Monthly Archives: June 2013

Love, Learn

It was a very unsettled period in my young life when we moved in with my mother’s father for a year.  Not only did my world have a horrible void in it, I also learned that I did not make friends easily.

As life does, it dragged me forward, and somehow I became acquainted with a girl who lived across Horsham Road (which concerned my mother a great deal; it was a very busy street to cross) and down a side road.  Back when it was still safe for two fourth grade girls to walk places, we would walk with each other until we got to the place where we crossed the highway, make sure the crosser made it safely, then continue on our own to our respective homes.

I was walking her to the crossing point, and I believe we were talking about some boys in our neighborhood who had gotten into yet another stew. The family had a reputation for that kind of thing, so I am sure I was repeating something someone said when I told her, “You know how those Catholics are.  Always causing some sort of trouble.”

She got very quiet very fast and I had the tight oh-no feeling in my gut before she said, “I’m Catholic.”

Of course I back-pedaled as quickly as I could. I apologized. Profusely. I certainly didn’t want to lose this hard-won friend, and go back to being alone.

She was kind enough to forgive.  We put the entire thing behind us and continued on.

But I was never the same. Rightfully so.

I learned.

  • Not to copy what someone else says without thinking about it first.
  • That prejudice was embarrassing and hurtful.
  • That the hurtful part could be healed with a sincere apology and forgiveness
  • When you know better, you do better.

Photo by Miguel Saavedra

There is a distinct line that separates intentional bigotry from unintentional bias. It’s found in the opposite of the four points above:
  • Bigotry buys into an opinion without independent thought. It simply adopts the feelings of the group, untested and unquestioned beliefs.
  • Bigotry seeks to be deliberately hurtful.
  • There is never an apology and certainly no forgiveness.  There is instead a continual “stirring of the pot” to fester the wounds and keep them raw and angry.
  • The only “better” is self-centered, as in: I am better, my actions are more righteous.

I have often wondered where the Catholic comment originated.  I am pretty certain it was my grandparents, and the reason I say that is because of the history I have learned  about the strife between Protestants and Catholics, and that was something no doubt was part their family history.  Apparently there was still some of the forgiveness to be done.

Still my parents and grandparents had never asked what religion my friend was; they sanctioned her company because of who she was and how she conducted herself. So their bias wasn’t front and center 24/7. My parents did their best to teach the Golden Rule by example and often explained to us why we should do the same.
Still Getting It Together

Still Getting It Together
Photo by sanja gjenero

So that walk was an incident I treasure.  I was learning.  I continue to do so. My recent venture into the deaf culture has taught me so much about how what I thought I knew was different from the reality. I still ask forgiveness; I still strive to do better, I still learn.

——————-

This post is from: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/daily-prompt-learning/

Tell us a moment or an incident that you treasure  – not necessarily because it brought you happiness, but because it taught you something about yourself.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us LEARNING.

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Our Lopsided World

Photo by Paul Kemp

On the one hand we have a cook who focused on preparing fabulous food and never, as far as I know, held herself up as a role model for anyone. She made a remark 27 years or so ago that is currently viewed as so horrendous that it could potentially harm the brand of The Food Network if they were to continue to employ her. Given the hue and cry, when I came in on the tail end of the first report I heard about her “crime” I wondered if she had been accused of molesting a child.

On the other we have a franchise who has seen 27 of its members arrested since February that is anticipating it’s revenues will increase from 5.1 billion annually to $7 billion in the upcoming season. No hue. No cry. No demands for an equivalent or more stern action, nor for a boycott of the NFL until it can provide better role models for the country’s impressionable aspiring athletes.

Photo by Nikki Johnson

Does this seem as off balance to you as it does to me?

Stages

Photo by Ned Horton


Moira stumbled across the loose sand, at one point going down on her knee and feeling it burn into her flesh. Stupid shoes. With two convulsive jerks she kicked each one from its foot. One buried itself in the sand somewhere to her left; the other hurtled toward the sea and landed just at the edge of the water, a small spray being the evidence of its final ruin. The heat on the soles of her feet was oddly bearable.

Neither shoe made a sound. The living shoe or the dead one.

She would make the sound for the dead one. Death should not be a quiet thing. Not among the living.

She hurtled herself headlong toward the waves which in turn rushed toward her. She stopped when the waters lapped at her calves. Who cared that the hem of her black dress would soon be heavy and clinging to her legs.

“LIAR!” she said first to the lazy retreating liquid that swirled about her ankles.

The sea answered back with a gust of salted air, pushing the netting of her hat veil into her mouth. No! She would not be silenced. Not this time.

She jerked the hat off, pins and all, and sent it sailing into the ocean. Who cared that her hair tumbled down her back like she was a girl again. Who cared if it was not ladylike to shake her fist and scream:

“LIAR!”

She defied the waters to silence her. They could not because she spoke the truth.

“Moira!”

His call came from far behind her. She could not bear the undertaker’s compassion at this moment. He would try to console her. Calm her. Restore her composure. It was his job. She would have a difficult time not slapping him for his patronizing solace.

She covered her ears with her palms, dug her fingers into her hair, closed her eyes. He should leave her alone. He should know there was no danger that she would walk into a riptide and end this all. She wouldn’t give those treacherous waters the satisfaction.

All too soon, he would catch up. Until then…. She squared her shoulders, took a stance, faced her adversary head-on, but squinting.

Was it so very long ago that she thought the ocean spoke to her of splendid new beginnings? Sometimes it seemed as if she had stepped into someone’s hand-me-down life, so far was she removed from the place of her birth, the start of this bitter ending.

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Photo by Bill Davenport

 

Moira was eighteen when the sickness struck her seaside fishing village. Undernourised bodies began to fall, picking up speed and strength so that by the time the tide reached her family it could fell even the strongest.

First it stole her handsome and mighty father, then her two vibrant brothers, then her beloved mother.

For whatever cruel reasons Moira had been singled out to live, none could have been worse than being the lone pair of feet to stumble toward Mr. Gordon’s. She needed proper coffins, a proper burial.

“Can you help me?” she remembered asking the lanky, suited man. Even in the silent, serious cave of this business of death, she caught the intense green of his eyes, looking directly into hers.

“I can.”

The timbre of his voice was like honey on a cough. The commanding baritone made her heart stop racing, for just a moment. In that moment, she could take a breath again. A deep and satisfying one. Her body relaxed of its own accord.

He listened. He listened as if she was the only one who had ever lost an entire family and been left utterly alone. He listened as if there were no other bodies needing his morbid but special touch.

“I have some money,” Moira said at the end. “Probably not nearly enough, but I will give you what I have if you can just help me grant my mother’s dying wish to be buried with dignity.”

“Keep your money. Needless to say, I am quite busy these days. Too much work here for me to do alone. I have a man working in the back with me. It would help to have someone out here to handle customers. You could exchange your time for the caskets and preparation of your family for viewing and burial.”

Work. The idea had not crossed her mind. What she would do tomorrow or the day after or the week after or the month–none of it had yet filtered through the shock. But to have work. Something to do with the hands and the mind.

“Yes. I would be happy to.”

Moira went to work for Mr. Gorden, rising early and working until she fell into a dreamless sleep at night. Somehow, during the long days, she became one who listened, happy to hold many a trembling hand in the warmth of her own while she heard those stories, at once the same yet unique.

Only she could not sleep away the fatigue at her own home. Moira couldn’t even make herself walk through the front door. She was afraid of the disease and the silence, both consorting to drive her mad. She took to walking home after work, then walking back to Mr. Gordon’s to sleep away her exhaustion in the large wing-back chair in which he sat whenever he paused to smoke his pipe. The sweet tobacco smell was new, yet constant, and falling asleep with it in her nostrils was the best lullaby to be had.

As long as she was busy consoling others, her heart felt consoled as well.

“You are good at it, Miss Moira. You help them feel that are not alone. It is what we all need most when death makes a hole in the fabric of our lives.”

Maybe she was good at it. But only until the woman came in who wore the same dress as her own mother’s favorite. Or until the unconsolable mother came in to make arrangements for infant twin boys. Or when the old couple she saw walking the streets each morning and each evening did not stroll by and the next day the man was standing before her with tears falling unabashedly, unashamed.

Of course Mr. Gordon found her sleeping in the office. He did not scold. He did not tell her she was being silly. He said she could not possibly be getting a good night’s rest. He said there was a hut at the edge of his property, only one room, but weathertight. He said they would go together to get the rest of her things and he would help take care of the loose ends of her father’s business.

She went with him once. Standing in the soulless kitchen was wrenching. She missed her mother’s gentle voice and the smell of baking bread. By rote she expected to hear the squeal of playful boys in the yard or on the packed earth street; instead there was only the pall of silence. There was no father’s moustache grazing her cheek. There never would be again.

The grieving became raw, just like the winds blowing off the winter sea. Still, when she needed him the most, Mr. Gordon was there, assuring her, “Moira, it is a good thing to cry.” Or he would say, “Enough for you, little one. Go walk with them. Don’t be afraid.” He knew just how to say the words, just how to look in her eyes. How to make it sound like her family was away on holiday, looking for her to join them one day, but not too soon. His hand on her shoulder would somehow fold around her like a shawl. Her world was still empty, but she was not alone.

Yet as Mr. Gordon talked with and made her life tilt toward normal, the townspeople began to have less to say to her. Women seemed to be whispering hand-to-ear. Her greetings in the marketplace fell on unresponsive ears. At church, no one would meet her gaze.

By springtime he started to send her to her hut well ahead of his walk home. He avoided being seen with her in public.

She joined him uninvited one day when he walked along the beach.

“What have I done to make you upset with me?”

“I am not upset with you.”

“Something has changed.”

“It is not good that you and I spend time together alone, Miss Moira. You surely know this. Especially with you living under my roof. People…they talk.”

“We work together! Mr. Gordon, you are my friend. It’s not like I live in your house!”

“Ah, but it is my house you live in, you see. If you had anywhere else to go I would ask you to.”

His words cut. “I am sorry to be a burden.”

“Nonsense. You are nothing of the kind. You know that when people tire of discussing life or death they turn to gossip.”

“Then let them gossip. You have been nothing but kind. Generous. A gentleman. My friend.”

“Ah, but Miss Moira, you must understand that you cannot thumb your nose at these people and then expect them to accept you as their own later on. You are not a girl. You are a young woman. There are rules.”

“I don’t need them, not the rules, not the people. Not now, not later.”

“You plan on moving then? Where? To do what?”

She crumbled on the inside while she kept her back straight and her chin high. Still he could see.

“Look across those waters.” Gently he turned her by the shoulders to look out over the ocean. “Do you hear them?”

“Of course I do. I am not deaf.”

“Don’t just hear. You must listen.”

During the next silent moments she did. The endless noise scared her almost as much as the realization of how much she had missed his touch, his breath moving over the top of her head. She swallowed hard and focused on the pulsing rhythm.

“The waves will makes you a promise.” His voice was velvet against her ear.

“What could that promise be, I wonder?”

“It is promising that by putting the depth and breadth of those waters between the heartache here, and the promise of a new life, you can leave death behind, move beyond it’s touch.”

“How can I do such a thing?”

“Listen to the waters. Hear what they are saying first. Once you hear the ocean’s promise, ask me again.”

Thereafter she took to walking the beach by herself. Moira did not attempt to converse with any of the people who had robbed her of the company of her friend. She talked to the ocean instead.

“What have you to tell me today?” Some days it would send her chattering gulls. Other days a piece of sea glass, a mermaid’s purse, an intricate shell. She began to recognize how the waves took on different tones depending on the wind and the weather. But it did not speak back clearly enough for her to return to Mr. Gordon with her question.

What did he mean? She asked herself the tedious question again and again and again, until she overheard a conversation between two patrons at the bakery.

She had purchased a simple roll and was holding it close so that the scent would combine with the warmth of the room and conjure her mother for just a few brief moments.

“My son-in-law is taking my baby to America!” lamented a disembodied voice.

A flood of confusion erased the familiarity of the bakery in a flash, almost as intense as the flood of her initial grief, yet edged with a daring bit of hope.

Clutching the yeast roll, she ran to the water’s edge. New life. Fresh start. Sail away. She could hear it now.

How? She was a single young woman. Was it even allowed? Did she really want to be so far away from the place of her birth, the resting place of her family? Alone?

But what was there here for her? Lies that became truths only by repetition. Unwarranted ostracism. What kind of future was that?

Photo by Rui Rodrigues


 

She fed the roll to the gulls and went to work.

That evening as they were closing for the night, Moira looked Mr. Gordon in the eye and asked, “How can I do such a thing?”

“You can go with me to America. As my wife.”

 

 

~*~*~*~*~

Clearly she had said yes too quickly.

 

To be continued…

Blast From the Past: Susie

When it comes to my first pet, I often forget Susie, but I shouldn’t. If she wasn’t a dog and she wasn’t long dead, she’d never forget me.

Carolyn_suzy-airdale.jpg.gallery

Susie was an Airedale and as I remember it she belonged to my Dad’s brother Steven. However, Uncle Steven wasn’t always home, and at the time I imagine their parents–my grandparents–were often traveling as well. So for stretches of time in my young life  Susie would become mine. And when my sisters came along, ours.

In my mind I can hear my Mom raving to others about what a good-natured dog she was and I do remember using her as a pillow to watch TV. Not just me either. Imagine three little girls resting their heads on a doggie-belly pillow; her four legs created the arms for our resting place. Susie didn’t seem to mind one bit.

She also loved pancakes. Mom would sometimes make pancakes for us on the weekends when Dad was home for breakfast. Once the family had their fill, rather than throw away the leftover batter, she’d make one last–usually oversized–pancake for Susie, who stood patiently beside the stove through the entire cooking process for her treat.

When I was almost nine, we sold our home and moved in for a year with my Mom’s father. I imagine Susie was home with my grandparents in Chestnut Hill then. There aren’t many details of that year-long stretch that I remember well, other than winning a gigantic chocolate bar for a story I wrote, my sister Jill burning pop-tarts in the toaster one Saturday morning when she wanted to make us breakfast, and receiving my first diary. I don’t know where Susie was, I guess because of her habit of appearing and disappearing at the whim of someone else.

When that year was up, we were ready to move to Oklahoma. Dad left in March to go set up our house that he and Mom bought over the phone (a story for another day) and get a job, making sure all was ready for when the rest of us would join him in June. He needed someone to keep him company. Going from a wife and three daughters to being a bachelor was a little much for any man. Plus Uncle Steven was planning a permanent move to Japan. Susie moved to Oklahoma with my Dad to pave the way for us and for a time when she would be completely ours, all the time.

I religiously read Little House on the Prairie books during those three months Dad was in Oklahoma. I often would imagine Susie running wild and free through the acres and acres and acres of land. Dad wrote detailed letters home, sent pictures and there was Susie, looking like she belonged. Going from the danger and noise of living in the Philadelphia suburbs to a place where three houses occupied a square mile had to be fantastic for a dog who could finally run wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted and not worry about getting hit by a car.

However, Susie had to have been an old dog by then, judging from the pictures of us when I was a toddler. I was a month away from 10 when moved into that old Oklahoma farmhouse, so Susie was probably well into her 70s when she headed west.

I don’t remember exactly how long it was after Dad’s move, but after a few good romps through the prairie with my father, Susie got sick, and it turned into pneumonia which took her life. He told us in a letter. I was sad mostly for Dad, that he had to be all by himself when he buried her out on the Oklahoma prairie, sad that I had lost a friend, but so happy that Susie had experienced the glorious freedom of wide open spaces before the book of her life closed.

Savvy Tenant – Don’t Go Changin’…

…at least not without permission first.

So, the searching is over, the lease is signed, the before-move-in pictures are done and here comes the fun part.  Moving in (well moving isn’t so fun, but it is a step forward!) and making the place your own.

Photo by deafstar

Photo by deafstar

Now that you look, though, the place looks a little vanilla.  It has no pizzazz.  The walls are neutral.  The floors are neutral.  Sure would like to put up a nice border in the bedroom.  And wouldn’t the bathroom look nice in a perky lemon yellow?

Is the predominant color blah because the landlord has no decorating taste?  Maybe.  More than likely however, it is the way it is because it makes the place easier to rent.  It won’t matter if the new tenant’s furniture is midnight blue, pepto pink, or leopard; all of them go with a neutral wall and/or floor.

The easiest way to add your punch to your place is with your belongings, pictures, etc.  But if you really have become enamoured with the idea of wallpaper or new paint, what should you do?

Read your lease.

Here is what ours says:

Lessee(s) shall make no alterations to the buildings on the leased premises, or construct any building, basketball goal, TV aerial, fence or other fixture.  Lessee(s) shall not repaint any surfaces without prior written consent of the Lessor.  All alterations, changes and improvements built, constructed, or placed on the lease premises by the Lessee(s), with the exception of fixtures removable without damage to the premises and movable personal property, shall, unless otherwise provided by written agreement between Lessee(s) and LOTL, LLC , be the property of Lessor and remain on the leased premises at the expiration or sooner termination of this lease if the alteration, change and/or improvement is acceptable to the Lessor.  If not acceptable, Lessee(s) will be charged for the restoration to prior condition.

What does this mean?  It means we can talk about it.  Get permission before you do anything.

1389549_old_brush

Photo by Levi Szekeres

We always listen to these requests.  I hope your landlord will too, but if not, at least you asked.  Our discussion almost always includes inquiries as to how much painting the person has done in the past and if they know how to mask off wood trim and protect floors.  If not, we have been known to say, “yes, if you hire a professional to do it.”

If we are satisfied that the painting project will not ruin carpet or hardwood, we will give permission that includes what the lease itself also says:  go ahead and make your changes, but when you leave, put it back.  We have agreed in the past to provide the paint to repaint before the tenant leaves.  We have also agreed to let the new color remain when the incoming tenant begged us not to change it.

Even if your landlord isn’t quite as particular as we are and says, “Just go ahead and do what you want” it is a wise idea to put something in writing.  A simple letter will do the trick:

Dear Landlord,

Thank you for giving me permission to paint the living room.  As I understand our agreement, [outline in detail what you discussed as to whether or not you have to return the walls to the previous color, who will supply the paint to do that, etc.].

If there are any details I missed, please get back in touch with me before Tuesday of next week, [date], when I will begin painting.

Yours truly,
Savvy Tenant

Mail it or drop it off with your landlord and keep a copy in a file or notebook (with your lease!).

If there are changes that you talk about after your landlord gets your letter, follow up with another letter.  I know it seems tedious, but you may need the paper trail in the future. If nothing else it demonstrates your habit of putting things in writing, so if later someone tries to rely on a “verbal agreement” for the current matter or any other issue, it’s clear that you document; the absense of a document becomes significant.

The best thing you can have is an addendum to your lease that outlines the permitted changes and what happens when you leave the apartment, and that is signed and dated by both tenant and landlord, with both having a copy.

Remember, documentation can protect you in the long run.  Make it a habit.

Microbes: Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Live Without ‘Em

Photo by Gerard79

Photo by Gerard79

Only one in 10 cells in our body are human. The rest are…not.

There are 2,359 species of microbes behind our ears. No wonder Mom is always telling us to wash there.

There are 2,012 species of microbes in our inner elbow.  So even if you can lick any part of your elbow, don’t.

Want more information on the Small, Small World of Microbes? Click to read the National Geographic article online and see some awesome pictures.

Have a marvelous Monday!

Premature Adultification

An article out of Britain caught my eye this week:

Bright Children Should Start School At Age Six, Says Academic

Pupils should not be subjected to full classroom tuition until the age of six to off-set the effects of premature “adultification”, it was claimed.

Dr Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University’s Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, said gifted pupils from relatively affluent backgrounds suffered the most from being pushed “too far, too fast”.

He quoted a major US study – carried out over eight decades – that showed children’s “run-away intellect” actually benefited from being slowed down in the early years, allowing them to develop naturally.

Many bright children can grow up in an “intellectually unbalanced way”, suffering lifelong negative health effects and even premature death, after being pushed into formal schooling too quickly, he said.

I have to take exception to the assumption that not placing a child in a classroom setting slows down a child’s intellect. (What exactly is a run-away intellect anyway?) I do believe it is healthier to allow a child to “develop naturally”; the classroom setting is not a natural form of development. It is a manmade institution that separates children from parents and forces them into the company of age mates in an environment where movement and creative learning often bow to learning to pass a future all-important test.

It is insane to try to turn any child into a tiny adult, no matter what his or her intellect happens to be.

A child is naturally inquisitive, impetuous, in constant motion. Yes, learning self control is important to his or her well-being, and most will do so in good time if they are simply in the company of adults who display proper behavior that they can copy.

However, when children are three, four or five we should not be expecting them to sit still and pay attention. The current system sacrifices them to the god of early intervention (often with the end goal of seeing that they make more money and are therefore “happier” as adults) and then finds it necessary to put them on pills so that they conduct themselves like little adults. Honestly, is suffering “lifelong negative health effects” such a surprise?

It is natural for children to learn while being inquisitive, impetuous and active. We do not need to be pulling such traits from kids as if they were weeds. There is no need to be seated at a desk or in a circle or isolated with age-mates in order to foster learning. Neither must certified teachers be at the helm before education can begin.

What children need most in those early years is a secure and loving environment in which they feel safe to explore their world. They require involved adults who will answer the questions that they ask. Instilling a lifelong love of questions and discovery is the most valuable education a child can have; parents can teach their children how to learn.

I am fond of the story of Thomas Edison’s venture into formal education. Because he was sickly he did not start school until he was seven. (Give or take a year. I’m not remembering my research well.) However, during those early years he spent in the company of his mother and father, the world was his classroom and he was learning by asking questions, by building things, experimenting, reading and being read aloud to.

When he finally did go to school, Thomas found it unbearable. There was no moving about, there was no building or experimenting, but the worst part for him was not being allowed to ask his endless questions. He did poorly. The schoolmaster asked for a conference with his mother in which he told her that her son’s head was addled and that Edison probably could not learn.

To which his mother replied that perhaps it was the schoolmaster who could not teach.

She pulled Thomas from school, set up a science lab for him in the basement of their house and encouraged him to continue learning as he had before.

We all know what a failure Thomas Edison was. 🙂

When was the last time you urged a peach to ripen faster on the tree and had spectacular results? Does a peach suffer for having ripened naturally? Isn’t half the fun of having a kitten watching it play? Do we “hurry” it into becoming a cat? Or do we not rather expect that it will mature according to it’s own natural time table?

Photo by Armin Hanisch

Photo by Armin Hanisch

Let children be children. Premature adultification harms their future.

Further reading on this topic:

What do you think? I would love to hear your comments, please!