Islands In The Stream

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April 12, 2021- Most people I encountered today were on point with how their lives intertwine with the wider society. All of the students with whom I worked, save two, were focused and completed their tasks in a timely manner. Of the other two, one is a recent arrival from another country and not sure of his feelings towards this one, as yet. The second has focus issues and is given to being sneaky-which, he found, just brought about more vigilance on my part.

I did my weekly laundry run, after work. There are, quite often, some interesting characters at the laundromat. An inquisitive and energetic five-year-old decided I had a kind face and engaged me in conversation, a couple of times asking if I would join her outside in the “fresh air”. I agreed, the second time, after letting her mother know that we would be just on the landing outside the door. Of course, the Mini- Explorer wandered down the walk, just far enough to bring her mother outside, with the command to get back indoors. I knew she was safe, but it was more essential for Mommy to feel that way. Of course, also, the “Village Watchdog”, a woman slightly older than me, assumed the worst, began scowling at me and muttering about perverts. God only knows how far off the mark that woman was.

People whose sole frame of reference is themselves, whose views on anything under the Sun are rooted in fear and ignorance, are like islands in a slow-moving stream. My mother raised us to try to see other people as they see themselves. It is possible to do that with those who jump to conclusions, yet I always have this feeling that their game of parkour may find them falling short of the next roof, and on the sidewalk far below.

No Fooling

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April 1, 2021- I’ve learned a few things about levity, over the years. There is a time when it is the best course of action, at a party or when someone could use lightening up. There is then a time for vigilance, such as this morning, when a small child was near flowing water and his mother needed a second pair of eyes. Splashing about, in the river, might have been fun otherwise, but no matter. Keeping people safe is a vital task for any of us.

There is a wider application to discerning between seriousness and tomfoolery. Anything that diminishes the dignity or humanity of another human being, or involves cruelty-either physical or emotional, needs to be off the table-no matter how “witty” it appears at the time. It is hard for some, if they are “on a roll” in terms of amusing self and others or are using humour as a means to increase social standing.

We are, however, as a species, raising consciousness and maturity levels. Meanness to children and small animals is being, thankfully, increasingly called out. People are consulting more about what might be acceptable or unacceptable. Someone’s name is less and less being made the brunt of jokes. There is much left to be done, yet with increasing acceptance of diversity, across all areas of human interaction, we can look forward more to a healthy style of humour.

Hope all had a pleasant All Fool’s Day.

The Lamb’s Turn

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March 31, 2021- A common saying is that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. I have seen years in which this month now ending has been as leonine at the end as it was at the beginning, and indeed it looks like Easter weekend will be of that ilk, in the Northeast.

Here in the American Southwest, though, it appears as though we are in for warmer weather, with only the slightest chance of rain, through April and probably May, as well. So, with the gentleness, I find I have somewhat more energy. I am at the age where it takes more effort to start the day facing cold and dark and the fullness of Spring is ever welcome.

I also know, however, that cold and dark will always be with us-and that extreme heat is far from a bargain, also. The lamb can grow into a snorting, cantankerous ram, in short order. Life is ever a process of falling down, getting up again, confronting oneself and delving deeper into what is needed, in order to grow more confident. The lessons offered by every infant who goes forth into toddlerhood, without any of the self-pity that often comes later, come to mind. A baby keeps at the work of turning over, lifting self up, scooting along and finally, walking without falling.

It is an achievement, as well, for anyone who casts aside self-pity, who rises above both depression and narcissism by doing the hard work of emotional turning over, psychological self-lifting, moving along with some support and, finally, moving through life without stumbling and falling. It takes lots of courage and true self-confidence, but at some point, it is more than doable.

Striding into April, I see a clear schedule of special assignments in schools, the Baha’i Festival of Ridvan, lots of hiking and maintaining my vigilance against the pandemic (this last, through May-and June, as needed.). I have made small changes (new pillows for my bed, additional exercises and dietary adjustments to bring my abdomen into compliance with my own health regimen) and commit to deeper exploration of this amazing world.

The Wealth of Characters

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, March 27, 2021- As long as I have been an educator, the antics of Beatrice (Beezus) and Ramona Quimby have been a staple of my after lunch read-alouds, to children from 6 to 10 years of age. “Lonesome Dove” was both a favoured read and good television viewing, in the mid- to -late 1980s.

Beverly Cleary and Larry Mc Murtry, two beloved American writers, died a day apart, each leaving a legacy of work that will sound like clarions, for generations yet unborn. Mrs. Cleary’s work was drawn from her own childhood experiences, in the Portland of the 1920s and 30s, a time of rambunctious personal freedom, followed by harrowing economic ills-all playing out in an undercurrent of Victorian attitudes towards children, which would fuel young Beverly’s rebellious anger. An only child, she determined that her characters would have at least one sibling and a number of both friendly and adversarial contemporaries. Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy, his friends Robert, Murph and Beatrice (Beezus), all characters from the 1950s, are sensible, but get into their share of mischief. Beatrice’s younger sister, Ramona, tops them all in the mischief department, constantly getting into tiffs with “That Grace”, her schoolyard rival.

There was, likewise, all manner of mischief to be had in the world of Lonesome Dove, which was the Texas-Mexico border of the 1870s to 90s. There were cattle drives, going from Texas to Montana, thus giving us a picture, through Larry Mc Murtry’s eyes, of the Great Plains in both tradition and transition. Mc Murtry, in reviewing the public response to his opus, referred to the Old West as “the phantom leg of the American psyche”. The Eighties were a time when many people were still mourning the passing of John Wayne, and with him, the Old West of mythology. Indeed, the original game plan of Larry McMurtry was to cast John Wayne in the role that eventually went to Robert Duvall. John Ford, with whom “The Duke” is closely associated in the Western movie genre, opposed the project, which languished for twelve years, making it to the small screen in 1989.

The characters remain memorable: Duvall’s Gus McRae; Tommy Lee Jones’ Woodrow Call; Danny Glover’s Joshua Deets; Diane Lane’s Lorena Wood; Robert Urich’s Jake Spoon and, in the sequel, Frederic Forrest’s Blue Duck. There is a coming of age element, with Rick Schroeder as Newt Dobbs. The series did not, as is America’s wont, portray the Old West as it really was, brutal to the core-and in an equal opportunity way, to people of all ethnicities. It is said that Larry McMurtry got deeper into that aspect, in his screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain”, which I have never seen.

Thus, as we bid farewell to two authors who were memorable characters, in and of themselves, let us bear in mind just how close their concocted people are to some of us, or to all of us. That, the mirror, is the true value of fiction, across genres.

The Unlocked Power

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March 26, 2021- There is an emerging sense of self, when a person turns eight. Individual responsibility has already become expected, a year earlier, and for those who can make sense of toeing the line, that sense of responsibility takes root. It is the full personality, however, that starts to shine, as one enters the ninth year of this life.

As with all new realizations, it takes time to be comfortable with the individual quirks and aspects of one’s personality. Like a sapling in a storm, a newly-emerging personality can be all too easily knocked over by unexpected or intense criticism, by reversals of fortune or just by one’s gnawing self-doubt-which is all too common, even in the child who is receiving a healthy amount of love from parents, family members and adults in school, as well as in the wider community.

It is all too real, for a child to be just lonely enough, that the power which comes with personality’s emergence goes unrecognized, buried by the growing conformity that is expected. That’s a shame, as to my mind, a community and a society can only be made more robust by the recognition and nurturing of an individual’s strengths.

I had the bounty of being able to hone in on the strengths of twenty four eight and nine-year-olds today. Granted, their socialization was such that the conformity, necessary to get a goodly amount of work accomplished, had already been established. It is not stifling, however, and the unearthing of individual power is something that would not be very difficult to bring about. The biggest impetus to such self-realization would be for the child to be enveloped by adults who are themselves not hobbled by their own powers being locked.

My energy will be ever directed towards these wondrous souls.

The Sometimes Pesky Extra Mile

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March 25, 2021-

To go north in the dark, and wait for the door to unlock, at the behest of a detached bureaucrat, has never been my wont.

On the other hand, knowing small children are waiting even in relative comfort, for direction and explanations, is enough to get me on the road, even at 3 a.m.

To stay behind and arrange a room, so that the next day will see people enter and feel welcome, appreciated, is worth all the time in the world, even if it is initiated by a timekeeper.

May the extra mile be filled with blessings for those whose tender souls rise each day, expectantly.

May it never find itself the tool of self-aggrandizement or a neurotic means to power.

Gophers, Minestrone and Ubiquitous Welcomes

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March 23, 2021- I set out this morning, for what I thought would be a day of working in a Literacy Project. Arriving at the school, I was informed that I was to work with Eighth Grade Science students, and this was not a suggestion. The details are complex, but the situation is not the fault of the teenagers, so I put as much effort into helping them understand DNA and RNA, as my scientifically illiterate self could muster. It is not as hard as it is sometimes presented. The result was that the kids were hoping I would stay for the rest of the semester. That won’t happen, because of other commitments-but I know efforts are being made to secure the instructional program.

Another warm welcome, this time at a local soup, salad and sandwich establishment, at which I am a weekly visitor, featured both piping hot Minestrone and fresh-baked bread, along with a cheerful server, who never stopped working- bringing food, helping bag to-go orders, sweeping the floor or clearing tables. I always feel like my presence matters there, which is not always the case for a single older man. Actually, it seems as if my presence is wanted in more and more places, both in-person and online. I’ll take this state of affairs, and the rain-checks that come with it, any day of the week, over the occasional surliness and side-eyes that had started to pop up, as winter wore on.

This evening, I joined an online discussion on gardening, which featured, among other things, gopher extermination. Gophers are a competitor for any fruits, grains and vegetables grown in the Mountain Southwest. The veteran farmer who offered the program was quite matter-of-fact about the necessity of being not nice, in dealing with these competitors. There is, other than coexistence, which runs the risk of both dietary and financial ruin, no gentle way to deal with gophers, moles, prairie dogs-or javelinas, for that matter. He went through tunnel traps, toxic deterrents and electric fencing. I will go with construction cloth, below the planting area, and see how that works-though my neighbours had no issue with gophers last season.

Every day, as is said in the Sheryl Crow song, is a winding road.

Yes, and No

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February 20, 2021-

One of my co-workers, yesterday, made the curious remark that everyone, from the age of two onward, is responsible for their actions. Yes, and no. A child needs to be taught right from wrong, from the time that receptive language can be processed. It is well to teach the child to not make excuses for one’s actions, also from the time he or she can act independently. However, to the extent that a child is dependent on parents or other adults, he or she is not entirely responsible for what happens in his/her life. This same person made the statement that the recently-retired president, a poster child for plausible denial, was a great leader. I will leave that statement to bathe in its own irony.

It is said that large amounts of money are needed, in order to bring this nation to full recovery from the pandemic-induced economic doldrums. Yes, and no. There are several groups deserving of cash infusions-among them: Workers being, or so to be, displaced by downsizing in the fossil fuel industry; workers suffering workforce cutbacks in the restaurant, hospitality and transportation industries; landlords facing economic hardship, due to the inability of renters to pay their monthly due; renters unable to pay their monthly due, owing to having been out of work; any combination of the above. There are also those, presently due to receive another stimulus check, who are not in as dire straits as the people mentioned above. (Disclosure: I am one of those in the latter group.) While we all could find a ready use for a stimulus check, at some point- and sooner, rather than later, the needs of the nation as a whole have to come first.

One of the codiciles in the American Recovery Plan is a minimum wage of $15 per hour. Yes, and no. Those at the bottom rung of the economic ladder deserve a living wage. It should be enough to allow the worker to pay a reasonable monthly rent and have enough left over, after bills are paid, to set aside savings (in fact, to follow Dave Ramsey’s advice, and “pay self first”, by setting the savings aside before paying any bills.) and to enjoy a reasonable quality of life. Such a Federal minimum wage should not, however, be buried in a fiscal stimulus package, which is supposed to be a one-off. It is worthy of being legislated and signed into law, in its own right. That such an occurrence is at all in doubt is the fault, not of the progressives who advocate it, but of the obstructionists who see their own greed stampede being interrupted.

Finally, at least for this post, there are those who call for education to be privatized. Yes, but mostly no. As a matter of fact, fiscal accountability, discipline and transparency, as many agents of the Internal Revenue Service could attest, is in woefully short supply, across all walks of life. I had to build these skills the hard way; yet many, using sleight of hand and kicking their debt cans down the road, have yet to build them at all. This applies to virtually all school systems, where adminstrative costs (including money spent on the services of Big Testing) siphon a huge chunk of the children’s money. Taxpayers, who provide the lion’s share of the funds available, rightfully expect that their assessments go to the legitimate learning of their children, grandchildren and neighbours. To the extent that charter schools can be the impetus for system-wide transparency and rectitude, long may they be part of the education scene. There is, however, no reason, save territoriality and a laconic mentality, that a public school district cannot do as much, if not more, for the good of our children than a private, or semi-private, institution,

Most coins have two sides, and some are cubes- or polyhedrons.

The True Rewards

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February 19, 2021-

So many times, on a job that pans out over several days, there are twists and turns, taking me to as many as five task-sites in the span of a day. That sort of regimen makes the work interesting and impacts several children, in a meaningful way.

Today, I completed four days in a medium-sized elementary school, mostly working with younger special needs students, one-on-one. For the most part, the work involved helping one or two students with routine academic tasks and increasing their sense of well-being. These children appreciated the efforts and were uniformly pleasant people, with whom to work.

Two others, who had been out the first three days, came back today-making for a full classroom. These two students, both mute and somewhat unsettled, somehow were comforted by my presence- and were far more amenable to following my cues and gestures than those of the regular staff.

Silent communication often allows for more bonding -especially when a troubled person senses that another inherently understands his or her essential difficulties. The two students essentially latched onto me, with little spoken communication on my part. Just seeing them focus on following rules, and want to gravitate towards my direction, was a reward equally as meaningful as the achievements of their classmates.

This may well be the last work I do with elementary level behaviorally-challenged students-as the project with which I have agreed to help, for 1 1/2 months, this spring, is primarily a literacy enhancement effort. I appreciate that my presence is valued, by educators and students, and will take their support with me, for the rest of my days. This is the true reward of being in the arena of service to children.

Styles

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February 10, 2021-

Each of us has styles,in one or more areas of life, that are unique to us as individuals.

I spent some time, during the course of this truncated school day, quietly watching my young charge investigate his world, his way. He is a tactile learner, and so was occupied for a short while in distinguishing the difference in texture, pattern and hardness of various wood and metal surfaces. He tries out different intonations, to see how they feel in his throat and mouth. Although his language is limited, he knows that he can experiment, within bounds, and is in a place where people care.

I pondered some of my own styles- I also sometimes engage in tactile learning, but more often will act after observing my environment and considering what is best for those around me.

After finishing my dinner, at a local bakery-restaurant, I throw away my napkins and drink cup. The dishes remain on the table, so that the busser may know to sanitize it. I don’t, however, want to have the staff deal directly with anything that has touched my mouth and hands. It’s a residue of all the years of wanting to spare my young charges from unnecessary bother, while respecting their doing what is needed, in order to be successful.

In organizing my day, allowing extra time for showering, grooming and easing into my day-with the newspaper and a cup of coffee, breakfast and devotions- before setting out on the day’s events, whether work, community life or a day spent in nature, creates the air of assurance and calm that allows for dealing with even the most unanticipated of events.

Styles of learning, public communication and activity may be hard to synchronize, but there is nothing that says we cannot make the effort-which starts with observing the way others do things, and thinking of the ways in which they are similar to our own methods.

I am getting better at all of this, and of tying one day’s activities into an even flow with the next day.