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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Until a Limb

I followed through a pathless wood
too close perhaps
to see the forest for the trees
or miss the slaps
of thoughtless branches in my face
let go it seemed
with little care of consequence
and no esteemed
perception that others followed
close behind him.
Branch after bending branch we trod
until a limb
snapped back so hard it lashed my eyes.
Half-blinded then
I saw anew the need for space,
but walked again,
this time seeing forest and trees
at my own pace
as stings gave way to speckled sun
upon my face.

Tom Kapanka
April 2, 2011

Years ago I began experimenting with structured verse in a pattern of 8-syllable lines followed by 4 syllables in the next line. In this case I only rhymed the shorter lines in pairs. These lines were written in April, 2011, but I did not post it at POI until April 13, 2012. It is based in part on the experience many have had while walking behind someone in a dense woods... especially if they are following a person who insists his chosen course is the only way and those who follow must keep close rank. But when the one in front keeps bending branches to save his own face only to let them slap the face behind him, the hurtful pattern should be kindly pointed out so long as it continues. If the concerns fall on deaf ears, however, and the wrecklessness of the one in front continues, even the most forgiving scouts may be wise to choose a parallel path rather than be blamed for the endless quarreling over branches. The same sun will light both paths, and in time, the Son will make all things clear.  Romans 12:17-21

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Proposal: 35 Years Ago This New Year's Eve

Thirty-five years ago This New Year's Eve, Julie and I sat in this exact same spot in this exact same room facing the exact same picture window that looks out on the exact same trees in the exact same pasture.

The trees outside the window have grown. The horses in the pasture have changed. The curtains on the widow no longer complement the crushed orange velvet couch that sat there through the Seventies. The couch, thank Heaven, was replaced, and the banister in the background is now a warm wood where cold wroght iron was on that night in 1980. But the couple sitting there on the far left cushion of the  couch that replaced the crushed velvet is the same, or should I say, they are the same two people.... if it is possible for people to be the same after thirty-five years.

That's how long it's been. Exactly thirty-five years this New Year's Eve. Late that night, after the church "Watchnight Service," we came back to Julie's house, and at about 1:00 AM, I proposed to Julie in the front room. I've written about it before here at POI.

There is another change in that living room in Waverly, Kansas. This change has also been true for nearly thirth-five years. On the wall to the right of the picture  window is a large framed portrait. It's a beautiful bride-to-be in her wedding dress.  I took this snapshot of it with my phone, and my reflection in the frosted glass created a soft glow around her.

The first picture was taken last week in Kansas. I plan to add to this post this evening....

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Blessing 2014

I sent the following abstract art to some family members by email this morning. I entitled it "Christmas Sunrise" because it's bright and hopeful, ablaze with the cool blues of winter as if rising in the east.

It is not really a sunrise, of course. It is a million processed pixels captured through a pinhole lens in my Iphone as we were opening presents this morning. The picture can be whatever you want it to be, whatever you associate with the blessings you tend to take for granted all year 'round until Christmas morning when you see them bright as day in the faces beyond the strewn giftwrap on the floor.

We are in Kansas, in the house my wife and her parents and two sisters have called home for forty-five years. I've written of it before here at POI. It's been a tradition to come here for Christmas since Julie and I were married in1980. (For most of our married life we rotated back and forth each year between Julie's parents and mine in Michigan, but for several years--since Mom passed away--we have come to Kansas.)

This Christmas was different than others we've spent here. It is not distance that makes this visit different, but rather an acute awareness of closeness: the closeness of hugs and smiles and the miracle of being alive.

It is that miracle that is masked in the photo above. Maybe the warmer hues of this second rendition called "Solar Flair" will give a hint of the reality behind the abstract.

Two weeks ago tonight it happened.

My sister-in-law Nancy was driving home from work. She reached to turn the knob of her radio, and her hand simply missed the knob. She missed and missed again. Her whole arm seemed numb. She pulled off the road and called her son who lived just a few miles away. Long story short... within a few hours she was in an ambulance headed for the local hospital. By late Thursday night, she was calling her sisters with the news: Brain tumor. Surgery soon. Please come.

Needless to say, Nancy's husband Eddy is a solid rock for his wife (his 6'4" height reflects an even bigger heart). The call to the sisters is a sister thing. The desire to have loved ones near when facing uncertainty reflects not a void but a fullness. I will simply say that Julie and I have both been blessed to be part of such families.

Julie's parents and other sister were there the next day, and Julie was there by Saturday. Surgery was Sunday, and all went well. The tumor, though quite large, was benign, and the surgeon was confident no further treatment would be necessary. That is our prayer. The surgeon was a short man and witnesses say that when Eddy gave him an extended and earnest hug when the ordeal was over, it looked like a scene from Schwarzenegger and DiVito in "Twins."

Nancy was released to go home three days later, and a week later she and Eddy her their whole family were with us sitting around the Christmas tree. I was taking pictures of the festivities when I found myself standing over Nancy's shoulder. I asked her if she would mind if I took a picture of her beautiful memorial to th Christmas blessing of 2014. She didn't mind at all. In fact, she said it felt very strange to pack for this short trip home and not need a blow dryer or curling iron.

Much of our conversation this Christmas has centered around the endless bits of good news that have stemmed from that initial bad news eleven days ago.

Here is the original unprocessed phtograph of Nancy's healing scalp. It is more beautiful than the processed photos of it above. The twenty-nine stitches come out Monday.

Blessings and beauty, whether as near as a hug or as far the rising sun, are all a matter of perspective and perceptions miraculously formed and treasured in the mind.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In Memory of my Uncle Bob...

I heard the news a few nights ago, but only this morning did the details work out for me to be able to attend the funeral. Weather permitting, I will be with my siblings and many cousins at the visitation tomorrow night and Friday morning at my childhood church in Port Huron, Michigan. My Uncle Bob was a wonderful man, a respected part of the Detroit Edison Company, and a great brother to my dad, and an uncle who looked out for us in many ways.

I have written about my Uncle Bob here at POI through the years, but the post that comes to mind is the one called "Cutting Hair" back in September of 2006. I've cut-and-pasted a much shorter version of that post below in memory of my Uncle Bob.

I cut hair.

I’m not a barber, and I don’t stand at busy intersections wearing a sign: “Will cut hair for food.” It’s not something I do as an occupation or out of desperation. In fact, I have only one steady customer… myself. I’ve been cutting my own hair since high school.

I was thinking about it this morning: cutting hair is one of the subtle rhythms of life.

Somewhere in a shoebox at my mother's house there are pictures of my brothers and I crying while Dad, standing behind us in a white T-shirt, is giving us our “first hair cut.” From that time till the time we moved out of the house, the home hair cut was a way of life, a recurring ritual of sorts, for my three brothers and me (and for my Uncle Bob. He and Dad cut each other's hair once a month for many years). About once a month on a Saturday night (so we'd look sharp the next day for church), Dad would set up shop in our knotty-pine basement down by what had been a wet bar until we joined the Baptist church and converted it into a closet.

I remember climbing up on that stool and staring down at the checker-board tile, strewn with fallen brown and blonde tufts from my brothers' sheering. I can still hear the whispering buzz of the electric clippers and their clickity glissade across a comb-full of hair. The little sharp teeth of the blades tickled their way up my neck and around my ears. The steel blades were cold for the first boy in line and hot for the last. As the youngest (until Jim was born in '68), I was usually last. Sometimes the blades got so hot Dad would wrap them in a cold washcloth and sweep the floor while they cooled—then it felt like going first.

We didn’t mind short hair cuts when we were kids. These were the “Father Knows Best”/ “Leave it to Beaver” years, when virtually every male in America wore the same length of hair, a standard held since the dawn of modernity. Don’t believe me? Look in any yearbook or class composite through the mid-Sixties. Some brushed it back; some up; some down; some slicked it with Brylcreem or Score... but it was all pretty much the same length.

Short hair was a cinch—all of our role models had it: movie stars, pop singers, sports heroes, teachers—everyone! Highest on the list was my dad who got a “crew cut” when he joined the Navy and kept it all his life.

What we hated about hair-cut night was not the cutting of our hair but the interruption of our play. Because Dad's clippers didn’t work well with sweaty hair, he'd make us stop playing and “cool down” an hour before haircuts. It was that hour that we hated—the haircut itself was a breeze. In fact, the breeze from running up the steps and out the screen door felt twice as nice after a fresh hair cut.

Part of our home barbering ritual was the fact that my dad and my Uncle Bob (who also sported a crew cut for decades) cut each other's hair. Those two crew cuts kept them connected during the years when life's road widens and siblings tend to lose touch. Every month or so we'd drive to our cousins in Marysville an hour away. (Or they would come to our house.) The rhythm of cutting hair kept our families close through two decades. I have no doubt that was one of the reasons those two brothers kept crew cuts long after hairstyles changed... and oh, brother, did they change.

Some say it was The Beatles who introduced “long hair” to my generation. It's true that the Fab Four were derided as “mop tops,” but if you look at the pictures from their early years—the Ed Sullivan-“I Want to Hold Your Hand” years—the Beatles’ barely had enough hair to shake to the rhythm of “She Loves You Yea, Yea, Yea.” It took several years for longer styles to become common. The Beatles arrived when I was in 2nd Grade—not until I was in junior high, did some of my peers start “growing” their hair, and not until high school (in the Seventies) did the hair length on guys range from “clean cut” (a shrinking minority) to shoulder-length-or-longer / down-to-there hair (usually worn by the “hippie freaks,” “burn-outs,” and heavy metal rockers in my school). That may be unfair, but it was my perception at the time.

This was the peak of the Viet Nam era, and by then long hair had become a political statement, my generation's way of flippin' the bird at previously held values (simply because they had been previously held). In the early years of the hair-length debate, it was a fairly accurate means of “profiling” one’s attitudes. It may sound like Archie Bunker, but the stereotype was pretty consistent: If you were a pot-smokin,’ McGovern-voting, veteran-bashin’ Pinko, you had long hair. If you were still hoping the best for Nixon ,you had shorter hair—not Opie-Taylor short…but you were probably showing plenty of ear.

By the time my oldest brother Paul hit high school, we were contemplating an appeal to Dad. It was my sister Kathy who went to bat for us. “Dad, could you leave a little more hair on the guys? She’d stand there like a supervisor at cosmetology school pulling at our uncut hair telling Dad which parts to leave alone and which parts to "only trim." The look she was after was called “soch” (pronounced like the first syllable of social). To our surprise, Dad agreed to leaving more hair on our heads: "Hey, I don’t mind cutting hair every other month.”

Unfortunately, in Dad’s mind this simply meant giving us haircuts short enough to last two months before his anti-Beatles feelings kicked in and he revved up the sheers. So my brothers and I began secretly cutting each other's hair. By trimming our hair behind closed doors, we could keep Dad's clippers at bay for months. When my brothers went off to college, I simply did it myself with the help of a mirror. That's how this "cutting my own hair" thing started. By 1974, when I went off to college, I had it down pat.

Throughout my college years, I continued cutting my own hair as needed. I'll never forget one Saturday evening when I was walking my girlfriend to her dorm. At the end of the walk, she smiled and said, "You cut your hair today didn't you." "Did I take too much off?" I asked. "No, it looks fine, but there's a big clump of hair in your ear." I reached up and pulled out a wad the size of a GI Joe toupee. It had been there all afternoon and evening. She just wasn't sure how to tell me.

That's the main drawback to cutting your own hair: you have to be sure to clean up the area and yourself afterwards to keep the ladies happy. My wife hates seeing the bathroom sink until I have cleaned up every last strand. I don't blame her. Other than that, the art of the self-haircut is a useful skill. It has saved me roughly more than $6,000 over the years (which has in turn been spent by my wife and daughters on hair cuts). But cutting my own hair is not just about saving money; it's about perpetuating the ol' home hair-cut tradition. It's good to keep some things going.

To this day, I have no regrets for honoring my father during those "short hair" years. The styles eventually came back around, and in looking at my pictures from high school and college, I'm glad I missed out on the worst "bad hair days" in modern times. As a less fortunate friend of mine once said, "If you remember the Seventies, you didn't experience them." I remember them vividly thanks to my dad, and compared to the crew cuts he and my Uncle Bob wore, I was really styling back in the day! [That is a picture of me in the rear-view-mirror of my 1965 Oldsmobile Delta 88 taken circa 1978.]

I don't want to sound morose, but when my father died in April of 1995, and I stood there at his casket before they closed it... I reached up and stroked his gray crew cut once and then again and again. In our early years of shared life, he had done that often to his young sons, but I had never done it back...touched his hair as if to say "I love you," but in that hour it seemed a very natural thing to do. His hair was upright and perfectly in place as it—and he—had been all my life.... It was soft, very soft against my hand.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Open Doors and Open Arms of China...

Our 17 preschoolers walked like ducks in a row down the hall, and I stepped aside to watch them.
“Are you Mr. Kapanka?” asked the little girl at the end of the line.
“Yes, I am.” I replied.
“Did you really eat rattlesnake soup?”
“yewwwww!” moaned the others.

I had to laugh. Who would have guessed after spending two weeks in China, my first question from students would be about rattlesnake soup?

It is actually very good. So is eel, squid, roasted snake, snails and lots of other menu items I politely tried each day. (Though I must admit, after five days, I was glad to see a KFC at Tienanmen Square.) 

(Double-click on photos to enlarge.)

I have been eager to tell you about a recent opportunity I had to represent my school in China as a guest of my friends at www.theedulink.com.  In 14 days from October 23 to November 5, we logged 18,000 air miles, which is roughly the same as flying around the world at Chicago’s latitude. With the exception of some rushed sight-seeing in Beijing, the trip was all business involving international student fairs, meetings with investors, and visits to various schools in Beijing, Shanghai, Zhengzhou, and Nanning, China, (as well as 3-days in Bangkok, Thailand).

I was asked to bring as many Calvary promotional items as possible, but knowing little about this fast-developing nation, I was not sure how receptive students and parents would be to materials from a Christian school. Imagine my surprise on day six when we pulled up to one of the largest high schools in Zhengzhou, China, and saw a large electronic sign welcoming Calvary Christian School. (See video.)

Imagine spending three hours touring a school campus that looks more like a college than a high school with over 5,000 students in grades 10-12. Imagine meeting in a huge board room with a principal eager to make CCS a “sister school” in America. Not all schools became official partners, but I received the same hospitality everywhere our team went.

As I visited with English-speaking students across China, it was clear that many of them long to experience an American education.  

Calvary has been home to international students every year since 2002. This recent trip represents a strategic expansion of our international presence.  What an honor it is to share our perspective with these students—if for no other reason than to help them understand that America’s greatest values are not  determined by Hollywood and hip-hop music.

Like our Chinese friends, CCS values the heritage and ideals of our ancestors and founding fathers as well as the wisdom found in ancient words. The differences are important, to be sure, but communication begins where shared life overlaps.

It is our hope to expand our educational outreach to students in China. One of our pending plans involves a new private school in Shanghai. Words cannot express the experience of seeing this vast country on the cusp of unimaginable development and new educational horizons. It was an honor to be introduced to so many fellow educators in this far-away land. 

Please take a moment to view this photo-montage of highlights from the trip.

For some awe-inspiring professional time-lapse video footage of China CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

First of Four Guatemalan Schools We Visited This Past Week...

Limited internet until we return to the states. For now, I'll simply post some pictures from the first of four Christian schools we visited in Guatemala this past week. This first school serves the poorest of the poor in Zone 18, which is considered a dangerous place to live and walk to and from school. These students and their teachers do it everyday.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Grieving with a Former Student of Mine
from the Class of '93

If we had but one page, one chapter, one book
to hold the whole of all we know of life,
‘twould be enough to give the soul one look,
one glimpse of unimaginable joy and strife…
love and laughter, pain and sorrow…
tears below that fall like rain from above
on happiness and heartache until tomorrow
and yesterday and passing time become Eternal Love.
© 7-6-14 Tom Kapanka

These two links, here and here, provide some context for these lines.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Some Movies Stay with You...

About thirty years ago, I watched and re-watched the The Elephant Man. (At the time of this writing, the movie is on Youtube at this link.) If you have never seen it, please do... not because it is pleasant entertainment but because it is one of the most compelling depictions of the full spectrum of the human condition ever put on film.

Throughout the 1980's, I showed The Elephant Man to my drama classes as an example of pathos and character. It was the first time I had ever seen Anthony Hopkins who plays Dr. Frederick Treves whose medical curiosity turns first to compassion and then to to genuine kindnessSo agonizing is the title character John Merrick's struggle in this world that the audience takes comfort with him in the final moments when he lies down to sleep, knowing he cannot breath in that position, but wanting so much to be at rest like the boy in the picture on the wall.

The score of the final scene in the film is the haunting solace of Barber's Adagio for Strings.

As a musical direction, the Latin word adagio simply means "slowly and gracefully."  In ballet, however, adagio typically refers to a section in which the ballerina and her male partner perform extended and demanding steps, lifts, and turns as if in slow motion.. For those watching the ballet, adagio looks effortless, but it requires greater balance, strength, and skill than the same actions performed in normal time.

On the evening of the film's final scene, John Merrick had just been to the ballet for the first and only time of his life. He completes a model of a cathedral he has made from scraps of cardboard and says, "It's finished."

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