Penultime

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December 3, 2020- The next-to-last part, of virtually any series of events, casts a glimpse of what will succeed the present series. So it has been, these past several days, as what may well have been a comfortable series of routine events turned into the first ripples of a coming flood tide of unexpected change and calls for adaptation.

I learned early on, even as an autistic youth who liked things to stay the same, that flexibility made the difference between long-term serenity and collapse. I learned that failure to adapt was a guarantee of misery. I learned that nothing could possibly remain the same-the old French bromide notwithstanding.

Coronavirus has brought about a larger number of transitions among my wider circle, a few childhood friends and some extended family members. That, alone, has reinforced a more flexible view of life-and a sharper appreciation for what each and every one of them meant in my life. It has also brought a greater number of tasks to those of us who have thus far escaped its talons and thorns.

With the knowledge that every day could bring unforeseen challenges, both great and small, I still wake, glad that the new day is here. For, all that is may bring both surges forward and setbacks. I have learned to treasure the former and forge through the latter. This brings a sense of reinforcement to me and inspiration to my younger friends.

So, the extra work given me, due to a co-worker’s sudden illness was my honour to accept. To much is given, much is expected.

Sudden Shifts

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December 2, 2020- As the time for my retirement (more or less) gets closer, there is still no end to the surprises and shifts that continue in the conduct of public education. I no sooner was told my scheduled assignment for today had been canceled, than I got a call for three days-thus taking me through this week.

The next surprise: Friday will most likely be my last day of work for the calendar year. This is due to the school districts going online again, beginning Monday. I am strictly an in-person educator, as far as public schools are concerned. I helped a few children when attempting online instruction, but it was tough, which is likely one reason why the previous assignment was canceled-as online instruction was part of it.

This will prompt a re-assessment of my schedule for the next two weeks, but change is a constant. There is always a lot to do. For tomorrow and Friday, my young charges are glad that I came back. They are not thrilled about going back to online learning, so I hope that streaming technology, at least, can make things vivid for them. The chances of them going back to in-person learning, in January, will depend on COVID levels at that time. I will be taking on only special assignments, in the new calendar year, in any event.

Staying personally disciplined is, and will be, the only thing that will keep me standing-regardless of the swiftness or degree of changes. So, it will remain- Rise early, keep serving and stay steadfast in both exercise and faith. That, and be discerning with regard to the claims to reality, of disparate groups.

Threading the Needle

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November 24, 2020, Plano-

I set out, early this morning, for Phoenix, then by air to Dallas and on to this home away from home, just north of the Big D. My son and daughter-in-law live here, and it is the logical place to mark my coming seventieth birthday.

The flight, and its preceding and subsequent drives, went very smoothly. Although it was a full flight, I was masked from the time I left my car in Long-term Parking at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport until the time I got in Aram’s car at DFW-and I was seated with two young boys on the plane, thus encountering minimal risk (Yes, they, too, wore masks).

This trip flies in the face of the demands of many public health officials, that everyone stay home and meet virtually, over both Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is one caveat: I will be spending most of the next five days in this apartment. Travelers, like myself, have a responsibility to thread the needle of any departure from our primary homes in a very careful manner.

Thus, I am wearing filtered face masks, sanitizing my hands and keeping the prescribed six-foot distance in public places= as I have been doing since March. Thus, I am avoiding being in a ridiculously crowded indoor space. No, the airport was not so crowded that I could not maintain physical distance.

In a few short days, as indicated above, I will enter my eighth decade on this planet. I intend to continue most, if not all, of my acts of service and, when a modicum of success in counteracting Coronavirusdisease 2019 is reached, to resume planned travels, furhter afield.

For now, I am fotunate to be with my little family.

Limits

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November 20, 2020-

I cut off all contact with an online magazine today, after about four months of reading sometimes disingenuous articles and abiding others that are perilously naive in their pronouncements.

Over these many years, some have told me that I have the patience of Job. This is largely true, when I am dealing with children or teenagers, and see that they are not hiding behind cunning or willful deceit. Some people just need what seems like forever to make changes. I know that it was true of me, so to penalize another soul for what I did wrong, seems worse than callow.

This was a day of turning aside from those who persist in deflecting attention from the legal maneuvers being conducted, relative to a recent election, by pointing to supposed crimes committed by someone who can barely get out of his own way. It was a day of leaving an online session which was degenerating into pointless argument. It was a day of me telling myself that I am going to limit my presence on Zoom still further, with only my promised hosted sessions, and a handful of others, keeping me tied to the chair, laptop and neck pillow. One could easily become a permanent resident of The Chair and Screen.

Maybe I am showing my age, but I have no time for the trivial and nitpicky-and even less use for those who are still harping about Barack Obama-or Ronald Reagan, for that matter. There are huge issues to be faced, which can ONLY be faced, and resolved, by a unified front. One would think that COVID-19 would have made that very clear, but no-it may take a whole lot more to bring the bickering fringes to a place of sensibility. When that happens, I’ll be hard at work on solutions-just give me a call, or even a Ping.

As for my critics, I have taken advice, from friend and foe alike, about cybersecurity-adding several passwords, facial recognition and two-step verification. I have some more work to do, in that regard. I am not, however, going to devote any attention to self-absorbed narcissists, nor do I care one iota about what Rudy Giuliani thinks that Hunter Biden did. Both are dysfunctional people, in need of help.

Keep the eyes front and center, people.

Progression

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November 19, 2020- I went home, this morning-to Prescott High School, my last place of fulltime employment. It was only for a couple of hours, covering for a friend who was tending to his family dog’s illness. Those who were my friends and well-wishers, back in earlier times, were glad that I came back. Those who were among ill-wishers were silent; they had no say in the matter, anyway. I genuinely feel that I have a place in that facility.

Facilitating small groups of people, in their self-directed study of the German language, was a pleasant way to spend the morning. I even picked up a few words in the tongue of my maternal ancestors. It made a difference to a few of the starfish on the beach, so to speak.

Afterwards, I ran a couple of papers, which had errantly remained in my possession yesterday, over to Liberty School, then dropped in to check on friends, one of whom is recovering from a deadly disease (not COVID).

During this time, thoughts came through about the progression of my life, and the themes that defined each decade. The 1950s and’60s were formative years. The 1970s and 2000s were years of faltering in the face of challenges and of making a fair number of mistakes. The 1980s and 2010s were times of spiritual growth, of falling down-but getting back up, and treasuring novel experiences. The 1990s were mostly a time of stability, and of finally shedding residual rough edges.

The 2020s are shaping up to be years of staying calm in the storm. I can see that the current pandemic may well be only the tip of the iceberg, and that it is extremely crucial to stay focused on the spiritual solutions to problems-not getting caught up in the tides of the moment. I am looking, at long last, of seeing a time of fruitio, much like the ’90s, but with the difference that now, I genuinely believe in myself.

Self-Advocacy

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November 17, 2020-

Two of the most odious, misguided phrases in the English language are “Don’t get smart!” and “What are you, a wise guy?” Intelligence and wisdom, viewed as threats to the security of a grown human, say far more about the perceiver than about the perceived.

In all my years in education, the single most admirable group of people I have encountered are those who not only think for themselves, but speak up for themselves and classmates, as well. I don’t mean the loud, braying complainers; rather, those who speak respectfully, but eloquently and with gravitas.

It is nice to see this, when it happens, especially in an educational setting. I have seen children as young as five years of age say “Enough! This is not how things ought to be!” It does my heart good when adults don’t quash such self-advocacy. So it was, that I praised those who made a perfectly sensible request, in the last hour of class, this afternoon.

The most cogent aspect of such early self-advocacy is that there is no slow burn, no festering, unspoken resentment. There is no ennui, no apathy being seeded. There is, instead, the organic rise of a responsible and self-assured generation, which will be more likely to take its place in society, without a perceived need to engage in mayhem.

So it is, that in the rest of my work with students, in the month that I have left of fulltime work, and in the special assignments I will be asked to take on, between January and May, the focus will be on both fostering the thought process and on their self-advocacy- which are both outgrowths of accepting responsibility for one’s well-being.

I say: “Get smart; be wise!”

Refinement

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November 16, 2020-

Today marks forty-four years since I took on a fulltime classroom teaching position. My work, during those first two years, was nothing for a brag book. While I worked with few resources, the stint could have been greatly refined.

I have gradually acquired teaching skills, over the years. Perhaps the biggest, and most recent, was the skill of stressing process over content. I credit technology, with its ready-made storehouse of facts and figures, for our ability to put the stress on building capacity for the Thinking Process.

I actually am finding it delightful, in my last months of teaching, to observe how individual learners go about acquiring knowledge and, more fascinatingly, solving problems. The online educational game, Kahoots!, is an exemplary tool for such observations, as students are encouraged to state how they arrived at a given answer. I have met the gamut of thinkers, from Scientific Wild-Ass Guessers to meticulously intuitive sifters of evidence.

I look forward to many more observations of human solution-finders, both before and after my retreat from full-time work.

Adding New Skills

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November 10, 2020-

As I returned from work, this afternoon, my friend, the Mourning Dove, landed briefly on the gravel of our driveway. Usually, her greeting me is an indicator of good news. So it was this time, as I received written confirmation of a change in my monthly deposit from the Feds.

Workwise, I was asked to preside over a pair of online classes, this afternoon, having completed two in-person sessions in the morning. Being math and science, I had to pay close attention, ahead of time, to the material. It was not difficult, but these are “whiz kids” and it turned out they already had mastered the material.

What I had not mastered was the setting up of Breakout Groups, so everyone ended up in the same group, with little to discuss. This will be a matter for Zoom Tutorial, over the next couple of days, as I am quite sure today will not be the last time that I need to oversee such a class format, between now and Christmas.

In the end, my young friends were glad that someone was there to run them through the session, even if it was review material. There are a number of avenues of learning that can branch off from the lessons, yet I leave that to their very competent regular instructor, who returns next week.

I dreamt last night that a former hard taskmaster managed to teach me how to secure caps on bottles of cola, using plastic ties. I can pretty much guarantee this will not happen in real life. What I got out of it, though, was that I can, and will, acquire new skills, over the next several months and years. I won’t be working for wages, all that much, after next month, yet life itself needs us to stay sharp and focused. As I write this, the image of one of my uncles, whose cognitive skills were sharp during his working years, but faded in retirement, is cautioning just such a regimen of regular mental exercise.

Life is certainly a sweet cornucopia.

Treading Water

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November 8, 2020-

Many people are holding back on any plans,

even of short-range span,

because they fear the pandemic will expand.

Yet, is that really the plan?

Many people are treading water,

not engaged in doing what they ought,

for fear of the renewed onslaught,

and not wanting to look like robots.

Still others throw caution to the wind,

offering a conspiratorial spin,

imagining the virus to have been sent by djinn,

and enhanced by the descendants of the Ch’in.

I see my road as set by my guides,

altered only temporarily by the viral tide;

I refuse to run and hide,

and so trusting in science, I abide.

What Now?

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November 7, 2020-

The increased likelihood of a Democratic President, come January 20, happened on the day which, for Buddhists, commemorates Siddhartha Gautama’s return to Earth, after three months of teaching in the celestial realm. This, to the Buddhist faithful, is a day of great change and seeping portent.

To the rest of us, it has also been a day of great change and portent, whether one approves of the changes that will be taking place, or not. As with four years ago, I say “Give the next president a chance, and be ready to hold him to account, if large segments of the populace are ignored or left in limbo.”

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Capitalize on the reported friendship you have with Mitch McConnell. Maintain the law enforcement activity that is so close to former Judge McConnell’s heart: Fighting the trafficking of women and children. He was one of the forces behind the foundation of the very effective organization, Shared Hope International, one of the better programs advanced by conservative Republicans over the past several decades.
  2. Also, neither one of you wants to be seen as a deficit dove, so, given your self-comparison to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, dive into the summoning all Americans to help rebuild our infrastructure- get more done, with less Federal expenditure. Help counteract the sentiment that we ought stop asking what we can do for our country. Encourage market-led innovation and climate-enhancing changes. Continue to build on your predecessor’s one HUGE contribution: Looking after our military and veterans.
  3. Get out of Dodge- Washington or Wilmington more, at least for the first year or two. I recommend, starting in February-pick a city in each of the four regions: Northeast, South, Midwest and West, and hold a Town Hall in each one. Do this, monthly, until you have held such a gathering in each of the 50 states.
  4. Like your predecessors, be the Comforter-in-Chief. Aside from the Town Halls, be present for those communities which suffer natural or human-caused disasters.
  5. Be inclusive- Let’s return to the days when the President acknowledged not only Christian Holy Days, but those of other Faiths, as well. This was something at which Barack Obama excelled, but in which Donald Trump was less than interested. Be a cheerleader for the major sporting events, and yes, that includes NASCAR.
  6. Show that you trust Science- especially in facing down COVID-19. Be bold enough to also face down those who don’t see the COVID threat as real. The sooner more of us follow disease-fighting protocols willingly, the sooner the disease will no longer hold us in its vise-like grip.
  7. Finally, let the world know you see all of its parts as worthy of respect. Return us to partnerships which both help American prosperity and advance global co-operation. Attend crucial international gatherings, and encourage a two-way travel street- visiting some other countries each year and hosting their leaders here. There is plenty of anticipation, as there always is, when leadership looks set to change. Use the wealth of talent at your disposal, to build a dynamic, forward-looking, yet grounded, team. Godspeed, Mr.President-elect.