Overthinking

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January 12, 2022- Perfect tries its hardest to be the enemy of good. One of our highest public officials is always warning us that any efforts to improve the access of citizens, to the mechanism of voting, will only draw the wrath of “the other side”, when they “inevitably” return to power, in an undesignated future time. Therefore, in the view of this individual, things should be kept as they are. This is unlikely, as there are many ways to secure voting rights for all legal citizens, which do not require said public official’s approval.

Yesterday, I was cautioned to not let a certain child anywhere near me, as I would be sure to get bitten. This never happened, as my advance caution to her, even with regard to herself, “No biting”, was enough.

For several years, I also held back from taking action on certain matters, with the idea that more harm would come to me and my loved ones, should I take any action. The stagnation that resulted has spoken for itself.

Measured and well-considered action, on the other hand, has brought far greater benefits, and lessons learned from the occasional flub have been invaluable. The old saw, “You could die while crossing the street”, has always been my fallback, when choosing to take reasonable risks.

Just Cause

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January 7, 2022- An infringement on the right of a child to a safe learning environment led me to try and summon an administrator, with the response that someone would be right along. Several minutes went by, and I was perfectly content to wait-knowing full well that dozens of other matters could interfere with anyone getting to our room. Another student began to complain, after a half hour of inaction, so I made a second call-again knowing that we would make sure the matter was resolved by day’s end, yet wanting all concerned to know that the administration wasn’t just bluffing. The matter was resolved in due course and the guilty party called to account.

Life brings both small and great challenges to peace and order, oftentimes because one group or another feels rightfully aggrieved, without knowing the best way to get resolution. Litigation can bring monetary compensation for wrongs done, but there is likely to be a goodly amount of resentment left over. Legislation can bring changes to social systems and practices, often merely tipping the balance of power from one group to another-leaving those who are in neither group feeling, again, left in the cold.

True jurisprudence puts an equal emphasis on both parts of the word- “juris”- legal structure and “prudentia”-practical knowledge”. Any decision that is not based on current information is bound to boomerang. In the above incident, the administrator focused on the wrongdoer-and left several cases of side drama that emerged to the discretion of the classroom teacher. This is as it should be. Too often, legislators or public safety officers set out to resolve one issue, only to be sidetracked or stampeded into covering a host of other matters-often in the same piece of legislation or investigation, in the name of equanimity. Thence, comes the social phenomenon of “whataboutism”, or false equivalancy.

Everything deserves consideration-in its time.

Seeing Behind the Acorns

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January 5, 2022- The young man hemmed, hawed and came up with a lame excuse for his behaviour. He tossed a few insults, albeit without using profanity. Then, the story came out that someone he should be able to trust was barely in control of self-and that the place where he should feel safest of all, at the time of day he should feel safest, was far more perilous-not directly, but by implication.

In my years of work, I know how indirect threat can become very, very direct-and in short order. The person who relayed the story to me is a mandatory reporter, and will take the lead on proper notification of the authorities. I’ve been in that situation, also, and have faced the wrath of a perpetrator-in cases of both physical and sexual abuse of minors. I changed nothing, about being faithful to the child(ren) and to the law, as a result.

The child in question had to let his anxiety out somewhere, and so verbal acorns were tossed at me, with physical anger directed at objects in another classroom. Such is the small price we pay for working to ensure a child is safe, in the long run.

I am no worse for the wear. The door and walls have a few scuff marks and no computers were harmed in the course of the afternoon. We will keep close watch on the boy, for the next two days that I am at that school-and long term, he will remain in good hands.

The Team Option

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January 3, 2022- I sit here in my living room, and think that a year ago I was in the company, of first a pack of coyotes, howling and warning me not to go any further east-then amongst a small family of cattle, who let me pass after I spoke to the bull, in a low and steady tone. I was then alone, wandering steadily south and west, through the night-until eventually I reached the highway-and by 9 a.m., the following morning, I was back here in Home Base.

That was one struggle made in solitude. I did not have the same experience today-as I was pitching in with the first day back, at our local middle school. Today, and tomorrow, my charge is a young man with whom I have worked on several occasions before. His inherent, and infectious, blithe spirit is coupled with an intense work ethic-so we got much accomplished today and will do so again tomorrow. Besides, the students collectively are glad that I am here, sharing their morning cold and gradual return to a structured environment-after the two weeks of time off, that brought varying degrees of happiness and cheer.

I also talk with my colleagues, and hear stories with a common thread-Stress, leading to burnout and the departures of many who started the academic year. I could, very easily, jump back in and be on the job more or less fulltime, thus chucking the messages I receive from my spirit guides- and the plans emanating from that counsel. I would then be one finger in the dike. Such false egotism is not the answer to the larger problem, however- and is barely a bandaid, no matter how much the kids and I love one another.

Classroom teaching, especially in the Special Needs classes, must be reworked. High stress situations-with much of the stress caused by Federal and state reporting requirements, and by the egos of those who enforce these mandates, call out for teaching to be accomplished by two certified instructors in EVERY class. There also need to be paraprofessionals, as there are now-but these individuals also deserve both continuous training opportunities and a serious upgrade in pay. Even when, as in this school, the students respond quite respectfully and consistently to a grounded, well-organized learning program, the team approach allows for due attention to be paid to extrapedagogical concerns-like record-keeping for the powers that be, without the least jeopardy to the students’ well-being.

For now, I will help out in certain schools and classrooms, in the months and days when I am called to stay close to Home Base. Enough other people are doing this, around the county, that most classrooms have one form of coverage or another, on most days. The long term, though, calls for a serious reworking of the classroom format.

A Brief Look Backward

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December 31, 2021- Betty White chose an awkward time to leave, but it was her time. It was almost a fitting end to a year that took us up, down and sideways-and turned us every which way but loose. I don’t want to say that last one too loudly. We could use a few more years of Clint Eastwood being among us.

As it was, there were a number of people dear to my heart, some of renown and some not, who left this earthly plane in this year now itself winding down. My extended family whittled down, just a tad: My aunts-by-marriage-Sabina Kusch and Dorothy Madigan; Aunt Dorothy’s stepson, John-one of the cousins closest to me, over the years; Charlie Kusch, Jr., another cousin who made his friends and family laugh, much as his father did before him. Diane “Dee Dee” Bean- was the first girl I ever dated-not that it ever worked out. Richard “Dick” Dow, was a next door neighbour, from childhood, who kept his family home and his father’s business running, until he could scarcely move, himself. Two educators from my scholastic past, Anthony Struzziero and Eugene Hughes, both of whom I knew as fair-minded administrators. The bulk of the losses were fellows in Faith, Baha’i teachers, one and all: Val Latham, Jr., Gisela McCormick, John Eichenauer III, John Kolstoe, Joel Oron’a, Ethelene Crawford, Wilfred Smallwood, Donald Streets and Dwight Allen. I lost a car, and gained an SUV.

It was not a year defined by loss alone. A grand nephew, named Liam, came into our lives, early on. Strong new friendships emerged. I was able to return to California and Nevada, after a year’s hiatus. I made two long trips across country, both largely around the sale of our family home, and mother’s voluntary relocation. A week spent in Texas was a perfect springboard for my seventy-second year. I was able to pay respects to those fallen in the name of freedom, though not to the extent I might have. Still, time spent in north Tulsa and in Minneapolis was a step forward, for this one who preferred solitude, for so many years.

Our community has held its own against one or another viruses. As if to seem a strange return of normalcy-the flu is back. The nation resisted the temptation to default on democracy. Both major parties are learning that complacency is dying out among the masses-and a moribund attitude will not fly. We Baha’is paid homage to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, marking one hundred years since His passing-and renewing our commitments to live as He did. That renewed spark of Faith is finding its way to friends of other religious traditions as well-as witness the Baptism, on Christmas Eve, of a man who had found his fortunes sinking.

We did not master disaster, and there were far too many lives lost-in California, the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, Montana, Louisiana, Kentucky and Illinois. The latest conflagration, in Colorado, took no lives, but left another pair of communities with scenes out of a war movie. Two dozen other countries, from Mexico and Peru to Kenya and Indonesia, saw tragic losses in both infrastructure collapse and from the forces of nature. Then, there was/is Ethiopia, a country I only recently was hoping to visit in a year or two. Now, it is riven in pain, and we can only pray for sane attitudes to rise to the fore.

2021 will be history, in short order. How different the year that is thirteen minutes away will be, depends largely on how many of us have absorbed this year’s lessons-and to what degree.

Beatitude-Inspired

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December 22, 2021-

Blessed is the father who willingly changes diapers, uncomplainingly paints his daughter’s nails and enjoys her “tea party”.

Blessed is the mother who takes a few minutes and tosses baseballs into her son’s waiting glove, teaches him to wash his own clothes and make his own lunch.

Blessed is the son who practices humility, learns to sew on buttons, willingly washes the dishes and his own clothes and keeps an orderly room.

Blessed is the daughter who stands up for herself, never regarding her position in the family as subservient, who pursues her own dreams and who can maintain her own vehicle.

Blessed is the neighbour who looks out for others in his apartment block, on her street, in their village.

Blessed is the citizen who considers all points of view, who is not tied to only the immediate needs of own community, own nation or own generation, but who has the well-being of the planet in mind as well.

Blessed is the generation which loves those who came before and those who come after, as well as its own members.

Blessed are the people who look out for all sentient beings and who are open to communicating with those heretofore not known to them.

A Small Laboratory

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December 13, 2021- The young lady doubted herself, as soon as one of her actions as “producer” of a school newscast was challenged by a teammate. It is a minor issue and I’m sure that the regular teacher will help set things right, tomorrow-in plenty of time for the broadcast. This is a little laboratory, scheduled at the end of the school day, representing an ambitious effort at tapping into the technological precocity of many eleven-year-olds.

Life itself is a laboratory, and many of its experimenters fall back on the opinions of those around them, when engaged in uncharted territory. This is all well and good, when someone is mature enough to have trust in both own abilities and in the process of peer review. The peers also need to exercise good judgment, and maturity, in their own work.

Had I ten extra minutes, it would have been time well-spent to sit the group in a semicircle and make sure everyone understood the process. As there was only enough time to actually put together a preliminary product, for the regular teacher’s review and critiquing, tomorrow, we made do with what there was-which except for the small error, was quite good. The fledgling producer will learn to listen more carefully and the earnest critic will learn patience-and hopefully to shed any sense of rivalry.

In the laboratory of life, both the feelings of people during the process AND the final result are equally important.

Who Decides?

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December 8, 2021-

Every weekend, at an intersection near our city’s main hospital, there gathers a fairly raucous crowd of individuals, protesting a vaccine mandate that itself currently does not exist-per a judicial order. It seems that many people extrapolate meanings from the expressed wishes of the President, or another public official-or even a tenuous Executive Order, which only holds as long as neither the judicial or legislative branches challenges it.

I see a greatly heightened sensitivity to both public and private statements or images of public officials. The stock market may rise or fall on the basis of a few cryptic comments by the Chair of the Federal Reserve Board-which may have nothing to do with the price of stocks and bonds. People may go out into the streets or flood social media, based on a private photo of a public figure, expressing that individual’s opinion on a social issue or lifestyle of their family. Thus, we have two sitting congresspeople posing with their children, holding firearms. Since I learned marksmanship and firearms safety at the age of eleven, this strikes me as much ado over nothing-but for the teen daughter of one, who appears to be pointing her rifle at her mother’s neck and for the association with Christmas, which will no doubt be batted around the cyberverse for a few weeks. I think the main issue is that these images are appearing, at an uncomfortably close time, following two school shootings, the Waukesha automobile terror and the verdict on Kyle Rittenhouse.

People can, and should, make their own decisions, regarding introducing their children to responsible use of any given weapon-whether barreled or bladed. A long ago friend, at a dinner table conversation one evening, told his older son, in no uncertain terms, to respect the power of a hunting knife, not to mention any firearms he may handle. This came from a man who had all manner of hunting equipment, which he absolutely would not put in the hands of a lackadaisical family member.

With regard to personal health, I have heard from several people who insist: “My body, my choice!”, when it comes to getting a vaccine or even wearing a mask in public. Some, but not all, of these same people will take umbrage at the thought of a woman consulting with her physician about aborting her fetal child. My take is: If you choose a course of action, then be prepared to accept all that comes with it. If tragedy results, then the individual should be enveloped in love, not opprobrium, to the extent he or she is suffering post-traumatic stress.

Most certainly, no one should be permanently made a pariah, for even a severe error in judgement, though justice must be meted out, properly, when one causes the needless death or injury to others. That justice should, hopefully, result in the miscreant’s remorse and rehabilitation, but let’s face it, some will go to their graves in an unapologetic mien.

For most matters, we ought to have input, at least, over our lives, while processing the input of others.

Standing One’s Ground

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December 6, 2021- Two things of note, one personal and the other of wider import: Today marks forty-one years since I met Penny, in Zuni, NM. Former Senator and Presidential candidate Bob Dole died yesterday, at the age of 98. Both people suffered mightily, in the course of their lives. Both people were notable for not giving an inch, to anyone who pushed at their boundaries.

This came to me, all the more clearly, whilst working with seventh graders at a nearby middle school. There was a fair amount of obstinacy, that comes with being twelve. The difference, though, is that the insolent ones were fairly easy to set straight. More discernment was in order, in dealing with those who had a fair point to make, in their disagreements with policies and expectations.

This is the beauty of a day with those for whom adulthood is the light at the end of the tunnel. For all the concern with a dearth of formal civics education, the fact is that those at the tail end of Gen Z and the advance guard of Alphas have begun to do their own civics homework-both with regard to rights and to responsibilities. Group members at a table keep one another in check-not in a “crabs in a bucket” manner, but with the view towards “a tide that lifts all boats”.

There is a process, at the school, for correcting undue insolence, and it works. There is also the caveat that the teacher is the adult in the room, something that is not universally followed by all teachers, everywhere. I follow that caveat, having long ago seen the consequences of behaving otherwise. So, when a student, with a strong sense of both personal power and responsibility, questioned something I was doing, reason prevailed with both of us. No adult is diminished by acknowledging a child who stands their ground, in a judicious manner.

She left the class, at period’s end, on good terms.

The Blessing of Crowds

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December 4, 2021- For three weeks, between Thanksgiving and the last Saturday before Christmas, it seems that half of the Phoenix area makes its way to Prescott’s Courthouse Square. There was the Light Parade, on November 27, followed today by the Christmas Parade and Lighting of the Trees (with multicoloured illumination of the many trees on the Courthouse grounds). Next Friday will be Acker Night for the Arts, during which a good many businesses, both in and beyond downtown, will be hosting local musical artists, and raising money for arts education.

There are as many reactions to crowds, as there are people in those crowds. It is a common complaint that traffic is way too ridiculously slow-a fair point, but one which can be handled by parking a bit further away, finding a spot during off peak hours and combining downtown activities-or, as I can do, walking from my apartment to the activity venue.

There is the “but, there’s COVID! We should be staying home and not having any public events.” No one is twisting anyone’s arm to go anywhere. There will always be homebodies, who don’t understand why anyone travels-and vice versa. I enjoy a balance of both, while recognizing that when one writes about or shows photos of travels, there can be more of a backlash than when one quietly stays home. Goodness, the same may be said of anyone doing something of which ANYONE might disapprove. As for disease prevention, nothing succeeds like being proactive and maintaining a healthy immune system. Again, if one IS sick, staying home is a good idea.

My take is: I am glad to see people getting out and enjoying themselves. This is how we get to know one another, and open our minds and hearts to different viewpoints, in real time. The antics of children during the Christmas Parade, this afternoon, were as heartwarming as ever. Later, when I went to dinner at The County Seat, I took a seat at the end of a long table that had opened up, in the crowded eatery. A couple showed up and took two seats, followed by another couple, whom they did not previously know. The four became fast friends.

This could not happen, if the climate of overreaction to any health situation, real or imagined, were to prevail, despite the relative mildness of the latest strain. I’ve been vaccinated, have masks that I wear, when prudent or when requested and have not seen anyone coughing in other peoples’ presence-save a little boy fake coughing, for attention, yesterday-until his classmates got on him. End of digression.

Although I am comfortable in my own skin and don’t NEED lots of people around, when there are large gatherings, it does well for everyone finding fault with the situation to remember that other people are just as entitled to experience a full life as they are.