Godot, and Other No-Shows

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March 30, 2021– Today was spent supervising high school students in Online Learning. The students are, in the words of David Bowie, “quite aware of what they are going through”, and stuck to the tasks at hand, which have the common goal of recovering academic credit. There was just one hitch, the Internet was down, for at least part of the day, leaving most of the students in two class periods to use their cellular hotspots.

While this ingenuity played out, I was reminded of the Samuel Beckett play, “Waiting for Godot”. Those who are familiar with the play know that Godot, whoever he is, sends a messenger to announce his non-appearance, a day in advance, but never does show up himself. The main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, continue waiting for him, nonetheless.

The students in the latter three classes were able to pursue their work, without resorting to personal devices alone, as the Internet, unlike Godot, made good on its appearance. There were, most likely, a few no-shows among the student populace. There always are.

I have experienced a fair number of absentees, over the years. Usually, when I’ve been patient, the person shows up, eventually, and has a credible story to tell. Sometimes it pans out and sometimes, it doesn’t. Each time, though, my only thought has been: “Make sure you are not following their example.” My parents were always true to their word-Mom still is. The people who matter most in my life are similarly trustworthy.

While being all things to all people is a mathematical and practical impossibility, I would hope that reducing absenteeism, and broken promises, becomes a more widespread goal.

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.

The Bridge Lady

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March 14, 2021- Throughout history, change for the better has been orchestrated by both people adopting a progressive stance and by those taking a prudent, conservative view, whilst remaining open to new ways of doing things.

Annie Dodge was born in 1910, to a traditional Navajo family. Her father, Chee Dodge, was the last man to hold the position of Chief of the Navajo Tribe. He became the first Chairman of the Navajo Tribe-first of the Navajo Business Council (1922-28) and later, of the Navajo Tribal Council (1942-46). Chee was a shrewd businessman, amassing a fair amount of wealth, whilst maintaining a strong sense of Navajo tradition. As such, he lived in a hogan-based camp and had three wives, the third of whom was Annie’s mother, Mary Begaye.

Annie, and her five siblings were raised in the traditional Dineh manner-learning to herd sheep, practice Dineh medicine and honour their maternal and paternal clan structures. At the same time, Chee saw to it that all of his children learned the ways of the wider world. Annie took a conservative view of politics, becoming a lifelong member of the Republican Party. The event that shaped the course of her life, however, was the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19. Because of her having suffered a mild case of the disease, from which she developed immunity, Annie became interested in Public Health. She earned a doctorate in that discipline, and worked diligently to improve the lives of the Dineh people, over a span of fifty years. She served three terms on the Navajo Tribal Council, at one point running against, and defeating, George Wauneka, the man she married.

George and Annie remained a strong couple, regardless. Annie always regarded the men around her as her partners, never as her overlords. The strong Dineh matrilineal system helped in that regard, as did her parents’ commitment to their daughter’s education and well-being-and Mary’s fierce independence from her husband.

Annie’s greatest legacy was the improvement in the overall public health of the Navajo Nation. She broadcast a weekly radio program, in the Navajo language, carefully explaining modern medical practices and techniques to her fellow Dineh. She pushed for better well-woman and well-baby practices, regular ear and eye examinations; a strong campaign against tuberculosis and alcoholism; for vaccinations against polio, chicken pox, smallpox and measles/mumps/rubella, as well as improvements in sanitation and housing.

Annie continued her father’s work of bridging the gap between traditional Navajo life and the wider American society. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Lyndon Johnson, in December, 1963, becoming the first Native American to receive this honour. In 1984, the Navajo Tribal Council designated Dr. Annie Dodge Wauneka “The Legendary Mother of the Navajo Nation”. Upon her death, in 1997, she was enshrined in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, in Seneca Falls, NY.

Annie Dodge Wauneka’s life work is a shining example that one can hold traditional, conservative views and make a strong contribution to the improvement of the surrounding community. The key is always keeping an open mind and heart.

Threads

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March 9, 2021-

The thread of enjoyment extended out, as a friend took in one of my favourite restaurants, on her own, and found it good.

The thread of caring got a little longer, as the powers that be offered more assistance to a long-neglected teen, and it will be good.

The thread of preparation is getting clearer, as a storm approaches us, and people mentally get ready for winter’s last gasp. It will be okay.

The thread of assurance is getting stronger, as there is some enticement to return to an untenable situation, which it is best to resist. I will be fine.

Madame Curie

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March 4, 2021- In all the annals of the accomplishments of women in the scientific community, Marie Sklodowska Curie, (1867-1934), stands tall-as both the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize and in two fields, yet: Physics (shared with her husband, Pierre, and Henri Becquerel) and Chemistry. The Physics Prize stemmed from the trio’s work in the field of radioactivity, which is a term coined by Marie. The Chemistry Prize came in 1911, for her discovery of the elements Polonium and Radium, using her own techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes. Madame Curie established the Curie Institute in Paris (1920) and in Warsaw (1932). She would eventually die from the effects of exposure to radiation, in 1934, at the age of 66.

Marie’s father, Wladyslaw Sklodowski, was a gifted educator in mathematics and physics-and imparted a love of those subjects to his five children, especially to Marie and her older sister, Bronislawa. He insisted that his daughters get a solid university education. Madame Curie took this knowledge to a higher level, but never lost her gentility and modesty. She remains a beacon to all, men and women alike, who find themselves drawn to the Physical Sciences.

Memorabilia

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February 23, 2021- To start, the group of us sat in the Jury Convocation Room for 1 1/2 hours. At that point, the judge himself came in and told us that the case had been resolved without trial, and we were free to leave. He noted that the very presence of 38 juror candidates had created the energy for a pre-trial resolution. I can believe it.

The other notable event that happened in my life today was that the Title I literacy project, in which I had agreed to participate from late March to the third of May, was abruptly canceled. When changes like this happen, it usually means that my time needs to be open-ended. There is much to be done, on several fronts, so I can see that there are several options.

On the way back to Prescott from Camp Verde, I listened to an account by a young Australian woman, who has a high level of Autobiographical Memory, of her life from birth. She has vivid recollections of coming out of the womb, of learning her first words and of deciding to walk, at the relatively late age of eighteen months. I had heard of this woman, and of her ability to state with specificity what happened on any given day in her life. Hearing her speak of such events, in detail, was a marvel.

I pondered afterward, as to what her detailed descriptions could mean for language-learning, for systematic self-education and for counteracting memory loss-especially in senior citizens affected by dementia. She apparently has had the same hopes, and is working with advocates for dementia patients, with a view towards regenerating the type of neural transmissions that have made her extraordinary abilities continue into young adulthood.

Brain Research, particularly with regard to long-term memory, and its role in learning, is still in its relative infancy. I have so many questions about my own memory of things that occurred as early as my second year. Others in my family, and people I knew in childhood, have stated their own vivid memories of early years-as well as much that has happened since.

We are still using only a small part of our intelliegence.

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.

The Heirs of Railroad Passengers

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February 18, 2021- It is commonly known that many people who successfully escaped enslavement, from the 19th Century South, made their way to Canada, via the Underground Railroad. The majority of these folks settled in three Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. The last was chosen because of its relative proximity to Maine, one of two northern termini of the clandestine route.

Although life for people of African descent in Canada was not perfect, and remains problematic in many respects, slavery had by and large been abandoned as a social construct, by the 1820s. There was no economic impetus to the system, in a country with mostly small holders as farmers.

Afro-Canadians kept many aspects of their culture, both that preserved by genetic memory of Africa and more recent cultural elements which evolved in the American South. Later migrants from the Caribbean region have also influenced this enduring cultural scene.

Here is a sharing of African-Canadian musical heritage, from someone who moved from Toronto to Nova Scotia, finding welcome among the longtime Black residents of that Atlantic province.

(In)tractible-Part II

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February 14, 2021-

The earnest young man got ahead of himself, demanding that his financial problems be addressed, immediately, by those whom he saw as being well-off and comfortable in thier own lives. This went on, for nearly two years, as one potential benefactor, after another, turned away.

The imbalance between one group of people and another, whether it be a matter of money, food, water or, in this present environment, medical supplies to defeat COVID-19 is the single overarching matter facing humanity-and has been for several centuries now. It is viewed by many as a nuisance, a bore, something intractible.

It is my position that things become viewed as intractible largely because of the human impulse to want a matter resolved immediately, if not sooner, that one may move on to the next matter. I get this, very clearly. We are hard-wired as a species to move along and accomplish new and better. We are also, however, hard-wired to notice when others are left behind. This awareness rankles one’s conscience.

There is, simply put, nothing that nettles most people more than being asked for money. We are raised to share food, drink and even clothing with our siblings and those in our neighbourhoods. Money is an entirely different matter- perhaps because of insecurity, as to its possibly running out. So, the homeless, the destitute, the demanding are are seen as impediments, rather than as fellows.

The second seemingly intractible issue, from which many wish to turn away, is the continual persecution and conflict in certain parts of the world, particularly in west Asia. Religion is often blamed for this, but religion is simply a codification of man’s belief in a Higher Power. It has given us a single thread of rules for proper conduct, with the changes in social practice evolving as Mankind itself has evolved. That certain groups have continued to fight and contend with one another, in some cases for millennia on end, is not the fault of the Higher Power, but of the leadership and members of those groups. They are not, inherently, any more or less capable of getting along than are any other groups of people.

These two seemingly intractible issues reflect two phenomena: A lack of systematic process for equitable distribution of goods (food, clothing, water, medicine-and money) and a paralysis of the will to do the hard work, over time, that is needed to resolve deep-seated conflict. Fortunately, there is a shift in the consciousness of many on the planet-and an increase in the number of people in the process of finding and implementing solutions.

Nothing put before us needs to be seen as intractible.