Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

How about a cup?

In spite of the ubiquitous coffee houses and chains in 2020 United States of America, I have concluded that the coffee drinking habit that I enjoyed for many years has all but vanished from our social scenes. On a weekly (often daily) basis, I had one or more of my contacts – business, social, personal, family or otherwise – contact me to join them for a cup of coffee. At this point, I can remember only one occasion in October when that took place.

Some of that phenomenon may be associated with my relocation from Denver where I lived for thirty years. With that base, I had many more people who were likely to get in touch and ask to share a cup of caffeine and conversation. One of my most cherished friends and I have spent countless hours sharing some coffee and indescribable moments. Except for him, however, the coffee social engagement is seriously absent.

Think about all the jobs you’ve held in the past ten, twenty, thirty or more years. If you’re at all like me, many of those jobs and their hiring moments were heavily associated with coffee drinking. One of them quickly comes to mind. In this case, my insurance consultant position linked me with a manager who would invite me to go to the local coffee joint at least two or three times a week for the years we shared a workplace.

While I have no need or desire to contribute to the Starbuck, Caribou or other coffee chain incomes, I do miss the unique camaraderie associated with, “Let’s go grab a cup of coffee.” Yes, I acknowledge that I am a serious coffee drinker who has gone to the trouble and expense of grinding my beans every day. But this is way beyond that status.

Maybe I don’t have the right folks in my life right now. If I were still in Denver, I can immediately conjure ten people whom I could call to join me for a coffee connection. Seems to me that I need to get busy at re-establishing the network of those who appreciate my hobby and favorite habit. It’s well worth perpetuating. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Troubled child

Most of the days of my teaching life are routine and consistently without incident. This day began like most others – kids who needed to be rowdy or disrespectful to the substitute.

But unlike any previous assignments, midday this class will add a potentially violent fourth grader. The instructions are quite clear – carry the walkie, call for help if he shows any signs of acting out or melting down. Predictions are that he will do so.

Two hours before his entry, I’m planning my strategy. For one, I will be extremely positive and reinforcing. With that plan, I hope to avoid conflicts, defensive actions and most of all, needing to call for help.

And then he appeared, rather placid and soft-spoken. Soon I saw him lashing out, bouncing around the room in a position suggesting attack mode. This was followed by his repeatedly slapping his own face and constructing paper airplanes.

For the duration of the day, he was participatory, compliant and almost helpful. He left for a while, escorted by a teacher familiar with him and his previous behavior. My student also mentioned the Holocaust (from a fourth grader!) and was pleased to learn that Zyklon-B was the chemical used in concentration camps.

Based on the commentaries from other teachers, I am certain that this student presents a real, proven danger. Why was he mainstreamed? What was the rationale for putting him in this class? The classroom teacher is quite young. How does she manage this troubled child on a daily basis? One teacher reluctantly offered that this student’s father worked in the district.

Clearly, there are many questions that must remain unanswered. But I learned quite a bit (as always) from the experience. My habit has always been to expect the best and finest from the world and I was rewarded for that perspective.

Teachers around me were supportive, helpful and eager to be summoned in the event that it became necessary. They displayed the sense of community that I often find lacking in elementary school campuses. And I learned that I was sufficiently flexible to handle any situation that I needed to address. Even though I never had any uncertainty about this ability, it’s comforting to know that I could have succeeded. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Jeans

Looking around in a restaurant, I recently speculated on the eternal and ubiquitous presence of jeans. While we can call them a number of ways, they are the one fashion item that is always visible, regardless of the social context or demographic.

What is it about jeans that make them the acceptable or preferred clothing for everyone? We see them in restaurants, theatres, movies, schools, workplaces and everything in between. They are in cities and farms, small towns and large cities and on the bodies of the whole range of incomes, from rich to poor.

It was reported recently that jeans have been replaced in elementary schools by leisure or active wear. While I see these, especially where jeans are prohibited every day except Friday, they never seem to achieve the popularity of their predecessors.

In terms of history, jeans have been around since 1873 and were invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. The name was derived from the city of Genoa, Italy, where jean was first produced. But what is it about our jeans (blue jeans, dungarees, overalls, jeggings, etc.) that makes them so universally accepted?

They are less expensive than most pant products, unless you opt for the high-end very glitzy versions. Jeans are comfortable, durable, versatile and can be worn in virtually any setting by dressing them up and down. We see them being worn by seniors, Baby Boomers, millennials, children, toddlers and babies. Other than underclothing (sometimes optional????), this is the only item of clothing that has been consistently popular.

My feeling is that we all feel comfortable and acceptable in our favorite pair of jeans. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I was not allowed to have jeans while living at home and the first thing I did when arriving at my college venue was journey to the local Army/Navy surplus store. In those days, it was imperative that jeans were tight-fitting and I remember lying on the store floor in order to zip the chosen item. That process has since been deleted.

We’ve progressed quite a bit since those days but I still pick my well-worn jeans for weekends and after school. There is no need to question that tradition, especially because I think it’s a venerable one. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

We deserve it

More often than I would prefer, I hear senior citizens referred to in ways that are far less than positive. This consists of, “Watch out for the old lady in the Honda,” or “Look at the old man on the motorcycle.”

These are not the worst names that abound. Instead of treating our senior citizens with the respect to which they are manifestly due, we hurl insults and slander.

One of the most powerful moments in the recent Super Bowl was the introduction of four 100-year old World War II veterans, one of whom was asked to bring the coin for the traditional coin toss. The crowd displayed the honor to which they were entitled and the experience was quite memorable.

Every now and then, we see 80+ year old competitive swimmers, marathon runners and concerned volunteers. Beyond this, those who have lived long lives were often firefighters, doctors, nurses and police officers who have contributed hundreds of thousands of hours. The good majority have also raised children and grandchildren, and/or provided care for their parents.

Regardless of the fact that the lady in the Honda and the gentleman on the motorcycle can’t hear you, others can and do. Respect is learned both through words and by actions.

When my students ask my age, I quickly respond, “115,” followed by “Haven’t you been taught that it’s bad manners to ask a lady her age?”. My point is two-fold – part one is about rudeness and part two is about judging a book by its cover. How important is my age to teaching a class? Teachers who are older and younger than I am are to be found throughout school districts everywhere in this country, with varying levels of competence and agility.

I’ve talked about this need for honor in the past but it deserves repeating. Age is not justification for slander or for telephone and email scams, identity theft or simple everyday disrespect. Deal with others and with me because we usually know more, have experienced more or endured more than you can imagine. All that aside, it’s simply the right thing to do. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Never forget

One of the most recent highlights of my personal and professional life is that of becoming a docent at our local Holocaust museum. Adding this to my teaching, writing and musical commitments is an honor for which I am most grateful.

My responsibilities will include conducting tours of the museum as well as facilitating lectures to local organizations. The only serious challenge that remains is including my students in the process, a requisite action.

Statistics suggest that our US population is seriously under informed about World War II and the Holocaust. As one dedicated, passionate historian, I hope to make my own impact on that lack of knowledge that simply cannot be condoned.

Elementary school children are aware of hatred, discrimination and prejudice. We teach it in other contexts, particularly in a society heavily populated by Native Americans. But the subject of racial cleansing and extermination are foreign to them.

Because I don’t have access to the entire spectrum of history curriculum, I can’t assume anything. One middle school at which I taught years ago had an entire unit on the Holocaust. Out of respect to my classroom teachers, I don’t launch a full-on lesson without specific permission to do so.

If a student notices my Holocaust museum bracelet, what is the appropriate response? There are more questions than there are answers.

Why did the Nazis hate the Jews and want to destroy them? From where does hate originate? What other groups were targeted? How did it end? How many were killed? Why do we need to know about this?

The last question is by far the most important. While there are numerous Holocaust deniers out there, the chances of encountering one in school are probably negligible. If that experience should occur, I’ll handle it with patience and as much objectivity as I can muster.

The answer, as we have heard from so many who have survived the Holocaust, is that we must never forget. If we do so, we make it possible for the horrors of the Holocaust to reoccur. Although we can’t predict the targets of institutionalized hatred, any minority can be next. My intent is not to scare my kids but to educate them on vitally important history.

Under no circumstances will I use my position as an educator to advance my social or political beliefs. When the time is right, my teachers approve and I can educate and inform, this is my most solemn responsibility. Those who came before me and those who follow must be honored. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Birds of different feathers

One of the more subtle advantages of life in New Mexico is that of fascinating bird populations. While we have the traditional pigeons, doves, sparrows and robins, we also have some extraordinary birds that are beautiful and enjoyable to observe.

A good example is our iconic roadrunner. While I couldn’t find any statistics on the roadrunner population, I did determine that it is the New Mexico state bird and is part of the cuckoo family. They are not easily spotted although I had one in my vicinity the other day and was able to see him clearly.

More subtle and arguably more beautiful is the sandhill crane. This must be their time of migration because I’ve seen them in two locations within the last week and they are truly beautiful. We also saw them in Yellowstone but here amidst the cacti, bushes and vast areas of rustic terrain, the crane is a treasure.

There’s a wealth of fascinating information available about cranes. Their youngsters are called colts – apparently horses don’t object to cranes seizing this terminology. They are also very particular about how we refer to a group of them, including dance, sedge, siege, swoop and construction.

So far, I haven’t seen any media coverage referencing our sandhill cranes. Like the cacti, coyotes and chiles, our population may well take their presence for granted. But they are graceful and unique creatures and it appears that they spend every winter here, as well as in Texas, California, Arizona and Mexico. Sadly, they will be leaving in early spring for their breeding grounds.

But for as long as they are here, I will continue to enjoy discovering them on pastures, reservations and other unoccupied spaces. My justification is that we dedicate much of our time to everyday tasks and events. Taking a few minutes to appreciate our visiting feathery buddies is good for the soul and way of life. Shalom.

 

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

If I could

If only I could make difficult things happen in the school environment – my job would be a completely successful journey. That’s quite a request, far beyond the area of reasonability.

One of my third graders sees words that don’t make sentences or sense. If I could, I would inject him or inundate him with remedial reading that would create comprehension.

If I could, I would repair another student’s glasses. It doesn’t matter if they have been broken one day, one week or one month. They are a distraction for him and impede his learning.

If I could, I would make certain that all of my students eat breakfast before coming to school. It’s easy to tell which ones don’t, regardless of the reason. It may be poverty, lack of discipline or simply an unawareness of the importance of morning food. The kids without adequate nutrition can’t wait until snack or lunch and petition for seconds.

If I could, I would be able to see bullying as it takes place, not after the fact. One student accuses another of bullying and the accused denies its occurrence. Do I believe the bully or the bullied? If I could have seen it happen, I could take decisive action.

If I could, I would magically transport my students to other cities, states and countries. We teach history and about cultures other than our own but wouldn’t it be wonderful to take them to Philadelphia and let them touch the Liberty Bell? What about a journey to California to teach them about sea creatures?

If I could, I would take them on a tour of the world’s greatest libraries. It’s one thing to understand the significance of the first printing press but quite another to see a building that contains many historic, irreplaceable volumes. If we need to persuade our students that there are worlds of knowledge out there waiting for them, what better place to start?

And if I could, I would convince my students that the world in which they live is safe. Right now, that’s as easily done as transporting all of them to Paris. The best that we can accomplish is to make them aware of methods to protect themselves and others while understanding the fundamentals of right and wrong. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Unknown

One of the aspects I like best about teaching is what I call the unknown. While that may seem like a negative, it’s what I consider boundless opportunity.

It works like this: In my first grade class is a young man I’ll call Isaac. For all the time that he and I are in the same space, he utters not one word. I’m not sure if it’s a language difficulty, shyness or something else. It doesn’t matter. Every time we look at each other, he looks me right in the eyes and smiles. Evidently, I’ve made an impression that elicits a smile. The other explanation is that he smiles at everyone or all adults. My preference is the first interpretation.

In a different context, I tell my class that I need to leave because their classroom teacher will soon return. The responses are, “Awwww,” “We don’t want you to go.” Maybe I taught them something important about penguins. Or maybe I communicated that I care about them.

What a happy place to be! We sometimes get only one brief encounter to impact a child and we often don’t know the precise identity of that impact. The only component for which I have control is my teaching and its encouragement.

Try as I may, I can’t think of too many professions that have occasion to dispense care or some other positive commodity without knowing its outcome. Doctors save lives and are rewarded accordingly, both in terms of professional gratification and gratitude. The same can be same for firefighters, police officers and members of the armed forces.

But I like to think of my role as the education good fairy. When I am present in the classroom, I distribute information, compliments, affection and whatever else is required by the moment. If I am very fortunate, I am the teacher that this child will remember in one week or month or year or decade. If not, it doesn’t matter at all. They shared some space with me where I gave them personal attention and a sincere intention to improve their self-confidence. If that’s not fairy dust, I can’t imagine what is. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

One heart broken

“What broke your heart” was the next prompt that I found in my inspirational and challenging book of things to write about. For the sake of spontaneous thought, the first event that broke my heart was the assassination of President Kennedy. His politics or mine don’t matter at all. He was the president whom the American people loved and his sudden death was a tragedy of huge proportion.

Several years later, a man broke my heart. He was my first love and while he stated that he still loved me, he had to terminate our relationship in order to devote all of his time to pursuing his law degree. Was that a convenient excuse or was it the truth? I continue to wonder but not very often. While I have experienced the ends of other relationships, none was as heart-breaking as this one.

Moving from my childhood home also broke my heart. My cherished memories were all there, from the dark and scary basement to the single bathroom that I shared with my four family members. The knotty pine of our breakfast nook and the huge backyard were sacred spaces for me.

Seeing my son leave for college and my daughter for New York both broke my heart. Both events represented the end of closeness and the indescribable bond that I shared with both of them. As I visualized as both exits occurred, they would never live within my vicinity again.

And there was the goodbye with my precious grandson when I left for the airport to return home. He couldn’t completely understand why I wouldn’t be with him tomorrow and began to cry. Making him cry is the absolutely last of my intentions, particularly because I was as sad as he was about our separation.

While there was no postscript to the prompt such as, “What healed your heart,” I will make certain that my next choice is decidedly more upbeat. In the interim, I am grateful for the capacity to feel as profoundly as I do about this toddler’s tears. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Courage

For reasons that I can’t completely explain, I’ve been thinking about the word “courage.” Like so many other power words, courage suggests many people and events to me. The first of these is our American flag, the stripes of which are red, representing valor, another word for courage.

Teaching children courage is not part of any curriculum that I’ve seen; more importantly, it falls under the heading of life choices and values that are the underpinning of formal education. It takes courage to stand up to bullies and defeat their purposes. It also takes courage to get up and get out of bed each morning in order to get to school. If you’re less than competent at a subject or at school in general, the courage required to compete with other students is formidable.

 

Maybe it’s my Holocaust/World War II research that causes me to ponder the mysteries of courage. A particular type of courage is mandatory to stage a revolt in the Warsaw ghetto or in Treblinka. You know that you are unarmed, weak and disorganized, combatting a force that has put you in the state of incarceration and imminent death. Suffice it to say that I am in awe of this courage, as much as I attempt to face my life courageously.

We need to do a better job at commending our fellow citizens and our children at their displays of bravery. It takes guts to confront a bully, whether you are the bullied or not. It also takes bravery to stop in your tracks to find a new career or discipline because you’re unhappy or unfulfilled. And kudos to you for walking away from a relationship that is hurtful or abusive.

Thankfully, it’s been a while since we celebrated only those public personalities who were the best looking, had the most money or had the greatest performance talent. We must now continue to recognize those who had the discipline to stay with something until success occurred. This may be in the science laboratory, the operating room or the kindergarten playground.

Evidencing courage can only create more. And as one who has always cherished independence and being unafraid to voice my opinions, I must believe that our world can only benefit from those who are determined to stand up for themselves. Shalom.