Today

Yesterday, bears the weight of years,
Laden heavily with memories,
Provides the comfort of the known.
The past, indelible, beyond change.

Tomorrow, without intervention,
Demands my attention,
Steeped in the yet unknown
Beckons me to explore

But today.
Today is mine
To shape and mold
As I please.

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Did I Read That Write

The other day I read an interesting and amusing post by blogger Butterfly Sand relative to the use of punctuation.  Specifically how the use or lack of it can change the meaning of a sentence.  I happen to be a person that writes the way I talk.  If it sounds right when I say it, that is the way I write it.  As such, my use of punctuation is wholly based on what looks right to me at the time. No more, no less.  I also would not know a verb from a pronoun unless someone held up a cue card.  They just never did it for me in English class and had little or no impact on my grades in English Composition, so if not perfect, I guess I must have been close enough to pass.

Today, I display my literacy with the assistance of spell check.  Without it, I would still be writing with a dictionary by my side.  Today, I refer to it only to make sure the word I want to use really means what I think it does.

So why do I bring this all up?  Well, because I read a lot, and what I read begs me to ask the question “Does anyone read what they wrote before they publish it”?  I am not talking about you and me.  I am talking about the people that do it for a living.  The people that supposedly understand the tenets of proper English and presumably cashed in on a degree in journalism.  While they can generally be depended on to dot all the ‘i’s’ and cross all the ‘t’s’ (and yes, put commas where they belong), I often feel that they are more conscious of content then context.  “Hey Bud, give me a quick 200 of local interest.  Acme just pulled their ad and I have four inches to fill”.

To illustrate my point, I offer the two following examples excerpted from my local paper just this week.

The first was a story about the recent robbery of a tanning salon.  In the article, it gives a description  of the robber as between 6 feet and 6-foot-2, wearing a long, dark hooded jacket who kept his face covered during the robbery.  It then goes on to say “In a post on the police department’s Facebook page, a rendering drawn by a sketch artist shows a white male with bushy brown hair and light stubble on his chin.”  Now, I don’t know about you, but when they said he had his face covered, I just assumed they meant the bottom half.  Is it just me?

The other story pertains to an inmate in the local County Jail.  The article reads “An inmate at the County Jail unsuccessfully tried to hang himself in his cell Wednesday, jail officials said. A corrections officer and member of the jail medical staff found the man around 9:25 a.m., placing a bed sheet around his neck. It goes on to say “jail staff helped the man”.  “Hey buddy, are you going to be able to get that around your neck by your self, or would you like a little assistance?

So, Miss Regan, it appears that all those tears of anguish when I was in your class were for naught.  Your fear of calling on me because my answer may have been construed as the failure of your prowess as an English teacher was unfounded.  After all these years, it appears that indeed, I can now write as good as the professionals.

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Squirrels And Their Nuts

Yes, my title was designed to appeal to everyone, even those among us that have a slightly naughty mind.  I know instinctively that there is not one of you, currently reading this, that jumped on WordPress today looking for a squirrel story.  So I had to do something.

I did not go to college.  Oh, I took a lot of college courses during my years with GE both locally and at their Management College in Croton-On_Hudson, N.Y., but I do not have a degree.  I admire those that do however.   Years of study preparing for….. um, whatever you were preparing for besides spring break and getting out of college.  So it was that I came across an article about a Ph.D  whose dissertation was on the complexity of squirrel behavior.  To quote her, she said “what’s cool is that these animals are solving problems right under our feet and most people don’t realize it.” She is right.  I didn’t realize it.

When I think of squirrels, I think of the little guy digging in my garden, or finding a little hole in my siding and wintering over in my attic and walls.  I certainly do not attach anything more cerebral then that to them.  But I would be wrong.  When I see a squirrel sitting in the yard, contemplating a nut, I assume they are trying to figure out why the shell is so hard and how am I going to eat this sucker,  when in fact, it appears that they are really considering many factors to answer just one question.  “Do I store this, or do I eat it now?”  Yup, while those beady little eyes are starring at their nuts, they are really contemplating the perishability and the nutritional value.  They also take into consideration the availability of food at that time and of course, the presence or absence of competitors.  

Wow.  Who knew?  I have contemplated on occasion how a squirrel remembers where he buried his nuts, but after digging up many in my yard, I have decided they don’t have a clue.  They just bury so many, they will never run out. 

But, the good doctor, after years of studying cognition, problem solving, memory, and thinking by pigeons, and zebrafish as well as squirrels determined that for all the difference between animals and humans, they also have difficult problems to solve, over and above being shot or hit by a car.  She arrived at this conclusion by utilizing undergraduate helpers armed with nuts, stopwatches, camcorders and GPS trackers on squirrels around campus.

After reading this, I came to a few conclusions of my own.  The first being, “is it me, or does this sound like a total waste of a perfectly good doctorate”.  The second was, “am I now a better person for knowing this”.  But the thing that keeps racing around in my mind is how, had I gone to college, with the assistance of my parents and their years of hard work to put me there,  could I tell them that I had acquired an advanced degree in Squirrology. Oh, and is it OK if I move back home.  

 

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How Can I Be Sad

When Mother Nature smiles at me
And lays fresh linen on each tree
Hiding earths infirmities
How can I be sad
When tree limbs in new cloaks of snow
Where only hints of tree trunks show
Bright morning sun sets them aglow
How can I be sad
When country lanes entreat the eyes
Meander neath cerulean skies
The sense of moment it implies
How can I be sad
When heavy weighs the winters hold
To watch this pristine sight unfold
The gift of beauty to behold
How can I be sad 

 From the archives. Originally published February, 2015

 

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Night Moves

Time was on his side, or so it seemed.  He didn’t mind waiting.  He knew what he had to do and he knew there was no hurry.  Yet, he couldn’t help the sweaty palms and the queasy feeling in his stomach.  It wasn’t going to be easy, but it was the right thing to do and, quite frankly, he had been considering it, planning it, for quite a while now.

He sat there in his car, checking his watch for what must have been the one hundredth time.  What seemed like forever had in fact only been about an hour.  He looked around again, hoping no one saw him sitting there.  The last thing he needed was to be confronted by a cop and try to give him a reason why he was parked there.  This was a rather nice residential neighborhood and most everyone knew their neighbors and, more importantly, what they drove.

As he waited, he pondered again why he had decided to do this tonight.  He knew it had been an impulse.  Actually, he just wanted to get it over with and he hoped nothing would go wrong.  He had never done this before, but he had been meticulous in his planning, considering multiple alternatives before settling on this one.

He drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly, trying to calm his nerves.  The act has to be   precise the thought.   She would recognize him immediately and would be startled by his being there, in the dark, at this time of night.  He had to do it quickly. If he bungled it, he could only imagine the possibilities that could result.

He was beginning to have second thoughts and was starting to talk himself into leaving when he saw her approaching.  His heart leapt into his throat and for a moment, he froze.  “Move” he thought.  He had to move, now.  He had to do this while she was facing him. If he let her pass the car, it would be too late.  He slid his hand into his pocket and felt the cool metal touch his fingers.  He wouldn’t be able to remove it from his pocket until he was close enough to confront her.  And then, it would have to be fast in case anyone was watching.

In a burst of motion, he forced himself to exit the car and walked quickly toward the approaching footsteps.  He was still several feet from her when she exhibited the first signs of recognition.  Her mouth opened as if to say something, but before she could, he moved in front of her and motioned for her to remain quiet.

 Seeing the confusion and the inquiring look in her eyes, he moved closer, slipping his hand in his pocket.  “There is no good way to do this” he said.  “I should have done it a long time ago”. “I think you knew that this time would come”  While she gazed at him, trying to make sense of the situation, he quickly removed his hand from his pocket and with one quick movement, showed her the ring and quietly said “Will you marry me”? “

 

 

 

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But Now I See

A while ago, my wife and I were going through a closet, cleaning out some stuff we never use. Among the items were some stuffed animals that had sat on the shelf for years which I planned to give to the nursing home where I volunteer. They love them. One of the items was a little beanie baby in green corduroy with a funny face glued on it. It conjured up some memories that I hadn’t thought about in a long time.

I was in my twenties when I volunteered to be an adviser for Junior Achievement. For those of you not familiar with the program, it is a chance for high school students to get together with people from the business community to work as a team to plan, develop, and implement their own mock business. I was pretty excited about the opportunity to work with the kids.

A couple of weeks before the first meeting, we were each given a list of names and telephone numbers. We were instructed to call each person and welcome them to our team as well as answer any questions they may have. I noticed that my list had several numbers with the same prefix, but more interestingly, the numbers themselves were pretty close. As I proceeded to call them, I asked one of them if perhaps they knew each other. The young lady said “Oh yes, we all go to school together”. That’s when it hit me they all attended a private school.

On the first night, the advisers were instructed to get there early so as to be available to greet everyone and help them find their assigned rooms. I was standing just outside the door to my room when I noticed a string of six or seven students progressing down the hall in single file, each with their hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them. They were all blind or legally blind and they were looking for me. They were students at the Indiana School For The Blind.

I don’t remember what my exact thoughts were when I realized that I would be instructing blind students to develop and run a business, but I do know that I questioned whether I was up to the task. However, after a “get to know you” session with all the other students, we settled into the indoctrination process of picking a business and a product. I could not believe the enthusiasm with which they accepted the challenge.
They named their company TCB for Taking Care of Business, and ultimately decided that they were going to make beanie babies called “adorable uglies”. This would require buying materials, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, accounting, and finance. The next step would be to assign tasks. Who would head up each of these functions. I was surprised when two of the blind students volunteered to make them, while others jumped at marketing and distribution.

As the weeks progressed, the students found outlets (mostly free) for scrap fabric and beans for stuffing the beanies. One of the other teams had set themselves up as a bank, and our elected finance officer obtained a loan from them to buy whatever else we needed. The program provided some old sewing machines for teams that needed them. Soon, we were under way. Patterns were cut and felt faces were glued on. The girl that was to do the stitching had operated a sewing machine before, and operated it by touch. Another blind student filled the beanies before the final stitches were applied. Others took samples to their respective schools and began generating orders. One even had the idea of making them in school colors which ultimately increased sales. Soon, we were selling everything we could make, and everyone was involved.

In the end, our team business had been a tremendous success and had in fact generated a profit. More importantly, a lot of new skills had been learned and new friendships had been made. I for one came away with a new appreciation for people with disabilities. While I had immediately made assumptions about what they wouldn’t be able to do, they had shown me what they could do. While my initial reaction had been to figure out what I could do to help them, they had focused on helping themselves. They did not want my pity. They wanted my support. It was a humbling experience.

Several times during my career, I ran across difficult situations which I didn’t want to address and would ask myself “why me”. But I only had to think of those students to ask myself “why not me”. Funny how we can set out to teach and end up learning instead.

From the Archives Feb 2013

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Dear Mommy

I grew up in a little town north of Boston.  It was probably no different then any small town that you could select.  We had three grammar schools, a junior high, and a high school.  After grammar school, every kid in town knew every other kid in town as a result.  Looking back, I think about the types of issues we confronted, and I have to admit, they pale in comparison to those of today.

The terminology ‘gay’ wasn’t used back then.  Probably because no one had put a name to it yet, other then the propensity for calling anyone that seemed out of step with their gender ‘queer’.  It also, I suspect, had something to do with the fact that it was a period when discretion was paramount.  You didn’t talk about it, at least not openly.  Everyone preferred to hide that which they found uncomfortable.  If an unwed girl became pregnant, efforts were taken to keep it secret.  If a son got in trouble with the police, to the extent possible, it was kept under wraps.  I even remember the women of the neighborhood, while hanging out the wash, placing the families underwear on a clothesline between the sheets so as not to be exposed to the neighbors.  That’s how tightly wrapped we were.

As a result, I don’t remember knowing anyone that was gay.  I probably did, and just didn’t know it.  And if I had, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference.  We all had our own set of friends and they were who they were.  No more, no less.  Friendship was predicated on common interests and to some degree, geography since the only things you had to listen to back then were your mother, your father and the radio.  I do know, however, that none of my friends had two mothers or two fathers.  

So today, some seventy plus years later, I am well removed from the environment I once knew.  I have been exposed to a more naked world.  One in which we are confronted every day with new demographics begging for recognition and acceptance.  Although I must admit that I am confused by some of it and challenged by more of it, for the most part,  I can understand it. There is nothing wrong with equality.

I read an article this morning about a 17 year old honor student that was in the process of pursuing his/her transgender identity, encouraged and supported by an understanding mother.  Unfortunately, the pressures of the transition escalated much more quickly then the benchmarks of change.  He wrote a letter to his mother that began “Dear Mommy, I am so sorry to do this, but I have killed myself”.  He went on to write as follows:
“I would like to be remembered as a transgender pansexual teenage girl named Hope. Being transgender is my gender identity. My sexual orientation, or sexual identity, is being pansexual, meaning that I do not care about what the person is; I care about who they are. Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with and gender identity is who you go to bed as.”

Those last two sentences touched me.  I had not thought of ones sexual orientation in the terms he described, but it made sense.  I read them several times thinking how wise this  person was for their age.  For any age.  He had a clarity of sight that escapes so many.  It is just a shame that he felt he must leave in order to make us see it is who, not what that defines us.

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