Thanksgiving leftovers accidentally left uncovered in the fridge.

As the trite and trivial of Thanksgiving grow old, the sweet and the gentle grow more dear:

Sweet potatoes doctored to taste like Haagen Dazs ice cream.

Heartfelt prayers of gratitude.

The anticipation of family's safe arrival.

Those who jump in and help with the clean-up.

But today, I'll have none of that.

Instead, I'll spend a lot of time observing and enjoying. Observing the family that brings joy. Little Teddy so happy and content, who smiles a crooked smile like my dad. Sebi who is soooo curious and ecstatic in the water--almost as if he were really meant to be a fish who ended up in a little boy body. Ezra, who slowly navigates this family he is so not used to--his slow acceptance of us strange people who love him so. My Annika, the strong girl among boys, who looks forward to growing in courage and becoming more kind. Max, usually stoic and reserved who cut lose in his theatrics while playing Catch Phrase. London, so joyfully himself, his wife, my daughter, her seriousness so embracing of his playfulness. Jillian who is so well matched to T that it seems she was never ours. Mandi and her Si who work so well together and may not even be aware. And our oldest daughter and husband mellowed by the demands of their little ones. And Tony.



The only Thanksgiving tradition I will practice today will be that of gratitude, and that's only because all the worries, the preparation, the food, the pressure of travel and accommodating everyone's needs is absent. Without focusing on all the fringe, I can focus more on the core reason for Thanksgiving: gratitude. It almost makes me want to skip all the traditions of Christmas, so I can celebrate the one and single most important reason for the holiday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Dependance

That I was able to catch this photo at this moment of time, is a mini miracle. The perfect moment of concision. We all wondered how it could have happened (the accident), and after studying the photo, I think I know.

These are my two number one fans which sounds sort of silly, but I married one and I gave birth to the other. Pretty strong connections. When I demanded their attention, they gave it and they lost their focus. It's made me think a bit about what we demand of others, the reasons, the purposes, and if those demands are justified.

I used to demand Tony's attention before football games. Enough said.

A phrase I heard years ago: One can never be happy when he or she depends on someone else for their happiness.

When one does--collision is guaranteed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Marriage Through the Years, In Tandem

When Tony started biking obsessively, a ton, somehow it dawned on us that with the right bike we could enjoy the sport together. And so the well worn tandem bike rests against the ladder, against the wall in our garage, and it has for years and hopefully for years to come.

We also both loved kayaking, and when we realized that we too could enjoy this sport together, my maestro-internet-shopper, found the best rated, double, inflatable kayak. We can't take it everywhere, but it has seen its share of shores. With luggage limits, we share a suitcase and use the other allotment for the kayak.

Recently, while overseas, we failed to reserve a double kayak and we were both left in our own kayaks; Tony was fine, but I had trouble going against the current of the Rhone River. It was a mini disaster and I'll leave it at that.

There are the all-too-obvious metaphors for marriage that arise from the tandem bike and the tandem kayak. I'll leave those too, to ponder or to write-about for another day.

While sorting through all the jpegs in my photo files last night, these on-the-kayak selfies seemed to stand out, seemed to reinforce the happiness, the cohesion we feel when working together, but in spite of sharing the same house, same children, same bedroom, our lives are really different and separate. A eulogy would read mostly of our different passions, of our different occupations. When I told Tony about a student who ran out of class because she was embarrassed, he just shook his head trying to imagine that event in his graduate courses. Even though we both teach, our experiences are spectrums apart.

We live in a world of crazy differences, and crazy intolerances of those differences. My friend who hails from the island of Mauritius is most proud of the island's diversity and its ability to get along, support and thrive amongst each other. It's proof that it can be done. 

We have to find the commonalities among the differences, then  nurture those commonalities for success, cohesion, and peace. For Tony and I, that commonality is found in part, on a bike, in a kayak-- together.






Monday, November 23, 2015

Eat and Walk

My favorite place to be in winter is New York City (if it can't be a warm tropical beach), and my favorite activity is bundling up and going out to eat; because, there is no alternative when hunger strikes.

The best part is the brisk walk to the restaurant or market, maybe with a light falling snow, all the while wrapped in a down coat, topped with a warm hat and a scarf made of soft fake fur. Don't forget the requisite gloves! The Ugg boots if it's not raining.  Unlike my tourist self, the people belong to the NY city streets like penguins belong to Antarctica.

If you're lucky enough to be there in December, the streets glitter, the crowds are optimistic and everyone shares the enchantment of the season. The light show on Saks Fifth Avenue and the lighted trees at Rockefeller Center all add to the magic.

When winter hits at home, and it has, Tony and I tend to bundle up and stay where our feet are fuzzy warm and where we can wear thick and ridiculous winter attire without drawing attention. We hunker down and like bears would be happy to emerge only in spring. We are content to stay home and eat soup or make waffles.

So when someone says, "Meet us for dinner," I feel joy at the prospect of going out after dark, and staying out of my pajamas until bedtime. It feels festive putting on a pair of jeans and a sweater. The effort it takes to go into the cold enhances the dinner. But I still have the urge to walk as if I'm in NY city embracing and defying the cold. I want to fast walk to the little Italian place around the corner, shiver on my way to the Korean barbecue two blocks over, or smile at strangers thinking about the best kosher pizza on Broadway.

Oh the convenience of good New York food within steps of one's hotel, and the possibility of different encounters on the way. One night, I was out foraging medicine and food for my sisters, when I met a man who asked me to dinner. Not exactly as it sounds, he was hungry and hoped I would buy him a meal. I did, and the few minutes spent with him were a delight.

Somewhat close to home, Tony and I can enjoy Chinese, Israeli, Thai or Texan barbecue. The food is NY good, but the experience is missing the exhilarating short walk and the company of strangers on the street. Food just can't taste the same when we drive to the restaurant and drive home.

Wait until Tony finds out that the next meal at a restaurant will also include a walk in the chilly winter night.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Sting of Memory

It's time to help Nikki with her hives. It's mid November, a warm day for November, but the insects are still going to hate the intrusion.

As I sit beside Nikki, as we plan to meet at 2:30, my skin, as if it were a voice, starts to shout. Little prickles in my skin, as if a child were sitting under my chair with a pin, defy reality. I'm actually feeling the pain of a bee sting!

The time before last, when we opened Nikki's hive, we couldn't have prepared ourselves well enough for their anger. As Nikki moved the boxes, bees were getting crushed, sending out the "We're getting attacked" pheromone; they were threatened and their vengeful rampage began. I was well covered, but not well enough. I took a few stings to my legs and hands.

The next time we opened Nikki's hives, I was dressed for war. I was so thickly protected, I could calmly watch as the bees tried repeatedly and repeatedly to sting.

When a bee stings, the stinger ejects from its abdomen. It's certain death, and a strangely sad thing to watch such a tiny insect give up its life as it repeatedly tries to destroy me.

This time, as I double layer dressed, I thought my thick jacket would be enough. I ignored the slits at the wrists and forgot to put on my thicker gloves. I knew better and ended up getting stung twice--one to each hand.

The day after, as I stood still watching student presentations, I would imagine a bee sting to my back, to my leg, or to my arm. I knew it wasn't real, but my nerve memory, my fear memory, my psychosomatic self couldn't differentiate.

A few years ago, I was stung by a friend. It wasn't physical, but it was emotional. A short while later, I saw her from a distance and stayed far away. But it's a small town, and when I saw her recently, I felt the sting and wanted to avoid her the same way I want to avoid angry bees. But grocery aisles are thin and avoidance wasn't going to happen.  I headed straight for the hive--but I protected myself and felt nothing but the love of friendship past. Our encounter was kind, pleasant, and it was easy to remember why I liked her so much and why the sting had felt so sharp and why I had felt it over and over again.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Anonymous

Someone left an anonymous comment on the class blog. It was possible that a student was playing a joke. I told the students what had happened. I told them the context of the joke and it sort of creeped them out too. Then I asked, "Did any of you make the comment?" I tried to treat it lightly. No one confessed, so it was time to teach about the power and destruction of anonymity. The positive and negative effects of the un-named deed.

I shared Edwin Romond's poem, "To My Female Student Who Left a Note Stating, 'I Hope Your Baby's Born Dead.'"

What was it, a lav pass
I wouldn't give you?
A quiz grade I wouldn't change?
Had I made you stop chewing gum?
Where does a teenage girl,
who is blessed with a womb
and the chance for children,
find the emptiness inside her
to write a death wish for a baby?

But, my anonymous student,
you didn't hate hard enough,
for my son's eyes light with a life
more beautiful than yours
will ever be and his tiny fingers
touch my lips with a softness
your heart could never hold.
See his red hair, bright as joy.

Listen to his voice cooing love from his crib.
And, when I kiss him, watch my face
almost erase the ache you caused me.
You, courageous scholar,
who waited until I was out sick
to leave your curse in ball point black,
look at Liam, our living son.
Just don't ask to hold him.

The students were appalled. The poem was based on this man's real-life experiences as a teacher.

"What happens when an act of cruelty-- a note, a threat-- is done anonymously?"

"Everyone is a suspect."

Yes, they got it.

"And it makes the world a better place or a worse place?"

The answer was clear without having to answer.

"What happens when an act of kindness is anonymous? When someone leaves a plate of brownies on your doorstep or a kind note is slipped through the vents in your locker?"

"Everyone is a suspect. We suspect that everyone likes us, cares for us."

"Does it make the place a better place?"

The sweet students nodded their heads in agreement.

I asked them to make a personal vow to never pollute the world with negative anonymous acts.

The next day when I asked students to anonymously evaluate one of our teaching practices for an upcoming conference presentation, the students were positive--even in their suggestions for improvement. And one student even made me suspect that everyone in the class thought I was special. The student wrote his evaluation and then penciled in the words, You are the best.

I'd taught them well.

Unfortunately, I didn't handle the anonymous situation as well as I should have. The student whom I adore, who happened to have made the joke, was late on the morning when I asked "Who did it?" That brave girl had to confess amidst the "big deal" I'd made of something that should have been very trivial.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Fleeting and Unappreciated Deep Thoughts of Youth

 January 7, 2016, I'll be accompanying more students than imaginable, will be in the company of great teachers, will be accompanying a few great parents on a trip to Greece and Italy. In just 12 days. Hardly long enough to see the world of classic literature, civilization, and art, but long enough to be bus-traveling with 100 people.

I'll be in charge of student writing for 12 days---since we are technically still in school...ahhhh if all schools could include trips to Rome!

The first time I went to Rome and Greece was with student organization American Institute for Foreign Studies. Barely 16, impressionable, curious,--it was a life changing experience. I came home different. Enlightened. Sophisticated (remember I was only 16).

When I was first asked to be a chaperone/traveling writing instructor, I remembered that first experience. I was thankful these students were as blessed as I had been. I thought of the mini diary I had kept of that distant adventure. Oh how I hoped I could find it. I tend to be a white tornado and have more than once tossed memorable relics and pined for them later.

I found it in a torn-sided box on a shelf in a basement back closet. Sat right down and started reading.

A few laughs, smiles, but more wishes I'd done a better job of recording deep thoughts. I remember the deep thoughts--but they are missing like valuable coins that sifted through an un-sewn hole in a neglected pocket--because I was too busy being a teenager in Rome, in Paris, in Vienna. The trip was fleeting, almost as fleeting as those five short years in some of the most important growing years of one's life.

If only I could hold on to those years, of those thoughts, of those impressions, of whom I was becoming in the moments of 1970's European splendor; if I only could hold on to them by the little diary in my hands.  I couldn't have guessed I would be returning again, not as the student, but as the teacher, trying to help create a meaningful experience for those as careless as I once was.

For me at least, this time will be different. I understand the passage of time. I understand and can convey in words the deep thoughts that will traverse my mind. I will understand that I will never pass this way again--except through the handwritten pages of my journal.  And maybe that is what makes experience so meaningful--that we cannot comprehend that it is--until it has passed.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Not All Liberties Are Without Impunity

This past week, the Attorney General came to our school to talk about the insidious problem of human trafficking. He has a passion for fighting the perpetrators, the degraders of human life and liberty. He's chased them, prosecuted them and brought freedom to the oppressed. Yet, he surprised us all because he didn't begin his speech with the human trafficking problem, he began with the problem of pornography.

Let me back up.

Years ago, one of my friend's graduate students was dismissed from the university because he was caught using porn on campus--a practice strictly prohibited. My friend thought the ban and her student's consequences were ridiculous. She criticized the university; I sat still and listened because I didn't yet know how deep the vein of porn consequences ran.

The attorney general had found that all human trafficking criminals, were rooted in pornography. It seemed to be the beginning foray into the dark. And...human trafficking, the slave trade, came about in part because of pornography. The need to produce and the lack of unwilling participants. The core of slavery--any kind of slavery: when the demand for human labor, no matter the type, exceeds the number of people willing to do the work. Consequently, human trafficking has everything to do with pornography.

My friend who criticized the university's anti porn stance didn't stop to consider who was making the porn at what cost and under what circumstances. She only saw her student's right to act according to his desires.

Every decent citizen is against human trafficking and sexual slavery, but is every decent citizen willing to stand up and say no more pornography? We'll hear the same excuse: everyone has a right to   read and look at what they want, or it's a first amendment privilege. Just remember those rights come at a cost and it may be the cost of a child's life. The cost of a teenage girl's innocence-stolen, drugged and forced to be a human slave in the 21st century.

Stop pornography now.

Campaigns against porn: Porn the new drug; Porn kills love.

I'm so proud of one of my students who is planning a cross country bike ride to raise awareness.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It Begins With An Idea

Recently, I made some kind of connection to Haiti. I don't know where it started, or how it started, but when I felt this connection, I sent out a few emails, asked a few questions, and dared to imagine.

Today, I booked flights to Haiti. We will only be there for four days, but my hopes are to visit a school and make an investment--an investment of love and care.

We had to be in Columbia South Carolina at the end of the year, and since we were going to be on the east coast anyways, why not hop a little farther south to Haiti?

After I made the reservations, I'd never felt so peaceful, so calmly happy about a travel decision. And Tony? I usually get a little flack for my peripatetic leanings, a request to sleep on it, or admonishment to make the reservations later and not be so impulsive,  or he'll ask, "Did you check a different airline for a better flight?" and "Maybe it will be cheaper next week."  But today he didn't hesitate while standing at the end of the diving board. He jumped right in. When I sent him his itinerary after only a 20 minute start-to-finish foreign travel plan, he came into the study and we hugged and kissed.

He felt it too.

And I promised to start practicing French seriously.

While writing about the beginning of this adventure just now, I remembered vaguely that I had written about it before. I searched the previous posts and this is what I found written on March 16 2015.

Dear Universe,
I have a dream. It involves Haiti, of which I know very little about.
I do know it is a poor country. Devastated by earthquake.
From talking to Ernst, a man who left Haiti because he was politically ostracized, I've learned it can be a dangerous place. I've learned that most young women don't go to school because of money. I've learned it's a country in difficult shape.
Can I make a difference?
It seems ignorant to think that I can and ignorant to think that I cannot.
I have a friend who left Haiti when she was a teenager. She speaks of its political corruption, of its bled-out infrastructure. I've sent her a message asking to talk.
Here's what I imagine, my dream. Going to Haiti. Making an assessment. Taking my PHD in school psychology daughter, taking my public-health-degree-daughter, taking my daughter with abundant compassion. Taking my husband for his wisdom. Inviting friends. All of us who are so blessed with abundance, access to education, resources, full bellies, making a journey to Haiti to see if we can make a difference.
It's a difficult thing throwing dreams to the universe. It's a risk, but with risk comes possible solutions, answers and ideas.
If you're part of the dream, let me know.

My dear universe letter had been answered.

The adventure begins.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

ENTHUSIASM

When just a little girl in my parents' home, my mother ordered an Art Linkletter course in Positive Thinking and Behavior. The course consisted of records, yes records! LPs, and I loved the covers and the booklets filled with anecdotes and antidotes to combatting weak human behavior. Even that of a ten year old. I loved the illustrations and the diagrams, the pithy words paired with musical jingles that sounded similar to the catchy radio advertisements of the day:  Dentyne gum, Crest toothpaste and "You'll look better in a sweater washed in Woolite!"

I was set for life and I didn't even know it.

The psychology of success changed over the years--it got more serious, the M Scott Pecks and the Oprah guests didn't always sound like the cheery Art Linkletter. No longer did jingles and snappy tunes work for creating good moods and guaranteed success. The study of success became a college major and shot the Stephen R Covey's to the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Success had a formula based in science and empirical evidence.

But..., I'm still a sucker for the simplicity of one liners and 1960's tutorials on enthusiasm. If I find a book on a shelf and it's written by Norman Vincent Peale, I'll pick it up.

Most recently, a woman who obviously grew up in the same era and probably had the same mother who ordered the same Art Linkletter records, taped the board with quotes on enthusiasm. Beloved one liners, I copied almost every one of you, and in the meantime missed all the science on how to become more enthusiastic!

Enthusiasm: A Greek word that means having god within us.

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Entusiasm releases the drive to carry you over obstacles and adds significance to all you do. Norman Vincent Peale

Protect your enthusiasm from the negativity and fear of others. Never decide to do nothing just because you can only do a little, do what you can. You would be surprised at what "little" acts have done for our world. Steve Maraboli

Enthusiasm is as powerful as dynamite and as contagious as the measles. Spread some around.

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Ralph Waldo emerson.

Years wrinkle the skin but the lack of enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Eerie

I am standing over the kitchen counter peeling, cracking, and releasing pomegranate seeds. Tony is upstairs and I am alone in the room. I feel a hand at my mid back that moves my dress. I turn around to see who it is, but of course, no one is near.

Strange.

There is no explanation, so only slightly spooked, I continue my work.

Less than five minutes later, Tony walks into the kitchen. He is leaving for a meeting, so I only have a  minute. I hadn't expected to share the encounter, because I wouldn't know how to explain it and didn't really want to be teased.

I tell him anyways, and wait for the humorous comment about my sanity; but it doesn't come.

He makes an interesting expression as he stretches an arm into a coat sleeve.

"That happened to me too. Earlier today. I felt a touch to my back, so I turned around, but no one was there."

He adds that that kind of thing has never happened to him before.

"Who was it?" I ask. "Who's trying to get our attention?"

We just stare at each other because there are no answers to the questions.

My mind flashes to a scene from the old Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg move: Ghost.

Swayze, once a living man, now a spirit without the ability to be seen or heard (except by Goldberg), desperately wants to learn how to move objects, or to have his touch felt by living people. After meeting a crazy ghost in the subway who teaches him how, he practices until he has some kinetic abilities.

If I didn't know better, I'd think there was meaning in Tony and me both having such a unique experience. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was a spirit trying to communicate with both of us. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was a child spirit, who was reaching up to get our attention.

Funny thing is---I'm not absolutely sure that I don't know better.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

They "Turned to Their Affairs"

Stunned with the rest of the world, I tried to make sense of the Paris attacks.

But one cannot make sense of such senseless-ness, though it is counter intuitive to our brain and our hearts when we can't understand; this lack leaves our minds and hearts in a jumble.

 We want to solve the problem, search for answers and package it all into a neat bundle, stamp it with a MAKES SENSE label and send it down the conveyor belt of our mind.

I tried to make sense of it by lying on the couch and turning on CNN. It was even more confusing watching Anderson Cooper trying to stamp it with the MAKES SENSE label too.

I fell asleep.  At 7:00 p.m.

When I awoke, an hour later, little more information had been added. I walked into the kitchen and had a bowl of cereal, but not even Honey Bunches of Oats could bring comfort.

The night of the attacks, it was still daytime in America, and I was learning from poets and teachers. Deb and I were presenting our ideas and successes in teaching writing in a conference breakout session. When we finished, we were giddy, happy and felt like we'd made a contribution to education. We took some selfies, made some jokes, and I almost tweeted our trivial experiences. But something held me back.

Imagine how relieved that I hadn't acted in the midst of our ignorance. We'd been inside all day focused on teaching and learning.

And so I am somewhat paralyzed. I don't want to move on. I was surprised when the twitter feed consisted of happy news and other concerns besides the Paris attacks. How long is long enough to suspend life for the loss of life and a short reign of terror? It is never long enough, but life strangely does go on.

Robert Frost explores the bewilderment of life without brakes in his poem "Out Out." A young boy is working a buzz saw, is distracted, and cuts off his hand. The surgeon is called, but in spite of his efforts the boy dies.


The last stanza of the poem reads:

And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it. 
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

And they...
 turned to their affairs is a chilling yet strangely comforting line. Those affairs are what pull us back into life, help us to go on, help us overcome the despair we experience when we witness evil.

The theatre will reopen. The restaurants will once again serve food. Children will go to school, the Eiffel tower will open for tourists. Just like New York City rebuilt one of the World Trade Center towers, just like we fly without fear. All the time. And we boldly stand in New York skyscrapers never thinking about an airplane attack. 

Resilience is a good thing. A sad thing. A necessity to life.


Saturday, November 14, 2015


Light

On weekends when Tony and I are blessed enough to sleep-in, to arise after the sun has peeked over the east mountain, Tony arises and opens the shutters. Whether I am walking back into the bedroom from the bathroom or lifting my head from my pillow, I am always surprised by the stream of light which floods the room. On cold mornings this stream of warmth is especially welcome.

Somehow, I never think to do this for myself, and his "lighting up the room" has become sort of symbolic for ways I depend on him.

I've been through my phases of not wanting to depend on him. I'm a feminist at heart, a woman who likes to shout "girl power," a Mom who once realized she was about to use a cliche and quickly changed the phrase to "Take it like a woman." As the mother of girls only, I naturally became a "girl" advocate.  As one of three daughters, my parents did the same and they raised us with an independent conscience. My father made sure we always had our own cars (his granddaughters too), so none of us would ever have to depend on a boy to give us a ride home.

It's amazing how much independence comes with a set of keys.

I think there were times when I resented dear husband for my dependence upon him. We raised our family traditionally. With a PHD, he was in a much better earning position and he was always proud of wanting to care for his family. Even today my salary is like fish bait compared to the big fish. But I'm nothing but grateful-that I can work part time and still know the bills will be paid.

When he floods the room with light and warmth, I am reminded of what he brings to my life, what I acknowledge and allow. I appreciate. Him. His ideas, his striving, and his love. How foolish to resist that which brings light.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Quiet November Night

It's almost 5:45 p.m and it hits me, once again, the day has almost passed. I have time to make the curry lentils, finish drying the almonds and then I can squeeze in a walk. I open the front door; it's dark and the wind is sweeping the leaves in the courtyard, but the clouds are white and reflecting the moon. It's a mysterious night and I want to be in its fold.

I bundle up. Hat, gloves, tights under my sweats. A vest and a light windbreaker. Phone in my pocket. Regards to Tony and a promise to return by 8:00.

And then...I am all alone on the quiet streets. To think, to imagine, to be.

No one can see me. I skip like a child. Proudly wear my goofy hat.

I pass by a friend's and see the warm glow of screens in each of the upstairs bedrooms. I picture my friend, her children, all settled for the night in their own rooms. Netflix, computer homework, the nightly news.

There's a sliver of voyeurism in the night walker. We can't help it, but our eyes are drawn to the light in open windows. I don't turn away, but instead enjoy the big brother, a little sister putting together a game; I enjoy the art in the entryway, the grand piano in the living room; the glow of front porch and inner chamber lights-- a fall wreath, dressed windows and I am looking at a Thomas Kinkaid cottage. I want to go to the door and knock, accept the invitation to come inside and join the family for a cup of soup.

It used to be, after watching one season of The Walking Dead, I couldn't go outside, alone at night. This discovery took me by surprise when one night I walked to a neighbor's house to drop something off. I stood on the dark porch, my imagination sprouting like a potato in a dark,  dank basement cellar--its vines reaching, wrapping round me. Errand unfinished, I took off into the night, desperate to reach the garage door and the safety of my own house --zombies be darned!

It was the last time I watched the gruesome show and whenever tempted, I remembered it would be trading my freedom to walk in the night.

I feel safe, or I wouldn't go, but my imagination still takes off at least once while walking the quiet streets.  My mind plays trivial pursuit with facts such as cars built after 2002 have release levers in the trunk in case I am snatched and thrown in a trunk. I imagine how I will secretly use my phone to call for help. I pretend using my flashlight to bonk an attacker on the head. I am alert, aware of traffic, of the homes lit up to which I could run to for help. I rehearse what I might say.

Silly, silly me. Or so I would like to imagine, but it's precaution and precaution is king.

My favorite time of year to walk outside, is of course, the Christmas season. Bundling is more intense, more strategic, the cold less tolerable, but the quiet, the sacred, the lights, the peace...ahhh. It is early November, and when I walk up a hill, I find to my surprise, someone has the Christmas spirit. I smile and click a photograph. Savor the early moment.  I even see the first angel of the year.

When I feel eyes boring down on me, I'm relieved to see only a deer. On the contrary, he is not relieved but appears startled, frightened, by my appearance. When I take his photo, I send him leaping into the night. Me, the stranger, the unknown, the zombie.

Life is so much better when lived without fear; and some fears are as easy to dispel as changing the channel.

 An unexpected visual treat
 Deer eyes. Yes, a zealous imagination could mistake the glowing eyes for an approaching zombie.
 Early Christmas cheer!
The first angel

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

You--the Camaro, The Alarm Clock--the Corvette



The alarm is set for 6:05 a.m.

You awake at 5:45 and plead heavenward, Please help me to sleep 20 more minutes. Is all it would take is another 20. Just 20 minutes more sleep to make it through this busy day.

But you can't. You start thinking about the obnoxious buzz of the radio, because the radio dial is never spot on. The thought of waking to buzz and disharmony makes it that much harder to rest. So you start thinking how you'll turn it off so you won't have the irritation, so it won't wake your loved one who's sleeping like only an inanimate log can sleep.

Do you dare turn off the alarm? What if? Nah, you wouldn't sleep past the requisite waking time, could you?

You risk it. You gun the Camaro. Turn it off--and finally drift into that happy place--but you can't stay for long because the subconscious mind, the Corvette won't let you. You're too responsible, too conscientious. You're not the type to run in with wet hair and excuses. Not the kind of person who would invite that disapproving chagrin in the wake of a late entry.

Five more minutes. Ahhhh. Camaro checks the Corvette.  It's 6:00 a.m. on the nose, but you still have five minutes. Go for it. But wouldn't it be easier just to wake up now? Get going?  Prepare your notes a little more? No. Take advantage. Eyes pop open at 6:08. Have you reached the limit? The point of no return? Can you squeeze more time?

You've played chicken for too many minutes. Your foot to the pedal careening towards disaster. Daring. Daring. At the last minute you swerve. Give in. You don't have the guts. You want to live, you prefer to be on time. You roll out of bed and head for the shower.

Collision avoided.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

An Investment

I have the good fortune of teaching a novel writing class. Yes...it takes nerve to teach novel writing when I've never published a novel. Nonetheless, today in novel writing, we skyped with author Abby Cooper. Author of the forthcoming book Sticks and Stones (July 2016).

If we'd had an energy barometer, Abby would have broken the glass and the mercury would have shot to a galaxy far beyond! Every once in a while, a classroom needs to experience first hand----passion. 

Passion was so prevalent, I had to look up the word and remind myself of its exact denotation. Had to know what it meant according to my Webster app. You see, I haven't been in the presence of passion lately. And that's my fault. No one gives us passion. It can't be wrapped up and gifted. It's not bestowed or granted from a fairy godmother, nor inherited from a relative nor willed in a document.

Passion comes from the heart--only after the heart has made an investment.

And for that investment, I thank Abby Cooper. 





Monday, November 9, 2015

Altruisim

Altruism: \'al-tru-i-sem/ noun: feelings and behavior that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness

My friend sends an article that ran in the LA Times--a study about altruism among children. More especially altruism among children with religion and children without.

In a nutshell, the children were asked to share some stickers, and the religious children had a hard time parting with their allotment. Hence, the conclusion of the worldwide survey was that children who are raised with religion are less altruistic than those without.

I have two responses.

Just two.

First, the survey made me laugh, because my sister with a heart of gold, has always maintained that my mother and I have to attend church because we are grossly more wicked than she. I agree. She seems to have a sensitivity and a connection to people that Mom and I are missing. If there is a street person in need, my sister sees it and acts before we have a chance. But wait, is that the only way to judge altruism?

Probably not, for a true Christian's good deeds will never be known. His gifts will be silent and anonymous. The true Christian will act without glory or expected gratitude and when he walks away the world will be better off because the benefactor of his generosity will suspect everyone and goodness will pervade. The true Christian is guided by the Savior's admonishment: But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and they Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward the openly. Matthew 6:3-4

My second response to the survey is an accusation of flaw. Stickers are trivial. Some kids care, others don't. To judge and label altruistic or not, requires a greater investment. Why didn't the experiment use food and a hungry child? An extra coat on a cold day? How is the social experiment print-worthy when so little was on the line. Stickers? Without being aware of the study's intentions, I'm not sure what to conclude---except that to draw such a definitive conclusion that rains hard on an important and basic tenet of most religions, so much on so little evidence, was not altruistic.

The scene I like to imagine is that the religious children who were labeled non altruistic waited....waited until the social surveyors turned their backs and walked away...and only then did they share their stickers.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Grandma

I've been thinking of my grandmother lately--the tall, demanding, forthright, woman whom I think, loved me very much.  She had 27 grandchildren and perhaps number 23 might have lost her uniqueness, her importance, among those double digits of  posterity.

I've been thinking of her because of Vera Britain's Testament of Youth, a spirited memoir of a young lady's WWI adventures, who happened to be my grandmother's age during that tumultuous time.

Against grandmother's will she came to America. The stories are few and scant and how I wish I had more to help unlock the mystery of this woman I haven't seen in 33 years. She died in the months before my first daughter was born.  There I was--in the crevice of life and death-life beginning for one who would become the center of my life, and life ending for one of the most significant women  I had ever known. A paradox that left me trying to balance on the middle bar of a teeter totter.

Last night, I went to the Ellis Island website just to reaffirm her story, to reaffirm her existence. She was still there. A passenger in1917, her arrival on November 29th, shortly after Thanksgiving, which would have meant nothing to her at the time. One of the few threads that remain of her tapestry is that she endured, unhappily, the difficult journey. It required days of silence because of WWI and patrolling submarines made her ship, the Espagne, a potential target. I can picture her impatience with the silence. I picture her hostile expressions thrown like knives at her mother who wouldn't leave Interlaken without her.

As I click through the Ellis Island immigrant photos, I keep expecting to see her. I would recognize her. I am sure. I realize I long to see her. I long to know all the unanswered questions.  I long to see her without the burden of old age. I long to know the 19 year old girl and know her journey.

Three of my cousins, all older than me and born to each of my father's brothers-- we gathered for lunch last week.  We all live within 45 minutes of each other and have for 20 years, but it was the first ocassion. I learned that we'd had very different grandparent experiences. When I said that Grandma was mean, my cousin shook her head and said those were not her memories at all. I felt judgemental and felt a part of my heritage was missing.

Like my grandmother, there will be those grandchildren who are born in my older age. When I am arthritic, when I don't sleep as well, when I am past the days of putting on my wetsuit and hefting a little one on a boogey board and shoving her off in the wave's surge. When I no longer am nimble enough to put a child in the front of my kayak and hear him shout "Grandma you're dangerous" as we ride the curl. Those children who will not have a Saturday afternoon visit from Grandma and Grandpa who've just biked 15 miles to their house. Those children will be me. They may remember Grandma couldn't hear and Grandpa rarely smiled. I feel the loss though it's so far away, though it's so close. It breaks my heart that it is all we may appear to be and to have been to those little souls. I hope they search, listen and find out who we really are. I hope they find the diary that says, "How we will miss our grandchildren." Or find the blog that testifies of my love and that I thought about each possibility even before they were born.

Yes, I'm talking about you.




Saturday, November 7, 2015

Double Brother Trouble

Years ago, my family was friends with another family whose daughter gave birth to two boys, less than two years apart. They were adorable, precocious and became a nightmare ensemble.

Something about the combination of the personalities, the curiosity, the fortitude. They became a matchstick and gasoline, cohorts in the most wicked of deeds. I specifically remember the time they pulled the hose into a neighbor's open bathroom window and turned on the water. As they grew, their antics intensified to the point when they were no longer allowed on family vacations. Serious. Their history into young adulthood included arrests and jail time. The good news is that one of the two is living well as an adult.

Yesterday, a student tells me about his two, close-in-age, little brother's antics.

I'm paying attention.

For a reason.

The student is at school when an announcement is made. Has anyone seen these two little boys? My student realizes those two little missing boys are his little brothers, ages three and four.

"Were you worried?"

"Yes, a little," he answered.

The police, the fire department were all out looking for them. City personnel searched city cameras for any suspicious activity, for any wandering little boys.

There was never any need to worry, because the little guys were next door the whole time. They'd gone on an adventure which included a walk to the neighbor's house, opening the unlocked door and making themselves at home. They watched a little TV, ate the bananas, ate all the Halloween candy and managed to break only one vase.

I'm paying attention because we now have our own little guys less than two years apart. And I can see the look in their eyes.


Friday, November 6, 2015

The Magic of Gratitude

Usually, I stand back and observe. Watch their faces, see them laugh, listen to their little innuendos. But today was different.

A few years back, the Wall Street Journal, among many other publications, published an article on the studies of gratitude and its effect on people and more especially teenagers. I love to use this article in class because teenagers who are grateful are happier, healthier, less materialistic, even have better grades and stronger friendships. So I read the statistics, the studies, and then students who were already sitting across from one another got ready to tell the person what they were grateful for.

This year each class had an odd number, so when one of the students said, "Do it with us!" I couldn't say no.

"On your mark get set go."

The room erupted into joyful exchanges.

The first student I sat across from said he was grateful for the Socratic method in which we teach so he had opportunities to think.

"I am thankful," I looked him in the eyes, "for a student like you who loves to think, who shares his ideas, his questions, who explores his thoughts in his writing."

The exchange was sincere and I felt lifted.

I rang my cowbell, stood up and moved on to the next student.

"What are you grateful for?"

"I'm grateful for my religion," she replied with emotion.

"Me too."

After 15, 20-second rounds, the exercise was over. It was hard to make them stop.

"Who would like to share what another person was thankful for? Something someone said that resonated with you?" I asked.

Hands shot up and students understood their gratitude mattered to someone besides themselves.

It's almost as if gratitude was a magic potion. I saw students smile who usually didn't, saw students speak to one another who usually didn't. I heard heartfelt words. I heard silly words, but was reminded of my own thankfulness for toilets, movies, and music.

 I felt happy

I felt blessed

I felt gratitude.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Mother of Necessity

Kathy (not her real name, but certainly one of my students), had a friend who lived on a distant coast, and like all teenagers, she wanted to meet up with her friend. The friends found a conference they both wanted to attend in a city in-between. Two obstacles stood in Kathy's way: she was under 16 and she didn't have any money to fly to the still-distant city.

Hungry for a way to earn money, she spied a writing contest flyer in her library. The contest was sponsored by an author who was offering prize money for an essay written about her book. Kathy saw this as her chance and like a pit bull, sunk her teeth into the contest. She checked out the book and read it not only once, not only twice, but three times. She wrote a stellar essay, asked several people to edit it, made changes, and entered the contest. A short while later, she received a check for $500 and a note from the author. Kathy had won because she was the only person who had entered the contest.

We've all heard (and are witnesses from our own experiences), the phrase, Necessity is the mother of invention.  I'd like to add that drive and desire can also be the mother of ingenuity, expression, creation, follow-thru, and writing for a contest.

So aware I am, but I find myself at an impasse. I've been driving a new car that came with a thick manual, a computer, a navigation system with voice commands, among other complicated controls that enhance the function of the car. Even the simplest shifting from park to drive to reverse required a paradigm shift. I haven't had time to study the manual and so I've been limping along, figuring it all out, but not until it is a necessity. I've even gone back to the old battery operated garage door opener. It's simpler than programming the in-car device--for now. But today, it was cold and I didn't even know how to turn on the heater. I chided myself all the way on the cold drive home. Still, with no time to get a new-car PHD, I wonder how long I can hold out shivering in the cold. My phone app reads that tomorrow's low will be 25 degrees.

I rather write. I rather read poetry, or the biography/novel/essay/ on my desk, but tonight it is a car manual, because as we know, necessity is also the mother that spanks procrastination.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Let Me Embrace My Ridiculous

I have a daughter with an absurdly funny talent. When nervous or in an unplanned situation, she says hysterical things that make no sense.

Once when asked to say a public prayer she ended it with "In the name of the rice king, amen.

And when she called her grandpa and when his caretaker answered the phone and said hello, she said, "Hi Lou, this is Reed's nephew."

There's also an early Christmas morning home video clip from long ago that when we watch it specifically to see her and when we laugh so hard it takes our breath away, she just quietly takes it. With a smile.

She's okay telling us about the night she woke up, but was really part asleep, because she imagined a spider was hanging above her. She stood up on the bed and fell backwards hitting her head on the dresser. Barely aware of what happened, she curled up and went back to sleep.

When she disperses her funny stories and throws her pride to the wind, she reminds me of another person I love. A beloved friend who is the first to make fun of herself, the first to admit her mistakes, and the one laughing the hardest. She makes everyone feel it's okay to be human.

So when a student catches my hysterical reaction when the fire alarm goes off, when I watch everyone gather around his video cam and burst into laughter, I decide to go with it. Let them laugh, let them enjoy themselves at my expense. I owe the world for all the times I've watched America's Funniest Home Videos, for all the times I've snickered at my daughter. Let me give laughter to the world and let me dispense of the pride that wants me to close up and pretend I'm not ridiculous.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Election Day

In the last 100 years, America has fought in two world wars and several conflicts including Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq.

America has seen economic downturns, recessions and the great depression of the 1930s. Economics were last turned on their head in 2008 with the great mortgage debacle and market slides.

Technologically we are as advanced as ever yet our spirits are still as poor as ever. We still suffer from discrimination, injustice and dishonesty. Politics are as divided as they were in the 1860s when our nation came close to splitting apart.

Why oh why?

In 1866, the fourteenth amendment gave citizenship to every person born in America, but citizenship did not include the right to vote. Following closely, was the fifteenth amendment which gave African American men the constitutional right to vote. Done deal, right? Notice women and other minorities are missing from this amendment, but it was a start, or so one would think.

Louisiana, in 1896 fought back with a grandfather clause to take voting rights away from former slaves and their descendants. If a person could vote before 1867 or their father or grandfather could, they were exempted from poll taxes or literacy tests. Hmmmm. Black male voter registration dropped from 44% to 4 %. There wasn't much hooopla because the nation was involved in yet another series of wars--with the Spanish.

These conditions are the norm in 1940 Louisiana and most of the other southern states.

Here is a literacy test from 1940:
Do what you are told to do in each statement, nothing more, nothing less. Be careful as one wrong answer denotes failure of the test. You have 10 minutes to complete the test.

1.    Draw a line around the number or letter of this sentence.
2.    Draw  a line under the last word in this line.
3.    Cross out the longest word in this line.
4.    Draw a line around the shortest word in this line.
5.    Circle the first, first letter of the alphabet in this line.

6.    In the space below draw three circles, one inside (engulfed by) the other.

 How does this make you feel as an American?
Minorities in the south get a little relief in 1964--the poll tax is abolished. Imagine having to pay to vote? It wasn't much but wasn't much is a lot when you don't have it: $1.50 in Texas.

The nation, the president started to pay attention when in 1965, 500 peaceful protestors marched from Selma to Montgomery to protest voting rights for African Americans. They were attacked by law enforcement officers.
In 1966 Lyndon B Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act--a major step to end all voting discrimination. Does it work?

Cough, cough. Hardly.
Because it is an act and not a law, it stands for only 25 years. In 1970 President Nixon signs an extension as does President Ford in 1975 and President Reagan in 1982. By now, it continues to be ratified because testimonies are given by Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans who are discriminated against. 

In 2013, a section of the Voting Rights Act was declared unconstitutional. Section 4b which directly affects Section 5. Section 5 requires that several states, with histories of voter discrimination, are not allowed to change any voting practices without clearance from the Department of Justice. Hence when South Carolina and several other states instated a photo ID requirement, the DOJ came down on them with accusations of discrimination. 

The defense of a photo ID requirement was to combat voter fraud--it makes sense. Discrimination watchdogs called "foul play." Not everyone can get a state issued photo ID. Not everyone drives, not everyone has a birth certificate, not everyone is capable of travel to attain a state ID. 

The fight continues. Will continue. As long as people discriminate. When will that end? 

And then along comes a situation that confuses the issue further. Though in a distant land, we can see the possibilities and parallels to our own country. It's the small town of Sumte Germany, population just a little over 100. Over the course of the next few months, they are expected to receive over 700 refugees from war torn Syria, Serbia and elsewhere. How do they protect their tiny hamlet? Do they have a right? Are refugees, the newcomers not entitled to equality in the vote when the citizens of Sumte and their ancestors have been German for a thousand years?

It's a tough situation and the world watches.

 Amidst uncertainty, some things are obvious. Voting is a privilege whether you come from 200 year old American stock or you migrated from Russia. 

It's election day: get out and vote--because not everyone can, or could, or will.