Friday, February 18, 2011

Touch Someone Today! Hugs Could Heal the World!

Leo Buscaglia said, "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."

Since moving to Florida I haven't entered into the community on a one-on-one relationship. I skim along the surface without getting involved with anything but my day to day life. I float through a sea of faces and no longer look to search for someone I know -- there is no one. They all live in another place, it seems like they live in another time as well. Detached, I think I'm unemcumbered by others' expectations and demands. It is a kind of freedom. I tell myself this over and over, and then that thought creeps in "No man is an island."

After a half-decade I now see familiar faces behind the counters at the local grocery. I don't know their names, except for one woman, about my own age, who works there carrying out groceries. We exchanged first names. Connie.

Last year, about this time, she helped me get groceries to the car and she asked the usual polite questions. It just so happens that at that moment I didn't know if my husband would live or die and her kind inquiries loosened my grip on a flood of tears. Without hesitation she pulled me into a hug. I could smell her perfume on my shirt for the rest of the day. It reminded me that we don't really need to know each other to care. And it amazed me at how deeply her simple act of kindness touched me.

Yesterday Connie, who I hadn't seen for awhile, helped me with my groceries. We both were having a better time of it. Her husband had had successful surgery and mine was doing great. We shared a hug and much to my surprise the tears sprang to my eyes. I may be free and unfettered as I skim through the community, but I'm also giving up hugs, smiles, handshakes, and encouraging and caring gestures. Just being touched brought such a deeply emotional reaction, that I was shaken even after arriving home. Even after putting the groceries away. Even now, a day later.

I wonder about people who live alone, or are in nursing homes or haven't been touched for years. What would happen if someone hugged them? We watch animals and see that they require contact with their fellow pack mates. Our cats snuggle, pat each other, wash each other. They know the need for touch. This website can tell you more about hugs.

That touch or my reaction to it, showed me just how I spend my days. Most of the time I hide behind shields or have my armor in place. I'm courteous, thoughtful, polite, but distant. Most of us, sadly, are comfortable with this kind of public behavior.
Recently while watching the events unfold in Egypt, I was drawn to the way the people touched each other. A hand on a shoulder, a hug, a slap on the back. Some carried the wounded or hurt in their arms. It didn't seem to matter if they knew each other or not. Their humanity connected them.

They also worked together, set up areas of need -- clinic, food, latrine, and 'safe zones' where people could go to rest and rejuvenate. Whoever organized these rallies of hundreds of thousands of people took into consideration the human needs. We often forget that we have such needs.

That hug yesterday was a most welcome act of kindness. I wish I were a hugger, but it isn't 'natural' to me, except with my closest family members. My kids tease me that I'm a tree hugger. Well, maybe it is time to expand my range of hugs to include some others, like me, who need to be reminded that someone still cares. Still sees them. Heaven knows we need some more positive things, need to see our leaders being better people, more compassionate, more responsible, more involved in elevating all mankind, not just those who can reward them. Maybe you and I must set the example for them.
Charles Kuralt, known for his years with the TV program "On the Road with Charles Kuralt" believes that "The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines." I want to believe that he is right.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mother Goes to Jail, Kids Go to Inferior School

An Akron mother was sentenced to jail for attempting to enroll her children in a better school. She is divorced, lives in public housing as too many divorced and single mothers do. According to Ohio laws governing school enrollment, her children should have been enrolled in the school that served the area where she resided. This school has a 76 percent graduation rate and met only 4 of the 26 standards on the Ohio Department of Education Report Card.

I have some confusion. I thought it was the father, but others have said the grandfather resides in the suburbs. The school district in his area has a 98 percent graduation rate. It meets 26 of the 26 standards. Needless to say the Akron District school that served the mother's area was primarily serving a black demographic. The Copely-Fairlawn School district that provided education for her husband's area boasted a student body that was 75 percent white students.

The mother was sentenced to five years in prison with all suspended except for 10 days. She must serve 80 hours of community service and is on probation for three years. She had been working as a teacher's aide at the high school in Akron and was 12 credits shy of earning her teaching degree at the University of Akron. Now, because of this felony conviction the mother will not be allowed to teach school in Ohio.

The father or grandfather is not touched by all of this, yet he was just as involved as the mother. And they both thought that since the children lived at least part time at the suburban address that they were not doing anything illegal. In fact alot of people do this and get away with it. In fact this mother Ms. Williams-Bolar is the only one prosecuted for this 'crime.'

I understand the schools must maintain order. Must have limitations and laws governing enrollment. Yet they just put a woman in jail, ruined her chance for a better life and to practice the profession for which she is training because she tried to get a reasonable education for her children.

She was fighting for her children.

The school was fighting to enforce a very un-American bureauecratic administration. America is founded on trying to have a better life for our kids. We all know education is the bedrock of such a move out of poverty and violence and yet the very institution that says it is sworn to education our children filed charges against the mother and blocked her children's access to a better education.

Does the school system work to make all educational institutions equal? Apparently not or not effectively and NOT in time to help Ms. Williams-Bolar's children.

Recently several of us have gotten together on my facebook page and discussed abortion rights, pro-choice, pro-life, etc. And the one thing some of us keep bumping up against is the quality of the life of the child. Whether pro-life or pro-choice, we agree that we ignore the child after it is born. If people are against a mother's choice and they want to save the baby at all costs -- then why do they abandon it after it is born? Why isn't there a system to care for and nurture and love that child after it is born? I suppose this question is more strongly in my thoughts after a recent news story about a mother who left her 7 month old son with a babysitter for several days. Evidently something she has done quite often. The babysitter said she took a nap. Awoke and couldn't find the baby. It was found in a picnic cooler which was placed outside of the home. The baby was dead. I don't want to let my imagination dwell on what that baby went through in those seven months. Seven months of torture or a quick abortion?

I worked for a short time at a children's services agency that took care of among other things abused and neglected children. A county agency. I worked in the office and when they picked up a child it sometimes fell to me to keep an eye on the children while paperwork was being filed and caseworkers were dealing with tearful and angry parents. That was more than 30 years ago and I can still see this beauiful little four-year-old boy. He had such blue eyes, coffee latte skin and such sorrow and confusion. He also had lacerations and abrasions where he'd been tied up. Around his neck, his wrists and his ankles. He had cigarette burns on his face, on his scalp, his neck, his shoulders, his belly, his back, his buttocks, his genitals, his inner thighs, behind his knees and inner elbows, on the bottoms of his feet.... I grieve for that child who stood silent in my office. His eyes so full of pain I couldn't bear it.

Here we have a responsible mother who is working hard to better herself, get out of the housing development she was cast into after her divorce and at the same get her children the best education she can. Now I know doubts creep in. Maybe this woman was not Mother Teresa. Maybe she has dark secrets and maybe she isn't a great person. And you can wonder why she is divorced. But is that really important? And who are we to judge?

She didn't lie. Her children do live with their grandfather or father and they live with her. Someone ventured the opinion that she was probably taken to court because she fought the administration so hard....

What would you do if you could get your children into a clean, violence free suburban school or keep them in a dirty, below par -- WAY below expectations -- school plagued with all of the inner city drugs, violence, and risks?

Why aren't we stepping up to stand beside Ms. Williams-Bolar of Akron, Ohio? Is it because she is black? Is it because she is an example and we support the school red tape rather than a quality education for her children? Is she not beautiful enough? White enough? Educated enough? Rich enough for us to care about what happens to her and her family?

If she was trying to abort her babies there would have been marching and picketing and pamphlets sent and hate mail. Some feminist women might have rallied around her to protect her right to end the life of her baby. But she wasn't doing any of that. Ms. Williams-Bolar was stepping up and fighting for an education for her children. She wasn't just making do. She was attempting to make her life better. It is after all what the Conservative Right say she should do. It is what the Liberal Left encouarge her to do.

Yet there is an outcry against supporting those who live in poverty. Somehow it is their fault that they are not rich, powerful, beautiful, successful, healthy and contributing to the community. There is a movement to stop supporting people like Ms. Williams-Bolar in her time of need. Some do not want to give her hand outs. They say she should make her own way. And that's exactly what she's been doing. She isn't alot different than a popular author -- Rowlings is her name I believe. Might have heard of her little series of Harry Potter books....

A felony? Really?

What a shame if all of the people in Akron enrolled their children in a better school system instead of allowing their government to keep them prisoner in an underfunctioning sham of a school.

Is this really what America is all about? The more I think about this situation and the way we uphold institutions that ravish our powerless population, I am ashamed and enraged. And I want to know what I can do to eliminate the ineffective 'welfare' system. The ridiculous excuse for public education. The employment/unemployment training for new jobs (McDonald's here I come).... How ridiculous!

How long do we look the other way and wonder why so many gangs are forming and people are carrying guns and violence is up? How long do you think the anger can continue to build before it bursts out in carnage and distruction? How long can we imprison mothers who fight the rules and regulations and institutions that destroy their children why proclaiming that they are helping them....

For want of a 'proper' residency form according to the school's very narrow definition, this woman goes to jail and her children are confined to a school that WILL DO THEM HARM.

I know what I would do for my children. What will we do for Ms. Williams-Bolars? And all of the others who are working hard to make a better life for their children? You realize that we are all one job loss, one catastropic illness, one divorce away from being in her shoes....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tucson Inevitable in an Atmosphere of Hate

I write this mostly for my own clarification so please excuse any ramblings as I try to unravel my own thoughts about the shooting in Tucson and its relationship to the violence that has crept into today's rhetoric.

First let me say that I do not see Sarah Palin as a direct cause of the shooter's actions. Yet, it was her name that immediately sprang to mind when I heard of the event. I think her responsibility for such actions is much broader and far reaching than this one young man.

A writing friend finds it ludicrous that I would think that there is any connection whatsoever between Palin and Tucson. But she seems to consider only one way that Palin and the shooter could be connected and that would be if he was a student of her politics or follower or was aware of her map that targeted the Congresswoman with a gun crosshairs symbol.

I know the connection is not that direct.

When I heard that a young man had walked up to Congresswoman Giffords, raised a gun and shot her from about a foot away from her head. Shot her in the head. I thought of Sarah Palin and that candidate Angle who suggested second amendment remedies for those who opposed her. Not that I thought the man had any affiliation to these women or was directly influenced by them. But the relationship was as clear to me as the smile on my child's face. Palin had placed the target on this woman. Palin had gone out of her way to use volatile rhetoric, words like kill, death, 'don't retreat, reload.' She encouraged that kind of discourse and coarseness in the public political debate. And others took that as a signal that they could do the same.

I don't understand how Palin or anyone can spout those kinds of hate based words and then turn around and say what a strong Christian she is. In my brain the two just don't go together. I was raised by a gentle but strong woman. She was pure steel when it came to the way one talked about another. You NEVER wished anyone dead. You never wished them ill. Even if you were mistreated, you turned the other cheek -- again and again. She taught us to pray for our enemies and not to pray that they would be caught in the crosshairs. So the form of Christianity I was taught seems so at odds with the entire persona of Sarah Palin.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not against anyone, including Palin, who live lives that include guns or who hunt, fish and live off the land. I do object to anyone who abuses the land, the animals, and kills for sport. I respect responsible lives. Responsible and appropriate regard for guns.

Guns were a part of our life. We just took for granted that there were rifles and shotguns in the closet. Unloaded of course. Taken apart so that no child could hurt him or herself. But guns were just there. I guess we understood that they were for necessities. Tools. We could hunt for meat if necessary and on a more unconscious level we thought of them as protection if we were ever attacked. Of course I grew up in the post WWII and Korea era. It was a reality for an enemy to overwhelm a person's home, community and cause them to defend themselves as best they could. We revered stories about the French Resistance. Guns were part of that story. The guns were not glorified. They were tools to defend freedom and provide for one's family.

The only gun I personally objected to was my brother's BB gun. He didn't have the respect, nor the understanding of how to properly use the gun. He stood under the big locust tree in our back yard and shot birds just to see if he could hit them. Thankfully he wasn't a very good shot. But I still see the robin that fell at my feet. And I must admit that my adoration for an older brother slipped a notch or two. But then again children don't understand death or the finality of it. And there was a part of me that itched to see if I could shoot straight. Hit the target. I think the day, with a little help from me and a friend, he accidently shot himself in the hand, we both learned that there is a side to guns and shooting that is quite painful and deserves more respect.

But when guns are used even in metaphor against a political opponent -- that makes no sense. It is pure abuse.

Politicians use words. Are adept with their use. They are tools and too often weapons. So when a politician chooses a gun metaphor or wishes his opponent dead or calls him or her an 'enemy.' What can anyone hearing that think but that they meant to convey a feeling and a thought that had only been used in war?

The words coming from our leaders, our media, the pundits, the cable opinion mongers, are as lethal as bullets. We no longer debate. We attack. It seems to be a take-no-prisoner mentality when it is not about killing your enemy, but about supporting your political party and their beliefs. It is not a life and death fight. Or am I missing something?

Do I think the young man who shot and killed so many members of a community was ill? Yes. Do I think he alone was responsible for his actions? Yes. Do I think that the vitriolic rhetoric set a tone in this nation that fostered, even nourished his behavior? Definitely. Yes!

Every leader has a responsibility. Everyone with a platform is charged with the responsibility to use it appropriately and responsibly. When did that get shoved to the side? When did it become whatever does the most damage is fine? I am so ashamed of the rhetoric in this country. So very ashamed that a Christian voices such nasty, hateful words and then sluffs them off with an even more despicable excuse, trying to say that there is a blood libel against her....

I am unable to listen to Rush Limbaugh or Mr. Beck. I cringe and find it painful to listen to them attack their fellow man. Do they not know that everyone is a child of God? We are not enemies; we are fellow citizens traveling the same roads.

It is troubling that we are so divided. Another friend, who is bound to me by our love of fabric art, said that perhaps I would see it differently when things were reversed. If she meant that when the people representing my beliefs began shouting death, they should die, target and wipe 'em out and other such violent epithets, that I would see the reason in them. But, you see my friend, anyone who believes as I believe would never consider that kind of attack. I believe that we all are equal. All are human. All deserve a good life, equal rights, safe lives, and secure homes. I don't think anyone should be hungry or in poverty. I don't believe anyone is better than another. And when it comes to wealth -- it is not for personal gain, but is actually a responsibility, a call to help those less fortunate. The same with power. It should be used to edify one's fellow man. So if one of the leaders who represent the party to which I belong begins spouting hate statements, I would reject him. He would not be sharing my beliefs and I could not condone such actions.

Again I wonder how a Christian can accept such violent hate-filled discourse.

So, maybe I have not unraveled anything with this blog. Maybe it is only more confusing. I know it saddens me to spend time thinking about the chasm that divides me from so many people who are my dearest friends and even relatives. But most of all it frightens me that I cannot understand how anyone can condone this violent advocating rhetoric.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Blank Slate: 2011

It's going to be an odd year. The date tells us that -- eleven. Odd.

At this point, 6:30 a.m. on the morning of the first day of 2011, it has so much potential -- odd or otherwise. I can also see that the year will be shrouded in mystery if the morning is any portent of things to come.

A mixture of the familiar and the mysterious. My husband's regular breathing. The cats, unrelenting, disregarding a new beginning continue their old habit of waking me, making me comform to their schedule. Familiar.

I take my cue and follow their tails raised straight and rigid as if they carry their banner proudly into the fray. Today we parade to the kitchen where I meekly offer these little feline gods what they want. They are willing to walk all over my prone body, shove their furry paw in my face, sit on my head, and knock one by one everything they can reach off of dresser and counter tops until I leap from bed. That is the familiar.

When my three nemesis are contentedly grazing over their food bowls, I look out of the window expecting to see a familiar landscape. But it has changed.

Mists lie heavy turning the yellowed grass and neighbors' houses and trees into something alien and yes, mysterious. It is a Holmsian street scene for all I can tell. The street lights have a golden aura about them as if their light is trapped and unable to move past the white swirling mass that surrounds it. I cannot see the neighbor's house across the street, only the house's fixtures glow on either side of the garage door. Their light also held captive.

I pad on bare feet to the back of the house. I can't see any further than the neighbor's fence. All details are distorted or totally covered in a white veil. My sight cannot penetrate it. The practice ring where the owners train their horses stands empty. It is where they teach each horse to make every move on cue and not to do anything unless told. Through the years I have sat silently watching from my back porch as the rider leads the horse through its routine. Dressage, I believe is the name of the competitions they prepare for. Forward, backward, sideways, now fast, now slow, now pick up your feet, dainty, proper, control. Control. The check rein makes the horse curve its neck like a swan.

I think of Black Beauty, the first 'adult' book I read as a child. The first book I purchased. It was an offer on a cereal box. With box tops, I bought a world bound in an inexpensive cover. But when I opened the book, began reading the words, my little safe childish world expanded to include a horse and people who by turns loved and abused him throughout his life. I was never quite the same. Perhaps once again horses will lead me into another world, expand my own limited space. But I suspect that as with every day of my life since opening that book, it will be the words and the pages, the stories and the characters who will lead me.

As I look at the little farm, I realize that the new year begins with a bleakness over their little enterprise. I hope the recession has not caused this little farm to shut its doors. We don't need more housing developments to swallow up the land. But we do need a family farm. We need people who follow the seasons, are close to nature. We need those who feed and train horses and take responsibility for their own livelihood and who follow their bliss. I need to see a rural setting in this bedroom community I now call home. Otherwise its paved streets and manicured lawns become a stepford landscape and we are all robots programmed to exist from paycheck to paycheck.

I seek inspiration in words and find Aisha Elderwyn's challenge: "Every new year people make resolutions to change aspects of themselves they believe are negative. A majority of people revert back to how they were before and feel like failures. This year I challenge you to a new resolution. I challenge you to just be yourself."

Just be yourself. I have forgotten who that is. Through a confetti of memories I try to piece together the girl, the young woman, that I was. She had passion. She had fight. She had dreams. She had goals. She had a list of things she would never do. My lips curl in a smile laced with irony. And that girl has done just about everything on that list. Meekly I've turned my life over to others. Followed what I believed to be the 'right' thing to do. Bent to the will of the times, the culture, the boss. Will 2011 be more of the same or is it the year when I find that young woman's spirit again? Will I remember what I wanted to accomplish with my life? Will I live the life I had imagined? Will I follow Thoreau to Walden Pond? Or am I doomed to live a half life?

Will I be at the mercy of this year or will I take charge? Make changes? Become bold and strong and live the life I've imagined? Or will I bend to its will. Its inertia. Will the time pass holding me captive like a bug in amber? Am I just waiting? Or is this the time? Is it balanced? Eleven is such a well balanced number comprised of two ones. Two beginnings. Two firsts. Will this be a year of firsts? Balance? Numerology seems to think it is a fine number.

Mom told me that Grandma had a tradition. Every New Year's Day she made new pillow cases. Mom did it once or twice, but it was much easier to just wait for the white sales around President's Day and buy them. It seemed a very utilitarian tradition and I didn't pick up on it until a quilting friend told me the rest of the story. Utilitarian perhaps, but the pillow cases were made to hold the hopes and dreams for the coming year.

It is hard for me to imagine my mother and grandmother following such a fanciful tradition. But maybe there was a time when they were both young women, girls, who remembered why they were here. Maybe they had their own hopes and goals and the feeling that anything is possible. Sadly, by the time I met both women, life had beaten them down and it seemed like it took all of their strength just to get through each day. They survived. They worked hard. They took what life dealt them and slogged on.

I've been slogging along. I miss the joy and passion and thrill of embracing life, challenging it, risking a bit, moving past the mists that hold my light captive. In only an hour the mists are all but gone. The sun highlights the rosemary bush growing lush and free, more alive since the cold snap.

The horses gallop around the pastures free to follow their urge for speed, for fun, for a roll in the grass. I stare from inside of my house. I have a finite space on this earth, I have set my boundaries of where I am most comfortable and am usually content to stay. But, I realize that while I sit in my office, my thoughts are free to venture anywhere they want. The world in my head is ever expanding. Is 2011 the year that I give myself permission to also move around this earth, put aside boundaries and get better acquainted with the landscape?

The sun now shines brightly and I see more clearly. This is definitely an odd year already.