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On the Other Hand



A somewhat random collection of the articles, newspaper columns, poetry, and other writing I fling out into the Universe from time to time.



Updated: 2017-09-29T02:21:22.928-07:00

 



broken

2013-01-09T21:10:14.166-08:00



(A Fibonacci poem inspired by 9 broken pieces that seemed about the right size. The subject matter is old, though hardly as old as the vintage saucer.)

She
Says
You can't
Hold broken
Glass like a baby
Crying, cooing, rocking the shards
Of a cobalt sky you held far too long in your mind
Slick of the glaze disguising the stuff of this stuff is as porous as dust of my bones
Blue/white jigsaw pieces, Picasso and pizza, Christmas missed, a flaming tree, you slept through the question, now they don’t make that kind anymore.





2 Comments

2012-07-15T09:49:02.494-07:00

May, 2052“You’re fortunate to be living in this era,” says Nonna, brown eyes twinkling above the dimples in her wrinkled cheeks.Rachel sips at the red raspberry leaf tea, the cup clinking against the saucer as she sets it down to respond.  Her grandmother is already talking again.  “When I gave birth to your mother,” she goes on, “I was not allowed to eat or drink.”Rachel’s eyebrows shoot up.  “The whole time?”“That’s right.  Back in those days, all babies were born in hospitals – even healthy babies.  Laboring mothers weren’t allowed a single sip of water.  I was so thirsty my tongue was swollen and sticking to the roof of my mouth.  After many hours, I was given ice chips, but even that was taken away when I was caught swallowing some of the ice to stave off the gnawing hunger.”“That’s horrible,” Todd interjects, dropping down to perch on the Victorian loveseat beside his wife.  “Having a baby is like . . . running a marathon.  What athlete would attempt such a feat dehydrated on an empty stomach?”Nonna chuckles at his analogy.  “You’re right, of course.  But you see, laboring women were not treated like athletes.  We were treated like sick patients, like there was something wrong with us.  According to the doctors, our ‘condition’ was best treated with narcotics, opioids, and surgical intervention.  By 2005, the c-section rate went through the roof, with nearly one out of three mothers sliced open for delivery.  From the doctors’ point of view, laboring women were all potential targets for expensive surgery.  That’s why they starved us.”Rachel scowls, rubbing puffy hands over the swollen full-moon belly.  “But labor can go on for hours -- or even days,” she notes.“Especially when you’re lying down with feet in stirrups, pushing uphill,” the old woman acknowledges.“That’s absurd,” Todd murmurs.  “Why not let gravity work?”Rachel shakes her head.  “That position was designed to benefit doctors, not women”“You’re right,” Nonna answers.  “It placed us at a great psychological disadvantage, too.  It allowed medical staff to treat us as objects, paying attention only to the ‘business end,’ as if we had no face, no heart, and no mind.”“I’m so glad no caregiver would think of using stirrups today,” Rachel sighs, rubbing her belly again.  “It’s a wonder women were able to push at all.”“The doctors had ways of speeding up labor artificially,” Nonna answers.  “But the drugs sometimes caused uterine rupture, killing the baby or causing permanent brain damage.One drug, Cytotec, was not even FDA-approved for obstetrical use.  Eventually they had to stop using it.”Rachel smiles, her face transformed.  “So they went back to the natural ways?” she guesses.“Not at first,” her grandmother answers.  “At first they skipped the contraction drugs and resorted to the knife much sooner.”Rachel looks down, distracted for a moment by the contracting of her own womb.  “I’ll go heat the rice bag,” Todd offers, trotting to Nonna’s kitchen with the hand-made cloth pouch.  Nonna watches him round the corner, thinking how glad she is for Rachel.At last Rachel’s attention comes back to her grandmother’s wizened face.  “Why did the women allow it?” she asks.Nonna sighs, holding out empty hands.  “We just didn’t know better.  Our own mothers were knocked out for birth.  We thought we were making progress just by being awake.  Some women realized things should be different, but it was a constant fight.  I chose a hospital that was supposed to be supportive of natural birth.  They still pulled the ice chip stunt.  Before I registered, they said they allowed ‘rooming in’ so I would not be separated from my baby girl.  But right after birth, they whisked her away!  I begged for her, but they kept [...]



The Problem with Poetry

2012-05-27T22:32:57.459-07:00


The problem with poetry is
You might confuse the author with the narrator
And refuse to see that it’s written about you,
Not me.
For example:
Do not envision the striped tent in my back yard
If I write about a pair of tennis shoes standing guard
When her sandals fly through the tent flap,
First one landing perfect on the mat,
The other dropping somewhere in the grass
Leather wicking up rain
Out in the darkness so that later she slyly asks
“Would it concern you if I said
That someone or something has taken my shoe?”
If I wrote this,
Would you understand that the girl in the tent is you?
Let the author disappear, the images blur
so you can hear the cicada chorus that drowns
A multitude of soft and hungry sounds
A first seeing
In deepest blackness
With fingertips for eyes
To survey a sun-warmed landscape
Of ribs and hips and thighs
Fingerpainting fairy dust
On unfamiliar flesh
Like Psyche and her secret husband
Beautiful in the darkness
Unglimpsed, unknown.
The hushed voice that speaks her name
May to a god belong—
If you trust mere fingerprints
To tell you what is true.
Will you reach for the lamp
Or dine in the dark
When the girl in the tent is you?


 Jeannie Babb





How She Lost her Head

2012-05-27T22:25:08.637-07:00


To 7-year-old Sofia, who upon receiving a bag of gently-used Bratz Barbies remarked, “They all look like vampires and they all need makeovers.”

Barbie lost her head
she said
and I could see that it was true.
The Bratz boy lost his feet;
it seems they come off with the shoes.
When my girls were small
they had them all
and changed their heads
instead of dresses.
It was easier than fitting
tiny garments over untamed tresses.
I’m not proud of all these Barbies --
I do not approve
their pointed toes and wasp-like waists
and ridiculous, nipple-less boobs.
I never bought a single Barbie,
I promise that’s the truth.
(Except the one
I bought my son
when he wanted a Barbie, too.)

Jeannie Babb



Three Fibonacci Poems

2012-05-27T22:23:23.848-07:00

The Fibonacci sequence is a  series of numbers beginning with 0 and 1 in which each successive number equals the sum of the previous two numbers, thus 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 and so on.  The Fibonacci sequence is found throughout nature in everything from the growth of seeds, to the development of a snail shell, and even the human body, suggesting it reveals something mystical or divine. A Fibonacci poem uses the sequence as its meter, so that the first two lines have only one syllable, the third line has two, then three, then five, and so on.  I enjoy these little poems because they begin so slowly and deliberately, but pick up momentum as they go. Mossdripsheavyfrom carved stonecross of Celtic knotsrising up from graves to hemlocks Spinmycocoonwith the silkof your wheat-gold hairthe night you were crowned by the moonasphalt etching hieroglyphics on my shoulder blades  HeyYouCome hereGypsy boyEveryday magicBroken corkscrews, undrunk madnessThe shocks are shot so you just make it up as you goIf I wake up like a werewolf, bruised, satiated, ashes under my nails, I’ll know [...]



Crossing

2010-06-08T19:32:43.048-07:00

Noah rode the waters in a gopher wood ark,
Moses held his staff and told Yam Suph to part.
The Ark of the Covenant made Joshua’s way,
And Elijah’s old mantle held Jordan at bay.

With what talisman shall I command
The sea to roll back and give me land?
For the chariots of Egypt press this crowd
To the shoreline where the breakers break so loud.

The gulls cry like harpies, cycling through the air
And the wind pulls tangles in our tangled hair.
Children cling to mama’s skirt,
Wooden wheels traverse the dirt,

Till bird sounds are drowned by the charioteer’s lash
Whipping and cracking on horses’ muscled backs.
We know that sound; we are acquainted with that pain.
We’d rather drown than bow beneath the lash again.

Drown me, Lord, drown me in your gathered tears.
Carry me, current me, out past the piers.
Take me down deep, bury me whole,
Dig me into the silt below.

Cover my face with your cool, thick hand
There is no more sky, and no more land,
Only You in me, only me in You,
Floating serenely in a bath of blue.

Moses, Moses, in the water where you float,
With reeds for a curtain, and reeds for a boat,
Bearing a wound in your softest flesh,
A scar that marks you destined for death. (image)

She found you wrapped in your cocoon,
She drew you out and cleaned the wound,
She trampled your basket, woven from reeds,
As a wasted thing you’d never need.

But here at the sea with Pharaoh bearing down,
A ship of reeds would be better than a crown.
Draw me out, Lord God, be a mother to me.
Reach down for the basket that floats in the sea.

Sweep me up before I go too far,
Or water seeps through the weakening tar.
Draw me out with hands both soft and sure,
And lay me down on a distant shore.

No longer a baby to be safely hid
In a woven casket with a little lid,
I lead these children whose faces go ash
At whirr of wheels and crack of lash.

The saved now savior, they look to me.
Save us, Mother Moses, from Pharaoh and sea.
The God of blood and locusts we invoke.
I am I am, who ripped you from the yoke.

Hear our prayer, while their voices fill our ears.
Blow upon the water and dry land appears.
Walls of water guard our backs.
Receive our prayer, drown our tracks.

#



Cartam et Atramentum

2010-04-22T09:46:46.608-07:00

(image)
This is what it’s like confiding
in one who does not reply.
This is what it’s like to invest
heart and hope in a letter no one reads.
To speak dreams into the air
and believe they will be captured,
nurtured, or at least beheld.
To whisper, How I love you,
Beloved, Beloved, how dearly I love you,
and believe the Universe embraces that devotion,
divides it into spectrums of light,
answers it on the voices of geese
and toads and locusts.

In the quiet spaces,
a coyote makes love to the moon
with a soul cry
that echoes off the ceiling
splattered with broken stars.
Ears pointed to the wet grass,
soft muzzle to the sky,
first a mournful solo
then the yipping of a lapdog
carries across the surface of the water
like a skipping stone.
Answer, all voices of the southern forest,
join the locomotive’s dragon blast.
Rise, rise to crescendo,
prophesy to me.

Now the train is coming,
coming, coming, coming,
here it’s coming, coming, coming
but from north or south I cannot say.

This is what it’s like to kneel
and stand and cross and bow
and recite to no one.
To say, The Lord be with you,
Then answer myself,
And also with you.

This is what it’s like to love
one unknown, unknowable,
yet all-knowing
and made known always
everywhere
in all things.
This is what it’s like to love a god.
This is what it’s like to love.

Speak to me through the songs of train cars
rushing north and south
between you and me,
with no cargo for us in their holds,
nothing to crate and load and haul,
only the message drawn from the tracks
the way horsehair moves over strings
trembling with hope and sadness,
visceral, compelling, seeming unceasing
for a while, it speaks,
Beloved, Beloved, Beloved.

Through the glass I see no steel, no crossties.
The train tracks lie somewhere else
across the creek,
beyond the trees,
past the ballfield lights
and the darkened school yard.
The train runs right through my
open chest.


JBT 03/2010



Crucified Woman

2010-03-31T13:57:42.458-07:00

Lately I've had this image in my mind, of a woman on a cross. Since I am no artist, I hoped someone had done the work for me. A quick Internet search revealed that such images date back several centuries.At right is a really gorgeous painting I found online, with no attribution. (If you know the title or artist, please do tell!)Daria Fand's oil painting "The Last of the Believers" (at left) was banned by the city of Honolulu, even though the art exhibit featured many other paintings of nude women. Fand states that the painting was intended as a commentary on the feminine experience, not on Christianity.In Melbourne, a bronze statue titled "Woman on Cross" has caused quite a controversy, with one local pastor saying:It is a blasphemous insult to the image of Jesus Christ who was crucified on the cross. There is something wrong with an artist who produces something so insulting to Christians."An interesting standard, considering the offense Jesus Christ himself caused to the dominant religious community....Some modern depictions of female crucifixion are political, usually feminist, like this image which speaks to the exploitation of women through biological and legal means:However, the image itself is not new. Artists have captured the image of the crucified woman throughout history -- probably because it was an experience common to religious martyrs, regardless of gender. We like to pretend that humans are too humane to torture women, but history demonstrates that the martyrdom of women has always been at least as cruel as that experienced by men. Witch hunts, inquisitions and other religious purgings have often targeted women specifically.This statue is in Belgium.Hieronymus Bosch's depiction of the martyrdom of St. Julia dates back to the 16th century.In the 19th century, Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max offered up a prettier, more sterilized version of Julia's crucifixion, and titled it "A Christian Martyr on the Cross."(Left) Saint Librada is the patron saint of working women.Before someone asserts that the old examples are different (less offensive) because they lack nudity, consider this piece by Raphael Collin, painted in 1890: "Crucified Woman" is just the image I was looking for. The motion and the values are evocative. The young man rushes in, light, ethereal, almost shadowless. By contrast, the woman is framed by darkness, her body on display but her face obscured.#[...]



Jesus and Judas

2010-03-14T13:25:33.247-07:00

(image)


Why did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord?
Why did he use a kiss to show them?
That’s not what a kiss is for.

Only a friend can betray a friend;
A stranger has nothing to gain.
Only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain.


Michael Card
Copyright © 1984 Mole End Music (ASCAP)
All rights reserved. Used by permission.



We have all been wounded at some time, by one who should have only loved us. There is a Judas in every life.

His name is synonymous with betrayal. We like to vilify Judas, to make him the enemy of Christ and the Gospel. The other apostles recorded his damnation with the indelible ink of history.

The truth is, Judas was not the only traitor. The friends and family who accompanied Christ to Jerusalem basked in the cries of “Hosanna!” When he spoke of his coming kingdom, they argued who would sit where. Then it became clear that the kingdom would come to earth not through glorious victory but through suffering and death. Nobody wanted to be part of that.

Jesus knew. Tonight, he said, you will all desert me. He washed their feet anyway. He prayed for Peter, knowing he would deny ever knowing Christ.

Jesus knew about Judas, too. He knew about the thirty pieces of silver before he wrapped the towel around his waist and knelt on the floor before him like a servant. He knew it as he ran his hands over the man’s grimy feet, cleansing away the stain and stink of the journey.

Later that night, Judas burst into the olive grove with an entourage of soldiers, and betrayed Christ the Lord with a kiss. As his heart was breaking, Jesus called Judas “friend.”

It is easy to kneel before Jesus, who gave up everything for us. But can you kneel at the feet of Judas? Can you wash his feet, when you know his heart?

Jesus had already taught the disciples to pray for their enemies. Perhaps they imagined he meant the Romans or the Sanhedrin. They didn’t think of Judas. They didn’t think of Peter. They didn’t think of their own untrustworthy hearts.

When we pray for our enemy, we call down grace on their life instead of comeuppance. At first our prayer is born of sheer obedience, but if we pray for our enemy diligently — daily — a change begins to take place. Prayer may not change the betrayer, but it changes the one who prays.

You cannot whisper over and over, “Lord, heal her,” without developing a true and earnest desire for your enemy to be healed. You cannot keep asking God to put bread on someone’s table without beginning to think of the surplus in your own cupboard. You cannot pray morning after morning for your enemy, your betrayer, without beginning to fall in love.

How long must you pray for an enemy? Only until the enemy goes away, and you find yourself kneeling in prayer for a friend.

So pray for Judas. Wrap the towel around your waist. Wash his feet. Love him.

#



From Ashes

2010-02-27T14:51:44.025-08:00

Ash Wednesday. Standing in the nave at St. Martin, I gaze up at the figure of Christ that hovers between the wood-paneled eaves. His posture straight and his face serene, he seems not to hang from the cross, but to lift it with the backs of his hands.

Liturgical worship is brand new to me, so each season unfolds like a child’s first Christmas, first ride on the city bus, first visit to the sea shore. What will I see? What will I hear? What will I feel?

This is what I feel, kneeling at the communion rail with ashes drying into the creases of my forehead: I feel lost. Lost isn’t the right word, I decide later. Lost is when you don’t know where you are. What is the right word, when you know where you are, and you know where you have been – but have no idea where you’re going next? Perhaps the word is human.

I was born on Ash Wednesday. This bit of trivia emerges like a memory stored in the bones. Ashes for sorrow. Ashes for grief. Ashes for penitence. Ashes for loss.

We all have our own ashes. We politely brush them into the urns of our hearts, where no one has to look at them. The ashes settle into a black and solid thing, until some stray memory or fresh injury shakes us, stirring up the dust.

One day a year, we wear our ashes on the outside. We see each other as we are. We confess that we are dust.

Ashes look like devastation, but they produce cleansing and renewal. Our ancestors used ashes to soften lye soap. We still spread wood ash on the garden to fertilize the soil.

So I kneel beneath this levitating Jesus in a place still exotic with new words and practices, yet as warm as a little nest. I am still the stranger, the vagabond who wanders in off the street to eat and drink and find warmth. Always finding what I need, I offer back everything, though my “everything” is but rags.

I’m still surprised when no one asks, “Why are you here?” Maybe no one asks because we are all vagabonds. We have all found the same warmth in each other, the same meat and drink in his body and his blood.

So we share this journey through the hope of Advent, the joy of Christmas, and the wonder of Epiphany. Now we prepare ourselves for the journey to the cross.

The church seasons play out like a perpetual catechism. They school us annually in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ, and the birth and mission of the Church. We remember who God is. We learn again who we are.

In Lent, we begin with ashes, but God does not leave us there.

#



A Hundred Voices Strong

2009-12-26T08:46:56.875-08:00

(Matthew 1:18-25)

I grew up in the era before over-scheduling. My brother, sister and I were free to our own devices, and as a result we developed our own traditions and rituals.

Jonathan invented The Never-Ending Journey, a cartoon strip penned on continuous reams of perforated computer paper in which a tribe of stick figures sojourned endlessly over various types of terrain. For years we added to the journey, subjecting the tribe to inclement weather and impossible landforms, and recording their wisecracks along the way. They never quite arrived at their destination.

We had traditions for Christmas also. It began with the first nativity. Jonathan put on his bath robe and declared himself a shepherd. We cast Jillanna as the Virgin Mary. I was the angel, standing on a chair to loom over Mary with such an exuberant expression that it scared Baby Jesus – who, I’m sorry to say, was being portrayed by a large Siamese cat wrapped in a baby blanket.

Eventually we moved beyond crèche play and simulated the entire church Christmas program. We lined up the dining room chairs to make pews, and plopped our dolls and stuffed animals in the empty seats. Jillanna played the piano while we sang. After I took up the offering, Jonathan delivered a good Southern hellfire-and-brimstone sermon.

But how can three voices be a choir? The thin notes distressed us greatly, and we determined to make our choir a hundred voices strong. By next Christmas season, we had devised a solution. We set two tape recorders side by side. First we recorded ourselves singing Christmas hymns. Then we played the cassette, and recorded ourselves singing with it. Over and over, we sang with our own voices, adding harmonies where we could. We recorded it again and again, until our choir was a hundred voices strong.

If a child’s work is play, then we worked hard to teach ourselves life lessons that would sustain us. Like the stick people in the Never-Ending Journey, we still travel endlessly over uncertain terrain in changing weather. What makes the story is not the hills and valleys or the strange hail storms, but our response to it all.

Our Christmas program taught us that with a little ingenuity, we can operate beyond the scope of our own limitations. A child can preach the Gospel. A small band of siblings can create a choir a hundred voices strong.

We learned, too, that church is what you make it. I’m thankful that my mother laughed at our antics and did not scold us for being sacrilegious. The truth is, we were practicing. This holiday season, millions will gather in thousands of chapels and churches to celebrate Christmas. To some degree, we are all just playing at church. The closer we come to the throne of God, the more we see that we are unworthy imposters – mere children in religious vestments. Yet our God welcomes us, and perhaps laughs at our antics.

So I’m going to look for that old cassette tape. I suspect that if you listen closely, beneath the hum of over-recorded static and the cracking of children’s untrained voices, you can hear the breath the angels.

#



What to give the children

2009-12-17T20:30:00.879-08:00

There were three of us children, and my parents raised us with intention. They bought a set of encyclopedias while my big brother was still in diapers and dutifully put the yearbook stickers in place each year. We had swim lessons, homemade birthday parties, and we were even on TV with Miss Marsha.Despite all this attention to planning, the most important thing my parents ever did for us was done for someone else’s benefit.When we were about 6, 8 and 9, my parents sponsored a refugee family from Cambodia. I do not remember the family discussions we must have had before their arrival. What I remember is a young woman clutching a toddler in an oversized dress, with her husband and brother at her side. Not one of them knew a word of English. They were at once frightened, and incredibly brave.We children lost our basement playroom, where we had once been allowed to develop empires of Lego blocks and cardboard boxes for our marble people, or to drag out our mad scientist experiments for days or weeks with no clean-up call. The new people descended into this abode, and slept for most of a day. I perched on the steps, watching their brown feet for any sign of movement. They smelled like spices I did not know, and they spoke volumes with dark eyes and timid smiles. I loved them right away. I was glad to give up my basement. I’d have given them my bedroom, my playhouse, and all my toys, too. My mother prepared food she thought our guests would appreciate – chicken, rice and vegetables. The Cambodians sat around the table, staring. They would not eat. She called an interpreter, who looked at the spread and laughed softly.“They’re confused,” she explained. “You’ve served an entire chicken. They’re probably worried this is all the meat for the next week. And that bowl of rice on the table – that’s only enough rice for one or two people.”My mother took them to an Asian market. She stared wide-eyed as Len pointed to a fifty pound bag of rice. Soon Len was in the kitchen, treating us all to a sumptuous Cambodian meal. The rice was firm and dry, without the butter or sugar preferred here in the South. She spooned a steaming mound onto each plate, and garnished it with two bites of chicken cooked in ginger and a spoonful of steamed vegetables.Our next task was to teach our guests English. When I remember my childhood home, I remember words taped all over the house: window, door, piano, and chair. My parents argued over “little tree,” which Mom worried they would assign to all pine trees. Dad compensated by labeling a dozen more trees.We kids argued over weightier matters: Is it more Christian to teach Houn swear words, or to risk that he might not know if someone insults him at work?Over time, our house guests learned the language and the culture. They worked hard, saved money, and eventually moved to Washington State to be near other family members. The experience was so positive, my parents opted to repeat it, later taking in members of Len’s extended family. Although our Cambodian friends now live on the other side of the continent, they never forget to share their lives with us through calls, visits and photographs. Recently my parents were invited to a wedding, where they were honored as though their sacrifices had taken place only yesterday.Of course, I do not remember any sacrifices. What I remember is growing up with an extra big brother to fend off the bullies. I remember holding a little brown baby and learning to say her name. I remember teaching a small boy to ride a bike. I remember Homp working in the garden and helping with the cows. I’m sure my parents (who will be embarrassed by this column) would say that everything they gave was repaid tenfold in terms of lov[...]



Free the Guppy

2009-09-05T07:19:30.348-07:00

Dutch court should let 13-year-old set sail

Last week, busy-bodies in the Netherlands stepped in to prevent Dutch teen Laura Dekker from becoming the youngest person to sail around the world solo. The Utrecht District court ordered Dekker to undergo two months of psychiatric evaluation, calling the plan “undeniably daring and risky.”

Of course the trip is daring and risky. Isn’t that the point? If circumnavigating the globe in a 26-foot sailboat were a walk in the park, other teens would be doing it. Currently the title for youngest person to sail round the world belongs to 17-year-old Mike Perham of Britain.

The trip takes two years. The court-ordered guardianship and evaluation will, at least, delay Laura beyond her fourteenth birthday, pushing her ETA beyond age sixteen. If she is allowed to set sail at the end of the evaluation period, it will not be the same voyage. Not only will Laura be older, she will also be forced by the seasons to take a different route than the one she has been plotting for three years.

It is admirable that a sea-faring nation like the Netherlands is more concerned with child safety than having another of its citizens listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. The question, then, is whether the state’s meddling is justified.

Laura Dekker did not merely wake up one morning and decide to sail around the world. The girl was born on a boat, and spent four years sailing the world with her parents. She began sailing solo at age six. At the age of 11, she crossed the Atlantic solo, spending seven weeks alone.

Isolation is the primary concern touted by those who want to stop Laura Dekker. Professor Micha de Winter of Utrecht University (not directly involved with the case) touted the guardianship and psychological evaluation as a wise decision. “It’s a big risk and an experiment with a child in which you don’t know what the results could be.” Winter indicated two years alone at sea could damage her physical and emotional development.

Winter’s view presumes that Laura would have no contact with the outside world, as if she would sail for two years without ever seeing or speaking to another human. Actually Laura plotted the journey to stick with busy shipping lanes. The need to reprovision the ship will necessitate many stops over the two-year period, and we do live in the electronic age. One can easily imagine a media following, a blog, and a plethora of satellite calls and emails.

For a generation that worries incessantly about children’s text messages and peer relationships, we are quick to overlook the value of solitude and hard work. We enjoy adventure movies where a young person faces off nature with no real preparation, but when a well-trained young person wants to undertake an epic voyage she has spent three years planning, we cry “Parental neglect!” and try to ground the sailor.

Amazing teens can do amazing things. We cheer our young Olympians without asking too many questions about their education, because we realize that their experiences are a different kind of education. We listen to young music phenoms without worrying too much if they miss some of the ordinary experiences of youth, because we recognize that they are allowed to experience the extraordinary.

Laura Dekker is an amazing young woman with a very big dream. I applaud her parents for getting behind that dream, and I look forward to following her journey.

#



Horton hears a he-cession

2009-07-25T19:11:38.373-07:00

Who the economy hits harder

Have you heard the latest buzz? Some writers and commentators are now calling the recession a “he-cession.” The new word, coined somewhere out on the blogosphere, incites fear and trembling in the masses because now the recession is actually affecting, well, men.

Times Online ran a headline: “Women are victors in ‘mancession.’” Women may not feel so victorious while enduring lower wages, shift cuts, and job loss, plus carrying a heavier share at home. Charlie Gibson touts the “he-cession” on ABC, serving up caricatures of women who just cannot respect their unemployed, apron-wearing Mr. Mom husbands.

Even Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond is falling for the hype. Thurmond released a white paper titled “Georgia Men Hit Hardest by Recession” in which he asserts that job loss is more devastating to men than to women. This long-held assumption implies that men’s work is important, while women’s employment is merely frivolous – perhaps an avenue to get out of the house, or to earn a little money for nail polish.

In reality, women’s jobs are extremely important. In fact, 40 percent of women are the sole breadwinners for themselves or their families. Many women value their careers and identify themselves by their profession. Job loss is a major crisis, often on a par with divorce. To pretend that only men are deeply affected is ridiculous and inaccurate.

Worse yet, Michael Thurmond actually uses the term “he-cession” as if it were a real word. Thurmond’s grammar teacher must be rolling in her grave. Surely she taught him about Latin roots. Perhaps she would like to remind him that “recession” consists of the Latin prefix “re” (back) and the root “cedere” (to go) and therefore refers to moving backward. If “he-cession” had any meaning at all, it would mean that “he” is moving on, not backward.

Reading Thurmond’s white paper, something bothers me a lot more than the painful etymology of the newly coined word. If the recession has become a “he-cession” now that the lay-offs are skewed toward males – what was it in September 2008 when the data showed women were losing their jobs twice as fast as men? We never heard dire warnings about a “she-cession.” In fact, the talking heads on TV and the Internet rarely mention women’s unemployment. If they bring up unemployed women at all, it is to utter scathing remarks about “welfare moms.”

The reason men have lost more jobs, is that men had more jobs to lose. 73% of men were part of the workforce before the recession, compared to less than 60% of women. According to the Center for American Progress, 20.6% of working-age women were already living in poverty at the outset of the recession, compared to 14% of men.

Thus, saying that “the recession hits men harder” is like saying, “The recession hit the rich harder than the poor, because the rich are the ones who had money to lose.” Even during the so-called “he-cession,” men still outnumber women in the workforce, and especially in managerial positions.

On average, women who do have jobs are paid 20% less than men with the same positions. The fact that women can be paid less for doing the same work actually increases male job losses, since cut-backs target higher-paid employees. Women are also more likely to be underemployed, working part-time jobs without health insurance.

There is no new thing called a “he-cession.” The severe economic downturn affects us all. If a quirky new buzzword is needed, maybe “we-cession” would be more appropriate.



Of Pets and People

2009-06-15T11:16:19.242-07:00

The blessings and curses of cohabitationAs a teenager, I found my first real job at Martin-Boyd Christian Home, a Church of Christ retirement community in Chattanooga. The patience, compassion, and work ethic I learned there have had a lasting impact on my life. Imagine my excitement when my own daughter, a 2009 high school graduate, asked me to drive her to Martin-Boyd for a summer job interview.I was excited to see the changes made over the years. Martin-Boyd has always been an establishment that honors its elderly residents, but now the architecture was updated with beautiful crown molding and individual door frames that give residents a greater sense of dignity and autonomy.In the center of the elegant sitting room, lively birds flitted about a large glass enclosure, lending their bright colors to the atmosphere. The fattest cat I have ever seen perched on a richly upholstered chair. A sleek tabby weaved his way across the room, turning to rub against the leg of someone’s walker and then pausing for a head scratch. The familiarity and obvious pleasure the residents feel toward these animals supports what elder care professionals have known for some time: Pets are therapeutic. In fact, when an aging person can no longer live at home, one of the greatest losses may be the loss of their animals. Petting a cat or dog has been shown to lower blood pressure, ease depression, and put a smile on one’s face.Keeping pets should be source of enjoyment, enhancing the life of both the humans and the animals involved. In our society, we see many examples of harm caused by greed, arrogance, and even mental illness. From time to time, the news carries a story of a house overrun by pets. Typically we hear about an older woman housing hundreds of cats in a home filled with feces and even a few rotting corpses. Authorities swoop down on the unfortunate woman, charging her with animal cruelty and removing the numerous animals to treat them as victims. But who is really the victim here? Seems to me the cats are in charge, treating their poor “owner” as a slave while they procreate madly. As the old joke goes, dogs have owners but cats have staff.Then there are the pit bull owners, who may be crazier than the cat ladies. Every time a child is mauled by a savage dog, pit bull apologists rush in to blame the child. Last Friday an eight-year-old Lookout Mountain girl was rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries after a pit bull attack. The apologists noted that the attack happened in the pit bull’s own yard while he was “defending his territory” from the girl’s small terrier. Although the dog owner had no proof of rabies inoculation, the apologists began their mantra of “Where were this girl’s parents?”Eight-year-old children are often allowed to walk down the streets of their own neighborhood – particularly when a pet is missing. Chaining a pit bull in the yard is an unsafe practice, just as it would be unsafe to chain a bear or a lion in the yard and then expect children to just stay away. It was a relief to hear that the dog owner called 911 and then shot the animal in the head, unlike other cases where pit bulls have been spirited away from the scene of the crime. In one case, the dog owners hid the offending animal and presented authorities with a similar-looking dog instead.Pet owners have the responsibility to protect little neighbors from vicious dogs. Chains and ropes do not provide adequate protection, since a child may wander into the animal’s circle. A tall chain-link fence provides better protection. It’s all well and good to say “Children should stay on their own property,” but the r[...]



Brand New Packaging!

2009-06-08T06:28:16.461-07:00

Southern Baptists attempt to save denomination by going incognitoThe webpage of Louisburg Southern Baptist Church reads: “We are still SBC; we still believe in inerrancy; we still cherish our seminaries and mission bodies: We changed our name from Louisburg Southern Baptist Church to Eastside Church of the Cross.”What happened in Louisburg, Kansas is not an anomaly, but a growing trend. Wikipedia describes the trend this way: A recent trend (most common among megachurches and those embracing the "seeker movement") is to eliminate "Baptist" from the church name, as it is perceived to be a "barrier" to reaching persons who have negative views of Baptists, whether they be of a different church background or none. These churches typically include the word "Community" or other non-religious or denominational terms in their church name.Why are the Southern Baptists suddenly reluctant to use their own name? Simply put, it’s a marketing decision. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has been embroiled in controversy and declining in membership for the last decade. The longstanding doctrine of church autonomy and personal autonomy (known as soul competency) has been replaced with social and political messages of intolerance and top-down Catholic-style micromanagement.Take, for example, the issue of women in the pastorate. While the SBC has always had issues with sexism, individual churches were historically allowed to call their own pastors. As a result, many SBC churches were led by women in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. In the year 2000, SBC leadership pulled out all the stops to eliminate these women. Married missionaries were forced to sign a statement recognizing the husbands as the true missionaries while the wives were just their underlings; couples who refused lost their funding. The SBC also stripped female chaplains of endorsement – but only those who were ordained. Although the SBC banned female pastors nine years ago, at this late date the purge continues with attacks on First Baptist Church of Decatur, pastored by Julie Pennington-Russell. FBC Decatur has been warned that unless they fire their pastor, they will be ousted from the Georgia Baptist Convention.As a response to this religious fascism by the SBC, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) began to grow. The CBF is not a convention like the SBC. Emphasizing the freedom of every church and every individual, the CBF commits not to exercise creedal or papal authority over the network of churches that fund and endorse the organization. Many local churches, including First Baptist Church of Ringgold and First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, split their funding between the two organizations, allowing individual church members to designate which one they prefer to support.Other churches pulled out of the SBC entirely – including the First Baptist Church of Greenville, S.C., whose founder William B. Johnson was the first president of the SBC in 1845 and is considered the father of the denomination. Pastor Harvey Clemons explained the church’s break with the SBC this way: “After about 150 years of the Southern Baptist Convention having unity in diversity, it's become a fundamentalist organization, more concerned with creedalism and politics, and we're not. When they added the statement to the Baptist Faith and Message about submissive women, it was just one more in a long series of incidents.”Attempts at reviving the denomination include renaming old churches and misnaming new churches. Locally, north Georgia has seen the emergence of a number of misnamed Baptist churches. The Church at Catoosa may be the largest local SBC church[...]



Homeschoolers play in the dirt

2009-04-21T08:33:21.545-07:00

Addressing the school social worker’s rantThis weekend my grandson came over to the house to play. Almost two years old, little Isaiah has a firmly set mission in life: To find whatever trouble he can, and thoroughly get into it. In our yard, he made a bee-line for the leaky water hose.“You see what he’s doing?” I asked my daughter.Moriah shrugged. “It’s just water . . . and mud. He’ll come clean.”Isaiah picked up the hose and leaned over for a better look, inadvertently squirting himself in the face. He looked up at us, streams of water pouring from his fine blond hair. We were smiling, so he smiled back. He stared at the stream for a moment, and then started lapping at it like a puppy. We laughed while he drenched himself, eventually muddy up to his knees.According to Catoosa County school social worker Sue Mason, we laughed because we are homeschoolers. We don’t know that children are not supposed to play in the dirt. In her scathing two-part article “My thoughts on homeschooling” and “Homeschooling: the dark side,” Mason presents an alternate reality in which parents homeschool their children just to sleep late and avoid responsibility while their children play in the dirt. I suppose she has never seen all those children on the school playground at recess, playing in the dirt.I was reluctant to leave the county paper lying around, with columns like these. My teens were really miffed to discover that other homeschooled kids are allowed to sleep late and play in the dirt all day. They had some hard questions about why I made them come to history class at 7:00 a.m. for so many years.Mason attempts to deflect any objections to her column with the caveat that there are some good homeschool families, and she is not talking about them. Yet, for the length of two articles she goes on about homeschool families who live in trailers, are unemployed, and allow their children to play in the dirt all day long.In seventeen years of homeschooling, I have never met the homeschool families Mason describes. In fact, Mason’s first homeschool column does not feature a single homeschool family. Instead, she writes about public school parents who cannot make it to school on time, who pay the cable bill but neglect the power bill, and who buy tattoos instead of shoes. If these accusations are drawn from actual cases in our county, Mason should be under fire for printing them in the county paper rather than adhering to confidentiality. If they are not actual scenarios, then they are just lies.If the stories are true, they are stories of public school parents. When these parents are threatened with court action for their children’s tardies, they remind the county social worker that public education is not mandatory; they can always homeschool their children if they so choose. Mason thinks it is terrible that parents have this freedom and “there is nothing I can do.”Is it really a bad thing that parents have a way to push back? They are our children, after all. The public school system sometimes behaves like a bureaucratic bully, running over individuals. I have a daughter in public school this year. She's a straight-A high school student working a year ahead of others her age. I still have to stand up for her to get her needs met. I am nice about it, but it goes without saying that if the school system does not offer this brilliant student the opportunities she deserves, they will lose her back to homeschooling.Homeschooling is not a privilege. Rather, the public school is the one enjoying the privilege of having my talented daughter among their students. Granted, it is not too mu[...]



Changeability

2009-03-25T12:22:50.531-07:00

How the curious and the undecided are changing the world“Did you know that I’m magic?” three-year-old Shana Lee proudly asked her grandmother.“Magic? What’s your magic power?”The pixie grinned. “I can change my mind.”The ability to change one’s mind really is a sort of magic. We are not mere animals, depending on our instincts and a little training to know when to bark, when to bite and when to roll over.We have choices, and those choices remain to be considered daily. We choose once to take a job, but every day we choose to be there to fulfill it, or to move on to something different. We say “I do” and yet every day offers the opportunity to make good on that promise, to break the vow in secrecy, or to declare a relationship unsalvageable and walk away. We choose our path, but we are rarely locked in.Human beings must be the only creatures on this planet that have the ability to reinvent themselves. A drug addict gets her head together, finishes her education and interviews for a job. A preacher drives downtown and picks up a male prostitute. An executive swaps his Armani suit for a pair of overalls and fulfills his boyhood dream of farming. A timid, graying couple buys a Harley – and all the black leather to go with it.We choose who we will be every day. Often we surround ourselves with the resources to enforce those choices, including people who accept and affirm our lifestyle.In the past, society and geography acted as restraints that guided people to particular paths and lifestyles based on gender or background. A poor boy in a harbor town almost invariably took to the sea. He had few other choices and he didn’t know what they were anyway. There have always been some who rebelled against the system and left town or chose alternate paths, but for most people the expectations of society provided firm guideposts. Perhaps it was easier, even. There was less to consider.People today face such a dizzying array of choices, it can be daunting rather than liberating. Ask a classroom of children what they want to be when they grow up, and you’ll hear the standard responses: doctor, lawyer, firefighter, rock star, president. They are still ignorant to the thousands of choices before them.In the past, young people were encouraged to make early decisions about their lives, jumping on the “college prep” or “vocational” track by the ninth grade. College students all entered with a major. People seemed to know where they are going. Today’s young people prefer keeping their options open. A popular college major these days is “undecided.” Even high schools have returned to the old idea of presenting a standardized education for all students, allowing the kids to make college decisions during their senior year rather than their freshman year.Such changeability isn’t just for young people, either. This generation of adult workers, more than any other, remains mobile and independent. We could all list dozens of adults who have changed careers, sought higher education, or launched a business of their own. We are a generation of risk-takers who like to keep all options open. Previous generations sought a life-time relationship with an employer, hoping to climb to the top of an organization. Today we tend to view our employers as stepping stones toward some other pinnacle. We don’t approach our careers as ladders to be climbed, so much as mountainsides, where reaching the surest foothold or the best scenery may involve climbing sideways rather than upward.As we apply changeability thinking to other areas of our li[...]



Kids Today

2009-03-15T13:51:03.194-07:00

Is there hope for the next generation?Whether we are parents, teachers, or just adults observing teenagers at the mall or the movie theater, it is easy to give in to the sentiment that “kids today” are a real mess, and therefore our society is headed for trouble. Major news carriers have nothing good to say about young people. Drugs are epidemic. The drop-out rate soars. Journalists warn us that young people today not only do not want to wait for marriage; they do not even wait for a date. Dating has supposedly been replaced with “hooking up.” Girls have gone wild. Boys are all drunk or on drugs, or both.Are we headed for a societal meltdown at the hands of the next generation? I think not.Sure, I have seen the statistics on teen sex, drop-outs and drugs. I’ve also read about the Sixties and the Seventies, and I remember the Eighties and Nineties quite well. We may give practices a new name, but “hooking up” is not substantially different from “free love” or a “one-night stand.” About half of teens are sexually active, just like before. The drop-out rate is no better, no worse. The teen pregnancy made a small surge during Bush’s administration but has been steadily declining over all. The abortion rate has actually fallen. Teen smoking is at a ten-year low.As in previous generations, only a portion of young people are engaged in the practices that scare adults to death. CosmoGirl recently shocked the nation by claiming that 1 out of 5 teenagers photograph themselves naked. Nobody mentioned the flipside also revealed by the survey: 4 out of 5 teens refrain from the practice, despite having the means and encountering the same pressure from friends, magazines and billboards. By focusing on the outrageous and the sensational, media outlets create panic. Apparently, that’s what sells papers and keeps viewers watching.The younger generation is obsessed with computers, cell phones and iPods. It’s true. I finally realized that if I wanted to have a meaningful relationship with my adult daughter, I must add a texting plan to my phone. Calls are neither answered nor returned in this age of instant-everything and thumb typing. Young people are more computer-literate than ever, but we tend to focus on the negative aspects of this. We mutter about English literacy when we read, “How R U?” and fail to recognize that our kids are learning a shorthand that is just as valid as that used by Ham radio operators and telegraphers of old. We’re befuddled when kids get around parental controls, and forget to appreciate their intelligence and ingenuity.Parents are not the only ones who focus on the negative. Media outlets routinely play up teenage delinquency, even as they ignore millions of American teens who are smart, strong, responsible and ambitious. When have you ever watched a TV special about the millions of teens who use the Internet responsibly to further their education, keep in touch with friends and learn about their world, without putting themselves in harm’s way? Yet it happens every single day.Condemning next generation is as old as time. Even during the Pax Romana there was great concern about a rising crop of lazy youth who did not understand the value of work or the importance of politics. Maybe it’s a sort of amnesia on the part of adults. We forget what it was like to be young. We remember our hard work to bring up a grade, but not all the homework we missed that put us in that position to begin with. Did we really understand hard work, appreciate money, or have a strong gr[...]



100 years of celebrating women

2009-03-09T08:15:10.554-07:00

Happy International Women's Day!Determined, feisty suffragettes celebrated the first National Women’s Day one hundred years ago, on February 28, 1909. Within a few years, the observance went global and became International Women’s Day, celebrated around the world on March 8th of every year. In a host of countries around the world, International Women’s Day is now an official holiday with flowers and small gifts. The United States designates the entire month of March as Women’s History Month. This year, the theme for International Women’s day is “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.”The subject has never been more apropos. According to the National Institute of Justice, one in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 1.3 million women per year are victims of sexual assault here in the United States, with an annual cost exceeding $5.8 billion per year.Intimate partner violence recently exploded into the national focus when R&B crooner Chris Brown was arrested for beating, threatening, and choking pop star Rihanna nearly to death. Chat groups and news forums continue to crackle with the usual tired arguments: Why didn’t she leave him before this? Why is she silent now? Do some women want to be abused?It is an easy thing to state that battered women should leave their partners. Of course they should, if and when they can do so safely. Yet when we focus on the actions or inactions of the victims, we overlook the most important aspect of these cases. Men should not hit women. The epidemic of domestic violence will never be resolved until we stop asking why women are there, and instead begin to ask why some men brutalize those they profess to love.We are frustrated that Rihanna has not spoken out to repudiate Chris Brown and by extension condemn dating violence. Perhaps we forget that she is only twenty years old, did not ask to be in this situation, and never stated a desire to become the new face of domestic violence. As badly as we may want her to condemn Chris Brown and testify against him, the girl is probably scared to death. A few days ago, this man bit her, punched her, and choked her to the point of passing out. Now he walks around as a free man, simply because he has money. Who can blame his victim for lying low and playing nice?Unfortunately, the maximum penalty for announcing your intent to kill a woman and then choking her unconscious appears to be four years. And who wants to place bets on whether a wealthy celebrity will receive the maximum sentence? Judging from the OJ fiasco, America will be lucky if Chris Brown is even found guilty. So many people are calling Rihanna stupid for being with the wrong man. How stupid then is our society to allow over a million women a year to be thus treated, with only a slap on the wrist for those men found guilty of crimes against their own wives and lovers? Here in developed, “civilized” America, women are beaten into submission every day. Over a million women live in fear. Over a million women curb their actions, their words and even their thoughts to avoid retaliation. We say “They should leave!” and yet society does almost nothing to assist women in leaving safely. 75% of intimate partner murders take place during or after the breakup. Most battered women do leave their abusive partners, but in doing so they encounter enormous risks as well as facing poverty and homelessness and risking the loss of their children.Tha[...]



Why I'm still here

2009-02-15T10:14:35.778-08:00

And why I’m not aloneI finally took the social networking plunge. I depend daily on Internet searches and email, and obtain most of my news about the world online. Like many people, I haven’t opened a paper phone book in years. I order videos from NetFlix, and watch my favorite TV shows online. And I blog. Of course I blog. Still, I’ve long been hesitant to throw my social fortunes to the winds of MySpace and FaceBook.In connecting with old friends from high school, the first topic that comes up is often geography. Many of my schoolmates – especially those who showed great promise – have moved to Atlanta or some far-off metropolis to pursue a successful career. Economists and sociologists tell us to expect as much. Bedroom communities like Ringgold, Georgia, simply do not retain most of the talented young people who graduate from their schools. They go off to college and discover they have outgrown their own community. The place they called home does not offer employment opportunities that stimulate their interests and allow them to access (and afford) the lifestyle they became accustomed to at the university.What is it, then, that holds some of us here when it would seem a relief to pack it up and move away? Some, perhaps, lack motivation. Most of us are just sentimental.It is that curve in Chickamauga Creek that holds me, like a mother restraining a baby in the crook of her arm. I drive past it more often than not, failing to leave the comfort of my vehicle and my shoes and my dignity. I pledge to stop more often and stand on those wide, flat stones while the ice-cold water runs over the tops of my bare feet – all the while praying the moss doesn’t glide beneath my soles like a banana peel and send me flying backward to land in a splash of green water and lost dignity.The train, too, holds me here rather than moving me on. I love to hear it thunder past the Depot on an opry night, the great wooden shutter doors trembling in their ancient track. Sometimes the musicians join the rhythm; other times they stop and listen to a mournful solo as the horn blows and the beast moves by. I place my hand flat against the stone walls and feel the pulse of that locomotive roaring northward only a few feet from my fingertips, moving us without taking us away.I love the old things, like that hodge-podge of tin and wood over by Callaway’s store. I have been looking at that structure my whole life, and it occupies the frame of my existence. Business may take me to the shiny, neoclassic city hall, but my eye is always on that crazy quilt of tin sheets. I’m remembering a hundred indistinguishable Saturdays when my father backed up to their pickup-height loading dock, and familiar men with friendly faces tossed sweet corn into the back of our old Dodge while I went inside to ask a question about my horse or my lamb or my dog.Yes, it’s really the people who keep me here. I do not want to live in a place where there is no one like Moses in the grocery store. He grins, golden tooth gleaming, and you know right away that a flame burns so brightly in his soul that it could never be snuffed out by bad weather or a squeaky grocery cart wheel. He sings his way through life, blessing everyone who comes near him with what he enthusiastically calls his “black magic.” Just watch sometime and see the shoppers walking into the grocery store tired, cranky and worried about what to make for dinner – then coming out with a lighter step despite the heavy sacks in their hand[...]



Obama inauguration offers living history lesson

2009-01-26T09:27:49.543-08:00

Many Georgia educators let the opportunity slideOn a Sunday afternoon, I watched via Internet as Barack Obama roared toward Washington, D.C. to the take the oath of office. Styling himself as a modern Abraham Lincoln, our new president retraced the pre-inauguration train journey traveled in 1861. At every stop, huge crowds braved sub-zero temperatures to catch a glimpse of the new leader of the free world, or to shout “Yes, We Can!” as the train rolls by.As I watched that train roll toward the capitol, I thought of my friend Martha Archie. At birth she was named Martha Moss, and she grew up here in Ringgold, where her family is well-known and well-respected in the community. She graduated in 1964, the same year as both my parents. Yet even in this small town, my parents never met Martha Moss when they were teens. As an African-American, Martha Moss could not attend Ringgold High School.Wilson High School was the school designated for students with darker skin. Situated down the hill from Ringgold High School (now the Middle School), Wilson offered education that was supposed to be “separate but equal.”We were decorating a float for the Christmas parade the first time I heard of Wilson High School. Martha pointed out where Wilson High was housed, in what is now the ROTC building. Standing in the frigid wind with balloons in both hands, I cast my gaze from one school toward the other, and tried to imagine how two worlds could be so close and yet so segregated.I should have realized there would have been two schools in my hometown, just as there were all across the South. I knew my parents lived through segregation and desegregation. My mother had told me about the separate drinking fountains in public places. As a child too young to understand, my mother had begged to drink from the fountain labeled “COLORED.” She thought the water would be tinted all the colors of the rainbow.It is easier to imagine those things happened in Chattanooga, or down in Atlanta, or somewhere off in Alabama or Mississippi. We tend to downplay the history of racial tensions in our own hometowns. Certainly we would rather focus on the positive, like the gymnasium at Ringgold High School which is named after a black athlete. Neither do we like to remember that the KKK marched these streets not so long ago, and that black families in Ringgold were threatened in the 1960’s and even subjected to domestic terrorism that killed a mother in her bed.We thirty-somethings do not go back that far. It’s difficult for us to comprehend how bad things really were. Today students of every skin tone mingle in the school yards. We have a city council that cares about all citizens, enough to remove a symbol that offends the black community. Then we see Barack Obama waving from the train car, and placing his hand on Lincoln’s inaugural Bible.“Young people don’t understand how significant this is,” Martha told me the night of the parade. “They don’t remember what it was like, when you couldn’t even walk into a place and eat dinner.”One reason young people don’t remember is because we, as a society, do not teach them. During all my years in Ringgold High School, no one ever spoke of Wilson High School. It was as if the black school had never existed, never left any imprint on this community, and did not even deserve acknowledgement.No wonder American education lacks relevancy. We focus on the distant past that can be sanitized and analyzed, while ignoring the messy situati[...]



The Musician's Mother

2010-11-28T13:23:38.023-08:00

In the stage lights she comes alive, blinking and smiling as if emerging from a chrysalis. It is there I see her as she will be, confident and consummate, no longer the fifteen-year-old being lectured about her cell phone, or the sister arguing whose turn it is to wash dishes.On the stage, she is in her element. Everything else is just an interlude between performances. She swims through the delicious tension, her eyes running over the assembled crowd. She speaks and her voice comes back to her through the amplifiers. She inhales, growing larger. She sings and the world smiles. She plays her fiddle and the bright lilting notes lift us in our seats.At home in her room, in the basement, on the porch or on the roof, she fills hours and days with the same strokes, scratched out in maddening succession. I cup my hands around my mouth, leaning toward the stairs or out the window. “Slow it down! I can’t listen as fast you can play!”There is silence for a moment and I picture her bow poised over the strings, tiny snowflakes of rosin sifting to the dark wood. Finally she shouts back, “I don’t know it slow!”Later she tells me she does not know the notes at all. She says the music is in her fingers, not in her head.I watch her now, gathering the heat of the stage lights and the chaotic energy of the small crowd. It courses through her body and flows out through two hands – the fingers of one moving subtly over the neck of the fiddle while the other hand lightly grasps the bow, wrist undulating as she saws the strings. The remnants of that energy escape through swaying hips and tapping foot.I follow the notes – I know them better than my own heartbeat, although I could not squeeze two in a row from those alien strings. Perhaps they are my heartbeat. And when she is gone – don't think of it! -- the melody will play on in my head. It will be the music of my days, energizing my steps lest I falter. It will course through my veins, so that I grow with each breath and do not melt in the emptiness she has left behind.Yes, she will move on to other adventures, other cultures, other loves. I will be someone she has to remember. We won't finish each other's sentences, or reach across the table for the same dish. She will be a voice on the phone, or a tiny string of text, enigmatic at times, as her life unfolds.I try to picture her in the settings she has imagined aloud. I see her in an antiseptic room, blue eyes burning bright between cap and mask. I see her gloved hands aloft, bright with blood. Is this the child I have raised, fearlessly facing down death each day?Or is this my child, in a dusty foreign land, surrounded by children with eyes as big as moons? I look at the hands that play the fiddle. I watch what tiny and precise movements create sound out of silence. The notes break across the crowd, and we are moved. Are these not hands that heal?I imagine her in a chapel, slanted evening light illuminating a soft veil laid over her maple-colored curls. It occurs to me again that I cannot in good conscience say “Her father and I” if some preacher asks “Who gives this woman?” How can I give away what was never mine? If she were mine, I would hold her like a jewel burning cool in the palm of my hand. It might show you my jewel, but I would never turn over my fist, open my fingers and empty something so precious into your palm.But she was never mine. I knew it the first time I held her, wriggling and bloody, against my body. T[...]



Undoing Eight Years of Stupid

2008-12-17T18:43:20.505-08:00

Sometimes the worst brings out the bestOn election night, hope was palpable. A sort of jittery excitement filled the air at the Catoosa Democratic Headquarters in Ringgold, Georgia. A year ago, the local party was lucky to have twenty people at a breakfast meeting. Now, giddy Obama supporters edged past each other in the crowded banquet hall, sharing smiles and ogling the vast array of t-shirts and buttons. “Your grandparents were right,” read one sticker, “Vote Democratic.” For decades, this area has been Democratic. That’s the reason we are known for having some of the best public schools around. It’s the reason we have a fabulous library, and a learning center that not only rescues individual educations, but actually boosts the local economy by increasing wages so that it brings in more revenue than it costs taxpayers. Nationally, Democratic values have brought us the social security program that supports the elderly, a public education system that ensures every child in America has the right and responsibility to go to school, help for the mentally ill, assistance for the impoverished and health care for poor children.Curiously, the Republican Party has managed over time to misconstrue the notion of family values. Somehow a number of Christian voters have been convinced that Christianity is about denying rights to people who don’t believe like we do. Jesus was never into that. Jesus came to heal the sick, bind up the broken hearted and preach good news to the poor.As the hours passed and the soft drinks disappeared at the election party, it became apparent that Barack Obama would be the next President of the United States. Our excitement was tempered by the memories of the 2000 election. It was not until the election was called with a wide margin that the true celebration began. White Democrats clapped and laughed and danced in the streets, vaguely wondering why the black Democrats had slipped away early. Then the sound of church bells pealed through the chilly air.For days, the reality of what had taken place was still sinking in. “I can’t stop crying every time I think about it,” wrote my friend in New York, sounding so much like another friend in Hawaii and another in Canada. Suddenly a nation known for its racial divide had leaped from prejudice redneck status to multiculturalism, becoming an inspiration for reconciliation advocates in Europe and all over the world.Not one to bask long in the glory of a moment, Barack Obama immediately got back to work. Less than one month from the election, he has already chosen most of his officials and cabinet members, including Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker as top economic advisor. Obama’s choices have thus far proven to be centrists and have sometimes crossed party lines (case in point, keeping Robert Gates as Defense chief.)The task that lies before the President-elect is not an easy one. If the election was hard-won, economic and foreign policy success will be more difficult still. Some have even suggested that the Republicans were relieved not to win this cycle. After all, who wants to shoulder responsibility for the mess that Bush has made? The ship of state is not easy to turn around. It may take a decade or more to recover from the economic devastation of the Bush economy and quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then again, maybe it is all easier than it sounds. It d[...]



Today

2008-11-05T12:00:51.096-08:00

Last night, we held our breath. There was no more time for calling or canvassing. It was like that moment when astronauts slingshot around the moon. We were Houston, watching intently but unable to assist.

Today we breathe deeply, and the sky looks more blue than ever before. Today we can do anything.

Last night, we watched the electoral votes surging slowly and erratically upward, and we sat taller by the minute.

Today we wear our Obama buttons just for fun, like football fans gleefully displaying our loyalty to the winning team. Today we love everyone who shared this moment with us, even (or especially) Senator John McCain.

Last night, there were whoops of joy, clapping hands, tears, laughter, cheering, hopping, and dancing in the street.

Today we remind each other of the hard road ahead, as if suddenly we must temper hope with realism, when for so long we have tempered realism with hope. It is so easy now to slough off fear and cynicism. It is so easy to smile and think of the better future that lies ahead for our children, so we keep reminding each other not to leave behind the tools that will help us climb this mountain.

Last night, the church bells were ringing through the cold, still air.

Today, we are practicing the sound of it in our mouths: President Obama.


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