The Visitor

2

March 25, 2020-

(This is a short story which came to me, this evening, as I was in a meditation group.)

Katrin was playing in her room, with Bradley Bear and Kimmy Koala. She had just sat her animals in the little chairs, and was preparing to play teacher, when she heard a bump in the family room next to hers.  She told the “children” to stay quiet, and went to check out what had happened.  Mommy was getting stressed, with new baby coming in three more months, and Kat did not want her mother to fall down and have an accident.

She saw the breeze rustling the curtain-an odd sight, given it was early April, and Mommy never opened the window much before the first of May.  Kat went towards the window and was startled to see a pair of shoes behind the curtain.  Although she was only four years old, Katrin Leigh Osterman was the epitome of boldness, as her grandmother put it.  She went slowly, but confidently, towards the curtain and pulled it back.

There, looking unusually fearful, was a big man.  He reminded Katrin of the main character in a show that she watched with Mommy, called “Reading Rainbow”.  She asked, “Mister, what are you doing, standing behind our curtain?  Are you okay?”  The man stared, still fearful, at the little girl.  Then, he spoke:  “I am very hungry.  I have not eaten as much as a crust of bread , in almost five days.  I have been hiding, since I got off a small plane.  I watched your family and saw they seem friendly-but I could not be certain.  So, I had to sneak into the house first.”

“What’s your name, Mister?”, Katrin whispered, feeling sad at his story.

“I am Adibe Junius.”, replied the man.  ” My family name comes first, then my given name, so please call me Junius.”

“I am glad to meet you, Junius. My name is Katrin”, said the girl, still whispering.  Kat knew that Mother would be a bit scared of this stranger in her house, but Junius seemed tired, weak and more than a bit scared, himself.  She asked him to sit in a chair and said she would get him something to drink.  Then, she went to the kitchen, where her mother was resting in a comfy chair.

“Mommy, I have something to show you, in the family room.”, Kat said, in her Big Girl voice.  She then stepped on a footstool and got a glass of water from the refrigerator spigot.  ” Pleas come with me.”

Brittany got up, in a world-weary manner, wondering what her bright and adventurous offspring was up to now, carrying a glass of water to the back of the house.  Was she going to “teach” the stuffed animals how to drink without spilling?

Junius looked up at the five-foot, five inch cinnamon-coloured woman, who gasped at seeing a nearly six-foot tall man, sitting in her rocking chair.  “KATRIN LEIGH !  What on Earth are you doing, letting a stranger into this house??”, the horrified woman scolded her daughter.

“Please, Madame”, the chastened man spoke up, “She did not let me in.  I came in, through the window, as I am desperate.”

“DESPERATE?  I’ll  show you desperate!  Since when do you just walk into someone’s home, without so much as a ‘By your leave? And who are you, anyway?”, Brittany snapped.

At this point, all of Junius’ hunger and thirst pangs left him, and he burst into tears.   “I knew this would be a mistake.  I left Congo in a flight of panic and have not eaten since I got off the plane, five days ago.  All the smugglers gave any of us was a bowl of rice, with peanut sauce.”

“Congo?  Smugglers? Peanut sauce?”, the flinty-eyed mother said, her eyes getting narrower by the second.  “If this story gets any weirder, I’m about set to call Santa Claus.”

“It’s true”, Junius said, collecting himself , just a bit.  “I fled the war back home, and a white man came up to me, in Kinshasa, and said he could get me to Cape Town, so long as I carried a crate of animals to a certain spot.  I delivered the animals to a wet market, in the Chinese neighbourhood, then I was chased out of there by a gang of teenaged boys.  They called me ‘dirtbag foreigner.’  Imagine that, I am an African, and they said I didn’t belong.  So, I wandered around, until I came to this neighbourhood.”

Brittany was drawn in by this story, and he certainly wasn’t dressed like anyone from around Cape Town.  “Give Mr. Junius the glass of water, Katrin”, she relented.
Junius sipped the water surprisingly carefully, and threw his head back, letting out a heavy sigh.  “Do you know where I might get a clean bed, Madame, and a plate of food?”

Tears started to well up in Brittany’s eyes.  “I can get you to our church.  The pastor will let you clean up, help you get some fresh attire and see that you are fed.  He can do this a lot easier than we can, and he will put you to dignified work.”

Ten minutes later, Brittany Osterman had spoken to Reverend Stenbeek, who readily agreed to take Junius in, provided he followed the church house rules.  Junius walked with the two ladies to the rector’s house, and was warmly greeted by the Dutch Reformed Church pastor and his wife.  “Junius, you stumbled upon the nicest people in this parish,”  Leonidas Stenbeek proclaimed, “and you couldn’t have been greeted by anyone kinder than our Lady Katrin!”

“Please put your bag in the first bedroom, then go and shower yourself. ” Leo said, and then to his smiling wife, ” Margrit, I shall grill some prawns, in our guest’s honour! Please prepare him some porridge, for when he gets showered and dressed.  Then, we shall all dine together.”  “Yes, that we must.  It’s a great day to welcome one of our brothers,” the sturdy pastor’s wife announced, “Brittany, do sit and rest. Katrin, please help me peel some carrots.”

The proud little girl carefully peeled and sliced seven carrots, one for her and two for each of the Big People, just as Grandmother had taught her. It was a great day to welcome an uncle.

Love Means Energy

8

February 14, 2020-

It’s been quite a few years, since Valentine’s Day meant taking time for romance.  The last such day was in 2011, and it was to prove the last such day,ever,-at least as far as I know now.  Penny wasn’t so much connected with us, but on that day, she was home.  She would have about 1 1/2 more weeks, living in the house that we struggled to keep.  I got six carnations, placed them in a vase, and made sure she knew they were there.  I felt her happiness, at seeing her favourite flowers.  The last time I placed carnations in a vase, six months ago, it was at her grave.

The woman closest to me now is not huge on flowers in a vase.  She prefers things she can plant.  She is also more careful with romance, for good reason.  We are  the best of friends, and that works well for me.   The key is always to meet such of the needs of another person, with which s(he) entrusts you.  We are one another’s most fervent well-wisher, sounding board and healer.

There are many other friends in my life, as my readers know-many of you are among them, in real time.  In any case, you are friends in spirit, and that has made all the difference, in times of setback and low energy.  My friends are a good part of what keeps me going.

Then, there is the purpose-the driving force behind each day, for which I draw breath.  Now, it is the life skills development of  a young lady, who has spent her brief life working mightily to learn things which so many of us take for granted.  She reminds me of my youngest brother, gone these twenty-six years.  She is the primary reason for my work, from now until the third week in May.

Love is also putting stock in the Will of God-that things happen for a reason, or for several reasons, all having to do with relationships, with personal development.  Some things happen, or don’t happen, according to our human, finite plans-but they always happen for reasons found in the Cosmos.  I had planned to visit a friend, whose husband is seriously ill, at an event in her business, this evening.  Instead, whilst I was driving to an earlier event, a tire blew and I made it to said earlier event-barely.

Friends there helped me, and thanks to the AAA, my car is at the regular mechanic’s shop.  Tomorrow morning will thus be spent with the mechanic and getting the two new tires I seem to need.  The tax returns will wait until next week.  I will stop at the other friend’s business, tomorrow afternoon.  I’ve learned to see even  mishaps as blessings.

Love means putting energy into the betterment of those around you, as well as taking care of self.

The Smallest of Things

6

February 12, 2020-

Sometimes, the smallest of tasks is the most difficult for people to solve.

The most ordinary, quotidian of quarrels can escape resolution.

The most mundane of household tasks can wait for days on end.

A quiet infant can be forgotten in the back seat.

So can a sleeping dog.

We are creatures of our senses.

We think that they need to be constantly

stimulated.

We are creatures of mind.

We think, and overthink.

The Big Picture is often

what we think matters most.

It has its place-

but it is as  nothing,

amounts to  naught,

unless the grunt work is done.

The teeth need brushing,

the shoes, lacing and tying,

the floor needs sweeping

and the car needs a visual-

before the driver leaves it,

and goes inside.

There is good reason

that the Great Teachers

called attention to

care for the least among us.

So it is,

that my task,

most likely until May,

is helping to care

for one Special Needs child.

Life is full of

second, third and fourth chances.

 

Places of Which I Don’t Speak Much

8

February 10, 2020-

I kept myself home today, for good measure.

Yesterday was touch and go,

and I made it to the two obligatory gatherings,

being careful not to get too close to anyone,

lest what I felt was coming on,

was transferable.

I don’t speak of illness, much.

This is because it rarely comes calling.

Oregano, and a day of rest,

have knocked it out of me.

Illness is a state of being,

of which I rarely need speak.

Mount Chocorua was the first real peak,

I ever climbed.

I was grateful to my father,

for taking me there,

a uniquely satisfying climb,

that was distorted by a few moments

of diffuse anger,

back at the tent site.

When I had to deal with the same,

as a father, years later,

I knew what to do,

and let the boy work out his feelings.

Long Binh,

the only place where I ever felt

my life was in danger,

was also where I had to stand up

for myself.

So I did, and no harm came.

I may very well return to Viet Nam,

in a couple of years,

but I will leave Long Binh alone.

Hannibal saw me when I was

in a very raw state.

I was not allowed to write freely.

I was refused use of a computer.

Hannibal did not seem kind,

but someday, I will give

Hannibal a second look.

There are many places,

of which I don’t speak much.

 

Labour of Love

10

February 7, 2020- 

With a sneer, the self-styled “chief paraprofessional” took issue with my enunciating the first ‘r’ in “February”.  “It’s Feb-YOO-ery.  Learn to speak AMERICAN English”.  With that, all pretense, that the particular school was operating about the welfare of children, went out the window. I left not long afterward.

Many work environments, throughout the world, have taken to minimizing their stated mission, in favour of preserving some sort of falsehood-based alternate agenda, centered on the ego gratification of a certain few.  Ignorance is, then,  more than bliss.  It becomes the soft ground, on which pseudo-institutions are built, and on which they thrive.

There is a strong team of professionals, struggling to save, and rebuild, a school in which I was honoured to have spent time, not too long ago.  What they face is a three-generational climate of self-loathing and learned helplessness.  That some of these professionals have been there for nearly five years, speaks to the strength of the human heart; to the indomitable essence of the human spirit.

I have been an educator for 44 years.  While there are people whom I will admit to having failed, the vast majority have been helped, by the teams of which I was an active part.  The key has always been to love the child, to not give up-ever, to build the patience needed to counter the worst of defeatism.  As I go about northern Arizona, in this, my last calendar year of being a full-time educator, that mindset has not diminished.

Even after retiring, my battle, with ignorance and antipathy towards children and youth, will remain my cornerstone.

Star Struck

10

February 5, 2020-

In engaging with a group of First Graders, this morning and afternoon, I was pleased to see that their awareness of the sky, our solar system, and constellations equals, if not surpasses, that of many in much older generations.  There was even a mini-debate about whether Pluto should be still regarded as a planet. (My take is that it should be so regarded, given that it orbits the Sun and it has at least one moon.)

The kids have been taught well, as to how to recognize the various constellations.  I was probably in fifth grade, before knowing of much more than the Big and Little Dippers, and Polaris.  The ability to spot Antares, Betelgeuse and Sirius, among others, has already entered these children’s intellectual exchequers.

This exchange underscored the presence, at last night’s State of the Union, of an eleven-year-old boy, who has dreams of one day exploring our planet’s Moon, and Mars.  The generation some call The Alphas will definitely have a shot at the beginning stages of  human interplanetary travel, so this early awareness of the Heavens is well-placed.

I will spend another day with the group, tomorrow, and hope to engage them further, in the notion that humanity may both explore the near solar system and find ways to learn much about the systems orbiting the intriguing bodies of the Milky Way and beyond.

Two Grapes

6

February 3, 2020-

The young girl had less willpower than she had thought.  Faced with a sumptuous, fully-laden buffet, she took two grapes for herself.  This awakened the buffet’s master, who killed two of the young girl’s faerie guides and nearly captured her.  In turn, the faeries’ master, a faun, angrily banished the young girl from his enchanted cave.  I got the initial impression, whilst watching Pan’s Labyrinth, last night, that the faun was no more enamoured of the child-or of children in general, than was the girl’s step father, a severe and arrogant captain in Francisco Franco’s Army.

It was 1944, and while the Fascists had largely brought Spain under their control, there were pockets of active partisan resistance.   There was little tolerance for romantic notions or for childhood fancies.  The girl was tolerated by both of the principal male figures, as mentioned above, and her mother, the captain’s new wife, was merely a means to an end for her husband, who wanted a male heir above all else.

I thought of just how much progress has been made, with regard to gender relations, since that time.  Like any other area of life, the most progress towards equanimity has been made since the mid-1970’s, when women stopped gratuitously accepting acts of chivalry.  The truer, deeper courtesy that came out of the Women’s Rights movement of 1970-76 has only served to help men become more authentic gentlemen, rather than simply aping the courtesies of the past.  Honouring a woman’s dignity meant that she could open her own doors-and even open a door for a man.

The little girl, Ofelia, was as skillful as she was willful, managing to fool a monstrous frog, who had stolen a key belonging to the faun.  She also got a dagger from a cabinet in the buffet master’s chamber, and procured mandrake root, which she nourished in order for her pregnant, ailing mother to recover.  She never appeared to wallow in self-pity.

The captain and his men made a mess of things, leading to his wife’s death and, eventually, to their own slaughter.  This, by dint of their stubborn adherence to Franco’s doctrine of “cleansing Spain”.  The faun, also doctrinaire, inadvertently caused Ofelia to be caught by the captain, through his insistence that she let her infant brother be bled.

Everyone serves the Creator, directly or indirectly.  As it happened, Ofelia’s refusal to shed her innocent brother’s blood, preferring to sacrifice herself instead, met with approval from her Eternal Father, who welcomed her into Paradise, with a throne of her own, to his left.  The chastened faun recognized her goodness in the end, and bowed in service.

The calamities set in motion by the pure child, eating two grapes, leave lots of room for thought:  Who is more at fault, a child taking a small bit of food from another being, or the chastiser, full of his own importance?

 

Circle of Gold

9

January 23, 2020-

The small circle of  staff members gathered on the lawn of Peach Springs School, after the students had left for the weekend.  We did a postmortem on the day, and the short week.  A decision was made, to gather student laptops, and wipe them clean of inappropriate websites.  When the students do get to use the devices again, they will be free of the sites that only reinforce the baser instincts that hobble so many youth.  There will be a more concerted effort to monitor these sites.  This is something that is de rigeur to me, in over twenty-seven years of dealing with youth and technology.  For others, not familiar with the technological prowess of youth, it is easy to lapse into a LaLa Land of denial. That denial could have proven deadly.

My time at Peach Springs ended, for now,with today’s lessons.  I am always welcome back there, but leave knowing that the person taking over the second grade class knows them well, and has a good command of elementary education.  My work there, for the time being, is done.  I will maintain contact with the staff and students with whom I have bonded, much as contact with lifelong friends elsewhere has been maintained.  Much more  will be said, over the coming months, about underachieving  communities.  The bottom line for Peach Springs and places like it, is that the community must recognize that their only hope comes from realizing that they, the people, are just as worthy and capable as anyone in this nation, or on this planet.  I will never stop encouraging others, whether up close or from a distance.

I have obligations, both here in Prescott, and by way of keeping vigilant, with a situation involving a dear friend of many years.   The days and months ahead will not lack for activity, involvement in community life or efforts at building.

As for Peach Springs School, over the coming months, may the parents and community start to clear away the dust from their collective ennui, and rebuild what can be a powerful, achieving community.  Then will the little circle of gold, that is the staff of that school, begin to be seen for who they are, and the children will be able to focus on what matters in their lives.

Turnarounds and Conundrums

9

January 22, 2020, Peach Springs-

A talk with my son, last night, underscored the perception, even sometimes in my own mind,  that my shelf life is getting limited.  When the changes in the social wind blow ill, as they did yesterday, I look towards a place of refuge.  Sometimes, it’s just as well that there is no refuge available, immediately.  Sometimes, the only way out is through.

Things went far better today, with my class. I took the step of streamlining the rules, which had been overly drawn up by one of the previous teachers.  I took the step of not tolerating foul language or harassment. I took the step of countering the inchoate misogyny that some of the boys have shown, already, in their very young lives.

We got quite a bit accomplished.  It is not a traditional classroom.  Many students don’t get to school until two hours after the opening bell.  I am not here to judge them, or their families, for that.  Everyone, eventually, makes it to school. Everyone does some work, and learns something.  That is part of the reality in a rural community, where many live far afield, and no buses serve the area.

I am still not sure what will happen with me, after tomorrow.  There is more of a bond with the people here-and there is a bond, and a need, with people back in Yavapai County.  It will end up being one of those measured, eleventh-hour decisions, and I have a sense that the right thing will happen, by all concerned.

When Sex Kills

4

January 21, 2020, Peach Springs-

There is no mincing words about this: In the name of freedom of speech, three generations of adults are poisoning the well of our children’s spirits-particularly in impoverished communities.  Nowhere is this more apparent, than in communities with a narrow economic base.

The phenomenon of children as young as seven, trading sexual epithets, the coarsest of profanity and actually mentioning pornographic websites, by name, is, to put it mildly, jarring to the spirit.  That they actually understand  what they are saying is even more disquieting.

This is a train of abuses, long in the running, and it is by no means limited to Native American communities.  Sexual deviance was graphically described to me by a very young neighbour, in 2002, in a Phoenix apartment complex. As far back as June, 1980, when I lived in a Flagstaff apartment complex, a band that had been hired to play at a birthday party, in a place where children were out and about, loudly screamed profanity in the course of their “presentation”.  It was viewed, by many of  those present, as “harmless”; “only words”.

I am no prude,  though I have long ago exiled the vernacular word for fornication to its proper place in the graveyard of misbegotten phrases.  I note that even the late, great George Carlin, a champion of adults’ free speech, when among other adults, drew the line at cursing in the presence of children.

Language, though, is not the most harmful aspect of the ongoing tailspin.  Sex education, still properly the purview of  parents, is increasingly becoming the province of the skeevy.  Applications like TikTok are being used by those who wish to prey upon young children.  Other social media sites, not well-monitored by responsible adults, are offering curious and precociously feisty youngsters a diet of unseemly fare that is well beyond their level of true understanding.  As one boy told me today, “it’s more exciting than what’s around here. ”  This is what we face, as communities and as a wider society.

So, the concerns that we educational professionals once had, with regard to teenagers, are now  applicable to kids in primary school.  This is one of America’s wake-up calls.