It Happened Last Night


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copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

It happened last night.  As I reflect, I realize it has happened all along.  Each day, in most every moment I have an opportunity to look at life and learn.  Yet I become consumed with more immediate concerns.  He said. She said.  The system, situation, or some other entity supplants a deeper assessment.  Years ago, I came to understand that I create my own chaos, calm, or shades of what will be.  As an Educator, I speak of this often.  My students often quote me on the subject of choices. Yet, until yesterday, I never fully grasped how true my words might be.  I am unsure why the events of the evening took me where they did. I share the story.

I received a mail from a magnificent man, someone who has achieved much and is well-known beyond the circle of my life.  This gent is a Scholar, an Educator, an esteemed and prolific Author, a Sage.

Indeed, over the years, Mister B’s published works have helped me grow by leaps and bounds.  I never imagined I might become acquainted with him as a person.   Yet, accidentally, we met.  Minutes after Michael presented as part an expert panel, he and his spouse made way for the auditorium exit.  I was on my way back into the lecture hall. Unexpectedly I had an opportunity to introduce myself, which I did.

His mention of a bad cold earlier, whilst he was on stage, led me thoughts on my miracle cure.  Delighted, he turned to his wondrous wife and asked her to take notes. The two he said would purchase the ingredients before the day was done.  It was obvious to me that Michael and Joslyn are quite close.  Caring exudes from each of them. Surprisingly to me, Michael hugged me for the help I offered.

Over the many months since, Michael and I have spoken, not often, but also, not infrequently.  The conversations are expansive.  Mostly we discuss personal philosophies, experiences, and just enjoy getting to know each other. Through electronic mail, at a distance, we have worked on a few endeavors together. Mister B has become more real to me.  His relationships with family, friends, life, and living are beautiful to behold.

Then it happened.  After weeks of unanswered calls and emails, I asked was there trouble. Unusual for Michael, he had not responded to my communications. He wrote back and said all was well.   Michael was and is rebuilding the front entrance to his home.

Once I learned that the lack of responsiveness was not a reaction to what I had said, done, or been, I was relieved. The real story led me to inquire.  Was Michael doing the work himself?  I discovered he was.  This spectacular specimen of a human being was not solely a Scribe, an Academic, an Educator, and an authority on pedagogy. Michael B is an Artisan, a Craftsman, a Draftsman, a Reformer, Dreamer, a Builder, Rebuilder, Mechanic, and a man who transforms what most think of as truth.

Mister B was kind enough to share a link to a webpage that showed his life’s less noticed path.  As I perused, my mouth was agape.  Thirty years earlier, Michael built his own home.  He used no sub-contractors or Contractors.  All the work was done with his own two hands, assisted only by a mind intent on a mission. That gray matter was also his own.

He and his wife Joslyn reside on a river. During the construction, the two lived in a small duplex, on the dock.  This dwelling today is attached to the main abode, and serves as a guest quarter.  The house that Michael built stands stately in a wooded region, overlooking the same waterway where he and his spouse watched him give rise to his vision.

The home is three-stories high.  Some of the windows are floor-to-ceiling. The rafters reach for the sky.  Balconies abound and surround the abode.  A very large round window appears in the uppermost floor.  In another photograph, an interior shot, Joslyn is comfortably seated.  Her body fits securely in the window frame.  Joslyn obviously has much room to move about.  The portal is huge!  It, the house as a whole, is beautiful; but the dwelling’s exquisiteness is nothing in contrast to the lesson I learned when I probed further.

Overwhelmed with this vision, initially, I did not do, as was my impulse and call Michael. Instead, I rushed about in an attempt to leave on time.  I prepared a hurried breakfast, inhaled my food, or began to, and then, I picked up the telephone. I dialed .with the expectation that I would speak to a voice mail machine.  Mister B was likely working and my being rushed, I thought that fine.  Much to my astonishment, Michael answered.  My words were as a white light.  All I said was uttered in haste.  In contrast, Michael’s voice was calm and reflective.  He shared stories.

The domicile took three years to complete.  Plumbing, masonry, milling, electrical jobs were all his, as were all other aspects involved in building.  As he worked on the edifice he also composed and published a book.  Michael kept a notepad close at-hand during the construction.  Prior to the actual endeavor he designed, plotted, planned and developed his thought.

When he felt overwhelmed, or stuck, Michael would step back and work on another undertaking.  He immersed himself in some effort that freed his mind for further reflection.  Mister B might fix a machine, or make one.  The possibilities are endless for someone such as he. Michael understood then, as he does at present, his own learning style, his likes, and all that he loathes for himself.  Idle hands or head, these are not habits Mister B embraces.

The circular window is but one example.  This porthole was once a Union 76 gas station sign. Michael asked if I was familiar with the expansive logo in the form of a light fixture that scrapes the sky in many a gas station.  I am.  Mister B found an old oversized signet on sale. He purchased it for $45 dollars.  Once hollowed out, the frame would serve as his window on the world. Plexiglas was also purchased for just over $100.  Michael fixed the two together and voilá.  A place to peer out was born.

The structure survived five bad storms over the three decades since its birth. One was directly overhead. Yet, the building stood the test of a tempest and time. As has Michael B.

Prior to our conversation, I knew that Michael began his career in 1952. This was near the same year my Dad started his. I had wondered in the past; were the two close in age.  I searched and found the answer.  Yes, they are, as are many men and women. All sorts of people are born within a generation. This truth does not deny that we are all unique.

Still, these two men, in many ways are identical. Daddy too is extremely precise. Just as Michael, he is an Artisan, a Craftsman, a Draftsman, a Reformer, Dreamer, a Builder, Rebuilder, Mechanic, and a man who transforms what most think of as truth. My Dad loves to build. He envisions what others do not and acts on his farsightedness, or did when I was younger.

“Logan” [my father] is a scholar. He received rewards for his brilliance when he attended school. In his professional calling, he was a Professor, a Lecturer, called upon to train Medical Practitioners, Lawyers, Social Workers, Preachers, and Teachers. My father wrote and spoke on Education as Mister B does, although never so broadly.

When  I was a teen, Daddy was on the School Board for an Independent School.  “Logan” was looked upon as a pillar in the community. My Dad worked as a Public Planner for a very respected worldwide Leadership and Support Organization. Later, respected in his field, Daddy established his own firm.  Up until a year ago, my Papa still worked each and every day.  He drove to his office and counseled others; however, he was never able to console himself.

Just as Michael B, “Logan” had big plans.  While he always worked to execute exactly and in a timely manner, much changed.  In retrospect, I understand that Daddy had hesitated even whilst he moved forward.  No one ever seemed to notice this.  My father kept any self-doubt well hidden. Indeed, he seemed quite confident in his every enterprise.

For all practical purposes and by appearances, Daddy was a success!  “Logan” was as Michael, he dreamed and then, built as he imagined. That is, until the day . . a turn of events did my Dad in.  What occurred all those decades ago, popped the bubble that was Daddy’s triumphant existence

Choices Create What Comes

It was Mother’s Day, near a score in the past.  While waiting for Daddy to return home from a day of fishing, the telephone rang.  It was  Logan. He did not call to say he would be late for dinner; he already was.  Instead, he asked, would we pick him up? My Dad was in jail!

In this exposé, I will not share the depth and details.  Suffice to say, murder, mayhem, and money played no role in the crimes. We arranged for his bail. Mommy, my beau Eric, and I drove miles to the Police station.  No one said a word.  I recall no conversation once we arrived either. From minds to mouths, all seemed frozen in time.  Perhaps, we each were numb with disbelief.  I know I was.

Indeed, I only remember a tall man with impeccable posture, a gent who normally stood six feet four inches tall, slumped over.  Daddy’s stared straight ahead as the four of us walked to the car. He was alive.  He looked as well as could be expected, but I could tell my Dad had died inside.  Never did I imagine that the death would be permanent. It was.

Certainly, everyone, at some time believes they have seen the end.  Frequently, a way of life, superficially  concludes.  This veracity was and is no less true for Mister B. I have heard him tell and seen . . .

While Professor B pursued his potential, he traveled down delicate paths that led to delicious delights and also his demise, of sorts.  As all human beings Michael had a number of serious falls. I smile and think of a tome Mister B published.

Just as Daddy had in the course of his life, Michael stood strong and spoke up when he felt policies were wrong.   For doing so, he was placed in precarious predicaments.  Finally, his own words and deeds strangled him.  In a teaching position, at a local College, after twenty-five years Professor B was handed a pink slip.  His contract was terminated.  The case went to court.  While the job was lost, Mister B was born once more.  His choices kept him alive.

Throughout the ordeal, the Scholar and Scribe never lost hope.  Guilt for compensation lost, a career, nay with his reputation in question Michael did not blame himself.  He did not allow himself to be consumed by what he could not change.  Professionally, Michael’s identity was transformed.  The agreement Professor B had with his family, friends, fellowship, and with himself remained solid.   He would be true.  His sense of strength could not be terminated. Then, and still today, Michael thrives.

“Logan,” on the other hand, found that task impossible to achieve.  Granted, the choice that led to his demise was one society could not accept.  More importantly, my Dad could not tolerate what he had done.  The question I now ask myself is would Michael ever have chosen to “commit” a professional, let alone  a physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual “suicide.”  My Dad chose each of these.  However, in practice, he decided to forego one of these self-destructive travels.  In a corporeal sense, Daddy lives.  Sadly it seems, life can be defined in many ways.  Not all are what we would think of as living.

Life Lessons, Losses Seen as Growth and Gains or Rain

As I recognized more than a decade ago in my own life, my or our choices create what comes.  My personal narrative and the lessons learned was nowhere near as profound as what I see in the lives of these two.  Perhaps, it is easier to understand what is separate from self.  I know not for sure.

I am only certain that the man I know as Daddy was replaced on the day of his arrest.  Ever since, a shell of himself stood in his shoes.  Outwardly, slowly, “Logan” regained respect.  A Governor’s pardon was awarded. He rebuilt his practice, and by appearances, his life.  However, he was never truly the same.  His relationships suffered. The man I was once so close to, for so very long, emotionally moved away from me.  Try as I might, and I did, and do, Daddy, only infrequently welcomes rapports with anyone.  In a meaningful manner, “Logan” separated himself from everyone, except perhaps, his wife.  

While his marriage to my Mom did not last long after the arrest; Daddy wed again. I had long believed that, his marriage would be as Michael’s and Joslyn’s is, a lifetime of love.  Better yet, my hope was the two liked each other.  They had been through more than most relationships endure.  Not in so many words, Daddy implied that my want for him was true.  However, in retrospect, that assumption seems an erroneous one.  From each of them, I heard. I saw.  In time, I began to question whether Daddy was authentically connected to his life partner, or more importantly, to himself.

Often, my Dad speaks of regrets, all he never accomplished and could have.  Manuscripts were  not published, though written.  Programs designed and developed were not implemented.  Post Graduate work woefully waned.  Daddy lost his will and his way when he was but a man in his forties.

Barely middle-aged “Logan” became his guilt.  For a very long time, this thought was but my theory.   I understood all I surmised was speculation.  We can only ask and hope the answer will serve as a window to the other’s soul.  Hence, months ago, I inquired.   I wondered aloud whether  “Logan” had reflected on what I observed, a change in his well-being.

Often, in conversation Daddy speaks of his physical health, or lack thereof.  For my father, it seems nothing compares with the agony that has been his corporeal existence.  Since, that dreaded day, “Logan’s” body has been racked with pain.  He has survived various  bouts of cancer, multiple heart attacks, permanent back injuries, and irreparable damage to his inner organs.  My Dad has struggled through physical miseries  He never had before.  

Mentally too, I detected a change.  Actually, he speaks of this often as well.  The person who taught me to live as Don Quixote, to never say die, to believe that in the next millisecond, it will be better only showed himself in rare moments, and only after he and I chatted alone for awhile.  A year ago, I mentioned what for me was this oddity to my Dad.  I asked him, how could this be.  Where had my Daddy gone?  

My Teacher, my Mentor, my Muse, was my Dad.   His truth was my truth.  In my experience, our shared philosophy has always proven itself accurate.  Today, I think of Michael B and trust he embraces as my Dad did and I do.  Every cloud has a silver lining.  Whence I forget, I realize I only need to only open my eyes.  I will see again; rainbows are a spectrum of colors.  Shades of pretty pink can be seen within the band of blood red.

One that day I proposed the question, what happened? Might it be that the fittest man, one whose health never faltered when I was younger changed the day he first chose to do what landed him in jail?  “Logan” admitted, indeed, he took his own life.  Verve, energy, an authentic excitement, all that he was and encouraged was gone. Yes, all those years ago, he killed himself in every way he could.  His chosen weapon was his woe.  Vigor was a void left behind near two score now.

Daddy said the only reason he remained on the planet was to take care of those who needed his physical presence. At the time he shared, I understood.  I could do nothing else. His pain, physical and emotional is palpable.  Yet, today, as I ruminate on the house that Michael built I realize there is much more to ponder.  Are any of us here or as is said, “there” for others when we are barely present.

It is vital that we give rise to the best of our being. Houses are not built on hurt.  Soreness does not allow our relationships or us to soar.  We must reach for the stars, our stars, and not the rays of light others think bright.  We cannot give what we do not have.  A window, round, large, or square is not constructed without a strong, preferably steel frame.  Beams able to withstand any storm, even one directly overhead, need to be sturdy, straight, and able to hold great weight.  

If love is not within us the gift of such a treasure cannot grow.  Dreams fulfilled or death delivered, each happens. My understanding of these  verities happened last night.  Today, I hold dear a broader belief; in every moment the choice is mine now and forever.

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I Dream the Dream

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org


All of my life I have been a dreamer.  Don Quixote is my adopted name.  Happily, I tilt at windmills.  I do the impossible.  Nothing deters me, that is, unless my lack of ego strength is involved.  Then, unlike Susan Boyle, a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent, I falter.  A being, whose energy, enthusiasm, and personal story brought her to stage, has the courage I lack.  Might it be a fear of failure, or perchance, success scares me.  I know not with certainty.  For now, as I reflect on the woman who wows the world, I think of how I too have dreamed, and what I did to damage, defeat, or even destroy my own ascension.  

I also wonder.  Will the tears I shed as I listen to her sing and watch her gracefully move through her recital wash over me.  Would all that I felt, as I immersed myself in Ms Boyle’s performance, be gone before I acted on the audacity she radiates, or might these emotions help cleanse me of my own deep-seated apprehensions.  Oh, how I crave to come out into the light, to as Susan Boyle stated, be given a “chance.”  Indeed, for me, I know the one who never seems to provide me with what I need to succeed is me.

At the age of two, having entered school at one and one half years of age, I aspired to earn my Doctorate degree.  The vision never faded.  However, apprehension filled my heart, my head, and ultimately delayed the desire.  Absolutely, letters of intent, and introductions for dissertations were written.  Interviews with Department Chairs were granted.  Conversations with Deans inspired and encouraged me.  Nonetheless, excuses prevailed.  Dollars could have been deemed the cause for the postponement.  Other pretexts were easily posed.  My dream was deferred.

Later in life, I realized, perhaps, what I truly yearned for was not as I once believed it to be.  Could I compose, rather than recognize a prestigious scholastic rank.  Might I follow a bliss belatedly acknowledged.  I wish to write, to produce prose, to publish.  This, I realize is my passion.  While, unexpectedly, accidentally, I was given an opportunity I never imagined, I denied its importance.  I did nothing to further my future as an author.

The one tome was widely distributed in a highly esteemed and well-known textbook.  Educational Resources accepted some rare submissions.  Quite a few others honored me with requests for missives on the World-Wide-Web.  Appreciative, I shared many an inscribed statement, stories, and poems.  Complements came and I dismissed them all.  

I hoped for an authentic chance, uncertain as to what that might look like.  Surely, I told myself, I tell myself, one will never come.  I did not have the final, the one, the “proper” credential.  Nor could I possibly pen or present a publisher with a proposal of worth.  

I have read the accepted requests of many an author .who already appears in print. Some of these papers were hand-delivered by published persons who assured me, I have the potential.  Only I, these wordsmiths said, could  create the prospect I think must be provided.

I look ’round every corner for clues.  I crawl through dusty shelves in search of a book to teach me how to market my manuscripts.  I chat with those who have achieved as I aspire to do.  I defend what I know hinders my growth.  I turn to Susan Boyle with delight.  Perhaps, one day I too will perform.  I do have a dream.

I thank you Ms Boyle.  You, perchance, my mentor, my muse, are beautiful, inside and out.  

“Dream what you want to dream; go where you want to go;

be what you want to be, because you have only one life and one chance to do all the things you want to do.”


~ Bette Midler [American Singer and Actress]

Post Script . . .

Curious and contemplative, I wish to consider the words of the melody Susan Boyle chose.  I recall the musical Les Misérables.  However, I heard the song so long ago.  I search for the lyrics to I Dreamed a Dream and much to my sorrow, I find words of despair.  The character that chants words of woe envisions the world as a place where she is unwelcome, where dreams die, perchance before they are able to be truly born.

Fascinated, I find reason to ponder.  Might this moment is Ms Boyle’s life have been her first.  Could it be that she, just as I, had not given herself a chance, at least not until that night.

I recall she left the stage before a more authentic, spoken acknowledgement was delivered.  She was surprised to discover the depth of appreciation for her “talents,” her being.  She brimmed with delight when she was told, it is true.  Her voice, her strength, the being who touched so many souls, was, and is sincerely special.

Might an occasion that conceived much within me be the one that gave birth to Susan Boyle’s dreams come true?

References . . .

New Eyes Bestow Meaning; Making a Difference


Inspiration

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

As children, many of us decide we wish to help others.  When asked what we want to be when we grow up, we typically respond, I will be a Teacher, maybe a Doctor, or a Nurse.  I wish to serve society as a Social Worker, a Fireman, or a Law Officer.  As a Librarian, I can truly help people grow intellectually.  What they read will advance emotional enlightenment.  Even food servers and those who prepare the fare, experience pleasure when he or she interacts with the connoisseur of sustenance and spirits.  The builder provides shelter from the storms.  We each wish to make a difference.

At a young age, we learn to admire those who encouraged us to grow our minds and bodies, no matter their walk of life.  Throughout our teens, we study.  Biological, physiological sciences are popular pursuits for pre-med students.  Enrollment in Liberal Arts, Language Arts, and English courses is common among those that wish to practice pedagogy.  Apprenticeships are available in other professions.  Academic scholars and those who pursue lessons that are more practical diligently work to follow their dream.  Finally, we finish.  We feel our oats and exuberantly enter the workplace determined to inspire and bestow the best that we have to offer.

Each day, as successful professionals we awake to a new dawn.  We drive to fulfill the promise of our chosen careers.  However, after a while we feel drained.  We believe we are not indispensable, effective, or even necessary.  Many of us no longer feel committed to the profession that was once our dream.  Millions of us fade fast when we do the work we once thought would feed our soul.  We are stressed beyond belief.  We do not think we can endure as we have for what seems forever. 

Tired, worn, and torn we are tempted by higher salaries.  The prospect of shorter hours excites many a mind.  More prestige for less sounds great.  Longer vacations intrigue others.  Better benefits are a draw.  For some, simply a break from the omnipresent demands might be nice.

In the field of education, each of these incentives is used to entice trained mentors to a District or to this calling.  Yet, teacher turnover remains high. 

In the medical profession, doctors too are extremely dissatisfied with what the vocation has become.  Although physicians are thought to be more autonomous, they too feel ample pressure.  Patients, insurers, Health Maintenance Organizations [HMOs], and fellow physicians all burden the mind and affect the quality of life. 

Often individuals in every job are so overwhelmed.  They think life would be better in another line of work.  Stories of frustration are abundant.  In each profession, people decide to move on; certain that the grass is greener elsewhere. 

Americans are burned out, burned up, lighting the candle at both ends, and unhappy in their careers.  Countless people question the choices they’ve made.  Some assume they made decisions when they were young and naïve.  They think as adults they are wiser.  Numerous individuals acknowledge, in recent years the marketplace demands much.  “Vacations” are defined as vocations on wheels.  Trains, boats, and planes and now offices when on the go.  They accept they are simply stretched too far.  They see the evidence.

Five warning signs of job burnout
By Kate Lorenz
CareerBuilder.com

Do you think you never have or never will experience work burnout?  Consider these statistics:

  • The American worker has the least vacation time of any modern, developed society.
  • In 2005, 33 percent of workers said they would be checking in with the office while on vacation.
  • One-half of workers reported they feel a great deal of stress on the job.
  • Forty-four percent of working moms admit to being preoccupied about work while at home and one-fourth say they bring home projects at least one day a week.
  • Nineteen percent of working moms reported they often or always work weekends.
  • Thirty-seven percent of all working dads said they would consider the option of taking a new job with less pay if it offered a better work/life balance.
  • Thirty-six percent of working dads reported they bring work home at least one day a week and 30 percent say they often or always work weekends.

    These statistics, taken from CareerBuilder.com surveys of American workers, demonstrate the pressures employees in the United States are under [in order] to be available to the office, despite responsibilities — or plans — away from work.

    All this, combined with longer work hours and many individuals handling the workloads of two, can easily lead to worker burnout.

    If you think burnout on the job is just an excuse used by the weak to get out of responsibilities, think again.  Stress and burnout can affect your immune system and have been linked to migraines, digestive disorders, skin diseases, high blood pressure, and heart disease.  It causes emotional distress as well.

    “Job burnout is a response to work stress that leaves you feeling powerless, hopeless, fatigued, drained and frustrated,” writes Dr. Audrey L. Canaff, a UC Foundation Assistant Professor in the Counseling Program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in her article on WorkplaceBlues.com.  “But since job burnout is not an overnight occurrence, it’s important to recognize its early signs and to act before the problem becomes truly serious.”

  • At times, the actions we take only add to our strain.  Some take medication to relieve the pain of pressure.  Side effects can exacerbate our physical and psychological well-being.  Others run from the scene of the crime they once called ‘my career.’  More eat to escape the encroaching misery. A few exercise.  Each offers temporary relief.  Most accept they must suffer in silence.  They hope this too will pass. 

    People ponder.  Perchance, the company will be sold.  The District will appoint new Administrators.  Hospitals, on occasion, hire new management firms.  Some say I will simply transfer to another locale.  Scores of employees count the days until they might quit.  Several ask to be fired.  Unemployment and lawsuits are options.  A few people dream; their day will come.  However, often it does not, or so they believe.  Most of us miss what is right in front of us.  We do not see what is there, for our eyes are tired and we are weary. 

    Author, and Physician Naomi Rachel Remen once practiced in an area of medicine that left her separate from herself.  She was extremely successful; thus, she did not realize how torn she was.  For this amazing professional, life offered unexpected opportunities.  Experiences helped open her eyes.  Now she gives us great gifts through her inscriptions.

    Finding meaning

    Teaching the practice of medicine involves more than teaching its science. Medicine is in crisis, and in crisis, we need to find something stronger than our science to hold on to, something more satisfying and sustaining to us as people in this work. Perhaps the answer lies in learning to cultivate the meaning of our work in the same way that we have traditionally pursued its knowledge base. We will need to learn to educate students to find meaning as skillfully as we educate them to pursue medical expertise.

    In times of difficulty, meaning strengthens us not by changing our lives by transforming our experience of our lives, The Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli tells a parable about 3 stonecutters building a cathedral in the Middle Ages.  You approach the first man and ask him what he’s doing.  Angrily he turns to you and says, “Idiot!  Use your eyes! They bring me a rock, I cut it into a block, they take it away, and they bring me another rock.  I’ve been doing this since I was old enough to work, and I’m going to be doing it until the day that I die.”  Quickly you withdraw, go the next man, and ask him the same question.  He smiles at you warmly and tells you, “I’m earning a living for my beloved family.  With my wages I have built a home, there is food on our table, the children are growing strong.”  Moving on, you approach the third man with this same question.  Pausing, he gives you a look of deep fulfillment and tells you, “I am building a great cathedral, a holy lighthouse where people lost in the dark can find their strength and remember their way. And it will stand for a thousand years!”  Each of these men is doing the identical task.  Finding a personal meaning in your work opens even the most routine of tasks to the dimension of satisfaction and even joy.  We may need to recognize meaning for the resource it is and find ways to pursue it and preserve it.

    While the philosophical may be enlightening, often people read such tales and do not integrate the moral into their lives.  People relate to practical paths.  Medical Doctor, and Counselor to cancer patients, offers a personal narrative. 

    A former patient of hers, Josh is a highly gifted cancer surgeon.  A bout of depression overwhelmed this extremely esteemed Physician.  Josh sought counsel and turned to Naomi.  Remen met a disillusioned and cynical man certain of a need to retire.  The medical man expressed his disenchantment, “I can barely make myself get out of bed in the mornings.  I hear the same complaints day after day; I see the same diseases over and over again. I just don’t care anymore.  I need a new life.”  Although the doctor’s skills gave life to many on the verge of death, it did not matter to him.

    Rachel Naomi Remen recounts for her readers in Grandfather’s Blessings, an account that may resonate within you.

    Proust said the voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new vistas but in having new eyes.  New eyes can often be found in very simple ways.  Drawing on the work of Angeles Arrien, the author of the The Four Fold Way, I sometimes suggest to people like Josh that they review the events of their day for fifteen minutes every evening, asking themselves three questions in a journal.

    The three questions are: What surprised me today?  What moved me or touched me today?  What inspired me today?  Often these are busy people, and I tell them that they do not need to write a great deal; the key thing is in reliving their day from a new perspective, and not the amount that they write about it.  I asked Josh if he would like to try this as an experiment. 

    He was dubious.  “Less expensive than Prozac,” I told him.  He laughed and agreed to try.  I was not surprised to hear from him in a few days.  He sounded irritated on the phone.  “Rachel,” he said, “I have done this for three days now and the answer is always the same: “Nothing.  Nothing and nothing.” I don’t like to fail at things.  Is there a trick to this?”

    I laughed.  “perhaps you are still looking at life in old ways,” I told him.  “Try looking at the people around you as if you were a novelist, a journalist, or maybe a poet.  Look for the stories.”  There was a brief silence.  “right,” he said.  I sighed.  But he did not call me back.

    Josh did not mention the journal again for several weeks.  Our sessions focused on relieving some of the  stress and reducing his workload a bit.  He seemed to be getting better, and I was optimistic.

    Six weeks later Josh came into the office with his bound journal.  He spoke of how he struggled to see beyond what he knew, what he was trained to observe.  The physician focused on science.  He wrote of how a cancer shrunk or enlarged.  He penned words that related to his work; a new experimental drug was effective.  Gradually, he saw the people he cared for.  Josh realized individuals stricken with terminal illness  . . .

    found their way through great pain and darkness by following the thread of love, people who had sacrificed parts of their bodies to affirm the value of being alive, found ways to triumph over pain, suffering, and even death.

    People moved this medical professional to tears.  Josh was triumphant for he saw what most of us no longer observe.  Each of us leads meaningful lives.  We touch others and change lives.  We, as individuals make a profound difference.  While overwhelmed with the logistics of work we lose sight of what matters.  The exchange you had with this person or that helped them to believe, to begin to live their lives anew.  An encounter expanded the awareness of another, or perhaps you were changed by a comment, a compliment, a thought made in passing.

    Surgeon, Josh realized if he listened to hearts not through a stethoscope but through new eyes he could hear love speak to him.  Empathy is the best educator, the most qualified doctor, and it exists within us.  Teachers do not impart wisdom.  Physicians do not heal wounds.  Librarians do not bestow tools for knowledge.  Flight attendants do not ease the travel.  Our own hearts inform and help us recover when we are hurt, bothered, burned out, and bleeding for relief.

    What we see, feel, hear, think, and choose to be is not determined by our career.  These are evoked from within.  Wherever we go, there we are.  We cannot separate ourselves from our interpretations, explanations, illumination, enlightenment, or existence.  A change in careers will not calm the soul.  Chaos cannot be lessened if we leave a location.  What truly alters our perceptions is not the work [job] we do, the work we do within transforms us.

    No matter our profession, a Mom, a Maintenance Worker, a Machinist, or a Corporate Mogul, we make a difference in the lives of others and in our own internal universe.

    As you travel through your day I invite you to reflect.  What surprised you today?  What moved you or touched you today?  What inspired you today?  Write your answers and share these with us.  I trust what moves you will be meaningful to us all.  We each relate to a reality that is ours daily.  Every one of us only needs to look through new eyes.  Perchance your view will help expand my horizons.

    Sources For Stress and Redress . . .

  • With Turnover High, Schools Fight for Teachers, By Sam Dillon.  The New York Times. August 27, 2007
  • pdf With Turnover High, Schools Fight for Teachers, By Sam Dillon.  The New York Times. August 27, 2007
  • Frustrated physicians find careers outside of medicine, By Amy Fletcher.  The Denver Business Journal. Friday, June 27, 2003
  • Job Stress.  The American Institute of Stress.
  • Five warning signs of job burnout. By Kate Lorenz.  CareerBuilder.com.
  • Recapturing the Soul of Medicine. Speaking of Faith.  America Public Media. 2007
  • California Fires; We Weep As Wind Fuels the Flames

    San Diego TV Reporter reports on his own home burning down

    copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    The land is scorched.  Flames flair.  Embers whip about in the wind.  We, as a nation, are witness.  The woes of a reporter cause us to weep.  Larry Himmel watches his beloved domicile burn to the ground.  As a nation we recall other disasters and we grimace.  What will become of the many that no longer have a place to call home.  How might the children recover from what they hoped was but a nightmare.  People, pets, the plant life, all are changed forever.

    I can say little at a time such as this.  My hometown Irvine, California is on fire.  A friend in San Diego had to flee his abode.  The flames flared.  An inferno came too close to his residence.  With wife, children, and a fuzzy baby in hand the family escaped.  They evacuated as ordered. 

    Talk of arson looms large as millions move from one safe place to another.  As the winds shift, so too do plans.  No one can predict the future; nor can anyone determine the direction of the flames. 

    Property is ablaze.  Production is halted.  Billions of dollars are lost.  More importantly, memories of times past are destroyed.  Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.  Loved ones live no more.

    The devastation is dire.  Firefighters tire.  Families seek a sense of hope.  Friends try to help.  Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] promises assistance.  President George W. Bush is expected to arrive to assess the damage on Friday, October 25, 2007.  However, White House sources state, the President will not meet with the people most in need.  He will not enter the Qualcomm Center.  Indeed, he may only fly over the devastated land.

    The Administration claims they learned from the Hurricane Katrina debacle.  Yet, there is reason to wonder.  Much of what we witness as working well in the Golden State has more to do with Californians, the people, businesses, and the state authorities than it does the federal government.

    Tomorrow is another day.  Perchance the President will do as he did not do years ago.  Possibly, he will exit the plane and speak with the people.  When he spoke with the Governor of California, George Bush said he would be there for the residents of this ravaged state.  Arnold Schwarzenegger has faith.  I will try to trust as well.  The gracious Governor expressed his gratitude. 

    We want to thank the federal government.  It made me feel so good to be the governor of this state when I had my first briefing in one of the locations where there was a fire, and in the middle of the briefing, President Bush called me.  I thought it was first a joke, because it was the phone, they said, “The President is on the phone.”  I said, “No, it couldn’t be.”  It was him on the phone, and he said, “Arnold, I just want you to know, anything that you need from us, we will supply it for you.  We are there for you.  Every single department will be there for you.  Secretary Chertoff will be there for you.  Everyone is there ready for you, and just let us know what you need.”  And so I then called him back and we since then have talked several times.  And I tell you that he is coming out, I think early on Thursday, to visit us and to visit some of the fire sites and some of the locations.  So we want to thank the President also for being so quick on the action, and to help us with the federal-and to declare also a federal emergency, emergency for the State of California.  We really appreciate that also. 

    Californians, their friends, and family are genuinely thankful for what has been done to ease the pain, physical, financial, and emotional.  My hope is help will be there for more than a moment.  Money will assist.  Meaningful and mindful emotional support can do much.

    While mired in the drama, details are missed.  No one can anticipate the dilemmas to come; nor will we know ’til the morn whether the George W. Bush will truly immerse himself in the reality as the people of California were forced to do. 

    References and Resources . . .

  • Governor Tours Evacuation Center at Qualcomm, Discusses Wildfire. Office of the Governor. October 23, 2007
  • Seung-Hui Cho. I Mourn Your Life and Loss

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    My heart aches.  Of course I mourn the passing of the thirty-two Virginia Polytechnic University students, as do we all throughout the globe.  Nevertheless, I cannot forget how my heart hurts for the thirty-third victim, the one the media never seems to count among those killed, Seung-Hui Cho.  On April 16, 2007 thirty-three lovable and fragile individuals passed.

    Seung-Hui Cho, as he called himself, was a young man locked in Hades for decades.  His death began long before the day of infamy.  He longed for comfort and company.  All he received was chiding.  Even in death, Seung-Hui Cho is scorned.  I am forlorn.

    From the first, there were labels.  Many said he was “Chinese”; they would then add their political concerns for China.  Then he was, and today he is still frequently referred to as a Korean National.  Calls for restraints on immigration are common.  Of course, in the minds of many American’s anyone that is not white is not right, and definitely, if they are not born in this country, they are aliens. 

    Among some, there is ample discussion for the name of this now notable student, the “shooter.”  Many believe his ethnicity is more important than the person.

    The Asian version of the name – Cho Seung-Hui – appeared to be more widespread, in part because of its use in the ubiquitous wire stories from Reuters and the AP. As a result, some Korean-Americans felt media groups were playing up Cho’s foreign-ness, according to the Asian American Journalists Association, which advised reporters to use the American order.

    Thankfully, and I do note the use of the name is Americanized, as family members and Cho himself seem to prefer, National Public Radio retorted as I had when speaking to friends and family.  This young and deeply disturbed man was, is an American.

    How American was Seung-Hui Cho? Despite being a South Korean national living in America, his upbringing, and his problems, were distinctly American.

    The system or lack of social services in the United states let this man slide through many a crack.

    Seung-Hui Cho and his parents were hoping to find streets paved in gold in America.  Unfortunately, they discovered what many of us do, life is good if you are among the fertile few.  Actually, life, even for the affluent can be a struggle.  Life is life.  People yell; they scream, they damn, and they slam.  Consider the woes of an eleven year old.  The daughter of Alec Baldwin may have been born into money; nevertheless, she receives the wrath of a supposedly loving father.  She is verbally slammed and damned.

    Imagine how loved this little girl must feel after being told she is a “thoughtless little pig,”  Her Dad, actor Baldwin, threatens to set here straight during their meeting the following day.  Were I she I would want to run for my life.  Seung-Hui Cho, the wounded must have often felt a need to escape.  Perhaps, his sullen manner was his means for flight.  Seung-Hui Cho said in an 1,800-word rambling . . .

    ‘I didn’t have to do this. I could have left. I could have fled. But no, I will no longer run.’

    Cho lived in shadows, deep and dark.  He attended classes at a prestigious University.  He was a scholar, a writer.  Yet, he was shunned.  His dialect was odd, mumbled, and his words were difficult to discern.  This academic was nearing graduation, a scary proposition all in itself.  He did not feel excepted in the world.  From what we know of his history, he never had.

    Some say he was paranoid, obsessively anxious, or unreasonably suspicious.  Perhaps he was.  Many of us feel family and friends expect much of us and from us.  Often we compare ourselves to others and we believe we fall short.  Acceptance into an esteemed University is glorious.  Maintaining good grades is meaningful.  Yet, any of us may wonder, is that good enough.  Perchance when our sibling excels, we are far more aware of our failings.

    Though Monday’s shootings at Virginia Tech had already cast a shadow over campus, the news yesterday morning that the gunman’s older sister is a recent Princeton alumna brought the tragedy even closer to home.

    Sun-Kyung Cho ’04 was an economics major who interned at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok during the summer before her senior year and wrote briefly for The Daily Princetonian. She now works as a “State Department contractor,” The Washington Post reported yesterday, and was listed on Princeton’s alumni directory as living in Centreville, Va., with her parents.

    The parents of these fine children are so devastated, they are residing in a community hospital.  They feel deeply pained by their son’s circumstance.  The mother and father meant no harm; they as all parents hoped to provide the best for their children.  In an interview with Seung-Hui Cho’s grandfather, the elder stated

    “Seung-hui troubled his parents when he was young because he wouldn’t talk, but he was well-behaved,” said the man, who asked to be called Mr Kim, in interviews with two Korean newspapers.

    “I don’t know how I can compensate for the responsibility for raising my kids improperly. I don’t know how he could do this when his parents went to a country far away and worked hard.”

    They are troubled and think themselves responsible.  Perhaps, America has let the Cho family down.  They expected so much, all Americans do.  However, little is received. The rewards are few.

    In an editorial, the Hankyoreh newspaper wrote today that Cho’s case illustrated a problem faced by many South Korean immigrants in the US, where parents are too busy at work to take care of their children. 

    “It is the reality of our immigrants that parents are so busy making a living that it’s not easy for them to have dialogue with young children,” the newspaper wrote. 

    “We should think about whether our society or our (Korean) community abroad has been negligent in preventing conditions that could lead to such an aberration,” it said.

    Many in the Korean community think the problem lies in the life of an émigré; however, even native born Americans struggle to make a decent wage or create a comfortable caring environment for their children.

    Most neighbours could barely recall talking to the couple. “They’re very quiet, very nice people. They worked very hard for him. It’s very sad,” their next-door neighbour, Abdul Shash, told the Associated Press.

    “They valued education, just like any other parents in this country, and they worked sometimes 12, 13 hours a day to send a daughter to Princeton and to send their son to Virginia Tech,” said Jeff Ahn, president of the League of Korean Americans in Virginia.

    Most of us think our lack of personal success is our fault.  When our offspring struggle or hurt another, we are pained.  A  Grandfather feels responsible for his own progeny and the product of their love.  Mister Kim the eldest representative of a kind and caring family reflects,

    “How could he have done such a thing if he had any sympathy for his parents, who went all the way to another country because they couldn’t make ends meet and endured hardships,” Cho’s maternal grandfather, identified only by his last name Kim, was quoted as saying.

    As a child Seung-Hui Cho was ridiculed and bullyed.  As an adult he hid; he hoped to avoid the taunts and teasing.

    Former classmates recalled Cho being taunted over his speech difficulties.

    He almost never opened his mouth and would ignore attempts to strike up a conversation, said Chris Davids, a Virginia Tech senior who graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., with Cho in 2003.

    When Cho read out loud in class, other students laughed at his strange, deep voice that sounded “like he had something in his mouth,” Davids said.

    In a video Cho mailed to NBC in the middle of his rampage at Virginia Tech, the 23-year-old portrayed himself as persecuted and rants about rich kids.

    One professor saw his angst.  She read the words of a tormented soul.  She was frightened.  Initially, she embraced the long-suffering spirit of this neglected man.

    Lucinda Roy, a co-director of the creative writing program at Virginia Tech, taught Cho in a poetry class in fall of 2005 and later worked with him one-on-one after she became concerned about his behavior and themes in his writings.

    The professor pondered.  She realized Seung-Hui Cho was without friends.  He did not know how to relate; perhaps, he had never had the chance.

    Roy told ABC News that Cho seemed “extraordinarily lonely-the loneliest person I have ever met in my life.” She said he wore sunglasses indoors, with a cap pulled low over his eyes.

    In his writings he was lashing out as all wounded animals do.  His actions amplified the distance he felt and thus, created.

    He whispered, took 20 seconds to answer questions, and took cellphone pictures of her in class. Roy said she was concerned for her safety when she met with him.

    Professor Roy became fearful.  Sadly, we all are when we do not understand.  Often, when any of us think we are threatened, instead of continuing to assist, we withdraw from what causes us great apprehension.  We avoid knowing what we recognize and prepare to protect ourselves further.  Thus, we as a society discuss increasing security in our schools rather than raising the standards and funding for mental health.

    Such is the situation, the shortsightedness.  It is all so sad to me.  We separate ourselves from each other.  We create stress.  Then instead of coming together we try harder to take control.  Emotions cannot be regulated; in truth, we cannot mandate behaviors.  If we are to be truly safe, we must ensure that every individual feels cared for to his or her core.  I believe we must interact, not react.

    I beseech us all; I ask Americans, émigrés, and individuals in every corner of the globe, do not hold your children tighter, lock them up in buildings where there is little genuine affection.  Love them; they need to feel safe and secure and only your authentic fondness can fill their hearts and provide stability.  Pay attention to the progeny.  They are our future. 

    Do not apply pressure as a tourniquet might.  Suffocating a wound appears to stop the flow.  However, scars form from within.  What is not released, calmly and with care, in the moment builds up.  Feelings must be felt, expressed, and received gently with concern. 

    Please let your loved ones be and breathe.  Provide them with the freedom to speak and to feel.  Be with those that are special to you. Listen to their concerns.  Allow them to lean on your shoulder when they wish to.  Tenderly teach autonomy.  Do not dismiss the essence of interdependence as well.  May we honor our children wholly in our homes and schools.

    Please let us not place imprison our pupils, our progeny.  Provide for them in meaningful ways.  Trust them to grow and nurture them on their unique path.


    Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner; put yourself in his place so that you may understand
    . . . what he learns and the way he understands it.?

    ~ Soren Kierkegaard

    Everything depends upon the quality of experience . . . just as no man lives or dies to himself, so no experience lives and dies to itself. 
    Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience. 
    The central problem of an education based upon experience is to select the kind of present experience that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences.

    ~ John Dewey [American Philosopher, Psychologist, Educational Reformer]

    The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.
    ~ R. M. Hutchins [American Educator, Author, The University of Utopia and The Learning Society]

    The sorrow is deep and the family feels more than any of us might imagine.  I share the Cho family statement.  I think that we each can feel their pain in these words.

    Text of Cho family statement
    By The Associated Press
    Statement issued to The Associated Press by Sun-Kyung Cho, sister of Seung-Hui Cho:

    On behalf of our family, we are so deeply sorry for the devastation my brother has caused. No words can express our sadness that 32 innocent people lost their lives this week in such a terrible, senseless tragedy.

    We are heartbroken.

    We grieve alongside the families, the Virginia Tech community, our State of Virginia, and the rest of the nation. And, the world.

    Every day since April 16, my father, mother and I pray for students Ross Abdallah Alameddine, Brian Roy Bluhm, Ryan Christopher Clark, Austin Michelle Cloyd, Matthew Gregory Gwaltney, Caitlin Millar Hammaren, Jeremy Michael Herbstritt, Rachael Elizabeth Hill, Emily Jane Hilscher, Jarrett Lee Lane, Matthew Joseph La Porte, Henry J. Lee, Partahi Mamora Halomoan Lumbantoruan, Lauren Ashley McCain, Daniel Patrick O’Neil, J. Ortiz-Ortiz, Minal Hiralal Panchal, Daniel Alejandro Perez, Erin Nicole Peterson, Michael Steven Pohle Jr., Julia Kathleen Pryde, Mary Karen Read, Reema Joseph Samaha, Waleed Mohamed Shaalan, Leslie Geraldine Sherman, Maxine Shelly Turner, Nicole White, Instructor Christopher James Bishop, and Professors Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, Kevin P. Granata, Liviu Librescu and G.V. Loganathan.

    We pray for their families and loved ones who are experiencing so much excruciating grief. And we pray for those who were injured and for those whose lives are changed forever because of what they witnessed and experienced.

    Each of these people had so much love, talent, and gifts to offer, and their lives were cut short by a horrible and senseless act.

    We are humbled by this darkness. We feel hopeless, helpless, and lost. This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn’t know this person.

    We have always been a close, peaceful, and loving family. My brother was quiet and reserved, yet struggled to fit in. We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence.

    He has made the world weep. We are living a nightmare.

    There is much justified anger and disbelief at what my brother did, and a lot of questions are left unanswered. Our family will continue to cooperate fully and do whatever we can to help authorities understand why these senseless acts happened. We have many unanswered questions as well.

    Our family is so very sorry for my brother’s unspeakable actions. It is a terrible tragedy for all of us.

    Source: North Carolina attorney Wade Smith, who provided the statement on behalf of the Cho family

    Seung-Hui Cho My Sadness for Yours . . .

  • In Virginia, a Day of Mourning Associated Press. The New York times. April 20, 2007
  • pdf In Virginia, a Day of Mourning Associated Press. The New York times. April 20, 2007
  • Cho Seung-Hui or Seung-Hui Cho? By Michelle Tsai.  Slate. Thursday, April 19, 2007
  • Weighing Cho’s Heritage and Identity, By Robert Siegal.  All Things Considered. April 18, 2007
  • Alec Baldwin’s Threatening Message to Daughter. By TMZ. April 19th 2007
  • Tragedy at Virginia Tech, Gunman kills 32 in dorm and classrooms before taking own life. By Jonathan Zebrowski.  Princetonian. April 17, 2007
  • Virginia Shooter Spoke Little As Child, By Bo-Mi Lim, Associated Press.  SFGate. Thursday, April 19, 2007
  • Text of Cho Family Statement.  Seattlepi.April 20, 2007
  • “Death Ends a Life, Not a Relationship.” In Memory of . . .

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    In the last sixteen years, I have only used the word in my writing.  It just does not seem apt for me anymore.  In 1991, my Grandpa passed, or as some say, he died, although he never did.  I am reminded of this today for someone I knew from afar for many decades, and met face-to-face only a year ago on this same date, took his last breath this afternoon. 

    It is a somber day; yet beautiful.  Phillip, is gentle man, a giant.  His heart is, to coin an expression, more golden than gold.  His spirit is softer than the yellow metal is in its purest form.  Phillip’s goodness is great.  You may think it odd that I presume to know so much about this man.  After all, we only spoke on a few occasions in the past year.  However, I am closely acquainted with Phillip’s family.  I have, by extension been apart of this loving circle for generations.

    On March 11, 2006, I spent hours chatting with Phillip.  We discovered all that was between us.  Until then, we never understood that we were truly connected.  Without communication, there is much conjecture.  When we open our hearts and minds much is realized, at least Phillip and I thought so.

    Our conversation was deep; it went on throughout the day and into the evening.  We spent hours relating to what was, is, would be, and could be.  I never felt so safe, so sane, as fortunate to be part of his, my, or our family as I did on this date a year ago.  Strangely enough, when we first spoke Phillip was sitting in a sacred chair.  It is my Mom’s favorite chair.  Mommy settled into that seat for years.  She read, smoked, smiled, and laughed, all from that chair.  I felt certain she was sharing the wooden bench with Phillip as he and I chatted.

    No one sits in that maple structure anymore and has not since Mommy took her last breath.  My father gently looks over at the white and wood construction often throughout the day and every evening.  He has for years.  He discusses the day with Mommy as he sits across from her.  Fresh flowers are neatly positioned in front of her fixture regularly.  Father always buys her favorite blossoms and talks to her about his choices.

    When Mommy’s body, in a physical sense was here on Earth, each morning my parents would brew their first cup of tea and walk through the garden examining every new shoot on each beautiful plant as the tea steeped.  They kept a pictorial log of the gardens growth.  They mounted photographs on a rolling file so that they might flip through these, as if watching the transformation through time-lapse photography.

    Mommy and the love of her life were both avid readers.  They frequently exchanged books and articles.  They still do today, although Mommy sends her circuitously.  Nevertheless, my parents still share.

    I too share with Mommy.  She is so very much a part of whom I am, what I think, say, do and feel.  She is forever with me.  Now, she and Phillip are sharing or so I imagine.  Perhaps, when he sat there in her chair with her, she and he knew.  It was time, time for them to meet and be one.  Phillip is my father’s younger brother. Yet, Mommy and Phillip  had never met.  Families do some not so funny things in the name of love, caring, concern, or knowing what is best.

    I suspect, as I think about the life after this Earthly existence, those of us bound by the properties of this planet rarely imagine what is most important, love and peace.

    After I learned Phillip was lost to my physical touch, I looked around me.  I examined all my possessions and wondered were any of these truly valuable.  Did my clothing, my car, even my home have any actual worth.  Were these assets or distractions?  I pondered whether life itself was significant.  What is the meaning of it all?  I could think to leave this planet, for I do inquire what is the point.  Yet, I think that decision would not be wise.

    I have to believe there is some reason I am here.  My Grandpa taught me so much.  He gave me reason for living.  Grandpa taught we to be open, honest, curious, and concerned.  Grandpa, born more than a century ago was, is, in fact a peacenik.  Grandpa regularly recited . . .

    Hearts, like doors, will open with ease,
    With two very, very little keys.
    And don’t you know the two of these
    Are “Thank you, Sir” and “If you please.”
    Grandfather Mitchell memorized . . .
    “Two wrongs do not make a right.”
    Grandpa felt deeply, ‘Love always endures.’  What seems like centuries ago, I yearned to visit a beau.  This magnificent man lived states away from where I resided.  Roundtrip airfare was two hundred and eighty nine dollars.  I certainly did not have dollars to cast to the wind, only to watch them fly across the country.  To this day, I do not know when I mentioned the subject to my Grandpa.  Surely, I never expected, nor did I ask him to pay the price of such a costly ticket.  Without hesitation, he did.  If you knew how extremely frugal my family is, you would trust, this was weird, wonderful; ye still bizarre!  Nevertheless, it happened.

    I could not get over such a gesture!  I thanked Grandpa over and over again.  I was and to this day, am grateful for the gifts he gave me, this one and the less tangible treasures.  Grandpa turned to me one day and said, “Betsy; No one does anything they do not really want to do.”  He assured me he offered me the opportunity to travel for that was what he really wanted to do.  While he appreciated my expressions of gratitude, I need not thank him again.  My going and enjoying was his pleasure.  For Grandpa facilitating growth was love and love was the reason for living.  Sharing love brings peace.

    Grandfather Mitchell taught my Mom the same.  Love and peace were forever his lessons.  The scientific method was his preferred tool for instruction.  Grandpa gave Mommy the freedom to think and to be who she was naturally.  My Mom is, was interested in every entity.  She was a scientist, just like her father.  He was a Chemist, a Pharmacist, and a lover of people.  She was a Social Scientist, a little lessen enamored with human foibles.  As a child, Mommy saw too much pain.  It hurt her heart.  She longed for love and peace and worked to create it.  She did.

    Observation, examination, and experience were my Mom’s mentors.  Mommy embraced learning easily.  Her father, my Grand encouraged little Berenice Barbara to explore and share her discoveries.  The two chatted often.  They were, they are, two great minds with millions of thoughts, each inspirational.  They imagined all the people, sharing all the world, and living in harmony.  I trust they still do.  I suspect now that Phillip has found his peace, he has joined them.  The three are together giving rise to greater love.

    The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.
    ~ Morrie Schwartz [Sociology Professor]

    My Mom wanted me to learn as she had.  Curiosity continued to be the teaching method of choice; love and peace were still the curriculum.  Berenice Barbara the parent had two overriding principles.

    “Do whatever makes you happy, as long as it does not hurt anyone.”
    “No one has the right to tell you what to think, say, do, feel or be.”
    Mommy never did.  If I asked for her advice, and on occasion, I did, I would hear the previously stated philosophy.  Oh, if only I knew what made me happy.  If only I was certain what was wise.  I find no joy in their departures; although I have never felt they left me.  I am in some ways more with my Grandpa and Mom now then I was in life.  I feel their presence. Rarely, if ever do I speak of them in past tense.  I definitely do not say; nor do I believe they “died.”  I feel their love and I am at peace.

    This is exactly what I was saying to Phillip little over a month before he passed.  Phillip expressed his deepest fear.  The doctors had expected him to exit Earth months ago.  Physically, by all accounts, Phillip was ready to pass.  However, he stayed.  When asked why he lingered, Phillip shared he did not wish to leave his two daughters alone.  He, with help from his wife’s spirit, raised them since they were very young children.  Becky passed on Mother’s Day decades earlier.  The girls are in their early twenties now, still so young. To be without a mother and a father, Phillip did not wish to do that to them. 

    I was visiting at the time he made this statement, though I was a room away.  Upon hearing his reflection, I knew I must speak with Phillip.  I entered his hospice room.  I proceeded to his bedside, walking right past his mother and sister.  I put my face to his and began to tell my tale.

    I said, for as long as I could recall, my worse fear was I would loss my Mom.  I missed her even when I was in the same room with her.  She was [is] so alive, infinitely interesting, open, brilliant, and vibrant.  I had hoped to pass before her.  Surely, without her I would fall apart.  How would I live? Who would teach me as she had. 

    I was close to my grandfather and feared his demise; however, it was different.  To this day, I am unsure how, for my Grandpa engaged me for hours daily in my younger years.  I even lived with him for a couple of months when I was eleven years old.  Perchance, I had accepted the convention that Grandfather’s pass, since my paternal Grandparents were never on Earth in my lifetime.  I know not.  I did understand that though Grandpa’s body was not visible.  He still lives large in my life.  Only last evening I quoted him on a blog.  I attributed his words to him.  Grandpa lives!

    Nevertheless, without Mommy, I knew I would not function.  As I attempted to tell Phillip this, I cried uncontrollably.  Finally, gasping for air, I quoted Morrie Schwartz of Tuesday’s With Morrie fame.  Professor Schwartz told his former student, author Mitch Albom,

    “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
    Tearfully, I told Phillip my Mom never left me.  She is so much a part of who I am in every moment.  Berenice Barbara is within me.  I am as close to her as ever.  She still teaches me.  I also share the lessons I learn from her with others.  I assured Phillip as best as I was able, he was not leaving his daughters or other members of his family.  He was only changing the way in which he would be with them.

    After I spoke, a hug festival ensued.  Love and peace filled the room.  Grandpa and Mommy were there with us all.  The two are still teaching.  Yet, much remained unsettled.  It is challenging to grasp the unknown.  Yet, I must trust that ultimately Phillip has.  Today he decided to take his last breath as he held his daughter’s hand.  I hope she too was [is] able to understand he is not gone. Only his appearance differs.  Amy and Stacy, I love you so.  Your Dad does too.  He will continue to be there for you.  He will teach you now as he was when you were younger, as he did while working through his own rite of passage.

    Another relative of mine, Nicholas has been ill for years.  He too is young, still in his fifties.  His son has not yet graduated from High School.  I wonder if Nicholas might also want to be there for his family.  Might he muse that though his body may wither away, he will not.  If only we knew to our core, that death is not our undoing.  We live in and through all those that we touch.

    I kiss your sweet face Phillip.  I would ask you to say hello to Mommy and Grandpa were I not able to do so myself.  It is almost midnight and I must sleep.  I was never able to slumber well unless I said “Pleasant dreams” to those I love before I went off to bed.  Thus, I wish you “pleasant dreams!”  May we all live and rest in peace.

  • Tuesday’s With Morrie By Mitch Albom
  • Valentine’s Day. Childhood Contentment Canceled

    VlntnSwthrtCndy

    copyright © 2007. 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

    Valentine’s Day is truly my favorite holiday.  It always has been.  I have heard the complaints.  The day is too commercial.  These objections have been expressed for as long as I can remember.  I understand the grievances, although I have always felt the celebration need not be all about calculated consumption.  However, as with all else I fear today, our rights to individual expression are slipping away.   Perchance, some are gone.  Possibly, the potential of being unique has been supplanted. In homes, schools, and on the city streets throughout the countryside most everything is standardized.

    Being free to choose the way we honor others is barely possible now.  All is contained, constrained, controlled, and crafted to fit a formula.  Classroom curriculums reflect much of what is in our culture.  Today, rote is the rule.  Grades reflect the ability to regurgitate a prescribed program.  Americans have come to accept much of what in years passed would have been rejected.  We conform.

    Gay rights, or the lack there of is considered apt.  Driving while Black, or even walking in wealthy neighborhoods, if you are a person of color could spawn a vibrant conversation.  Each is characterizes as out-of-place or “inappropriate.” The Golden Rule lost garners little attention. I am concerned about each of these topics and more dire dealings.  Nevertheless, today, I wish to discuss something perhaps, more mundane, children’s’ Valentine’s Day cards.

    A friend and I are planned an outing.  We would travel hither and yon to visit close friends on this Day of deliberation.  My chum has a heart bigger than the universe.  For decades, he has heard tales of why I love February 14th.  He, let us call him Barry, knows that my Mom regularly baked a heart shaped Aunt Helen’s cake on this day of love.  [Aunt Helen’s cake is named after my Aunt.  She loved my Mom’s creation.  The delicacy is a three-egg cake, made with maraschino cherries and walnuts.  The frosting is pink butter crème.  Cherry juice is poured into the icing as it whips up in the mixer.].  

    Each year, Mommy and I gave my Dad a new pair of boxer shorts just for the occasion.  These undergarments were made with Valentine’s Day in mind.  Hearts and sweet sayings adorned the fabric.  Daddy bought trinkets for Mommy and me.  For the short time that my eldest sister lived at home, she too was included in the gift giving.  Flowers filled the house and on the evening of February 14, our favorite foods were prepared.  

    Of course, cards were exchanged.  It was all so loving.  I delighted in the energy of caring and sharing.  I still do.

    Barry had hoped to replicate this experience for me.  He thought he would evoke all the feelings.  My friend understands memories never die; they are the treasures we cherish.  Barry wondered aloud, would it not be nice to give each of our friends Valentine’s Day cards, the ones we all received as children.  He mused; might we also bestow the gift of Sweetheart candy.  You, dear reader, perhaps recall the heart shaped confection with melodious messages.  “I love you,” “You are my sweetheart,” “Be Mine”, “Kiss Me”, “Call Me”, and “Miss You” all touched our hearts and our small, little hands when we were in grade school.

    When asked, I said “Oh, I would love to do that!.  Let us.”  Barry went shopping.  He sought what he thought would be an easy find.  He went to grocery stores, drug shops, stationers, and even the big box warehouses.  My friend found the candy easily, though the message imprinted on the surface has changed.

    New sayings are added every year and others are taken away (ergo, witness the denouement of “Fax Me”).  Sweethearts are made by the New England Confectionery Company, or NECCO.  [Sweethearts were originally invented by Howard B. Stark, of the Stark Candy Company, which was purchased by NECCO.]

    The package from NECCO calls them “Sweethearts,” which is the other common way of referring to them, but below that it says “tiny conversation hearts” as well as “#1 valentine candy.”  They were not always heart-shaped, rather they were in the shape of many things such as horseshoes and baseballs.  They are now produced exclusively in the familiar heart shape as a Valentines day candy. . . .

    Modern-day Phrases-My Pet, Bear Hug, Go Fish, Love Bird, Take A Walk, Purr Fect, Cool Cat, Top Dog, Puppy Love, URA Tiger

    I am fine with the variance in communication and thankful that “Fax Me” did not last.  Nonetheless, I am disillusioned by the realization.  The cute little generic Valentine’s Day cards are gone.

    My heart sank.  I remember spending endless hours at the kitchen table, or on the living room floor filing through the box of inexpensive notes.  As I shuffled through the cards I thought, ‘Did this “dude” look more like the person I was giving this card to than the next.’.  Was the message innocent or was it a little too intimate.  Would Sally believe my words were too syrupy?  Might Jason get the wrong impression.

    I would carefully select which memorandum when to whom.  I might draw an image on the red envelope.  Perhaps a heart or a star would grace the paper.  I stuffed each communication carefully into its cover, addressed these, and anticipated the reception.

    I might send forty cards, maybe more.  One box was not enough.  Of course, my parents knew to buy extras.  On occasion, I made a spelling mistake, or thought better after writing a message.  The event of etching my words into gentle gestures was a labor of love.  I recall this reverie fondly.  How could this be.  Barry and I were not going to be able to completely recreate the joy of Valentine’s Day.  Oh no!

    My heart filled with sadness.  I know Barry is notably persistent, even or especially in his shopping.  He is tireless when he travels from store to store.  Barry is intent; some say determined.  I have known this honey for tens of years.  I trust that he will journey endlessly, searching until he finds what he wants.  Barry moves in and out of shops.  He speaks with retailers.  He wants to know why the merchandise he is looking for is unavailable.

    When chatting with me this morning, Barry bemoaned those boxes of flat children’s cards seem to have disappeared from vendor’s shelves.  Care Bears and Disney seem to have taken over.  Currently, card giving is advertising.  Pokemon is prevalent.  Powerpuff Girls are glossing the surfaces of many a printed surface.  Scooby Doo; yes, he loves you.  Sponge Bob will sop up your sorrows.  Disney characters will declare their affection.  Yet, the once ubiquitous unknown characters are gone.  

    I searched for myself; although I trust that Barry was likely more enduring than I would be.  It was true.  I witnessed as my friend did.

    The uniqueness of our being is now too banal.  If we are to make an impression, we must mirror celebrity images.  “Creative” caricatures are now commonplace.  Apparently, the manufactures think these are more marvelous, coveted, or perchance convenient for them to make.  After all, mass marketing is profitable.  Why would we want to be different or genuine, when we can be contrived.

    Thus, today, when we voice our affections, we sell their success.  Those that can and do supply successful screen names prosper.  

    Oh, a child could hand-make all his or her cards.  However, to fulfill the needs of one that likely sits in an overcrowded classroom, might take months.  There is little time to spread love.  It seems we only devote a day to this endeavor.  While, admittedly we have time for war.  Watch what happens on playgrounds and battlefields abroad.  I have long wondered of our priorities.  That is why I revel in Valentine’s Day.  Yet . . .

    Perhaps, in a time when nations promote combat, corporations cut personnel in favor of profits, and celebrity is all the craze, we have no energy for love or peace.  Empathy, emotions are far less valued than earnings or the enterprises that gain greater wealth when their cartoon character are marketed  Possibly lifelong friendships are said to be fewer and farther in-between for we know not how to express our feelings.  Sameness, standardized salutations, and insincerity are now our signature and stamps.  I cannot be sure.

    I only know that I long for the day when I can say as I once said, “Won’t you be mine” without publicizing the company that printed these words.

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    Single and Married Parents Spend More Time With Children. Much is Lost


    © copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

    Decades ago on October 16, I was born into a family that admittedly wanted no more children.  My mother was not working; nevertheless, before and after my birth she was rarely home.  My natural father did not wish to entertain the notion of a newborn.  With my birth, he decided to focus on life far from the family house.  During my youth it was thought, parents spent time with their progeny.  However, mine did not.

    On October 16, 2006, a report was released, “Married and Single Parents [are] Spending More Time With Children, Study Finds.”  This too, is not as expected.  New York Times Journalist, Robert Pears reveals, “Mothers are spending at least as much time with their children today as they did 40 years ago, and the amount of child care and housework performed by fathers has sharply increased.” 

    Thousands of personal diaries were analyzed and assessed by University of Maryland researchers, Sociology Department Chairwoman Suzanne M. Bianchi, Professor John P. Robinson, and Melissa A. Milkie. 

    For the purposes of this study, parents were asked to chronicle all their activities on the day before an intensive interview.  The findings were published in a new Russell Sage Foundation book, “Changing Rhythms of American Family Life.”

    Ms. Bianchi worked for the United States Census Bureau for sixteen years.  There she developed an interest in family life.  The research done for this study builds on her work as a demographer.

    In discussing this investigation, Bianchi stated, “We might have expected mothers to curtail the time spent caring for their children, but they do not seem to have done so.”  She continues, “They certainly did curtail the time they spent on housework.” 

    The researchers found that “women still do twice as much housework and child care as men” in two-parent families.  But they said that total hours of work by mothers and fathers were roughly equal, when they counted paid and unpaid work.

    Using this measure, the researchers found “remarkable gender equality in total workloads,” averaging nearly 65 hours a week.

    These words appear and many other glowing evaluations appear early on in the Times article.  It would seem at first blush parents are pursuing a balanced relationship with their offspring.  Perchance they are.

    I offer some of the other appraisal for your consideration.

    “It seems reasonable to expect that parental investment in child-rearing would have declined” since 1965, when 60 percent of all children lived in families with a breadwinner father and a stay-at-home mother.  Only about 30 percent of children now live in such families.  With more mothers in paid jobs, many policy makers have assumed that parents must have less time to interact with their children.

    But, the researchers say, the conventional wisdom is not borne out by the data they collected from families asked to account for their time.  The researchers found, to their surprise, that married and single parents spent more time teaching, playing with and caring for their children than parents did 40 years ago.

    For married mothers, the time spent on child care activities increased to an average of 12.9 hours a week in 2000, from 10.6 hours in 1965.  For married fathers, the time spent on childcare more than doubled, to 6.5 hours a week, from 2.6 hours.  Single mothers reported spending 11.8 hours a week on child care, up from 7.5 hours in 1965.

    Wow, this realization is truly wonderful.  One could surmise that Americans discovered the truth, just as our former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich did.  There is no true balance.  People must choose their priorities.  Do they desire a glorious career or a fabulous family?  Some in the study did decide.

    ? Many couples delay having children to “a point later in life when they want to spend time with those children.”  People who are uninterested in raising children can “opt out of parenting altogether,” by using birth control.
    ? Families are smaller today than in 1965, and parents are more affluent, so they can invest more time and money in each child.
    ? Social norms and expectations have changed, prompting parents to make “greater and greater investments in child-rearing.” 
      [Yet, this is part of the problem as I see it]
    ? As couples have fewer children, they feel “pressure to rear a perfect child.” 

    Ah, the “perfect child.”  The young person of today is followed or pushed by the ideal parent.  Perhaps this explains much.

    Parents today are spending time with their children as they drive them hither and yon.  The youth in America are enrolled in everything.  According to the publisher of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, By Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., Nicole Wise, and Robert Coles . . .

    Parenting today has come to resemble a relentless To-Do list.  Even parents with the best intentions strive to micro-manage every detail of their kids’ lives and live in constant fear that their child will under-perform in any area – academic, social, athletic.  Lists and schedules, meetings and appointments invade every moment – and the need to be the best is a philosophy dominating – and undermining – our own sense of self as well as our children’s.

    In my own life I may not have been given the structure that constant companionship or parental supervision provide.  However, I was given the freedom to think, to be, to imagine, to invent, and to inspire myself.  I was able to fashion a life that reflected my inner most joys.  Activities were not imposed upon me.  I immersed myself in personal pursuits.  My parents did not choose my interests; nor did they force me to compete.  I was deprived of their time, and rewarded with many opportunities. 

    I learned to enjoy my own company and to create an unparalleled community.  The world of me, myself, and I was wondrous, full and expansive. It included my grandfather, who took care of me frequently.  Mary, my caregiver was my daily companion, and though for the first five years my Mom was not fully physically present, she was totally, emotionally there for me. 

    My Mom recognized her own need to be a better parent and person and set out to become so.  In the interim, she consulted regularly with Mary.  She established a connection with me by expressing her desires to Mary.  She discussed child-rearing in depth and detail  She knew what she wanted for me.  My Mom ensured that my upbringing was the best it could be until she could again fully join me and advance my greater growth.  I was given time to play and contemplate. 

    My resources were inspirational readings, paper, pencils, and toys tailored for investigation.  Egg poaching pots and pans were early energizers.  Coloring books were considered too restrictive for a creative soul.  Thus, structures were my own.  I was encouraged to explore, to be curious, and to be the best of scientists.  The phrase often uttered in my family was, “Ask, and you shall receive.”  Gifts were not meaningless materials; they were loving and thoughtful trinkets, gems, words of wisdom and gestures of support.  What was given was invaluable, encouragement and engagement.

    In recent years, many child development experts have voiced increasing concern over the fact that children are accorded little time or encouragement to engage in imaginative play.  Too many children are overscheduled with school and other activities, according to these experts.

    Even sports, in which an adult sets the framework, leave little room for the development of creative thinking in children, these experts say.

    When children do have time to play, they too often play with a pre-programmed electronic toy or sit in front of a screen — television, computer, or hand-held game — responding to a scenario created by someone else, experts say.

    As a result, children are developing a “problem-solving deficit disorder,” says Diane Levin, a child development expert at Wheelock College in Boston. “Developing imagination and creativity is essential for children to develop problem-solving skills.” 

    Today, we as a society are saturated in standards.  As parents, producers, and power-mongers we seek accountability.  We prefer systems and forego freedoms.  We teach our children to do the same.

    In educational settings, they must engage in collaborative learning projects.  In sports, they are trained to be part of the team.  Throughout their young lives, our offspring are prepared.  They must attend the “best” schools and receive honors for their studies.  They are readied for their proper role in society.  They, just as their parents, will occupy an “appropriate” station.  The young today need not think; nor are they taught how.  They, as their employed mothers and many fathers have no time for such supposed silliness. 

    In today’s society, thinking is not considered necessary.  We are taught to quote facts and use these to formulate a life.  Our life is expected to be parallel to that of others. 

    Intellectually we may feel free to be who we are; however, in truth, conformity, not deep thought is the guiding light, and publicly accepted principle that many of us follow.  We, as a population, are as many employed mothers . . .

    On average, the researchers said, employed mothers get somewhat less sleep and watch less television than mothers who are not employed.  [The latter may not necessarily be a bad thing.]  . . . they [employed mothers] also spend less time with their husbands.

    Sadly, I suspect, we as a nation are not teaching our children well.  We present information and demand prevailing tenets.  Society states, “There is a need for scientists and mathematicians.”  Teach the formulas, the facts and create technicians.

    Administrators and those in favor of “accountability” say, “Forget the Fine Arts; they do not yield the fruits we as a nation need to survive.”  Apparently, the need for curiosity and creativity is void.  Thus, we stuff the minds of our children with statistics; we command them to “meet the standards.”  We no longer require, nor do we teach our young to think.

    As this New York Times article concludes, in 2006, nothing is as it appears.  Couples may stay together, though they rarely spend time with each other.  Husbands and wives are not friends; they barely know each other.  People, partners are busy.  Families run from here to there, mindlessly.  People do not realize their dreams, though they constantly race towards them.  They believe there may be other possibilities; yet, they never conceive these.

    I surmise that parents spending more time with their children may not breed what we human animals crave.  The connections we yearn for are lost in the dust as we scurry about.  We are rushing, chasing a career, our children, or the competition; yet, we forfeit our selves.  Our souls are lost.  Only on occasion do we imagine what we might be within.  We are too busy, too busy to breathe.

    In today’s world, hours, minutes, and seconds, man-made constructs govern us.  We measure these as though they can be quantified and qualified.  We treat our children and time as tangibles.  Researchers want to theorize the more time together the merrier; however, in reality this is not true.

    I propose we not evaluate schedules when appraising the value of a relationship.  Instead, I invite each of us to assess reciprocal reverence in the parent child connection.  This characteristic is not necessarily visible or verifiable.  Calculations cannot always determine excellence within such a bond. 

    If parents tell their children what to think, say, do, feel, or be in a moment or in many moments, this will not gratify the souls of our youth.  It will not engender closeness.  Nor will it make our offspring better human beings.  Time spent together may be important.  However, it is not more critical than what we do with our time.

  • I offer another glorious essay by Helaine Olen.  This exposé also evaluates the parent child relationship in 2006.  ‘Gifted Child Industry’ Preys on Parents’ Insecurities, does not paint a pretty picture.

    References for your review . . .

    You may subscribe to the New York Times Online Newspaper without cost or obligation.  It is free.
    If you prefer to read the article online without subscribing, please click on this PDF [Portable Document Format] version of the exposé.

  • PDF “Married and Single Parents Spending More Time With Children, Study Finds,” By Robert Pear. New York Times October 16, 2006
  • “Married and Single Parents Spending More Time With Children, Study Finds,” By Robert Pear. New York Times October 16, 2006
  • “Changing Rhythms of American Family Life,” By Suzanne M. Bianchi,John P. Robinson, Melissa A. Milkie
  • Suzanne M. Bianchi. Maryland Population Research Center
  • John P. Robinson. Department of Sociology, University of Maryland
  • Melissa A. Milkie. Department of Sociology, University of Maryland
  • Russell Sage Foundation and the American Sociological Association
  • Census Bureau. U.S. Government Census Bureau
  • The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, By Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., Nicole Wise, Robert Coles
  • Experts concerned about children’s creative thinking, By Karen MacPherson. Post-Gazette. Sunday, August 15, 2004
  • The Family Leave Act, By Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor. New York Times November 8, 1996
  • For Parents: How To Raise a Kid Who Cares. Oregon Public Broadcasting
  • Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves but Can’t Read, Write, or Add, By Charles J. Sykes
  • Summary Dumbing Down Our Kids, By Charles J. Sykes
  • Dissecting the Dysfunctions That Lead Down the Path to Divorce, By Kathleen Kelleher, Special to The Los Angeles Times. Monday, September 18, 2000
  • Keeping Art Alive Under No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB], By Ellen R. Delisio. Education World® 2006
  • O, Say, Does Your Class Know the National Anthem?, By Ellen R. Delisio. Education World® 2006
  • Standards, Assessment and Accountability. U.S. Department of Education
  • Parent-Child Relationship Quality Depends on Child’s Perception of Fairness, By Jeremy Diener. Journal of Family Psychology. August 11, 2004
  • Dreams Live and Die

     

    Another Student, Similar Vision or Lack Thereof. Matt Belin in Iowa. Photographer, Chris Coudron

    &copy copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

    He was young, relatively speaking, and old, so old, he had already given up on his future. Nevertheless, the flame flickered brightly as he shared what he wished it would be with me.  He stood close.  He was turning in his project.  He was not the first to complete his work. Actually, he was among the last. The students had been working on this assignment for days. It was due in ten minutes.  Work not turned in on time, would be considered late.  Grades could drop.  Yet, that was not his deepest concern.  In that moment, he worried about my future.

    This gentle man was housed within a class that had been a thorn in their teacher’s side.  I was sitting in for the regular classroom Instructor on that day, the last day to complete the project.  During this final workday, students had  an opportunity to dream.  If the work was done, they could watch a video, an adventure film, and immerse them selves in a world of fantasy.  If the task was not yet finished, work, work, work would be the agenda.  However, the Teacher had said to me, that once most were done, the video could be played.  The others would be required to continue their endeavor while the hum  was heard in the background.

    In this group, none of the options was appreciated.  They wanted to walk, to talk, and to play; however, this was not in my plan.  Commotion is not my vision for a classroom.  Nor was chaos what I needed.

    I wanted quiet order.  I stated this aloud before class began.  For me, active, productive, and creative minds are as I crave.  I give pupils the time and space to flow, to self-actualize, as Social Scientists’ might say.  they can gel in the inner sanctums of their minds.  I shared with the students, though they personally may not wish to excel, there are those that do.  I want to ensure that they can.  In harmony, the class grumbled.

    This crowd voiced no desire to shine.  Should one exist, it was well hidden.

    Since these students were not ones I had a lasting relationship with, I felt that I had very little time to influence what was in their minds.  I could only guide behaviors and introduce possibilities.

    It was the last period of the day.  As the movie played, I quietly did my own work.  I brought my power-book from home.  I watched the pupils, not the pulp-fiction, as I typed away.  I did interact, though there was little to interact with.  Some students were, finally, working.  Others were indeed viewing.  The room, at last was void of noise, with the exception of the sounds coming from the screen.  Time passed and then it occurred.

    The period was coming to a close.  Learners turned their projects in slowly yet surely.

    He approached.  He handed me his papers and I offered my thanks.  He stayed close for a while and then said, “I like your computer.”  His words did not seem as envy, as much as understanding.  I told him of how I had wanted this laptop for more than a decade.  I could not spend the money, or would not.  Then circumstances demanded the purchase.  A long distance move had necessitated and my arrival in town after a tumultuous storm had postponed the possibility of my move into a home I purchased months earlier.   I took up occupancy in a hotel and would reside there for two and one-half months.  My life was in boxes, in storage.  Me, without a computer to meet my daily needs was unthinkable, not do-able.

    He said that he could relate. We chatted. I shared my dream and why the workstation seemed a must to me.  I told him of my passion for writing and my dream to do this exclusively.  I shared my fears.  He smiled.  Apparently, he had the same.  He told me of how his words could and did bring readers to tears.  He had scored among the best in the writing portion of the Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test [FCAT.]  I asked; what was he planning to pursue in college to make his dream come true.

    He responded quickly, with little thought. He had already thoroughly assessed this decision.  He said, “I am not college material.”  He continued, “Possibly, I will to attend the community college and learn a trade.”  Then shyly he added, “I may work for the school newspaper.  I would like to do some sports writing  . . . and maybe more.”

    Not college material?  I expressed my doubt of that.  There was a quizzical look; it disappeared.  He became animated though still certain that furthering his education was not in the plans.  His eyes lit the room.  His skin sparkled.  His voice reverberated.  He began to tell me how much he loved to read.  He was working on a paper for one of his classes.  He researched much.  He was writing on the career of J.K. Rowlings’.  He recounted her life story, in depth and detail.  He spoke of the hard times she faced, her divorce, her children, and that she had been on welfare, all the time working on her books.  He was joyous for her success.  He read each of her books.

    He continued discussing her trials, tribulations, and tales.  The rejection she received, her perseverance, and his thrill that she thrived.  He was living her life as he told her story.  This sweet man was absorbed in his loves, his reading, and his writing.  Yet, he had no hopes, or at least he was told by some older and wiser adults not to.

    I was sad and happy.  I attempted to encourage him.  The irony is, earlier, he was cheering me on, telling me to believe in my dream and myself.  He wanted me to pursue my passion; perhaps he wanted this for each of us.  He and I were together, fearful, while willing and wanting to take on the world.  However, we both had been wounded by the words of others.  What people had said to us then and now advanced our uncertainties, quelled, or delayed our desires.  Those doubting statements were once or twice said to us; now, they were the ones we told ourselves.

    “Hold fast to your dreams, for without them life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”~ James Langston Hughes

    References for shared realities . . .