The Old Man and the Crow

 

I watched him from across the street.  He was a solitary figure, walking slowly, looking very much in thought as though the day ahead was something to worry about.  He had about him a small bag of potato chips; something to occupy his hands, I suppose, as he made his way up the hill. He seemed not to notice me as I crossed the street toward him.

I nodded hello and he acknowledged with a smile. I wasn’t quite passed him when he dropped a large round chip on the sidewalk.  He seemed embarrassed, a shy grin told me so but we continued on in opposite directions.  When I heard the crow sound the alarm I turned around; and there stood the old man holding the chip high above his head imploring the crow to take his offering.

The crow was wary. He would swoop from tree to fence and from fence to tree with his eye on the old man and the chip all the while.  Sometimes he would land on the sidewalk and dance close to the man but would not take the chip.  Eventually, the man laid the chip carefully, almost reverently, on the top of a large trash can sitting by the curb and then ducked behind the fence to watch.

Caw! the crow was excited to see that chip without the man!  Caw! he called and another crow joined him.  The two took turns pecking at the proffered morsel.  They were polite and humble, grateful for the gift, and the old man watched with such delight, I could not help but smile myself.

There is something very magical about witnessing the interplay between man and nature even if it nothing more than an old man and a crow or two. The sentience of each was a reminder of all that is dear to this planet and all that is worthy of our protection.  Goodness comes in many ways, large and small, but its effect is the same:  It makes us smile to remember it and gives us resolve to keep it going.

 

Hurt not the Earth, nor the seas, nor the trees…  Revelations 7:3

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The Hypocrisy of Me

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I consider myself patriotic, civic-minded and proud to be American at the same time I am profoundly embarrassed of America.

I profess being a peacemaker but have done little to make peace with my Trumpp [sic] supporting neighbors.

I proudly proclaim my willingness to accept people of all colors, faiths or sexual orientation while living in a town that is as homogenous as vanilla pudding.

I believe in forgiveness but I’m at a loss to forgive a friend who voted for Trump.  I was horrified when she decided that supporting a man who disrespects women, taunts lunatic dictators, and showcases his limited vocabulary and general misunderstanding of the world (in tweets, no less!) was a good idea for her grandchildren and mine. Forgiving transgressions done to me, I’ve discovered, is way easier than forgiving harmful behavior done to all of mankind, and I believe my friend was a part of just that.

I enthusiastically jump at chances to march in protest, to actively rail against policies and agendas that are harmful to society’s marginalized and do it proudly in anybody’s town but my own.

I lean heavily on the optimistic side of life and yet remain resolutely pessimistic about Trumpp’s [sic] chances of leading us to greatness, to global security or to our own general pursuit of happiness.

I love the home my husband and I have built together but find my hometown replete with its 4’x8’ Trumpp [sic] signs along the main street and the Hillary for Prison signs at local establishments nauseating. I work on community projects that welcome visitors to an unwelcoming town unless you are “like them” and those signs prove it.

I embrace the teachings of Christ and fear being called a Christian.  What if people think I would use the Bible to perpetuate discrimination against any of God’s children, to embrace the subservience of women or the cruelty against the planet like all of those “Christians” that voted this monster to the highest office of the land? I live across the street from 2 churches that have many, many members still sporting their Trumpp [sic] stickers on their cars Sunday morning.  To share a sacred space with those Christians just seems wrong, a violation of sorts. And yet, isn’t that, in and of itself, unChristianlike behavior? Oh, the hypocrisy of me!

Recognizing this about myself has been an arduous and eye-opening journey.  My optimistic self says this reflection is good, that having identified areas of hypocritical thought and behavior, I have given myself goals to become a better person. My pessimistic self asks if improving myself is enough.  The trumpiness that abounds all around me is huge, and I am only one person, a tiny speck in the universe.  My young son reminds me that even as one, I can help many:  I just have to trust that there are lots and lots of other “ones” out there striving for the same goodness. And I do want to believe that so very, very much…

Persist, dear self.  Persist.

image from cliparting.com

Children, Teach Your Parents Well (Make America Great Again)

 

Teaching children to care, to navigate society with success, and to maintain some sense of respectful conflict resolution is a full time job whether you are a parent or a teacher — and I was both.  I will be the first to admit that as a first-time parent I knew very little about any of that but, I think— I hope — I got better with time.  Much of what I learned on how to parent came later in life from my training in Responsive Classroom on how to build a caring, learning community at school.  Responsive Classroom techniques rest on the premise that the social curriculum is every bit as important that the academic.  Maybe even more so.  Good academic behaviors are not going to happen if the social aren’t in place. There is no doubt that the successes in my classroom as well as my home came from Responsive Classroom tenets.

The political news of the last year and half has been disconcerting to say the least but it has me wondering about the staying power of lessons learned as a child.  Once Responsive Classroom was in place, I rarely had a class I wasn’t proud of regarding their social behavior. These were not perfect kids.  They did not have perfect homes. They did not have the perfect teacher. We worked together to learn from each other.  We understood the importance of taking care of one another, of respecting the environment and our differences and, when things went sour, of using appropriate behaviors to make things great again.

When Shep Smith of Fox News lamented the lies, lies, lies stemming from Team Trumpp [sic] regarding “that Russian thing,” I couldn’t help but think of my former second graders. Where are my students now? As adults, are they still caring about the people around them, respecting their place and space, finding solutions in a respectful manner?  Are they still trying to make the world a better place? Many of the adults in the news (fake or otherwise) are not nice people but they were all second graders at one time.  At what point, were these learning lessons of childhood put aside or forgotten?

Recently, I happened upon a code of conduct put out by a children’s day camp. It reminded me of an elder in my church community who said, “The church is only as strong as the next generation.”  That can be said of any organization but today I’m thinking of our democratic nation. Chris Wallace, in response to Shep Smith’s frustration, said this, “This really shouldn’t be a matter of liberal v conservative, pro-Trump vs anti-Trump. If you’re a fair-minded citizen, you ought to be concerned about the fact that we were repeatedly misled…”  Sighing and eye-rolling aside, I loved the phrase “fair-minded citizens.”  Teachers and parents alike strive to encourage fair-mindedness in their children and, with great determination on our part, our fair-minded children will grow into fair-minded adults. Presidents even!

Sadly, many adults in the news today, some of which are rather high profile, model inappropriate social behaviors. I hope the children aren’t watching. Perhaps the lessons needed most these days come from the children themselves as they practice their camper’s code of conduct:

Be a responsible member of the camp community.

Be considerate and respectful of others’ feelings and needs.

Think in advance of the consequences of my actions.

Assure my own and others’ safety.

Resolve differences in a respectful manner.

Protect the natural environment.

Commit to honesty.

Commit to try.

I guess a lot is riding on the next generation, eh?

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/jul/15/shepard-smith-host-fox-news-trump-lies

OMG: Oh My Goddard!

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Lake Wilhelm Bike Trail at Maurice K. Goddard State Park, July 2017

Sunday was one of those breathtakingly beautiful days in NW Pennsylvania. Seventy-eight degrees, low humidity, a slight breeze, and a sapphire sky peppered with puffy, white clouds. How could we not spend it on our favorite bike trail in M. K. Goddard State Park?

Unlike trails that follow old railroad beds, Goddard’s trail follows the terrain around Lake Wilhelm in a 13 mile loop.  It winds its way through cool deciduous woodlands, spikes over steep hillsides, drops down to kiss the lakeshore and passes through meadows thick with wild flowers.  Eagles nest along the wetlands, beavers smack the waters with their tails, herons stroke the air with their long legs trailing behind or stand stark still in shallow pools waiting for fish.  It did not disappoint today.

It is a well-used trail by hikers and bikers alike. Today was no exception as we passed whole families on bicycles, elderly gentlemen with walking sticks, fishermen and fisher ladies casting their lines, couples holding hands while teens jogged on by. The marina was busy as well and watercraft dotted the lake. The noticeable noise was that of human beings of all shapes and sizes, in various stages of life, enjoying this one little gorgeous spot on the planet.

And I shudder to think of Scott Pruitt and the new EPA’s assault on Mother Earth.  Tell me how we are making America great again…

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/07/a-jaw-dropping-list-of-all-the-terrible-things-trump-has-done-to-mother-earth/

PS  I think the Environmental Protection Agency is now officially a misnomer.

Independence Declared

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America, the Beautiful
Can you think of any greater piece of resistance than the Declaration of Independence penned to England’s King George III by Thomas Jefferson in 1776? The document lays down the political and moral reasons why the 13 colonies felt it necessary to boldly stand against British rule, to continue the revolt in the name of freedom.  It was written with passion, conviction, and more than 140 characters. Clearly the colonists had arrived at a crossroads in their frustrations and were willing to risk life and limb to forge ahead with their revolution. Resistance and the fight for independence is so imbedded in our history that the act itself seems almost instinctual today.  It is what drives our patriotism, our love of country, and our demand for those inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But standing against England united us, standing against Trumpp [sic] is dividing us. The fact that so many of us feel that Trumpp [sic] and his vision of America is worthy of revolt makes this a civil war of sorts; it is an internal conflict as opposed to an external dispute with some other force. Six months into this new administration and I have yet to feel the slightest capitulation on either side. If anything it is getting worse. The tenacity of Trumpp [sic] supporters astounds me as evidenced by Trumpp’s [sic] recent campaign rallies, Fox News, the local small town parade where banners saying We Are Making America Great Again! were carried by the county Republicans, and my neighbors who have taken to their front porch on lazy summer evenings to proclaim their loyalty to the man who is struggling against Obama’s underground network of thieves, spies and propaganda. Dialogue between the factions still seems to be a long way off.

Nevertheless, it is soon to be Independence Day and most of America will be celebrating this great nation together, united in the belief that it will continue as a democracy, the land of the free and home of the brave.  And on July 5, we’ll go back to fighting for those very same things. Neil Young’s new song reminds us what is at stake and encourages us to stand up for what we believe.  I don’t believe in Trumpp [sic] but I do believe in America.  Happy Fourth.

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/neil-young-celebrates-fourth-of-july-with-patriotic-new-video-w490617

The Declaration of Independence can found at https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs

Photo taken roadside by the author, July 1, 2017, Mapledale, PA

Resist or No?

 

On June 25, while touting the Republican win in the Georgia special election, Trumpp [sic] told “Fox and Friends” that the Democrats’ theme of resistance has backfired.

“That’s a terrible word. Think of it. Their theme is ‘resist.’ Their theme should be, ‘Let’s get together. Envelop. Let’s get together,’ ” Mr. Trump said in an interview that aired Sunday on “Fox & Friends.” “But their theme is resist. It’s obstruction. And the problem is they’ve become obstructionist.”

Resist. A tricky word in these trying times. This week at my Indivisible meeting a brief discussion emerged over the word “resist.”  One member brought up the negative connotations of the word and thought we should refrain from using it in reference to the group.  It was pointed out that the word is, in fact, not used in any publication about the group nor do we see ourselves as anything but a nonviolent, nonpartisan, issue based organization. Nevertheless, we are registered with Indivisible nationally and printed right there on their manual are the words “a practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda.”  And others outside of our group such as news sites and political pundits often refer to us as “The Resistance.”

I sat at the meeting and wondered if we were not resisters, then what are we? Impeders? Stander-uppers? Changers? Fighters? Hinderers? Combatants? Defiers? Alarmists? What should we call ourselves?

The Republicans have pounced on the word “resister” and have often attached violence to its meaning. They have made it synonymous with “obstructionist” as though none of them were ever party to obstructing government/Obama during his presidency.  They shut down the government, for heaven’s sake! Our Republican legislators openly and emphatically resisted a man with superb intelligence, a profound understanding of the Constitution and a willingness to work across the aisle to serve the American people for a vulgar, ignorant, bully who understands not a wit about governing or how to dignify the highest office of the land. As someone who considers herself a patriot,  a progressive who is prone to causes of compassion, how can I not resist a leader who belittles women, refers to Democrats as losers and embarrasses America daily on both the global and domestic stage? I am truly frustrated! And I am resisting.

On Nov. 8, I walked into my polling station and sighed deeply.  Every election official there was Republican and having known me for years, they knew who I would NOT be voting for.  They laughed at my sigh and one called out, “Don’t worry, Missi. It will all be over by this time tomorrow!”  “No it won’t.” I quipped. They laughed some more. I’ve never been so right.

It is not over. And, perhaps, it never should be over. We should always resist that which undermines our democracy.  If the majority party (Republican, Democrat, or other) is tipping the scales toward oligarchy or fascism or weakens the Constitution in any manner, or intends to withdraw rights from any American regardless of race, creed, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, we should resist. If those in power are pushing for a theocracy or kleptocracy or white supremacy then we should resist. The preamble of the Constitution begins “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” and we, the people, are the guardians of that union, the resisters who vow to protect and uphold the very tenets of the Constitution.

So… is resist the right word? I don’t know.  What I do know is that it is the right thing to do.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jun/25/trump-resist-movement-has-backfired-on-democrats-b/

Ellis Island Visited

 

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUSA-NYC-Ellis_Island_crop.jpg

It was my first visit to Ellis Island.  The island housed the immigration processing center that was in operation from 1892 to 1954.  It was known as the Island of Hope for the 12 million welcomed into the USA and the Island of Tears for those who were denied entry. Today it is both a documentation and a tribute to the peopling of America during those years.

Reading about Ellis Island is no substitute for being there.  The cavernous halls that held the hopeful are filled with their ghosts.  There is a palpable spirit about the place that settles about today’s visitors, and while these

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same visitors were loud and lively at the Statue of Liberty, here they were solemn, quietly stepping about the displays and reading the placards. They whispered as they moved through the rooms.  Even the children seem to sense that this was a place of importance and refrained from quick movements and loud voices.

My grandparents came to this country through Ellis Island as did my husband’s grandparents. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for them leaving their family and friends to start a new life in a strange new land thousands of miles away from their homeland without knowing the language or the customs. Many of the immigrants endured incredible hardships just to give their children a chance at a better life. And, once here, many suffered discrimination at the hands of the nativists.  Many died under sad circumstances or deplorable conditions and not all of their children survived.  Being in this place allowed me to say thank you for my life as an American: I want those who came before me to know that I survived and that as a result of their bravery, I do have a better life.

But now I’m the nativist. What is my role in this debate on immigration and immigration reform? I have always thought of our immigrant past as an asset, as the basis for a great nation.  I read news accounts of political and religious refugees and ache for their pain.  I watch video of newly naturalized US citizens and feel their pride. Somewhere deep inside me I carry the immigrants’ story and feel the need to pay-it-forward.  Are today’s immigrants so different from yesterday’s?

I listen to my fellow traveller as she tells me about the Muslims trying to get into this country.  They want to kill us, all the Christians, she says.  They have to, it’s in their bible, she adds. I’ve have heard that the Muslims are horribly misunderstood, that their religion is one of peace.  Oh, no, she continues.  My pastor told us. The Muslims and the Christian feud goes back to Malachi.  Malachi? Of the Old Testament?  Before the birth of Christ? Yes, she says.

I do not argue but I am perplexed.

I turn to my friend and ask, Do you know any Muslims?   No, she answers.

Have you read the Qur’an? I ask.  No, she answers again.

Me neither.

Perhaps we should.  I’m thinking it might be a start in a pay-it-forward sort of way.

In the Presence of Liberty

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My recent trip to NYC was initiated by my “egg lady.” It’s an unusual story, to say the least, but the end result was that I agreed to take a very naive, chicken raising 30-something to see the big city.  She knew my son lived in Manhattan and asked if I would take her along the next time I visited.  It was a bold request…  And I said yes for a number of reasons but the two biggies where to (a) spend time with a beloved son and (b) to challenge myself to spend time with a known Trumpp [sic] supporter and not get into trouble.  I can claim success on both counts although, to be honest, sometimes I struggled with the challenge part of the trip.

As expected, my companion met the city with wide-eyed wonder. I fell into “field trip mode” and loved planning our days to hit the places she had googled. Her list included the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island so off we went.

I remember the first time I had visited Lady Liberty.  We had taken a foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic there—nothing says “America” like Lady Liberty.  The Czech Republic had been under communist rule until 1990 so democracy was new to Josef and his family.  Being the first in his family to travel outside of the country, he understood the terms “freedom” and “liberty” more than we did. He quaked at the sight of her.

This time was different.  My little tag-along wanted to see her not because of her history and all that she represented for the 12 million immigrants she welcomed but because she was what you do when you go to New York. She was a famous statue, nothing more.

For me, the emotion felt standing at the foot of Lady Liberty during this political clime  was almost too much.  What will become of her in the age of Trumpp [sic]? What will happen to all those placards proclaiming the success of America built on the backs of immigrants, reminding the visitors that immigrants were assets, bringing with them a diversity of culture, talent and a willingness to adopt this country of their own?  How will this global image of welcoming change under Trumpp [sic]?  What will drive people to Lady Liberty in the future, reverence or mockery? I was overcome.

In the end, I made my way around this great statue by taking pictures not of her but for her. Moving from one foreign family to another, I offered to take a picture of them together in front of Lady Liberty.  Language was no obstacle.  Dozens gleefully handed over their cameras, thanking me with smiles and hugs.  Many insisted on taking my picture!  They wanted to remember this friendly American who offered a simple kindness on their vacation to NYC: I just wanted to make Lady Liberty proud.

I left the Statue of Liberty Gift Shop with two purchases: a postcard printed with the most famous excerpt from Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus”, and copy of JFK’s book,  A Nation of Immigrants.  I also left with a profound sense of duty to stand up for this grand lady, Trumpp [sic] or no Trumpp [sic].

Next stop: Ellis Island.

The Rose Among Thorns

 

Early in the summer of 2016, the new trellis along the patio edge was completed. Plantings were discussed and while numerous options were thrown into the mix, the only decision we made was to put a climbing yellow rose on the far end. Later in the season, we happened upon just such a rose at a discount store and bought it for $3.

Planted and nurtured, the rose filled its designated space.  We were hopeful.  The canes were healthy, the leaves perfectly shaped, the overall look on the trellis was exactly what we had envisioned.  And for $3!  The rose never developed flowers last summer but we were not concerned.  After being established and wintered over, we would surely have a glorious yellow climber in the summer of 2017.  And sure enough, in the warm days of May our rose was covered in buds.

That cheap bargain rose is now a metaphor for the 2016 presidential election and the subsequent inauguration of our current commander-in-chief.  Filled will such high expectations and despite the devoted time and energy into its cultivation, our yellow rose bloomed red. It is what it is, but dang! It is not what we worked so hard for and certainly not what we expected. Nevertheless, the rose is staying, a forever reminder that life (and elections) are full of surprises.  We will continue to water it and enjoy it as much as we can, looking for something good in a whole mess of thorns. In the meantime we remain steadfast in our search of that elusive yellow rose; a climber that will announce its arrival in spectacular fashion.

Rose

The Great Divide

our protectors
Our Protectors

On May 20, Mike Pence gave the keynote speech at the Grove City College commencement.  Grove City College is a small private, conservative, Christian college located in NW PA and while it is an excellent school, it is an unlikely venue for such a high level politician to speak much less the vice president of the United States.  As it turns out, the president of the college and his wife are very good friends with the Pences and so the invitation was honored.

It was not without controversy, of course, as very little about this new administration escapes opposition.  Molly Wicker, a junior at the college, wrote an excellent opinion piece about the debates happening all over campus prior to commencement.  That piece landed in the New York Times.  And the resistance group known as the Slippery Rock Huddle organized the Pence Resistance March to coincide with Pence’s visit.

As a participant of that March, I can say the overall experience was satisfying to once again be in the company of like-minded activists. As a group we were calm and respectful.  There wasn’t an antagonist among us so there was a lot of jovial chatter, the usual chanting and collective sign waving. Many people driving by honked horns giving us a thumbs up. There was some opposition, however, and I offer some observations about the Trumpp [sic] supporters who drove by.

♦ We raised our voices to sing This Land is Your Land.  They raised their middle fingers.

♦ We chanted Love Not Hate Makes America Great!  Two motorcyclists moved in close and revved up their engines to drown us out (although they couldn’t do that once we were outside the college gates because of the mounted police patrolling the area.)

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Our Hecklers

♦ We moved respectfully along the sidewalk.  They slowed their pick-up trucks to blow thick black exhaust on us and yelled obscenities waving Trumpp [sic] flags.

There was such a marked difference between our actions and theirs, it makes you wonder how the divide will ever be bridged. But bridged it must be if we are to survive this hateful time.  I remain hopeful.  Still.

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Pence Resistance

http://wkbn.com/2017/05/20/protesters-hit-grove-city-streets-as-pence-speaks-at-commencement/

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/19/opinion/mike-pence-college-protest.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=2