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Heavenly hugs

Johnny silently hugged me as he came through the door of the classroom. Throughout the day, I looked his way and most of the time he delivered a happy, loving smile. The school day continued that way until it was time for the final goodbyes.

This was a second grade class consisting of children who knew me well as this was the fourth or fifth time I had spent the day with them this school year. Partially because of the population, partially because of their age and maybe because it was almost the end of the week, they were extremely chatty, except for Johnny.

He was distressed at the noise level, covering his ears and shaking his head. But due to his support for me and his discomfort, he constructed a notebook paper sign that had “STOP Talking” in the largest letters he could create. And he began waving it in the classroom at the noise-making students.

It’s difficult to say whether or not the sign had any effect. Several other students wanted to assist me in my silencing efforts, writing “Be Quite [sic]” and marching around the room. But Johnny was relentless, waving his paper and smiling his regrets at the disrespect we were witnessing.

It was time to leave. Once again, Johnny silently approached me and delivered his hug. It was my opportunity to remind him how much I treasured him because he was so very special. In return, he smiled again and proceeded out the door.

Many teachers never have moments like these or they fail to recognize the gifts that they represent. But I am so very fortunate to be hugged. If he grows up to remember that at least one educator cherished him, I am luckier still. Shalom.



If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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Growing older, not old

Something that I find amusing if not enlightening is listening to people talk about the aging process. Very often, those who have the most definite opinions are those who (probably) have quite a way to go before reaching the nebulous status of being old.

My own version of that observation takes place in the classroom. Due largely to my gray hair, students feel entitled or compelled to ask my age. Depending on my frame of mind, I will either answer that I am 115 or I will smile sweetly and ask, “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that it’s not polite to ask a lady her age?”

Admittedly, I think about the fact that there are a few tasks that I can’t do because I just can’t. While the idea of running a marathon is appealing, the joints in my legs and feet simply won’t allow it. The same is true of downhill skiing, mountain climbing, guitar playing or gymnastics.

But I refuse to grow old instead of getting older. Age is an inescapable reality, being a much better option than its alternative. With that truth, however, I have all choices available to me about growing older with grace and without excuses.

You will never hear me say, “I’m too old to do that” or “I am an old woman and old women don’t indulge in that.” When I see women older than I am participating in dance, marathons, ice skating, writing or numerous other activities, I am inspired to live from intent rather than chronology.

Someday, I half expect that my body will deny me the thrill of finishing a 5k race. For now, I don’t allow for that possibility and often considering entering 10k events. Spending time (almost) daily on my stationary bike is mandatory, not arbitrary. And for as long as my family invites me to join them in Disney World, I will walk the same 10,000 or more steps each day that they do.

Most of us have the option to grow older without growing old. In lieu of so many inexcusable excuses, our bodies are at the discretion of our hearts that are always in charge. Shalom.

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Our country’s music

Growing up in Chicago, we had very little affection or appreciation for country music. At that time, peer pressure was enormous and no-one we knew or acknowledged had ever listened to country music, much less complimented it.

Since that time, tastes change, understandings change and only recently (five to ten years?) have I realized how important this genre is to music and our population in general. My appreciation always favors traditional values and doing the right thing. This practice not only generates maximum good to the universe; but also, it provides a center and foundation for everything in which I believe.

While we spent much of our listening time to Beatle adventures in musical experimentation, veneration of popular drugs or mindless repetitive lyrics, much of country music avoids all of these. As compared to other genres, country wants and expects you to listen to the lyrics, many of which espouse very basic (American) values.

For example, most of the songs I hear that reference love also allude to wedding rings, visiting the local preacher and changing the names of ladies who are the targets of that love. Clearly, we have an appreciation for the institution of marriage and living according to plan.

Occasionally, we have digressions that relate to broken hearts, beer bottles and beaches replete with margaritas and senoritas. But for the majority of music that I hear, we respect our mamas, our pasts and all of those lessons that we were taught.

If we are sincere about teaching the difference between right and wrong, it’s everywhere in country music. If we want to hear refrains of patriotism and serving our country, we can tune into Toby Keith, Willie Nelson or George Strait.

Those who are resolute about heavy metal, classical or anything in between, enjoy. But I’m happy that we have a place to visit that sounds like Mom, the flag and apple pie. Life feels pretty good there. Shalom.

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Baseball reality

There’s something about little league that brings out the best and worst in big and little people. For the most part, the kids who are playing in little league are usually supportive, forgiving and encouraging. They are not modeling this behavior from or for the adults in attendance. These are observers who are often rowdy, pouty and totally without softheartedness.

We teach the good lessons and the kids get them. Be good sports. Cheer for your team members. Overcome defeat with grace and class. It’s easy to see how they bolster each other and promise success at the next at bat.

Parents, on the other side of the plate, expect perfection. It was my misfortune to listen to one of them completely destroy his son’s composure. “Your fielding needs work, you’re not paying attention and your swing is pathetic.” In spite of being an absolutely non-violent person, I wanted to punch him.

It would be a promising idea to let kids be kids. He doesn’t bat like an MLB all-star because he’s only 14. And if you spend all that time correcting, where’s the fun for anyone? Don’t forget that it takes courage to get out there and give it your all in the first place.

Happily, the coaches are usually on the plus side of the baseball equation. They predict successes, promote individuals and rarely show disappointment. It’s difficult to believe that they are simultaneously parents and coaches to the little leaguers.

Can it be that this has been little league since the beginning of the sport? Have mothers always yelled at umpires to address their vision impairments? Most of this ancillary baseball behavior from years ago remains undocumented. We can only hope for not taking performance personally and for promoting partnership. Shalom.

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Gathering rosebuds

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

Tomorrow will be dying.  Robert Herrick

Mr. Herrick, although he was writing in the 17th century, had a message to which many of us can still positively respond. The symbolism for the ephemeral nature of roses and youth is far from obscure. But I believe that each of us has a method of interpretation by which this passage can take on significance.

To me, it’s a reminder about waste. Wasting time is more than squandering money. If I have misused my time and effort, I could have been using it on something useful or constructive or worthwhile. Ultimately, this is why I choose to invest my time in educating. When I focus my energy on disseminating knowledge and life lessons, I feel that my hours are spent on the most relevant recipients of any wisdom I possess.

The avoidance of time dissipation can and does apply to many of our ongoing activities. How useless is it to complain and screech about others who have wronged us in some way? Generally, they are unaware and unconcerned about our dismay, as in the case of road rage. And if they do become aware of our reactions, what good is derived from that knowledge?

When we model this behavior of timeliness to those who seek our guidance, we accomplish two major outcomes. One is to demonstrate the need for prioritizing all that we do for the sake of efficiency, effectiveness and depositing good into the universe. The second and less obvious is to maximize the enjoyment that we derive from our short voyages through the beauty and brilliance of life. All of the petty grievances and distractions deplete that journey instead of amplifying it. Shalom.

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The price for free speech

Those of us who watched the response of a TV network to the unfortunate and irresponsible remarks of Roseanne Barr probably had a wide assortment of feelings about the event. Should she have made the comments that she did? Does freedom of speech allow her to say whatever she feels at the expense of whomever she references?

We can all have our opinions about whether or not Rosanne’s remarks were appropriate or inappropriate. Ultimately, I submit that the accuracy of her statement is not the issue. Most of us learned from an early age, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

It’s interesting but not germane to the discussion that Rosanne apologized for her remarks. By the time she did and by the time that her show was canceled, many millions of people had read the tweet and she accomplished disseminating the information that she wanted to spread.

Is social media an excuse to distribute ugly remarks? It appears that there is no agency that monitors or censors anything and everything that goes out on social media. If I chose this medium to spout nastiness about someone or something, the chances are reasonably good that no-one would prevent its publication. My guess, however, is that my followers who are accustomed to my positive observations and conclusions would object or check out entirely.

What’s the point of all this, you ask? Let’s talk more about the golden rule than we do the right to free speech or any other constitutional guarantee. Someone recently mentioned to me that we can’t use the term, “golden rule” in the schools any more because of the need to keep religion out of the educational system. My feeling about this is that the mandate is garbage although I will follow the guidelines to the best of my ability while still teaching the concept of treating others as you want to be treated.

Before you suggest that someone resembles an ape, think about how you would feel if were said to you. We all know that opinions are like kidneys – everybody has at least one. Sometimes it’s better to keep opinions and kidney references to yourself. Shalom.

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One life

This morning delivered the news that someone was shot to death approximately two miles from my home. His name was not disclosed, and the event was reported before the weather and baseball scores, with the same amount of air time as they required.

To be sure, the loss of any life is sad news. My greater concern, however, is that such occasions have become so routine and common that we cease to notice or care.

Murders of high-profile, visible citizens are reported ad nauseum. We can easily recollect many, complete with ugly court scenes, declarations of innocence and so on. At the same time, we are inundated with news reports of those celebrities who have indulged in behaviors that compromise others such as sexual harassment.

Am I suggesting that we either shouldn’t report these crimes or that we should deliver extensive and detailed coverage of every murder? No, in both cases.

But somewhere we are falling short as a society if we fail to attach value to every life. Perhaps the news can be dispatched with the parenthetical of expressing condolences to the family involved for their loss. Maybe the answer is to humanize the victim – Mr. Blank was thirty-five years old, a resident of this city and is survived by a wife and two kids. He was a veteran who has been employed at the ABC Company as a pipefitter.

Let’s back up a bit. Without engaging in a second amendment debate, I wonder if it might be useful to add a note about the weapons involved. If this killing was the consequence of an illegally-secured handgun, it’s appropriate to say so. Let’s make it a social conscience lesson. Likewise, if the perpetrator was legally licensed for the possession of this weapon, so be it.

As one who will never get used to murders, I want to live in a society that is not blasé about them. My educating includes the message that all lives are special and important. We celebrate all holidays, birthdays and accomplishments. Don’t we send a conflicting message when we say “There was another shooting this morning in our town. The event took place at 2:00 am and the perpetrator is in custody.” Another life is lost. Refuse to be one of those who don’t care. Shalom.

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Aging (dis)gracefully

How many of us grew up hearing “Act your age”? In my case, it was “Act your age, not your shoe size.” With the happy status that I now enjoy as an older person, I continue to wonder what that means.

My first question is, “What am I expected to do at my age?” This suggests that we all have age buzzers that go off on various birthdays.

For example:

At age 55, stop skiing and speed skating, ice or roller blading. Take a cooking class.

At age 60, learn how to crochet or knit. Discontinue yoga, Taekwondo and fencing.

At age 65, research Social Security benefits, visit retirement communities and begin making clothes and toys for grandchildren, real or imagined.

At age 70, discontinue all physical exercise other than walking or watering plants. Check your blood pressure every day.

By now you should be realizing that I am completely sarcastic. Recently, I saw an 89-year old Holocaust survivor and veteran who regularly runs marathons. And then there was the 90-something ballet teacher. Both of these senior citizens inspire and motivate me.

In other words, the warning to act your age is entirely meaningless and ridiculous. If acting my age disqualifies me from walking 5K races, so be it. If acting my age determines what I wear, I immediately want to ask, “Whose judgment is this and why do I care?”

We must all make the best of every minute we have available. Creating restrictions, timetables and criteria wastes those minutes and prevents us from enjoying life to the fullest. Dance to the music you love and assume that no-one is watching because they’re not. Shalom.

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The assignment was to identify all of the differences between frogs and toads. To a fourth-grade class, deciding how many constitutes enough is problematic. Within a class of nineteen, at least ten asked how many differences would complete the activity. The answer, of course, depends on more variables than the obvious.

To a biologist, a minimum of ten dissimilarities would be mandatory, especially for a proficient scientist. To a fourth grader, two or three are absolutely sufficient. To an educator, the answer is predictable: whatever it takes to answer the question completely and intelligently.

Perhaps I contaminated the answer possibilities by dangling the promise of free time after science. Those of us who are adults would spend as much time as necessary to submit a thorough and accurate answer.

Ponder this for a moment, if you will. How much would our world be enhanced if we collectively did more than the minimum? Of course, the answer depends largely on the situation.

It makes me wonder if the Constitution would have been better in any way if it was more than what was considered sufficient. The same occurs to me about T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men.

It could be that in some cases, the best and most appropriate answer is, “Trust your gut.” That wouldn’t work so well with fourth graders who walk the thin line between satisfying a requirement and excelling. Trust your gut is also true for exercise, eating and getting sufficient rest.

For the rest of life, exceeding the minimum is a tantalizing idea. If we had $10 billion (or an infinite amount of money) to use for cancer and Alzheimer’s research instead of $2 billion, would we be closer to cures? The same holds true for hours dedicated to community service. It’s only when we promise exactly what is needed to suffice that we can legitimately anticipate mediocrity. Shalom.

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Doing your job

Sometimes doing your job consists of counting to twenty. Other times, it’s a bit more complicated, writing code, building aircraft or debugging a complicated program.

Most of us, I believe, reached adulthood (and later) with the mandate to do our jobs. As I consider it further, however, doing exactly what we really should be doing may have nothing at all to do with occupations or schoolwork.

For instance, after quite a few unrelated positions, I realized that my training and my heart had nothing to do with my paycheck. That’s why, today my function (my job) is to get a kindergartner to do his math instead of sadly sucking three fingers while sitting crouched in a corner.

Many find saving dogs from puppy mills to be their calling. Others find fulfillment in providing food for the homeless in soup kitchens. And there are some who regularly donate blood or plasma simply for the sake of saving lives. Somehow, my guess is that animal and human rescues were usually nowhere in their education or work credentials.

It makes me sad to think about the many millions of people who put in their eight or ten hours per day without ever doing what moves and fulfills them. My mission is never to be urging others to abandon their incomes or careers. In addition to losing my credibility, I’m likely to be considered irresponsible or unrealistic. Thankfully, there are other options.

What do you love to do? What animal cause or human illness strikes a chord with you? If you recognize your melt-away zone, dedicate a day, a weekend or an hour to it. The not-for-profits are always needing committed volunteers. You may not have to journey further than your neighborhood. And if you are extremely timely and the world shines down upon you, one day your love and your job will be the same. Shalom.